You don’t have to look far these days to see an angler standing up in a kayak waving a fly rod around. Back in the day, it was considered weird. These skinny rods were designed for trout in mountain streams, not for stopping heavy snook heading for the mangrove roots.
Well, that was 60 years ago. Now lots of anglers have learned this technique and enjoy the fun of Florida fly fishing. Likewise, fly rods and reels have evolved over the years to handle larger fish like tarpon, redfish, snook and even bluewater species.
Casting a fly rod from a seated position will feel awkward to folks used to wading or walking along a stream or shoreline. Even if your sense of balance allows it, standing is not always recommended in a kayak.
For one thing, while you can see the fish better while standing, they can also see you better with your arm and rod waving around. Just going from sitting to standing will rock the boat and create pressure waves fish can feel. Casting, particularly false casting, will create pressure waves whether seated or standing. You might be able to cast farther when standing, but short casts will work fine when you are quietly seated. Short casts require less energy and generate fewer pressure waves while you’re trying to be stealthy.
We like paddle kayaks, as opposed to pedal, when fly fishing. The pedal mechanisms can get in the way when side casting from a seated position and are an obstruction for the stripped line. We usually put a damp towel in front of the seat for stripped line, which keeps the line cleaner with fewer tangles.
Here are the basics you need to understand about fly casting. Both of us teach fly fishing to kids in Trout Unlimited classes. We find these kids can cast well with less than 20 minutes of instruction and catch fish. If they can, so can you. But there are three things you need to understand.
The first and most important thing to understand is that, unlike spinning or casting tackle, a fly angler is casting the line. You can cast the line without the fly; the fly is just along for the ride. The second critical issue is to be sure the line straightens out in the air on the back cast before bringing the rod tip forward. Just look over your shoulder and watch the line straighten out.
The third crucial consideration is that a flyrod should only arc between 10 and 2 (I hope you’ve seen an analog clock before) when casting. If you take the rod tip to the ground behind or in front of you, the line will land right there too. Ideally, the line and leader will straighten out in the air behind you, then straighten out on the water in front of you with the forward cast. Release the line on the forward cast to “shoot” the line out.
To get more distance on your casts, you’ll need to “haul” during a cast. This refers to pulling on the line with the line control hand at the beginning of the cast. Hauling increases the line speed and loads the rod faster for a forward cast. Pull your line hand down to waist level while you raise your rod tip during the cast. This will automatically give you a haul.
For more line speed, especially when casting a large or heavy fly, a double haul is used. After the line has straightened out behind you, pull the line hand down again as you cast the fly forward. This takes some practice, but once you get the rhythm figured out, your fly will shoot out in a straight line and with more distance than a single haul.
The line is retrieved by stripping. One hand holds the rod with line going between the fingers and thumb and the other holds a loop of line that is then pulled into the kayak in a short or long stripping motion. The line does not go back on the reel between casts but lies between your legs in your kayak, to be released with the next cast.
When you get a strike, you’ll find a flyrod is too limber to set the hook. So you must do this by continuing to point the rod at the fish and “strip striking” — pulling sharply on the line — to set the hook. Once the hook is set, keep the rod parallel to the water and pull in the opposite direction the fish wants to go. Avoid holding the rod over your head as this may break the tip. Reel in any extra line so that you’re using the reel for drag.
We usually search for feeding fish with a spinning rod and jig. Blind casting an 8-weight fly rod all day is tiring. If we get lucky and find feeding fish, we reach for our fly rods because it’s just more fun. Ladyfish and trout are great targets to practice on. Anglers used to rainbow trout will be thoroughly entertained with the high-flying antics of a ladyfish. As your skills develop, redfish and snook will become favorites. Get comfortable fly fishing out on 3- to 6-foot-deep flats before heading towards the mangroves.
Freshwater anglers in Southwest Florida will find largemouth bass and panfish very willing to take a fly. For bass in close quarters, use a shorter leader and popping bug, wooly bugger, or Clouser. For bluegill, try a nymph or spider pattern.
The popping bug, with its concave face that “pops” when jerked, is our favorite. This commotion gets the attention of nearby fish. Be sure and let a popping bug sit motionless for about a minute between pops. If nothing hits after a couple of pops, pick it up and cast it into the next shoreline pocket.
Kimball and Les Beery, authors of the waterproof “Angler’s Guide to Shore Fishing” and “Angler’s Guide to Kayak Fishing Southwest Florida,” contribute these columns to promote the excellent fishing available in Southwest Florida. Their books are available at most tackle shops in the area or at AnglerPocketGuides.com as a download or waterproof hard copy.