Charter skippers will usually have all the gear you need for big game trips and it’s easy to pack a travel rod and bits for reef trips – although local guides will usually have kit for beginners to try their hand with. However if you are fly fishing and fishing on the flats then it’s a huge advantage to have your own kit so here Farlows of Pall Mall present the essential guide to tackling up for saltwater fly fishing in The Bahamas.
The idea of heading away on a trip of a lifetime to The Bahamas for some tropical saltwater fly fishing never looks more appealing than on a cold, damp and miserable day! Wading a shallow sand flat in stunning warm, clear water with the tropical sun beating down on your back is the stuff of many our daydreams and the reality usually lives up to expectations.
The pristine Bahamian flats are true wilderness areas in every sense of the word and although the fishing is exciting and challenging it’s definitely about the whole experience and they are surely one of the best environments on the planet to practice your fly fishing skills.
If you are thinking about giving it a go (and you really ought to!) then hopefully this section will ensure you arrive with the correct tackle, clothing and accessories and avoid some of the pitfalls that could take the edge off your dream holiday.
Take a Casting Lesson
It’s important to know that you will be fishing for truly wild fish that have very highly developed survival instincts. They are generally easily spooked by clumsy casts and poor watercraft so stealth and accurate casting will generally win the day. It’s really important to take a saltwater fly fishing casting lesson before you travel then find time to practice what you have learnt at home.
Learning casts to deal with the wind and accuracy are more important than out and out distance, although a bulletproof double–hauling technique will help you with all of these aspects of your casting. Farlows’ casting instructors have all experienced saltwater fishing and can offer advice on fishing tactics and recommend suitable tackle, as well as improving your casting.
Tackle Up Guide
Saltwater Fly Rods
There are three saltwater fly rod models that will cover 99% of situations you will encounter on a typical saltwater fly fishing holiday. These suit a combination of the size of the flies you will be casting and the size and species of fish you are likely to catch. All the rods are relatively fast-action four-piece models that will fit easily into your travel luggage. A full set of rods would include an 8, 10 and 12-weight although you may prefer slightly lighter or heavier models for certain applications.
The 8-weight would suit bonefish, small jacks etc. The 10-weight will cast the larger flies needed for permit, jacks and small tarpon found around mangroves where you need to apply more pressure to get fish away from snags. The 12-weight is for dealing with the real heavyweights – big tarpon, small tuna, large barracuda etc.
Saltwater Fly Reels
Saltwater is a harsh environment for a fly reel, even the best saltwater fly reels need to be rinsed in freshwater after each use to ensure they continue to function optimally.
The perfect reel will have a disc drag system that allows line to be taken smoothly, even when there is a lot of pressure being applied to the braking surface in the drag. The reel also needs adequate capacity to hold both the fly line and the 200-300 yards of backing required.
Reels need to be anodised to a high grade to ensure the corrosive effects of saltwater are kept at bay. Reels with a sealed drag are better for keeping maintenance down to a minimum but a non-sealed drag can be more easily repaired if problems arise in the field.
Our recommendation is the Nautilus NV #8/9 that features pre-stressed spring washers for lifetime drag consistency, 3 sealed ceramic bearings, 2 thrust bearings for flawless reeling at maximum drag settings, A Japanese industrial grade one-way clutch for instant drag engagement and a maintenance-free and fully sealed drag system. Our alternative choice would be the excellent Lamson Litespeed 3.5”
Saltwater Fly Lines
You need a matching saltwater specific fly line to cast well in high temperatures (lines designed for temperate climates will go limp in the heat and this will impair casting performance) the coating is also toughened to provide resistance to abrasion. The exact density of the lines required will depend on the depth of water you are fishing.
A good starting point is a floating line for each outfit but you may want to include a clear sink tip for tarpon and a fast sink option if you will be fishing over deep water. Spare fly lines are a good idea too – it’s easy to destroy a line on a fish swimming around coral or through barnacle encrusted mangroves.
For bonefish a tapered saltwater leader will give the presentation needed for these sometimes skittish fish. Take a range of breaking strains between 10 and 16lb, you will probably discard the leader after each day’s fishing as a safety measure. So take one for each day plus a few spares. Our suggestions are Rio Bonefish Leaders 9ft 10lb and Rio Hand Tied Tarpon leaders
Carry a spool of fluorocarbon in a similar diameter to the end of the leader so you can attach a tippet to extend the length of the leader to 16’ or so if the bonefish are particularly spooky in shallow water. Our recommendation is Seagar Ace 11.6lb
For permit you will use a tapered leader as well but in this instance extend the length of the leader by attaching thick nylon at the butt end and then looping this to the fly line – permit are hard to hook and fight very hard and you don’t want to risk losing one by a knot failing in thin leader material.
Tarpon leaders can be made up by joining a bite tippet to thinner nylon, the bite tippet will be 60-100lb BS nylon. Tarpon have no teeth but do have an abrasive surface inside their mouths that can ‘sandpaper’ its way through monofilament lines. It’s better to carry pre-straightened lengths of bite tippet in a plastic tube (run boiling water down 2’ lengths of heavy mono to straighten) and re-tie your leaders after each fish. Your guide will be able to help with this but it pays to learn some good saltwater knots before you travel. Knotting 100lb line is not easy and needs practice.
For some species it pays to fish heavy mono straight through to avoid any weakness, but you need to be aware that if you get hung up and need to pull for a break it’s probably your fly line that will part first.
Include knotable wire if you are likely to encounter barracuda or other toothy species.
There are lots of saltwater fly patterns to choose from and the best thing to do is to carefully read the pre-trip notes from the travel company for recommendations. Farlows’ staff have also fished The Bahamas and will be pleased to help and advice based on their personal experience.
Bonefish and permit on the flats predominantly prey upon juvenile crustaceans and small fish, so getting the size right is important and bonefish flies tied on number 4 hooks are the norm, although in areas with big bones larger flies tied on size 2 hooks are favoured. Many bonefish patterns work as long as they are small and weighted with shrimp patterns with a banded tail and crab flies, like the Merkin, usually productive. We wouldn’t be without: Gotchas, Christmas Islands, Bonefish Specials, Crazy Charlie, Bubba Shrimps and Chilli Pepper.
Permit tend to favour larger crab flies and imitations on size 2 and 1 hooks. Barracuda are attracted to chartreuse flies some six to eight inches in length or large bait fish patterns with a big eye.
Dolphin, bonito, small tuna and big jacks will hit white or yellow bait fish patterns with big eyes, dark backs and a flash on the flanks and big poppers work well for all of the big fish species.
Having the correct clothing can make a huge difference to your enjoyment of a day’s fishing, this applies more to flats fishing than possibly any other type of fishing. You will probably spend the greater part of the day either wading shallow flats or standing on the bows of a skiff being poled across the flat. Either way you will be in the tropical sun with no shade so all of your clothing needs to have a high sun protection factor to prevent damage to your skin. If you have fair skin it is particularly important to cover up.
A standard outfit would comprise:
A cap with a long peak – ideally the peak should have a dark underside so as not to reflect light back into your eyes. Check out the Patagonia Bimini cap
A buff – this is useful (essential for fair skin) to protect your face from the sun and also to keep your cap in place as you travel between flats on the skiff
A flats shirt – made from a lightweight technical fabric that dries quickly and has high UPF protection. You may prefer a long-sleeved crew neck top, this will do the same job but has no pockets to catch reels and fly lines when you are playing fish. Take a look at the Simms Tricomp shirt
Sun gloves – the backs of your hands and wrists are easily sunburnt. Some have in-built reinforcement to prevent line burns
Boxer shorts designed to prevent chaffing on your inner thighs
Lightweight trousers, shorts or zip-offs – again made from a technical material that dries quickly and offers good sun protection. We like the Simms Superlite pants
Wet wading socks – made of a tough densely-woven fabric to keep sand and small sharp pieces of coral away from your feet. Check out the Simms socks
Flats boots – these need to be able to cope with the terrain you will be fishing on. If you are wading the edge of a reef the corals can be extremely sharp so heavy duty footwear is the order of the day. Falling over on corals can lead to a serious injury that could spoil your holiday. However, you may spend your time mainly on the skiff in which case much lighter boots or neoprene booties will be fine, although we would still recommend something with a very grippy sole. The Simms Flats Sneakers are ideal
A good pair of fishing sunglasses are worth their weight in gold on a flats fishing trip, anything that helps you spot fish early will undoubtedly improve your catches. You also need protection for your eyes from the flies you are casting and UV light. The colour of lens you choose is down to personal preference, blue and green mirror lenses are the most popular with both anglers and fishing guides and we like the Costa Del Mar models with 580 Copper/Silver lenses. Carry a sunglasses repair kit and lens cleaner to remove salt too.
You will need a bag to carry all of your spare tackle, drinks, cameras etc. We recommend you opt for something waterproof in case a rogue wave laps into the boat either with a waterproof zip or a roll top. The Patagonia Great Divider is a good choice for boat work.
If you are mainly wading a flats pack such as the Simms Flats Pack is very useful for carrying all your spares and odds and ends, again it’s best if these are as waterproof as possible. Anything that really does need to be kept dry should go in a separate waterproof pouch so it’s doubly protected.
Also always carry a set of lightweight waterproof clothing such as Simms Hyalite and a pair of saltwater pliers for unhooking fish and cutting heavy nylon and wire.
If you are travelling in a skiff always keep your reel in a neoprene pouch to protect it from damage.
Be very careful with rods they are easily broken by everything from the ceiling fan in the hotel, people falling on them in the skiff to belligerent sharks that don’t like being prodded with the rod top…
Wash everything that has been near to saltwater with freshwater, this includes tackle, accessories and flies.
Rinse clothing out in freshwater too – if you leave saltwater on them they will stay damp. For a week trip take two sets you can wear on alternate days, leaving a set to dry fully on its day off.
Take plenty of sun cream and insect repellent. We recommend the ‘once a day’ sun protection that is also highly water resistant such as Simms SPF 30. Lip balm is another essential.
Take a basic first aid kit and include Paracetamol, anti-histamine tablets, antiseptic cream, plasters and sterile wound dressings.
Photocopy all travel documents including your passport and keep them in your luggage.
Make sure you drink lots of fluids throughout the day – if you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated so get in the habit of drinking small amounts continuously.
Listen to the guide’s advice – as well as finding the fish they also know how to catch them.
Take time to enjoy the beauty – it really is a privilege to visit The Islands of The Bahamas!
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