By Jerry Audet
In this installment of the "Fly25" In-Pursuit series, I am taking a look at a simple fishing philosophy: you can't will fish to hit your lure/plug/fly. We don't get to dictate to the fish. If you always remember, this you will be much better off as an angler.
The last few weeks I have been fishing a spot because I like it. It is easy to get to. It's beautiful. The water is relatively warmer than other spots. I get to swim in the ocean. These are things that I WANT to do.
However, it's also far along the Striper migration pathway. It doesn't usually fish well until at least the beginning of June. And as a result, I haven't been catching many fish.
I've been mulling over the idea that you can't "will" fish into hitting, and that "hoping" fish will do something that you want them to do is the absolutely wrong way to think about fishing.
Instead, we need to meet the fish on THEIR terms. They dictate to us; not the other way around. But until last night, I didn't feel I had a great explanation for these thoughts. But, this all came together last night when I got skunked again, and it really gelled for me that I was simply hoping the fish would be there- but not for the right reasons.
So in this video, I talk a bit about this concept. This applies to ALL fishing- not just surf fishing. Maybe an easy and simple concept, but something we need to constantly remind ourselves to do.
By Jerry Audet
As you'll hear in this post, I'm not always the bravest surf fisherman out there. Although, some might actually call me "smart" or "cautious". I feel that given the short-comings of the fly rod, I need to figure out ways to get myself as close as possible to areas where big fish are known to "hang out". As I put rather strongly in this video, casting distance is always an issue with the fly rod, and to overcome this I need to swim further. While I swim rather regularly (3-4 days a week) for short distances with my plugging rod, I have yet to undertake the kind of swims I'm talking about in this video.
And let's face it, swimming at night in the ocean in any kind of current is pretty "exciting". Or, nerve-wracking, depending on your point of view.
In this video, I'll talk to you about a lot of things, but primarily my surf belt and the limited gear I'll be taking with me on my long swim. Enjoy!
By Jerry Audet
By Jerry Audet
I think as we continue to write and talk about these “In Pursuit” series you’re going to hear a lot of similar themes and sub-themes. In fact, as Dave and I work on these and discuss them before and after posting, we often realize we’re even having pretty significant impacts on each other.
I have been thinking a lot about “commitment”- a theme that Dave has hit on several times in his posts. It can be called a lot of things- dedication, obsession, sticking it out, determination, being insane…whatever. And as a philosophy it’s the most important aspect of hunting, and being successful in, big fish. I do not feel there is a lot of room for debate with this. It’s pretty much fact.
However, there’s another aspect of commitment that I think is also very important. I think it’s probably slightly less so than mental commitment, and I’ll get to that, but still very important. This might be a little controversial of a post, but I think it needs to be said.
Physical commitment: I think it’s something we know, but sometimes don’t want to admit. I think it’s often something we don’t want to talk about. It’s uncomfortable, because it makes us look at our weaknesses. Our physical weaknesses.
I want to make this extremely clear up front- I am NOT trying to chastise or shame anyone. Everyone is free to be how and who they want, both as a person and as a fisherman/woman. This post is my opinion. It is one aspect of how I am successful in how I fish.
However, I will say I often get the same reaction to my discussion of this topic. It usually goes something like this:
“Wow, you fish really hard. How do you do it? I just can’t.”
To which I reply “I work really hard in the offseason. I run a lot, bike, ski, and do strength training. I have built up a base of fitness over almost two decades that allows me to “push through”. I eat healthy and try to keep my weight down. Sleep is always an issue, but when I’m not fishing, I take that seriously too.”
The response is almost always the same, averting their eyes they say something like “I just can’t do that. You’re lucky.”
Or, if they don’t say “lucky” they’ll say “young” or some version of that.
Trust me, there’s no luck in this...Ok, ok, that’s not exactly true, my parents are still both good athletes (although they came to it later in life in their mid-40’s), and my sister is an outstanding cross-fit and weightlifting athlete, so I do have good genetics. However, I was also a chunky kid (husky pants and all) and I have to be careful about my diet, regardless of how much I work out. I’m not “blessed”, I just work really damn hard. People who know me well, know that I spend a lot of time working hard to be fit.
I used to do all my exercise and training for other reasons besides fishing, of which I will not get into here- and not all were because I enjoyed exercise. In fact, I often still don’t feel like going out and running when it’s 20 degrees in January, and I really (really) don’t enjoy doing weights inside my house or at a gym. I hate working out inside. And you will never, ever find me on a treadmill. Or the “dreadmill” as I call it. But, I try very hard to stick to my exercise plan each day, week, and month during the “off season”. In my opinion, it’s got to be done.
Because it allows me to fish longer, harder, and more days in a row without breaking down physically. I can go further to access spots that would be out of reach, physically, since I am relatively fit. I can throw huge plugs for 5 or 6 nights in a row, for 6 straight months, without hurting my shoulders, back or elbows. And, while this may have mattered less when the fishery was good, I think it’s becoming more and more important in this current “lack of fish” climate. You have to go further, harder, and longer to get good fish. And with access seemingly drying up as well, we’re in a “double punch” scenario. You either chose to fish the same handful of spots everyone else can (which is a topic for another time) or you figure out creative ways to access quality areas. For me, this often results in parking further away and utilizing my legs.
In fact, my best nights from last year (and the year prior) have been from spots that take at least 40 minutes of biking or walking (or a combination) before I can even begin to fish. Being fit and not balking at an hours of “investment” before I even fish has allowed me to find “secret” spots and fish areas that are (I believe) either not fished or very under-fished. In fact, two of my spots I’ve been fishing for a long time now and have yet to see a single angler!
This makes them mine, and I genuinely feel it has helped with my productivity. I think, perhaps, I’m even into fish at one of the spots that are residents that perhaps don’t even see as many lures during the season and as such are more willing to make a mistake in taking mine. I admit this is a relatively shaky theory, and I wouldn’t want to debate it with Dave, but it’s interesting how well I will do from this spot while anglers in adjacent areas lament about how there’s no fish.
Being strong, and especially having good endurance, is critical to all of this. I think many hardcore anglers downplay how hard they work. I know “Crazy” Alberto has talked about this openly before, and written about it, as has DJ Muller, so I’m not the only one and this is not an original idea. However, I think it’s harder to be honest about, versus the mental commitment discussion, because you have to admit and work on your weaknesses. And even just admitting them can be tough!
Now, I know some of you are thinking “not worth it” or some version of “but I have a spot X that I catch good fish and I just get out of the car and be fishing in 3 minutes”. To address the first point, you’re not wrong! I am not saying you have to be fit and work out, I’m saying that it is a way I am successful in catching big fish. Also, if you don’t care about catching big fish but just want to catch numbers, many more options open up to you. And you don’t have to fish as much either, because there’s a higher likelihood of success with less trips and less hours of fishing each trip. To address the second point, If you live on the coast, have exclusive access somehow, enjoy fishing easy access places like the Cape Cod Canal or Montauk light house (aka crowds), or even breachways, etc. than you have options for “physically easy” fishing (still have to mentally work, just not as much physically). However, even in these cases, being able to spend hours on your feet, very late into the night, over many nights, can be physically taxing. And, again, casting huge plugs (or bait is even worse) on heavy gear is tiring.
Which leads me to why I’m putting this in “Fly 25”. I think fly fishing is even harder. It’s always amazing to me how much more sore I get from casting the relatively light-weight fly rod in comparison to the heavy 11-foot surf stick. The higher repetition of false casting, especially with a double haul, results in a term called “pattern overload” which does extreme amounts of muscle injury. Also, the phase of the double-haul is an eccentric (lengthening) movement, which does additional damage. All this jargon means it makes you fucking sore. And maybe it’s fine for one night. But what happens when you have a great night, and want to go again…but are so sore you can’t? To me, that is an unacceptable outcome, and I want to mitigate it as much as possible by being as strong as possible.
Actually, this is sort of the nexsus of my entire point, and also the admission of what is essentially a problem at times. I cannot resist, I cannot stop, and I cannot accept not fishing as much as possible. And to do this, I have to stay fit. I’m so obsessed, so addicted, I can’t stomach the thought of not being able to fish a good tide or bite because I’m “too tired”. Yes, this is not necessarily a great thing (especially if you’re married or have a high-stress job), but nevertheless, it’s part of the drive and commitment to catch more, and larger, fish.
However, you don’t have to be 10 percent body fat, be able to run a 6 minute mile, and bench 300 pounds. You don’t have to be able to score a 300 on the PT test (although, that’s not a bad idea!). In fact, trying to look like Brad Pitt from Fight Club is a total waste of time. I would suggest instead of doing crazy hours of exercise, an angler use that training time doing something fishing related- scouting, researching, and preparing for the season. In full disclosure, I do enjoy long distance running, but I don’t do that because of fishing (I do that because I like it). In fact, I think my running in the winter can hamper my preparation sometimes- too much of a good thing, as they say.
However, doing things like power walking for an hour, doing some pushups and chair dips, and some core exercise (planks are king!) can be huge in increasing your ability to fish really hard. Basically, I would recommend 3-5 hours of aerobic (e.g. biking, hard and fast walking, elliptical, hiking, XC skiing, etc.) and a 1-2 total hours of strength-training work a week. You’d be amazed how strong you can get by doing just 20 minutes of strength training a day, with just a handful of exercises. No need to even go to a gym, just fit it in when you can. If you’d like suggestions, email me and I am happy to give you some actual exercises or training plans. Anything, is better than nothing!
I know. It’s not exactly fun- even for me who has been doing it a long, long time and enjoys some aspects of it. And it’s yet another thing to fit into the day amongst all the other crap we have to do. But, if you think of it as investment in your season of fishing, it is easier to commit. I do, truly, believe it makes a difference in being prepared and able to hunt for larger fish. When you’re tired, you get sloppy. When you’re sloppy, you make mistakes. You lose focus. These things play directly back into what Dave was talking about in “Colemans law”. Every time you cast, you have to be ready for that hit. Because if you aren’t: you lose 9.9 times out of 10. And I just don’t like those odds. If your back is aching, or you’re falling asleep at the wheel (as they say), your ability to analyze even goes down- it’s not just about casting or being able to walk into a remote spot. In essence, it’s a snowball effect, that all piles up to decrease your chance at success.
Let me close with a very recent example, which is where the photo is from in this post.
I was fishing for Northern Pike a few weeks ago. I had been fishing for over four hours, casting relatively large lures from shore and had walked a couple miles wading in water up to my waist. I had nothing much to show for it- a handful of moderately sized pickerel and one baby bass. I was getting tired, hungry, and bored. I went all the way back to the car, about a mile which took a long time wading in the water. I didn’t want to leave, so I grabbed my fly rod and started to work the shore again hoping the change in tactic would reinvigorate me.
I went back to the car again after about 20 minutes. I was sssoooo done; I was over it. However, as I stood staring at the cove I was parked near, I saw a good number of bugs hatching and rising from the surface. There was actually a lot of surface action from small sunnies as they slurped down the emerging bugs as well. This, in combination with the waning day light and the extremely warm early spring weather, just screamed “big fish”. Everything just felt “right”. I instinctually felt it.
But, my God did I want to just leave!
Instead, I sucked it up, I drank some water and ate a Clif Bar and grabbed my spinning rod again. My arms were tired and my legs starting to get there too. But I went back out and started to cast a large jerk bait anyways.
Ten minutes in, and I had my largest bass of the year so far, as pictured.
Needless to say, I was pretty glad I had sucked it up. I stuck it out until full dark- almost 45 more minutes- and had a few more moderately sized pickerel and then called it a night.
As I drove home, this post came to me. The only way I was able to do this, to stick it out, was because of the “investment” I had made over the winter through my running and strength training. Those nights of running in the dark in 25 degree weather. Those afternoons sweating it out doing strength training in the basement, absolutely miserable. If I hadn’t, no doubt in my mind I would have got in the car and left- and not caught that fish.
And yes, we should be fishing “smart” and not just “hard”. But sometimes, you have to fish hard to fish smart. And to do that, you have to be fit.
By Jerry Audet
The first of my projects, as previously alluded to in the first post describing “In Pursuit”, is to finally land a 25lb striped bass, from shore, on the fly rod. If you missed that post, you can find it here. For the next couple weeks, I'll be starting each post with this standard statement so those who missed it can catch up. The short-premise of In Pursuit is that it is an honest, informal, journal-like documentation of a season’s worth of chasing specific angling goals from both Dave and Jerry.
I was driving home this weekend after a less than successful night-trip fishing for holdover striped bass (only a couple small fish), half listening to Howard Stern on the radio, and started thinking about this “In Pursuit” series. I was rolling it around in my mind, and started considering why I haven’t already begun fly fishing for stripers in 2019. After all, these fish I’m targeting are likely very catchable on the fly for a few reasons. As I have proclaimed to Dave several times, “this spot would be PERFECT for fly fishing”…as we continued to bang away at it with Redfins.
As I mulled this over, I started to come up with all the reasons why this location in particular fit very well as a “fly fishing spot”. As I built the list in my mind, I had a very simple- but likely critical- thought which popped into my brain.
The theory goes like this:
I have a handle on what big fish want, and have been successful in catching them on plugs. I know I need to fish the moons, tides, and certain (specific) conditions. I know these things. They have become so ingrained in me, they are essentially instinctual. This instinct helps make me a better angler. Dave and I have talked a few times about what makes a great fisherman. One of the things we agree on is that the better the angler, the faster and more effective they are at dissecting and capitalizing on a new spot. While I am not insinuating that I am the best by any means, it has been very satisfying in the past few years to identify new spots on satellite imagery or nautical maps during the winter, show up in person in the spring, and have success (albeit more or less, depending on the season and the spot). It makes me feel like I know something- even if it also feels like the more I learn, the less I (we) actually know.
However, for some reason, I tend to just throw all this knowledge, intuition, and instinct away when I fly fish in the surf.
This is what occurred to me when I was driving home at 1 am on Sunday. It dawned on me that for the last few seasons I have been subconsciously categorizing my spots. I definitely already knew I was a spot “collector”. I like to have all kinds of options with different kinds of terrain and conditions, covering the spectrum of striper habitat. I like this because it gives me options, and allows me to, as John Skinner puts it, “have a play for any condition”. And, I’m always looking for special spots which very few, or no, anglers fish for a whole host of reasons- which could be an entire series of posts in itself.
What I hadn’t realized up to this point, at least overtly, was that I was also building a hierarchy of my spots; spin vs. fly.
That is, I have identified and sorted some of my spots as “fly fishing only” spots. As the name insinuates, they are places I only fish with a fly rod. For the most part they are locations I have deemed 1) to only hold small to moderate sized fish, and 2) places I feel I can cast my offering easily into some kind of deep (relative) or moving water. This means they often are sidled up next to a drop off, or at some kind of outflow, and are sheltered from strong winds.
And this has worked great…for catching numbers of fish. It’s served my purpose so far really well. I have become adept at casting, fighting, and landing fish on the fly rod in these spots; or dealing with a stripping basket when I have to wade up to my belly button; or how to fish moderate current with a sinking line; or how to use a popper in a seam to draw strikes deep into the night. Etcetera. These select spots have lead to hundreds of fish, and some great memories.
What they haven’t led to, and likely never will, is landing a really big fish on a fly.
The key thing that occurred to me while driving: if I didn’t fly fish I likely wouldn’t fish many (or any) of these spots every again. One in particular I am thinking about has yielded exactly 1 39-inches fish (on the spinning rod, 5 years ago), and everything else has been 36-inches or under, with the vast majority under 28-inches. It can be a fun “hit every cast” spot if conditions are right, and it’s one of my oldest spots to boot. So I continue to fish it for nostalgias sake, but only because the fly rod has made it justifiable; that is, it has made it fun. I think, otherwise, it would feel like a waste of time. At the very least, I would fish it a whole lot less.
But therein lies the problem. As I stated in my previous post, fly fishing has always been the second class option to the plug and surf rod. Moving forward with this goal of finally getting a quality fish on the fly rod, I need to find ways to integrate it into what I’m already doing with the surf rod. There can no longer be this huge dichotomy in my “fly fishing spots” and “surf rod spots”. Sure, there are definitely spots at which I will never be able to effectively use a fly rod. One I can think of I’ll never reach the fish, ever. Not even shooting 30 yards of backing. Another, I believe I would struggle to get my line down deep enough from shore; the combination of deep water, good current, and a very consistent swell would make it exceedingly challenging even with very heavy sinking shooting heads.
However, I need to get creative at all my other spots. The challenge is often casting distance, especially with very large flies. The runner up is not getting broken off once I hook a big fish. To combat both of these, I think I will need to really focus on calmer nights as the a) lack of wind will allow me to cast further, and b) the calm surf will allow me to wade/swim out further so I can get around structure that would break me off from casting perches closer to shore. I think this will allow my surf spots to be more accessible to the whippy stick. Further, it will likely even strengthen and support the use of the fly rod, since the calm conditions often call for a more subtle and nuanced approach.
The hard thing will be giving up those prime tides when I “know” I could be landing big fish on the plug, and instead chose the fly. There is certainly some risk there- risk of both smaller fish, and less fish overall. However, when I made the switch to hunting bigger fish on the plug, I had to change my mind set- and at first, it also lead to fewer fish. So why wouldn’t I have to do the same thing as I make the identical transition with the fly rod?
And so, I think my mantra for the up-coming season will be: There are no fly fishing spots; It’s all just surf fishing.
By Jerry Audet
The first of my projects, as previously alluded to in the first post describing “In Pursuit”, is to finally land a 25lb striped bass, from shore, on the fly rod. If you missed that post, you can find it here. For the next couple weeks, I'll be starting each post with this standard statement so those who missed it can catch up. The short-premise of In Pursuit is that it is an honest, raw, journal-like documentation of a season’s worth of chasing specific angling goals from both Dave and Jerry.
When it comes to surf fishing and my gear, I try to ascribe to the KISS principle- Keep It Simple Stupid. What rod is the cheapest, which can throw the biggest plugs I use, and stand up to the abuse I dish out? What is the fewest number of plugs I can buy that cover the widest range of profiles and water depths? You get the idea. Once I’ve found what works, I don’t feel a need to find something new, until I get into a situation my “tools” are no longer effective. Then, I’ll go buy something to mitigate this limitation.
Now that isn’t to say I’m not trying to improve what I have. Sure, if I see a lure that is clearly superior, or provides something new, I’ll buy it. And, using lures as another example, I’ll pay good money for something that I find has increased efficacy- yeah I fish some $50+ lures, and if I found an $80 one that I thought was really going to make a difference, I’d fish that too. I wouldn’t hesitate. It’s why I buy the best, most expensive braided line- because I think it makes a difference.
This principle has applied even more substantially to my fly rods. When I first started I was buying cheap combo rod and reels, and they were more than sufficient for the freshwater fishing I was doing. When I first started, I really liked my Redington Crosswater combos, and I stuck with them for a while. Actually, I still have a 7.5ft 4wt Crosswater rod, and I still enjoy using it for largemouth bass, trout, and panfish when precision isn’t necessary. It’s a sweet little rod, which was like $80 with the crappy reel that came with.
And more to the point, I don’t find rod choice is exceedingly complicated for freshwater fishing, especially pond and lake fishing. I’ve found even for heavy, weedy structure, a variety of rod lengths and weights can work for bass fishing from 5 to 8wt. And while I’m certainly not a trout expert, I’ve had no problem catching trout on rods ranging from 6ft 2wts to 9ft 7wts. Yes, there are times it can make it easier to have a special rod- especially when delivering small dries or drifting nymphs. But honestly? For me, I just don’t see that big of a difference between weights, lengths, and brands…and cost. They feel nicer, and some cast better, but really you can get away with pretty modest gear and catch a lot of trout, bass, and pickerel in most situations. Line matters a lot more, and I’ll talk about that in the future.
But surf fishing is not freshwater pond and river fishing. Pond fly fishing is a mall parking lot on a Tuesday, and surf fly fishing is nuclear World War IV.
All this is leading me to this one point: I know a lot of guys that fish for stripers use an 8wt rod, and there is a lot of consensus out there that this is a suitable weight.
I think that’s a bunch of bull shit.
Sure, if you’re catching 20-25” fish on a sandy beach, in a river, or in a boat (HUGE difference from surf) that will work. It’s extremely fun, and in the summer I do still occasionally partake in this extra-light tackle fishing with small fish in the 20-25” range. The 8wt is plenty capable of casting a size 1 to 2/0 deceiver or clouser with a good line, even in a breeze, and that’s pretty much all I use when targeting schoolies at night (I’ll have a whole post about this later). If you’re in an estuary, it can work too.
However, I think an 8wt is dumb for larger stripers, especially in the open surf. Look, if you’re a plug or bait guy, think about the lightest rod you use when targeting big schoolies or keeper fish (forget about actual big fish for a minute). I can virtually guarantee, that rod you’re thinking about, is stronger, stiffer, and thicker than even a 12-14wt fly rod. Even if the spinning rod is 7ft and rated to like 1.5 ounces, it’s a telephone pole compared to an 8wt fly rod. The worst way, in my opinion, to kill a striper is by undersized gear. What a terrible way to die; I think it’s irresponsible if you’re trying to catch anything but very small fish. And, yeah, obviously right here in these posts I’m telling you I haven’t caught a truly big cow on the fly rod from the surf. But I’ve caught plenty on the surf rod, and a bunch of 14-18lb fish on the fly, and I’m telling you- fighting a teen bass on an 8wt takes forever. I can’t imagine trying to fight a 25 or 30lb striper on an 8wt from shore, especially in boulders or current! I would never land a fish that size in the places I fish. You know, the places you actually still have a chance of catching a large fish in this fishery…
However, I’ve held and casted a couple 13-15wt fly rods and they’re pretty intense. They are really stiff, obviously physically heavier, and the action on the ones I played with was extra fast. This all makes for a tiring rod. If I was chasing big stripers (40lb+) from a boat? I would have a 13-15wt rod, no question. I’m seriously considering getting a shorter (8ft) 13-15wt for the surf for using in heavy structure, from boulders, and in inlet-like situations, even given the above noted limitations. However, since I’m in the surf blind casting (not sight fishing) 95%+ of the time, I need a rod just heavy enough to be strong enough to handle a 25lb fish and cast a big fly into a wind, while at the same time being light enough I can cast over and over and over for 3-5 hours straight. I get crazy sore after a night or two of casting, especially if I get into a couple dozen big schoolies and fish into the teens; or worse if there is a stiff breeze. I have to take this into account, because if I do get into a good bite, I’m certainly not just going one night! I’ll stay on it for multiple nights, and this can be really hard on the body. I weight lift in the winter just to prepare myself for it; and yet I never seem to be completely prepared. My wrist and biceps hate me after a few nights.
So, given all this experience and data, I settled on an 11wt. A 12wt would be just as good, or better, but I got an 11wt because I got a great deal on it. I still think it’s a bit undergunned for the fish I am now setting out to catch, from the surf, in current, in the wind…but it’s a compromise. It’s got some good backbone, but it’s light enough that my wrist isn’t about to fall off after a few hundred casts a night. Just to reiterate though, I am still worried it’s a bit underpowered for what I’m doing now. Especially given the size of the flies I’m now using…and I get broken off with my 11ft surf rod and 30lb braid semi-regularly. And that thing is a freight train in comparison to the mini-cooper that is my 11wt fly rod (an 8wt would be a Radio-flyer wagon in this analogy).
Another reason I like this rod is it carries a 25 year unconditional warranty. This might not matter to some of you, but I think for me, in the surf, it’s important. It’s an incredibly unforgiving environment, and stuff breaks (just wait until I write about my reel experiences). I’ve broken my 11wt rod three times, it was fixed twice, and then on the 3rd time, they just sent me a totally new rod as a replacement. Yeah, it’s not free- companies that offer this usually have some kind of handling fee of $50-75- but that’s a hell of a lot better than shelling out another $500-1000 every time! Several companies offer this sort of service on higher-end rods, and I would highly recommend investing in a brand that offers this. I won’t specifically mention a brand by name, because fly rod preference is like ice cream flavor inclination- it’s very personal.
MUCH more to come on gear in subsequent posts.
By Jerry Audet
The first of my projects, as previously eluded to in the post describing In Pursuit, is to finally get a 25lb striped bass, from shore, on the fly rod. If you missed that post, you can find it here. For the next couple weeks, I'll be starting each post with this standard statement so those who missed it can catch up.
I’ll make this first post a mental download of where I’m coming from, just to get the ball rolling.
I started fly fishing in the salt, from shore, in 2014. I had a fly rod as a kid, and caught a few dozen small trout on the fly over a decade or so years, but I most of that time I was fishing worms because- frankly- fly fishing was hard. I then set it down, and didn't fly fish again for at least 5 years.
Anyways, I didn’t really fall in love with fly fishing until pretty recently. In 2012 I decided to make the commitment, simply because a cycling friend convinced me I was missing out. He saw how obsessive I was about...everything...and he thought I'd love it. He sold me a decent 8wt setup for real cheap, because he hadn't used it for a few years. I was really, really busy at the time, and struggled time to get out and fish at all. But, I could walk outside in the evenings to the field behind our apartment and cast for an hour. So that's what I did. I spent 4 months casting over grass before I ever went near the water.
Soon after, once things quieted down in my life, I started catching all kinds of freshwater fish on the fly rod in rivers, lakes and ponds, both from the Kayak and also from shore. This honed my skills, and taught me a lot. And for the last 7 years, I’ve been 99% fly only in sweet (fresh) water.
I had also been surf fishing for several years at this point as well, but I never even considered fly fishing the surf until much later. It just never really crossed my mind. At that time, I was still just trying to lock down a few reliable spots, catch whatever would eat my bait (I chunked a lot then), and was definitely not looking for a challenge.
Anyways, the first fish I caught on the fly in the surf was, strangely, during a work trip to Florida. I packed the rod on a whim, knowing my hotel was just about on the beach. I didn’t have a travel spinning rod at the time, so the fly rod was all that would fit in my carry on. I had no striping basket either, and discovered very quickly that fly fishing the surf was about 10 billion times harder than fishing a pond from a kayak or fishing a river from shore. I was constantly tangled, I couldn’t cast more than ½ the normal distance, and my fly (a small clouser) was constantly hitting the beach behind me and getting snagged.
Then, I got bit off twice by…something. I was beyond frustrated at this point, and even at 5:40am it was crazy hot (it was August) and I just thought to myself…fuck this!
So I started walking back to the hotel, when I saw nervous water right on the other side of the wave. I couldn’t resist, so I stripped off my line again and made a cast. The first cast I had a tiny bump, and I strip set the hook. YES!
I finally landed a feisty little Blue Runner, which is a sharp toothed little bastard that looks like a tiny Blue Fish. I was breathless with excitement!
I released the little guy, fixed my fly, and as I began to cast again I had one of those super cliché moments that feels more like a movie than reality.
The sun peaked over the horizon, and I saw there were multiple 100lb tarpon right behind the first wave, hanging motionless like mini chrome submarines! It was a moment I will remember forever, the rolling surf, the suffocating heat, and those haunting shadows just sitting there seemingly waiting for me. I frantically changed my fly to a bigger pattern, and then casted to them for a while, heart pounding, and eventually one took the fly. It didn’t jump, unfortunately, but it did break me off almost immediately. I didn’t even get the line out of my hand. I laughed manically for at least a minute, getting stares from the early morning joggers and dog walkers passing by me.
That’s the day the addiction really kicked into gear. I came back and that season caught a few dozen schoolies during the fall on the fly rod. I didn’t do it much, just a couple times, but I could see the potential.
The following spring, I didn’t fly fish the salt at all. I guess, you could say I kind of forgot about it. Which is...wierd since I was crushing large mouth bass near my house on my poppers I was making (you'll learn more about these soon).
But then in 2015 I took a trip to the Florida Keys and I caught my first bonefish on a fly, and some barracuda, jumped a few Tarpon (hooked them but lost them), hooked and lost 1 permit, and had a few other strange by-catches like a Box Fish, Hound Fish, and Snappers. I worked my ass off (at least 80 hours in 10 days) trying to catch the 2 bonefish I eventually landed, and the 6 I hooked, and it was a real game changer. No guide, no boat, no advice, no idea what I was doing. I just went, and did it. Trial by fire. It was windy as hell, and everyone said the fish were scarce. They certainly were spooky...and there were monster bull sharks I had a couple close calls with. And, Carly (my wife) and I both had black tips and nurse sharks literally bump into us. It was less a vacation, and more a boot camp in flats fishing. A dumb Yankee blundering into success through pure grit.
I came back to MA on fire about the fly rod. And that year I had maybe 30 or 40 schoolies on the fly rod to just short of keeper size (yes, I measured a 27” fish because I really wanted to know!). I broke two fly rods in half, and ruined a couple reels too. I had a ball. But it was just something to do when I wasn’t being serious. Not a focus at all.
In 2016 I caught a lot more stripers on the fly, more than 100, and a handful of keeper size fish. Then, in 2017- the year of suck for me overall- I got my first few low teen bass on the fly rod during a magical blitz at Cutty. I’m not sure how many fly rod fish I had in 2017, it’s in my logs but it’s not that important, but I’m guessing it was maybe 100 or so again.
Last year, I had a pretty good year overall- fly and spinning. I had probably closer to 200 fish on the fly, roughly 25% of my total, and probably a couple dozen in the low or mid-teens to about 18lbs. A lot more fish around and at keeper size. And in more places too- I caught in several places I hadn’t before.
However, even last year, fly fishing has always been the “other” thing for me. It’s a thing I do if I’m bored, or if I can’t find big fish, or if I needed a break from working hard and just want to go mess around. Or if there’s a daytime blitz, I’ll put down the popper and grab the fly rod. It’s just never been a priority. Plugging has always come first. I fish the best tides and moons and bites with the spinning rod. After all, fly fishing the surf is really damn hard and it takes even more commitment than plugging, in my opinion, to really do it justice.
But this year, I am committing to changing all that. I want to make fly rodding come forward in my rotation, and make up a far greater percentage of my total catch. It may not be the priority still, that’s still to be determined, but I want it to represent more than just a fill in. I want to save some of the best tides just for the fly rod! Because, quite frankly, I absolutely love it. It’s just so damn hard, every fish is a trophy!
And as part of it making up a larger percentage of my fishing, I want to also finally get a real quality fish. For me, on the fly from shore, that is 25lbs (especially in the current fishing climate). So, that’s the goal!
This post got long fast!
I’ll be tagging these posts “Fly25” so you can follow along with me.
Next few posts I think I’ll do a quick look at my gear I use, and what I’ve changed up to get myself positioned for success. Because preparing for this, has been important.