Fly Fishing is immediately intimidating for the newbie. It’s true – the variety of rods, lines, flies, the nonsensical categories of rod and line weights, the “X” labeling for tippets and leaders, fly and hook sizes that run in reverse once you hit the “naughts”. It’s all a bit much.
But like most sports and activities with a learning curve, success is possible as a beginner if you know a few basics. And for the bay/tidal angler, the tackle needed to regularly catch fish is extremely simple.
99% of Fly Fishing in Chesapeake Bay can be accomplished with a single line: An Integrated Sinking Line. This line is (shockingly) two lines “integrated” together. The forward section is a fast sinking line (usually gray in color), and the rear section is a floating, or much slower sinking section (usually bright in color for visibility). In depths of 5′ to 30′, this line is the bee’s knees. You cast it out, count down while it sinks (usually 5″-7″ inches per second), and retrieve when you are good and ready. These lines retail for $45 to $80. The more expensive lines are usually better (both for casting longer distances and resistance to wear-and-tear), and my recommendation is to spend money here, and save money on the reel and rod.
Most fish in Chesapeake Bay are juvenile versions of much larger fish, or are mid-sized game-fish when fully grown. As a result, you don’t need the big guns. An 9′ 8wt (weight) fly rod is the sweet spot, letting you cast 5″ menhaden imitations, weighted Clouser minnows, or a popper, while also being easy to cast all day long. This rod is your work horse, so don’t scrimp – find one you like and casts well. And make sure it’s a four piece rod – if you ever take it on vacation, it’s an easy carry-on item.
A good fly rod in this class retails for $80 to $150, and most fly rod companies have a model in this price class.
One more thing to consider: Fly rod manufacturers will talk all day about action, but in the end, most graphite-based composite rods are similar – they flex about the same depending on rod weight, and should handle fishing lines similarly. Most rods will be advertised as having a fast or fast-moderate action. Both will work for what you need, so base your decision (if you can) on what rod feels most comfortable casting. To figure out what you like, go see a legitimate fly shop and get an employee to rig a few up for a test run. Be wary, though, of more expensive, “better” casting rods. They may give you more distance, or more accuracy, but for throwing sinking lines for Chesapeake game-fish, you don’t need either. 40′-50′ while blind casting – that is what you will be doing in our waters. Not throwing a tight loop 70′ to a dinner plate-sized target (bonefish) cruising at 3 mph. Different tools for different jobs.
The Chesapeake Bay is not full of tuna and tarpon. You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on a reel that can stop a small truck. For fishing the Chesapeake, two things are important – the reel is anodized, and is a large arbor design. Anodized reels have a layer of corrosion resistant material on them, protecting your reel from the effects of saltwater oxidation and corrosion. Large arbor reels feature a larger diameter than traditional reels, and the axis on which the reel spins is separated by an inch or so from where your backing sits. You can get a reel that meets this criteria for $60. Make sure your reel is designed for 8wt rods.
200 yards of 20lb test dacron. Done. You’ll never see this (unless you hook a stingray). It’s cheap, too.
The clear line you tie to the end of your heavy fly line. You only need 3′ to 5′ of the stuff. I like 20lb test for this job – it’s strong and thick, and you don’t have to worry about it breaking when you grab it to swing a fish aboard.
You have two options for materials here – monofilament, or fluorocarbon. Fluorocarbon sinks faster, refracts less light (harder to see underwater), and is stiffer and harder to tie knots on. Monofilament stretches more, is cheaper, and is easier to tie knots with. Either will catch fish here, so don’t worry about fluorocarbon – the price tag isn’t worth it in our local stained and murky waters. And when you buy, get a full spool of the material. Buying a smaller spool of “leader” material for the same price as a full spool makes no sense. It’s the same stuff!
Don’t worry about this – your leader is all you need.
You don’t need books of fly patterns, nor one pattern in 20 different hook sizes. Get your hands on Clouser minnows tied on #4 and #1 hooks. They should have a little flash, be about 2″ to 3″ long, and use color combinations that include white and either yellow, chartreuse (neon green), or pink.
This tackle will fish open bay waters, breaking fish, inshore structure like submerged tree stumps and rock piles, or still tidal creeks where you want to get your fly down along a likely ambush point. Learn to cast (also needlessly intimidating), a few knots, and you’ve got everything you need to be successful.