Over the past decade, saltwater fly-fishing
has become increasingly popular. Along with this popularity
has come some additional problems to plague the uninitiated.
Larger fish, stronger winds, sand, surf, swells, and
salt all add to the arsenal that Murphy utilises to
enforce his law. There are things, however, that can
be done to stave off frustration and problems.
Larger, fast running fish such as coho and chinook
require large capacity reels with at least 200 meters
of backing. Larger fish also require heavier weight
systems to subdue them, especially the coho, which are
now catch and release only throughout British Columbia.
A heavier weight system also aids in dealing with the
sea breezes that have a nasty habit of showing up at
the wrong times.
Worst of all, though, is having to deal with the saltwater.
It permeates everything that gets near it and anything that
can corrode or rust usually succumbs to it, especially if
left unmaintained for any length of time. Reel seats on rods
and reels themselves are the main victims of the salt. Fly
fishers must ensure that their gear is either constructed
rust proof materials such as graphite or stainless steel,
or has corrosion resistant coatings such as anodised aluminum.
The system you choose to
do battle with is always a personal choice and is usually
made with a specific species of fish in mind. Particularly
so in the case of saltwater fly-fishing because of the
wide range of sizes between the different species of
For pink salmon I prefer a six-weight system. Although
the smallest of the pacific salmon, some pinks can exceed
eight pounds in weight and none of them come to the
net easily. While I have seen anglers use lighter rods,
they inevitably have to play the fish longer. This causes
problems if they want to release it, since the angler
must tire the fish to near exhaustion in order to land
it. A six-weight system allows you to manhandle the
salmon to the net a bit more and thus greatly increases
the fishís chances of survival if released. If you plan
on keeping the fish (pinks are great eating fresh or
smoked), a six-weight system lets you land it faster
so you can bag it and be casting for another while the
person using the five-weight beside you is still being
led slowly out to China.
For larger fish like coho and chinook I prefer an eight-weight
system. Lighter systems just donít have the backbone to slow
down and turn a fast-running coho. With the new catch and
release laws in effect now it is essential that you land and
release any coho as quickly as possible, and with the mandatory
barbless hook regulation, the longer you play the fish the
greater your chances of losing it.
While systems weights are important, reels are the real key
to success when saltwater fly-fishing. As I mentioned earlier,
spool capacity and rust/corrosion proofing are the main things
to look for. Also extremely important is a durable, smooth
drag system. Coho are known for their long, fast initial runs
and I have seen many reels seize or simply fall apart in the
middle of one. There is nothing more disconcerting (or funnier
to onlookers) than having your spool literally separate from
its housing and fall into the drink in the middle of a screaming
run. Unlike trout fishing, where you usually set the drag
to nearly nothing and palm the spool, you will have to rely
on the drag to slow a salmon or bonefish. If you donít, there
is a very good chance that the fish will spool you regardless
of how much backing you have. Trust me, I know this from first
There are several good brands of reels to choose from for
saltwater angling, and while the quality varies a bit the
prices vary a lot. Do yourself a favour and talk a lot to
people who already saltwater fly-fish (you can e-mail me if
you like at firstname.lastname@example.org
), and discuss saltwater reels with different tackle shop
owners as well before making your purchase. Better yet, go
to the sportsmanís shows in the spring and do your looking
and talking there. There are always lots of us "professionals"
hanging around looking for someone to talk to. Youíll be very
glad you did.
saltwater fishing depend more on the method of fishing
than the species. If you are beach fishing, you will
want a neutral density sinking line to get the fly to
the level of the fish and keep it there throughout your
retrieve without hitting bottom. If, instead, you are
cruising around in a boat looking for salmon off the
kelp beds, you will need an extra fast or high-density
sinking line to get down fast before the currents pull
the line away.
While line colour in deep open water doesnít seem to
affect the fish, it does when shallow water beach fishing.
Salmon in the shallows become increasingly spooky and
fear just about anything that moves. The new clear "slime"
lines such as Scientific Anglers "Stillwater" line or
Masteryís "Illusion" line have proven to be much more
productive than standard coloured lines in these situations
and I have noticed more and more fly-fishers using them.
Rods are a personal choice as well, especially the action.
Length, however, should be seriously considered before making
your purchase. Saltwater fly-fishing requires long casts,
often while standing in chest deep water. A minimum of a nine-foot
rod is needed to be effective out there. Some individuals
have gone to 10-foot or longer rods, but they can be hard
on the wrist to cast, especially in the heavier weights of
eight or nine, and will tire you out much quicker than a nine-footer.
Regardless of the type of system you go with, or the species
you pursue, you must take the time after fishing to maintain
your gear. This is essential and I cannot stress this enough.
Ten minutes of maintenance can save you hundreds of dollars
in damaged gear. If you are returning to a residence or somewhere
that has fresh running water, flush everything in lukewarm
water. Anything that can be disassembled (such as your reel)
should be before flushing. I usually fill the sink with warm
water, separate my spool from the reel housing, slide off
the drag wheel, and swish all the parts around for a minute
or two and then allow them to soak for half an hour. While
the reel parts are soaking I flush out the reel seat of my
rod and anything else, such as fly boxes, that got submerged
or wet. After soaking, the reel gets flushed under the tap
again and then everything gets dried. Once dry, all moving
parts get a fresh application of lubricant.
If you are camping or donít have access to fresh running
water, warm up some of your drinking water and partially fill
a basin with it. Swish the reel parts and everything else
around in the water and allow them to dry. Then apply some
silicone or other lubricant to the moving parts. The worst
thing you can do is leave the saltwater on your gear overnight.
Even if your equipment is treated to resist corrosion and
rust, the saltwater will eat it sooner or later. Thereís a
very good reason why manufacturers label their equipment "Corrosion
Resistant" and not "Corrosion Proof", and saltwater is the
best reason I can think of.
Saltwater fly-fishing is great sport. Thereís nothing like
watching the wake of a 12-pound coho as the fish closes in
on your fly, and then having it strike and head for the open
Pacific at top speed after you set the hook. Itíll get you
heart racing every time, I guarantee it. If you apply a little
educated forethought before buying your gear, and perform
some rudimentary maintenance during the season, you can enjoy
years of trouble-free saltwater fishing for all kinds of different
Bill Luscombe has been hunting and fishing for most of his
42 years. He has been flyfishing for 20 years. He instructs
flyfishing, and has done so for the past 12 years. He also
instructs the federal FSET firearms course and the BC CORE
hunter training course. He is an award-winning outdoor writer
and has been writing freelance since 1987. He has been published
in BC Sport Fishing Magazine, Outdoor Edge, BC Outdoors, Western
Sportsman, Island Fish Finder, and the BC Hunting Guide.
Bill Luscombe was born an army brat and raised in Ladner
(Delta, BC) where he was raised hunting waterfowl and pheasants.
He presently resides in North Cowichan on southern Vancouver
Island where he has lived and worked full time as a professional
forester since 1982.
He presently works in Nanaimo for the BC Forest Service and
continue to write the fly-fishing column for BC Sport Fishing
Magazine as well as contributing articles freelance to various
outdoor magazines in western Canada. Bill Luscombe is also
a BC Director of the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association.
"Catching fish is not hard. You simply need to understand
what makes them tick. If you think like a fish, you will catch
fish. Itís as simple as that."- Bill Luscombe
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