Sea Bass On The Fly by Tim James

We think Saltwater fly fishing has the potential to be the next big thing in the UK. With mostly free access, to 100's of miles of coastline, we think it should be promoted as one of the best ways to get involved in the sport. This piece by Tim James shows how exciting and accessible this fishing can be.

In late summer 2015, I decided to try my hand at saltwater fly fishing. In hindsight, this wasn’t the ideal facet of fly fishing for me to take up. I didn’t own a car and the journey to Hayling Island where members of the Fishing Forum UK internet forum were recommending I start on went like this.....  wake up around 4 am to have breakfast and a shower, get a night bus from my house in South East London to Waterloo Station, then a train to Havant and a local bus to the beachfront.

If I was fishing the sandbar, a well-known spot, then add to that a half-mile walk to the sandbar. If I missed the bus I’d be waiting over twenty minutes for the next one. And not forgetting that the last bus out of the island was around 20:20. This meant that I wasn’t able to fish some of the best hours for bass, sunrise and sunset. 

My first two sessions were spent throwing around 1/0 sized flies but a chance encounter and recommendation from a passing bait angler who also fly fished saw me scale down to a size four. From memory, it was the following trip that saw me catch my first bass. Hayling Island has a sandbar that at low tide during spring tides extends out to sea by almost a mile. It is separated from the mainland by a channel which backfills during the incoming tide before the rest of the sandbar becomes submerged. This presents two variables: 1) getting stranded on the bar – potentially very dangerous but: 2) bass moving into the channel to feed. On my third trip now armed with smaller flies, I spotted some small yellowish fish.... school bass’s silvery sides reflected the colour of the sand. I cast out my size 4 Clouser in their direction and was duly rewarded with a firm take and a few seconds later I had my first ever bass in the net. It was only hand-sized but it was still a bass! I continued to fish the island up until the colder weather and storms really kicked in around November, discovering new marks either by trial and error or tip-offs from flyforum members. 

The following April saw me return to the Island but it within a month I’d purchased my first car. Gone was having to fish between 8 am and 7 pm – now I could come and go anytime I wanted. No longer having to use the bus to move between different areas of the island, now I drove anywhere I desired. I often found myself driving down in the evening and sleeping in the car until dawn. Overall my successes on the island were still modest with most of the fish very small, the occasional pound and a half specimen thrown in once in a while. One forum member when recommending the island had stated that I was going to encounter the ‘who’s who’ of the UK saltwater fly fishing scene but in the near two seasons I’d encountered just four other fly anglers, including two that I’d arranged to meet after linking up via the forum. I was beginning to think that this place had seen better days. 

By June I decided to try night fishing. For my first night, I arrived around 10 pm and rested until 11 pm when the tide started to ebb. I chose to fish a nature reserve area that has a large gravel spit of some 200m in length which becomes accessible at low tide. There is a channel that separates it from the mainland in which you can swing your flies through before crossing this channel onto the spit, which at its end has a creek channel that empties into a harbour. I distinctly remember turning my head torch on to perform some, now forgotten, task and seeing that the margins were positively gleaming with Sandeels. It was the first time casting in the dark and knowing that the flow can be very powerful I elected to not wade too far or deep. It didn’t take long to get my first take, and I could tell from the weight on the end that it was the largest bass I’d hooked to date. After a short battle, I had a 3lber in the net, which was summarily released after taking its portrait. On my second cast, I had a solid take, this time from a much bigger fish. Whilst playing it I remember thinking to myself that after countless sessions catching tiny bass I’d finally cracked the code! This fish was around the 5lb mark and was the proud culmination of a year and a half or cripplingly early starts and late returns home, night buses and long train rides, and later, two-hour one-way car journeys. Anyway, the action continued, albeit with smaller fish, but of a better stamp than anything I’d been catching previously. So had I cracked the code?


Unfortunately not, that red-letter day session proved to be a one-off but a few months later I had discovered another location a little closer to home but that’s a story for another day. For those who’ve never tried saltwater fly fishing in the UK, the coast is one of the most dynamic and beautiful environments you will ever encounter. An added bonus is that, for the most part, the fishing is free!  So for anyone within a reasonable distance of the sea why not join a forum or social media group and network, ask questions and plan a foray into this refreshingly simple area of our sport.