fly fishing for sea bass, Cornwall

Bass and Saltwater Fly Fishing Tips

This month our blogger is top angler & Turrall fly designer Chris Ogborne, who has some timely advice  for the exciting prospect of fly fishing for sea bass and other species this year.

Chris Ogborne, UK sea bass on the fly

The saltwater fly fishing scene around UK shores has developed fast in recent years and is still moving forward.  Whatever you read in the press about British bass stocks and the rather ineffectual (and mis-guided) regulations currently emerging from the EU, the truth is that sport fishing around our coasts is one of the few growth markets in the angling world.

In short, fly fishing in the sea is exciting, refreshingly different and here to stay. But while there are many great sport fishing opportunities and no end of species available, the fact is that most people aspire to catch a sea bass on the fly.  This species is arguably one of the greatest remaining challenges in the sport.  They’re enigmatic, fickle, unpredictable – but great fun when you get it right!

Best Flies for Sea Bass

My fly patterns for the sea are centred around the bass.  The good news is that these flies are also great for pollack, mackerel, garfish, bream and even the amazing golden grey mullet on occasions, even though the latter are technically vegetarian!

uk saltwater fly fishing tackle

All my UK saltwater flies are based on the premise that while bass will eat almost anything that moves, from crabs and prawns through to baby pollack and floating carrion, their favourite food is the sand eel.  So my philosophy is that if you can represent sand eels and bait fish with effective imitations then you’re 90% of the way there.

Within this you need to know that not all sand eels are the same, however.  We start the saltwater fly fishing season down here in Cornwall in May with what we term the ‘bootlace’ sand eels, the small ones around three inches long that look just like – you guessed it – bootlaces.

Sandeel flies for sea bass

These are then superseded in June by the main run of ‘summer sandeels’ and these are instantly recognisable.  Around 4 to 6 inches long, they are the staple diet not just of fish by also a host of sea birds as well.  Beyond this you have the giant sand eel or Launce, the largest of them all at 10inches plus .  Some of these get to well over a foot long and as thick as your middle finger, and are regarded by most anglers as the ultimate bait for a specimen bass.

Launce flies for bass
This is the premise upon which all the Turrall saltwater patterns are based.  The Imitative sand eels represent these varying sizes, along with the obvious limitation that a fly of 12 inches or more is behind the casting capabilities of most fly rods, let alone most anglers.  In this case we compromise with artificial launce patterns at around 8 inches.  Fortunately, the fish don’t seem to mind that they’re a tad short! We also make weighted bass flies, for those days when you need to get down to the fish quicker.

Saltwater Baitfish Flies

My saltwater baitfish patterns are smaller and tend to employ the ‘shimmer’ factor from the amazing new flash materials in the Turrall range. These are a great way to give your own patterns a real boost too, and the UV reflective materials such as Turrall UV Multiflash are brilliant:
fly tying Flash materials

Close copies of real food are usually unnecessary here. It’s a bit like using suggestive fly patterns on a lake and river – whilst they don’t look exactly like any particular species, they still ‘suggest’ a whole range of small baitfish. Nor is it just the bass that love them- and one of the most exciting parts of saltwater fly fishing is that the next bite could be one of many species.

Mackerel on the fly, saltwater fly fishing UK

Arguably the best thing about these flies is that you can take all kinds of liberties in the way they’re fished.  Retrieves can be fast, slow, staccato – the variations are limitless.  They can be fished at all depths and with all line densities, at all speeds and in all conditions.  As ever with fly fishing, it’s all about ‘life’ in the fly.  The art of flyfishing is about making the fish believe that your concoction of fur and feather is a real living thing.  If you can do that, then you’re on the way to being a proper angler!

Watercraft, Wading and Fly Fishing Tips

The final word is about watercraft, the one element of flyfishing that so many people get wrong by failing to understand that it’s the most important single factor in fishing.  I teach my clients that wet wading, getting right down there into the aquatic environment and proceeding with care and stealth, is the key.

One good fishing tip is to forget the heavy gear and waders, leave the kit bags behind and use a simple neck lanyard with the bare essentials.  Travel light, move with the tide and don’t forget your polarising glasses. Read the water, check the tide tables and above all use your eyes to interpret the signs.  Gulls and terns diving, shimmering water where fish are feeding, bait fish jumping clear of the water – these are all things that help you find fish.

Thinking like a fish, sub-surface vision as we call it, is what makes a successful angler.  The fly itself is vital, of course, but of equal importance is how and where you fish it.  Getting the mix right is the true essence of saltwater fly fishing. Good luck and enjoy your sport this year!

DSC_0665A fine brace of fly caught bass; do be warned that new EU directives mean that all bass caught from January 1st to June 30th must be released.

The Best UK Fly Patterns for Bass & Saltwater Species

For a full range of great flies produced by Chris and Turrall, see your local fly shop or order online from one of our recommended retailers. Tackle stores and fly stockists can order direct from us by starting an account at

Don’t forget to keep an eye on the blog, as well as our Facebook page and Pinterest Galleries for more tips, news, photography and the latest and greatest flies for all your fishing needs. We have lots of great free content on the way from the likes of Chris, Dominic Garnett, Gary Pearson and Wes Ower.

Guided Saltwater Fly Fishing in Cornwall

For thrilling sport in some beautiful locations on the Cornish coast, Chris Ogborne runs friendly guided fishing trips. Tackle can be provided, along with all the knowhow you need to catch your first bass on the fly, or improve your existing skills. Find out more on his website:

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