Fixed-Line Fly Fishing Location Guides Saltwater Techniques

Estuarine Fixed-Line Fly Fishing

Article by Rory E. Glennie

Saltwater estuaries along the East coast of Vancouver Island are wonderful places to explore with a tenkara rod. They offer easy access, miles of shallow water, a variety of underwater habitats and a plethora of toothy critters to catch. While many other folks are out chasing the big silver slab of a salmon aboard an expensive boat, ambulatory anglers can find great fun and excitement in simply wading the shallows while poking about with only a rod, a line and a fly. This is a great way of introducing fixed-line fly fishing to neophytes and non-anglers as there is nearly always something out there willing to bite the hook.

Finding A Venue

For most folks unfamiliar with the layout of Vancouver Island just click-on to Google Earth™. Many good fishing beaches can be found by flying around the coastline; the “street view” feature can prove helpful in locating beach access points.

Rory Glennie - Estuarine Fixed Line Fishing - Google Earth
Google Earth overview of some good fishing beaches

Zooming in on potential hot spots may show access points as well as terrain. Where a creek dumps into the ocean is a good staring point for exploration… start there. Then follow your nose to check out the surrounding territory. The beaches are public property and open year-round. Once accessed through one of the many public entry points, simply stay below the highest storm-line of weathered driftwood and you’ll be fine. A tidal water sport fishing licence is required and may be obtained for a nominal fee online at:

Rory Glennie - Estuarine Fixed Line Fishing - Beach Access
Beach access signs show the way

Bottom Structure and Topography

Rory Glennie - Estuarine Fixed Line Fishing - Estuaries
Small stream estuaries attract sea-run trout

Most estuaries, where a freshwater stream fans out into the saltwater, often provide a variety of bottom structure; boulders, rocks, gravel and sand are the most common. Good fishing estuaries offer some of all those types and have a gently sloping bottom for ease of wading. There will also be “weeds” of several types including kelp, eel grass, glasswort, and sea-lettuce to name a few. This is all good habitat for predatory fish. When covered with water, this structure is home to a multitude of micro-organisms, zooplankton and tiny baitfish which larger fish prey upon.

Tidal Influences

Tidal flow, the twice daily raising and lowering of water height, plays a big part on where and when fish will hangout. Depending on time of year and phase of the moon, tide height can range between zero and sixteen vertical feet here on Vancouver Island. It is best to pick-up or download a “tide guide” so one can reckon which beaches will be covered with water and how deep it may be.

Rory Glennie - Estuarine Fixed Line Fishing - Eagles
Sharing the estuary with other fly fishers

As a start, click on to; This is the Fisheries & Oceans Canada website to source up-to-date tidal information and more. That particular tidal reference point shown there covers a good portion of East-central Vancouver Island. Through using the navigation menus on that site, information on other sections of coastline can be viewed.

Denizens of the Deep

While not really “deep” that two to three-foot-deep inter tidal zone, which is readily waded, hosts several fish species. The beach fly fisher’s Holy Grail, transient sea-run Cutthroat trout, come and go through the area at will. Bottom-dwelling fish like Staghorn sculpins, Midshipmen, flounders and sole are most active with the ebb and flow of the tides. The real beauty of fishing off the beach is that one never knows what might next take the fly.

Rory Glennie - Estuarine Fixed Line Fishing - Sea Run Cutt
Estuary with Sea-run Cutthroat Trout cameo

Tackle and Flies

My preference in a tenkara rod is to opt for length. The 13’6” Amago model or the Ito model zoomed out to 14’7”, both from Tenkara USA, are my rods of choice. While standing in one spot, the extra length allows me to effectively cover a larger radius around me. Only a judicious amount of wading is necessary for two reasons; 1) excess wading spooks the fish away from you. 2) most fish will come and go through your chosen casting zone as the tide ebbs or flows or as they sense an opportunity to feed there. Both of those tenkara rods have enough delicacy and backbone to handle fish from a three ounce juvenile Ling cod to a three pound sea-run Cutt.

Effective fly patterns for bottom fish are often the simplest; a bit of brightly colored lamb’s wool yarn, a red/yellow combo works well, tied in behind a small metal bead-head, all on a number ten hook – the wool sticks like Velcro™ to their raspy teeth. For sea-runs, to imitate a favoured forage fish – a Stickleback, a more traditional size twelve silver-bodied Muddler works wonders.

Rory Glennie - Estuarine Fixed Line Fishing - Tenkara USA
Not all fish that live in the sea are huge


Very much like traditional tenkara stream tactics, the fly is pulsed through the area in a lifelike manner through deft rod manipulation. Over a rocky section, the fly is brought in quickly enough so not to get stuck between the boulders, as the fish will likely ambush it from their lair in the rocks. Over a sandy section, the fly is let fall to the bottom, then pranced along the substructure in a series of bottom bouncing drops. This is where the bead-head shines; ticking the fly along the bottom is akin to ringing the dinner bell, as this sound alerts a fish to the fly long before they can see it.

If you sense or see that sea-runs are around — they often swirl at or jump clear of the surface — a quick series of cast and rod-twitch retrieves circumscribing the area around you will often entice one to smack the Muddler.

Move Along

While not wading too much is advantageous while fishing through an area, do not get rooted in one place for too long. If there are fish, they will make themselves known when you feel a tug on your line. Besides giving you a chance to stretch your legs, searching new areas up or down the beach may prove worthwhile in finding some more appealing fishing. Most of these “homebody” fish circulate up and down, in and out with tidal flows, so, locating them is all part of the challenge.

Rustic wooden bench at beach access point

Rory E. Glennie, a resident of Vancouver Island, British Columbia has been fly fishing the mountain streams for wild, native-born trout since 1970. The only Canadian member of Tenkara USA Guide Network. Staff writer for Island Fisherman Magazine since 2009.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

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