Billfish, shark, marlin, amberjack, barracuda, bonitos, jack, and tuna are some of the many reasons I have become addicted to offshore fly fishing. My first several trips offshore I faced the daunting challenge of figuring out what in the world I was doing. Not a lot of people fly fish offshore and when they do the techniques are varied and ambiguous. Before my first offshore trip I researched and prepared the best I knew how, but I still had a lot of questions. Here are some tips, gear advice, and info that can help you when it comes to fly fishing offshore.
1. The fasting sinking fly line you can find - My first trip offshore we pulled up to a wreck and immediately there were fish all around the boat. The problem was they were about 30'-50' below us and I only had an intermediate line. Try as I may, I struggled to get the fly deep enough to get a take. After that I went home and bought the biggest and heaviest fly line I could find. That line was a game changer on my next trip when I encountered a very similar situation. Deep water = Deep fish.
2. 12wt+ Rod - Big fish means you need a big rod. Imagine hooking a large shark, tuna, amberjack, etc, and being stuck with a smaller rod! I usually throw a 12wt rod or bigger.
3. 8wt -10wt rod also - I know I just said you need a 12wt rod, but fly fishing offshore in tropical environments can throw many different situations your way in one day. Bring your trusty 8wt flats rod with floating or intermediate line. If you run into a school of fish chasing bait or dorado handing around a weed line the 8wt will do the trick and can be easier to cast off the boat!
4. Thick tippet and wire - I normally throw 30lb mono straight leader offshore, but always carry wire tippet with me. Trust me, its very frustrating to get repeatedly cut off by large barracuda or shark because you forgot your wire.
5. A reel with a strong brake - I fish our Revolution reel offshore every time! The 25lb drag brake is an absolute must.
6. Big flies tied on big hooks - Big flies that push a lot of water are a must. I find large single hook musky or pike flies do just fine. I like weighted flies to help get the fly down quickly. It's also important to have a variety of different saltwater flys in your box. You never know what you will run into offshore.
1. Fish wrecks and underwater structure - Fish love any structure they can find. Any good captain will know the wrecks and locations where fish commonly hold. It's very common to pull up to a wreck and find that their are fish all around the boat in a short amount of time. Fish see the boat and get curious which will draw them near.
2. Use live bait and chum - Some purists don't like the use of chum or bait to bring the fish in. I think why waste time making your fishing harder than it needs to be. Chum will bring the fish to the boat and live bait (tossed off the boat one at a time) will tease the fish into casting distance.
3. Trolling works (bait and switch technique) - Trolling usually involves conventional rods with hookless lures to bring the fish to the boat close enough so you can cast your fly and hook the fish. This is a common technique for billfish or marlin.
4. Chase birds and agitated water - If you see birds diving into what looks like a bubble bath you have found a school of hungry predatory fish. The challenge is to get close enough and quick enough to get your fly into the feeding frenzy! If you can it's going to be game on!
5. Follow shrimp boats, weed lines - If you can find a large shrimp boat in your travels it can be extremely lucrative to give them a follow. Fish will often follow them feeding off the bi-catch. Make sure and be courteous to the boat before you start chasing them around! Most captains don't mind and some will even trade some shrimp for a magazine, newspaper, etc... (shrimp boats can be at sea for long periods at a time). Weed lines or other surface structure also often hold fish.
6. tease fish to the surface using hookless lures - Sometimes you can pull of to a wreck but the fish just won't come up form the bottom. I have found throwing a conventional rod with large crank style lures (no hooks) can help tease the fish from the bottom to the boat. Once the fish are near the surface switch out for the fly rod and get ready!
7. Keep your fly in the water - Last summer I caught a black fin tuna on the fly rod! It was a thrilling catch, but I never would have caught it if I hadn't kept my fly in the water. Before I hooked up with the fish, I hadn't seen anything moving in the water for about 20 minutes, but yet I kept casting, letting the fly sink, and stripping it back in. While I was doing this it just so happened that a school of tuna swam by and took the fly! I didn't see them coming, nor was I expecting them, but keeping my line in the water paid its dividends!
Fly fishing offshore can be intimidating and challenging, but sooo rewarding! These tips and tricks can help, but they are only a starting place. I know some of these tips are unconventional... but they are effective. Hire a good captain, get offshore and see what you can do! I guarantee one good day with the fly offshore will have you hooked for life! Maybe you have some advice we didn't list. If you have any other tips leave them in the comments section... Tight Lines!