Guidelines for a beginner

The number of patterns overwhelms me. Can you give me some guidelines?

Q: I want to get into saltwater fly-fishing but don't know what species I'll be chasing. The number of patterns overwhelms me. Can you give me some guidelines?

Ed Simpson
Cincinnati, Ohio

A: Sometimes a certain pattern is best, but I generally feel comfortable anywhere on the planet with the following nine flies (provided you have them in different sizes and color combinations): popping bug, Bendback, Surf Candy, Clouser Minnow, Half and Half, crab, Deceiver, Bucktail Deceiver and Whistler.

Popping bugs offer predators the suggestion of a helpless species struggling on the surface. Saltwater poppers are best kept in motion, no matter how subtle. The Bendback is a weedless pattern that can be dragged across a skinny coral flat for bonefish and also cast under mangroves for snook and tarpon with little fear of snagging. It's an essential pattern.

The Surf Candy is a great imitation of a baitfish, while the Clouser Minnow is one of the most useful flies in any saltwater environment. The Half and Half (a combination of a Clouser and a Deceiver) is also effective on many inshore and offshore species.

Predators eat crab flies wherever the crustaceans are found. A thumbnail-size crab will fool even the smartest bonefish and, of course, is the ticket for permit. The flies should be carried in different sizes and sink rates, and it helps if they're tied to resemble local species.

The Deceiver and Bucktail Deceiver have productive track records wherever predatory saltwater species swim, and the Whistler is similarly a great fly, with a record of catching fish for more than four decades.