Saturday, 16 August 2008

Bass Fishing on the Fly - P8 - Species, when, and where.

Saltwater fly-fishing fundamentals

Part three – the species and the possibilities

For most people who are not saltwater fly fishers, along with a considerable percentage of those who are, often seem to think that saltwater fly fishing is limited to wading or being poled in a spectacularly white, extremely powerful speed boat over shallow tropical flats in search of tarpon, bonefish or permit. Admittedly, this may be the best-publicised aspect of the sport and the three species above are regarded as the "holy grail” of saltwater fly-fishing. Here in Ireland it’s a little different and while it may often be less glamorous it is by no means and may indeed be, more difficult than the warmer water fishing.

Bass were, at one time, abundant along most of Ireland’s coastline. Due largely to over fishing by inshore gill-netters and the continued illegal practice, today they are more restricted in distribution but still occur in some areas and especially difficult to access natural shoreline areas. Sea trout have also suffered but are now beginning to recover somewhat. Mullet are present in large shoals – often seen mooching around estuaries and backwaters. So what are we saying then? Well sea bass are somewhat abundant and are the prime target for the saltwater fly fisher, even sea trout and mullet can be caught if one knows where and when to fish, but what other challenges can a saltwater fly fisher face in Ireland. Apart from these three species what else is there?

As we have discussed in previous issues, under the right conditions, all of the species above can be caught using the same fly outfit: an 8- or 9-weight rod and a reel with a smooth drag and a capacity of at least 75 to 100 yards of 20-pound backing, in addition to a weight-forward fly line. Depending upon the conditions and the type of fish, a floating or sinking line may be employed. The best all-around line choice for experienced anglers is probably an intermediate (slow sinking) line, but beginners may want to stick with floating lines until they hone their casting skills.

Any number of flies work well on these fish; deceivers, minnows, poppers, flatwing and baitfish patterns are often employed. One of the best all-around patterns is the deceiver; is successful all over the world for many species. Trout often show a preference for baitfish flies; adding Mylar or crystal hair to one's offering and using body material dyed yellow, orange, and even red can make a difference. Mullet have a preference for maggot or bread imitation flies and are often caught in the most unexpected circumstances.

I believe most of the effort expended by Irish fly fishers along the coastline could be directed at other fishes and other alternative fly fishing methods. In a bid to expand and further understand our potential quarry four of the possible ‘unexploited’ and dare I say it somewhat ‘unexplored’ fly rod targets are wrasse, garfish, pollack and flounder. Regarding techniques other fly-fishing methods might include the use of the double-handed rod and distance overhead or spey casting methods. The options are limitless and surely present true frontier fishing for us all.

One doesn't have to spend $400-$500 a day for a tropical saltwater guide to experience fly fishing for some tropical bone crushing predator — many of the spots where sea trout, flounder, garfish, and pollack can be caught around Ireland are accessible from shore and can provide their own reward often greater than landing a large GT on a #10 outfit while labouring over the fish in 100 degrees for hours. These rewards may often come in the form of new personalised techniques, guile and watercraft not yet available to the ordinary fisher. One of the techniques I would like to mention is the use of longer double-handed rods between the length of 11’-0” and 12’-0”

The conventional single hand overhead caster will depend on the single or double haul to achieve maximum line speed; the effort of constant casting is spread across both arms as well as the shoulders. Irrespective of your casting efficiency, during a long session it can become very tiring, especially when using the heavier weight rods. Some people never really adjust to the proximity of big flies whizzing past their heads at considerable speed whilst fishing with nine-foot rods and hence a lot of would be saltwater fishermen pack in early. Lets talk about the double-hander or two-handed light saltwater switch rod.

The two-handed overhead cast does not rely on the haul to achieve line speed; rather it depends on the rods power dynamics to utilize line weight and profile as a means to increase casting distance. This powerful casting technique has definite advantages. The most obvious advantages are the substantial distances that can be achieved with very little expended energy on the part of the caster. With a balanced line system, a moderate caster can easily achieve massive distances with a minimum of effort. With a moderate amount of practice, 90 to 110 ft. casts can easily be achieved with only one false cast.
The two-handed caster does not depend on just the wrists and forearms to work the line, as would a single hander. Rather, the work needed to accomplish the two-handed overhead cast is efficiently distributed throughout the casters entire upper body. When constant extreme distance presentations are required, this advantage can definitely create an easier, more relaxed day on the water. Your arms and shoulders will not be beaten up by the double haul. Your long distance casts can become more consistent, and they will be accurate. Back or face wind can be penetrated very effectively with a shooting head system, especially when throwing heavy, wind resistant flies. More time can be spent with your fly in the water rather then in the air!

There is also an element of safety here- two-handers allow you to avoid deep wading or creeping out to the end of dangerous and exposed rocky promontories. While working in big surf the longer rod will hold your line above the breaking waves during the retrieve. The ability of these rods to carry very large flies vast distances cannot be underestimated. It really has to be seen to be believed and here too lies a vast hunting ground for the surf fly fisherman. And remember these switch rods although long are available in all the lighter line ranges from #7 through to #9. All and all, whether you fish estuaries, surf, or fast moving waters, this is an incredibly effective caster and fishing friendly system to add to your fly-fishing techniques.

So what have we covered in these posts, we recognise there is a lot work, determination and observation required to increase and maintain your fly-fishing skills. It is necessary to be in tune with nature, to have confidence in casting and presentation and to posses a well balanced and effective fly-fishing outfit. Training in fly casting and fishing is more necessary than having a very expensive fishing reel. There are many species waiting to be caught effectively and efficiently with new techniques and flies and methods. But most of all I feel what we have to learn is what lies ahead of us.

Can any of us fly fishers’ say with confidence yes – I can catch many species on the fly in Irish Saltwater with no problems, I don’t think so. And therein lies the challenge. Its new, its undiscovered, there are no experts – only you, as you forge the new ground and limits of you own and ever improving saltwater fly fishing techniques, ranges and species.

If you haven't started to attempt to catch these ‘new’ fish on fly tackle, you're missing a lot of fun — give it a try!

Saltwater fly-fishing fundamentals

Part four – When and Where

1. Fly-fishing in the sea is difficult and can be hard work.
2. Confidence, but not over confidence is essential.
3. Always try to keep things simple
4. Success, when it happens, is a moment to be proud of and is extremely hard to beat.

My wife suspects I’m having an affair! I often go out fishing for three or four hours, with little or no visible stacks and boxes of gear – no long rods, umbrellas, beach lights, jackets, heavy boots or smelly stuff in pink boxes from California. When I come home her suspicions are often compounded, I am clean, I don’t smell badly I am still wearing the ‘good’ clothes I went out in and most of all, the singular most damning piece of evidence (apart from the lack of fish that is) is the often euphoric state of mind in which I return. Singing and humming vacantly to myself as I go about the domestic routine, I am often visibly and inwardly engaged in the somewhat ‘other worldly’ and mysteriously compulsive world of fly-fishing. My wife can often be seen standing at the living room door watching me dubiously, go about various chores in a happy go lucky sort of way. This of course creates doubt in her mind as to how I can be contented with a tin of Mr Sheen in my hand. It will bode all saltwater fly fishermen well to remember that -

1. The continuation of the existing marriage/relationship into the foreseeable future is not dependant on successful saltwater fly-fishing.
2. Regular confirmation with your partner/spouse of the benefits to your person through saltwater fly-fishing is essential.
3. It is essential to continue this development of the new improved you and it is intrinsically linked to the new pastime of saltwater fly-fishing.
4. You will need a strong ally to persist in this long and difficult challenge, someone who will listen attentively to boring fishing stories etc
5. Confirmation for tomorrow evening between 7:00 and 10:00 is ok for next session.

Over the next few pages I would like to recount my experiences of saltwater fly-fishing to date and to share some of those experiences with you. I want to try and make saltwater fly-fishing easier for you, based on what has happened to me, right or wrong. Right now if you are reading this you are probably on your Christmas holidays or are just about to begin them. It’s probably fairly miserable outside, the days are short, you go to work in darkness and you come home in darkness. The last of the flounder are running down the estuary and there are no cod to be caught. The end of January is a long way of and the distant summer seems like an eternity away. Take these few pages and use them to cast your mind back six months to the summer of 2003. Remember those days, it got light at 3:30 and was warm at 4:30; there was a distinct possibility of sunburn at 5:30 in the morning! Remember those early mornings? You had three hours of fishing done before you started work. What? You mean you don’t?

Lets come to terms with this one first. There are times during the day (or night) when it is easier to catch fish. These two times are generally considered to be – early morning time, before sun up, and late evening time, just after sun down. I have found that successful saltwater fly-fishing has an incredible amount to do with confidence. On the long and twisty road to success, one of the first steps is to ensure that you have determined the best fishing time for your fishing efforts. Recommendation number one is to buy a cheap and noisy alarm clock. Recommendation number two is to buy a copy of the local tide tables and learn how to read them or learn how to calculate the next few day’s tides and times available from If you find calculating the tides and their times six months ahead of your Christmas dinner a bit daunting, then it might be worthwhile joining a local sea angling club or talking to someone who sea fishes regularly. They will gladly entertain you over some Christmas cheer about the vagaries of spring and neap tides, heights and times and stages of the moon. Recommendation number three is to determine the dates when rising tides coincide with a rising sun (not exactly of course) or, when rising tides coincide with a setting sun. Three recommendations in the last paragraph – total cost 5 euros!

No need to be foolish here, you can’t continue to fish every early morning tide and expect to remain human in an office or other work environment! Fish the tides that fall correctly on Friday Saturday or Sunday mornings and at least you can play catch up during the day! And then a few days later you can fish the corresponding evening tides. For example, if you fish a 4:30 tide early on Friday morning you can fish a 7:30 evening tide on Monday. You have now determined the best tides and the best times for you to put yourself in position. The question is where do you put yourself? On the road to success it is important to know where exactly you are going and, as we have seen when we will get there.

I’m going to ask you to spend some more money now. Recommendation number four is to buy an ordnance survey map, a compass, and a car. You may already have a compass and a map; if you don’t own a car they can (with some persuasion), be obtained from Fathers, Mothers, wives, partners, sisters and brothers, even close friends. Go out and buy a copy of the Irish Times as well, the weather page is fantastic. Go home and clear the kitchen table and spread the map out, place the compass on the map and let it settle. Look at all that blue stuff around the coast – that’s where you are going to fish and isn’t there an awful lot of it? What I want you to look for is

1. The mouth of estuaries.
2. Rocky headlands.
3. Points of land that stick into the sea.
4. Long stretches of beach that suddenly stop.
5. Deep patches of water that lie close to shore.
6. Where rivers flow into the sea.

Circle these places on the map – these are all possible fish holding areas. Pick some that are relatively close together but offer different types of topography and concentrate on those. Open your tide tables look for the next low tide, and then when the time is right pop the children in the car and tell your wife/partner that you are taking the smallies on a picnic/treasure hunt, hence the map and compass. Remember you will often be travelling to these places early in the morning so a long distance journey is not recommended. Look at the map in the weather section of the newspaper and note the wind direction When you arrive at low tide look for deep pools, rocky patches and reefs, holes and gullies, imagine when the tide is rising where does the water flow and how does it flow around and within the area. Are there any ambush sites where predatory fish will be lying in wait? Is it possible to access these areas as the tide is rising and are these areas a safe place to fish? Note what way the wind is blowing and how is this going to affect your casting ability/range/accuracy. Keep visiting the areas with the children or for long romantic walks with your loved one and as the year moves closer to summer, activity in the water should increase, baitfish should appear, sea trout, Bass and mullet will show themselves on or above the surface. Keep constant notes of wind direction, temperature, tides, phases of the moon, natural activity. These notes will, over time become your bible.

Of the areas that you have chosen perhaps two or three will have most if not all of the following

1. A strong geographical feature – like rocks, headland, or river mouth etc.
2. Will have displayed high levels of natural activity – bird life, and fish life.
3. Is prone to tidal currents like slacks and fast eddies
4. Is easy to access and safe to fish
5. Is fishable in different wind directions.

This is where you are going to fish. Let these three places be your own private hunting grounds, get to know them like your back garden. Begin to feel comfortable there in all conditions and begin to anticipate the effects of the combinations of wind, tide, and temperature on the environment and the wildlife that inhabits the area. You have now determined the best tides, the best times, and the best places to fish. There is always the opportunity with time spent at the water either fishing or simply observing to add to that vast database that is necessary for success. For instance, you will learn that a sudden drop in temperature (by two degrees or more) or a sudden change in wind direction, or a slight combination and change of these factors will turn fish off and make them harder to catch. Weather will also play havoc with your casting and mood, I am not saying that you shouldn’t go fishing, but on the road to success -sometimes its better to say no to going fishing rather than simply going and getting a bad result. We will deal with this later.

All of this so far is leading me to say that fly-fishing in the sea in Ireland is not a straightforward task. If you want to catch fish from the sea on the fly you are going to have to find them, you are going to have to understand why, that the next time you came back the fish weren’t there. But instead of being afraid or daunted at the task we will continue to break it down it smaller more manageable pieces. Everything that you have read on the previous pages is also applicable to most fishing scenarios. The next few pages are dedicated to the more technical aspects of fly-fishing and the pitfalls you can encounter along the way. It’s a long time since I made a recommendation so here comes one Recommendation number five if you are interested in fly-fishing in the sea, find someone else who is already reasonably competent at it and go fishing with them and talk the hind legs off them. These experienced saltwater fly-fishermen have learned how to combine the ‘natural’ parts with the ‘technological’ parts and are well down the road to success.

New Website

The beginning AND the end…

Forwarded to - The Irish Bass Policy Group (David McInerny, John Quinlan, Shane O Reilly, Mike Hennessy, Dr William Roche, Dr Nial O'Ma...