June 19, 2000 - Probably one of the more contentious aspects involved in the entire realm of saltwater angling is fly selection. Certainly one of the more frequently asked questions when in the field, and generally after a foray with an impressive specimen is, "what fly did you get em’ on?" In this day and age of foot long squids, surf slammers, and 10" bunker flies, I must admit to being a huge fan of streamlined, sparsely tied mimics, most of which would not be salable in our retail store due to their lack of customer appeal. This philosophy is due, in part, with my love affair with wading, and the fact that my access to larger bait fish is often very limited, if totally nonexistent.

This is not to presume that grocery store type flies don’t have their place and time, this is certainly not the case. Boat anglers and surf fisherman often fare very well with lures of this ilk, but it has always been my contention that they are totally out of place and in most cases a detriment when prospecting flats and other shallow water areas.

There are three reasons that have inspired this philosophy toward small flies: 1) I am able to cast them for distance under a variety of wind conditions, 2) I am able to cast them with a modicum of accuracy, which is often paramount when fishing skinny water locales, and 3) They enter the water with a subtle intrusion rather than a disturbing "plop," often startling your intended subject.

Many veteran flats anglers will attest to encountering situations when fly selection is less consequential, particularly early or late in the season, when fish can be located actively feeding in pods, or under low light situations. I assure you this is a ritual that is often short lived. To be a successful, season long, shallow water, angler you must be willing to employ small, sparse flies.

How small is small? In the preceding 5 or 6 years I have had the most success experimenting with flies in the #2, #4 and even in the #6 range. While these may seem a bit tiny to most traditional long rodders, I assure you that your rate of refusal will be greatly diminished while in their employ. Sparsely tied Clousers, sand eels, silversides and shrimp patterns should find their way into your primary fly box should you decide to go in search of shallow water feeders. Try substituting bead chain as an alternative to lead eyes, and more breathable, natural materials to add realism and movement to your offerings.

In recent years I have achieve success with uncomplicated, size 4, bonefish patterns in the vein of charlies and transparent shrimp. They are most effective when allowed to drop into the sand and retrieved utilizing a sporadic, jerking gesture, simulating the behavior of an escaping tidbit. This technique excels when the intended school can be detected at a considerable distance (usually 100’ or more) and allowed to proceed "onto" your fly before you commence the retrieve. Due to the fact that both fly and fly line are given ample time to settle, stripers are seldom disturbed by the commotion.

Will larger fish accept these minuscule offerings as fodder? You betcha! Survey your surroundings. It’s a good bet that most of the forage being pursued in shallow water real estate is of the skimpy variety. Only on rare occasions, and usually toward the end of the summer and into the fall, will you encounter bait fish worthy of a well proportioned trophy. These fish are in pursuit of tiny bait fish and crustaceans that are being dislodged and disoriented by tidal displacement.

I hope this brief article sheds some light on your effort to better comprehend the ecology of the tidal flat. Keep em’ small and sparse and your sure to improve your fly fishing success.

Good fishing and safe wading,


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