Santa Lucia Flyfishers

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GETTING STARTED  by   ROB PHILLIPS (former club member)

Living on the Central Coast offers fly fishing enthusiasts a variety of opportunities. Local fresh water lakes provide an opportunity to fish for rainbow trout, small and large mouth bass and other species. The nearby Sierras offer some of the best trout fishing found anywhere in the world. Then of course there's the ocean with it's new challenges and opportunities for surf perch, halibut etc.

Here's our own Rob Philips advice on getting started: Drought Year Version

Fresh Water Fly Fishing

Well, once you have decided the lure of fly-fishing is too much for you to resist it is time to decide where to start. The simplest and most complex is Trout Fishing. OK, a true oxymoron. It is simply because you can catch fish with a minimum of casting skills, general knowledge and equipment; complex because it will take a lifetime to fully live out the joys of trout fishing. Firstly, get some casting instruction, PLEASE!!!, you have no idea how difficult it is to “unlearn” bad practices. I was a graduate of the “I can teach myself this casting thing...” Not a good choice of what to teach myself!!! And remember “Practice makes Permanent NOT Perfect!!” The club has somewhere around 5 FFF Certified Casting Instructors, put them to use! Or get a video, or read a book, or go to YouTube and find this video. It is THE best video on how to do the mechanics of casting, Bar None.

It is in Spanish, but the best video on casting that I have found. But do it!! It will make your future in fly fishing more comfortable, effortless and way more fun.

What: Getting ready to go fishing, the GEAR

Get recommendations from experienced fly fishers on what kind of equipment you will expect to need for your desired place to fish. The list is again simple or complex. You choose! The number one “first trout outfit” by far is a 9 foot 5 weight medium fast action rod with a simple reel, loaded with a balanced WF (weight forward)line and leader. Like with getting into any sport, the cost can be a significant factor, so shop wisely, but the 

cheapest equipment will always be the cheapest equipment and will serve only to disappoint you as your skills quickly surpass your equipment. My ala Carte shopping suggestion has a priority list for a budget it would be Rod, Line, Reel in that order of importance. So, consider at least one step up from the cheapest gear you can find.

Simple kit is a rod combo, a box of flies for your intended destination, Polarized sunglasses, (EYE PROTECTION is critical!!!!!! All the time!!!) a few danglies (to be explained later) and off you go. Minimal investment. This is good for summer wet wading or just occasionally fishing while on vacation. The “Kit and Caboodle” is more. The above gear then a vest, waders, boots and a wader belt, more danglies. The list can go on and on. Oh, yeah, danglies, they are the small assortment of gear to make fly fishing easier and more efficient. They include, hemostats, nippers, water proofing grease, desiccant drying crystals, a zinger/leash for some of these danglies. Then your store of gear includes tippets, extra leaders, bandana, fish releaser, water, lip balm, sun screen. The list can truly go on and on.

One thing there is about waders. No matter what kind of waders you choose, the ABC Rule is just smart. It is “Anything But Cotton.” Cotton will feel good when dry, BUT, it will retain moisture, and has no, I repeat NO thermal value!

Where: Choosing the water you want to fish: Fresh Water

You may have drooled over the destination places in the magazines. You’ve seen those glossy pictures of dripping trout, bass and steelhead... Maybe you have a family favorite vacation spot.

Think about where you LOVE to spend your very precious spare time. Wherever you choose do some homework here. Ask experienced fishers. Search it out in books and on the web. Check out hatch charts for when you plan to go. What kind of equipment is beneficial. Find the local fly shops to help with planning. Maybe even hire a guide to help you with your first foray to a new destination. A good guide will get you up to fish-catching-speed sooner than any one thing you can do for yourself.

The stream or lake that you choose to go to has some characteristics that can be used from water to water. This will be where your learning curve is to start. Your OBSERVATION SKILLS will be the key to finding out what is around! Yep, the first key to successful fishing with a fly is observing, noticing everything. If you don’t you won’t become a Ninja Phly Phisher, I kid you not. Running from the car and frothing the water with line, rod and waders, may get some adrenaline out of your system but the fright you give to the fish will not be rewarded with catching them.

Move to the water slowly...Take a moment to LOOK around and observe some of the things flying around (birds, insects), notice what is swimming around (fish,insects) and crawling around (insects, crustaceans), kick that willow bush near the water to see who flies away. Grab a rock from the stream or some weed from the margins of the lake and check out what varmints are swimming or crawling away from you. Color, shape, size. This may not be what is AVAILABLE to the fish NOW, but evidence of what is in the water now. 

What is available is a little harder to find out. Keep on observing. Are there any fish rising? What do their rise forms look like. Dimples? Swirls? Splashy? Surface disturbances? Jumping? Head and Tail rises? Are there insects sitting on the surface? Are there birds flying around, are they high or near the water? All good observations and evidence of what is happening. 

Now, the million dollar question. What fly to put on first? Well if you have done your homework and tied or bought the “fly dejour”, start with that. Or, when in doubt, put on an Adams Parachute or a tan Elk Hair Caddis in a #14. The way I started stream fishing was with Soft Hackle flies. I had no casting skills, even less streamsmanship or entomology skills, but I could wave a rod around and swing flies in a current. And, lo and behold, I caught a few ‘bows and brownies in the Sierra. A miracle!!! And then I was hooked, lined and sunk into flyfishing for the rest of my life.

Getting Started in Saltwater Fly Fishing

Wow! What a new world the salt is... the biggest pond on the planet that has been there all the while. The bastion of beach buggies, parties, swimming, surfing and of course cruises to and from far off places, now is our playground too. We have a wonderful local beach resource for plying the sandy beaches for all sorts of fish. This is your backyard. 

This is after work fishing. This is also challenging and a bit dangerous. Playing in any water, salt or fresh, can be dangerous, be careful and respectful of it. More on the safety subject later.


Any fly fisher can do the salty conversion.

The biggest challenge is the casting of big rods with, usually, weighted flies. Your 50 foot trout cast will be of little use to you here. You don’t need to be “Arnold” to cast in the surf, you may need some new skills though. Double haul and distance is the name of the game. If you don’t do it, get some instruction. Force is not the answer, it is you becoming the “Master” of the rod and not the “Slave,” just like with your trout rod.


Casting equipment:

Most of us local “salters” travel light, as far as gear is concerned. Generally speaking, the gear list looks like this: 9’ 8-wt rod that has a medium-fast to a fast action. Any modern reel can be used in the surf with proper maintenance. I recommend an “environment proof” reel, with Lamson the top of my list. The getting started line that I recommend is a “composite” line in a medium sink rate (3ips.) with about 100 meters of 30# backing. Generally, leaders for this type of setup we use 3 to 5 feet of 10# to 16# tippet straight from the fly line to the fly.

Wading gear:

You will, with all probability, get wet in the surf, so..Most of the salters use the same breathable waders they use on the lake or stream, with one exception. BOOTS. We use some sort of “dive booty” or water sneakers, no brogues here. A waterproof breathable jacket with a hood is the usual “top” garment, get one with a good tight wrist closure. How long can you tread water Noah? A PFD is a valuable asset right out of the shoot and some can double as a wading belt which is a must!

EYE PROTECTION is critical!!!!!!

I’ll say it again EYE PROTECTION is critical!!!!!!

All the time salt or fresh, Please. Both, Polaroid or safety glasses will keep you fishing as long as you want in the surf. A long or a big billed hat will save a little of your face from the sun and will allow you to see the beach and what is around you better, longer during the day. AND, will sometimes protect you from that zooming fly coming right at your head        DUCK........... Yikes!

Oh Yea, the second most important piece of gear is a fishing buddy. Go in pairs,at least!!!


Clouser type flies for the bottom feeding types in a variety of color combo’s, some worm, sand crab, and shrimp patterns will do the trick. Sizes are generally 4’s and 6’s. Halibut and White Sea Bass on the other hand are UP-ATTACKERS and therefore need and want baitfish and or squid patterns to be fished in the mid water column. Different fish will take all of the above, but some like one brand more than the other. The beaches have “hatches” too. Get recommendations from the regular salters.


Now that you have your “kit” together, where to go????

To begin locally, I suggest Port San Luis Beaches. Go just past Avila Beach, round the bend and a couple of hundred yards past the second pier there is a ramp down to the beach, from there all the way to the breakwater is the best water. This has to be the easiest place to begin your salty experiment. The waves and wind are not as strong and there are lots of fish there to be had. Barred Perch, Halibut, and the odd infrequent fish, like steelhead, salmon, stripers and jack-smelt. Other beaches have their own brand of salty fish to catch.

Other beaches include Oceano at both Grand and Pier Avenues and the end of Hwy 41 just north of the Rock.

Southern beaches: Go to Gaviota and then head south there are a number of other beaches to be discovered, such as Refugio, Goleta Pier ,SB Harbor, Santa Claus Lane, La Conchita, Rincon and the old Mobil Oil piers (piers now gone) and on south to the East Cape.... ;-))


The discussion is still open on the “when” of surf fishing. I say,”when you can” and then try to pick a beach that will give you best results. Firstly forget about any salt fishing plus or minus the high and low tides. That is leave the hour surrounding High and Low alone, go have lunch or a beer, birdwatch. Call a bud up and ask. Some of the local beaches are “low tide” or, “high tide” or anytime beaches. Find out which is which and log it to memory or take notes and keep a log.


There are a number of safety issues here on the beach. I will list a few:

    1. Never take your eyes off of the waves unless you are on dry land!
    2. Look where you are wading, deep water looks DARK
    3. Think about wearing a PFD (Personal Floatation Device)
    4. Look behind you when casting, there are some beachgoers who will come right up behind you and then get clunked with a fly, your bad.
    5. Fish with a buddy
    6. When waves come onto you, turn sideways, lean into it and hold your “line arm” down to your side to act as a spray bar. This will also help keep the wave from going up your jacket and down your waders. Ugh!!!!
    7. If swept out in a “rip-tide”, do not swim against the rip, try to swim diagonal to the current and down beach, when the power of the rip subsides, then start back into the beach.

The surf is the hardest of all salt environments on tackle and fishermen!!!!!!!! BE CAREFUL!!!!!!!! HAVE FUN!!!!!!!