Be prepared with a fly sewing kit.
If we were talking about selecting the proper fly for stream fishing, I would have to tell you to learn how to identify aquatic insects. That can take years to become expert at that science and fortunately what we need to do is not that complicated or involved. On the stream there is a saying; ‘match the hatch’ and we will do something similar. To begin with, know what your target species likes to eat. Permit, redfish and bones like to eat small crabs and shrimp. Snook love white bait which is young or fry bait of various species that are silvery white in color such as herring, for example. With this being said, it makes since to use a fly that imitates what the fish are feeding on, or to ‘match the bait.’
When in Doubt Use a Clouser Fly
Another great fly for just about anything that swims on the flats is the Clouser Fly which was invented by Bob Clouser some years ago.
The original Clouser design was a Minnow fly with very little dressing, but Clouser now manufactures many types of flies for both saltwater and freshwater. Some have hair, some have wings and eyes, some are bare, but all work wonderfully.
There are numerous flies available to purchase or tie that imitate all the different bait fish, shrimp and crabs. Then there are attracter flies that trigger a strike based on the instinct of the target fish. Most bait fish have silvery sides and dark backs. Crabs come in an assortment of colors as do shrimp.
Knowing what is available to the fish in the area you are fishing is very important. There are flies that are designed for top water presentation and those that are for swimming. Then there are those for crawling along the bottom. If you are new to this I would suggest that you go out onto the flats and leave your fly rod at home. Spend a day observing bait and you will be surprised in what you learn. Do you know how a shrimp or crab swims and what they do when they are threatened? Know their natural behavior under the conditions that you fish in will put fish on your fly. While you are watching the nature around you, pay attention to the birds as you can learn a lot about what is going on in the water by watching the sky.
Pelicans are great forecasters of where the bait fish are. If a pelican in flight is looking down he is hunting and of course if he dives, he has found bait. If you see him shaking his head after a dive, he is swallowing the bait fish he just caught. It is good to have a long range spyglass with you to try and see what the bait is. When spotting bait in the water, it is necessary to have a good pair of sunglasses to see through the water. Ocean Waves are the very best for this as they block out or rearrange the harmful light so you may see into the water. They are the only company that does this. Learn to look through the water at the sea floor. It may take a little practice but you will know it when you have it right.
So as you can see, there is no definitive answer, but rather there is a formula to follow. This formula or process will work for you anywhere in the world. You may not have a fly to match the bait and that is where having a travel fly tying bag is important. Keep in mind what you saw on the water in respect to how the various baits swim. When you are swimming a fly just do it like you saw the real bait swim. When a redfish approaches your shrimp, drop it down into the grass like the resl one does and get ready for a strike.
If you do not tie your own flies, a great place to get what you need is at RiverBum Flies. Store-boughts can be expensive. At RiverBum.com you will find flies that are very well tied and only cost a couple of bucks each.
I hope this helps you. This is how I was taught and it has served me very well for many years. Now it’s time to tie one on and pick a fight!
Captain Pat Horrigan