Saltwater fly-fishing gear

Find the right equipment to fish the salty seas with ease.

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Fly Fishing At Dusk

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Saltwater fly-fishing is quickly gaining popularity, with some 30 million Americans living in coastal areas and the draw of spectacular saltwater destinations like Belize and Christmas Island. Additionally, species like bonefish, redfish, stripers, blues, tarpon and others also lure fly anglers to the seas.

Equipment needs can greatly vary depending on the fish species, location and climate. Let us help with recommendations and advice to finding the basics you need to get started. For newcomers to the sport, it comes down to choosing the most versatile equipment until you find a niche you enjoy the most.

Best saltwater fly rods

When fly-fishing in the ocean, you need to be able to cast your rod long distances, often in windy conditions. Your rod must be strong enough stand up to the extreme saltwater environment, as well as hook, fight and land powerful fish. A 9-foot 9-weight medium or fast-action fly rod is a good general rod that works for many situations. While slightly heavy for bonefish and a little light for striped bass, this rod choice is a happy medium as you get started.

If you’re targeting a specific species, though, you’ll want to choose an appropriate rod. Saltwater anglers targeting tarpon, for example, want a longer, heavier rod, while those specializing in surf fishing need a 12-foot 8-weight rod to be able to throw longer casts out past breaking waves.

Our top picks

KitDescriptionAverage pricePurchase
Sage Foundation fast-action fly rodA budget choice with a minimalist finish, made from a premium blank. Good for redfish during flood tides, as well as bonefish on salt flats, offering excellent casting power and control. Comes as a 9-foot length with weight choices from 6 to 9.$325Shop at Bass Pro Shop
Sage Salt HD saltwater 4-piece fly rodSage’s premium saltwater fly rod, built with KonneticHD technology developed for accuracy and power. Constructed with a lighter, stronger blank to deliver optimal recovery, energy transfer and line control. Available in 8.5-foot and 9-foot sizes and a variety of line weights. Made in the USA.$950Shop at Amazon

Data obtained September 2019. Prices are subject to change and should be used only as a general guide.

Best saltwater fly reels

As with all types of fly-fishing, saltwater reels need to be matched to both the rod and line. Basic considerations when buying a saltwater fly reel include the material and construction, drag system and arbor size.

Material and construction

Many experts agree that the best reels are machined from a single block of aluminum and then anodized to protect the reel in the saltwater environment. Less expensive reels are made of cast aluminum and may not be as durable, but they can be friendlier on your budget. No matter the type of reel you choose, it must be anodized or otherwise coated to minimize the corrosive effect of saltwater.

Drag system

Designed to keep out sand, salt and other grit, sealed disc drag systems are preferred for saltwater fly-fishing.

Arbor size

Arbor sizes are available in standard, mid and large. The larger the arbor, the faster you’re able to reel in the line. But larger arbors are also heavier, which can make a difference when casting all day.

Our top picks

WadersDescriptionAverage pricePurchase
Orvis Hydros SLBoasts a powerful, sealed drag system and a large arbor. Lightweight and strong, it fits the bill for those shopping on a budget. Available in a 7-8-9 or 9-10-11 size.$259Shop at Orvis
Ross Evolution ROffers a supercharged 16-disc sealed drag system and is built to withstand the harsh saltwater environment. It features an anodized frame with coated stainless steel internal components and is smooth with great stopping power. Comes in a variety of arbor widths and accommodates 7- to 12-weight fly lines.$495Shop at Backcountry
Waterworks-Lamson CobaltA powerful saltwater reel that features a machined frame with a hard coating that claims to provide 20 times the protection of anodized coatings. Features a large arbor spool and an embedded foot to provide extra power. The ultrasmooth drag is designed to withstand the harshest elements, and the reel is certified waterproof to 100 feet. Available in weight sizes of 6, 8, 10 and 12.$699Shop at eBay

Data obtained September 2019. Prices are subject to change and should be used only as a general guide.

Best saltwater fly line, leader and tippet

Fly line

Fly lines designed for saltwater fly-fishing differ based on the type of fishing you plan to do. Most saltwater anglers prefer weight-forward fly lines, due to the longer casts generally required for saltwater fishing. But many tapers are available for specific species and conditions.

Another consideration is a floating versus sinking line. If you’re fishing the salt flats for bonefish and other species, experts typically recommend floating lines. Most other saltwater fly-fishing situations call for sinking lines.

Leaders

You can purchase leaders or simply add around 10 feet of 15- to 25-pound test monofilament or fluorocarbon leader to your line. Fluorocarbon is more rigid, less prone to wind knots, less visible to the fish and sinks faster.

Tippet

Ideal tippet strength, length and material depend on the conditions and type of fishing you’ll be doing. The strength of the tippet varies by the species you’re targeting. Experts recommend using 10-pound test for bonefish, 20-pound test for striped bass and 30- to 40-pound test for larger species.

There are also shock or bite tippets for extremely toothy fish. Many saltwater fly anglers believe that the tippet should be about a third of the length of the leader.

A good start is to add about two feet of tippet to a 10-foot leader.

Our top pick

KitDescriptionAverage pricePurchase
Rio saltwater fly linesRio offers a wide range of saltwater fly line tapers for virtually any target fish or situation. It also offers tapered leaders, including Fluoroflex, shock leader and toothy critter leader in prices from $6 to $20. Specialized tippet is also available in spools, including Wire Bite, Fluoroflex, Hard Mono and butt material. Tippet prices start around $8.$100Shop at Cabela's

Data obtained September 2019. Prices are subject to change and should be used only as a general guide.

Best saltwater waders and footwear

Footwear depends on the type of fishing you’re planning to do. For striper fishing in New England, for example, chest waders in either stockingfoot or boot foot designs with lug soles and studs is ideal. For bonefish fishing on the saltwater flats, lightweight pants or waders and special flats wading shoes or booties are recommended.

Learn more about the various types of waders and options in our guide to fly-fishing waders. Use our wading boots guide to help you better navigate those options.

Our top picks

KitDescriptionAverage pricePurchase
Simms Intruder saltwater wading bootsVersatile boots that work great for saltwater flats wading or surf fishing. Can be worn barefoot or with neoprene wading socks. Features built-in neoprene socks, a fold-down gravel guard, noncorrosive lacing hardware and a Vibram outsole that boats optimal gripping ability.$190Shop at Backcountry
Simms Tributary stockingfoot wadersMade with three- and four-ply breathable material, two belt loops, built-in gravel guards and a fleece-lined hand-warming pocket. Can be paired with any wading boot designed to accommodate a stockingfoot wader.$180Shop at Amazon

Other saltwater fly-fishing gear

  • Gloves. A good pair of gloves for handling toothy and spiny ocean fish, as well as to keep your hands protected from sun, windburn and biting insects, comes in handy. Coldwater salt fishing requires waterproof gloves.
  • Stripping basket. Ideal for surf fishing, a stripping basket helps the fly line stay in front and out of the surf. Plus, it keeps you from getting tangled in the line.
  • Pliers. A pair of anodized pliers that can cut heavy monofilament and help you remove flies from fish are essential.
  • Sunglasses. Saltwater fly anglers should have at least one pair of polarized sunglasses for fishing. Many fishermen carry several pairs to suit varying conditions. A backup pair also comes in handy when the ocean claims the first pair. Gray polarized lenses with a mirrored outer surface are a popular choice for offshore fishing, where light and reflections are the most intense. Amber polarized lenses with or without the mirrored coating work better for salt flat fishing. Yellow polarized lenses are best for low-light conditions.
  • Headwear. A wide-brim hat helps protect you from the sun’s UV rays, glare and wind while saltwater fly-fishing. Additionally, a sun protection mask helps keep UV rays, wind and mist at bay, while wicking away sweat and moisture from your skin.

Bottom line

Options for saltwater fly-fishing equipment are as vast as the sea. So try to stick to the basics if you’re just starting out. If you know what types of fish you’ll be targeting and the type of fishing you plan to do, narrow your search based on it.

If you’re a novice getting into freshwater fly-fishing, don’t miss our beginner fly-fishing equipment guide.

How we chose these products

We chose the products in each category based on price, features and simplicity with a beginner saltwater fly angler in mind. We factored in our personal experiences as well as third-party product reviews to narrow our search and home in on popular, high-quality options.

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