Guest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, author of ARCHANGEL suspense thriller, OPEN DISTANCE adventure thriller, & more to come. Part 1 of this article discussed reading surf, and conditions of particular interest to fly fishermen.

What constitutes optimal surf fishing fly gear depends in part on where you are. But in general you need to be able to get your fly out past the shore break, at a minimum—far enough beyond to give it time to sink, and be worked, and be seen, before getting surfed in toward your feet on the face of a crashing wave. You’ll likely have wind to contend with too, as often as not on-shore—that is, in yo’ face. Other than a slight lateral drift, you won’t have a current to take your fly further away from where you stand–instead it will be relentlessly running back in on you, to tangle at your feet or on shallow structure to left or right. So to keep enough slack out of the line that you can feel delicate takes, you’ll need to do a lot of stripping…and a lot of casting throughout the morning.

Homemade Stripping Basket
Homemade Stripping Basket

A stripping basket is a good thing to have, again to prevent ankle-tangle that can otherwise get so bad it trips you up when waves break upon you (a shivering bellyful of swallowed salt water makes for a memorable breakfast, and one I don’t intend to partake of a second time). Stripping baskets can be purchased, and also made from plastic storage containers. Look at photos of them, plan it out, and toss one together. And don’t forget the many drain holes in its bottom, because they will fill when you least expect and that volume of water can easily pull you in completely. Some experienced surf fly fishermen use nothing but a seriously punctured bucket hooked to their belt–minimalist, but they make it work.

In most waters, five-weight rods and below aren’t much in evidence in surf fishing; six to eight are generally what works best. I do not use my favorite trout rod and reel in the salt for fear of corrosion–currently I bring out cheaper gear for surf, but any good reel that’s sealed will extend its own life by being so. A good sinking line is required, and make sure it’s matched to your rod, as both distance and excellent line control can be required. The need for accurate casting control might have more to do with joggers and ball-chasing dogs behind you than with precise fly placement for the fish. Leaders need not be hair-thin, but their length can depend on water clarity, time of day and the species, with many fishermen using no more than four feet, relying on the surf’s churn to hide the fly line. Check what experience the locals have had. Rinse rod, reel and line thoroughly with fresh water after every outing, or pay the price in new gear too soon.

Surf flies should resemble food commonly awash in the shore break zone. That includes sand dabs, small crabs, small fish, sea worms…the list might be endless. Best is to use something weighted enough to roll and dart down near the sand, as that’s where edible critters would be, that’s where the fly is most visible and that’s where your quarry prowls. You don’t want a fly that just swirls and bobs high in the surface foam, unable to get down.

Many surf flies are made to ride hook-high. Go-to patterns include Clouser Minnows, various kinds of tube flies, and a number of completely different patterns developed in this region or that which all seem to share the name “beach bug” (one of them, developed in southern California by Al Quattrocchi and called Q’s Beach Bug, resembles a sand crab…or a shrimp…or something else…something evidently tasty, because it works). A few, made to mimic sand crabs, are constructed a little like big Humpy dry flies, but with inverted hook, lead eyes and rubber legs.

Surf Flies
Surf Flies

Some say that, for Stripers, “If it ain’t chartreuse, it ain’t no use,” but others claim to also do well with blue, orange and yellow tones. Locals always have favorites. A couple of photos are presented here.

I confess to no real experience with east coast USA surf fish, although I do know that striped bass, white perch (which is technically a bass) and probably many other species feed along much of the eastern coastline all year long. Florida pompano ignite major excitement in spring. In California onshore waters and right up through Oregon and into BC, surf perch are favorite targets; also stripers, although catches of them are far more rare the further north you go. There are also the occasional salmon and steelhead caught—they too will prowl the sandy reaches for food. Also corbina, in warmer waters further south. In the Puget Sound area there are numerous species accessible on beaches, although the Sound itself has little in the way of “surf.” But the open ocean-facing coastline of Olympic Peninsula does, and points north too; pink salmon, coho salmon and even sea-run cutthroats are in there. And in every region lurks the occasional shark or monster ray tale, to pop the eyes of vacationers.

So if you live near enough to a sandy beach coast to give surf fly fishing a try, it can be a fascinating change of pace from your favorite trout stream or bass lake, or can liven up an off-season while waiting for the fresh water to reopen. And many folks love the beach so much they consider surf fly casting their primary style.

If only the Beach Boys had done fly fishing the proper justice…oh, yeah, that reminds me, one more caution: Surfers mostly haven’t a clue what we’re doing out there, so be mindful lest you tie into something large and neoprene.

1 Comment

  1. When I was growing up in Point Pleasant, New Jersey I spent many mornings casting a plug or spoon into the surf with a spinning rod. This was prior to 1970, and if anyone had shown up with a fly rod they would have been laughed off the beach. Many years later the situation had almost completely reversed itself. I stood in the wash at dusk and saw nothing but waving fly rods up and down the beach. A couple of guys with “surf sticks”–very long, beefly spinning rods–skulked along well behind the fly guys. Joe Spader, one of my fly fishing mentors, was down a ways from my position and catching one Striper after another. With rare exceptions, he seemed to be the only one catching anything. He kept hollering something down to me every time he released a fish, but I couldn’t hear him over the noise of the surf. Finally I reeled in and walked down to him and asked what he’d been trying to tell me. He said, “Cast parallel to the beach, the fish are in the wash.” What a revelation that was! Of course that’s not always where the fish are, but assuming they’re not is clearly a mistake.

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