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By Rich Johnson

You’re drifting along any one of the area’s estuary islands, sun peeking over the horizon and the mirrored bay stares back at you with self image. Small schools of bass, weaks or blues break the surface as baitfish scatter the early morning tranquillity seeking escape for their lives. Now picture yourself making your first cast with...a fly rod? That’s right, a fly rod! It’s not as difficult as it looks and once tried can become a passion for some. As saltwater fly fishing continues to soar in the realms of saltwater angling, fishermen now realize the plethora of opportunities at their fingertips all across the tri-state region.

ISLAND HOPPING. The waterways of our area make up a truly unique estuary system. Here grass & marsh islands intertwine with cuts and channels through the bays, delicate in nature, playing a vital role in the flushing and cleansing of the entire system. Serving as nurseries for young fish & crustaceans, many of these islands may support your weight, while others have the consistency of quick sand and the same perils. An angler walking across these islands may be subject to a summons for environmental reasons as some of these areas may be protected and you should research an area before fishing it.

BY LAND. Many islands do have large sand or sand/mud flats bordering deeper cuts and channels. These are places where you get out and fly cast as you walk. These tend to produce best at the top of the flood and on the ebb tide. Bass and blues will foray into the shallows on these tides and then ride the edge on the dropping tide looking for an easy meal. Use caution when working the mud flats and watch where you step. You should wear footwear! There are razor clams in and around these mud flats and they get their name for a reason!

BY BOAT. Look for cuts in and around the islands, it’s here spearing, baby bunker, shrimp and small crustaceans wash out of these cuts on an ebbing tide. You’ll want to drift these cuts, channels and openings of the marsh islands, casting ahead and stripping your fly back, causing a darting effect as the fly turns to follow the boat.

A center console is the best choice for this kind of fishing and using a rental skiff from a fishing station is also a profitable way to pursue your quarry. These draw only inches of water and have plenty of room for a couple of flycasters to wave the wand. If you’re fly fishing from a larger boat with T-Tops, cuddy cabins or lots of canvas, then boat positioning becomes a critical factor and you’ll want someone steady on the wheel as you cast to these prime locations.

TACKLE. Most of your salty flyrodding can be comfortably done with a 9 or 10-weight outfit. As for rod length, 9 to 10-1/2 -foot should suffice just fine. I opt for the shorter version fishing from a boat and the extended “long wand,” when walking the flats and island edges. I prefer the Fenwick World Class series of fly rods for this action.

There’s a wide array of fly reels to fit each angler’s personality and pocketbook. Pfluger is probably the most affordable and a good place to start. It’s been around longer than any of the others and is a real workhorse. There are reels with better drag systems on the market, along with anti-reverse reels, but you get what you pay for and the more bells & whistles, the more you’ll spend. Reels should hold a minimum of 200 yards of 20 to 30-pound Dacron backing.   

When it comes to fly lines, I use floating or intermediate sinking lines, again the Fenwick World Class fly lines. These carry the brunt of my fly fishing when casting these islands. No matter what you use, keep spare spools with different, weight forward lines with you. On calm water, I’ll choose a floating line when fishing shallow. In a breeze, switch over to an intermediate sinking line to get the fly below a chop. I’ll then use a 300 grain sinking line to fish the deep channels that border these islands' flats. These three lines should cover most of your fly fishing.

FLIES. You want to keep your fly choice and specific patterns as close to what’s happening as you can. I prefer smaller flies early in the spring like epoxy head silver sides, spearing imitations and small deceivers, these are all prime candidates. Clousers are another well-received choice.

As the season progresses and water warms, you can move on to blue claw or calico crab patterns, baby bunker, surface poppers and silicone killies. Once the season rounds itself out and fall arrives (before you know it), you can move to larger patterns like bunker, mackerel, large deceivers and larger poppers.

So if you find yourself watching the sun rise on the bay and the peacefulness of the moment is disrupted by the sudden splurge of bass on small “table fare,” pick up a fly rod and give it a toss. Once you try it, you may never go back to spinning tackle! If you’re interested in getting into this exciting fishing, following is a list of some tackle shops that specialize in salty flyrodding and can help you out! See you on the water!

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