Written by: Evan Jones
When deciding which saltwater flies to tie or buy, it can be tempting to simply choose patterns that most closely resemble the critters you’re trying to imitate. But while there are some very realistic and very effective crab, baitfish and shrimp flies, appearance alone does not determine how effective a given pattern will be. The fly also has to perform well in the water, which can be a lot harder to judge without actually casting it. There are, however, a few traits that tend to improve fly performance across a wide variety of patterns and situations. So whether you’re sitting down at the vise to fill a fly box before a big destination trip or just browsing the saltwater bin at your local shop, here are three specific fly design aspects that will boost your odds of success.
1. Be Less Flashy
Fish that have seen a lot of flies and lures will often learn to associate flashy objects with danger. In areas with higher fishing pressure, fly patterns that incorporate a lot of flash (such as Gotchas and Deceivers) can suffer from too much sparkle. Try replacing shiny body materials with more neutral-toned vinyl rib or dubbing, and eliminate flash strips altogether from baitfish patterns for an all-natural look that will have picky flats fish looking twice.
2. Choose Weed Guards
Some anglers are reluctant to add weed guards to their flies, fearing that they might function equally well as hook guards during a take. While that could happen, going without a weed guard opens you up to the far likelier possibility of hanging up on the bottom or snagging debris at inopportune moments, which also results in no fish hooked. This is true even on wide open, sandy flats without many apparent snags: the smallest knob of coral can grab an unguarded hook point, even on a fly that’s supposed to be riding hook-point-up. Broadly speaking then, all inshore flies will benefit from a proper weed guard. I recommend the V style as shown above, and have found that 25-pound fluorocarbon provides the best mix of stiffness and flexibility.
3. Check the Hooks
Given their harder mouths, stronger jaws, and faster runs, it’s no surprise that most flats species are going to demand better-than-average hooks. But what exactly makes one saltwater hook “better” than another? Without diving into specific products, there are a few general things to look for when evaluating hooks for flats flies, including coating, ratio of shank length to gap size, and wire gauge. Hooks with an anodized coating will stay sharper longer, but are much more difficult to sharpen once dulled. Hooks with shorter shanks and wider gaps will always hold fish more securely than hooks with longer shanks and/or narrower gaps, due mostly to the increased leverage forced onto the point by longer hook shanks. And finally, finer wire hooks will penetrate better, but are also more prone to bending out, although in my experience the hookup percentage always matters, while it’s rare for a hook to bend out. SO, to summarize: plated hooks with shorter shanks, wider gaps, and finer wire are usually your best bet.
Evan Jones is the assistant editor of the Orvis Fly Fishing blog. He lives in Colorado.