The Fly Box:
Favorite Texas Saltwater Flies
By Casey R. Smartt
While putting the finishing touches on a fly recently, I glanced past the vise to several large ever-present plastic coffee cans at the rear of the tying table. Each was literally overflowing with shagged flies. Some of the flies ended up in the cans because they performed poorly. Others had landed there straight from the vise because they just looked bad. I stared at the literally hundreds of dismissed flies and thought, “One of these days I’m going to salvage all those stainless steel hooks.” I have been thinking that for years.
The amazing part of all those trashed flies is that in spite of how many new flies I tie, or how much I experiment with different patterns, my box of go-to flies seldom changes. Maybe I am a creature of habit, or maybe I have grown confident in a handful of patterns for all my fishing. Either way, when I approach an angling challenge I always know what’s in the box.
Smartt’s Deadhead Minnow
One of my favorite large baitfish patterns is a fly I call the “Deadhead Minnow.” This is a long cigar-shaped fly built from craft fur. The head of the fly is about the size of your thumb and it is covered with a soft glitter-impregnated skin that holds its shape underwater. Though the head is static, the tail fibers of the Deadhead Minnow undulate and flash with a lifelike motion. The great thing about this fly is that it is almost neutrally buoyant so it can be teased through the water column in an enticing manner. During the retrieve, light tugs and twitches are easily telegraphed down the line to the fly and it responds with subtle movements. Even at a dead-drift this fly looks great… just like a big, fat, juicy, stunned minnow. It pairs up nicely with either an intermediate sinking or fast sinking line. I’ve caught a lot of good fish on Deadhead Minnows in both fresh and saltwater. My favorite colors are silver/grey or solid chartreuse.
After being humiliated by black drum time and time again, I resolved years ago to figure out how to consistently catch these plentiful but oblivious bottom feeders. The main thing I learned was that presentation was extremely important (stick the fly in their face), but I also learned that while black drum would bite all sorts of slow-moving flies, some flies worked better than others. To date, the best fly I have ever used for black drum on the flats is a small black fly called a Chin Slinky. The term “Chin Slinky” is slang for a skinny Fu-Manchu beard, and when you see this fly you’ll understand why it shares the name. A Clouser/Crazy Charlie knock-off made from black craft fur, black bead chain, and bright orange thread, the Chin Slinky possesses the right color, weight, and action to get the job done. This easy-to-tie, easy-to-cast fly is a fantastic pattern for nailing black drum and it’s a respectable sheephead fly too. For these reasons, I always make sure I have a Chin Slinky or two in my box when I head to the flats.
East Cut Redfish Popper
There are about a million flies that will catch redfish on the flats. Often times, the real challenge in catching redfish is not tricking the fish but rather throwing flies that cleanly bypass the weeds, shell, and grass reds like to hang out in. Given that criteria, few flies provide fewer headaches and more smiles than the diminutive East Cut Redfish Poppers. These dinky little flies look like they were made for panfish, but in spite of their tiny size they absolutely whip reds. Available in red/white, chartreuse, and root beer colors, East Cut Redfish Poppers are tough, comically simple, and they float carelessly above all the fly tangling obstacles that lurk below. This makes them very user-friendly flies and it’s why I always have a few of them in my box.
Smartt’s Glass Minnows
I can’t think of too many times I have been forced to use a fly that specifically imitates a glass minnow, but there have been many occasions when the predators I targeted were feeding on very small baitfish. Whether they were surf-run fish nailing anchovies, specks feeding under the lights, or stripers cracking small shad, big fish sometimes eat little prey. My favorite micro-sized baitfish fly is a pattern I call the “Glass Minnow.” Made from glassy iridescent materials and studded with lifelike 3D eyes, the Glass Minnow has a shiny translucent appearance underwater. It can be cast and allowed to deadfall like wounded prey, or retrieved with short jerky strips. It is a great fly for the surf when the anchovies run and lots of fun when fish show up under the lights. I tie the Glass Minnow in pearl/grey and root beer colors on a #4 or #6 hook.
Assorted Clouser Minnows
No modern fly box would truly be complete without a hefty supply of Clouser Minnows. There are three versions of the Clouser Minnow I keep in my box and I use each for specific situations. The first is a tan craft fur version with gold bead chain eyes and orange thread tied on a #4 hook. This is the Clouser Minnow pattern I choose as a generic grass shrimp/flats critter imitator. I have caught hundreds of redfish and a variety of other flats fish with it. On a typical day, with reasonable weather, this small tan weedless fly is what I throw. It kicks butt. If the water clouds up or if the fish start acting funky I’ll switch to a slender chartreuse/white bucktail Clouser Minnow with silver bead chain eyes tied on a #4 hook. For whatever reason, this fly works when others won’t. When I am fishing along channel edges, over deep reefs, or deep water in general, the absolute first pick is always a large solid chrome (silver) Krystal Flash Clouser Minnow with black/white lead eyes tied on a #2 hook. There is no telling how many fish I have caught on this fly in both fresh and saltwater. It dives deep and has a deadly combination of flash and action. This pattern is a winner!
With these patterns I feel prepared for a variety of angling situations in both fresh and saltwater. Of course that doesn’t mean I’ll quit tying new flies… I won’t. But, they’ll have to be pretty good to avoid the coffee can and secure a permanent seat in the fly box.