There are literally dozens of ways that one could rig a flyrod for fishing. Keep in mind that while there are many other ways, and maybe even a better way, I am only sharing with you how I do things. The following are tips, tricks and techniques that I use every time I go fishing, and I hope that they will help you cut a few corners and catch a few more fish.
The Basics -
A wide variety of opinion exists on just what rod will get the job done on the coast. As a certified casting instructor I get to work with a lot of people interested in improving their ‘saltwater casting’. Most of them come from a freshwater background and are most comfortable with throwing light rods in the 4-6wt variety. In fact, many people do not own a heavier rod, and therefore think they are totally out of the saltwater fly game. Not so, my friends.
Now, the guy at the fly shop that you talked to prior to your trip is partly right; it’s generally windy here, and sometimes you need that 8 or 9wt with a stiffer flex to punch line into the wind. Great, and we’ll get to that, but don’t let it scare you. My favorite rod for the flats is a 6wt – I’ll take it out in 30mph breeze like during this trip, and I can delicately present small flies in the mirror-calm conditions at dawn. The real key here is casting technique. Learn to cast in the wind. Anyone can cast with the wind, after a little practice. Casting into the wind requires a lot more practice.
This brings me to my main point, so take this one to heart – if you come to the coast, practice, practice, practice. Many people think that if you buy the correct rod that you’ll magically become a better caster. Nothing could be farther from the truth. No amount of money can buy you practice – time is the only currency that works. Learn to double haul, and you'll open up a world of opportunity for yourself in almost any fly fishing scenario. Even if you're drifting dries down a spring creek, the extra line control that comes from practicing your hauling will help you make those shots up under the trees and tight to the bank where the big ones hide.
There are many respectable manufacturers out there, and I have my favorites, but as fly fishermen today we are lucky to have access to very high quality reels for moderate prices. You don’t have to have The Best in order to catch big fish, but you do have to know your tackle and what it can handle. For instance, I have an older model reel that has a deep arbor design rather than the large-in-circumference arbors that are popular today. This means that it was only designed to handle 150 yards or so of Dacron… but by stacking gelspun braid on the reel in place of Dacron, I was able to bump the capacity up to about 230 yards. That reel has handled bonefish and big kings, and it retails for about $100. This is a great illustration of how gelspun or braid can help give new life to a reel you already have.
On all my fly reels I have as much 30lb gel spun backing as will fit nicely under the line the reel is designed to house. By that I mean that I had someone (usually the local fly shop) with a line-winding machine stack the braid on the arbor tightly and neatly, to reduce the chance of tangles and other hazards when fighting big fish.
Note: Most people would recommend that you use a higher test braid, like a 65lb. This helps increase knot durability, which is sometimes an issue with superbraids. I use 30 because it works, and because it was on sale.
Attaching the braid to the arbor is a little more tricky than when using Dacron - it's possible for a big fish to put enough pressure on the backing that the super slick braid will simply slip around the arbor if not secured correctly. You'll hear many different arguments on the best technique. One I have found to work very well for me is to use a bit of material like medical tape to add friction to the naked metal of the arbor and then secure the braid with several crossing wraps around the arbor before using a Uni knot (with a dab of super glue, which you carefully allow to dry before winding on) to secure. The crossed wrapping and the additional friction of the tape allows the braid to grip the arbor without slipping.Some people promote using a short mono backing behind the braid - I have no experience with this method so I cannot recommend nor dissuade you from using it.
Note: Using braid as backing WILL stain your flyline. No braids are totally colorfast, and the dye will migrate from the backing to your line when the backing gets wet. If this bothers you, stick with Dacron.
Once the braid is firmly wound onto the reel, you then have to figure out some way to attach the flyline to the backing. Most high-end flylines these days come with a braided loop already formed in the terminal ends of the line. There are people who believe that you should fashion your own loops - if you're one of those people then you probably already have a favorite method.