For newbies and old hands alike, being properly prepared for a fly fishing travel trip is just a no-brainer. Are you headed to Belize for some permit or bonefish? How about traveling to Argentina for the amazing golden dorado? You may want to travel to Maine to catch a brook trout. Maybe you are here in the Charlotte Harbor area from somewhere else and looking for some action.
We could go on and on with different scenarios, but the point is that each one of these destinations will require somewhat different gear. When I travel, my gear bag usually weighs a ton. If it’s a tropical paradise I’m headed to, a couple pair of shorts and a couple shirts is it for my clothes. But then, the tackle bag may need wheels on it.
For instance, if I’m headed to Belize for bones, then i will probably carry no fewer than five rods in my bag: One each for bonefish, tarpon, snook and permit. Each of these fish presents a different challenge, so having these four rods pre-rigged and ready at hand on the boat will save the day when they show up unexpectedly — which is, of course, the way they usually show up. The fifth rod will be an extra, just in case.
Besides my floating lines, I never travel without intermediate and fast-sinking lines also. Why take a trip and not have something you might need? In most of these destinations, you won’t have the luxury of running to the local fly shop to grab something you forgot or thought you wouldn’t need.
It’s a good plan to bring backup reels and lines for at least for the main rod you’ll be using. Don’t just take spare spools with you. If the frame goes bad or the drag gets fried, a spare spool isn’t going to help you. Lodges and most guides will have gear for you to borrow, but I find it’s better to have my own rods. That way, I can control the type of rod I want with an action that suits me, paired with the line I like, on the reel that I prefer. That way I can also practice with them before I go!
What else do you need to remember? Well, we’re talking about saltwater fishing (Belize, remember?), so let’s stick with some technique tips we have discussed before. Although some of the info will cross over to freshwater trout fishing, that will be another story for another day.
Work to be efficient with your double haul. No, you won’t need it on every cast — but when you do, you’ll be glad you can double haul. There is almost always wind on the flats, and you’re often making a long cast and turning over a heavy fly in seconds. An angler who can quickly, effectively and accurately make the cast will have a better chance at hooking and landing fish.
Saltwater fish are (almost) always moving. The sooner you can get the fly to them without them seeing you or the boat, the better your chances are of catching them. Most people aren’t hauling correctly and they don’t gain line speed in the cast. Sadly, most of them don’t know it. They just know that something is wrong as the cast piles on the water.
Lifting the rod to set the hook instead of using a strip-set is a no-no. This is by far the hardest transition for a trout fisherman to make when he fishes in salt water. It is critical to set the hook by pulling back with the line hand instead of lifting the rod tip.
A big part of the reason is missed strikes. Often the fish will still look for the fly after taking a failed swipe at it. If you strip-set and miss, he will come after the fly again because it stays in front of the fish. When you lift the rod tip, you’ll pull the fly out of the water, or at least a long way from the fish where it might not see it. Also, a rod lift won’t set the hook properly in the tough mouths of many of these saltwater fish.
Line control is very important Be aware of your line at all times in the boat. Don’t stand on it or in it, and make sure it hasn’t fallen outside the boat (which will result in it soon being under the boat). Any of these situations will result in lost time in getting the cast in the air and probably a missed opportunity.
When you get to the first flat, after the guide turns off the motor and you get up on deck, pull plenty of line off the reel, make a comfortably long cast, and strip in the line. This will do three things: It will give the guide an indication of your casting abilities, which will help him position you to the fish. You will have enough line pulled off the reel to make a cast to a fish. By stripping the line back in, you will have the line on top of the pile that is going to be used first when you start casting and shooting line. Otherwise, the line that you need on top to go out first will be on the bottom, leading to tangles as it comes off the floor.
Work with your guide. Know the clock positions on the bow of the boat — 12 o’clock is dead ahead, 3 o’clock 90 degrees to the right, 9 o’clock 90 degrees to the left. Communicate with him or her. If they call out a fish at 1 o’clock at 60 feet, tell them you whether you see it. Have the cast ready to air out as you find the fish. All guides want you to catch fish, and we will all do our best to get you on them. Just be ready and listen to the instruction given, and everyone will have a good day.
Cover up for the sun. With everything we know today about the sun, it amazes me when anglers don’t protect themselves properly, especially when you take into consideration the reflection element of the sun on the water. There is no excuse for sunburn today. We have comfortable tropical clothing, buffs, hats, sun gloves, sunscreen up to 100 SPF and great sunglasses. There is almost nothing more uncomfortable than sunburn, but it’s so easy to prevent. Cover up, use the sunscreen on any bare skin, and reapply often.
Don’t forget proper footwear. Sometimes you don’t need anything. There are lots of flats in the Bahamas where you can wade all day barefoot — but try it at Christmas Island or Los Roques, and you’ll be in for a big surprise. There are many places where good hard-soled wading boots are necessary. In Los Roques, anglers walk a lot in a day often through coral and shells. How about the oyster beds, stingrays and mantis shrimp around Charlotte Harbor?
Careful preparation allows us to have more carefree fun on our fishing trips. Yes, it means doing a little homework and contingency planning, but you know what? When you’re out on the water and having the time of your life, you’ll agree it was worth it.
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 BocaGrandeSlamFlyFishing.com or CastWithRex.com.