Having never fly fished in the salt i really dont have an idea of what equipment is needed to work the species i see you fellers speak of. I'm sure the tarpon will take a bigger rig than a bone fish. What should i start to look for as i'm headed your way. On some of the fishing show they dont seem to cover equipment real well. Not sure when but eventually and want to get a feel for what ya'll think. Just so ya know, i do like lite tackle.
The very best advice I can give.....given the vague description of the fishing to be done......talk to your guide or outfitter. I assume since you mentioned tarpon and Bonefish you will be taking a guided trip. Your guide/outfitter will give you honest realistic advice.....go with it. they know the conditions, average fish size, and type of casting to be done.
They depend on client satisfaction for their livelihood, so if they give bad advice your experience will be less than it could have been, and you will be unhappy. Unhappy clients do not go for return trips, and spread poor recomendations to their friends. Talk to your guide/outfitter.
I am a rank noob so my thoughts may not be worth reading. Last summer I fished the beach on the FL panhandle just east of Pensicola. For 2 mornings I used a 5wt and never caught a fish. I had hits but could not hook up. On the 3rd morning I used my 8wt and I actually caught 2 ladyfish. No great trophies but I was proud of my first salty's. I spent 2 months in west central FL (Jan and Feb.) On 3 different days I fished my 5wt with no fish caught. As soon as I would switch to my new 7wt I started catching speckled trout. I finally washed up the 5wt and put it in the case. Still don't know why but I would go with at least a 7wt. I am a fan of light gear but ........
10:4 on the more specific. The Keys will be my first choice of destinations. Fishing flats for bone fish and any other fish that is willing to play. Green i am on these fish. Anyone that has never wanted to catch a tarpon aint right, IMO. I guess the salt water grand slam is the permit, tarpon and the bonefish? Have i got that right?
Anyone got any idea why ditz couldn't hook up on a 5 wt?
Ok, I'm going to take a shot at answering here, but more experienced minds will likely prevail here:
Tarpon - 12wt is your usual fare, not much budging here, this is what you'll want for the big boys at least (however, if you're going for the smaller ones, 40lbs or so, 9-10 will do you ok I've been told)
Permit - In an article addressing this topic answered by a number of guides targeting permit, most went with 9 weights, and then said 10s if the wind was strong (which is something you have to really look out for in the Keys)
Bonefish - Likely the same 9 weight you're throwing for Permit; here you just want longer, accurate casts (well, this can apply to all fish that you're sight-fishing toward), and a reel that's ready for some blazing-fast runs
If you're going for a single rod to target the most fish, a 9 or 10 seems to be your best bet, since it would allow you to target both permit and bones, and even billfish if you're using smaller flies. The 10 would be the safe bet for all weather conditions and would give you more latitude with regard to species, the 9 if you're more of a light-tackle fan. However, while the 10wt will tire you out more, you're going to want each cast to count when you're out on the flats, particularly for permit. If its the windy season, I might go with the 10 just to be sure you're limiting as many possibilities for error as possible, since from everything I have read and seen, these fish will be sure to point out more! If you're casting to super-spooky fish, and you're worried your line smacking the water is going to spook em, I assume you could just open up your final loop a bit or lengthen the leader?
The Grand Slam in the Keys is the Tarpon, Bone, and Permit
On the Gulf Coast, usually its Snook, Redfish, and Trout, but this can change given the season
The Bones in the Keys are bigger so my choice is a 7 or 8 weight with a good reel that has a smooth and hardy drag. Some do use a nine but my all time favorite there was a Sage SP 907, 7 weight, moderate flex rod. For bigger fish which includes Baby Tarpon, (7-25 lbs Bones, Jacks and Cudas I had one of the very fine Sage RPLX 889s, with which I overlined to a nine weight line.
For bigger yet, I have a custom, very fast, 10 weight and its serves Permit duty and for those bigger fish that sometimes come along. Also a fine rod for Baby Tarpon in that 25-50 lb range. My 12 wt BL-5 Winston (finest Tarpon rod ever made) is also a great as it's a 9, 10, 11, or 12 wt rod and is so light I often switch to a lighter reel, like a nine weight and use it. However if the bigger guys are around and for sharks, it's ready and waiting with a 12 wt line and Tarpon leader and fly.
If you're going to be chasing fish in saltwater keep in mind that wind will be a more or less constant factor-- much more so than in fresh water, and you'll need to deliver large wind resistant or heavily weighted flies on occasion. That would be my guess as to why ditz wasn't having as much luck with the 5 weight -- it simply wasn't able to deliver large fly patterns in the conditions as well as a beefier 7 or 8 weight. As for getting hits on a 5 weight but not being able to set the hook, it may have been a case of using a typical "trout hook set" by raising the tip-- a 5 weight blank may be too wimpy to drive a heavier wire hook home. For saltwater it's generally better to try and sink the hook with a "strip set"-- aggressively stripping line with the off hand while striking to the side with the rod.
The quality of reels are also much more of a factor in saltwater especially for fast gamefish like bonefish, tarpon, permit and small tuna like jack crevalle, false albacore etc. that can really test every piece of a reel down to the smallest screw. Other saltwater gamefish like red fish, specs, striped bass bluefish etc are much less demanding on gear, but because saltwater is so corrosive, you'll still want a decent reel designed for use in SW.
Two outfits, an 8 and a 10 weight would cover you for a wide variety of conditions you'll run into fishing inshore saltwater-- for special situations like chasing large tarpon in the Keys where a 12 weight is pretty much standard, unless you go puttering around yourself, you'll most likely be using a guide, so you should make arrangements in advance to use his or her equipment-- if you had a 10 weight you could bring that along too for tarpon. If you were going to a more remote destination counting on a guide's gear could be much more of a problem. But if in the Keys, any reputable tarpon guide should have high quality gear. Tarpon are VERY tough on tackle, so a quality reel is a must, and they commonly run $600-700. The rod is perhaps less critical, but has very limited use outside of fishing for tarpon. Because of the high cost of a reel suitable for tarpon and the limited use you'd be likely to get out of a 12 weight outfit the rest of the year, you're probably better off investing in a lighter outfit, assuming you'd be limited to fishing for tarpon just a handful of days a year.
So what should you buy now for a trip to the Keys?
An 8 would be a my choice if you have a lot of bass fishing or steelheading back home and are looking to do a lot of that as well as occasional trips to salt for stuff like bonefish, redfish, snook, speckled trout, and you could use it in sheltered back bays for striped bass etc.
A 9 weight would be a good compromise between an 8 and a 10. It would give you a little more oomph in dealing with wind and throwing larger flies for stuff like stripers as well as being fine for all of the 8 weight fish. A 9 weight rod typically is paired with the same size reel used on 8 weight outfits. A suitable reel should hold at least 150 yards or 200 yards of 20 lb Dacron or Micron backing with a weight forward fly line and have a smooth drag.
A 10 weight outfit differs from the above rod weights both in terms of it's ability to throw larger flies but also the reels used on 10 weights typically are larger in size, meaning they will hold more yards and heavier backing, typically at least 200 yards of 30 lb Dacron or Micron. A 10 weight is used for beefier saltwater gamefish like permit, mid size tarpon striped bass, and light offshore stuff like mahi, roosterfish, and small tuna. A 10 weight has limited use in freshwater (pike, musky, large pacific salmon). A 10 weight would also be an excellent choice for your 2nd saltwater rod, especially if you bought an 8 weight to cover a wide range of differnt species and conditions. Compared to most 12 weights, a 10 is much easier to cast, but can be a lot more tiring to blind cast all day (as opposed to occasional casts while sight fishing on the flats) compared to an 8 or 9 weight.
A couple other things to keep in mind is that certain salt water species have no comparison in fresh water. Jack Cravelle comes to mind as I've caught them up to around 20 lbs and it takes a fresh water fish many times larger to even begin to compare in speed, strength and stamina. Also while Bonefishing is about little flies that are realatively easy to cast, Permit and Tarpon take bigger flys that need a bigger rod especialy with the wind. Limited to one rod, I would bring my favorite eight or nine weight and use the guide's(if you get one) rods for the bigger stuff. A great two rod combo would be an eight or nine with a 12 for the bigger boys, or three rods with an 7 or 8, a 9 or 10 and a 12! ( my rods while living there for several years were the 7 mentioned above, the 8 I mentioned while using a nine line, and my 12 wt BL-5.