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In this guide, I’ll teach you precisely how to fish for tropical fish in surf conditions. As a saltwater guide, I’ve spent many hours walking the surf line with clients.
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I’ve seen, firsthand, how frustrating it can be to an angler who is unprepared. In contrast, the surf zone is one of the most productive areas to fish for the prepared fisherman.
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What Makes Surf Fly Fishing Different?
If you’ve ever spent time in a typical saltwater flats fishing scenario, you’ll know that taking it slow is the order of the day. It’s essential to move steadily, and casts to move fish can be made in advance. Also, the water moves relatively slowly, adding to the calm and relaxed feeling of the session.
Wading in the surf and targeting fish such as giant trevally and triggerfish is entirely the opposite. It’s a frantic and exhilarating fishing experience. Casts must be made blisteringly fast and very accurate; otherwise, the fish won’t even see the fly. Once a fish is hooked, it needs to be navigated through all the coral heads and sharp rocks, making the fight a story for the bar.
Surf fly fishing is highly productive, but as you can imagine, it’s physically demanding. The angler who wishes to succeed in this scenario must be fit, have the correct gear, and be prepared in all fishing aspects. We’ll look at these skills in more detail below.
Surf Fly Fishing Tips & Tricks
Life and fishing are all about knowing the tricks of the trade. Surf fly fishing takes some practice to get used to. Having some sneaky tricks and inside info up your sleeve will significantly up your game. Let’s get stuck in.
Wear Proper Wading Boots
Tropical surf zones have either a pure sand bottom or, as in most cases, a combination of sharp coral, rock, and turtle grass. The latter makes for very tough going and requires that the angler looks after his/her feet.
You must wear proper fitting, comfortable wading boots designed for the purpose.
Manage Your Fly Line
Before starting a surf walk, it is vital to make sure you’re ready for action. Fish in this zone won’t give you a ton of time to present the fly, so your fly and line need to be prepared at all times. This means that you’ll be wading along the surf with a fair amount of fly line stripped out and the fly in your hand.
The problem with the fly line floating behind you while you walk is that it tangles around your legs and coral. To make matters worse, the incoming or outgoing tide will either drag or push the line causing even more trouble.
Be aware of all this and find a system that works for you. Always make sure that the line is free and ready to roll.
Practice Your Cast
This tip goes without saying for all fishing trips, but it is crucial for surf fly fishing. I’ve guided multiple clients on a prime spring tide push on Alphonse Island. The fishing was on, and the giant trevally could be seen surfing in the waves. To both my client’s and my frustration, they could not get the fly to the fish.
Make sure you can pick up 40 feet of fly line and deliver it to 80 feet with only two back casts. Fish, unfortunately, don’t wait for us. They swim around. You don’t have time to make six false casts.
Practice your double haul and make sure you can present the fly on a back cast. If the wind is pumping, you’ll need these two skills.
Keep Your Rod Down
So, after you cast the fly out to the fish and it eats, you need to set the hook. In all my saltwater guiding days, the most significant cause of an angler losing his/her dream fish is the dreaded trout set.
Whatever you do, do not lift your rod once you feel the fish eating the fly. Keep your rod down and set the hook by stripping the line with your non-casting hand. Once the line goes tight and you’re 100% sure the fish is already hooked, you can raise the rod tip slightly to keep the pressure on the fish.
Gear For Surf Fly Fishing
Surf zones around the world all call for different gear combinations and weights. This section will specifically look at gear needed to target tropical fish species in the surf zone.
The rod weight you’ll carry with you depends on the specific species of fish you’re targeting. If you’re open to anything with fins, I recommend having a 12wt and 9wt rig ready.
If you’re two anglers walking together, or you have a guide, let them carry the 9wt. In many cases, fish that you can target on the 9wt will give you slightly more time. For example, a triggerfish that’s tailing in a wave can give you a minute or two to get ready.
A bluefin trevally busting baitfish will afford you less time to make the cast. So, I recommend carrying your 12wt, which is loaded and ready for action.
In both the 12wt and 9wt, I recommend a 9ft fast action rod. The fast action will allow you to form very tight loops and quickly get the fly to the fish. As mentioned in the tips section above, this can only be done if you’re well versed in casting a fly rod.
In most tropical surf fishing scenarios, I recommend a floating fly line. This line will get tangled less on rocks. Another excellent line to use has a floating running line and a clear intermediate tip.
Match the line weight to the rod you’re using. If you’re struggling to load a rod, test it with one line size heavier. So, for a 9wt rod, use a 10wt line, and for a 12wt, use a 13wt line.
A saltwater specific fly reel that matches the line weight rating of your rod is recommended. If you need any more information on selecting the best saltwater fly reel, please look at our Best Saltwater Fly Reel article.
Leader and Tippet
The specific leader and tippet will be determined by the fish species you’re targeting. In Seychelles, a 12wt setup is used to target giant trevally. In surf conditions, a straight 9ft 100lb Suffix Zippy or Fluorocarbon leader is used. Yes, this might sound excessive, but you’ll need that to navigate the coral when fighting a 70lb fish.
On the 9wt rig, a 9ft or 12ft 20lb tapered leader is ideal. With this leader, you’re still able to land small bluefin trevally, but it’s thin enough to present the fly comfortably to triggerfish and permit.
Species You’ll Catch Fishing From A Tropical Beach
In this section, we’ll look at some of the most popular tropical saltwater fish that can be caught from the beach. You’ll notice that many of the species are targeted in the same way, just because many of them prey on baitfish.
There are a myriad of trevally species worldwide, and most of them can be found in the surf zone. These fish are fast-moving and prey on baitfish, squid, and crab. Anything that moves fast and looks like dinner.
But it’s not always as easy. Trevally, especially giant trevally, are extremely intelligent. In most cases, they don’t like it when the fly land right on top of their head. The best is to lead these fish out with at least two rod-lengths.
Once it sees the fly let the fish do what it’s supposed to do – hunt baitfish. Keep stripping the fly and the fish will eat it if it wants to. Do not miss a strip or slow down ,or they’ll turn off.
Roosterfish grow to incredible sizes and can be caught in the surf in places like Baja. Targeting them is pretty similar to the trevally species, as they prey on the same food source.
Now, this is where it gets interesting. Triggerfish can be an absolute headache to catch. However, in my experience, catching triggerfish in the surf zone is just slightly easier. I believe that it’s because the fish has less time to inspect the fly and be fussy about it. It has to rely on instinct.
Good flies for triggerfish in the surf zone are Spawning Shrimps and Alphlexo crabs. The fly is cast relatively close to the fish. One long strip should get the attention of the fish. Once the fish is on the fly, allow it to sink so that the Trigger can pin it to the bottom. Let it do that for a second.
Give one strip. If the fly penetrates, you’re on! But, if the fly bounces forward, it’s no problem as, usually, the fish just follows it and eats again.
I’ve caught some of my personal best bonefish in the surf. Target them in the same way as you would bonefish on a flat. However, you’ll find that you might need a slightly heavier fly to counteract the effect of the moving tide.
One thing that I love about fishing in the surf zone is that fish don’t have time to inspect your fly. If you make a solid presentation to a fish, you’ll know straight away if it’s going to eat or not.
As permits are known to be fussy eaters, catching them in the surf zone can be done.
Time To Go Fly Fishing in the Surf!
I hope that you found this article on fly fishing in the surf interesting. It’s a highly specialized area of fly fishing and one that I wish every fly angler can experience. The fishing is always good, and you get to experience some truly remarkable things.
If you have any questions, suggestions, or comments, please leave them at the bottom of the page, and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
Until next time.
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