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Fly Fishing for Trout in Salt Water versus Fresh Water

By Barrie Mann

Having just moved from California, where I lived close to a river loaded with Rainbow Trout, to Central Florida within a stones throw of some of the best salt water flats fishing, I naturally thought all I needed to do was take my fly rod and flies and go fish for the salt water species of fish known as the Speckled Trout.

I was wrong. I needed to learn some new skills. In fact I need to learn to fly fish all over again.

The author riding with Phil Triano returning from a tarpon fishing tripWhen I say I needed to learn to fly fish all over again, let me explain. I have fished for as long as I can remember and fly fished exclusively for the last 15 years. So why do I say that I needed to learn how to fly fish again?

Well the answer is simply this: I’m a fly fisher that has pursued the fresh water trout species and is now trying to catch the saltwater trout species. Changing from fresh water to salt made a bigger difference than I could have imagined.

I’ve been lucky enough to fish some popular waters for trout including such rivers as the Madison, Fire Hole, Yellowstone and others in the western states as well as several well known streams in the eastern states. I’ve also been lucky enough to land some large fish including Steelhead and Salmon on a fly.

It took me several years to become moderately proficient at catching trout on a fly, and a lot of effort learning how to read the water, learning which fly to tie on to my leader and when to use it. After several years of mediocre fishing trips when I would catch some trout despite all the mistakes I made, I finally reached the stage when I could approach a river or stream and fairly quickly decide where to put the fly I had tied on, and how to fish it. In other words I had learned to fly fish in a river.

Having moved from the venue of freshwater trout, to the home of saltwater trout, I thought my previously honed skills would stand me in good stead and I would immediately start catching fish. Was I mistaken!

I quickly learned that although the principle may be similar, the actual practice is very different. First and foremost, I found that reading the water in a stream or river is very different than reading water of a tidal flat. A river flow is fairly constant unless the river becomes swollen with rain or snow melt runoff and even then the water recedes to its normal state fairly quickly. On a tidal flat, the water is in a constant state of change due to tidal influence, and when you think you have it figured out, it changes again because tides change daily.

The other major change I faced was realizing that Preparing for a day of tarpon fishing on Pine Island Soundmy casting skills, adequate as they were for small rivers and streams, were woefully inadequate for fishing the constant windy salt water flats. I had been used to throwing light lines and small flies and doing so in fairly good conditions. If it became too windy I could always go back to the good old roll cast and not worry about the wind affecting the fishing.

On the salt flat it wasn’t so. All of a sudden I found myself throwing much heavier lines and big bushy, or heavy, flies in windy conditions that made controlling the cast difficult to say the least. I needed to learn how to cast all over again. I didn’t know how to double haul because I had learned how to cast without it, but soon realized that to get the line speed needed to get distance in windy conditions learning to double haul is a must.

Now that I knew the problems I faced, it was time to put a plan of action into place. I did what many of us do these days. I started researching articles on salt water fly fishing on the internet. I went to the library and read books. The problem was that everything I read assumed I knew the basics of fishing in salt water and I felt that I didn’t.

Very frustrated, I looked for other avenues to expand my much needed knowledge and fortunately found a fly fishing club with friendly members who fish the salt water flats. After attending a couple of meetings I joined the club and started forging friendships with some of the members. I picked their brains to learn fly selection, what to look for when fishing the flat in terms of structure and habitat.

I was fortunate enough to have offers to go with members to fish, and when I did, I asked questions and observed as much as possible. I took advantage of the casting clinics the club offered and started to improve my distance casting, but I was still struggling with the double haul cast. For the longest time I fooled myself by thinking that as I could cast 50 or 60 feet with reasonable accuracy, I really didn’t need to learn the double haul. I was wrong, it’s not a distance thing, you need the double haul cast to generate line speed to cut through the ever present wind..

Head out to the Gulf of Mexico through Captiva Pass to fish for tarponFly fishing for trout is the same whether you’re fishing in rivers or streams, or the tidal flats of the salt water coast line. You need to have certain skills and knowledge to be successful, but it is very different and you may need to adapt to a different mindset.

It has taken time, but I have learned that fishing the flats in search of salt water Speckled Trout, and or, Redfish, the two most sought after species, is not very different than seeking Rainbow or Brown Trout in a river or stream.

You need to understand the water conditions, the habitat, and be knowledgeable of feeding opportunities for the fish. You need to know how to cast and present the fly, feel the take, bring the fish to hand and release it. Once you can do all these things consistently you can claim to be a fly fisher.

I’m still learning and hope to eventually make that claim. The only additional advice I can give you is to have fun while learning, it’ll make the process more enjoyable. Tight lines to you.

Author Bio:

Barrie Mann is an avid fly fisherman with extensive experience fishing such rivers as the Yellowstone, Madison as well as many of the streams in the Eastern Sierra in California.

His knowledge of fishing for trout has allowed him to write for a local California Newspaper the Kern River Sun in which he has over a dozen articles published.

Now living in New Smyrna Beach, Florida he is turning his fly fishing efforts to fishing the flats of the Indian River and Mosquito Lagoons.

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