Stream to Salt I: Don’t Wait to Rig

Written by: Evan Jones

Saltwater gamefish can suddenly appear out of nowhere, and you don’t want to be caught unprepared.
All photos by Evan Jones

While it may seem that years of experience fly-fishing for trout would provide an advantage in the salt water, it’s more likely that your “trout brain” will initially hurt your chances of success by leading you to rely on tried-and-true freshwater approaches that aren’t just less effective in the salt, but are downright counterproductive. 

This is the first installment in a series of articles called Stream to Salt, designed to help anglers of all abilities identify and overcome specific challenges arising from subconsciously applying “trout brain” to saltwater fly fishing. The goal is not simply to provide a list of new habits to memorize, but to foster a deeper understanding of why some of the habits and assumptions developed while trout fishing can be detrimental in the salt, and how to adjust. 

This big snook was right next to the boat ramp.

One frequently repeated tip for trout anglers is that you shouldn’t rig up until you’ve reached the water’s edge and had a chance to assess the current situation. While that technique does indeed work well when targeting trout confined to a stream, it can lead to missed opportunities when you’re fishing expansive saltwater environments, where simply finding the game fish is often the greatest challenge.

Since salty encounters might be few and far between—not to mention quite brief—you need to be ready from the start of your trip in order to avoid missing out on any fleeting action. Your best shot of the day may well come at the very beginning, whether you’re traveling to the first spot, or between spots, or even right when you arrive at the water. Having any fly rigged up and ready to throw in that unexpected situation is infinitely better than not being able to make a cast because you were waiting to see what the fish were eating. You can always change your fly after you’ve had more time to observe the current conditions. 

It pays to rig up before you even step on the skiff.

Evan Jones is the assistant editor of the Orvis Fly Fishing blog. He spent a decade living on the Florida coast and now lives in Colorado.

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