These paragraphs are intended to give our clients a flavour of what to expect of
their day(s) with us and also to cover most of the basic questions that we usually
get asked! We hope you’ll find time to read this and that it will add to the pleasure
of your trip.
Until someone finds a way of stocking our shoreline, Saltwater flyfishing is all
about wild fish. Nowadays I spend all my time fishing for wild fish as I’ve had
more than my fill of stockies. I hasten to add that there’s nothing wrong with a
stocked fish. Rather, it’s just that after a lifetime of fishing if it isn’t wild
and preferably straight out of the Atlantic then I don’t really want to catch it!
The only exceptions to this are the fabulous wild brownies in the moorland streams
of Devon and Cornwall, an option we can easily factor in to your visit if time permits.
The key word here is ‘wild’. Anything you catch around the shores of Britain, or
indeed anywhere else in the world, is going to be a wild fish. The principal sport
fish for us is the Sea Bass, a truly great fish among fishes and one that takes a
long time to grow. A Bass of two pounds can take five years or more to reach that
weight and they don’t get to five years old without learning a thing or two. All
the natural predators (as well as the un-natural ones that are man-made) make for
a fish that is wary in the extreme – arguably the ultimate challenge for the true
This rather lengthy preamble is meant to stress one thing: Saltwater flyfishing demands
very close attention to every aspect of the sport. Watercraft, an understanding of
the aquatic environment, stealth, attention to detail and ultimately presentation.
If you don’t get it right, and very particularly the bit about presentation, you
can hear the fish laughing.
For a variety of reasons you need to forget – or at least bury for a while – most
of your river fishing disciplines.
With river fishing you normally have a fair degree of choice in determining the
range at which you fish. You can wade with stealth, adjust your position on the
bank, or vary the angles by moving above or below the fish’s location. If you make
a mess of things then you can still wait half an hour for the fish to start rising
again, as most game fish are conveniently territorial.
Not so in saltwater. Consider a typical scenario: you’re on the beach and ideally
out on the sandbars. The tide is running at around 3 to 4 knots and the fish are
swimming in with it, probably doing another 3 to 4 knots on their own. This means
that your target is swimming past you at around eight to ten miles per hour, give
or take. At this speed you get one chance, or at most two. You need to cover the
fish by laying an ambush several metres in front of his path, pull on the line to
straighten the leader and then get ready to give life to the fly at just the right
moment. Crucially, you can’t do this if you’re over-extending yourself and fishing
at maximum range all the time.
We’ll be giving you one-to-one instruction in all this, so don’t worry if it sounds
a bit complex at first!
So for us, the ideal mean range for saltwater casting is twenty metres. This puts
you far enough away so as not to disturb the fish whilst casting, yet close enough
for accuracy and good presentation.
One word sums up saltwater flyfishing – unpredictability.
Whilst a typical cast is twenty metres, there are still times when you’ll need to
extend to maximum range for that solitary big bass, just as there will be occasions
when you frantically strip back all the line to cover the Mullet that suddenly appears
at your feet. Exciting, yes, but totally unpredictable.
As ever it’s compromise. I gear everything to twenty metres, but try to be flexible
enough to cover the extremes as well. As we’ll see later in the tackle section, the
6 weight line is my first choice and probably the best all-rounder but if the surf’s
up and the wind is keening in from the Atlantic then compromises have to made.
All over the World, the one element that makes saltwater flyfishing so exciting is
that it’s visual. At its best, you get the chance to spot and cast to the individual
Apart from times when sport is dour and you’re prospecting with sinking lines off
the rocks or the drop-offs, most of the best sport is on the beach. My absolute
favourite scenario is to locate the sand bars at the bottom of the tide and fish
the beach as the fish come in. The relatively shallow water means that you can see
the shapes of the fish and they are especially visible when they ‘ride’ the waves.
Grey Mullet seem to love doing this and nothing gets the adrenaline pumping like
seeing upwards of thirty Mullet hurtling towards you like shadowy grey torpedoes
in the building wave.
Bass are often just as easy to spot, although I have a distinct preference for a
bright sunny day to make things easier. I’ve lost count of the number of times a
client has said to me ‘there’s two fish over there’ and I have to (tactfully) point
out that actually it’s one fish and his shadow on the sandy bottom!
The school Bass are great for providing visual sport but the extra challenge comes
from the larger fish, which tend to become solitary after they reach three pounds
or so. Here you have the chance to do some good old-fashioned stalking and it can
be fascinating to watch them forage around the rocks, probing for shrimps or small
However, please do NOT expect to get half a dozen three pounders in a day – most
of the time it just isn’t like that. A three pounder on the fly will take patience
and perseverance and they don’t surrender easily! Many of our regular clients choose
to ignore the smaller fish and go stalking for their whole day – it’s entirely up
It’s worth registering here that saltwater fish tend to be far more catholic in their
taste than freshwater and Bass will eat almost anything that moves. I once took a
two pounder for the BBQ and found the following in the stomach: crab, small sand-eel,
small flatfish, prawns and a baby Pollack. And all this was fresh, eaten less than
an hour before the fish was caught!
Most of the game fish that we target on my home estuary are the same. Mackerel,
Gar and Pollack will chase anything. The only (infuriating) exception is the Grey
Mullet, a hugely worthy sporting fish but one that defies most peoples efforts at
the fly tying bench. Mullet are primarily vegetarians and eat weed. They will often
be seen ‘skimming’ the water surface, literally eating the film. There are a few
good flies for Mullet that work occasionally, but I’ve yet to meet an honest man
who reckons he’s found a panacea or even a fly that works with any genuine regularity.
Bass love to chase the small sand eels – we call them ‘bootlace’ sand eel as they’re
about that diameter and overall size. Indeed, ask any regular or commercial fisherman
and they will all agree that Sand Eel (particularly Lance, the giant sandeel) is
the top bait for Bass. Fortunately, they are relatively easy to imitate and so there
are plenty of good artificial patterns around.
Apart from the sandeels, most other food items are not generally found in open water.
Crabs, small fish, prawns and shrimps all prefer some sort of cover, usually the
kind of cover found around the rocky shoreline. One of my basic yardsticks is to
look for rocks with plenty of weed on them, particularly the kelp banks that get
exposed on the lower end of the tide. A rocky promontory higher up the beach with
good drop-off may look enticing, but if there isn’t any weed on the rocks you’re
probably wasting your time.
Out on the beach and sand bars, I use a floating line for 80% of my fishing. Even
with a heavily weighted fly, I doubt that I’m ever fishing at a depth of more than
four feet. The flow of the tide, the need for speed and constant casting and re-casting
to cover a fast-moving fish all conspire to make for surface sport of the highest
It’s also about belief. When you’re standing in water barely a foot deep you simply
have to convince yourself that this is a good depth. Bass will happily feed in this
depth on an incoming tide, even if they tend to be a bit more wary on the ebb. The
absolute ideal is to be standing in about two feet of water with a reachable drop
off that lands the flies in four/five feet – it doesn’t get any better!
Free swimming sea fish tend to look ‘up’ for their food. They also look ‘up’ because
predators like Gannets and Seals come from this direction. It follows, then, that
a floating or neutral density line will achieve most of what we need in most beach
The obvious exceptions are the faster drop offs or when fishing over or around the
rocks at slack water. Here you’ll need a fast intermediate, preferably the clear
variety. We’ll be doing many different kinds of fishing with you so please ensure
that you have the following as a MINIMUM requirement:
Fast sinking line
Experienced anglers and our regular guests would add in a neutral density and an
ultra-fast sinker to that list.
It’s a total myth that you need heavy gear and 9 weight lines for saltwater flyfishing,
at least around the shores of Britain and arguably in many of the more exotic destinations.
When clients talk to me about what gear they should bring to one of our beach days,
they invariably assume that it will be 9 weight shooting heads, twenty pound leader
and flies that carry half an ounce of lead in them. They also assume that sea fish
are mysterious, hard to find and even harder to catch. Thankfully, the reality is
A long time ago I was responsible for pioneering what was then called ‘the light
line approach’ on Stillwater. At a time when the whole reservoir world was using
dog nobblers and shooting heads, I set out to prove that you could catch a lot more
fish, win competitions and most importantly have a lot more fun by using light
line tactics. Respect for the quarry was the very real bonus that accrued from such
Exactly the same is now true on saltwater. My default choice for a day on boat or
beach is a nine foot rod for 6 weight line. If the school bass are in and the ocean
is quiet then I’ll happily drop to a nine foot five weight outfit, whereas if it’s
late evening prospecting from rocks or drop offs, or if there’s a big surf and rougher
weather then I might up-grade to a nine foot six inch seven weight, but rarely more.
Even when we’re out on the boat and using big flies for Pollack there is little that
cannot be achieved with the latter.
Although there are many rods and reels made specifically for the salt, and undeniably
they are triumphs of engineering if they can cope with the corrosive effects of long-term
exposure to sea water, the reality is that any fly rod and reel is capable of doing
Leader choice is an area where it’s possible to over-cook things. Bass are very,
very wary and there are many occasions when they will react negatively to heavy leaders,
particularly on calm days in very shallow water. Equally, in big surf or heavy water
or simply when the fish are in a good mood you can take liberties to the extent where
you feel they wouldn’t mind a metal trace! The middle ground is common sense: don’t
use tiny flies on heavy leaders because they wont ‘swim’. The reverse is unnecessary
as well, as a big fly on overly light leader looks all wrong in the water. My own
choice is for 2X or maybe 3X fluorocarbon for probably 90% of the time.
Whilst you are very welcome to use our tackle – it’s supplied by Hardy & Greys so
is pretty much the best there is – I strongly suggest that you try to use your own
With your own kit you’ll be familiar with the rod, you’ll be used to its balance
and casting characteristics, and you’ll probably fish it with more confidence.
Please bring your own waterproofs and normal fishing protective wear. It can be
cold even in high summer so make sure you include a fleece and a change of shirt/trousers.
Please note that we do NOT loan waders – long and bitter experience tells us that
anglers don’t respect ours as they do their own!!
We also suggest that you bring swimwear and shorts/fishing shirt combo. Wet wading
on a big estuary is a whole new experience and if you haven’t tried it you should….
Boat or Beach?
Having the use of a boat is an un-doubted bonus, not just for the fishing but for
getting to our chosen spot. We MAY use boats during your trip or we may not – it’s
Many of the ‘marks’ as they are called – known Bass-catching places often passed
down over generations – are not easily accessible. Whilst you may not actually fish
from the boat it’s very useful to get into coves or hidden beaches that are inaccessible
from the land.
We all enjoy boat fishing on occasions but the default choice is to fish the beach.
Wet-wading gives you an amazing sense of freedom and of course you’re right in there
with the fish, right in the essence of the angling environment. Waders are OK in
early season or if the water’s really cold, but come May I’m always wet wading, for
the sheer pleasure of it. No bags or clutter to weigh me down, as all the tackle
I need is on my neck lanyard: spare leader on a dispenser, snips, forceps and a small
fly box. We assume that you’ll have either a fishing waistcoat or lanyard system
with you. This gives the freedom to roam at will and rarely are the feet in the
same place for two casts. My favourite beach is over two miles long and that’s a
lot of fishing on a big Spring tide.
Having done my bit to promote wet-wading, please DO bring waders with you – chest
waders are useful if we’re fishing in rough water. It’s better to have them and not
use them than to regret not bringing them.
A lot of the fishing you’ll be doing is in wide open stretches of beach and this
can be daunting at first.
However, by simply analysing the environment you can cut down on the variables and
turn a five mile wide estuary into a small intimate fishery just for yourself. The
rules are surprisingly similar to stillwaters:
Which way is the wind blowing? Where is all the food being pushed and will you be
able to cast into the teeth of it if necessary?
What’s the state of the tide? Is it a big Spring with all the latent power, or are
we on the neap tides where everything is slower?
Where are the rocks? Specifically, where are the rocks and weed banks that provide
genuine cover for the food items? How much time will I have on the rocks, before
the rising tide calls for a retreat?
Where are the drop-offs? You can see the deep water ‘blues’ just by looking at the
colour of the water
Where are the gulls feeding? Lots of screeching and diving means only one thing
– bait fish in the water!
Is anything moving? Sea fish can ‘rise’ as they feed on the surface and some species
(Mullet for example) spend much of their time on top.
All of this brings the many thousands of acres of water down to a small, often compact
little area. No longer is there a need to over-extend the casting arm – instead,
that 15 metre range looks just right for the conditions! You’re fishing within your
capabilities, relaxed and with more confidence.
If it seems a lot to take in then please don’t worry - in essence, this is what we
hope to teach you during your trip.
We say on our website that we’re here to teach you to FISH rather than to CAST. If
you need help with your casting then of course, we’ll offer it. But this will only
happen if you ASK – we’re taking for granted that you’re a competent fisher before
you book one of our trips and we don’t profess to be casting instructors.
Now for the boring bit:
You’ll be fishing in the Atlantic Ocean and as with anything to do with the sea it
deserves respect. The estuary mouth is five miles wide and when the wind comes out
of the West it can bring a lot of waves with it! As with any branch of fishing,
there is an element of risk.
We take every precaution for your safety and we expect you to respond to safety advice
(I don’t like the word ‘instructions’). The fishing can be very absorbing but when
we say that we have to move it means that we have to move now – not have ten more
casts! We ask that you respect this.
You’ll also be responsible for your own insurance. We’ll take great care of you but
we’ll also be asking every angler in your party to sign a disclaimer before we fish
as we will NOT be responsible for any accidents that may happen. To put this in perspective,
I’ve been guiding here for nearly twenty years and never had an accident yet so I’m
hoping it will stay that way – the disclaimer is just so that I can retire with a
healthy bank balance rather than paying for an American style lawsuit when someone
gets the flu after a cold day on the beach!
We ADVISE but cannot insist that you wear protective eyeglasses at all times. If
you want to see the fish you should be wearing good quality polarising glasses anyway.
If there’s anything you’d like to ask before you get here please feel free. If not,
we look forward to welcoming you to beautiful Cornwall!