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All colours of the rainbow

Daniel Factor tackles the tricky task of choosing flies.


Choosing flies can be one of the most daunting parts of saltwater fly fishing. The range is monstrous and they come in every shape, size and colour combination possible – the veritable rainbow of fly-fishing.

There are, however, a few things you can consider which will make your life much easier, and which will prevent you from carrying around multiple fly boxes for every trip. The first, of course, is the target species. Second, are you going to be fishing off the beaches and rocks, or will you be on a boat out at sea? Finally, cover both clear and off-colour water conditions.

When targeting the various inshore species, the fly is on the smaller side and often has a bit more weight, to combat the turbulent surf conditions. Weight is added to a fly by heavy dumbbell eyes on most patterns, or by tungsten beads on the Salty Buggers. Weight in patterns will vary, depending on the weight of rod and line you are using.

My general go-to flies for inshore species have been whittled down to just a few basic patterns in various colour combinations:


Small Clousers

This pattern is by far the most popular all-round saltwater fly. As an all-round searching pattern, a chartreuse over white is unbeatable in our waters. I tie from size 1/0 to #4 in three main colour combinations:

  • Chartreuse over white
  • All white
  • Blue over white

I also have a few grey over white and red over white. Weight is added by increasing the size of the dumbbell eyes.


Small Charlies

These represent crustaceans and small baitfish in this zone. They are very often used around sandy flats or rocky structures. I tie them in #2 to #6.

  • Olive over white
  • All white
  • Pink over white
  • Gold over white


Surf Candies

This is a generic baitfish pattern. I tie in 1/0 to #4. They work very well in rough surf conditions.

  • Chartreuse over white
  • All white


Salty Bugger

You can’t go fishing without this fly tied in small sizes 8, 10, 12 and 14 in white (best all-round colour). It’s a favourite among South African fly anglers, and superb when all else fails. It’s an imitator of crustaceans, small fry and anything else that swims in the sea, and it’s definitely a first choice when exploring a new section of water or scratching for species.

  • All white
  • All chartreuse

I tie all of these with a small tungsten bead in gold or orange. This fly is simple and easy to tie yourself – a great first fly when you’re learning.



These are good for kingies, springer, shad and garrick – in fact, most species. There is no better feeling than seeing the fish smash your fly off the surface. This fly disturbs the surface of the water and brings out the aggression in most salt-water species. I prefer a flipper to most poppers, as the profile of a flipper makes it easier to cast, and the action on the water is unbeatable. I tie this in 2/0 and 1/0 using white foam.

  • All white
  • Chartreuse over white


When you are going to target pelagic species and others in the deep blue, your go-to patterns change slightly and are generally much larger. The patterns I stock when heading out nowadays are:


Larger Clousers

These are tied from 1/0 to 6/0.

  • Pink over white
  • Chartreuse over white
  • All chartreuse
  • All white with red thread head

These patterns are often heavily weighted to get the fly down into the depths.



These are by far my favourite fly to throw at big kingies and other game fish. The movement and realistic, stick-on eyes are massive triggers and a key when targeting game fish. These are tied from 4/0 to 8/0.

  • All black
  • Black and purple


Flashy Profiles

These are tied in 2/0 to 6/0 (sometimes larger when targeting sailfish and marlin).

  • All white
  • Black over blue over white
  • Chartreuse over white
  • Pink over white


Generic Baitfish

This has been a great fly for me. I have used it mainly in 1/0 long shank. You can tie these flies in a great variety of colours and styles.

  • All chartreuse
  • All white
  • All black

….. And everything in between

With this range of flies, you can target anything in the deep blue.


The one great thing about tying with synthetic fibres is that you can tie up a range of flies in white or clear and keep them with you when you set out for a trip. All you need is a few permanent markers in black, blue, dark olive, grey and red, and you will be able to adapt and modify your baitfish in order to “match the hatch” when on the water.

The species we target in the salt vary considerably in shape, size and design, but they all have one thing in common: a general aggressive feeding nature. These fish are often very opportunistic and will pounce on near anything in their zone and line of sight. The greatest trick is finding a fly that you can cast comfortably in both windy and ideal conditions, and figuring out the best retrieve for that fly.

Confidence in a pattern and fishing style is key to success, so before you go rushing out to purchase every possible combination of fly available for the next trip, consider this:

  1. Where are you going fishing?
  2. What species are available during that time of the year?
  3. What weight of rod, reel and line will you be using?
  4. What are the water conditions?


Tying your own flies

Every fly fisher, especially if he ties his own flies, will favour certain patterns. You can modify patterns to suit specific conditions by modifying colour combinations, movement and weight of the fly. After research, experience and an observant eye, a tier will develop new patterns to fill a need others haven’t seen. His fly box will hold a combination of those classic patterns that work anywhere, and those special flies that work so well in his own unique situation.

Tying saltwater patterns is fairly basic and easy. The baitfish patterns are very enjoyable to tie, as you can be as creative as you like and add in as much detail as you want.

A great advantage is tying your own flies to the quality of the hooks used. I tie all my saltwater flies on Gamakutsu hooks. These hooks are sharp, strong and don’t rust easily; they’re a must on all my saltwater patterns.

Fill up those boxes and try your hand at the vise …