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The Gear - Saltwater Fly Fishing New Zealand

A tailing trevally

​It is perhaps unfathomable that the delicate method of fishing with a fly can intertwine with the oceans pelagics. The use of a supply line, choreographed by a fine natured wand, creates a poetic method suited to wary trout. That said, with advances in technology and growing numbers of deranged anglers, fly fishing for saltwater species too can be taken to the extreme; species abundant in New Zealand's shallow waters. Here the fly fisher may visually pursue by foot pelagic and reef fish that enter New Zealand’s lively intertidal areas. Locating these moving fish is a time-consuming feat, to then hook, fight, and proceed to land the fish-with a rod finer in diameter than a child's pinky - the odds are against you. Ultimately of course this is the appeal for saltwater fly fisher. the gear for saltwater fly fishing new Zealand

Although analogous in presentation, methodology and gear, freshwater fly fishing could not be further removed from saltwater fly fishing. The corrosive nature of this environment filled with steroid-like enhanced fish makes light work of freshwater gear. It is worth considering also that fly fishing an already under-gunned method in the saltwater environment. To minimise fight times and ensure the longevity of the targeted fish, being able to apply adequate pressure is crucial - and to do so a change in gear, and thought is required.

Flies are composed of selected feathers, fur and synthetic materials morphed onto a hook to best imitate a targeted fish's prey. In the saltwater space, the hook is strengthened to combat the larger adversaries, but also appropriately coated for the more corrosive environment. Imitations are often larger, profiling a baitfish as opposed to the small insectivorous invertebrates within our rivers and lakes. The now larger imitations require greater force and line speed to be presented. Nevertheless, the mentioned pelagic and reef species too can be deceived on minute crustacean imitations, for example, one of krill. Often an incomprehensible feat to capture a predator so large on a mere centimetre imitation. For many fly fishing enthusiasts, the creation of these flies is art itself, and to deceive with your own creation provides an unmatched sense of reward. The range of patterns are broad with often one's imagination the only limitation. That said, at a specific point in time, or location, one imitation may well be much more effective than another, identifying such situations is discussed in the following article.

flies for kingfish

Attached to the fly is a fine and supple length of transparent line which itself influences the presentation, sink rate and movement of the accompanying fly in the water. This transparent line, denoted as the leader, is similar to a conventional fishing line yet often is tapered aiding in the ability for the line to turn over when the fly is presented. The leader may vary in strength dependent on the fish and its surroundings. Consequently, line with greater strength is sought in the saltwater. Still, it is preferred to use a line diameter as fine as possible so the likelihood of refusal decreases, and the fish, if wary, deceived and landed. Furthermore, often overlooked is the correlated relationship between line strength and diameter. As the diameter increases so will the lines surface area and consequently the sinking rate of the fly. For the angler, the controlling of the sink rate ensures the imitation is best perceived as the natural prey would be; for example it is uncommon for a crab to scutter on the surface. Working out this sink rate allows one to predict when and where the fly will be relative to the fish. A lack of understanding of these variables can result in a fish giving you the middle fin while swimming away.

The distance, accuracy and presentation are correlated to the time the angler spends practising, but largely also how well the fly rod, reel and line are balanced. An indication of the size, weight and ruggedness of the reel, rod and line can be gleaned by weights, allowing conditions and species to be matched. A 4 weight is suited to slow-flowing lowland trout streams, a 14 weight to billfish, tuna and larger ocean-going species. Further, within each weight, there are rods with faster/slower actions, and lines with weights distributed at different regions. Finding a balance in a weight class that suits your casting style too is important. Commonly, for New Zealand's saltwater species an 8 - 10 weight outfit is preferred.

Fly lines are composed of a braided core encapsulated by an inner supple layer and a rigid outer layer. The braided core provides strength, the supple layer allows for movement and the outer layer aids protection. When orchestrated by the angler, the combined weight of these three layers propels the line. The taper of the line determines the propulsion speed by the rod. Lines with a forward taper provide an easier generation of speed, useful for large profile flies, but a trait that may be a disadvantage compared to evenly tapered lines on calm days with wary fish. The density of the line further determines its nature in and on the water, and so whether it be classed as a floating, intermediate or sinking line. For the angler in New Zealand's shallow expanses, lines that float or those with intermediate tips are common, with deeper reefs sinking lines. Moreover, the saline environment with its larger adversaries requires lines with greater strength cores. The longevity of fly lines can be poor in saltwater and finding a producer of well-made coatings to deal with such an environment and the larger fish is hard to come by.

scientific angler fly lines

Additional backing is strongly advised. The backing may be viewed as insurance when dealing with these powerful and high stamina species. The braid-like structure of backing is suitable to allow a great length of line to fit on the spool. The line must however not be too fine for when a great deal of pressure is applied with the oceanic species, it may dig and cut through layers beneath. Lines between .25 to .40 mm sit right on the sweet spot. Having a well-considered connection between the fly line and backing is a must, as backing can cut through the fly line if inappropriately joined. On that note, all connections should be viewed as weak points and minimising connections will greatly aid your fishing.

backing to fly line connection

A fly fishing reel transitions from a line holding device in freshwater fly fishing, to the pinnacle of your saltwater kit. The increased diameter of saltwater fly reels allow for greater line pickup with one rotation of the spool; a prized trait when fighting fast fish on a 1:1 ratio reel and greater line storage. With freshwater species, often sufficient pressure can be applied with a palm to the spool and the surface area of the fly line. The same cannot be said of the battle in saltwater: the amount, size, and lubrication of drag discs must be, and are greatly increased. With powerful species, the fly line and backing may be gone in seconds, regardless of you personally having enough power to seize a bus. The rotations per second of the reel are so extraordinary that ill-equipped discs may melt and seize together. It is through the compression of these drag or cork disks that tension is applied to the fish. The smoothness of this tension application is equally important and the amount of tension varies with materials and lubrication used. Importantly, having this in a sealed housing, so saltwater may not enter, is vital. Having had Aitutakian giant trevally and New Zealand kingfish break drag systems on poorly built cheap reels, my choice of reels has become a very serious matter. Often, there is a strong correlation with the price of a reel and its longevity and quality.

The nimble nature of fly rods are a poor reflection of their ability to pack a punch. Similarly to both reels and fly lines, they are deemed by weights and have actions from slow to fast. In saltwater fly fishing, the selection of the rod action should be dependant on the angler and their casting style, but further too, the environmental conditions. The blank of a fast actioned rod may be incapable of making a delicate presentation, yet happily punch through winds where a slower action would crumble. Furthermore, a rod as a tool should work in unison with your line, not fight it. You may have the most expensive fly rod, but if ill-matched with your line you will be disadvantaged. In New Zealand, saltwater fly rods are often of a medium-fast action to combat the wind driven climate and larger profiled imitations. Good corrosion-resistant componentry, a strong backbone, and weight with which you are happy to make daily a thousand casts with should be sought.

bent over saltwater fly fishing New Zealand

For Kingfish, 8 – 14 weight rods are recommended with lower weights ideally suited to the coastal shallow expanses and 10 and above best applied to larger fish at offshore reefs with smaller room for error. Kahawai per pound fight harder than kingfish and can be great fun for any angler; with blistering runs and acrobatic jumps, it should be on a fly fisherman’s bucket list. However, kahawai are much smaller in size and so 6-8 weights are appropriate. Similarly 6-10 weight outfits suit snapper within these shallow systems; they are notorious for being flighty and require delicate presentations. Lastly, for offshore tuna, the range can be from 10 to 14 weight dependant on the species. Tuna are a formidable target, their abundance of muscle and streamlined morphology making them the ultimate adversary. The above recommended weights are not set in stone, they are advised to permit the angler to have fun, but the fish not played till exhaustion, past a point of recovery.

At your side on the most magical of moments will be your gear. It may travel the world as you ask it to perform with your dream fish - a moment when all else loses importance. It is not just a rod, reel or line, rather an extension, and unique expression of you. Understanding how to look after gear is indispensable, not only as it may be sentimental, but also as fly fishing gear carries an unignorable price tag.

The saltwater environment is unforgivably harsh: the deposition of saltwater until the formation of salt crystals will eat away at any gear, specifically any with metal componentry, while also accelerating the degradation of fly lines and line backing. To best combat this avoid the submersion of gear, specifically reels with loosened or poorly sealed drag systems. The water around/between drag discs create greater friction but deliver tension in a disharmonious fashion. After a day out fishing, a light rinse alongside the use of a soft brush will remove the mass of salt crystals on gear. A further peel, rinse, and clean of all fly line with a soft cloth is recommended. Ideally, wrapping a cloth around the line and quenching this as you pull the length of the line through, so removing any dirt, salt and moisture particulates. Backing should be dried frequently and replaced seasonally. Rods with corrosion resistant componentry are a must. One last, often ignored variable, the sun's ultraviolet light. New Zealand is perfectly situated in an ozone absent area, with little protection from the sun and so it is not recommended to leave gear, or yourself, unprotected in direct sunlight for extended periods.

This gear based article is incomplete without a discussion on the use of a boat, or craft. A unique aspect of New Zealand's saltwater fly fishery is how readily large fish, such as kingfish, may be found in very shallow water where they are visually pursued. The angler may stalk the fish by foot or from the luxury of a boat. Each method has disadvantages that the other may complement and so must be thoroughly thought out by the angler.

Boats allow the fast covering of a vast area from a more elevated position than that of the angler wading. Furthermore, there is the ability to visit many locations throughout an intertidal zone, in contrast to the wading fisher that may well be limited to only one by deeper channels. By covering a greater mass of water the likelihood of encountering the target increases, however, parties in a boat may cover water too sprightly, here the methodical wading fisher will benefit.

Finding fish is a different story from catching fish. If the targeted fish is encountered the likelihood of success connecting to the species is greater if you are wading. Boats are large and notorious for amplifying sound - sound that in a liquid medium like water travels 4 times faster than air. So unfortunately, your presence (on a boat) is known to the fish long before it is in sight. The wading fisherman is at one with the surroundings, treading lightly and leaving a smaller visual and audible imprint, even permitting fish to approach the angler.

yellow tail kingfish secured

All of the above likely even out: fewer fish are encountered when wading but those encountered are often hooked compared to more fish encountered by boat but fewer hooked. The noticeable difference that sets a boat apart is the hooking of particularly large fish; a boat provides the ability to quickly pursue the fish where the wading angler is limited to the line on his spool. Lastly, the most efficient method is a combination of both. Using a boat to travel but wading at each destination eliminates all negatives.

To conclude, it is a great journey understanding salt-water fly fishing gear, but with New Zealand perfectly suited, it is one that should be pursued by all fishers. I hope this article shed light on, and make even current saltwater fly fishers further think their gear. I look forward to hear how you perceive saltwater fly fishing in New Zealand and that you may too teach me about that which I am yet to observe or understand.


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