first fish

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With this as his first fish, this guy is ruined for life.

While our fishing here in Southwest Florida has been excellent lately, I have been giving as many casting lessons as I have been doing guided trips. That works for me. I love helping a beginner learn the basics of the cast, and tweaking the cast of someone more experienced to push them over the hump of complacency.

I have worked with a couple of different groups also — people who were bound and determined to make it on trips previously booked before the “COVID takeover.” The first group is made up of five doctors from Sarasota planning on keeping a scheduled trip to the Bighorn River in Montana. What a diverse group of characters and personalities these guys are — and they are all at different levels of casting experience and fishing ability.

I got the call from their ringleader, Lee. He was wanting a lesson for his buddy Ash (a back surgeon) who had never even fished before, much less fly fished. “No problem; how long do we have before you leave?” I asked. “Just over a week” Lee said quietly. He told me that Al Hurxthal (one of owners of Economy Tackle in Sarasota) told him I was the best. Then he said he didn’t need any help (red flag!), and if I could just give Ash an idea of the basics, it would really help.

Well, as it turned out, the other three doctors (Duncan, Chris and John) found out that Lee and Ash were getting a lesson and didn’t want them having the edge on the water. So they all booked lessons on different days. Duncan even wanted spey and switch cast lessons.

We can all stand a tune-up once in a while, and these guys were no exception (even Lee). While I was giving Doc Ash his crash course, I watched Lee working very hard to make a 50-foot cast. I left Ash to practice and asked Lee if he’d like a tip. Sure, he said. I explained to him about keeping the rod in plane and the timing of his haul. Suddenly he was making an easy 60-foot cast — and on target.

He was amazed. “I have fly fished 40 years, been on countless guided trips and taken other lessons, and nobody ever told or showed me that before,” he said. “You watched me for five minutes and corrected a 40-year-old fault. It makes sense now!” Sometimes that’s all it takes.

I covered everything from roll casting and overhead to mending, and even went over hooking and landing fish (which I have drills for) in the short time frame we had. Ash videoed everything so he could watch and practice on his own in between surgeries ... no, really.

All five of these guys learned something and enjoyed every minute of it, and so did I. I haven’t heard all of the stories yet, but I do know they all had a great trip (except for airline booking nightmares) and caught fish — even Ash. Evidently his first fish ever was a 20-inch brown trout on a fly on The Big Horn River. Nice beginner’s luck, rookie!

The second group was just two buddies who grew up fishing right here in Southwest Florida. Rob and Ryan have fished all their lives (very successfully, I might add) but never fly fished. They had booked a trip to a bonefish resort on Acklins Island in the Bahamas. They bought their gear then booked me for lessons — five months in advance. Now we’re talking!

Rob and Ryan made a pact with each other to catch bonefish and whatever else came along on that trip using only a fly rod. As the two of them found out, it was hard to change the muscle memory from many years of casting a spinning rod. But we had time.

They were very excited at first, but I could also see that hint of doubt in their eyes. After the second lesson, they said they were planning to take their spinning rods “for backup.” I told them to leave them at home, that I would have them read,y and that they should have confidence and not wuss out. After all, they knew how to fish, they just had to learn to deliver the fly.

We got together at least once a month, and I went over every detail with them: Casting mechanics, fishing techniques, casting in wind, what to pack for the trip. Ryan missed a couple sessions due to work, but Rob really worked hard and practiced a lot in between lessons. On the first day of their trip, I received pictures of both of them holding bonefish looking quite happy and proud of themselves. Who wouldn’t be? That’s awesome!

To answer a question that I get quite often, do you really need to take casting lessons before your trip? Absolutely not. But you will probably find that a lesson or two will make it much more enjoyable for you, your buddies and your guide, if you hire one.

If you don’t have a chance to go the Bahamas for bonefish or to Montana for trout, the local fishing has been great, with tarpon, reds, snook and all of the usual players joining in. Grab a rod and go fish, and remember …

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 BocaGrandeSlamFlyFishing.com or CastWithRex.com.

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.

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