Saltwater Fly Fishing in the Surf
by Capt. Jim Freda
Shore Catch Guide Service
that the months of November and December are upon us most people are eagerly
preparing for the holiday season. Whether it is running around to shopping
malls, drawing up Christmas wish lists, or preparing gourmet meals, a buoyant
enthusiasm seems to permeate our daily endeavors. For the saltwater fly
fisherman the feeling is the same but not for the same reasons.
November and December provide the
greatest opportunity for the fly fisherman to hook into the largest fish
of the season. Stripers and blues of truly trophy proportion will travel
along the beaches on their annual migration run to the south. This is the
time of year when the cows arrive, the female stripers as they are called,
heading down from our northern New England waters.
It is hard to predict whether the
migration route will be directly along the beach close enough to shoot
a line into the suds, or whether the fish will stay to the outside offshore.
Each season is different so you will need to be out there to actually see
where the fish are being caught.
One tell-tale sign that fish will
be coming in close along the beaches is whether or not the bait is present.
If so the chances are excellent that the bass and blues will zero in on
them. The predominant bait to look for at this time of year is the sand
The sand eel, also referred to as
the sand launce, or lance, is an inshore species not related to the common
eel. Its scientific name “Ammodytes americanus” literally means sand burrower,
a typical behavioral pattern of the sand eel when it is fleeing from
a predator or resting.
Sand eels are recognized by their
slender body with a pointed snout. They have a long dorsal and anal fin
and are deep blue green to bronze on back with a white belly. They can
grow as long as fifteen inches but are commonly found in the four to six
inch range. The sand eel is found in shallow waters less than ninety meters
with a sandy composition and comprise one of the most important staple
foods for the striped bass and bluefish.
For the saltwater fly fisherman a
variety of sand eel patterns are an essential part of his arsenal at this
time of year. Fishing these patterns will result in hook-ups even though
there may be literally thousands and thousands of sand eels in front of
Many times I wonder why is it that
a bass will zone in on my fly from amongst the multitude of naturals that
are present. There are several reasons why I think this may be so. Maybe
the slightly different color or hue of my pattern stimulates the interest
of the bass and causes it to strike. Or this stimulation may be one in
which the bass interprets as a threat and lashes out at the fly as a result.
At other times the right size and hue will resemble an injured baitfish
when retrieved with a slow jerking motion. The type of retrieve that you
use will send out different vibrations through the water column which hit
the ever so sensitive lateral line of the bass. Bass and blues will home
in on this vibration and strike out at the fly that they are interpreting
as a weak member of the population. Finally, maybe it is just by sheer
luck that the bass or blue takes your fly. The odds are in your favor at
this time of year because the fish are voracious and migrating. These factors
contribute to diminishing their selectiveness.
The saltwater fly fisherman will
find that they will be able to out fish the hardware, plugs and metal,
because of the ability to match the sand eel pattern with remarkable similarity.
If you buy your flies over the counter look for Lefty’s deceivers, Clouser
minnows, or Popovic’s surf candies in olive and white with silver or green
krystal flash or flashabou tied in. If you tie your own you will find that
the sand eel is a very easy silhouette to imitate simply because it is
long and thin. Here are some hints on four effective patterns that have
worked well for us over the past several seasons.
Half and Half (Half Clouser/Half Deceiver)
This fly is effective during the day when the fish are hanging deeper in the water column. Sand eels feed
on copepods which are zooplankton. During the day these copepods are found
lower in the water column and not near the surface. This is in direct response
to a toxin that is produced by phytoplankton during photosynthesis. The
phytoplankton will be found on the surface as close as possible to the
Since the zooplankton migrate downward
during the daylight feeding sand eels will do the same. As a result this
is where the bass will be looking for them. The nickel dumbbell eyes of
this pattern will bring you fly to the bottom and put it in the strike
zone. When sinking and bouncing bottom this fly will resemble a sand eel
fleeing back into the sand.
The fly should be tied on hook sizes
between 4-2/0 and should be tied anywhere between two and six inches depending
on the size of the sand eels in your particular area. The fly should be
tied sparse so it emulates the thinness of the naturals’ body shape.
Chartreuse/white, olive/white/, and black/purple are the most effective
The epoxy head is a very effective
pattern to use at night when sand eels are on the surface. Since the vertical
migration pattern of the copepods is upwards towards the surface at this
time this is where you will find the sand eels. If you shine your flashlight
into the water you will literally see hundreds of sand eels milling around
on the surface. This fly is best used when sand eels are small and the
water is shallow and calm. Patterns tied up to three inches will work effectively.
The undulating action of the tail of this fly will entice bass at pauses
between your strips.
Geno’s Jersey Flat Wing
This fly modifies the version of
the rhody flat wing. It was originated by one of our guides, Gene Quigley.
This fly has taken very large fish from the surf. The fly’s effectiveness
is due to its ability to move side to side in the water while being retrieved
slowly with a two handed strip. The fly should average anywhere from three
to six inches in length and is best fished with intermediate lines in water
up to six feet. The stacking of the feathers on top of the bucktail is
the secret to this fly’s success. Contact us and we will be glad to give
you the complete tying instructions.
Morrison’s Tubed Eel
This fly is a modified version of a Clouser like fly in that it uses weighted eyes to bring the fly near the bottom. From here it deviates to include a body that is tied with tinsel tubing with the added addition of a woven tail. The tubing replicates the slender body pattern of the sand eel and the woven tail increases the undulations of the fly upon retrieval. Indelible magic markers are used to color the
fly’s tubing. The head of the fly is given a slight coating of epoxy. This fly was developed by our guide Greg Morrison.
So there you have it . Four patterns that will no doubt put you into fish. A word to the wise however. When you fish these flies make sure that you are holding your rod tightly
under your arm and be ready for that distinctive rip of a trophy fish.
Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Jim Freda, All Rights Reserved
Articles by Captain Jim Freda
- A Quick Lesson for a Little Night Flying
- A Word to the Wise...Wader
- August, More than Meets the Eye
- Bang'em Up
- Beach or Bait? Perspective on Surf Fishing & Beach Replenishment
- Bunker and Trophy Bass
- Bunker, Bunker, and More Bunker and Big Bass Too!
- Busting the Blues
- Clams, Bunker, or Herring for Springtime Trophy Stripers
- Coldwater Stripers, Dredging with the Fly
- CPR for the Fly Fisher - Color, Profile and Retrieve
- December’s End, Watching or Catching?
- December's Grand Finale
- Fall's Surf Smorgasbord
- Fly Fishers-Pick Your Tools Wisely When Getting Started
- Four Baits to Know For Your September’s Surf Success
- Get'em with Sand Eel Imitations
- Getting Started in the Salt
- Know Your Baits and Flies
- Jump to the Back for Early Spring Stripers
- Longest Yard, The
- More Lines Less Flies
- My March Madness
- New Jersey’s “Striper Bounty”
- November Trophies
- October' Harvest in the Surf
- Peanut Bunker Blitzes-Jersey Style
- Running and Gunning, Proper Boating Etiquette
- Saltwater Fly Fishing Perspective
- Saltwater Fly Fishing in the Surf
- September Surf
- Shooting the Suds, Albies on the Fly
- Simplifying Fly Lines
- Slack Water Explained
- Springtime Big Bass
- Spring Baits and Flies
- Stretching into Spring
- Striped Bass Game Plan of Summer
- Striped Bass Game Plan of Summer (Part II)
- Stripping for Success
- Surf Scanning
- Tackling Big December Bass on the Fly!
- Take Me to Your Leader
- Ten Degrees of Blitzes
- Tips and Tidbits
- Trophy Tactics
- Trophy Weakfish on the Fly
- Try for that Trophy Bass on the Fly!
- Wind Direction and its Localized Effect on the Striper Bite
Jim Freda is a highly respected charter captain, author, outdoor writer, seminar speaker, and photographer. His first book Fishing the New Jersey Coast,
has been a best seller and received the “New Jersey Center for the Book Award” as one of the most notable NJ books. He co-authored a second book Saltwater Fishing a Tactical Approach, A Guide for Northeast Beach and Boat Fishermen,
with his Shore Catch associates Capt Gene Quigley and Shell E. Caris.
Jim has weekly fishing columns that appear in the Bergen Record, NJ's second largest newspaper and the Coast Star and Ocean Star newspapers of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Nationally, Jim is a contributing editor for Fly Fishing in Saltwaters magazine and also writes for Fly Fisherman magazine, Saltwater Sportsman, Eastern Fly Fishing, Big Game Journal, and StriperSurf.com. Regionally he writes for On the Water magazine where he has is own monthly column, The Fisherman magazine and the NJ Federation of Sportsman Clubs newspaper.
As a seminar speaker Jim is featured as one of the celebrities on the Saltwater Sportsman National Seminar Series, as one of the “Stars of the Show” at the Fly Fishing Show in Somerset, NJ, the Northeast’s largest fly fishing show and is on the National Pro Seminar slate at the Toyota Saltwater Expo also in Somerset. He is also regularly featured each year at many of the local fishing clubs in the surrounding area including the State’s two largest clubs the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association and the Saltwater Anglers of Bergen County. Capt Jim has also been a guest speaker at all the Trout Unlimited Clubs in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jim has also been a special guest speaker at the Bloomberg Network in New York City.
He is a member of the National Factory Pro Team for St. Croix Rods and pro staff for Fins Fishing Line, AVET Reels, Spro, Gamakatsu, Hogy, Korkers, Costa Del Mar, Columbia Sportswear and Aquaskinz.
For more information, please go to Shore Catch Guide Service www.shorecatch.com