November 27, 2023
Affiliate Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. We earn from qualifying purchases.
Editor's note: Flyfisherman.com will periodically be posting articles written and published before the Internet, from the Fly Fisherman magazine print archives. The wit and wisdom from legendary fly-fishing writers like Ernest Schwiebert, Gary LaFontaine, Lefty Kreh, Robert Traver, Dave Whitlock, Al Caucci & Bob Nastasi, Vince Marinaro, Doug Swisher & Carl Richards, Nick Lyons, and many more deserve a second life. These articles are reprinted here exactly as published in their day and may contain information, philosophies, or language that reveals a different time and age. This should be used for historical purposes only.
This article originally appeared in the March 1989 issue of Fly Fisherman magazine. Click here for a PDF of the print version of "Ten Saltwater Flies."
If a fly fisherman wanted a few saltwater flies that he could take anywhere and be sure that he could catch fish, what flies should he choose? Here are the ones I would take along. Five of these basic patterns work in most saltwater situations, and another five work especially well for bonefish.
The Basic Five
Gallasch Skipping Bug
For more than 25 years, Bill Gallasch has tied and sold his Gallasch Skipping Bug, a pattern that ranks as one of the best popping bugs for general saltwater use. The fly's balsa-wood body, which is approximately ½-inch in diameter and about ¼-inch long, is secured to a size 1/0 to 3/0 long-shank bug hook that has a clump of bucktail tied to the hook. Several coats of paint complete the fly. Various colors of bucktail can be used for the tail, and any paint combination seems to work.
This old pattern, or style of fly, was first used to take freshwater bass. It gained wide acceptance in saltwater fly fishing after Chico Fernandez showed people that it can be fished among weeds and brush, and it rarely snags. Actually, a Bendback is not a specific pattern but a method of tying a streamer fly. The hook shank of a Mustad 34007 or similar hook is bent slightly just behind the hook eye (the front portion of the shank is bent up slightly with the hook held in the normal point-down position). Then the hook is inverted (with the hook point facing up), placed in the vise, and the fly is tied with the wing covering the point. This causes the hook point to ride upright in the water, protected by the wing. Use this style of tying to create baitfish imitations and attractor flies.
Generally regarded as the most popular fly around the world for saltwater fly fishing, Lefty's Deceiver, like the Bendback, has no specific dressing. It is a style of fly with its own tying method. The fly has a baitfish shape 10 the water, but when lifted for the backcast, it is sleek and offers little air resistance. The fly can be dressed in any color combination in lengths from 2 inches to 12 inches. My favorite Deceiver pattern has a tail or wing with six to ten white saddle hackles, with an olive-dyed grizzly saddle hackle on the outside of each side. A dozen strands of pearl Krystal Flash of various lengths added along each side of the tail add extra flash. With the thread wrapped to within ¼ inch of the hook eye, tie in a beard of bright red rabbit fur. Then tie in white bucktail so that it surrounds the hook shank. The bucktail must flow beyond the bend of the hook, so that the fly takes on a baitfish shape when it becomes wet. About a dozen strands of peacock herl with green Krystal Flash mixed in top off the fly.
The Whistler series, originated by Dan Blanton, works great in reefs, murky waters channels, or where you must fish deep. The fly has heavy wings and large bead-chain eyes, so that it "pushes" water and makes sound vibrations. It is tied on 1/0 to 6/0 hooks. Start by tying in a heavy wing of white bucktail near the rear of the hook shank, with four white saddle or neck hackles on each side of the bucktail. Then, on the outside of each wing, tie in two wide, natural grizzly neck hackles. Wrap four turns of large red or white chenille along the hook shank. Tie in some large bead-chain eyes at the head. Finally, wind a wide, red hackle between the chenille and the eyes.
This old pattern, once called a Hackle Fly or Homer Rhode Shrimp Fly, was also popularized by Chico Fernandez. It is one of the finest shallow-water patterns, and it works in a number of color combinations. To tie one of Chico's favorites, start with a 1/0 to 3/0 hook. At the rear of the hook shank, tie in two white feathers, then two yellow feathers (one on each side), then two grizzly saddle hackles (one on each side). Add six strands of silver Krystal Flash or Flashabou to each side of the tail. Finally, wind white, grizzly, and yellow saddle hackles (one each) the full length of the hook shank.
Pflueger Hair Shrimp
Al Pflueger developed this fly to fish in thick grass. Virtually weedless, it's a great fly to fish when bonefish are tailing in turtle grass. On a size 2 to 6 hook (usually size 4) tie a body of light tan wool or synthetic yarn. Then add a wing of 20 to 30 strands of calftail, reaching just to the hook bend, approximately the same color as the body material. Secure a set of small bead-chain eyes on the bottom just behind the hook eye. Then spin a deer-hair body for nearly half the hook shank. Trim this deer hair flat on bottom, and taper it toward the eye, leaving some of the hair untouched, Muddler Minnowstyle.
For cruising bonefish or bonefish feeding in light-colored flats, use this fly designed by Bob Nauheim. Fly tiers have created scores of variations, but the original dressing remains one of the best. Avoid fishing the Crazy Charley in weeds, because the fly's eyes can foul on weeds or grass. Tie this fly on a size 2 to 6 hook (usually size 4). Start with a tail of several ¼-inch strands of pearl Flashabou or Krystal Flash. Tie in a length of clear 12-pound-test monofilament, then wind a body of silver mylar. Overwrap the monofilament over the mylar. Add a wing of white calftail no longer than the hook, and finish the fly with small bead-chain eyes.
Chico Fernandez developed this fly, which has become one of the all-time best flies for bonefish. It has worked for experienced anglers everywhere. Tied on a size 2 to 6 hook (usually size 4), it has a tail of bright-orange marabou fluff about ½-inch long, a body of gold mylar wrapped the length of the shank over-wrapped with clear or goldcolored 12-pound-test monofilament, a wing (just a little longer than the hook shank) of white calftail with a grizzly hackle tip on each side, and a head of black thread. Eyes are optional.
This fly, in tan or in white, is one of my favorites. I designed it several years ago and sent some to Captain Flip Pallot in Florida, who says it is perhaps the most effective bonefish fly he has used. It has worked for me from Christmas Island to Belize. The fly is weighted with lead eyes and is best used in deep water. On a size 2 to 6 hook (usually size 4), tie in a full 1¼-inch tail of tan marabou. Add a grizzly saddle tip to each side. At the rear of the body tie in 1/50- or 1/100ounce lead eyes (painted yellow with a black pupil). Finally, wrap a body of small, tan chenille, tapering it from large in the rear to a point at the hook eye.
Mother of Epoxy or Moe Fly
This fly has become one of the most effective bonefish–and permit–flies. The one pictured was built by Steve Bailey; others are slightly different. Because Mother of Epoxy flies are complex and difficult to tie, I have not supplied the dressing instructions. You can buy the flies from most mail-order suppliers and fly shops that cater to saltwater fly fishermen.
[The latest addition to the Epoxy fly arsenal, and in my experience one of the most effective patterns, is created by Eric Peterson of Westport, Conn. It is available from the Orvis Company in Manchester, Vt. THE EDITOR.]
Lefty Kreh was Fly Fisherman’s editor-at-large and the outdoor editor for the Baltimore Sun. He wrote several books on freshwater and saltwater fly fishing and fly casting.