Welcome to Salt Water Fly Fishing

Welcome to Fly Fishing The Salt! If you are just discovering the joys of fly fishing the salt (or salt chuck as some call it) here you will find information to steer you in the right direction. Tips on what equipment to use, why, where and how to fish. And we will try to include a little inspiration to get you going. For the experienced salt water angler, there will be personal stories about real fishermen and their experiences, tips on what flies for which fish and techniques that work. Your stories and articles are also most welcome. Share the knowledge and adventure. Pass it on! This is for you.

Winter Wonder?

By Captain Scud Yates, Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Winter fly-fishing around the Panhandle of Florida is often tough on the fingers with the cold, and the spirits, with reluctant fish. If you don't get the tide just right for the few warm spots the fish hold in, a day can be pretty sorry. It can also get crowded at one good spot since a local guide took a magazine writer out and showed him "our" spot. He published a story with pictures and maps. Smart. Now, fifty boats can be found in the one-acre "pond" where only a couple was the standard for years. Most of the "new" users of the spot are killing the fish too. It did not seem fair to bother too many poor fish trying to keep warm in the winter but to kill them too is a real disrespect. We use to catch a few easy ones and then press off for the more difficult flats wandering ones.

Every once in a while you get a surprise in the cold months like the time my son and I found a big black drum under our sailboat during a boat project. We got lucky this winter a couple of weeks back, probably because we were not looking for fish.

I got a call from a friend, Philip, who lost his mast and jib sail in the Destin Pass on the 29th of December. It was a near death experience when the shroud came unglued in heavy seas. He and his brother barely made it past the rock weir, and then, surfed the hulls of his 20-foot catamaran onto the beach with the coast guard closing in on a rescue. Both sailors looked like hamburger after the battering but will probably not have permanent scars.

The mast had a floating tip and about $1000 worth of gear he needed to repair the boat. He thought it might be "bobbing" out near the pass or may have washed up on shore down-tide from the accident site. I tried to tell him that I had done something about the same once and finding the gear would be like getting a democrat elected in this county. Impossible. Poverty drove the search and him not knowing any other boat owner in the area brought me into the act.

The weather he crashed in was not all over and although my new Hell's Bay Marquesa is supposed to take heavy water, the wind was still out of the north at 17 gusts to 24 when we launched. It was also about 43 degrees making the chill factor turn flying water into slush. The trip a few miles across open bay water was "interesting." We were dressed like Michelin men and managed to keep relatively dry. The boat worked as advertised, mighty good in the two-foot chop with the tops of the waves blowing off. Once out of the pass and protected by the shore somewhat, the waves stopped and all we had to contend with was the five foot swells and forming breakers over the sandbars near shore.

Search we did, on a couple mile run to the west staying far enough from the backs of the breaking waves but near enough to see the shore and shallows where the mast might be "bobbing." Nothing. We drove back, out a half-mile, to check the deeper water but that took us back to the waves again with the increased fetch from the shore. Three hours of searching found us back in Destin harbor looking for some coffee. Philip covered a lunch for the pain and suffering he took me though. He even admitted the search was probably close to useless. I had a beer just to get the courage up to go back upwind across the bay on the way home.

Once on the water again, conditions had laid down some. The wind was probably only 12 gusting to 18 and dropping. Philip forgot the part of "probably being useless" and wanted to go east out in the ocean again. I agreed (the beer fogged my brain) to go to the mouth of the pass and 'look at the conditions.' In the opening it was not "too bad," so we blasted out turning east. I was going to humor him for another hour and hoped the wind dropped more for the trip upwind home.

Just then, about a quarter mile out from us, birds started going wild over a wide spot on the water. That is the usual summer sign of fish eating but the water was just about 55 degrees and that is a little cold for most fish in this area. These were terns too, and they are known to lie sometimes. We sped over and sure enough fish were busting and birds were diving to pick up the pieces. I couldn't tell what kind yet but suspected some thing in the tuna family as they move fast enough to keep warm.

Being a good fisherman I never leave home without some gear. I had a small four weight rigged in the side pole holders with a little clouser fly on it as we had been fishing for small trout recently and that was all I expected to find around if anything. Philip was offered the rod but looked at the pitching deck and the wind and asked me 'to show him the technique.' He is an avid fly fisherman but has never tried saltwater. As I stripped out the line we arrived in the fish bundle. As I tossed I could see the ten-pound tuna style "footballs" flashing past and when the fly was eaten I knew the rod was going to be too small to handle the fish. Being a tuna type, the take is quick and the first run is fast. I could do nothing with the rod tip and little with the butt of the light rod. I tightened the drag to slow it down but still could not raise the rod much without breaking it. It was like hand line fishing and the eight-pound leader snapped, not a bad outcome in the situation.

Fish were still busting all around as I handed that rod to Philip to stow and started building the seven weight I had thrown in at the last minute to have a back up. Still not all the rod optimally for the conditions or fish, but much better than a four weight. Rigged with another small yellow and white clouser, I handed it to Philip. He had the idea and was more than willing to go for it after the first demo.

The fish were boiling and roaming in big circles eating something near the surface and if we idled to the front of the flow the four-stroke Suzuki engine did not seem to spook them. We'd shut down then and glide waiting for the fish to get close enough. The first time the whole school turned toward us Philip was false casting so many times they were gone before the fly hit the water. I was telling him the fish couldn't get to it unless it was in the water and the next cast was just about perfect and he was hooked up. Off the fish ran and perhaps I had set the drag a little heavy. The fish came unbuttoned. He stripped in and started to cast again but I stopped him to look at the fly. Sure enough the hook was straightened out 90 degrees. It was a number eight Mustad 34007 which is stainless and not all that strong. I now had wasted two fish with the wrong gear.

I put on a large clouser, at least a number two hook and tried to put Philip back on the front. He said it was my turn so I reluctantly accepted. He positioned the boat well and I got three shots that should have produced a hook up. It was the size of hook that mattered, so now I had lost more opportunities through bad decisions. I was glad this was a rescue mission instead of a charter as I was feeling like a buffoon. With a little clouser back on with the correct strength hook, I hooked up the next cast. I got the chance to show Philip the complete fight and landing of one of these little beauties and after a picture, he gladly picked up the rod again.

He still wanted to false cast over the fish while they raced by. That must be what trout fishermen do a lot of. When he got it in the water the fish took it. This, his first saltwater fish, did all it should have to him. It took him into the backing so I idled the boat after the fish to get back on the fly line. This takes the backing to line knot out of the fight so you don't lose a whole line if it fails. Once the run or runs are over, the fish comes by and sees the boat and then the rest of the fight in straight down from the bottom. We were in about 40 to 60 feet of water so this can take a bit of tugging. I talked him into not bending the rod and fighting from the butt of the pole and then had to get him to not "help" by using his other hand on the rod above the handgrip. This also ends in breakage while trying to pull up a deep heavy fish. You have to wait it out and get line back as you can. Finally, after he made several trips all around the boat with the tip in the water fighting the fish under and around the boat we got a flash of the fish turning on its' side, meaning it was finally getting tired. Once back on the surface it is also hard to stop high sticking as the technique is to get the tip of the rod near the fish to "pull" him to the surface rather than "lifting" him. It was another eight to ten pounder but this one had a heck of a healed shark bite over and around his back down his side. He had been slashed from the top front instead of the rear and his tail (motor) was still working letting him get away. When we released him he might have thought he was a cat with two of the lives used.

That clouser was used for the next three fish until it was just about trimmed down to nothing and then we changed to another and continued chasing around hooking fish. Philip lost another one but the hook was fine. Some are just not hooked well enough.

Philip did get a bigger one in and while I tried to get the hook from down deep inside, it puked up an extensive amount of partly digested gray gunk. At first it looked like squid but as I scooped the piles it off the boat and my body, the little legs were easy to make out. If the shrimp were on the top of the water we could not see them and I suspect this fish had them deep in his belly while he was chasing small glass minnows with the school.

The fish we were catching were not really bonitos but instead, false albacore. Philip asked if we could eat them. I said they were suitable for the table or grill but not the best around. They are still dark meat but not as bloody as their look-alike bonito. Bleed them when you catch them and they are fine and a really good sushi if you like the rare style. He declared he wanted a couple to take back to his vacationing family. I had a knife and told him we could do that if he really wanted to.

They heard us! All the birds sat down and fell asleep and the fish left the area. It had lasted for about two hours and just stopped. We had not seen a bird or fish in the run down the beach before lunch and now it was back to that state. We headed back with the wind still dropping.

Inside the pass we ran into one more small school going crazy but were unable to hook one and after a few tries we bundled up and ran home. The wind was way down to 10 to 12 and the bay was down to a one-foot chop. Nothing for this boat to handle so I ran it up to 5800 RPM and maxed out at about 39 MPH, slowed some by the chop. I bet I got the chill factor back to the low 20s again to make the day's end beer seem warm.

Winter is tough on the charter business but being ready (just "almost" in this case) can make a crappy day seem a lot better. Philip said, "This salt water fishing could get me to give up sailing." He liked the way the fish pulled. If the water gets above 54 degrees and you are dressed for it, we can still have some fun here. ~ Capt. Scud, Dec 30, 2003

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