Saltwater Fly-fishing Gear: Editor’s Choice
When it comes to purchasing fly-fishing gear (i.e. rods, reels, line, etc.), there are so many models and brands to choose from. Technology advances exponentially each year, bringing better and better equipment to the table. It is true my G3 Sage rod from 1990 still holds its own, however it seems like new rods have this extra sense of something – making them super sensitive, but yet more powerful. Reels have also evolved by leaps and bounds. Reels have become thinner in width and larger in circumference, giving better leverage on the retrieve. Designers have realized there is an excess of aluminum in reels and have since removed all but a skeleton structure to hold/ retrieve line. A byproduct of this creates great air flow around the spool, allowing the line to dry more quickly. Drag systems are now fully sealed, keeping sensitive drag components free of corrosion and grime. Exciting stuff really…
I get asked quite often what my “go-to rig” includes. As I answer most questions with a post, I figured I would add a little more than simply what gear I choose to fish. I have a Sage/ Galvan 3-weight for packing high altitude, a Sage/ Hardy 6-weight for all freshwater, and a Sage/ Galvan 9-weight for all Saltwater applications. As this post is focused on saltwater, I’ll continue with my 9-weight rig.
Before designing or choosing a rig, it’s important to focus on a target fishery or an environment and set of species to fish. One fly-fishing rig won’t do it all, but it’s possible to get one rig to cover a lot of ground. In my case, I wanted my first rig to handle Bonefish, Permit, Snook, Redfish, small Tarpon, Barracuda, and the occasional Jacks, Dolphin (Mahi), Shark, etc. As the 8-weight rods are built more for the Bonefish, Jacks, Sea Trout, small Snook, and small Reds, I stepped up in rod weight. As 10-weight rods are built more for Permit, Tarpon, Barracuda, and the like, I figured I would step down a bit. I felt like a 9-weight would handle a little of everything. Reels quite often are designed for multiple line-weights. I ultimately chose a reel that would work for 9 and 10-weight rods/ lines.
In 1990, I stopped using free/ borrowed stuff and purchased my first rod/ reel. I purchased a Sage 590-2 LL G3, a 5-weight Light Line Graphite rod perfect for Western river fishing. I broke a tip here are there and Sage always sent me a new one for $20. Needless to say, Sage not only has a nice product, but also a solid life-time warranty service. From the 1990s forward, G Loomis has always been a major player in manufacturing solid fly-rods. G Loomis (Gary) now lends any new technology improvements and innovation to Temple Fork Outfitters (TFO). TFO has the best bang-for-the-buck rod hands down. Their BVK rods always sits at the top of the lists in expert reviews.
I currently fish with a Sage One, 990-4. It’s relatively light weight, feels like it has a lighter swing-weight, and still seems to offer me the distance and control I want in a rod. Two other rods which interest me at this time are the TFO BVK 9-weight 4-piece and the G Loomis NRX 1089-4 G. Some friends and numerous experts in the field say great things about both rods. I haven’t been able to get out and use either of them, however they most likely would be a second and third choice at this time.
As mentioned earlier, in 1990, I stopped using free/ borrowed stuff and purchased my first rod/ reel. I purchased a Sage 505L (manufactured by Hardy), a 5-weight reel specifically designed for light line applications. I loved this click-pawl reel in so many ways. The reel worked flawlessly and was tough as nails. As Hardy manufactured the reel for Sage, I credit Hardy with the grade of materials and craftsmanship. I still appreciate Hardy reels and keep a close eye on the Ultralite SDS line. In 1999, I purchased a Galvan OB-1, a 3-weight reel I paired with a 3-weight 7′-0″ packing rod. I was so impressed with how the reel worked for me, I chose to stay with Galvan when purchasing my saltwater set-up. I did look at Lampson, Redington, Sage, Ross, Nautilus, Tibor, Einarsson, Hatch, Taylor, and others, however loved the minimalist design, air flow, functionality, and price point of the Galvan Torque series. I find it interesting how other reel manufacturers are now coming up with similar minimalist designs. More manufacturers are realizing you can keep a reel structurally sound and have it perform well with mush less material. Wright/ McGill and Taylor are now using much less material in their reels. Einarsson (manufactured in Iceland) looks like they are building a great product with much less material as well.
I currently fish with a Galvan T-10 and really like how it performs. Second and third choice reels for me would be the Einarsson Invictus 10 and Taylor Revolution 10, respectively. Both Galvan and Taylor reels offer a bang-for-the-buck value – Einarsson may be considered pricey by most.
Before purchasing my first saltwater fly-line, I wasn’t able to shoot as much of the heavy line as I wanted. I wanted more hands-on time – time to feel more of the line characteristics and differences before having to commit to purchasing one line. After debating lines made by Airflow, Rio, Scientific Anglers, Royal Wulff, Cortland, and others, I settled on Rio’s Bonefish Quickshooter. Considering advice from numerous expert sources, one common denominator emerged – to use a weight-forward (WF) line with no more than a 35′ tapered head. This puts more of the mass out in the air and gives someone new an easier start with heavier lines. Quite a few lines offer 40′ and 45′ heads, however only one or two manufacturers offered the shorter more compact head. Rio offered two colors in this line, Aqua-Blue/ Sand and a Orange/ Sand. When beginning to fish saltwater, it is nice to have a high-vis line – makes it very easy to identify in air and in the water. Keep in mind, if it’s easier for you to identify your line, it’s easier for fish to identify it as well. Now after some time out on the water and knowing how heavier lines behave in this environment, I think I could appreciate a stealthier line. In retrospect, the Aqua-Blue/ Sand color option looks more appealing now. Keep in mind some manufactures make completely clear fly-lines while others make simply clear heads. For the experienced, a clear fly-line would be the ticket.
I currently fish with Rio’s Bonefish Quickshooter WF9F in Orange/ Sand. As mentioned earlier, the bright head is nice, however I find myself using longer leaders to sneak up on fish in skinny water.
There are several schools of thought when strategizing on how to build leaders. Some swear monofilament should be used to build the majority of leader, leaving fluorocarbon for the tippet only. Some say it’s more important to pay close attention to the “size” of your leader material, stepping it down in sections to allow for better transfer of line energy. Well, after some trial and error, I tend to agree with the later. Some argue the mono is more forgiving (better movement) vs. the fluoro being too stiff. I think the aerodynamics and mass of the line play a more important role.
Whether you believe in a mono or fluoro leader, the goal is the same when stepping down in size to the tippet. I begin with the diameter size at the end of my fly-line and slowly step it down (in diameter and strength) from there. I start with a 2′ butt-section 50#, a few feet of 40#, a few feet of 30#, and a fluoro tippet of 20# (or 16#, or 12#), depending on you’re requirement or target fish. If two connecting sections of leader differ in diameter too greatly, you may get “line-stacking” when casting. In other words, your fly-line and some of your leader may cast nicely, leaving your tippet to stack up in a coil on the water. Graduating your leader sections based on diameter should be heavily considered.
I carry three bracelet-coils of Berkley, Vanish, Fluorocarbon, Clear (50#, 40#, 30#) for leader material and two smaller spools of 20# and 15# for tippet material. The tippet material is always carried in my waist-pack when on or off the boat. Oh yes, one other consideration – always carry at least three (3) ready-to-go tapered fluorocarbon leaders in your waist pack. It is inevitable you will be a mile from the boat (or car) when the coral rips your leader in two. Carry these as a contingency. I carry three Rio Saltwater Fluoroflex Tapered Leaders in my waist pack.
- Rod: Sage One 990-4
- Reel: Galvan T-10
- Fly-Line: Rio Bonefish Quickshooter WF9F
- Backing: PowerPro, Braided, White, 30#
- Leader: Berkley, Vanish, Fluorocarbon (50#, 40#, 30#)
- Tippet: Berkley, Vanish, Fluorocarbon (20#, 15#)
Tell us about your saltwater “go-to” rig in the comment section below. Fly Mastery readers appreciate the outside perspective, especially when investing in similar gear…