by Scott Sadil

I’ve written elsewhere about my first feeble attempts to cast flies in the surf, when the extent of my knowledge was an awareness that such a thing as saltwater fly fishing existed, especially in other parts of the country, and from what I had gleaned on reading a new book, published in 1977, titled Striped Bass on the Fly.

Russell Chatham’s small, unpretentious offering presented the first descriptions and analyses I encountered of how one might go about meeting the challenge of taking fish in the Pacific surf with fly rods and flies.  Finally, I had someone out ahead of me, a guide of sorts, who understood the lay of the land, the importance of tides, and the gear needed to face the particular demands of flyfishing in the surf.

I read one chapter, appropriately titled “The Surf,” again and again. Writing in the present tense, Chatham describes arriving at the beach near Bolinas and, seeing the size of the rods and lures carried by the other striper anglers, heavy traditional surf-casting gear that dwarfs his fly rod and fly, he considers climbing back in his car and heading home.

Hardy Fortuna Regent 10000

The first half of the chapter ends, however, with this telling paragraph:

     Up on the beach I put him down and marvel at his deep green back and vivid stripes. The  

     yellow fly shines like a light from the corner of his mouth. I am looking at the first striped  

     bass ever caught in the Pacific Ocean on a fly.

Chatham’s authority, anyway, seemed all but absolute.  His advice was practically gospel.  So when he argued that for stripers, at least, “almost any single-action reel on the market is good enough for starters” and, in an Afterword, “that your Medalist is just fine,” I had no reason to doubt him.

There was also this: Chatham often pointed out the high cost of new and so-called improved fly fishing equipment, gear he felt no need to acquire while still able to cast with the best of anglers, and hook and fight and land world-record fish.  By all accounts, in fact, it seemed we both operated on the tightest of budgets, Chatham’s because of his commitment to painting, mine because I was a dedicated surfer, which equated, in those years, to something approaching indigence.

Sage Arbor XL 6/7/8

Let me just add, though, that the first time I tried fly fishing in the Baja surf, with hand-me-down rod and that same Pflueger Medalist, my good friend Peter Syka described my efforts as “the most pathetic thing he’s ever seen.”

I eventually began acquiring better gear—reels, especially, because nothing seemed more vulnerable in the face of good fish and the rigorous Baja environment in which I found them.  Still, although some years the balance sheet looked better than others, there was always the sense that I was fishing with reels that, at best, were serviceable or just good enough.

But on a recent trip to the Iguana House on Ambergris Caye, in Belize, fishing for and even catching examples of those well-known flats fish we all read so much about, I found myself with three fine reels that seemed perfectly matched to the challenge, reels which I would recommend to anybody for that particularly inviting game.

Bonefish:  Sage Arbor XL 6/7/8

Tarpon: Nautilus GTX

Permit: Hardy Fortuna Regent 10000 9/10/11

Nautilus GTX

All of these are handsomely engineered large-arbor reels, light for their size, able to retrieve line quickly when that fish that has just ripped off a hundred yards of backing suddenly turns and races your way.  Drag systems?  Butter smooth.  Of course, the real question is how I like the performance of all three of these reels a decade from now—the length of time they should last, I’d say, for what you have to pay for them.

If I’m still around, I’ll let you know.

Gray’s angling editor Scott Sadil has been known to idly examine the $30 click-and-pawl Daiwa 734, with anodized body, the one with the etching on it of a bear eating a salmon, while wondering where the click went, and what happened to the drag.