Remember summer? Calm, clear water and snook cruising down the trough. Enter fall storms churning up the surf. Those floating fly lines that worked just fine in the flat conditions of summer need to be replaced. Many of us land-based fly casters fish right through the winter using lines more commonly associated with deep water and fast currents. I’m talking about full sinking, type III to even type V fly lines.
Floating lines are certainly useful while fishing from shore but when the going gets rough, a sinking line helps keep your fly closer to the bottom in the surf zone where fish are feeding. It also makes casting into the wind, which usually accompanies rough surf, much easier. Sinking lines are thinner in diameter than their floating counterparts, so they cut through the wind easier. Their coating is infused with heavy tungsten powder to allow sink rates up to 7 inches per second. Now we aren’t talking about plummeting to the bottom like a 2-ounce jig will, but it’s a vast improvement over using just a weighted fly on a floating or intermediate line.
Sinking lines also provide another bonus; they collect far less seaweed than a floater will, as they quickly slip beneath the surface and away from where the weeds usually are. Imagine looking at a floating fly line lying on the ocean’s surface. It will ride up and over every wave that passes under it, making for an indirect connection to your fly. Now imagine what a sinking line does as it cuts below the surface, sinking in a straight path to your fly. The less slack between your hand and the fly, the fewer hits you’ll miss! When using a fast sinking line from shore, it’s generally better to use a leader of only about 4 to 5 feet. This will allow the fly to be more easily pulled down by the fly line, which keeps that direct path between you and the fly. In rougher conditions that warrant the use of sinking lines, the water is usually fairly churned up, so spooking fish because of a short leader is less of a concern.
If you’re using a weighted fly line, it should follow that you would use a weighted fly as well. Your typical lead dumbbell weighted flies, such as Clousers, are always a good pick but sometimes you may want a fly with a different look depending on what it is you’re trying to imitate. I’ve hooked a surprising amount of snook while throwing a small size 2 or 4 sandflea imitation in the winter surf while pompano fishing. I’ll often tweak some of my normally unweighted patterns that I tie by using lead wire along the hook shank before completing the pattern the normal way to add some weight without having to use dumbbell eyes. Deceivers, epoxy flies, and EP style flies round out a selection that should also include some crab, shrimp and the aforementioned sandflea flies.
There is one other piece of equipment that can make or break your rough surf fishing: a stripping basket. It’ll keep you sane as the waves would otherwise wrap your fly line around your feet, legs and any other debris in a 15-foot radius.
Blue fish, Spanish mackerel, snook, pompano, redfish and even bonefish are all fish you might encounter in the surf during fall and winter. They’re there for one reason: to eat! Arm yourself with a fast sinking line to cut through those waves and get your fly down where it needs to be. It will really extend your beach fishing season, and it’s a great time of year to hit the sand and see what grabs your fly. FS
First published Florida Sportsman December 2017