My friend Jay booked me for a trip yesterday to try and catch a redfish or two. Jay has come to several of my casting clinics and always has good questions to ask about the sport of fly fishing and “how to’s” about casting. He listens to my answers and tries to apply them to his practice sessions and fishing expeditions as much as possible, and I’m proud to see the progress he has made.
He is still trying to put aside the spinning rod for good and cross over from the dark side completely. He had told me on the phone that he had yet to catch a redfish on a fly and really wanted to try and get that done. The first thing he did when he met me at the ramp was to hand me a new stainless steel Tervis water bottle with a redfish design on it. Nice! Is this a hint? So that’s what we set out to do in an all-day trip: Catch a redfish.
We started out seeing very few reds, and the ones we did see never gave us a chance at a shot. We did however; see hundreds of snook — and some big ones, too. After Jay got warmed up a little bit with his casting, he started making some better presentations in between some epic casting faux pas.
Now some of these casts he made were great and totally deserved to be eaten. But the snook, for some reason, had something else on their minds. Since the winds have finally laid down, the water has cleared and become like looking through a glass of gin. It’s beautiful. This is what we want for sight fishing, right?
But remember, when you can see them that well, they can also see you, and this water was also very skinny. We were supposed to be looking for reds, so why cast at snook? I asked Jay that question, and he grinned and said, “I’m not going to pass up the chance. Look at all these fish!” I just laughed and kept poling.
Jay’s casts were a consistent 45 to 50 feet (not bad), but with tailing loops every other cast. I had kept quiet as long as I could. While I sat down to rebuild his leader after cutting out the wind knots, I asked him if he was satisfied with his casting. “How do I get rid of the wind knots?” he asked. I said “That’s the right question,” I replied with a big smile.
I explained that if he would wait on his back cast a little longer (to straighten out) then accelerate smoothly and reach out to his stop on the forward cast, he would gain 5 to 10 feet in distance and lose the tailing loop. I talked him through the next few casts and he was able to apply the lesson. Now I had to back off the mangroves because he was throwing 60 feet without a tailing loop. He was ecstatic, and so was I. Now, to find a fish that will eat!
We kept spotting both reds and snook, but even though Jay was casting further his accuracy was inconsistent. I was now having to pole into the mangroves to retrieve flies. He was also “lining” fish, and of course they were blowing out. He was a little frustrated, but I told him that it was a good problem to have.
Once you’re throwing nice loops with better distance, just control the line. Don’t totally release the line when you shoot your cast. Let it slide through your left hand and then close your hand to stop it when you need to stop that cast.
He kept working on all these new suggestions, alternately getting it and blowing it. In the meantime, I had spotted a small school of redfish in a large sandhole 200 feet away. I told him to stop casting and to keep his rod down so as not to spook them as I poled us into position.
I gave him instructions as we approached: Keep the rod low to make your cast. Don’t rock the boat. If you miss with your cast, miss short and don’t do anything stupid. Of course, at that he turned and muttered something we can’t print here.
So here we go: Rod straight up, five false casts, boat rockin’ — and the fish leave. “That was stupid,” he said. I agreed. You’re going to get another chance at those fish. I told him to get all set as I swung us back around out of the way. They will come back to that hole. They want to be there. I’m not sure if he believed me or not.
After a 15-minute swing around and getting the boat repositioned, I gave him new instructions. “When I tell you,” I said, “I want you to throw as long a cast as you can into the hole and don’t move it. Don’t rock the boat, and keep your rod low.” “And don’t do anything stupid,” he said. I just laughed and said he’d do fine.
I could see the fish making their way back to the hole, so I told him to make his long cast. He did. “Very nice,” I said, “now don’t move it and let the fish come to it. I’ll let you know when.” The fish started back in the hole. He couldn’t believe it. Be patient, I said.
As the fish got about five feet away, I told him to start a slow retrieve. The third fish in the pack saw it, came over and sucked it in — strip set — fish on! He fought the fish very well. He took his time with good pressure, and a 24-inch red came to the boat. A quick pic, a safe release, a fist bump and there it is: First redfish on a fly.
Jay was really excited about the day. He talked about all he learned, and how it all started to make sense. “I loved the hunt and sight casting to the fish,” he said. “Today was a success before I caught the fish, but that one fish was a great bonus! My redfish on the 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 BocaGrandeSlamFlyFishing.com or CastWithRex.com.