Selecting Successful Seatrout Flies

Selecting Successful Seatrout Flies

selecting successful seatrout flies

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” -Ecclesiastes 1.9

More fishermen fish for seatrout than any other inshore gamefish along the coasts of the southeastern United States. You would think that reams of information would be available on selecting successful seatrout flies. Not so.

Here in Florida the average seatrout weighs between one and three pounds, so they’re not very big. They’re fairly easy to catch most of the time. They don’t fight very hard. And they’re usually hard to sight fish. So most serious fly fishers look for other species.

Challenging Targets

A seatrout over five or six pounds is a difficult fish to fool. They can be sight fished, best during the winter but also while they’re spawning. They are as spooky as any creature with fins. A seatrout over five pounds that is sight fished and caught on a fly rod is a great trophy.

The smaller ones are fun and will save the day when more appealing species aren’t biting. The larger ones present a formidable target in their own right.

Eyes Bigger Than Stomach?

A seatrout of any size is a glutton. A big seatrout will take a very large bait.

While poling one time I spotted what I thought was a dead fish lying on the bottom. I went over to investigate and was heartbroken to see it was quite a large seatrout, belly up. I poked it gently with the push pole and was surprised to see it wiggle weakly. I said to my fisherman, “It’s not dead! Reach down and pick it up.” He did, and we put it on a Boga Grip. It weighed a whopping nine pounds. Not many fly casters can say they’ve caught a nine pound seatrout with their bare hands!

I started examining the fish. It was pretty beat up. I looked down into its mouth. There was the tail of a one to two pound mullet sticking out of the fish’s throat. If a big seatrout will take a mullet this size they’ll also take a large fly.

Smaller seatrout seem to prefer shrimp. While larger fish will certainly eat them, they usually fill up by eating baitfish, principally by ambush feeding. Mullet, menhaden, pigfish, pinfish, pilchards, etc., all help big seatrout stay fat and healthy. So your best bet with seatrout flies, if you prefer the larger fish, is to stick with baitfish patterns.

Color, Flash, Sound

Bright colors and flash seem to attract the eye of big trout. Red and yellow, red and white, chartreuse and white, all seem to work well. Fluorescent and even luminescent colors are frequently outstanding. But I’ve also had good success with realistic color combinations, and drab colors like black, gray, brown, and grizzly, especially when sight fishing for them.

You can find trout in various depths of water. For shallow water fish (about fifteen inches deep or less), and these are almost always big ones, you need a fly that kisses the water when it touches down. The small “Plop!” of a lead eye spooks them badly in this situation.

For fish in deeper water, noise seems to be a great attractor. Flies that incorporate rattles can be extremely effective. Those luminescent materials can greatly add to the effectiveness of deep water patterns, too.

The Hook

The all-tackle world record seatrout is somewhere in the neighborhood of seventeen pounds. Even a huge seatrout like this isn’t going very far into the backing. Seatrout never pull really hard. Consequently, hook choice is not nearly as critical as it is in some other angling situations.

My own favorite all around hook for most of my seatrout flies is the Mustad 3407 in sizes 4 through 2/0. Some tyers prefer the stainless steel version, the 34007. For flies designed for deeper water you might like a heavier wire hook, or for floating flies one with thinner wire, but these two hooks are fairly inexpensive and get the job done adequately, and will certainly hold the inevitable redfish, flounder, etc. that will also take your trout flies. Be sure to file these hooks to a sharp point before tying, as they usually need this as they come out of the box.

Favorite Fishing Techniques

Lefty Kreh says in Fly Fishing in Salt Water, “One of my favorite methods of fishing for spotted sea trout is to locate a shallow bay with a grassy bottom and drift across it. I cast a fly dressed on a Bend Back hook on a fast sinking line, allowing the fly to bomb the bottom. I retrieve the fly very slowly as the boat drifts. Because the fly rarely tangles, I like to crawl the fly right in among the grass stems. If I catch a trout I’ll anchor and cast in a circle around the boat, making sure the fly gets to the bottom each time.”

My own favorite fishing for seatrout happens in shallow water, sometimes from a skiff but frequently while I’m wading. During the winter months I sight fish for big seatrout sunning themselves over sandy patches in grass flats in my home waters, the Indian River Lagoon system around Titusville, Florida. I’ve also fished for them this way up in the Florida Panhandle in St. Joe Bay with Steve Bachman and in Tampa Bay with Capt. Dan Malzone, so I know this technique isn’t unique to my area.

During May and June you can also sight fish them in the same waters along bars and shoals as they hunt for food to supply energy for spawning. My personal best seatrout came just this way. When fished this way seatrout are very sporting fish, and if you tie with synthetics you can use a small rod. My biggest trout was caught with a 4-weight.

another nice seatrout

Like tarpon and snook, the mouth of a seatrout points up. They will come right up for a fly, and surface flies like sliders and poppers can be extremely effective. These flies also take much of the tedium out of blind casting, being more entertaining than a streamer is. The strike of a seatrout on a popping bug is usually explosive and often the best part of the entire encounter. Be sure you carry some surface flies.

Selecting Successful Seatrout Flies

On to the flies. As a general rule, smaller and subtler for shallow water fish, larger, louder, and gaudier for deeper ones. Also please keep in mind the opening quote from Ecclesiastes. I’m not claiming I invented any of this stuff.

I use Danville Flat Waxed Nylon thread to tie all of my saltwater flies.

Surface Flies

Whatever your favorite popper and slider patterns are will work. I’ve tried a slew of different types, and now carry only carry two, Gartside’s Gurgler and what is probably the ugliest fly made, a foam popper I call a Floozy.

Gartside’s Gurgler

seatrout flies

Hook- Mustad 34011, size 2
Thread- flat waxed nylon
Tail- short piece of calftail, marabou, or Arctic fox
Body- Estaz or similar material
“Shell”- craft foam cut to about a 1/4-3/8th inch width.

When fishing for seatrout I try to make the fly pop and spit water. It does not make the commotion a popper will but it seems to make quite enough for the trout.

The Floozy

successful seatrout flies

This Floozy is almost chewed to death from striking fish.

This fly is so ugly it’s almost offensive. But it’s real easy to make, casts like a dream, pops loudly, floats all day, and a wide variety of fish species, definitely including seatrout, will slam it. It is the best saltwater popper I’ve ever used.

Hook- Mustad 34011, #1
Tail- chartreuse Fishair
Body- 1/2 inch foam plug punched from a foam boogie board or swimmer’s noodle, held to the hook shank with superglue or a similar product.

First get a five or six inch long section of 1/2 inch copper pipe (I got mine at Home Depot) and make a punch by sharpening one end with a file. Use it to cut your plugs from the foam. Boogie board foam is much more durable than noodle foam, and one boogie board will yield several lifetimes worth of popper bodies.

When you tie in the Fishair be sure to carry it all the way up to the hook eye so the superglue has a base to hold the plug to. Use a bodkin to run a hole for the hook lengthwise through the plug, then coat the hook shank with glue and push it through.

The only problem I ever have with these flies is that if the plug is offset on the hook at all, the fly spins as it flies through the air during the cast and twists your line.

I use this fly principally for blind casting in areas where I know or suspect there are trout (or other species), any time of year. It’s great for those summer dawn patrols around bars or shoals where nervous mullet schools try to find shelter from the toothy spotted marauders.

Unweighted Flies

Trout in skinny water almost always spook from the plop of a weighted fly, so you need a variety of unweighted flies. In shallow areas where the grass is thick weighted flies usually sink too fast anyway, often fouling in the grass in spite of a weedguard.

Trout Bite

Hook- Mustad 3407 or equivalent, #4 or 2, bent slightly in a bendback style.
Body- Estaz or similar product, hot pink on the rear half of the hook and chartreuse on the front half.
Flash- pearl Flashabou Accent (smaller fly) or Fire Fly.
Wing- Chartreuse bucktail, tied in at the center of the hook.

This fly is usually used for sight casting to big, laid-up, shallow water seatrout.

Electric Sushi

successful seatrout flies

Mike Martinek showed me how to tie this fly. It’s a great seatrout pattern in any size. Chartreuse and white or pink are my favorite color combinations. A double prong, hard mono weedguard can be a very helpful addition, especially for grassy areas.

Hook- Gamakatsu SC-15 or equivalent, #1- 3/0
Wing/Body- Awesome Hair
Eyes- Witchcraft 3-D
Markings- permanent Sharpie Marker.

This fly sinks fairly slowly. The chartreuse color is so bright it’s very easy for the angler to keep track of the fly’s position. I use it in a variety of situations.

Synthetic Bendback

successful seatrout flies

Hook- Mustad 3407, #4-2/0, bent slightly into bendback position.
Wing- any of the myriad synthetic wing materials available, colors tyer’s choice. The fly shown is tied with Sexy Fiber (yak hair).
Flash- Flashabou Accent (smaller flies), or Fire Fly.
Eyes- Witchcraft 3-D eyes.
Markings- permanent Sharpie Marker.

These flies hit the water very softly, great for spooky shallow water fish. Even the large sizes are very easy ties, and very easy to cast. They look great in the water and the fish take them readily.

If you need this fly to sink fast for deep water areas you can wrap the hook shank with lead fuse wire before you tie in the wing, covering it with either chenille or more simply just the tying thread.

Synthetic Minnow Patterns

successful seatrout flies

A variety of these are available- Polar Fiber Minnows, a variety of Enrico Puglisi’s patterns, my own Sexy Flies. All of them work. Shown are two Sexy Flies, a fatter menhaden type and a thinner mullet type.

Hook- Gamakatsu SC-15 or equivalent, #1-3/0.
Wing- Sexy Fiber (yak hair), color tyer’s choice.
Flash- Flashabou Accent (smaller flies), or Fire Fly.
Eyes- Witchcraft 3-D eyes.
Markings- permanent Sharpie Marker.

Like the bendback, these flies hit the water very softly, great for spooky shallow water fish. Even the large sizes are very easy to cast. If you think you need one you can make 10 inch long flies with this stuff that you can cast with a seven-weight. They look great in the water and the fish take them readily. A weedguard (double mono prong) is frequently an excellent addition.


Homer Rhodes came up with this fly in the 1930’s. Originally tied for bonefish, it works on a wide variety of fresh- and saltwater fish and is an indispensable pattern in any saltwater fly fisher’s box. I like to tie it both in natural colors, especially all grizzly, and bright colors like red and white, red and yellow, and red and chartreuse.

Hook- Mustad 3407, #4-3/0
Wing- three pairs of matching neck or saddle hackles, colors tyer’s choice.
Flash- Flashabou, color tier’s choice. I usually omit the flash on this fly.
Body- neck hackles Palmered around the length of the hook shank, color tyer’s choice.

As you might suspect by now if you’ve read this far, a weedguard added to this fly is an excellent idea. Lead eyes can be added easily to make a faster sinking fly for deeper areas.

successful seatrout flies

This flashy slider is a synthetic version of the Seaducer. Note the weed guard.

Weighted Flies

Clouser Deep Minnow and variations

successful seatrout flies

A fly that revolutionized saltwater fly fishing, the Deep Minnow can be tied “stock” with bucktail, as a half ‘n’ half with a hackle tail, or with a synthetic wing to produce a long fly, up to eight or ten inches. Let your imagination and the obvious needs of where you fish be your guides. The fly pictured is tied fairly “fancy,” with a peacock herl topping to the wing.

Hook- Mustad 3407 or equivalent, #4-1/0
Wing- bucktail, color tyer’s choice.
Flash- tyer’s choice. I like Flashabou Accent for smaller flies and Flashabou for larger ones.
Eyes- lead or brass dumbbells, 1/100th to 1/36th (or heavier) ounce.

With a sinking line you can fish this fly as deep as you would ever need to, for almost any fish that swims, including, of course, seatrout.

Rattling Flies

Sometimes sound can sometimes scare the fish, especially when it shows up next to them unannounced. Sometimes it can be an extremely effective addition to your fly arsenal, particularly when you must blind cast. The easiest way to add sound to flies is to incorporate a rattle into them. I like the rattles made by Woodie’s Rattlers.

Rattle Rouser

This fly can be tied unweighted for shallow areas, or can be tied with lead eyes for a faster sink rate.

Hook- Mustad 34011, #2
Body- a hollow Mylar tube, color tyer’s choice (I like luminescent) tied in at the bend of the hook and behind the wing, inside of which is a rattle.
Flash- Flashabou Accent or Flashabou.
Wing- bucktail, color tyer’s choice 

Rattling Rogue

successful seatrout flies

This is a big, heavy fly, hard to cast, but very effective in blind casting situations in deeper water.

Hook- Woodie’s Rattle Hook, size 2/0 or 3/0.
Flash- Flashabou or Fire Fly, color tyer’s choice.
Wing- Sexy Fiber or other synthetic, color tyer’s choice.
Eyes- Witchcraft 3-D eyes.
Markings- permanent Sharpie Marker.

Woodie’s Rattle Hooks come with the rattle chambers already cemented to the hook shank, with the choice of colors being red, black, or luminescent white (my own favorite). These hooks weigh in at 1/32nd ounce, thus the hard to cast part. But the fly is very effective when the fish are in deeper water and blind casting is required.


Dick Dolloff and I waded along a sandbar in the Mosquito Lagoon, fly rods in hand, searching for the redfish and seatrout I had found there a few days earlier. My companion was out a little deeper, but I was right along the drop. Several fish in a string crossed a sand patch ahead of me, coming right at me. I dropped the fly in front of them, and stripped it right along with them. What were they? Big seatrout, and now so close! Suddenly the line came tight and I struck.

The fish made a surprisingly strong run, going well into the backing. When it came up and shook its head the term “gator trout” came to mind. It sounded like a gator, a big alligator! I applied as much pressure as I thought the tackle would take, and eventually brought the fish to hand.

It was a seatrout of at least 12 pounds, by far the largest I’d ever seen, never mind caught. Dick Dolloff said, “Nice fish! That’s the biggest trout I’ve ever seen!” I desperately wanted a picture of the beast, but the camera was in the boat, now over 100 yards away. Not wanting to hurt this magnificent fish, I pulled the hook out and held her in the water for a second. She responded with a mighty tail thrust, showering me with water as she sped to safety.

Fly fishing for seatrout will never be a substitute for tarpon fishing. But sight casting to big seatrout is as much of a challenge as most anglers could ask for. Not that you know the tricks of selecting successful seatrout flies, use the techniques outlined in this piece and see if you don’t agree.


Copyright © John A. Kumiski 2013. It is illegal to reproduce or distribute this work in any manner or medium without written permission from the author, John A. Kumiski, 284 Clearview Road, Chuluota, FL 32766 (407) 977-5207.


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