Saltwater fly fishing combines two of my favourite things, the ocean and of course fly fishing. Although being out on a quiet river trout fishing remains one of the best uses of time imaginable, I love the exhilaration of fly fishing in the sea: the surf and spray, the taste of salt on the lips, the howling wind, and of course thrashing large and dangerous flies narrowly passed your ears and battling endless line tangles, not to mention the pleasure of the pandemonium of catching a fish in the midst of all that.
The first fish I caught on the saltwater fly was in 2003 in South Africa and it was a Shad. A Shad in South Africa is a very different fish to what the Irish or British call a Shad. A Shad in the Indian Ocean is an aggressive predatory fish that hunt in large shoals often chasing sardines particularly in Kwazulu-Natal.
The Shad is also sometimes called an Elf, Tailor or Bluefish and grow to 100cm in length weighing 10kg. There is no-one who grows up fishing in South Africa that has not fished for Shad. A run of Shad can be an exciting experience as the fish shred through sardines chased by even bigger fish. I recall once seeing a fellow angler, in the frenzy of a Shad run, bring in a Shad with most of its body missing after a shark hit it as it was being reeled in. Shad also make for an excellent meal.
Back in 2003 I hired a guide, whose name I now sadly forget, to take my brother-in-law and myself saltwater fly fishing targeting Shad. The guide knew his stuff. We eased ourselves into the experience by catching on the fly some Blacktail and also what in South Africa we call Moonies.
We then waded out over some rocks and onto a sandbank targeting shad standing waist deep in the surf (in the interests of health an safety I do no recommend this method given my previous mention of sharks feeding on Shad). Anyway, our limbs remained in tact, and it was not long until we hit some Shad. The feeling of a powerful fish like that, relative to their size, hitting a fly on a light rod and tearing off into the waves has always stuck with me.
Since then my saltwater fly fishing has been limited but when I get the chance, and the conditions are right, I am always willing to give it a go. I have over the years had a bit of success targeting Pollock particularly in Connemara, Ireland where we often holiday. I have also caught Mackerel and Pollock on the fly in Bundoran in Northern Ireland, and in a few other spots in Donegal.
On my holidays in Connemara this year, however, I had my best experience with saltwater fly fishing yet. Up to that point I had had a fairly slow fishing holiday. At the start of the trip we targeted and caught some fierce wrasse off the rocks with floats laden with limpets cut off the rocks, but the Pollock had alluded me, losing a few big ones while fishing with a float.
After a few days of turbulent sea and storms (and no fishing) I went down to some rocks I have fished at many times before, and found the sea dead calm. Positively, the high tide was coinciding with nightfall, the time I have been most successful in the past. I started by float fishing and on the first cast, after seeing no action for about 10 minutes, I reeled in and as I lifted the Sandeel bait from the water a large Pollock launched itself at the hapless eel narrowly missing it. Within minutes, however, I caught the enthusiastic Pollock using the float and the same Sandeel.
I immediately decided, given that the fish appeared to be feeding on the surface and the wind was in the perfect direction, I should try the fly rod. The setup was simple: an Airflo Switch Reel (#7-9), Rio Outbound Short line, and my trusty Shakespeare #9-10 Expedition rod. I used a fly I had caught Pollock with before, which I think I may have even bought in South Africa.
I then cast across the inlet I was fishing and on the first retrieve a Pollock threw itself at the fly, missing and launching itself out the water. On the next cast I hit the first fish, and from there is was just mayhem, fish after fish. I landed at least a dozen in a 1.5 hour session. I even quickly drove back to the holiday house in between to fetch my son so he could join in the action. The largest fish was in fact hooked by him as I cast and he retrieved in the fading light.
Needless to say, if I was hooked on saltwater fly fishing before this experience, I am now forever a convert.
Below is a video featuring some of the highlights.