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.

Costa Rica, Revisited

By Captain Scud Yates, Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Costa Rica, the second time around, really hit the spot in a winter that seemed to have no end. Playing with beautiful sailfish, floating amidst sleeping whales and having a thousand spinner dolphins escorting our boat were just some of the beauties of this trip. Living in a perfectly run lodge, eating wonderful meals and fishing from great boats with expertly trained crews rounded out this trip to Crocodile Bay Resort in the southwest corner of Costa Rica. What a difference a year makes.

This Febuary trip was taken last year by mostly the same team of fishermen with El Nino affecting everything on the water as well as casting a pall on the shore activity because of lack of fishing. The camp leadership actually gave us a free day this year because of the abnormal conditions we had in what was supposed to be the best time of the year last year. I am really glad we took up the offer. I recommend this lodge to anybody, especially families, as besides the fishing the eco touring, ATV riding through the jungle, and kayaking in the bay are just some of the "other" things to do besides fishing some of the most beautiful calm water the Pacific Ocean offers.

The trip started with all six of the travelers escaping the North American winter to join in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. We spent the afternoon and night telling fishing lies and sitting beside the pool enjoying the beautiful 75 degree day and a parade of pretty bodies wearing tiny bathing suits. It was an early night as "get-up" time for the bus to the commuter place was around 0445. Some of us were so hyped up about the fishing sleep was difficult. We took the hour-long small plane ride dropping us off a half mile from the lodge and we were on the boats by 0830 after a fine breakfast. There was an hour forty-five minute ride to blue water and the first fish on our boat was on camera by about 1130.

Hooking and catching these beauties on flies is not a slam-dunk like trolling seems to be (Another guy at the lodge caught seven in one day trolling and his wife got one too). It takes a coordinated effort and some skill on the part of the crew and fishermen to get the fish up close enough and then switch from what was used to get them interested to something with a hook in it. Then the fish has to be convinced to bite the new input to the game followed by getting the hook set and then clearing the line for the initial run. Then come the jumps and not losing the hook-up during one of those. Next comes getting the fish back to the boat and finally close enough for the mate to grab him. Pulling the beast over the side for a picture and then releasing completes the feat.

Sailfishing 101, hooking the fish:

Some folks might say the 101 course would be being able to not leak warm fluid down your leg with a 140 pound fish thrashing about 20 feet way on the surface while you calmly try to cast an oversized fly with a much too heavy fly rod. I will skip that and start with getting the fish to the boat and hooking it. To do any of this you have to have fish show up behind the boat. Last year that was a problem. This year we had about 15 to 20 shots a day at fish and several times multiple fish showed up, sometimes all three teasers where being thrashed at the same time or in quick sequence.

The first part, "teasing" the fish up, starts by trolling three of these hookless baits staggered from fifty to a hundred feet behind the boat which is moving at about six to eight knots. You can easily see the fish nose, fin or black shape when one starts attacking one of the baits. At least one of the non-attacked teasers is yanked in while the one the fish is behind is pulled up behind the boat, which is slowed to keep the bait seem like it did not. When it is close enough, about 20 to 30 feet back and attacking the teaser and the fisherman ready to cast, the boat comes out of gear, the teaser is pulled quickly out of the water while the fly is landed, hopefully, off to the side of the fish so he can see it. It is probably supposed to be like the food he was targeting jumped and landed again. The "new" food is popped once and then let drift. The pop may be repeated if the fish does not see it and turn that way. When the fish turns toward the fly and attacks it is hopefully at a ninety-degree angle or more from the direction of the fly line. This gets the hooks at an angle to catch in the upper part of the sword and also gives you a chance to set the hook on a fish from behind the 3 or 9 O-clock line of the fishes body. If all this works, you are off to the races with one of the jumping champions of the world of fish.

There are a couple of failure modes to the SF 101 course. First the fish might not be totally interested and just watch for a bit and leave. You can tell if he "lights up" showing his colors and tries to beat the teaser to death with the long sword. Next the fish can switch teasers and cause lots of action on the back of the boat with folks thrashing about trying to get the right person doing the right things to affect a hooking event. The cast comes into play and needs to be done correctly the first time or the fish will not see it or lose interest when time lapses for a recast. While the fish is being teased up the caster has his fly in the water at about fifteen feet back to use the water to "load" up for a back cast. That tug and back cast is usually up wind because of the boat movement and waiting for the line to roll out backward is difficult as you are always in a rush with the warm fluid just under control. The cast needs only be about 30 foot maximum and in one case only five. It is good we saw so many fish as even as experienced as we all were, casts were blown and fish confused resulting in disappointment all around, even the fish, who thought he was going to eat something.

It is not always easy to hook these guys and we had more not get hooked than did at first. The primary problem was having the fish fall in behind the fly and just thrash at it with the beak and take bites. The hook up attempts keep pulling the fly out without a hook catching. Even with letting the fly free to drift does not get the fish to turn and bite it going away. The need to pick the fly up quickly and then drop it off to the side is about the best recovery, but the fish can get pissed and leave if too much time lapses between food sightings.

Sailfishing 102, fighting the fish:

With the fish hooked and running away it is only a matter of time before the jumps began. If you drag is tight (three to four pounds for a 20 pound leader) you might get him airborne right behind the boat. If he runs out a less tight drag, and four pounds is a lot to hold, he may make a hundred yards before trying to fly. At any rate, when the fish goes up you need to "bow" to lessen the chance of the hook coming out of the hard mouth. Bow means to slacken the line some how. You can point the rod at him and give him line or, as our fearless leader, Ted Johnston, does point at the fish with the rod and lunge, as in fencing, toward the line direction. You have to do it down the line as that offers more relief and the fish can be jumping 90 degrees off to the direction of the line pull. It has not caught up from an off angle run.

The first one I watched caught jumped 26 times during a 25-minute fight. That was the longest fight any of us had and Steve, the guide of 202-pound tarpon fame, wanted to be sure he got that one to the boat. He tightened up on the next one and had him in and released in less than seven minutes. I had a fish jump well over 30 times and spend so much time out of the water it needed SPF 30 lotion. Most of the fights lasted 10 to 12 minutes at most and often smaller fish where in and back swimming in about 7 to 8 minutes.

Anyway, the fight and jumping is kept off the back of the boat by the skipper keeping the boat aligned and then when the after jump pulling starts he "backs" the boat down toward the fish to help you reel up the line and get the fly line back on the reel. This stops the backing from cutting your fingers and allows backing off the drag some and using hand/finger pressure to be used as drag.

Failure modes abound in SF 102 also. The hook coming out of the mouth happens even with good bows. These are not easy fish to hook but not as hard as a tarpon. Equipment failure causes break offs. If you have a leader, line, knot or backing problem it will be highlighted in this phase as it is a dynamic series of tugging and slacking in 102. I personally had line, leader and knot break offs and that may have been the most of anybody. I learned the value of fishing with new line every trip changing leaders between fish and testing every leader and knot after tying. The leaders we used where the same ones used for tarpon, 20-pound Bimini twist tied class sections with an 80 or 100 pound bite tippet. Add that to a short butt section for an over all length of seven feet and you are in business for these fish that ran in the 85 to 140-pound range.

Sailfishing 103, landing the fish:

This after-jump phase consists of the fish going down and just pulling to get away from the boat. You just put the pressure on and pump and reel to get him up to the boat. The skipper is constantly adjusting the boat to keep the fish off one corner of the stern so eventually the mate can get a grip on the sword. The mate gets hold of the stronger part of the leader and gently pulls the fish the final couple of feet up and grabs the sword. The fish goes crazy about then and the mate holds on for a short period of thrashing before either unhooking and releasing or pulling it over the side into the fisherman's lap for a picture.

The only failure I saw during this phase was mine and the fish was still landed. (That's one of mine above) I had a 12-weight rod snap during the landing of the fish. The guide grabbed the leader and the fish did not know the difference. I was the only one fishing with a nine-foot 12-weight and probably should not have with a fish that had the option to go deep. It was a new rod offered to us to try and try I did. It could have been my technique but knowledgeable observers did not see any particularity blatant flaw in what I did. I changed to an eight and a half foot 13-weight for the rest of the trip. Several used 14-weight rods and one had his 15 in service most of the time. He might have been the only one who could have handled a marlin if it had attacked. The rest of us would have watched it jump and break off probably. They run considerably larger and are not pussycats like the sailfish are.

Side Lights:

A couple of high lights on this trip occurred to me and to our three-man team. We used two boats, a 33 Strike and a 35 Strike. These are the biggest of the lodge's fleet and very good boats for this mission. After the second day the A33 team challenged the A35, - us, to a contest for the most fish jumped or landed. All you had to do was get two jumps and then you could avoid the rest of the fight if you wanted and break them off. Some wimp did not want to go through the SF 103 thing of pulling. Rum flowed and the bet went from $100 a man to a shirt of the loser's choice then settled on a specific shirt of the winner's choice. There is a nice gift shop in the lodge with many shirts. One of the options might have seen the winners in some pink woman's halter.

The day came and went and neither team had a big day but the A33 boys had a last minute change of captain and mate which cost them the super team they started out with. We won and the shirts were argued over for many beers before we ended up with pinkish/yellow logo shirts of great worth. Another bet got started but the lawyers in the fight prevented finalization in the remaining eight hours before the final day launches.

Special Fights:

One special fight happened to me on day three. I hooked a nice fish as it was my turn when several fish showed up in the teasers. When this one took off after hooking and during the jumping the captain restarted the teaser dragging to let Ted, the next up get hooked up. The distance between the boat and my fish increased greatly while this when on. Ted did not get this fish as confusion was at high ebb. My fish jumped five times and came off (making it a "for shirt" counter). While I reeled in from about two hundred yards the boat set up the three-teaser drag. It was not easy to get the fly in as it has a four square inch flat popper nose. Another fish took my fly while about 200 feet back on the retrieve but I could not get the attention of anybody as there were fish in the teasers and again and that show was exploding all around me. This fish jumped once and got off (a non-shirt counter). I did not have a chance to set it well.

Ted was in a recast mode with a fish at about 30 feet back when I finally got my fly into that range on a rapid pace to clear the decks of my act. Ted's fish was not going for his fly and turned on mine. What was a guy to do? I just released mine to float back and the fish took a going away shot and hooked up. This one I landed after a seven-minute fight. I gladly sat down after the hat trick only to have Ted announce, "that was technically my fish." The discussion was about me missing a turn next time around and I didn't really care but claimed victim status so as not seem unmanly.

A second notable fight happened the last day. Unk had two fish already landed and was up again. I had one in by then and Ted also had one. I, once again, had a fish take me well into the backing and jump a dozen times before coming unbuttoned for some reason other than a break-off. The boat started up on the troll again while I reeled in as quickly as I could. Unk was up to bat. When my fly was 30 feet back from the rear teaser we could see a big fish was following this special fly, not pink like all the other we were using. The other teasers were pulled out of the water so I could hook the fish. A quick discussion erupted behind me about who this fish belonged to. I didn't want my other partner complaining about "technical" fish. Instead of either releasing the fly for a bite or recasting for one I reeled too fast for the fish to bite and told Unk to cast. I pulled my "teaser" out and Unk landed his third fish of the day. The was no mention of my sacrifice at all for some reason. Getting multiple hook-ups per cast did not impress my partners.

The last tail of the fishing was the last battle of the day. Unk did not take himself out of the line up but I did get up again. Once again multiple fish jumped the teasers and I hooked up first cast leaving a second fish beating the fire out of the back teaser. Ted picked up a rod and tossed a perfect shot and hooked up the second fish. The individual fights kept apart completely like it was planned and both got landed in short order. The best part of this was the other boat was nearby and got to watch both fish jumping at the same time. They had a couple of fish for the day but our nine counters made their day seem puny. The lawyers did them a favor in not closing the bet.

Nature touring:

Just a short note is needed to close this out. Nature was abundant for us on the water. Not only were the seas calm every day and a deep blue that makes you feel like you are flying instead of floating, but it was full of things other than the fish we chased. On three days we ran into whales, sometimes in pods of forty plus. Once these pilot and pigmy pilot whales were sound asleep allowing us to idle right into the middle of them waking them up so they could slowly move away and go back to sleep.

On the hour and a half ride to fish the last day we drove into and along with a pod of spinner dolphins that must have had over a thousand members. They surrounded the boat and just sort of bounced out of the water doing triple twists. They were jumping on all sides and back and front. The pod was a couple hundred yards across. You leave them and you jaws hurt from smiling so hard.

The bigger porpoises were around with the spinners and also among the whales. These guys, about 800 pounds each, would surround the boat too but in lesser numbers and a bunch of them would ride just under the nose of the boat riding the bow wave. One in particular had a long ride and we could look down over the nose and see he had a couple of remora type fish hooked on his sides. These where not the normal black and white remoras but parrot fish blue.

When Unk and I both were staring down at this array, the animal made sure we were both looking by shifting sides and then raced out in front and jumped up in front of us at about 30 feet out in front of boat. He did this several times and I even got a picture of the act so close that I got splashed. The little clinging fish where several pounds each and would shift position in the air to hide from the landing forces. We argued about why the animal would allow these to hang onto him and wondered if the jumping was to get rid of them. I think they were probably a porpoise version of a box lunch.

There was more about the trip but I promised to keep this down to less than ten pages. With pictures I will be over again, sorry.

http://www.crocodilebaylodge.php gets you to the lodge page to see what it all about and http://leisuretimetravel.com/ takes you to Ted Johnston who will set you up with a trip with the best deal possible. Ted has been working with them for years and can make sure you are fully prepared to make a trip with the best possible chance of success. ~ Capt. Scud, Feb., 2004

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