Choosing a Saltwater Fly Rod

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Choosing a Saltwater Fly Rod

 Troy Bachmann and Mike Senatra with a large salfish caught on a K.T. Squid fly, caught out of Barra de Navidad, Mexico.

It could have started anywhere, or at any time. Maybe some business associates have invited you on a trip to a fancy bonefish resort, and suddenly you now need to be up to speed. Or you saw a YouTube video of someone catching a tarpon, and you got a serious case of envy. Or, you just need a new and grand adventure. With me it happened over thirty years ago while watching a slide presentation put on by famous angler/photographer Brian O’Keefe: the sudden need to try fly fishing in saltwater; the appetite for a larger challenge.

If you have only fished for trout and bass, your first questions might be, “What kind of rod do I need? Does it have to be different than what I already have?” Actually, any rod that works in freshwater will work in saltwater fishing, but there are trade-offs. Saltwater is corrosive to many metals. Once saltwater penetrates into seams between metal parts, you can never get it out. Things like fancy wood spacer reel seats, varnished guide wraps, and bamboo rods tend to degrade quickly when exposed to saltwater. Rods made for use in saltwater have these features: anodized reel seats, epoxy coated guide wraps, and an extension butt attached below the reel seat.

Most manufacturers advertise rods with saltwater specific actions. This may have more to do with marketing than performance, although there are a few things to contemplate about rod actions for use in saltwater. The wind tends to blow over flat expanses of water, and can often become a serious factor when fishing in saltwater, especially if you are casting large flies. You will need to generate narrow line loops to cast efficiently in wind. Faster action rods do that more easily than slower action rods. Faster action rods will enable you to pick up more line off the water for a recast to a fish that you have missed, or one that has refused your fly. However, super fast action rods need a more aggressive back cast to generate line speed, which can leave less time to line up the forward cast to the target. Pinpoint accuracy is a prerequisite of catching saltwater fish that are often moving. Casting has to be a reflex action. A rod has to be easily controllable. Rods with too fast or to slow of a tempo take too much thought process, and subtract from concentration. At the time of a fly presentation to a fish, the fish should be the total focus of the cast, not remembering how or where the rod loads best. The execution should be automatic. That happens best with selecting a rod that fits your casting style, and then a lot of practice, practice, practice…

Check out our Saltwater Rod Category. My top picks are: Loop Cross S1SW MF, Beulah Opal, G. Loomis NRX Saltwater Travel, G.Loomis CrossCurrent, Sage SALT HD, TFO Axiom II, Echo3 SW .

Choosing a rod for fishing in saltwater is fish species specific (or fish/fly size specific). The rod you choose for a bonefishing trip to the Bahamas or Cuba will be quite different in many key aspects from the one you might choose for a dorado trip to the Sea of Cortez. In many ways, rods are selected for the average size of the fish to be caught and the size of the flies to be thrown.

Here are some general guidelines:

Rod/Line Weight Size of Fish Size of Fly Fish Species Specific
6-weight 1 to 5 pounds #10 – #6 Smaller bonefish, jacks, snappers, sea trout, stripers
7-weight 2 to 7 pounds #10 – #4 Smaller bonefish, jacks, snappers, sea trout, redfish
8-weight 2 to 10 pounds #10 – #2 Average bonefish, redfish. stripers, snook
9-weight 3 to 15 pounds #6 – #1/0 Larger bonefish, stripers, smaller permit, baby tarpon, snook
10-weight 5 to 40 pounds #4 – #3/0 baby tarpon, permit, jack crevalle, baracuda
11-weight 15 to 100 pounds #2 – #3/0 tarpon, dorado, roosterfish
12-weight 20 to 150 pounds #2 – #4/0 tarpon, dorado, roosterfish, sailfish, GT
13-weight 50 to 200 pounds #1/0 – #4/0 tarpon, dorado, roosterfish, sailfish, marlin, GT, tuna
14-weight 100 to 200 pounds #2/0 – #5/0 sailfish, marlin, big sharks, tuna
15-weight 100 to 300 pounds #4/0 – #8/0 bill fish, big sharks, tuna
16-weight 100 to 300 pounds #4/0 – #8/0 bill fish, big sharks, tuna

Mark Bachmann with a dorado caught on a G. Loomis NRX fly rod, in The Sea of Cortez at Loreto, Mexico.

Have a great time in the salt! MB

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