The Essential Saltwater Fly Wallet

Don't Be Caught Without These Patterns Wherever You End Up Fly Fishing

The Essential Saltwater Fly Wallet

You Won’t Want To Be Caught Without These Patterns Wherever You End Up Fly Fishing

I dreamed I was standing at The Gate awaiting my turn to meet Saint Peter, one of the greatest fishermen of all recorded time. While I was happy to have taken the “UP” elevator, I knew all too well that I was going to be in big trouble. The keeper of the gate was never going to allow me to bring my countless flies beyond the pearly entrance. I had boxes upon boxes of my favorite patterns. After all, who knew what heaven might mean to a fly-fisherman and what finny species would one encounter in paradise? I needed to be well-prepared. What waver of the long rod could blame me?
 
As a fisherman, Saint Peter understood my plight, but he shook his head and said, “My son, I will let you in but I must only allow you a few favorites. We already have many fly fishermen up here with their fur and feather creations, so a mere handful will have to do.” I awoke screaming from the nightmare. After wiping the sweat from my brow and calming down, I thought about Saint Pete’s requirement; if I could only tote “a handful” of flies for the rest of my life, what would they be?

I’ve often wondered, if my life depended on catching a salt-dwelling fish on a fly, which pattern would I choose to tie onto my leader? Which go-to fly might guarantee perpetual success and survival? It’s a tough decision. The wide world of briny fly-fishing is rife with productive patterns. This abundance provides anglers with an almost infinite number of design possibilities, since all flies have inherent potential for variation and modification. Over the course of researching and writing four fly-fishing books – two of which focused on patterns – I’ve had the good fortune to speak with literally hundreds of fly-fishing guides, captains and professional or amateur tiers from Maine to the Texas Gulf Coast, some of the best this great country has to offer. I’ve also had examined more than 1,200 flies, including many of the best designs ever tossed at saltwater fish. Some of those patterns were originals, but most were innovative modifications of tried and true designs, each in its own way, a marvelous creation of art imitating life.
Lobsterville

The highlight of those experiences was a note I received from a fly-fishing legend, the venerable Bernard “Lefty” Kreh, offering some kind words on my book, Saltwater Flies of the Northeast. His note provided an excuse to call him to extend my thanks for the gracious comments. We had a wonderful chat and I mentioned that one of the things I’d want included as part of the fishing gear I take with me to the fly-fishing “hereafter” is an adequate supply of Lefty’s Deceivers. I couldn’t depend solely on Angel Hair patterns. While we both laughed at that, I said I could not imagine entering heaven without his creation, so much so that I instructed my wife as to which Deceivers should be packed along with me. To be caught in a heavenly situation surrounded by all great fish without the right patterns might just be a fly-fisherman’s purgatory…or worse.

But even in paradise, just one fly is not practical. The wise Saint Peter recognized that. Since his admission prerequisite involved but a handful of flies, the selection task would be daunting. Narrowing dozens of favorites to a mere few that would fit in the palm of my hand would require serious deliberation. After much reflection, I decided upon a core of the following well-proven patterns as part of the essential fly wallet for fishing the waters of the Northeast, or even the Great Beyond.

Lefty’s Deceiver
An original Lefty’s Deceiver tied by Bernard “Lefty” Kreh
An original Lefty’s Deceiver tied by Bernard “Lefty” Kreh

My first choice is an easy one: The Lefty’s Deceiver. When pressed to choose but one fly to count on in a pinch, many saltwater fly anglers across the globe reach for the respected Deceiver, or some fitting variation. Wherever I’ve fished, Deceivers of some size, shape or form appear in fly boxes, even on remote tidal streams on the Alaska Peninsula. The fly is time-tested and remarkably effective. Deceivers and its countless variations have likely accounted for more catches than any other design in the era of modern fly-fishing. It is hailed as one of the greatest patterns of all time and one of the most imitated. I once counted more than one hundred variations of Deceivers offered for sale in various catalogs and online websites. Even within the realm of flies, imitation is the truest form of flattery.

Most anglers who regularly fish the Deceiver have tweaked it a bit to suit personal preferences and needs, and that is its true beauty – it lends itself to tinkering. In Lefty’s words, the Deceiver is a “style of pattern,” rather than a singular fly. The implication is that a tier can add a personal mark to a very versatile and adaptable pattern. Just about every fish that swims loves this fly in some form or another. In the course of my own outings with the Deceiver I’ve caught striped bass, bluefish, Atlantic bonito, little tunny, Spanish mackerel, northern weakfish, speckled sea trout, snook, jacks, redfish, tarpon, Pacific salmon, largemouth and smallmouth bass, and a host of other game fish in freshwater and saltwater. In its infinite variations, the Deceiver replicates most baitfish sizes and colorations. By varying the materials, one can also change the profile of the fly to more closely match the silhouette of most prey species. Depth management for probing the water column can be effectively achieved through the use of appropriately matched lines: floating, intermediate sink tips, high-density sink tips and full sinking lines.

Clouser Deep Minnow
An original Clouser Deep Minnow tied by Bob Clouser
An original Clouser Deep Minnow tied by Bob Clouser

Hot on the heels of the Deceiver as an essential wallet choice is Bob Clouser’s original Deep Minnow. Clouser created his world-famous “minnow” for smallmouth bass in his home water, the Susquehanna River. The pattern’s reputation grew exponentially as its success grew, measured not only in terms of numbers of fish caught, but also in the diversity of species succumbing to its effective design. Like the Deceiver, the Clouser has taken most fish it has been cast to, both in fresh and saltwater. In many respects – and as is the case with most all truly great flies – there is simplicity in its design. Fundamentally, the fly is an upside-down hair pattern with a wing, some flash and a pair of barbell eyes set like those of a predecessor, the Crazy Charlie, or some earlier flies of anonymous origins in the southeast and Gulf Coast regions of the United States. But the genius of the Deep Minnow lies in the way the components are assembled. It is one of those patterns that make you think, “Now why didn’t I think of that?”

As with some famous entertainers, it’s become known by just one name, “Clouser.” This is a very versatile fly, adaptable to size, color and profile preferences. While there is actually one original and specific tying recipe, it has proven successful in many modified forms. Clousers may be tied in slender profile, in micro-to-magnum sizes, and the basic design can be modified for use with any number of natural or synthetic tying materials. Weight management can also be achieved by varying the barbell eye size.

The Hybrid Half and Half tied by Paul Schwack, Jr.
The Hybrid Half and Half tied by Paul Schwack, Jr.

I am going to sneak in an unofficial fly selection. One cannot reference the Deceiver and the Clouser without at least a mention of their mutual progeny, the Half and Half. When one considers the enormous success of both parent patterns it only stands to reason that a hybrid of the two flies would double your productivity. Tied half as a Deceiver and half as a Clouser, this design boasts the best attributes of each pattern. Interestingly, it was both Kreh and Clouser who first fused their original flies into the crossbreed.

Like its parents, the Half and Half is so effective it too has spawned an entire class of variations. While a purely impressionistic fly, the hybrid leaves plenty of room for creative tinkering to suit varying conditions. I like to tie mine heavily weighted with oversized dumbbell eyes so it can be used as a dredging pattern when fish lay deep in currents or near the bottom in a neutral feeding mood. Tied in larger sizes, this is a productive big fish fly.

Epoxy Baitfish
Epoxy Baitfish flies tied by Glenn Mikkleson
Epoxy Baitfish flies tied by Glenn Mikkleson

The generic epoxy baitfish has earned a place of distinction among the best of the all-time patterns. A very versatile design, it is well balanced, foul resistant and extremely durable when tied properly. This pattern also handles toothy critters like bluefish and Spanish mackerel. Glenn Mikkleson is one of an elite group of tiers who specialize in patterns crafted with epoxy or acrylics, and his Epoxy Baitfish series is the gold standard for this style. He has made crafting epoxy flies into an art form and has pioneered many new techniques. There are plenty of imitations of this fly on the market but few come close to the effectiveness of Mikkleson’s original. The design suggests small to medium baitfish such as sand eels, silversides, bay anchovies and various forms of whitebaits. A red-and-black version is very productive after sunset. The pattern can be tied in numerous color combinations, and is effective for most coastal game fish species. In the northeast, the Epoxy Baitfish is a proven favorite for striped bass, bluefish, bonito, false albacore, skipjack and small bluefin tuna.

The Crease Fly
Crease Fly by Joe Blados tied by Glenn Mikkleson
Crease Fly by Joe Blados tied by Glenn Mikkleson

The world-renowned Crease Fly was born on Long Island, and is the creative genius of Captain Joe Blados. While all tiers strive to produce flies that are new and different, in reality, very few ever accomplish that goal. Most “new” flies are typically adaptations or variations of existing and proven patterns. But every once in a long while, we witness true innovation in the art – a fly design or technique that is so unique it affects the way we fish, and fundamentally changes the sport. One such innovative design technique led Joe Blados to create the Crease Fly, a pattern crafted to mimic the profile of immature bunker (Atlantic menhaden).

While originally conceived for the inshore fishery of the North Fork of Long Island, this fly has a successful global track record and has devotees wherever it is has been fished. I have witnessed the range of the Crease Fly’s effectiveness, from silver salmon in Alaska to the surface-feeding game fish of the Yucatan Peninsula and at all stops in between, briny or fresh. In magnum sizes, it is also a very effective offshore pattern for tuna and other large game species. What makes the Crease Fly a solid choice is its unique versatility. While built primarily for top water, Crease flies can be fished under the surface, fast, slow and any speed in between; its action simply drives predators crazy. The Crease Fly can be tied from petite sizes for wary albies or as a jumbo for offshore targets.

Classic Hairwing
Classic Hairwing tied by A.J. Forzano
Classic Hairwing tied by A.J. Forzano

The Hairwing class of patterns is one of the simplest of all designs and was among the first to emerge during the 1950s when saltwater fly fishing began to take hold in the United States. Those first flies used in the brine were adaptations of freshwater streamers that evolved to meet the demands of saltwater anglers. One of the foremost classic hairwing patterns of the period was the Joe Brook’s Blonde, a streamer fly. The Blonde has withstood the test of time and became the structural basis upon which many other hair flies have been crafted. It is a classic saltwater pattern, a style of fly I used to fool my very first striped bass. The original tie has accounted for many species and the pattern lends itself well to numerous variations and enhancements. Tied simply, the fly sports a tail and a wing of bucktail combined with a body of silver tinsel. The head is typically built with black thread. It can be tied in many color combinations and sizes. The original versions were tied as the Platinum Blonde, Honey Blonde, Black Blonde, Strawberry Blonde and Argentine Blonde. Over the years, the pattern has transformed into many other functional forms, including multi-wing ties and wide profile synthetic hair flies, such as Puglisi’s Black and Purple Tarpon Fly. Through mixing and matching hair colors, natural and synthetic tying materials and tying methods, this class of flies replicates many different bait forms.

Crustacean Creature Fly
Crustacean Creature Fly tied by Angelo Peluso
Crustacean Creature Fly tied by Angelo Peluso

Crabs, crayfish, small lobsters and shrimp are as desirable to gamefish as they are a delight to the human palate. While there are many anatomically correct patterns that replicate specific arthropods – and I would enjoy including on this list one fly replica of each – I do have to remind myself that the limit for the fly wallet is but a handful of styles. So I’d choose a hybrid creature fly, a design style that blends the best attributes of many crustaceans.

One characteristic of all good creature flies is a very buggy-looking appearance and lots of inherent movement. Gamefish will eat crustacean flies drifted in currents and rips off deep water or in skinny water as they cruise about for the next meal. Striped bass on the flats love creature flies. As an impressionistic pattern that creates the illusion of an arthropod life form, the creature fly will often draw many fish to strike. Size and color variations to match the prevalent crustaceans and bottom conditions are helpful under diverse fishing conditions.
For example, when fishing areas where crabs are present, it always pays to carry at least a light and a dark version of the pattern to help match the bottom conditions and the carapace coloration. Some other excellent examples of this design are Caolo’s Green Diablo and Pink Lady, Borski’s Chernobyl Crab and Curcione’s Beach Bug.

Rhody Flatwing
Rhody Flatwing tied by Eric Peterson
Rhody Flatwing tied by Eric Peterson

The origins of this fabulous fly are attributed in part to the coloration of Ray’s Fly and the flat wing tying concepts of New England’s Ken Abrames and Bill Peabody. The combination of those two features resulted in a fly that replicates an array of baitfish and can be tied in many productive sizes. The Flatwing fishes and casts exceptionally well and the flat wing hackle design adds an illusion of body mass when viewed from a fish’s upward-looking perspective. The fly is a favorite among striped bass anglers and it is a wonderful pattern to experiment with, varying size and color to match prevalent baitfish. It imitates moderate to large baitfish as well as eels. This is also a great pattern to swing in currents. The Flatwing has a significant amount of intrinsic movement, making its design very appealing to many species of game fish.

Ray’s Fly
Ray’s Fly (bottom) and Bondorew Streamer (top) tied by Ray Bondorew
Ray’s Fly (bottom) and Bondorew Streamer (top) tied by Ray Bondorew

Perfection through simplicity of design is the best way to describe Ray’s Fly, a creation of Ray Bondorew. This New England classic is an extremely versatile and effective pattern, ideal for replicating a wide assortment of small to mid-sized baitfish. The fly’s origins extend back to the rocky shoreline of Narragansett, Rhode Island. The primary driver behind the fly’s design was a desire to match the olive, yellow, pearl and dark back coloration of the Atlantic silverside. Ray’s Fly is one of the most effective Atlantic silverside (spearing) imitqating patterns of all time. I am often surprised that even some seasoned fly anglers are not familiar with this Rhody phenomenon. This fly is a must-have! When dressed sparsely, it performs exceptionally well as a sand eel imitation. If I have room in my fly wallet, I might also sneak in another of Bondorew’s flies: the Bondorew Bucktail. This outstanding performer is often used in tandem with Ray’s Fly, making for a very efficient combination.

Seaducer
Seaducer tied by A.J. Forzano
Seaducer tied by A.J. Forzano

This is one of my all-time favorite fly patterns. It is the creation of Homer Rhodes and was introduced in the 1940s as the Streamer Fly, a pattern designed for snook. It later became known as the Seaducer and has been used for many types of salt and freshwater game species. It is a very effective striped bass fly, especially when tied in red and white and fished in rips where squid are present. I’ve had some of my best striped bass action using this pattern in the Watch Hill rips when calamari are in abundance. When fishing deep, I like to add a set of barbell eyes to give an already enticing action additional jigging motion. In addition to the red-and-white version, I like tying the Seaducer in blended yellow, green and chartreuse. An all-black tie is a terrific nighttime producer. Alaska’s salmon and rainbow trout also seem to like it when tied smaller and in suitable color combinations.

Marabou Bunny Fly
Marabou Bunny Fly tied by Angelo Peluso
Marabou Bunny Fly tied by Angelo Peluso

One of the most effective classes of flies that I have fished anywhere I’ve traveled is a crossbreed pattern that blends the best features of marabou and bunny – two tantalizing and seductive tying materials. The effectiveness of a marabou and bunny combo pattern is legendary. In my own experiences the range of game fish taken on that style of fly runs the gamut from bonefish, redfish, snook and tarpon to striped bass, weakfish, bonito, Spanish mackerel, small tunas and many more. Within the fly-fishing community, this combo pattern seems to just have developed naturally without any one single tier credited with the creation. For avid anglers and tiers, it really doesn’t take too much of a leap of faith to marry bunny and marabou. They are perfect together and the fly is fun to fish.

Tabory Snake Fly
Tabory Snake Fly tied by Lou Tabory
Tabory Snake Fly tied by Lou Tabory

The heavenly fly angler needs at least one eel-like pattern in their arsenal. None is better suited to that task than Lou Tabory’s Snake Fly. The pattern was developed in the late 1970s to simulate the Leiser Angus Fly and its effectiveness is attributed to its buoyancy, action and adaptability. By varying the amount of materials used, the Snake Fly can be tied slim, medium or full-bodied to match the profile of the available bait. It can be fished on a floating or sinking line. The more effective colors are black, white, chartreuse, olive or an assortment of blended colors. This is a great fly for big fish seeking a large meal and it works equally well fished seductively on the surface for northern pike.

Jiggy
Jiggy tied by Bob Popovics
Jiggy tied by Bob Popovics

Very few lures are as consistently effective as a bucktail jig. The Jiggy was created by world-renowned fly angler and fly-tier, Bob Popovics, as a fly version of a small jig. The Jiggy is durable and effective, another of those pattern styles that is often modified and varied. The weighted head of the Jiggy enables it to be fished in the lower portions of the water column and depending on depth, close to or right on the bottom. Pauses in strips allow the fly to flutter and move like a jig. This pattern presents a slim profile and it can be tied in a range of bait sizes and colors. Bounced along the bottom, few fish can resist the temptation to strike the Jiggy. Shallow-water fluke love this fly when fished with a high-grain full-sinking line.

So there you have it, my big handful of essential flies. I am certain you will try many more but these are great go-to flies that will produce consistent results, here on earth or up there fishing with Saint Peter!

Angelo Peluso is an outdoors journalist, photographer and lecturer who has authored several books on fly-fishing: Saltwater Flies of the Northeast; Fly Fishing Long Island; and Saltwater Flies of the Southeast and Gulf Coast. For further information please visit his website at www.angelopeluso.com.

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8 on “The Essential Saltwater Fly Wallet

  1. mike king

    id like to find a retailor that sells most of these patterns to have some in my collection.

  2. Ralph Daviet

    You mention that Stripers love creatures that crawl on bottom.
    I have caught Stripers and other fish on the bottom using a Muddler Minnoow tied on saltwater hooks .I don’t know what this represents but it can be a killer when fished with a sinking fly line and I haven’t changed anything from the fresh water version tie.

  3. streamers fly pink and blue

    Your blog is very amazing.This site information is very good.So,Thanks for sharing information with us.

  4. Paulo H.

    Very Good information to me, I’m a beginer on salt water fly, here in Brazil have many fish like Snook, jacks, blue runner, crevalle, palometa, ladyfish, Leatherjacket, Lookdown, Mackerel, Permit, Pompano and others… these fishes caught with plugs and jigs , thank’s.

  5. Catsmeow

    Want to tie all the flies on the take to heaven list. Thanks angelo for putting the list together….walt

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