In the years that I have been exploring the salt flats of the world, I have built up a ridiculous number of saltwater flies. I suspect I am not alone in this affliction. Show me a fisherman that says he can resist buying the latest creations in the tackle retailers and I will show you a liar… after all, it is half the fun! In the early stages of saltwater fishing, most buy flies for certain species. They will pick up an empty box and begin to fill it with those flies that look most attractive on the shelf. My early boxes were an eclectic mix of different patterns, sizes, and densities.
On arrival at your destination, the guides will “indicate” that most of your saltwater flies are useless and that you should be using particular patterns that work in that location. You go home, remove half of your box and go and buy only that fly. You then turn up at another destination and find that pattern does not work there, so you repeat the process. I suppose where I am going with this is that your fly box will evolve over time. I have found a pattern emerges: there are certain patterns that work everywhere, and there are patterns which are specific to species and location. Ideally, you therefore require a number of different fly boxes to suit both location and species.
As time has passed I have concluded that less is best. After numerous trips, a quick analysis of my now overflowing collection of C&F waterproof boxes showed I was using only 40 % of the flies in it. I therefore now only buy flies by the dozen, and my boxes are broken down into areas of the globe. It also aids my OCD as it makes my boxes uniform, but that is another story! I also no longer travel with 47 different fly boxes, storage boxes of the flies I might need just in case. I carry two fly boxes and a ziplock fly wallet. The latter is possibly the most significant addition as I can carry 40 – 50 large flies up to 4 inches long on 6/0 hooks in one lightweight waterproof package. Lastly, all my saltwater flies are tied on top quality hooks either Gamakatsu, or Tiemco SP. There is no point having a great fly pattern if the hook is going to bend or snap.
Hot Legs Foxy Gotcha | Sand Prawn | Itchy Trigger
One it comes to bonefish I have to admit to having a bit of a rubber fetish, I love flies that have rubber legs. I find these patterns to be most imitative of the small crustaceans I am attempting to imitate, and first and for most I love the Hot Legs Foxy Gotcha. The Gotcha has been the staple bonefish pattern all over the world and you can use them everywhere. Originally evolved from the Crazy Charlie, the Gotcha is a flashy pearly morsel and with the addition of some rubber legs with orange tips is pretty much irresistible.
Next is the now well-known pattern called the Sand Prawn. This pattern was developed on Alphonse in Seychelles by James Christmas and just looking at it makes my mouth water. If I was a fish I would hoover it up, and on white sand flats or any coral, it has proved irresistible to bonefish, triggerfish and even small trevally. The orange lead beads on its back make it lie hook up on the bottom and combined with the hard mono weed guards it is my go to fly on the flats. For larger bonefish I have also had huge success with the Itchy Trigger which is tied on a heavy wire hook and works particularly well for triggerfish which it’s developed for.
Alphonse Crab | Gumby Crab
Most fish on the salt flats eat crabs. This is a conclusion reached by many hardened saltwater veterans and particularly advocated by Chico Fernandez in his book “Fly-fishing for Bonefish”. If in doubt, use a crab. For bigger species such as permit, golden trevally, triggerfish, bump head parrot fish and normal parrots Alphonse Crabs and keel crabs are my favourite such as the Gumby Crab . The keel is a recent development in saltwater flies, also utilised on the sand prawn, and consists of a hard mono loop tied onto the back of the fly on which a series of lead beads are threaded. This gives the fly some weight for casting, but as soon as it lands in the water the keel flips to the bottom inverting the crab and ensuring it always lands with the hook point up. Not only does this prevent catching the bottom the whole time, but it also helps when hooking up. Both these patterns also contain a bit of rubber… very important of course.
Black Death Tarpon Bunny | Toad Fly
For big fish, I move to my wallet. There are two patterns I always go to for tarpon, the Black Death Tarpon Bunny and the Toad Fly. The Toad fly in Chartreuse was developed by Andy Mill of tarpon catching fame in the Florida Keys and is mostly constructed from marabou. Although not the most durable of materials in the salt, this fly is so mobile it can be made to pulse in the water. By pulsing it with the retrieve it is possible to induce an aggressive reaction from tarpon. The Black Death Tarpon Bunny is again based on the mobile materials of marabou on the body and a zonker strip for the tail (rabbit strip). In Cuba and the Caribbean it has proved to be a tarpon killer.
GT Brushy | Gym Sock | NYAP
Finally for my personal obsession, giant trevally. Big fish like a big mouthful, so most of my GT patterns are tied on 6/0 hooks. I use two mainly, the GT brushy and the Gym Sock. Both are baitfish imitations and have a large profile, but are tied with synthetic materials so they don’t hold water when casting. For fishing in the surf I also love the NYAP (not your average popper). This flat headed popper is easy to cast and does not become hooked up on the coral when being pounded by the surf. The takes are explosive and extremely visual.
So here is my code: only take what you can carry. Pick half a dozen of your favourite patterns and carry them in different sizes and weights. Use a Ziplock wallet for large flies. Use the advice of whoever is booking your trip for you. Use flies tied on top quality hooks. Using this code will keep you under you baggage allowance and save your wallet from an unnecessary work out. Oh, and your saltwater flies box will look very pretty…
Check out Peter’s other Saltwater articles here