This is part 4 of a 5 part series on kelp paddy fly fishing. In previous posts in this series, we covered why kelp paddies matter, how to find them, and some techniques on how to fish them. You can find these posts here:

In this post, we’ll talk about tackle and gear. Our last article in this series talks about some tips for conventional gear fishermen who are thinking about trying fly fishing.

Tackle for Kelp Paddy Fly Fishing

Randy Norris with a nice Yellowfin Tuna off a kelp paddy

Randy Norris with a nice Yellowfin Tuna! Photo courtesy Jon Nakano

  • The standard fly rod for fishing kelp paddies is a 9, 10, or 11 weight fast action rod with a lot of lifting power. I also carry both lighter and heavier rods on my boat. The lighter rod is used when the fish are running small and are not hanging tight to the kelp, the heavier rod when the fish are running larger than usual.
  • A large yellowtail is almost unstoppable, even on a 13 weight rod with a 20 pound tippet. But if a hooked fish does not run back into the kelp paddy, there is little else for it to break off on. Assuming the fish have followed the boat away from the paddy, light tackle becomes entirely practical. Just have a reel with a lot of backing, and be patient.
  • Fast-sinking shooting head fly lines are used much of the time, with most fishermen opting for 400 – 550 grain heads with integrated shooting line. Conventional shooting heads in the same size range work well, too. When maximum depth must be achieved, shooting heads made from 24 – 30 foot sections of Cortland’s LC-13 leadcore line, or Rio’s T-14 line, are commonly used. Of course, when the fish are hitting surface lures, a floating or intermediate-sinking fly line will be used instead.
  • For terminal tackle, most fishermen keep it extremely simple. A 4 – 8 foot section of monofilament or fluorocarbon is the usual leader. A Bimini Twist is tied on one end of the leader and a Surgeon’s loop is tied in the Bimini. A loop-to-loop connection is used to attach the leader to the end of the fly line. Bite tippets are not needed, unless very light tippets are used.
  • Baitfish simulators are the most popular patterns, with Clouser Deep Minnows and Lefty’s Deceivers topping the list. Other popular patterns include the Sea Habit Deceiver, Half-and-Halfs (Deceivers tied Clouser Minnow-style), Bill and Kate Howe’s ALF and FPF patterns, Dan Blanton’s Sar-Mul-Mac, and Bob Popovic’s Surf Candies and Jiggies. Poppers can also be used with success when the fish are on top. My personal favorite is the Blados Crease Fly, but Gartside Gurglers and standard saltwater poppers work as well.
  • Key features on all flies are some sort of optics, and extensive use of flashy materials. Synthetic hairs (such as Ultra Hair, Super Hair and Angel Hair) are popular because of their durability and translucence. Flies are typically tied sparse, and are usually the same or shorter than the baitfish around the paddy. Captain Conway Bowman usually starts with a fly about half the size of the predominant baitfish. He feels that a smaller sparse fly gives the illusion of speed without the fly having to be stripped as fast.
  • Color schemes typically mirror baitfish: green/white, blue/white, black/white, olive/yellow, black/purple and a color pattern known locally as “Mexican Flag” (green/white/red). A good rule-of-thumb is to use darker colors when it is overcast, and lighter colors when it is sunny.
Vertical Line Management Devices are a great tool for kelp paddy fishing

Sea Level Fly Fishing’s VLMD is made of semi-rigid EVA foam

Other Gear

  • As mentioned earlier, some sort of line management tool is highly recommended when fishing offshore. Conventional stripping baskets, collapsible waste bins, small trash cans, and a number of other things have been tried, all with some success. But the most effective tool I have found in small boats is the rigid vertical stripping basket. The term “vertical line management device” or VLMD, has been coined recently to refer to this class of stripping basket.
  • VLMDs are plastic tubes, roughly 12-18 inches in diameter, and 20 – 27” high. The best models have heavily weighted non-skid bottoms, and are designed to be free-standing. VLMDs can be home-built or purchased commercially. The custom units made by Stan Pleskunas of Watsonville, California, and Sea-Level Fly Fishing’s VLMD are excellent examples of commercial VLMDs. You can also make your own from various plastics barrels and tubs (more on this in a later article).
  • VLMDs are better than conventional stripping baskets for a number of reasons. First, they allow the angler to have a full range of arm motion while stripping the fly line.
  • VLMDs can also act as convenient rod holders. Before starting to fish, a long cast is made, and the fly line stripped into VLMD. After hooking the fly to the hook-keeper or on to a guide, the rod is deposited in the basket, where it sits at the ready until the fish are found. Since these baskets are bottom-heavy and have non-skid soles, most of the time they can be left on the deck of the boat without worrying about the basket tipping over. In really rough water, however, VLMDs are usually strapped to a support of some kind while the boat is moving, or a couple of inches of water can be put into the bucket to add more weight.
    The Pleskunas VLMD is also a great tool for kelp paddy fly fishing

    Stan Pleskunas’ VLMD is made of rigid PVC

  • The only situation where VLMDs seem to be at a disadvantage is when they are used on party boats. On party boats, there is no convenient place to put a VLMD after the angler has hooked a fish. Rather than clutter the deck with an empty VLMD, it is better to use a conventional stripping basket, which can be pushed around to the fisherman’s back after a hookup
  • If you are running your own boat, you might consider a small drogue or drift sock for your boat. As mentioned earlier, it can be used to slow your boat’s drift. Another use is to change the boat’s orientation during the drift. When the water is rough, it can be dangerous for the boat to drift stern-to-the-wind. A drift sock off the bow will keep the bow of the boat pointed into the swells, making for a safer situation.

Next up: Fly Fishing Tips for Conventional Gear Guys