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.