Saltwater Flies with John Hey – Hairwing, Shrimp and Crab Flies

The Fishair Hairwing saltwater fly.
The Fishair Hairwing saltwater fly.

Saltwater Fly Fishing Canterbury Style 

By John Hey

A few years back I bought myself a saltwater fly rod, coupled with a system Two 1011 fly reel for salmon fishing. But being late in the season I had no chance to try it with winter, and thoughts of “would it or wouldn’t it hold a salmon – where could I try it?” I had heard that a few kahawai were coming in the river at the Waimakariri. I was playing rugby for Smiths City in the afternoon, so a quick trip in the morning was the plan.

I bought a few red and black saltwater hair wing flies and set off. Needing a bit of room for a back cast, I went down away from the other fishermen. Standing waist deep I stripped off a few coils of line and began to cast. I was halfway through a retrieve when I

locked onto a kahawai, which headed for the open sea, but the flex and strength of the rod took over and without moving I played the fish to my feet. A nice 6-pounder!

Step 2. Tie in yellow Fishair, followed by more tinsel. Tie in green hair forward of the eye. Then on top add blue Fishair.
Step 2. Tie in yellow Fishair, followed by more tinsel. Tie in green hair forward of the eye. Then on top add blue Fishair.

The only problem I had was as I caught more fish other fishermen left their spots and walked down behind me, none the wiser of what a back cast is, or could do to the unwary walker. So the set up could handle a strong fish, but it was still months to the next season.

I knew of a rock, which at half-out to half-in tide, could with a berley trail lead to something different. A fine day with little wind, an ideal chance! I fished a deceiver pattern to no avail, so I tied on an orange shrimp and cast a short distance, with a short strip retrieve. After a while I caught mullet and barracouta, with other more adventurous anglers chasing blue sharks and makos, but who’s to say other species won’t take a fly.

SWF – Hairwing, Shrimp and Crab Flies

Your main aim is to represent their food, sprats, shrimps, and crabs. Tie with plenty of glitter and sparkle. There are plenty of materials available for saltwater flies. The best colours are blue, green and white combos, or green and yellow mackerel with red, black, purple. Most of your freshwater materials are not used in tying saltwater flies. Your hooks have a straight eye and are stainless steel, to resist corrosion.

An important thing to remember when tying saltwater flies, is to tie wings and other materials so that they don’t wrap around the hook shank during casting. The long saddle hackles and fish hair are tied to give body shape and often spin during casting.

The shrimp fly is a good one for many saltwater species.
The shrimp fly is a good one for many saltwater species.

To do this, you tie the wings at the rear of the hook shank to support the wing tied in at the eye. The best materials are the stiffest nylons, similar to what is used in flasher rigs. This material is called Krystal flash. The thread to tie with also must be a heavier monochord. With a bulky head, you can paint on, or even glue on the eyes.

To fish, the saltwater flies you need to retrieve quickly because the fish in the sea don’t have the luxury of a slow-moving regular food supply. They have to race about and grab what they can eat when it is available.

Baitfish school as a way to try and protect themselves against predators, as there are few hiding places to escape to. So a rapid retrieve usually works well. Now I know there are not many opportunities for a wide variety of sea fish, size-wise, but it’s the art of deception that counts, so give it a go.

A few seasons ago, I was salmon fishing the mouth of the Rakaia River. Within half an hour I had caught my limit and because I had been taken there by a mate who was fishless, I couldn’t leave or continue to fish, so out with the fly rod and a saltwater fly and I caught some kahawai. So a day’s luck continues!

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