by Fly Fisherman

Salt water fish seldom, if ever, feed on real flies which have fallen to the surface of the ocean, and there is no aquatic hatch similar to that of a fresh water stream or lake, and therefore there are no dry flies tied for salt water. Rather, flies for the briny have been designed to imitate such common forms of ocean-going fish food as minnows, crabs, shrimp, small worms of the ocean, sand fleas, and so on, and salt water fly fishing is therefore almost entirely confined to streamers, bucktails and popping hugs.
Most salt water streamers are tied with three or four saddle hackle feathers on each side of the hook, so that as the streamer is retrieved in foot-long jerks, the feathers will work, closing each time a strip is made, and flaring outwards again when the pull is stopped. These flies, known as “breathers” are often as much as five inches in overall length, tied on 3/o hooks.

The breathers are good numbers for tarpon, striped bass, channel bass, snook, jack crevalle, big snappers, ladyfish, and many other less commonly sought game fish of the seas. Smaller editions of the same breather flies, tied on a 4/o hook, are also used for bonefish when the fish are in fairly deep water, this hook having sufficient weight to get down to them. But when bonefish are in very shallow water, a bucktail tied on a number hook, or even a number 2 hook, will float better, and not catch on the bottom so readily. And when the fish are feeding on extremely low tide, then even lighter hooks, as small as number 4, are used.
For instance, some of the flats around the Isle of Pines, Cuba, and the adjacent keys, are extremely shallow at low tide. When bonefish come up on them to feed there is often so little water that their backs are sticking out. A fly tied on a heavy hook would sink too rapidly and catch on the bottom, so the number 2 or number 4 hooks are in order. In some cases, anglers even use Palmer-tied flies there, so that the hackle makes a shield sufficient to prevent the point of the hook from hanging up on weeds or coral.

Another tie which solves some of the problems of fishing the very shallow Hats is a pink shrimp. These little numbers, on a number 4 hook, are tied with the hair wrapped around the body of the hook and enough of it protruding underneath to make it almost weedless. It floats high in the water, and is perfect for shallow fiats.
Like the bonefish, other salt water species require different flies according to the water in which the angler is fishing for them. Snook in deep water take the bigger bucktails and streamers, but in canals, when they are feeding on schools of small minnows, herding them into the bank and then striking into them open-mouthed—then a small, inch-long bucktail on a number I hook most nearly matches the minnows. Some enormous snook have been taken on such small bucktails. And in like manner, the flies designed for tarpon vary considerably in size. Fishing for baby tarpon, from two to 20 pounds, calls for a i/o hook, while for their bigger brothers, the 3/0 is better.

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