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Salt Water Fly Fishing 101

Dex Chadsey

Fly fishing is a great way to catch fish on Cape Cod. However, fly fishing is about much more than just catching fish.

Fly fishing allows an angler to be one with nature, enjoy tranquility, and experience the thrill of catching fish in a simple and enjoyable fashion. ​

For these reasons, many would argue that there is no better way to catch a fish on Cape Cod, than on the fly. ​I cover the essentials of getting started with fly fishing in the video presentation below.


This presentation first appeared on My Fishing Cape Cod in the spring of 2015, however it quickly "got buried" beneath dozens of other reports, videos and posts.

That is why Ryan has decided to re-publish this 37 minute video presentation as part of MFCC University. If you are new to saltwater fly fishing, then this in-depth instructional video is for you.

Frequently Asked Questions Presentation Breakdown

Everything below is covered in-depth throughout the above video presentation. This FAQ list answers some of the most commonly asked questions, best for quick reference.

What do I need for equipment? (00:45)

You will need some specialized equipment to get started, but nothing too fancy. Here are the essentials:

  • Fly rod & reel (details are covered below)
  • Waders
  • An assortment of saltwater flies
  • Line and backing
  • Safety equipment
  • Stripping basket

How do I choose a fly rod? (01:40)

  • Weight

Choosing a fly rod can be intimidating with all the available choices. 

Please watch the above video presentation for a more in-depth explanation, but in general you want to match the weight of the rod to the size of the targeted fish.

For example a 5 or 6 weight fly rod is good for small fish like schoolie striped bass. ​A 15 weight rod would be good for marlin.

A 7 or 8 weight rod would be more ideal for slightly larger stripers and other fish. A 9 or 10 weight rod would work best for big striped bass, bluefish and false albies.

  • Action

A fast action fly rod bends primarily near the tip. A medium action bends towards the middle of the rod, and a slow action bends well into the butt of the rod.

  • Multi-piece rods

3 and 4 piece rods can be transported much more easily than 1 or 2 piece. During our group trip to Cuttyhunk in 2014, I packed my 4 piece rod in my suitcase.

Regardless be aware of screen doors and power windows which are notorious for snapping rods! Rod tubes can help prevent damage.

How do I choose a fly reel? (06:50)

  • Arbor size

The "arbor" is important to consider when selecting a fly reel. It is best to match arbor size to the size of the fish you will be targeting.

Smaller arbor size reels are suitable for smaller fish, and larger arbor size reels are suitable for larger fish.​ A mid-arbor size reel gets you a little of both worlds.

  • Disc drag

The size and fighting power of saltwater fish on Cape Cod require a disc drag. Disc drags creation friction as the drag knob is tightened. Your fishing situation determines the quality of the disc drag you will need.

You can also increase your drag pressure by "palming" the reel.​

How about fly line, tippet and backing? (09:34)

Flies are so lightweight that you are actually casting the line, not the fly. This is why it is so important to match the weight of your fly line to the weight of your rod.

There are 3 categories of fly line:

  • Floating
  • Intermediate
  • Sinking

Of course make sure to also add backing, which is covered at 14:30 in the video. Tippets are covered at 15:00 in the video.

More FAQ

Answers to all these questions can be found in the video at the marked time.

  • How do I retrieve the fly and play the fish?
  • How do I set the hook?
  • How do I fight small fish vs. large fish?
  • When do I palm the reel?
  • How do I select waders?
  • Do I need wader boots?
  • How do I cast and use a stripping basket?
  • What flies should I use for striped bass?
  • How about environment, and other variables that affect fly fishing?
  • What safety considerations should I make?
  • What's a wading staff and why should I use one?












What do you think?

Let us know by commenting below.

  1. Hi Dex,

    That’s a terrific introduction to fly fishing the salt. Thank you for putting it together. My 13-yo daughter just watched it with me and you clearly taught her more than I’ve ever managed to do (she doesn’t always want to listen to me especially when I’m trying to teach her something).

    As you know, there are more ways to present the fly than cast and strip
    using either single or double strip, and I am wondering if you should
    add a couple of techniques to your presentation. The first one I’m thinking of is the deep swing, where you cast cross current (or slightly upstream) in inlets and then let the fly drift and sink down to a certain level before you initiate the swing (similar to salmon fishing in rivers). My daughter caught her first bass on fly last week using this technique at the inlet of Ipswich river. She didn’t have to cast long, about 20-25’, for it to work. The second technique that beginner could perhaps try, if the area allows it, is to deadstick and rattle for instance a crab fly, or something similar, on the bottom of a flat or close to boulder fields and vegetation. Well, not sure about this one b/c it requires some stealth not to spook the fish. My two cents…

    Thanks again for the great presentation!


  2. Thank you . can you suggest some sandbars for fly fishing pls

    1. Hi Rajiv,
      There are a lot of exposed sand bars on the flats around the Monomoy Islands in Chatham. This area used to be a worldwide fly fishing destination but faded as the barrier beach completely filled in. This created one long barrier beach from Chatham Light to the southern tip of South Monomoy. As a result current flow in the backwater areas was greatly reduced which caused severe shoaling. There was limited access to these areas for migratory fish and during the summer heat the shallow, fairly stagnant water became much too warm for bass.
      In the last several years the barrier beach has been breached in several areas which I would imagine has reinvigorated the fishery. Captain Keith Lincoln runs a ferry service to the fishing flats. See for information. Outermost Harbor in Chatham also offers a shuttle service to the outer beaches which gives you access to the flats. Here is their web address.
      Any time you are out on the flats you need to exercise caution as the tide can rise quickly, eliminating your land marks and exit routes. The My Fishing Cape Cod Forum has several posts that will educate you on the dangers and how to safely fish the flats on Cape Cod.

      1. If you had to pick one weight rod for stripers what would that be??

        1. I just started fly fishing for stripers 2 years ago, and so far a 9 weight setup has worked pretty well for me.

  3. Brian,
    You might be interested in this article from Saltwater Sportsman. It’s about fly fishing in Florida canals when Stripers, Redfish, Snook, and baby Tarpon are hanging deep. The article refers to a special technique that they call “dredging”, which is really just fishing with a large weighted fly on sinking line. Still, it’s a useful article. Here’s the link.

  4. I have a question Dex… Modestly, I am handicapped with a flyrod. But I have always wondered how fly fishing compares to standard rods of any type when focused on depth. For example, I know that you can swap spools to a heavier line, or change weight of the fly. Do you find it more challenging to test the column with a flyrod?

    1. Hi Brian,
      You can change depths two ways when fly fishing, with the line or with the fly. There are three general types of fly line; floating, intermediate, and sinking. The sinking line usually has a fairly short weighted section (30 feet) attached to the fly’s tippet which is then attached to a thin running line section which is attached to the backing. This is called a weight forward line and the weighted front section helps pull the line out through the guides during the cast. There is also a whole sink line which is the same throughout. Sinking line comes in different types that sink at different rates. The designation is in terms of “grain”. A 500 grain sinks faster than a 200 grain. I have used the Orvis “Depth Charge” line.
      Some flies have small weights attached to them that effect the depth they run at and their drop rate. The type of weight will vary with the type of fly. Bob Clouser’s “Clouser Minnows” have small “barbell” type weights while Bob Popovich’s “Jiggies” have small “nose cones”.
      Even with sinking line or weighted flies, a fly will not sink as fast as say a jig on braided line because of the drag of the thicker fly line. The technique of “lending” line involves letting out extra line in loose loops so the slack will allow the fly to sink more quickly, especially in current. Remember, just like in casting, it’s the line that moves the fly, not the other way around. A weighted fly will change that a bit, but not as much as you might think.

      If you are casting a fly line from a drifting boat and want your fly to sink deep the technique varies. When casting on the side of the boat toward the drift, cast out as far as you can away from the boat and let the fly sink for a while before retrieving. you might also want to “lend” some line out to encourage the sink rate. If you are on the side of the boat away from the drift direction, just drop the fly and a bit of line in the water next to the boat. As the boat drifts let out line until you want to start your retrieve. I have used the same technique when diamond jigging for Bluefish from drifting Head Boats off New Jersey.

      1. I got some photo attention on instagram from a member of the fly fishing hall of fame… also does a show on the outdoor channel; I think his name is Curtis? As I gave him an invite to come fish the Orvis lot (aka fly fisherman’s heaven), it occurred to me that I can’t fly fish. Maybe it’s about time I put some effort into it. Unfortunately, my fishing mentor died when we were only a few days into those lessons. I think I have at least half a dozen fly rod combos (my main setup in an Orvis power matrix 9w). Now that you’re retiring, maybe you can get down here more often and show me how to use it! Thanks for all the info, it’s a lot of good aspects to consider.

  5. Very nicely done. Very informative.

    1. Thanks Jay,
      If you have any questions about the presentation or fly fishing in general, you can email me at

  6. Great job! Very well put together.

    1. Thanks Ryan,
      I had a lot of fun putting it together. Betsy said I became obsessed! I’m going to bring my fly rod on our trip to Cuttyhunk in June.

      1. Really looking forward to that trip. Just counting down the days…

  7. Excellent post and video Dex! Happy to have you contributing!

    1. Happy to be a part of the group Ryan. Thanks for the opportunity.

  8. Great post Dex! I can’t wait to swing some flies!

    1. Thanks Ryan,
      I went fly fishing this past weekend. Friday in Westport and Saturday in Orleans. Watch the blog for reports on these trips.


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