It can be a tricky descision choosing a new fly rod for saltwater fishing, and this is actually a rather large topic! So we've pulled together a handy guide explaining the various elements you should consider. To break things down into manageable chunks – I’ll refer to them as light, medium and heavy.
As with all types of fishing, your tackle needs to be balanced in order for it to cast efficiently and give the presentation of the fly you are looking for (light rods and lines won’t cast heavy flies effectively). Rods and fly lines are matched together using a weight rating system (AFTM numbers) and for saltwater we generally use WF (weight forward) fly lines. These lines are tapered to give the casting weight at the front end of the line. This is the part of the line that the rod will put energy into when you cast towing the thinner diameter running line out when you cast greater distances. So a typical saltwater fly line will have a code on the box, as an example WF-8-F – this tells you that the line is weight forward, designed to be cast on an 8 weight rod and it will float. The reel is important too – for saltwater it needs to be as corrosion resistant as possible, carry the fly line and sufficient backing, cope with fish running big distances (possibly 100’s of metres) and have a drag (braking system) with a wide range of settings from light to full stop, whilst staying smooth all the while. Ideally, it also needs to balance the rod so it has the correct amount of weight to counterbalance the weight of the rod at the point where you grip the handle. This will make the outfit feel light in your hand and pleasant to cast with. We will look at fly lines and reels in greater depth in up-and-coming guides.
Fly Rods for Light Tackle & Casting Small Flies
Light fly-gear is aimed at target species such as mullet, bass and smaller pollock in the UK. In the tropics it will be fish like bonefish, small jacks, small permit and small snook. We are looking at rods that will cast fly lines of 6, 7 and 8 weight. For most saltwater applications this will be a 9’ rod built on a 4 piece blank. We are looking for a saltwater fly rod that flexes through the tip and down into the middle part of the blank that packs down into small sections for travel.
Like most things in fishing the perfect rod action is a very personal choice. Whilst a super tippy rod with very fast recovery is perfect for crafting razor sharp casting loops in the right hands, don’t forget a lot of bonefish fishing is more often about presenting your fly with accuracy and delicacy at short to medium distances – say 5 – 20 metres. Beyond this range it’s hard to see fish unless the water is very calm and shallow. So a rod with a slightly less aggressive action will load more quickly with less line out of the rod tip and require less focus from you to cast. It is equally important to match the rod with your casting style and the correct fly line. So a few things to consider here – we can help by offering advice over the telephone but you are also very welcome to visit and test cast a range of rods by appointment.
Fly Rods for Medium Tackle & Casting Larger Flies
Here I have grouped together saltwater fly rods that are designed to cast lines in the 9 to 12 weight category. There is a big difference between rods at either end of this spectrum but rods in this group are light enough to be cast continuously and bridge the gap to true bluewater (big game) fly rods. Again we will be choosing from a range of 9’ 4 piece rods designed with travel in mind.
Rods rated 9 and 10 weight will be used in the UK for casting larger baitfish and popper fly patterns in more extreme conditions, so if you generally fish exposed rock marks or need to cast a heavy, fast-sink fly line from a boat to reach down to bass and pollock on a reef these two rod sizes will be your choice. These rods are also ideal for pike fishing – again to cast the large baitfish patterns used. In the tropics you will choose these rods to fish for permit on the flats with heavy crab and shrimp patterns as well as baby tarpon, snook and jacks around mangroves.
More powerful 11 and 12 weight rods are designed with big tarpon, giant trevally, large barracuda etc in mind as these are seriously hard fighting fish! Rods in this category will often be equipped with either a long or double handle. This is used to get more leverage out of the rod when playing strong powerful fish.
If you find yourself in this fortunate position, you need to play fish with the rod at a low angle (show in the image on the right hand side). This will move the point where the rods bends down towards the handle where the rod blank is stronger and more powerful. Lifting the rod up towards the vertical will reduce the pressure you can apply and may ultimately break the tip section. If you are being guided and have no experience of playing fish with this kind of tackle listen carefully to any advice the guide may offer, not only will it keep breakages to a minimum but also possibly help you land the fish of a lifetime! Please call us if you wish to discuss options further, Duncan and I are always happy to help.
Fly Rods for Heavy Tackle & Big Game Fishing
We are looking at rods in the 13 – 16 weight class here designed to be used afloat in the open ocean for big game species such as marlin, sailfish, tuna and sharks. These rods are all about their strength and ability to play powerful fish with the whole ocean to swim around in. In deep water they have the lifting power required, it’s hard to get the rod at a low angle when you are attached to a powerful tuna heading into the depths directly below you. Consequently these rods are shorter – generally between 8’ and 8’6” to give more leverage to you and not the fish. Casting ability is usually a secondary consideration and fish are teased up to a moving boat using conventional trolling lures without hooks but possibly baited with a fish strip or whole fish. These lures get the target fish feeding and at the last moment are switched for the fly. We stock a good range of tackle for big game fly fishing as well as rods including reels, fly lines, backing, leader materials and saltwater fishing flies.
Guide by Allan Shephard, Rok Max Director