Discovering the fly rod

Until I moved to Whidbey Island, I had never fished from the beach with a fly rod. I moved here from Alaska 12 years ago. We lived near the beach and I fished for salmon, like most folks, with a spinning rod and a jig or a spinner of some type.

  • Wednesday, January 3, 2007 6:00am
  • Sports

Until I moved to Whidbey Island, I had never fished from the beach with a fly rod. I moved here from Alaska 12 years ago. We lived near the beach and I fished for salmon, like most folks, with a spinning rod and a jig or a spinner of some type.

However, I kept seeing fish near enough to cast to with a fly rod.

I also noticed that most fish I hooked were within 40 feet of the beach. Finally, I took a fly rod. I caught fish and never looked back.

Over the next few years, I learned that there was a skilled and dedicated group of anglers fishing from the beaches with flies. I learned from them, watched them, and went fishing with them. Now I’ll give you enough of that information to get you started down the same road. I promise that, once you get your first coho or steelhead on a fly, you‘ll wonder why it took you so long to try fly fishing from the beach.

Here’s the 411 on beach fishing:

Beaches: Find a rocky beach. If it’s rocky, there is enough current to move the fish in close enough to cast to them with a fly rod. Eelgrass and kelp also hold fish. Be sure to work those areas carefully.

Fish beaches where there are fish.

That sounds simplistic, but if you don’t see fish rolling or birds working, find another beach. If the fish aren’t there, no amount of casting will make you successful.

When you get to the beach, spend a few minutes just watching the water. Look for swirls, dark shadows, birds taking bait off the top. All those signs tell you there are fish here. If you see none of that, get back in the car and go to the next spot.

Casting: Cast down current. Start casting parallel to the beach in only 2 to 3 feet of water.

With each cast, increase the angle from shore until you are casting out at about 45 degrees. Let the current sweep the fly back toward the beach and then strip it in. Cover new water with each cast.

Don’t wade out far from shore. The fish swim parallel to the shore and if you get too far out, they will just move farther out to pass by you.

Learn to cast using a technique known as the “double haul.” That will give you the extra distance you need at the beach. The Whidbey Island Fly Fishing Club offers classes that can improve your casting.

Equipment: I generally use an 8-weight rod. Your standard trout rod won’t do the job at the beach, because of heavier fish, larger flies, as well as the wind that always seems to be blowing against your cast.

I use a 10-weight for chum and kings or if the wind is heavy. A sink tip line also helps get the fly down. Finally, it takes a good reel with a smooth drag to land these fish in the salt.

Flies: You will be using flies that imitate baitfish or shrimp. Clouser minnows are a good example. Sizes range from 6 to 2-0. The flies are often weighted to get them down into the zone. A sink tip line also helps get the fly down.

Times: A wise man once said that half of all fish are caught within one hour of sunrise. A quarter are caught within one hour of sunset. The remaining fish are caught the rest of the day.

Tides: Both rising and falling tides will bring fish to the beaches when the current is running strong. The current moves the baitfish near the beach where they can conserve their energy. The big fish follow them in where you can cast to them. The fish tend to disperse when there is no current and your chances aren’t as good.

The Whidbey Island Fly Fishing Club and the Island Chapter of Puget Sound Anglers can help you with beach fishing. Going to one of their meetings is a good way to meet people to go fishing with and to learn new techniques.

Call Clarence Hein at 360-678-3891 for information about the fly fishing club.

Talk to Ken Urstad at 360-678-4701 for information about Puget Sound Anglers.

Neal Sims can be reached at

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