mackerel fly

Photo provided

Mackerel make excellent training fish for beginner and intermediate saltwater fly fishermen.

The fishing has gone crazy with the warmer temperatures and the migration of bait coming into the Harbor. Schools of bait are everywhere, and there seem to be predatory fish on almost every school. This is a great time to get kids, beginners and intermediate fly fishers out on the water. With bites coming fast and furious, it’s an opportunity for the less experienced fisherman to work on some important techniques. Let me give you a few examples.

Casting is, of course, the most important aspect of fly fishing to practice. But you don’t need fish for that — you can practice it on the lawn at home any time. If you can throw a pile of line and fly 30 feet from the boat, you are able to work on a couple things on the water.

First off, you need to get good at stripping. No, we’re not removing any pieces of clothing to loud raunchy music — we’re just moving the fly. After you make a cast, the line must be controlled up under a finger (or fingers) on the rod hand. From this point, strip the fly by pulling the line back toward your body through the fingers with the opposite hand, (making the line outside the rod tip shorter).

I know for many of you this may sound very trite and remedial, but quite often I have people on my boat who say they have “fly fished for years” — but they have no idea that they need to move the fly or how to do it. Just last week, I had two trout fisherman from New York who had trouble with this very thing. Don would make a nice short cast, 30 to 40 feet, then mend his line (we were drifting so the line would bow). And then he’d just wait, staring down the line.

I laughed and asked him if he was tired. “No, why?” Dude, ya gotta move the fly! I did a quick demo and explained the process, and hooked a nice mackerel in so doing. Don and his buddy Greg went to work, trying out their new stripping skills.

It was working. I would see the lines jump as the fish hit the flies — but then the rodtips would immediately go straight up in the air, and no fish would be hooked. OK, guys, it’s time for another demo. Let’s work on the “strip set.”

First I explained it to them. As you fish the fly back and feel a take, leave the rodtip down and just make a harder quick strip. If you don’t feel the fish, just resume stripping as normal until the next take. Raising the rodtip (we call that a trout-set) is a hard habit to break, but in saltwater fly fishing it’s a must.

In fresh or salt water, if you are fishing any kind of streamer pattern, leave the rodtip down until you feel the weight of the fish after strip setting. Then and only then raise the rod tip a little. If you get a hit and then immediately raise the tip of the rod, you have now moved the fly completely out of the fish’s line of sight. He’s swimming around wondering where his dinner went!

Leaving the rodtip down will make you much more productive. It will also save you the time and trouble of recasting so often. Having to recast will just give you more chances of spooking fish or tangling fly and line.

Now let’s move on to another client. Steve has been fishing with me for several years now, and he’s a great guy to spend a day on the boat with. Steve has really improved his casting and fishing techniques during our time fishing together. He has worked on his casting to the point that he can cast equally well with either hand, which gives him a big advantage in certain scenarios with wind and having a fish show up on his backhand side. But still, he’s one of these guys that has a dark cloud hanging over his head when it comes to catching fish.

We put an end to that this week. With the Harbor alive with bait and busting fish, we spent the first couple hours running from blitz to blitz casting a 6 weight. You could see that cloud just dissipate from hanging over his head. I don’t have a clue how many fish he caught. I do remember they were all on the big side for schoolies. Five- and 6-pound jacks burning off line and bending that 6 weight in half. Ladyfish up to 24 inches jumping and fighting like little tarpon. Mackerel up to 27 inches smoked that little 6 weight reel, then stayed in the cooler to later be smoked themselves for fish dip.

When the bite slowed down, I sat him on the cooler to catch his breath and have a drink as I pointed the boat toward the backcountry.

The tide had come in enough to allow me to navigate the skiff to almost anywhere I wanted to go. As I sat the boat down in a sandhole and picked up the pushpole, Steve said maybe he should quit while still on a “fish-catching high.” I told him that we’d catch some snook and a couple of reds, then on the way back to the ramp we’d catch a trout or two to give us a slam. I reminded him to relax on the casts when we spotted the fish and continue to strip set just like he had all morning.

Except for trout-setting on a couple of nice snook and casting right on the tail of a 30-inch red, Steve did very well and landed several snook to 23 inches. He landed a nice little redfish and leadered one that got away at the boat. Of course, he said it counted and that it was my fault it got away. I said, “Let’s head for the dock; you’ve done enough damage for today.”

Off we went. About halfway back, he yelled “What about my trout? I want my slam!” I love it. The dark cloud was gone and he was anxious to finish off the day with a couple more fish. I sat the boat down on a nice little grassflat. He caught two trout and was ready to head in. I said he had one slam, he said he had two.

Fishing is great right now, don’t miss out on some great “catching practice” while the action is hot.

Stay fly.

Capt. Rex Gudgel is a fly fishing guide in the Boca Grande area and an International Federation of Fly Fishers Master Certified casting instructor. If you’d like to get casting lessons, book a trip or just need more fly fishing info, contact him at 706-254-3504 or visit or

Capt. Rex Gudgel is a fly fishing guide in the Boca Grande area and an International Federation of Fly Fishers Master Certified casting instructor. If you’d like to get casting lessons, book a trip or just need more fly fishing info, contact him at 706-254-3504 or visit or


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