Flyfishermen are an introspective bunch, tending to philosophize a little more than our other fishing brethren. We like to catch big fish and high five about it, but we also like to talk about WHY we fish. I figure that is mostly because it's something we ask ourselves often as we are picking another tangle out, or standing waist deep in frigid and/or shark infested water.
That being said, there are also physical and mental attributes that make a fly fisherman respected among his peers. A few days ago I read a post on Chi Wulff where a list of "reasonable fly fisher skills" for his area was laid out. I thought it was well done and it got me to thinking about what would pass for a good list in my area. Saltwater fly fishers have to deal with a different set of obstacles than coldwater fisherman, arguably separate but equal.
At any rate, I started thinking about what made a respectable salty fly guy/gal, and started asking a few of my more crusty friends for some input. Some were more tongue-in-cheek than others. This is a shortened list of what we came up with
Tell by looking out at the roadside palm trees in the glow of the streetlight roughly how fast the wind is blowing.
Be able to tell the difference between the wake pushed by a mullet and that of a redfish or black drum.
Know that terns always lie, but gulls can lead you to treasure.
Be able to filter the sounds of jumping mullet from the sounds of bait being crashed.
Fully load the vehicle and have kayak strapped on top, in the dark, in ten minutes.
Spot a tailing redfish from over two hundred yards on a good day, from over 50 on a bad one.
Knows where the most sheltered spots are to get away from the wind, but generally only fishes those on days over 20kts.
Must be able to two-handed strip at warp speed to trigger mackerel and other pelagic species.
Must be as comfortable laying in a back cast as a forward cast on target.
Be able to maintain relative composure as a fish bigger than your duck dog approaches your fly.
Not locking up when a red/bone/permit/tarpon suddenly appears less than 30' from the boat.
Effectively pole a boat with and into the wind all day, positioning the caster for best shot on fish.
Know how to interpret tide chart and mentally calculate the difference in water movement for local area you plan to fish.
Navigate labyrinth marsh and marl while neither running aground or putting others in danger.
Be able to wade with ninja-like stealth while avoiding the mine field of oyster shell and stingrays.
Turn over a fly at 60' into a 20kt wind.
Cannot drive by hobby stores without wondering if they might have gotten any new foam or tinsel in...
Willing to endure withering wind and endless staring at empty water to hook the silver king from the granite of the jetty.
This year was one for my personal recordbooks. I had many things happen that I had planned on, such as the successful one year anniversary of my blog. I had things happen that I had hoped for, such as a succession of calm, flat days offshore that were ripe for chasing big pelagic fish. And then of course I had the things that I never dreamt of, such as my stunner of a lake trout experience. Grab your preferred adult beverage, and let's think back... waaaay back...
Early in 2013, I had the chance to go try and find some redfish and/or speckled trout with a good buddy of mine. We didn’t expect much, knowing that cold waters would have the fish lethargic and deep water blind casting would be the name of the game. Boring, yes, but better than not trying at all. So we chunked fuzz in the deepwater pockets and drifted promising edges, but we might as well have stayed home it seemed. Then, on impulse, we scouted some new water over the figurative and literal hill, and hit red-gold. Boom, said the tailing redfish....continue reading "The Salt396 Guide to 2013"
When rigging for the flats, it’s more a question of knowing how to deal with the current situation than anything else. For many flats fly fishers, the prepackaged tapered leaders made by many manufacturers are their go-to, and that often works just fine. They're hard to beat for convenience.
Personally I like to make my own leaders, mostly because I think I can do it just as well for less cost. Like most guys that roll their own leaders, I like to start with a heavy butt section. This allows for efficient transfer of energy from the flyline to the leader. I generally go with a 30-20-12 progression in pound test if I am expecting to be casting to tailing or cruising fish (reds, drum, trout) on the flat.
The typical leader I will use on the flats is around 9-10', but I have gone up to 14-15' in super clear water. Longer leaders/tippets become necessary on highly spooky/pressured fish, or when hunting the big sow speckled trout that will prowl the shallows from time to time. Windy conditions call for shorter, stouter leaders; something like an 8-9' leader of 50-30-20 or 40-20. When facing windy conditions, the heavier tippet turns over bulky, air-resistant flies a little better and can withstand the occasional windknot. This same configuration is what I will use when I am searching for fish with topwaters or sliders - the more casts you make, the more likely that you will eventually put a windknot in the line.The last thing you want to do is come tight on a good red after a crashing eat and have that tippet pop - ping! Don' ask me how I know this.
When I'm actually walking the flats, I will generally carry a small roll of 12-14lb tippet material, in case I need to refresh my tippet or I have some sort of catastrophic failure happen to my leader. Being unprepared for that when you're several hundred yards from the boat or truck is not something that you want to do to yourself. Don't ask me how I know. Just trust me when I say:
Most high-end flylines these days come with a loop already formed at the terminal ends of the line. There are people who believe that you should fashion your own loops – if you’re one of those people then you probably already have a favorite method.
When was the last time you went barefoot outdoors for an extended time? Maybe it was for a bit of grilling on the back deck, or strolling the beach. Good for you, I’d say. We spend so much time with our feet cooped up in shoes that any time spent barefoot is time well spent.
People who know me well will tell you that I spend plenty of time barefoot, even walking on the egg-cooking concrete of my local Texas sidewalks during summer. I sincerely enjoy the feeling of being barefoot, and I am willing to endure a few sand burrs for the pleasure.
With all that said, you won’t be surprised to learn I also love to wade barefoot. In fact, I have previously mentioned it in this blog post, in case you missed out.
I really love the feel of the sediments under my feet and between my toes. It’s very different than the normal wading experience, and it can make you far more stealthy than wading with footgear..
As I jot this story note on my smart phone, the water at the end of the jetty is a roiled, sandy mess. Wind is kicking up past 20mph, and the wind-generated swell is sloshing over the windward rocks with more than enough force to render line management a nightmare. There is so much sediment in the water that even the foam on the waves is tan.
The leeward side is a little better – patchy blue, much more calm – but I’ve been here 45 minutes and haven’t even wet a line. Haven’t seen a reason to. No bait flipping around, no swirls, no rolls, no greyhounding mackerel… just nothing. Might as well be sitting at a stoplight in town for all the fish activity I am seeing.
That’s the jetty though; feast or famine, with little margin between.
Yet, still I come back. Even now I’m glancing up every couple sentences, deliberating my next words while scanning for a glimpse that things around about to change. Because they do change out here – that’s the only thing predictable, the change. I’ve seen a dead day like today go from zero to a million miles an hour in less than thirty minutes. Tide change, pockets of green water, a raft of mullet moving in from down the beach or offshore, and suddenly there are chunks of mullet flying around as jacks harass and kings destroy. A school of tarpon could pop up, or a log could float in with a ling or tripletail hanging under it.
I have seen all these things happen before, and they could all happen today. But they probably won’t, so I’m about to stand and stretch some life back into my legs, get off this tall rock, and head in.
Win some, but lose more – those are the rules of the jetty.
The jetty is a place both forbidding and misunderstood. A pile of granite is as alien to the beach landscape as a skyscraper rising suddenly from a Kansas wheat field. What some people don’t think about is that a jetty is just a metaphor for human defiance of nature. Without those huge chunks of pink igneous rock, the ocean would quickly silt in the pass and shipping commerce would literally grind to a halt. Thousands of tons of granite are splashed into position, jostling and settling into their sandy resting place. Then, unexpectedly but inexorably, ...continue reading "Jetty on the Fly: An Intro to the Intro"
It is only in sorrow bad weather masters us; in joy we face the storm and defy it. Amelia Barr
One of the most consistently true fishing-isms I've heard living here on the coast has been "If you wait for a day when the wind isn't blowing to go fish, you'll never go."
Weather just means more to a fisherman, especially a fly fisherman. We live and die, thrill and cry as the wind wills it. So many times an errant wind gust has caught the perfect cast midway to a fish and slammed it to the water like a bad Dikembe Mutombo commercial.
This is when practice and mental toughness come into play. Can you overcome adversity? Are you disciplined, stubborn, and just downright determined to get out there and catch a fish on fly even when you know it would be much easier to turn to conventional tackle?
Then you, my brother or sister, are a special kind of crazy. It's nice to meet another one of us - welcome to the show.
Spray sprinkled over his back, trickling in slow, salty rivulets. The windward side of the jetty surprised another wave, who had not heard about the granite tribute to human shipping and transport. Swirling water drove full force into the slimy, barnacle-speckled rock; the misty remnants arched across the jetty, driven by the stiff onshore breeze.
Perched on the farthest leeward jut of rock that could be reached, he swept a polarized gaze across the green water, watching for a sign. The shirt he wore rattled in the wind; what had started as a rich olive had faded to almost tan, sweat stained and sun-bleached from uncounted days in the heat. A beat up ball cap, sunglasses, and tarpon scaled buff shaded face and neck. His right hand gripped the worn cork of a 10wt – his left hand held the 80lb bite tippet, while the big baitfish fly swung loosely, waiting. A homemade stripping basket sat low on his hips, holding the coils of line he had stripped from the reel in preparation of a cast.
Rolling his shoulders against the ache of casting all morning, he glanced at the sun. Tide should be dropping anytime now. Fishing the incoming tide in the morning hadn’t produced, against all expectations. Now it was near noon, and the fisherman wasn’t nearly as confident.
The rocks shielded the area in front of him from the worst of the waves. In this relative calm, the water was dark with shifting clouds of small baitfish. A cruising school of larger mullet some distance from the rocks suddenly scattered, throwing roostertails of water into the air.
The random bait movement of slack tide started to change, and nervous water told the angler that predators were on the move. First randomly, then concertedly, Spanish mackerel began slashing through the rafts of mullet. The fisherman watched with slight interest, but did not cast. He had caught plenty of the small predators; today was about bigger game.
The man waited for what followed the s’macks, and what followed them was the stuff of baitfish nightmare.
Razor-lined jaws agape, the king mackerel lifted effortlessly from the water, leaving behind a bloody path of rent flesh and dying mullet. Death stalked among them and took freely. First one, then three, then suddenly a dozen kings were skyrocketing from beneath the mullet which scattered and panicked to no avail.
The first skyrocket was well beyond casting range, but the angler smiled. Showtime. Rolling his shoulders again, he turned and gauged the wind speed and direction, choosing his window of best casting space. Tossing the fly up into the breeze, he began the rhythm of the double haul. Straight into the wind he punched his forward cast, and on his back stroke he finished high and allowed the line to shoot.
And shoot it did.
The wind grabbed onto the sailing fly like a new toy, wrenching it through the air. The fly line dutifully followed, zipping up out of the stripping basket like slurped spaghetti. The line hissed where it contacted the guides and pinged tight against the arbor of the reel when it could fly no further.
The fly rolled over and landed with a slap in the nervous pod of big mullet. Darting, they slid away, then slowed. Twitch… twitch… the big fly undulated, shimmering, and then dropped again slowly. Drifting. Dying. Then another strip. Slowly, the fisherman worked the fly back.
Stripping basket full, the slender piece of graphite flexes deeply to overcome the headwind. Haul, slip line, haul and let ‘er go… hisssss-ping. Sinking, dying, undulating…
Suddenly the mullet go everywhere; the angler finds himself looking up at a king that seems to be lifting off. A glittering silver missile nearly 5 feet long, reaching altitude and leveling off a good twelve feet above the water before reentering with hardly a dimple.
The angler thought he heard someone gasp behind him, but he was intent on the water and the slow cadence of the strip. Strip, twitch, dying… and gone. Vanished in the middle of a swirl the size of a Volkswagen.
The line ripped through his fingers, burning deep lines in his skin; he swore and jerked his hand back. The reel screamed; a high, buzzing whine that intoxicated the angler’s senses and threw his adrenaline into over-drive.
Backing zinged through the guides; after many long seconds he dared start to palm the reel. He could feel the headshakes thrum thrumming back down the line, and the fish slowed. Sensing weakness, the fisherman really put the brakes on. He planned to try and release this fish; if given the chance the big king would fight to the death.
Cranking down on the drag, he began to pump the fish back to the rocks. Another short run; the king mack was spent. Quickly calculating the safest spot to land the fish, the angler gingerly made his way out on the slick rock. Leading the fish by in front of him, he grabbed the mackerel’s tail and popped the hook from the formidable jaws.
Suddenly a shadow fell over the water; looking up, the angler saw a nice looking family gazing somewhat incredulously at his catch, with a little girl clinging wide-eyed to her father.
Knowing he had no time to lose, the fisherman quickly began moving the king back and forth through the water, hoping for signs of recovery. The mack twitched and flexed, causing iridescent colors to play in a ripple down its flank. Gradually, the fish seemed to grow stronger. While the king revived, the man chatted with the parents. They asked about the catch and fly fishing, and the fish grew stronger and swam away well.
One satisfied angler.
The father asked what kind of fly the fish ate. The man replied that he hadn't named it yet, but after a fight like that it deserved a name.
He grabbed the bedraggled remains of the once proud fly and showed it to the little girl.
"What would you name it?"
She looked at it with serious brown eyes, considering. Decision reached.
“Cookie Monster.” she said.
Taking a look at the forlorn, shredded blue tuft of fuzz with its one remaining eye, he laughed.
“Cookie Monster it is, little miss.”
Saying goodbye to the family, he began back down the jetty toward land. The tide was still moving but he’d caught his fish.
Back at the truck, he turned the fly over and over in his hand, remembering the magnificent mackerel. An old book from childhood popped into his mind… If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.
The story goes that if you give a mouse a cookie, he’ll start making all kinds of demands and the moral is to never give a mouse a cookie.
The moral of this story? If you give a king a cookie, he’ll want to take all of your backing, break your rod, smoke your reel, and ruin your fly… But I bet you’ll be okay with that.
After we made it off the rocks and slumped, dripping, in the relative warmth of Don's truck, we had to laugh. Something about experiencing the rawness of nature and emerging safely always brings a smile to my face, a reminder of the unpredictability of my chosen passion. Take it each day at a time and live thoroughly.
We took some time to clean up and dry out, grabbed some food and made the decision to head over to The Salty Fly Shop in Port Isabel, owned by Larry Haines. Larry is famous for developing one of the most realistic shrimp flies around - the Haine's Supreme Hair Shrimp.
After stopping in and chatting a while, Larry gave us some very good tips on understanding snook behavior and suggested a few places we might like to try. It seemed that a moving tide was the key - without moving water the fish were lethargic and nearly impossible to catch.
The tide charts indicated we should be fishing and not standing around talking about it, so we thanked Larry and headed out.
First stop - South Bay. This was our first time fishing the fabled bay, and we were raring to go. After making our way there via kayak, we got down to the business of finding fish. When looking over a new patch of water for the first time, it can be intimidating. Gathering as much info as you can prior to your trip can be really helpful - we had a rough idea of where to go and what to look for. We slowly paddled along, eyes wide and ears open for the sights and sounds of feeding fish.
The squall we had gotten caught in that morning had roiled up the water so that sight fishing was difficult. Don decided to post up in a likely location and fan cast while I crept down a shoreline, sitting sideways in the kayak and crabwalking. The wind was blowing around 15 which made it hard for me to stand and pole, so I used it to my advantage to keep the boat close to the mangroves and other shoreline cover.
Using a topwater as a search fly, I covered every bit of structure I could see, hitting potholes, oyster piles, mangrove tangles, dropoffs and drains.
Nothing. Not even a piggy perch rise.
And then the tails started popping up - first, way down the shoreline. Then suddenly, all around me. Silvery grey like black drum, but not shaped right. I eased close to one, and found myself looking at the vertical black-and-white bars of a sheepshead. I'm telling all you sheepie hunters out there - you want a shot at a sheepshead on the fly, South Bay is the place to go find them. I saw hundreds of fish.
I could have stopped and fished for them but sometimes one has to make the decision to ignore fish to find fish. I continued my way down the shoreline, trying not to bump my boat into oyster patches and casting as I went. After a half mile of this I decided to post up on a grassy point and wait to see if I could find any activity. Resting in the grass, I watched dozens of sheepshead and mullet swim by in the green tea colored water.
I had been watching a wall of clouds far to our south, so I decided to pull out the phone and check the radar to get an idea of what was coming.
Yeah. It was time to go. We battled our way back across the increasingly windswept bay to the launch, and arrived mere minutes in front of the approaching squall.
Time to go meet the boys at the house and see the cast of characters we'd be fishing with for the next few days.