There comes a time on any man's life that he needs something
to remind him "humble" is a good trait. Most of us fighter
pilots are short of that virtue, mainly as we are nearly
perfect in most endeavors. Ron Wilbanks wanted to get into
saltwater fly fishing and got a cannon shot for a start. He
acquitted himself well but sucked up a humble pill or two
along the way.
For years Ron has read my accounts of our fishing trips to exotic
places chasing fish with fly rods. Anna, his bride, contacted me
and asked what I could do in the way of a trip if she gave him one
for Christmas. Of course, I would never give up a chance to
introduce someone to my world. We discussed it, defined actions
to an end and set it up. Ron, a fisherman but not with a fly rod,
would need the full act. That meant equipping and training as
well having fish put in front him. There was almost half a year
Ron and I set up a fishing date in early April when he was on
spring break from teaching but I fouled that up with a wedding
planning trip out west to keep my marriage together. We were
going to get together at my home and learn how to manage fly
line and then venture over to Louisiana for a few days chasing
redfish. Ron is a good athlete and strong so I thought I could
impart enough rod work in a small time period to get fish on his
hook. Both of those thoughts were true but the means to an end
The next opening in Ron's busy life schedule was early June.
We met at a reunion in May where I gave him a rod/reel set up
and an hour of tossing line behind our hotel. He picks things
up easily. I backed this up by sending a Lefty's casting DVD.
When he came to my home in June he had some capability and at
least an understanding of what was expected along with some
of the "language."
Our next lesson happened after we arrived in Louisiana at Rich
Waldner's fishing camp; his home and a FEMA trailer. I brought
my boat to fish one of the three days and we shoved it in the
water for an hour to give him experience on the front end
managing the line. His casting was pretty rudimentary but
not going to limit him in this environment too much, I thought.
He had little of the capability to do short accurate casts for
fish you see late within 20 feet of the boat. Nobody teaches
that enough and the capability really comes from being exposed
to fish that you can find that close and will wait for you to
put a fly in front of their nose. So far, in this world, that
fish only seems to exist down here in Louisiana. The same
redfish in Florida get antsy out at 100 yards, not when they
finally bump into the boat.
The first day of fishing with Rich found Ron on the front end
of the boat after I caught one fish to show him how it was done.
I had a couple shots right off of less than 40 feet and hooked
one pretty quickly. Ron got up as the sun got above the 40
degree level and had shots of all sorts. Two of us tried to
get him to have a back cast or at least a "flip" to get the
fly in front of a fish. Tossing line about without fish is
one thing but a 30-35 inch fish sitting 20 feet from you
waiting for a feeding makes the cast secondary, at least in
a new fisherman's mind. Ron could see the fish very well but
all the nerve synapses necessary to get the fly within six
inches of the fish's mouth were not in play. I got up and
showed him, once more, how to snag a fish with the first one
we found. He got back up. More thrashing and many perplexed
fish later I got another from the back of the boat while Ron
was busy catching his butt with a mighty cast. So far he would
see the fish in plenty of time but the "thinking through" of
hat to do to get the fly out of his hand and in front of the
fish meant most of them got within the "flip" range and out
of the "cast" range requiring a tactics change. This was not
in his not bag of tricks yet. Ron was a like a Pop Warner
football player starting at Auburn. But...there were plenty
of fish. He had thrashed at about 20-25 nice reds so far.
None the less, in a little slew, one dumb fish popped up in
the front of the boat and Ron reacted like a pro and he had
one on. It was not a monster (five pounds) but it was hooked
and Rich was down and right behind him making sure it did not
get off. Of course, I had not taught him much about that part
of the game either. You sort of have to have a fish on to cover
what is going to happen fully. He and Rich got this one in the
boat to a collective "whew." The little guy was flash burned on
the front side from the cameras and the back side from Ron's smile.
It was 0852 and we had been on the water since 0720. Ron thought
we had been there a full day and to tell the truth, we had had
an exceptional number of fish in front of us for the area we were
in. The tides were not optimum for the areas we usually fish this
time of the year and in this "back up" region a good day for
experts could range be 20 fish out of 25 shots...all day.
Rich was looking over a little grass patch and stated there
was a lake 'right over there' he had never been in. He wanted
to take a short look while we all basked in Ron's first fish glow.
With a short motor run to the new area and a little look along the
windward side seeing a couple of fish, but nothing compelling us
to stay, Rich wanted to look at the lea side across the pond.
Before leaving that side, Rich wanted to look in one more corner
and I bet him there would not be fish in it. Ron was up front
and we did not see a red but a sheepshead popped up and Ron
tossed at it missing way short. A little red jumped on the fly
and I lost the bet. Damned sheepshead cost me a beer as we would
never have seen it.
Approaching a point with me up front, we ran into a school of fish
followed by a single I hooked into and landed. Ron got up and it
started to "rain" nice big reds. He worked hard at all sorts of
flips, and even casts, but could not get a fly close enough. The
water was clear but deeper and he had a hard time figuring how fast
the spoon fly sunk to get down to the fish. Another trick needed
but hard to teach without a moving fish to help you. I got another
from the back only throwing when he was tangled or working the other
side. Fish were everywhere. Each fish I got from the back end meant
Ron got to stay up front. He got practice you cannot often find and
finally had another good effort to catch another fish. He was up
to four by now. Out of 40-50 good shots this was not all bad.
Any more success and he would have to have a sling. The last fish
was in the 8-10 pound class and ripped line offering a chance to
learn how to "palm" a reel or grip the line to add stopping power.
There is no end to the things to be learned about fly fishing when
you start from zero and the first fish you see and catch are all
over 25-30 inches and fight like bulldogs.
If we thought is was good up to now, we neared the center of this
half mile bank and ducked into an outlet only to have to come back
to the edge of the weed line and open water on the way out. This
weed, by the way, was of the near "scum" type you get in the summer
down there. It is so sticky, if you even touch it you pick some up
and then the fish will not even open a mouth…just follow and turn
off. You need a near weed-less fly and then the knots pick up
slime. Summer limits you to Rich's spoon fly which might be the
"cleanest" fly in the world. The weed is everywhere, floating
and attached to the bottom, and the fish are among it. You have
to cast close and drop it right on their nose. A blind cast is
nearly impossible to keep clean so finding and seeing the fish
is nearly the only way. Forget about spin fishing, not at all
possible where we were. All this and the fact that there are
not many fly fishing guides or flats boats down that way and it
means the fish hardly ever see a boat or fisherman. That is why
they wait for a feeding, I suppose.
Back to fishing: As we broke the weed line fish popped up all
over the place. They were approaching from all directions. I
was up front for one of my rare five minute efforts while Ron
rested. I picked a dozen on my left and hooked the third in
line with one cast. I set the hook and then loosened up and
let him run out to the deeper water so Ron could catch one and
we could get a double. He got up and got set while Rich and I
were yelling about fish in every direction from the boat. Ron
ignored us as the noise we deafening from his perspective of
trying to strip out line and get balanced on the front platform.
He got set and looked up to see fish all around him. Rich wanted
him to toss right. I was pointing out fish to the left and Ron had
another bunch right out front. His problem was "flipping." It was
the best choice but harder to do than casting for him. If he tossed
at the long ones he would spook the ones your line landed over moving
them all off in a startled movement. Not to matter, as they would
turn around and come back at him. He got weed on the line and had
to clean it as more passed by and as the excitement grew and grew
his back cast decreased in length proportionally. He would land all
casts short as they were hurried. In only a few minutes that seemed
an hour, I gave up and pulled in my fish so I could get back into
this mob of fish. Ron got another on, finally, when I stopped
talking and he could think through his efforts. I relearned that
the instructor ought to stay a little calmer than the student.
When that little spot slowed and most of the fish there finally
figured out they would get tangled in line if they stayed in that
area, we worked down the rest of the run. Ron got shots and caught
fish in about the ratio of 20 shots to one caught. I would stand
up and get a fish in a couple minutes and he would get back to work.
Sheepshead were all over the place but hooking one of them is yet
another trick Ron would have to watch and learn another day. I
got one near the end of the day.
We went back down that bank a couple more times picking up shots
and fish each time but the numbers fell off as the tide lessened.
We searched other places Rich had not seen before but never found
the abundance of these first two areas we fished early on. Ron
ended the day with eight or nine fish. The count was confused by
the activity level. I had a few more but my number was also not
clear. We figure we had over a hundred shots on this day and
neither Rich nor I had ever had a beginner do that on the first
day of his fly fishing career. We went in by about 4 PM as our
arms were rubber bands. We had two more days to fish even though
the weather was not supposed to be as good as this day's. The
evening meal and plenty of adult beverages made for a fine sleep
that started pretty early.
0600 and the next day looked pretty good for starters. The wind,
like the day before, was supposed to be light, 8-12 mph and from
a northerly direction. That little wind can put a trout fisherman
in a panic but without it 90 degrees and high humidity can really
seem warm, but the wind and the northerly direction meant less
This second day had some clouds added to the mix. Glare on the
water causes the fish to be hard to see. We fished the same
waters as the day before but it was more a "normal" day for
the area. Ron's casting was better, for having a lot of
experience now, but the fish were not only harder to see
but also a little reluctant to bite anything not perfectly
placed near their noses, even without weed. A hard landing
fly spooked them easily to boot. Landing heavy spoon flies
softly is an advanced tactic lost on Ron so far. The shots
were plentiful in the first stop. Ron managed a fish finally
but it took a bit. I missed my first few also and put Ron back
up as if there were going to be less shots he needed them more
than I did. A couple nice big fish came out from under a weed
line off to the right of Ron and I talked his eyes on them only
to have them "discover" the boat before he could manage a flip.
The next one out like that I told him where I was casting and
I got it down early enough to catch it.
The day proceeded and it never got easier or cooler. We got about
12 fish to the boat and Ron had three of them, if I remember correctly.
The cloud cover made the only folks to be able to see fish the ones
standing on the towers in front or back. Where I stood on the deck
in front of Rich it was like being in a closet listening to a football
broadcast. Every once in a while Rich would tell me to cast out to
the side one way or the other at a clock position and 40-50 feet.
This was outside of Ron's accuracy limits, if not range, but I could
not see the fish and got tired of being "directed" to fish. I get
little joy out of catching things I cannot see. Removing weed from
my line as I cannot see the fly to avoid the muck is no fun either.
We stayed on the water longer but the clouds made it harder.
We were spoiled from the day previous. After pushing us around
for about 10 hours, Rich did another two hours of yard trimming
in the calm 90 degree 85% humid weather. This Marine does not
feel pain or lack drive. We had cooked our steaks and consumed
a few beers before Rich started dinner for him and his dad. He
did take time out to teach Ron how to throw a 2-weight rod with
a popper in his bass pond. I worked with him on his longer cast
so he might have a back cast for the following morning. Rich
would not be with us the next morning. He had to cut his three
acres down before it swallowed his house.
The clouds were already there in the morning but not fully
covering the sky. The forecast was for afternoon coverage
and storms but morning time might work. We went out to a
completely calm morning with some visibility problems. The
humidity was up to a million percent to add to the clouds
and no wind. That made the fish about as hard to sneak up
on as possible and then very spooky to lines and fly landings.
The water at the first stop was clear and the fish were there
again. Ron worked them over good and even handled the casts
like a pro. Both the quick shooting techniques Rich showed
him and the longer shots worked well. Rewards were hard to get
out of the fish. I doubt if I could have gotten them to bite
but I did not try and let Ron off the hook. He probably got
20 shots in an hour and a half but late pick ups were the order
of the day. I could see more fish from my higher tower but
putting him on long shots out of his sight range is yet another
trick to be learned over time. Some where in here I had my
teaching credentials handed to me when Ron told me he thought
the clock positions we were calling were for the boat like they
would be in an airplane...not the front angler. I had not
mentioned that basic as a pilot knows how to read a clock.
The second place, where all the fish attacked us the last two
days, was covered by the floating slime. The tides move this
stuff around daily and this was that area's turn to host this
water cleaning weed bank. We did get some shots but by noon
the clouds were about up to the forecast and when we went back
to the clean water of earlier, it was mucked up by the tides
too. We had almost used all twenty bottles of water and neither
of us had to take a leak yet. This is a bad sign for the body.
We were about to start home when Ron asked if I wanted to fish.
He offered to pole around on the way out of the pond we were in.
There was about a quarter of a mile of fishable water in the last
half a mile long run. I offered a couple of words of wisdom and
handed him the push pole and took my place on the front platform.
The boat lurched forward and then slowly in a 180 degree turn away
from "home." I waited and then asked how it was going up back there.
He said something and then when silent. A moment of looking around
and he figured out what had happened. Talk about being focused! We
fussed our way through a couple of little weak holes and switched
headings 90 degrees a couple of times before I asked, "If you had to
take us to the end of the pond could you do it?" He asked back, "Do
you mean today?" Then I told him not only was he suppose to move us
along but also find the fish for me. Quiet was the response again.
I let him get a good sweat up and then stated the fishing was over
and we could motor out now. He let on the pushing was not as easy
as it looked. That little activity was a "guide appreciation" moment.
We never saw a fish during his stint of guiding but we probably looked
like an egg beater to the ones near us.
We thanked Rich and his dad for their hosting and drove home.
The drives over and back were punctuated by stops each way for
darn good BBQ. Ron and I met in 1963 under the pressure of
basic training for our careers flying jets but we have not
seen each other much since then. We never ran out of things
to talk about. Ron took a rod and reel back with him and I
think he has the bug. Of course he lives on a lake with all
sorts of things that can support the habit. As to a new guy
on his first trip...he might be spoiled. It cost me a tens
of thousands of dollars and years to have a day like his first
one. Eight reds in a day represent a good season for most fly
fishermen where I live.
~ Capt Scud Yates (www.eaglExpeditions.com)