The Evolution of Saltwater Fly-Fishing

Learn more about the rise of saltwater fly-fishing.

Anglers fly-fishing backwater
Fly-fishing in saltwater took off in the 20th century. Paul Doughty

Humans have been fishing with some form of artificial fly since time immemorial, with the first published accounts of fly-fishing occurring way back in the second century. But the majority of fly anglers ply their craft in fresh water. It wasn’t until the 20th century that fly-fishing in salt water took off—and never stopped rising.


Saltwater fly-fishing in America can be traced back to the late 1700s. A letter from Roddam Home to the then-governor in the West Florida colony reports, “We have plenty of salt water trout and fine fishing with fly.”


Camping and Cruising in Florida is published, detailing the adventures of author James Henshall as he traveled around the Sunshine State tangling with sea trout, snook, redfish, ladyfish, bluefish, jack crevalle and tarpon with a fly rod.


In the late 1920s, fly-tying legend Homer S. Rhode Jr. moves to Coral Gables, Florida, from his home in Pennsylvania, where he fished for trout. By the time that decade ended, he had taken permit and bonefish on the fly, likely one of the first to do so.


Joe Brooks, one of the earliest saltwater fly anglers, introduces libraries across the United States to his book Salt Water Fly Fishing, bringing the sport to the masses.


Scientific anglers kicks off the fly-line revolution with the introduction of Air Cel, the first commercially available fly line consisting of tapered PVC sleeve over a braided core. Cortland follows shortly after with its PVC-coated 333 series. Line-care requirements are decreased, and casting distance is improved.


Tibor “Ted” Juracsik develops a big-game fly reel with an oversize cork drag and anti-reverse system that keep the handles from spinning. Tibor Reels, Juracsik’s company, would go on land more than 950 IFGA record fish, more than other fly reel in history.


Fly Fishing in Saltwater is first published. The book contains decades of valuable info on saltwater fly-fishing tackle and techniques gleaned the hard way from legend Bernard “Lefty” Kreh. The volume would be revised several times in the years following.


Baseball and Fly-Fishing Hall of Famer Ted Williams helps popularize saltwater fly-fishing with his book The Big Three, which details his three favored species: tarpon, bonefish and Atlantic salmon. He would catch more than 1,000 of each by the time the book is published.


The Stu Apte Tarpon Fly is featured on the 29-cent stamp.


Lou Tabory ushers in a new era of fly-fishing in the striper surf with Inshore Fly Fishing. The book sent many existing freshwater fly anglers to the brine in search of new species, and encouraged many old salts to pick up the long wand for the first time.


ESPN airs the premiere episode of The Walker’s Cay Chronicles featuring saltwater fly legend Flip Pallot. During its 15-season run, it was often the top-rated outdoor show on television.


Pop Fleyes is published, bringing Bob Popovic’s unique epoxy and silicone flies to the masses. The book details not only how to tie the author’s signature flies, but also how to use them to catch striped bass, bluefish, false albacore, and other species in the Northeast and beyond.

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