The 11 Must-Have Saltwater Flies that Should be in Your Fly Box

There are a lot of creatures in the ocean that predatory fish like to eat, and there is almost a fly to match all of them. This makes buying the right saltwater flies for any trip very difficult, as there are simply too many to choose from.

So, what are the best saltwater flies that you should have in your box?

Generally speaking, a mixture of crab, shrimp, and bait fish saltwater fly patterns are what you need. But some patterns work much better than others.

Below you will find my favorite 11 saltwater flies that will have you catching fish in pretty much every saltwater fly fishing destination on the planet!

Table of Contents

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Saltwater Flies – A Brief Guide & My TOP 3 Picks

You will find a detailed buying guide below the reviews, but here is a summary in case you are short of time.

When buying saltwater flies think about:

  • Imitation – they should imitate either shrimps, crabs, or baitfish.
  • Size – own a range of sizes to match the natural shrimps/crabs/baitfish the fish are feeding on.
  • Color – natural colors that look like the real creature are best.
  • Weight – carry a range of different weight flies to fish different depths.
  • Hook Quality – make sure the hooks the flies are tied on are up to the task and won’t straighten under pressure.

Here are my top 3 saltwater that everyone should have with them.

The EP Spawning Shrimp is an excellent shrimp imitation and it works for bonefish, permit, triggerfish, snapper, stripers, and even tarpon.

The Flexo Crab imitates a crab better than any other fly and it is great for suspicious fish. It is perfect for triggerfish, bonefish, permit, and more!

The EP Baitfish across different sizes and colors can look like every baitfish in the ocean. Tarpon, GTs, roosterfish, and more will devour it!

The 11 Best Saltwater Flies & Fly Patterns

Spawning Mantis Shrimp

The spawning mantis shrimp is one of the most effective saltwater fly fishing flies for bonefish in the Caribbean and triggerfish around the world too. Lots of other species will take this fly also such as mutton snapper and even permit.

It works whenever you find shrimp, and especially mantis shrimp. Tied with heavy dumbbell eyes, rubber legs, a tanned dubbing body, and an orange egg sack, it imitates mantis shrimps perfectly.

The fly sits hook side up on the bottom so you don’t get tangled and has a very natural movement in the water thanks to the weight and rubber legs.

Sizes & Colors

This saltwater fly pattern comes in just one color scheme, tan with an orange egg sack. It is available in sizes 2 to 8, and having a range of large and small options is a good idea.

How to Fish a Spawning Mantis

This fly is best fished off the bottom on a sandy flat. Cast it out about 6 ft in front of a fish. Let it sink and when the fish is 1-2 ft away from it, a medium length strip is needed. Pause, and strip again to give it a fleeing action.

EP Spawning Shrimp

The EP spawning shrimp was created by Enrico Puglisi (EP) and it works for so many saltwater species, it is hard to count them all. Everything from bonefish to triggerfish, permit, and tarpon like this fly.

It is similar to the spawning mantis as it features an egg sack at the rear, rubber legs, and dumbbell eyes. The difference is the body is made with EP Fiber which gives the fly a translucent appearance, looking just like a natural shrimp.

The hook sits upwards off the bottom and there is a weed guard too, so you can fish it anywhere from sand to turtle grass flats.

Sizes & Colors

This fly comes in sizes 6 to 1/0 and I would highly recommend having a range of sizes to match the time of year, species, and location you are fishing in.

When it comes to colors, you have 10 to choose from. The most important one to have is tan for sand flats, followed by olive for grass flats, and finally translucent for the spookiest of fish.

How to Fish the EP Spawning Shrimp

You should fish the EP spawning shrimp the same way as the spawning mantis. Lead the fish, let the fly sink, and use short to medium strips when the fish is close by.

Crazy Charlie

The Crazy Charlie is a fly from The Bahamas created by Charlie Smith, a local bonefish guide. It is incredibly simple but has fooled bonefish all over the planet and is a must in your saltwater fly box.

It imitates small minnows, crabs, and shrimp, covering almost all of a bonefish’s menu. It is tied with bead chain eyes, a wing from calf hair, plus a flash tail and body. It really comes to life in the water and attracts fish from far.

Again, the hook sits upwards on the bottom to stop you getting snagged and it is a light fly you can cast very delicately to spooky fish.

Sizes & Colors

This fly comes in sizes 4 to 10 and again, having a range of sizes is always a good idea.

It comes in a lot of different colors from tan to pink. Tan, chartreuse/white, gold/black, and olive are all excellent colors to have in your box.

How to Fish the Crazy Charlie

Since this fly imitates shrimp, crabs, and minnows, it can be fished fast like a fleeing minnow, or slow like a crab.

Always lead the fish and get the fly to sit on the bottom before stripping. It is then your call to fish it with slow, medium, or fast strips.


The Avalon has probably caught more Atlantic permit than any other fly, plus it works for big bonefish, tarpon, snappers, and more. It is a must in every saltwater fly box.

This fly imitates both a crab and a shrimp, making it a great all-around flats pattern. It is tied with rubber legs, flash, delta claws, pearl shellback, dumbbell eyes, and a beaded keel.

The bead keel rattles to attract fish while everything else provides a great action underwater. It also sits hook side up on the bottom.

Sizes & Colors

This fly comes in sizes 2 and 4. It is worth having both sizes in your box to match the hatch, so to speak.

The Avalon comes in one color, tan/white, which is perfect for the sand flats you find permit and bones on.

How to Fish the Avalon

Since this is a heavy fly you can fish it in deep water, just be sure to lead the fish so they don’t get spooked by its landing. Once the fly is on the bottom, slow long strips are best to imitate a crab on the bottom.

Flexo Crab

The Flexo Crab has changed fishing for triggerfish and Indo-Pacific permit all over the world. It was created by Alex Gerbec while he was the Head Guide at Alphonse Island in Seychelles.

It works for more than permit and triggers, everything from bonefish to bluefin trevally and countless other species love this fly.

The body of the crab is tied using flexo material used to coat electrical wires. Legs and claws are then inserted using chenille, and there is a dumbbell eye tied to the hook inside the body.

A flexo crab is as realistic looking as a crab fly gets and the body has holes in it, allowing it to sink naturally too. This is why it tricks permit so well.

Sizes & Colors

The flexo crab comes in sizes 2 to 6 and you will want a range of them in your box. The smaller flexos are excellent for fussy permit.

The colors to have in your box included tan, white, olive, and orange. Tan and white are great for permit while orange is deadly on triggers.

How to Fish a Flexo Crab

The flexo crab is meant to be fished off the bottom. Lead your fish by 6 feet and let the fly sink. Then it is all about slow steady strips making it look like a crab moving slowly along the bottom.

Raghead Crab Fly

The Raghead Crab Fly was designed to catch permit in Mexico but will work for bonefish, triggerfish, and even striped bass.

It imitates a variety of crabs excellently and should be used anywhere crabs are living, which is every tropical saltwater destination on the planet.

It is made with heavy dumbbell eyes so it sinks quickly. Add in the rubber legs, synthetic body, plus the maribou and hackles to make the claws, and you have an awesome fly.

The fly sits hook upwards on the bottom to help it swim naturally and to avoid any snags.

Sizes & Colors

The Raghead comes sizes 2 through to 8, and you should own a few of each to match the crabs in a specific area.

It comes in tan, olive, and cream colors. Again, get a few of each so you can match the color bottom you are fishing on.

How to Fish the Raghead Crab Fly

This fly is meant to be fished off the bottom. Let it sink ahead of the fish and follow up with long slow strips.

Clouser Minnow

The Clouser Minnow is an all-around excellent baitfish imitation. These types of flies can be used to catch everything from bonefish to GTs across its different sizes.

It is tied with bucktail and heavy dumbbell eyes which gives it awesome action when stripped in. As you strip and pause, the fly rises and sinks looking like an injured baitfish that predators can’t resist.

It is a heavy fly making it great for searching deep areas like channels. You can also use the lighter versions on the flats.

Size & Colors

Clouser minnows come in sizes 2 to 4/0. What sizes you need depends on your target. Smaller for small fish, bigger for big fish. Owning a range of them is a good idea so you are ready for anything.

Great color combinations to have include:

  • Tan & White
  • Blue & White
  • Chartreuse & White
  • Grey & White
  • Black & Purple

How to Fish a Clouser Minnow

Clouser Minnows are designed to be fished deep and work great when blind casting. Cast long into deep areas and let the fly sink. Then a medium retrieve with pauses is very effective.

You can also use them for sight fishing. Be sure to lead the fish and let the fly sink. A medium strip to start, followed by matching the speed of the fish, fast or slow, will work well.

EP Baitfish

The EP Baitfish is an epic saltwater fly that imitates large baitfish. It is my go-to on my saltwater fly rod for anything predatory from GTs to roosterfish and more.

Made from EP fibers, it doesn’t absorb water which makes casting it along with a heavy hook a lot easier. The fibers also provide an excellent profile of a baitfish, making it look very realistic in the water.

These flies land softly on the water, not to spook fish. But, they do not sink well though so you should make sure to lead the fish as much as you can to give it time to get into the feeding zone.

Sizes & Colors

These flies come in sizes 2/0 to 6/0. Match the size to the size of the predator and have a range of sizes in your box for every occasion.

EP Baitfish flies come in a lot of color patterns, my favorites are:

  • Tan & White
  • Tan
  • Black & Purple
  • Black & Blue
  • Chartreuse & White
  • Red & Yellow
  • Red

How to Fish an EP Baitfish Fly

Since this fly doesn’t sink well, lead the fish by two rod lengths or more. Once the fish is within 3 feet of the fly, start with a long smooth strip. Speed up if the fish comes quickly, stay slow if it comes slowly.

Brush Fly

A brush fly is another excellent saltwater fly for anything that likes to eat bait fish. It will work for roosterfish, GTs, tarpon, dorado, tuna, and more.

It is called a brush fly as it is made with a “brush” which forms a stunning profile that looks just like a baitfish. Predators love this fly as it has a very natural movement in the water too.

A brush fly is tied with synthetic materials most of the time, so it is light and doesn’t absorb water, making casting it easier. But, this means it doesn’t sink well, so you will need to give it time to do so.

Size & Colors

Brush flies come in sizes 2/0 to 6/0. Owning a range is best in my eyes, but 4/0 and 6/0 work for most predatory species.

Brush flies also come in a large range of colors. Here are the ones to have:

  • Red & Yellow
  • Red
  • Tan
  • Tan & White
  • Black
  • Black & Purple (my favorite for the surf)
  • Black & Red
  • Chartreuse & White
  • Blue & White
  • Olive

How to Fish a Brush Fly

You fish a brush fly the same way you fish an EP baitfish fly. Cast 2 rod lengths in front of the fish, let the fly sink. A slow long strip to start, then match the speed of the fish, slow or fast, with your stripping.

Double Barreled Popper

The double barreled popper is another excellent fly for saltwater predators as it makes a ton of noise on the surface and looks like a baitfish. Tuna, dorado, GTs, and more species love them!

The fly is made with a foam head shaped with a double barrel at the front. Back tail is then tied to make a tail behind the foam head.

This fly sits on the surface and when stripped properly it makes a large bubble trail and a lot of noise. This attracts predators and when they see the baitfish profile on the surface, they inhale the fly.

Size & Colors

This fly comes in sizes 6/0 or 8/0 and having both sizes is recommended.

In terms of colors, here are the best ones to have:

  • Black head & purple tail
  • Black head & red tail
  • White head & chartreuse tail
  • White head & tan/white tail

How to Fish a Double Barreled Popper

Fishing a double barreled popper is a little different from most flies as it is a surface fly.

Cast it as far as you can and then retrieve, pause, and retrieve. The retrieve should be short, sharp, and powerful to make it “pop”. The idea is to make as much noise as possible and a big bubble trail.


NYAP stands for (not your average popper) and is another creation from the guides in Seychelles, James Christmas in this case.

It is similar to a double barreled popper, with a foam head and buck tail rear. The shape of the head is very different though. It has a slimmer profile and makes a different noise and bubble trail.

This fly is also excellent for GTs, tuna, dorado, and any other predatory species that likes to eat off the surface.

Size & Colors

A NYAP should be either 6/0 or 8/0, own them both.

Here are the colors to have:

  • Black head & purple tail
  • Black head & red tail
  • White head & chartreuse tail
  • White head & tan/white tail

How to Fish a NYAP

Fish a NYAP the exact same way as a double barrel popper. Long casts, short sharp strips, followed by a pause, and repeat. Make a lot of noise!

fly fisherman holding fly rod and reel on beach

A Guide to Choosing Saltwater Flies

There are quite a few different things to consider when choosing saltwater flies.

The first is what does the fish you want to catch eat and what fly pattern imitates it best. It is then about color, size, weight, and hook quality.

What Should My Saltwater Flies Imitate?

There are three main creatures the fish saltwater fly anglers want to catch eat. These include shrimps, crabs, and baitfish.

Different fish prefer some of these better than others. For example, permit and bonefish love crabs and shrimp but roosterfish and GTs like baitfish more than anything else.

Your saltwater fly box should have a range of flies that imitate shrimps, crabs, and baitfish.

saltwater fly fishing flies and fly rod and reel

Size & Color Matter

Once you have found the patterns you want to have, it is all about sizes and colors. When it comes to size, you want to match the size of the natural shrimps/crabs/baitfish where you are fishing.

Since you won’t know until you get there, having a range of different sizes is always your best option.

Color is all about natural imitations or colors fish can see easily.

When it comes to crabs and shrimps, you should always fish a fly that matches the color of the bottom. You will be fishing white sand, tan, or green grassy bottoms, and your flies should match these!

In regards to baitfish fly colors, natural limitations such as tan and white, which look like mullet, or blue and white, which look like mackerel are excellent.

Dark colors are also very effective as they are much easier for predatory fish to see in the water.


Saltwater flies are weighted differently, a bit like wet flies and dry flies. Some have no weight at all like brush flies, others are weighted so they can be fished on the bottom, like crab and shrimp flies.

It pays to have a range of different weighted flies in your box as it allows you to fish different depths that you come across on the water.

This means you should have heavy crabs and shrimp flies as well as lighter ones. Get some weighted baitfish patterns and some unweighted ones too.

Jamie holding large Giant Trevally

Hook Quality

You might not know this, but hook quality is a big deal when it comes to certain species, GTs and triggerfish in particular.

The last thing you want is your hook to straighten when you are fighting a fish on the strong drag of a saltwater fly reel. Make sure your flies are tied on quality hooks, the best being Gamakatsu SL12.

These hooks come in a range of sizes, triggers struggle to bite through them, and GTs won’t straighten them.

Winding Up

Some people say you can never have enough flies. But it is actually about having the best saltwater flies for the job. If you have a few of each of the flies featured above, you can catch fish all over the world.

If you have any questions about the flies, stories, or think we missed one, please let us know in the comments below. We would love to hear from you!

Jamie Melvin

Growing up fishing on streams and lakes in Kenya and the UK, Jamie has traveled the world in search of fishing nirvana. From his time managing bonefish lodges in the Bahamas and running fishing safaris in East Africa, all the way to guiding on the flats of Seychelles and offshore, there are not many species or environments he hasn't experienced firsthand.

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