Some are hooked the first time they experience it and some just never get it. Why is it that some people find fly‑fishing so captivating? There are certainly better ways to catch fish than casting 60 feet of line with a flimsy fly rod, but if you’re still questioning yourself you’ve likely never experienced the thrill of watching a determined predator chase down and inhale your fly.
While fly-fishing is clearly pointed at the end goal of catching fish, the experience along the way is just as rewarding and sometimes even overshadows the end result. Although there are many expert anglers around the state, there’s always something to learn and if you follow this principle then you will never stop advancing your skills.
…I’ve found that anglers who are comfortable and proficient with their own equipment are definitely more capable than they would be fishing with unfamiliar gear.
From intertidal shallows to the offshore azure, game fish and their habitats never stop changing. You’ll soon learn what you experience one day won’t be the same the next. Still, after only a little experience fly-fishing you’ll soon understand that catching fish on fly isn’t that difficult. However, consistently achieving success in a variety of venues is indeed challenging and something you’ll only achieve after years of experience, or through an expedited learning curve with the help of an expert guide or casting instructor.
I fish every week of the year and calmly and carefully guide clients from my poling platform through some truly chaotic situations. Some are complete beginners and others catch inshore grand slams every time we fish, so I’ve seen it all. To find consistent success you should be able to cast 50 feet in most conditions with three or fewer false casts, but if you can’t get that far just yet that doesn’t mean you’ll go home disappointed. Here are some tips that will help you enjoy the sport no matter your casting abilities or fly-fishing experience.
Get The Gear
My relationship with a new client begins with a conversation about tackle. I’m normally asked what outfits I supply and definitely have all the bases covered with 8– to 12–weight rods and Nautilus reels, but I always invite customers to bring their own equipment. Casting accuracy and distance are critical factors and I’ve found that anglers who are comfortable and proficient with their own equipment are definitely more capable than they would be fishing with unfamiliar gear. You’ll also forge memories with your own equipment and it will provide more inspiration to take care of your tackle. If you choose to bring your own gear, be sure to inspect the fly line and make sure the line to leader connection is flawless before firing off your first cast.
Besides a rod and reel combination you are comfortable with, polarized sunglasses are the next most important piece of gear. Fly-fishing is all about sight fishing and unless you actually see a fish there’s really no point in casting. I’ve been a fan of Smith Optics for years and their polarization for shallow water is unrivaled. Their newest lenses feature ChromaPop technology and provide incredible optical clarity.
Deal With The Wind
I look at fly-fishing similar to fishing with artificials. If you can get the fly in front of the fish you can generally get them to eat it. In Flamingo, wind is our biggest enemy, but with the myriad of shallows across Everglades National Park I can often find shelter from the wind. With that being said, wind isn’t always a bad thing because it makes fish a bit less spooky and more tolerant to errant casts.
Learning how to double haul is incredibly important and will increase casting distance during windy conditions. If you want to be a good saltwater fly angler you need to learn to double haul. It will make tight loops tighter, long casts longer and help punch through the wind with increased line speed. This past winter was incredibly windy and there were weeks on end with 15-plus knot winds…and I was still booked solid! Don’t let the wind scare you, because every great fly angler still has hiccups when casting in the wind. Think of it as practice, because the better you can get at fly-fishing in less than perfect conditions the better accuracy and distance you will achieve under ideal conditions.
When it’s really windy double hauling is a must. Remember that when fly-fishing you are using the weight of the line to load the rod. Keep yourself composed and try not to fight the wind. Practice with the wind directly in your face and also at odd angles. As a guide I’m always thinking about boat positioning and how to provide my angler the best shot, but sometimes you have to fire off a cast in a hurry and you’ll have to deal with the wind no matter the direction.
Casting is clearly one of the most critical components to catching fish on fly, but your presentation will also be a direct result of your ability to manage the fly line. Although the newest backcountry platforms are designed to have the least amount of snag points, fly line on the deck still requires constant awareness. Some anglers choose to fish with a stripping basket, but I do not recommend this to beginners. Stripping baskets make it easier, but you’ll never reach the next level if you are always taking a shortcut. At the end of the day, fly line management must be second nature. I recommend keeping the line on the deck and learning to strip the line behind you and into the cockpit of the skiff. This will also facilitate a better stripping motion. With a fly line basket that comes three feet off the deck anglers have a limited stripping motion because they are focused on getting the line in the basket. You simply can’t get the same strip as you would with a longer motion. What I do like are the new line lairs that lay flat on the deck. They are subtle and offer a small amount of assistance to help control fly line.
The Moment Of Truth
If you spot a target in the shallows and think you have the distance to make an accurate presentation, fire off a cast as quickly as possible. The sooner you can present a fly the quicker your offering will be noticed and the better chance it will be taken. Since I am elevated on the poling platform, I will likely see the fish before my clients and I’m always trying to position the boat to put my anglers in a better spot to give them the best opportunity. I can often see which direction the fish is facing and I always try to compensate for the wind and sun. If I know a fish is beyond my angler’s casting distance I will tell them to wait. You never want to cast at a fish swimming away, as you always want the fly moving away from the fish. Baitfish may not have the intelligence of tarpon, but they will not readily swim toward the open mouth of a hungry predator.
Once your fly hits the water always keep an eye on your fly and the fish. If the fly lands in front of the fish without spooking it, start stripping and keep stripping all the way to boat. You should be able to see your target as it charges the fly, and it’s important you never take your eye off the fly. Even if you visually see a fish turn off don’t stop stripping because there could be a follower. In addition, no baitfish ever stops when being chased. When a fish goes for your fly you should strip strike and avoid lifting the rod tip. If you pull back and lift the rod you’ll reach a point to where you can’t pull far enough. Instead, keep stripping until you come tight and keep your rod at a 45-degree or lesser angle while applying pressure with the butt section of the rod.
If you are serious about furthering your fly-fishing technique and experiences, I highly recommend you hire a professional guide or certified casting instructor. It’s also important you are honest about your abilities and expectations with both yourself and your guide. Good luck!