Fly fishing in salt water has, to some extent, carried over the rather snobby
associations gained from centuries of elitism in freshwater fishing. The distinction between ‘game fishing’ for the upper classes and ‘coarse fishing’ for the working man has never really been shaken off. Of course it’s ridiculous because there is nothing more ‘artistic’ or ‘clever’ or ‘difficult’ about flicking out a fly than there is in winging a lead to the horizon (I’m not very skilled at either). However, it would be a great pity if generations of sea anglers were deterred from trying a spot of fly fishing in salt water because they thought it was ‘not for them’. Not only is it great fun but it can be amazingly productive and, for some species, in certain conditions, it is by far the best way to catch them.
This was brought home to me this week when I went to the coast with my pal Nigel to try and catch a mullet. It was the top of a big spring tide, there was loads of maggoty weed washing into the sea, and but for one thing it would have been perfect. There was a stiff, south-westerly wind and a big swell. Sure enough the mullet turned up in force but casting a maggot fly to them was not going to be easy.
Quite apart from the problem of pushing a fly against the wind and controlling the line in the waves there was the difficulty of getting near enough to the sea. In order to cast a fly to the mullet (which we could see) and to keep the fly line out of the weed and waves (essential) we had to perch on boulders washed by the waves. Within minutes our ankles would be wrapped in kelp resulting in a serious risk of being dragged off our feet.
Anyway, for an hour or more we flogged away – fishless. I was using my 8wt fly rod with a few feet of six pound nylon as a cast and a little white plastic ‘fly’ on a size 10 hook. It was getting dark and just as we were about to ‘give them best’. The line twitched, I struck and I was in. Playing the fish wasn’t a major problem until it came to landing it. By now my pal was standing beside me ready to lend a hand. Three or four times, with the slender rod hooped round almost into a circle, I had the fish sliding ashore on a breaking wave and every time it was dragged back by the undertow before Nigel could lift it out. Eventually, after much slipping, sliding cursing and dealing with masses of weed on the line, the fish was ours. After a couple of pictures the six-pounder was returned to the sea to fight another day. Totally different from the bass and pollack I caught on the fly last week but just another breathtaking aspect of the best sport in the world. Give it a try!