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.

Ron Verses the Red Fish

By Captain Scud Yates, Fort Walton Beach, Florida

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 to prepare.

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 were interesting.

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.

Rons First

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.

A bigger one

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 humidity.

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.

Rich too

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) June 2007

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