The first thing is to figure out is were to go? There are so many options, Bahamas, Mexico, Belize, Los Roques, The Keys, Cuba... It will depend on both your budget and preferred way to fish. Some places offer miles of wadable flats, while others solely offer fishing from a boat. I would suggest contacting a reliable travel agency specialized in Fly Fishing trips or whenever possible, ask someone from your local flyshop. Maybe they have fished some places and can offer you some good advise on both locations and the right tackle to take with you.
Flats fishing is one of my favorite things to do in the whole world. But you have to master a few skills before you can be successful, the quickest way to learn the essential skills is to fish with a good guide. He will teach you more in one day, then you would doing it on your own for a whole month. After you have learned the basic skills of spotting, casting, reading the fish, setting the hook and handling the fish correctly. You are ready to fish DIY if you choose to do it on your own. But remember, good spots are usually crowded and without a boat you won’t be able to quickly run to another spot if the one you are fishing isn’t productive. On the other hand it can be very rewarding catching a (large) fish when no one is there to help you. In the end it is up to you to decide what works for you.
When you pinpointed the location were you want to fish, know that every destination will require different tactics. If you were to approach the fish in Islamorada the same way you fished in Asencion Bay, you will quickly find out that the game is played very differently. Also the equipment has to be adapted to the circumstances and size of the fish. Doing research about the location is a vital part of every pre-trip ritual!
It might seem obvious but preparing for a flyfishing trip is both a necessity and brings joy at the same time. The most successful fishermen always prepare themselves the best way they possibly can. I’m willing to say that practicing you casting at least every week will result in more fish caught when out on the flats. I served for twelve years in the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps and we had an important saying; Train hard, Fight easy! But since we’re wielding a flyrod and not a rifle let’s convert that to Train hard, Fish easy!
So what kind of Fly Fishing Equipment do we need? Well that will depend a little on the location and time of year and we have to adjust according the size/weight of both the fly and the fish. For example, the Bonefish in Mexico are smaller than the fish in Hawaii or the Florida Keys. And the size of the Tarpon in Cuba can vary depending what time of year it is... are the large migratory fish there? Or just the resident 'baby' poons. As an general rule you can use the following gear.
|LARGE FISH||8/9-wt + 300yards backing||10-weight 300yards backing||11/12-weight 300-400yards backing||12/14-weight 300-400yards backing|
|SMALL-MEDIUM FISH||6/8-weight + 200yards backing||9-weight 250yards backing||9/10-weight 200-300yards backing||10/12-weight 300yards backing|
Large Being, Bonefish 8Lbs+, Permit 25Lbs+, Tarpon 70Lbs+ and Gt's 70Lbs+
We have to take into account that saltwater fishing demands different equipment than let's say fishing for trout in a lake or river. The fish are much stronger and the elements unforgiving. So we need good quality reels with either cork drags or quality sealed drags. Inferior material will fail, believe me... I have been there and you do not want to loose the fish of your live time.
Here is my personal set-up for flats fishing:
Large Bonefish 8Lbs+ 'Small' Bonefish up to 8Lbs
Douglas SKY 9ft #8 + Abel Super 7/8 Douglas SKY 9ft #6 + Abel SDF 6/7
Permit & Baby Tarpon Tarpon
Douglas SKY 9ft #10 + Abel Super 9/10 Douglas SKY 9ft #12 + Abel Super 11/12
The wind is blowing, we have a outgoing tide en the bonefish is cruising towards us. The only thing we need to do is present our fly within 3 seconds so the fish sees it without spooking and taking off like a rocket... good luck buddy!
This is exactly the type of scenario we encounter on the flats. You need to bring your A game in order to be successful. This is the reason why we need gear that will help us do that. Trust me when I say, not every rod-line combination can do this! You need a setup that loads quickly, generated high line speed to cut through the wind and turnover your fly and the fly needs to land gently.
Yep... not an easy trick to pull off. But it can be done and some rods do it better than others. Off course the most important thing is learn how to cast with tight loops and learn to double haul. If you are a lousy caster, no rod in the world will make you cast like a pro. So like anything in live, you have to put your time in and practice ( a lot ) to get better. This is why every flats guide and every flats fishing book, DVD etc. will tell you tip #1 is:
practice your casting !
We have tested many rods over the years and the best rod we could find is the Douglas SKYseries. Some say the tip is a little heavy on the #8 SKY. But who cares about that when that rod will send out laser beams cutting through wind like a hot knife through butter and will enable you to catch more fish!?
If you are on a budget the Guideline Rsi or Douglas DXF 8-weight rods are also a great rods for fishing the flats. This is not just a wild guess, we have fished both the SKY, DXF and the Rsi extensively for bonefish and we did a side by side comparison with these and other rods. We are also very excited about the new NT8 FOUR from Guideline, we have casted with the 9ft 7-weight already and it is an amazing rod! We hope to receive the 8-weight soon so we can have battle between the NT8 and the SKY to see which one will win. Another amazing rod is the Thomas and Thomas Exocett, it has a softer tip and is more forgiving. Which couldbe fital when your not a really great caster. The looks and finish of the Exocett rod is the very best out there!
If you are not capable to control your loop size and/or double haul... just contact a flyshop that has staff who can do that and offer you expert advise based upon real experience. It is best to practice with a well-balanced setup. When you improve your casting skills there is no need to get another setup, this will save you money in the longrun.
If you are able to both double haul and control the size of your loops etc. Go to the Flyshop yourself and test different rods and you will see for yourself that the differences between rods are very noticeable!
Okay so we have a rod that perfect for flats fishing, but do I need a expensive reel or not? The answer is no you do not need it. But many cheap reels are not suitable for fishing in the harsh saltwater environment. The drag is not built to withstand salt and blistering runs from big fish. Remember even a 6lb Bonefish can peel 100-yards of backing from your reel in just seconds! In the past I must admit I used reels that either broke down or jammed. It sucks... but I lost one of the biggest bonefish I have ever seen because it took off and the reel jammed. The fly is hanging in our shop to remember this moment, the hooks straightened.
Choose a reel with either an open cork-drag system or a fully sealed one. The Ross LTX 7/8 is a great reel for targeting Bonefish and you get a super lightweight reel with a quality fully sealed drag. All without having to break the bank. Other reels to consider would be the Abel Super series, they feature a cork-drag that has landed more IGFA records than any other reel! Some say it has to 'much' start-up inertia, but have they put a drop of oil on the drag? I have caught a lot of Bonefish on these reels hundred and hundres of them and even my first Tarpon, Steelhead and Permit, and never ever had a failure. Plus I just love the sound and the classy look of these reels. But if you must have a fully sealed drag go for the Abel SDS ( Sealed Drag Salt ) or a little more affordable Ross Evolution R Salt. Both amazing fly reels!
Main thing to consider is do you love the sound and looks of the reel? Some like a more classic look while other prefer a reel that looks like it came back from the future. The choice is yours to make, so choose a reel that you like to fish with! That is always a important factor if you ask me.
There are many great lines for flats fishing. The main thing they all have in common is that they won't turn to spaghetti when it's hot outside and it get hot sometimes in the tropics ;-)
Regular cold water lines just won't work as good if at all. A great affordable line from Airflo called SUPER-DRI™ these lines are a great option. Both the Bonefish and Tarpon versions are really great all round tapers. They will load, fast action rods nicely and they are very easy to cast with. Another really great option are the new Direct Core lines from RIO. They are expensive but cast like a dream and feature RIO’s SureFire technology. This triple color, distance-marking design takes the guesswork out of accuracy and distance control, allowing anglers to make higher percentage shots to cruising targets.
The RIO DirectCore is a amazing line it is a dedicated Bonefish version. The RIO Tarpon line is also a favorite and used by many of the worlds best Tarpon guides and anglers. If you're a beginner I would suggest the Airflo lines, easy to cast with and they are affordable.
LEADER & TIPPET
The best leaders are the ones you tie yourself! Trust me we tested everything out o the market! We use RIO hard mono for this. Bruce Chard has a great video that will show you how to tie one:
I know for a fact that we humans are lazy, it's basic biology. Save your energy for when you really need it. But we are firm believers that you catch way more fish on hand tied leaders. They will straighten much better especially when the wind is blowing. It is vital that your lines, leader and tippet will turn over properly and land in a straight line. That way when you start your retrieve you are immediately moving you fly. Instead of first having to strip in four feet or more line before the fly starts to move. You also need to make accurate presentations, with tailing fish you need it to land not on a diner plate. But rather on a area the size of a saucer and no I'm not joking! How can you do that with a leader that does not turn over? You have no control what so ever...
I like my leaders on the longer side, the fly sinks faster, plus the fish or other fish hanging around do not spook as quickly compared to a shorter leader. 12-16ft including tippet is optimal for me, if you go longer you give up accuracy and the ability to straighten your leader in the wind. I like 3ft of tippet, so you end up with a 9-13ft leader.
For tippet I use Fluorocarbon from Froghair, this brand has never failed me and comes in 100meter spools. FC because I want the fly + leader to sink as quickly as possible. FC does that better than mono. I use 0.33mm (01x)down to 0.2003 (7x) depending on the conditions, 0.254mm or 1x is a nice middle ground for Bonefish. And 0.33mm (01x) is great for tarpon, to that I add a bite guard called Froghair FC Nibblet of 60Lb or 80Lb. This is a piece of 50cm FC that comes in a tube, that way it stays nice and straight and we don't have to stretch it before we use it.
For Bonefish it is important to have flies with you in three weights. I use small and medium brass eyes and small lead eyes. It is very important to get the fly down as quickly as possible, but without spooking the fish. I use leadeyes more and more and try to lead the fish a little more so they don't spook. This is in water approximately 2-5ft deep. This way I know my fly is on the bottom and stays there when I strip it. A heavier fly will stay more balanced during the retrieve and will usually stand on the bottom without tipping over or rolling on it's side. This is vital when perusing bigger fish that are all properly educated! Bonefish can reach an age up to 23years, you don't survive that long being a dumb ass! I can assure you that bigger fish of 8Lb and up won't take your fly if it acts funny. The fly has to act like a real shrimp or crab would. Darting up towards the surface is not some thing a shrimp would do, unless his momma named him Geronimo ;-)
Most important factors for any fly are:
- Hook quality
- Weight / Sinkrate
- Has to 'swim' right
- Size / Shape
- How it lands on the watersurface ( big splash v.s slight blip )
There are a few items that will be very helpful and some a bare necessity. I always carry my fly boxes, leaders, nippers, pliers, etc. in a waterproof lumbar. The best out there is the Fishpond Thunderhead Lumbar. It is super sturdy, made from ultra tough 1680d TPU coated recycled Cyclepond nylon. Has all the pockets and attachment spots you need and more. Our absolute favorite!You should at least bring:PliersNippersStrip FingersHatPolaroid Sunglasses, preferably x2Leader and tippet materialWater --> plenty of it!
Please leave those grip things at home that clamp the fish inthe mouth. It damages the fish and is totally unnessecary!
Okay so we have covered all the basics... rember to get the right gear and practice you casting. Try to read some books about flats fishing before you go. Now just plan a trip and have fun fishing, that is what it is all about!