Saltwater fly fishing has a special place in our hearts here at Postfly HQ. That’s why last October we moved the entire operation closer to the water, closer to where the striped bass swims. For research and development purposes only, we swear.
Having the right flies in your flybox means that you can focus on finding the fish and catching them and not spending your time worrying that you’ve chosen the wrong fly. In case you’re not sure where to start as you build up your flybox, here are the top flies that you need to catch fish. These may be slightly skewed towards the striped bass fishery here on the East Coast, but I’ve talked with enough guides from all over the country and the world to know that these flies catch fish no matter where you’re fishing. It’s time to hook up.
1) Woolly Bugger…Just Kidding…Clouser Minnow
If you’ve been following along with this series of essential flies that you need in your flybox, you’ve probably noticed by now that I’m a big fan of the woolly bugger. You know, the one fly that catches every fish under the sun. Well the Clouser Minnow is just as effective. Originally designed by Bob Clouser as a smallmouth bass pattern, the Clouser Minnow quickly became a staple in every saltwater fly angler’s box–for good reason.
The Clouser Minnow has such an effective profile that mimics just about anything that swims and the light, subtle action means it works both when fish are skittish or super spooky. When you’re fishing the flats you definitely need that stealth factor, as fish can get real tight-lipped, but when the tide rolls in again the Clouser Minnow will still be just as effective.
(If you’re like me and you’re wondering if the woolly bugger would actually catch fish in the salt–it does. Obviously, I had to try it).
2) Lefty’s Deceiver
Another pattern that has been a fixture in saltwater fly fishing is Lefty’s Deceiver, developed by the famed fly caster and all around nicest guy in the world, Lefty Kreh. Another simple and effective pattern, Lefty’s Deceiver has a similar concept to the Clouser Minnow, but with more material and no weight, which means you can have more control where in the water column the fly will swim.
My favorite way to fish is to pick apart a main flat with a Clouser Minnow and then start targeting the deeper channels on either side of the flat with a Lefty’s Deceiver. The action that this fly puts off with a simple strip-strip-pause retrieve is just so effective on fish anywhere. I’ve even tied up smaller Lefty’s Deceivers and thrown them for smallmouth bass on my local haunts. (Do I even need to tell you how awesome that day was?)
3) Crab Pattern
Just like a dry fly for a trout, the most satisfying eat to watch is a big 30-pound-plus fish delicately sipping up a crab pattern off of a white sand flat. Bonefish, redfish, permit, tarpon, and yes, even striped bass, are all happy to munch of crabs, which means a smart saltwater fly angler always has a few of different colors in their flybox.
If you’re not sure which color to pack in your box, you can look up the local forage on state websites, or just pay careful attention the next time you’re out there looking for fish. You’re likely to see a few crabs scurrying around under the boat or under your feet. If you want a place to start, you can’t go wrong with light tan, and/or light pink crabs. They’ll work everywhere.
For all the anglers that just went up in arms when I said watching fish pick a crab was the most satisfying eat, this one’s for you. The most exciting eat to watch by far, hands down, without a doubt, is a gurgler eat. Watching the fly cut through the surface of the water getting chased by a big fish, or even a school of big fish, is enough to make the most experience fly angler turn to mush. The only thing better than watching a fish chase down your fly is the massive hit you’ll feel when they finally catch it.
Tie up a few different color schemes for your gurgler flies so you always have what fish are looking for based on the local forage and the conditions. Simple staples like tan, pink, green or a combination of the former are always on the money. If you’re going to be fishing at night or during low light hours and cloudy days, make sure to have some dark greys, black and the classic black and red combinations. A gurgler hit is so good that even in the pitch black of a new moon you’ll be able to hear the tell-tale “swoosh, swoosh, WOMP,” of a gurgler getting chomped on the strip-strip-pause. Just make sure to be ready.
5) Shrimp Pattern
Shrimp can be like candy to big fish. It’s amazing that 30-pound trophies can get excited about a tiny size 4 shrimp fly, but how happy were you the last time you had a fun-size candy bar? Exactly. I’ve watched whole schools of massive fish chase down a single shrimp pattern, fighting to be the one that gets there first. Just like a bowl of candy on a doorstep on Halloween with a sign that says, “Just take one.”
My personal favorite and the go-to shrimp pattern of many fly fishing guides at the bar is probably the Crazy Charlie. Simple, effective, and famous for a reason, this fly has caught fish again and again all around the world for decades. It’s simple to tie too, which means you can tie a variety of colors and variations to fill your flybox full of big fish junk food.
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