Top Tips to Master in Saltwater Fly Fishing for Beginners

There is nothing better than standing in the mouth of an estuary, sending a long line out with the hope you get an eat.

Unlike freshwater fly fishing, the saltwater game can be challenging, as we are exposed to the harsh elements and the changing tides. You won’t always catch fish, but hopefully, we can up your chances a fair bit with the below tips.

Understanding the tides, reading the environment, and having the right flies and gear all play a role in your success. I have learned so much from friends, and actual time on the water, it is unbelievable! A few simple techniques and tricks helped me up my catch rate and not blank as much.

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That early morning start, the drive in the dark to the chosen fishing area for the day. Gearing up to be on location just in time for the chosen tide takes time to learn and plan.

These factors dramatically influence your day, and I almost put more into these plans than making my fly selection. Almost!

The below information is based on my experience and success at saltwater fly fishing. It’s up to you to work out what is best for you and your style, and hopefully, you can get a few fish to hand.

man fly fishing in saltwater

What Gear do I Need to Get Started?

I know fly fishing gear can be expensive, especially if you buy everything to start with. I always tell friends and clients starting to ask for advice for your local fly shop as to what you will need to get your saltwater game on the go.

You don’t need the most expensive gear to start fishing and work your way up to the pricy stuff.

Check out the Best Beginner Friendly Fly Rods.

Fly Rods

Rods – for saltwater fly fishing, I like to start with a 9′ 7wt fly rod. This is an excellent rod for light saltwater fly fishing.

The 9wt is a great second rod to have for the larger flies coastal winds that we all learn to love, eventually! Upwards from a 9wt, the 10/12wts are big rods for GTs, tarpon; these will be specific purchases for a planned trip to the islands or the south.

Check out these links on Best Saltwater Rods & How to Choose the Right Fly Rod.


Always get a reel that is the same weight as your fly rod, and this ensures your setup will be balanced.

With saltwater reels, the drag is significant, I like a disk drag that I can open and clean myself. Many anglers choose the sealed drags, which is also acceptable. Make sure your reel is saltwater proof to prevent corrosion.

Check out this article on the Best Saltwater Fly Reels.

Fly Fines

Fly lines depend hugely on the type of water you will be fishing, but generally, a floating line will cover most of your conditions.

It’s handy to have an intermediate fly line or a sinking tip line to help when fishing those deeper channels.

A handy note – when choosing fly lines, make sure you get the right lines for the water temperature you will be fishing and tropical lines for warm waters and the cold core lines for the colder climates.

saltwater fly fishing rod and fly box with flies

What Flies to Use?

What flies to use for saltwater fly fishing is a very broad-spectrum question. There are so many patterns out there, and they all have their time, purpose, and place. The fly selection will depend on where and what you will be fishing for.

Below I will list 5 flies I don’t leave the house without, regardless of what I’m targeting.

  • Clouser Minnow – This is a classic saltwater pattern and one that I have caught many fish on. Its baitfish profile, ease in tying, and casting just make it a winner. I carry chartreuse over white and blue over white as a standard.
  • Flippers – A simple surface pattern that is easy to tie and fishes well, and it creates a lot of surface disturbance which is a massive trigger.
  • Crazy Charlies – These simple little patterns have been around for many years, and for a good reason. They catch fish! Many species love this fly, imitating small baitfish, shrimp, and prawns.
  • The Turd – Is an iconic South African prawn pattern. It has over the years accounted for many a fish, and it is always worth having a few.
  • EP Baitfish – EP fibers have revolutionized the baitfish tying world. The patterns now have more movement and bulk with less weight which is fantastic! I carry a few larger patterns for those big bull reds or snooks that cruise around independently.

fly fisherman fishing in sea

What Water Should I Look for?

Reading the water is a great skill to learn, and it will help you make better-informed decisions on the water.

Read the tides.

An incoming tide is best to fish at river mouth and inlets. Take note of how much water moves in as you don’t want to be caught out at sea on the high tide.

Look for channels on the low tide, so you know where to fish on the incoming high tide. Fish will use these deeper holes for hunting.

Look out for birds! Birds tell you a lot of what is happening around you. They can see the fish from above and will move with the shoals. When you see them diving, it’s a great sign to get that fly in the water while feeding fish around.

Bubble lines are also very helpful to follow and use. Often fish move with these bubble/scum lines as this is where they can find food. Fishing either side of these lines can be very productive.

fisherman fly fishing in ocean from beach

Strategies and Techniques for Saltwater Fly Fishing

Saltwater fly-fishing techniques vary depending on where you choose to fish.

  • Know what type of water you will be fishing.
  • Pre-plan your timings with the tide schedule.
  • Have a basic game plan for the day.
  • Always take a fishing jacket. It can get cold out on the ocean.
  • Have a selection of flies for the species you will target. Always take a few extra.
  • Carry an extra rod and line if you can. There is nothing worse than losing a line and not having a second to carry on fishing with.
  • Sunblock is a must!

Final Thoughts

As I mentioned, I love a day out on the salt. It’s so refreshing leaving the small stream’s rod at home and grabbing the 9wt for the big boys.

Feeling the pure power some of our saltwater species have is phenomenal. Getting the fish to hand and getting a quick photo before you send it back to fight another day is what it’s all about.

So,s get out there and get fishing!

Tight lines.

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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