Fly fishing the ocean surf offers challenges and waves of adventure

Mar 06, 2012

Author: Tucker Ladd

Here in Colorado we have a ton of fly fishing enthusiasts, and each and every one of them has a favorite stream or spot on the river that provides both the serenity and thought of fly fishing, as well as the thrill of a good catch. But that’s most often on a stream with the current heading in one direction, or on a plains or mountain lake where the only real waves are made by pesky motor boat operators.

For surf fishing, you have to travel to the ocean – the Northeast, the Southeast and Florida, the Gulf Coast, stretches both north and south on the West Coast, or you could go to any number of exotic locations throughout Central and South America, Asia, Australia, Africa, Europe – well, there’s plenty of ocean and beaches throughout the world, that’s for sure. What ties them altogether is the fact that there are plenty of fish in the sea.

Fishing from the beach or jetty into the surf is a time-honored tradition, practiced for centuries by peoples throughout the world lucky enough to live in close proximity to a beach. The reason is simple: small food fish, insects and flies, crustaceans and all kinds of other things that bigger game fish like to prey upon like to hang along the coast and in the shallows. You have your tides, tide pools, surf troughs, rip currents and other anomalies of ocean movement that trap and guide the food sources, and the game fish know this and follow along for the easy meals. You also get migrations and hatchings, in specific places and at certain times of the year - these events too draw the species that anglers most cherish. Fly fishing in the surf offers its own unique challenges – and the usual heightened experience and sense of adventure and accomplishment.

Here in Colorado we have a ton of fly fishing enthusiasts, and each and every one of them has a favorite stream or spot on the river that provides both the serenity and thought of fly fishing, as well as the thrill of a good catch. But that’s most often on a stream with the current heading in one direction, or on a plains or mountain lake where the only real waves are made by pesky motor boat operators.

For surf fishing, you have to travel to the ocean – the Northeast, the Southeast and Florida, the Gulf Coast, stretches both north and south on the West Coast, or you could go to any number of exotic locations throughout Central and South America, Asia, Australia, Africa, Europe – well, there’s plenty of ocean and beaches throughout the world, that’s for sure. What ties them altogether is the fact that there are plenty of fish in the sea.

Fishing from the beach or jetty into the surf is a time-honored tradition, practiced for centuries by peoples throughout the world lucky enough to live in close proximity to a beach. The reason is simple: small food fish, insects and flies, crustaceans and all kinds of other things that bigger game fish like to prey upon like to hang along the coast and in the shallows. You have your tides, tide pools, surf troughs, rip currents and other anomalies of ocean movement that trap and guide the food sources, and the game fish know this and follow along for the easy meals. You also get migrations and hatchings, in specific places and at certain times of the year - these events too draw the species that anglers most cherish. Fly fishing in the surf offers its own unique challenges – and the usual heightened experience and sense of adventure and accomplishment.

It is difficult to go into any specifics about the type of flies, the weight of lines, the length of rod and all the particulars because it changes – drastically – from place to place and season to season. There are 2 to 3 pound seatrout along the Eastern Seaboard, much larger bluefish along the same coast – the variety and size of game fish in the sea that can be taken from the shore is wide and varied. It’s best to contact a local guide in the desired area, one who knows when the blues are running, and what the local fish might like eating at any given time of the year. It would take the encyclopedia of fishing to enumerate it all here, and besides the local guide will know things that have never been written down either. So take this essay as simply a lure, if you will, to the challenge and adventure of surf fly fishing.

The first thing you’ll notice that is quite different when fly fishing the surf is the wind. Occasionally you’ll find a sedate beach, but mostly the wind blows, even howls, at the water’s edge and like anywhere else the wind presents quite a challenge. And unlike the cross wind or swirling wind you’ll find around a mountain stream, the wind at the ocean tends to come in at you, which, of course, makes casting out all the more challenging. Add in tides, and changes in surf conditions can be considerable.

Where waves crash, troughs are created. These depressions or deeper spots become havens for food sources such as baitfish, crabs and shrimp, and gamefish therefore gravitate there. As the tides change, so do the locations of these troughs, hence the gamefish go with. Professionals recommend scouting the area that you might want to fish a day earlier at low tide, looking for the landmarks that will show the hollows and the deeper pools that could be excellent locations for catching fish when the tide comes in. Same for currents and rip tides: You can usually see the direction of these movements in the foam patterns on the surface of the water, and the circle of life – the big fish eating the little fish – will move along with. The pros say that the game fish hang in the edges of the current and the rip tide movement where they wait for food, so fish the edges!

Another good location for catching fish is from a jetty. Since these structures tend to stick out into the sea past where the waves are crashing on the beach, the challenge is a bit different. Experienced fly fishers in and around the ocean look for the direction of the swells, which indicate the current direction, and when the current hits the jetty it tends to create an eddy next to it. As a rule, fish the eddy. Ocean currents are strong and, again, the fish and their prey are often swept up in them.

Also, don’t forget docks and piers. Smaller fish tend to congregate underneath these structures, thinking that the cover provides a measure of protection. The bigger fish understand this and cruise the shallows under the dock or pier for great meals. River mouths, – where fresh water runs into the sea, are collection points for all manner of food sources and therefore fish. They are also a great location for fly fishing surf.

The ocean is a mercurial place, with a ton of hidden dangers, so most everyone with surf experience recommends taking some basic safety precautions. Never wade into the surf at night; rip tides can be dangerous and the ocean floor can and does have a ton of ever-changing impediments. Don’t turn your back on the surf; you never know when a big wave is going to come along - it’s best practice to back out of the surf. And fish with a friend; you don’t want to be the star of “Swept Away – The Movie”, and someone needs to carry the beer cooler!

For all of your fly fishing needs – including helping with finding guides worldwide – fly fishing aficionados rely on Trout’s Fly Fishing, conveniently located halfway between Cherry Creek and downtown in the heart of Denver, Colo. For complete details call 877-464-0034.

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