Becoming Secure In Your Fly Fishing Skills

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014


Okay, folks, this is it. This is the time of year when you can catch trout on any stream that holds them. You can even catch them in a mud puddle in the parking lot streamside. There is so much going on right now that willing fish are the least of your concerns. Weather conditions are ideal for the angler and trout alike. Aquatic insects are moving around, hatching and laying eggs. The fish are more active than at any other time of the year and it doesn’t get too dark to fish until almost 9 PM.

So with all these great events in the trout world coming together at the same time, why are some anglers still struggling to catch a trout on a fly? I’ll let you in on a secret. It’s your technique. Fly fishing is very similar to sports like archery or even golf in that once you learn the basics, real improvement comes with making minor adjustments. With fly fishing, those minor adjustments come in the form of understanding where the fish are holding and concentrating on those areas rather than shot-gunning the whole stream. They come with knowing how to get a true drag free drift when needed to make that dry fly appear as real as possible.

Minor adjustments can also be made in something as obvious as when you’re setting the hook when a fish rises to your fly. Here’s another secret. Back in the 70’s when I was learning to fly fish, I became a fairly accomplished caster but an awful catcher. I honestly fished the Chattooga River for two seasons, that’s two years, before catching a trout on the fly. Now, I’ve dealt with this and can now confess to you my issues but what I really want to do is help you avoid some of the same trials and tribulations I experienced early on. I’ll also admit that I’m much more hard headed than your average angler as most people would have thrown their fly rod down and walked away after two years of zero catches. Not me, by golly. For better or worse, I’m too hard headed to quit. But you can benefit from my obtuseness so stick with it.


My first recommendation would be to find an experienced mentor to fish with. That’s how I learned that my hookset issues were due to me setting the hook too soon. As the fish rose to my fly, I was jumping the gun and pulling the fly away from the fish. A simple adjustment in my timing totally changed my fly fishing life.

Secondly, through your mentor or at your local fly shop, get someone to help you learn how to read water, identify local hatches, select flies and get drag free drifts. There are Trout Unlimited chapters scattered across north and central Georgia that are ideal for finding someone to help you become a competent fly angler. To find a chapter near you, go to www. . See you on the water!

The Roll Cast

Monday, August 19th, 2013

By Susan Thrasher

As fly fishers, there are so many different areas we can focus on to improve our chances of having a successful day on the river. One of the most important areas is casting and the ability to adapt to different situations. One casting technique, that is a must for your arsenal, is the roll cast. Although this is often the first cast taught to beginners because it is easy to learn, it is a valuable casting method that is consistently used by the most experienced fly fisherman.

To start, it’s important to note that practice should take place on water since it is the tension created between the water and line that loads the rod and gives the results you are looking for. If grass is your only option, you can still practice by stretching the line out in front of you and tying the end of your line to a hula-hoop, brick or anything that will anchor the end of the line. This will provide the tension needed to create the roll. Following the three simple steps outlined below, and with a little practice, you’ll be roll casting before you know it.

Set up

Begin with fifteen or twenty feet of line extended beyond the rod tip. The line is held with the line hand at belt buckle level. Body position should be square to the target with the right foot back. Slowly, with rod extended parallel to the water, drag the line towards you by lifting and tilting the rod slightly to a vertical position. Your rod hand will be at temple level, similar to answering a phone. Shift weight to the back foot. Tilting the rod will move the fly line to your side and away from your shoulder. The fly line will now be slightly behind you forming a belly or a “D” shape. At this point stop to examine your set up. Is your wrist straight? The correct wrist position will result in a 45-degree angle between the rod butt and forearm. Are you tense? If so, relax. Have you selected a target? Where do you want the fly to land? Use your elbow as a line of sight to your desired target. Is there still line on the water? There should be. The surface tension of the water on the line is what creates the smooth turn over of the loop. Is the “D” shaped line behind your shoulder at a complete stop? If so, then you’re ready for step two.


Shift your weight to your front foot and immediately follow with a downward movement of the rod, leading with the elbow and rotating from the shoulder. As your thumb comes into peripheral view, firmly snap your wrist forward keeping your elbow slightly bent. Do not extend to a straight-arm position. The roll can either be in the air or on the water. This depends on the wrist snap position. If the snap is lower, the roll is along the water. After the snap, the rod butt will be against the underside of your forearm and change from 45 degrees to 0 degrees. Pause to allow the rod to pull the line beyond the rod tip and roll out to your target.

Follow through

Continue the cast with the rod tip pointed to the target. Your arm will be extended, however slightly flexed at the elbow. Follow through with the cast until your fly lands on the water.

Adapting to the current

The steps outlined above work well when the current is running from right to left, but what about when the river is running from your left to right? Simply start with your casting hand over your left eye, step back with your left foot and form the “D” loop over your opposite shoulder. Everything else is just the same.

You can use the roll cast in a number of situations, for instance in tight spots where back casts are restricted due to rocks, trees or brush and you can use it to remove slack in the line or lift a sinking line to the surface. So, start practicing! Mastering the roll cast as one of your casting techniques is sure to make you a better fly fisherman.

Susan Thrasher is the owner of Southern Brookies Fly Fishing and is a FFF Certified Casting Instructor. Contact her at

Essential Parts of the Fly Cast

Monday, August 19th, 2013

By Rene Hesse

How did you learn to fly cast? Did you go out and get a rod and start casting? Most of us, myself included, either had a rod around the house or bought one, and then gave it a shot. If you want to become a better fly caster there are a few things you will want to do. The first is decide it is your goal to become a better caster. You can be a good fisherman and not cast great loops, but you can be a better fly fisherman if you can cast with more accuracy and distance, and it’s all about the loops. The following is the start of a series that will help you achieve good loops for that beautiful and effective cast.

“The Essentials of Fly Casting” by Bill Gammel is one of many fly casting books on the Federation of Fly Fishers reading list. He breaks down the cast into five essentials. I had to make an easy method of remembering them, so I’ve given it the acronym of SSSPP; you can make it the sound of your cast. The goal of the essentials is to get the rod tip to go on a straight-line path, thus creating a tight, efficient loop to carry the fly out.

The straight-line path of the rod tip (SLP) is achieved by using the other four essentials together, which are stroke size, slack removal, power application and pause. So there you have it. That’s all you will ever need to know to make a good cast. Wrong! Putting it all together is the key, and people learn in many different ways; watching, listening, doing or a combination of them all. Do you know what your best method is?

If you like to read up on things to get the concept and then try casting, there is a vast library out there for you. When I started my studies of fly casting it took a little while before I realized all the great casters were saying the same thing, but in a different way. They were all trying to get me to make the rod tip travel on the straight-line path for a good overhead cast with a tight loop. Think of trying to get the rod tip to travel down the center of a curtain rod. That’s a straight line on all planes, both vertical and horizontal. The other four essentials will help you do this.

That is our first of the five essentials, and we will talk more about how to achieve that in the following articles. But for now if you are the type to do some reading or watch some video on casting, check out the FFF web site and get the concepts. Then go casting with the intent of making better casts, and you will. I’d recommend only practicing for 10-15 minutes at a time, and watch your loops. Fly casting can be as much fun as fly fishing when you have a goal in mind.

Rene Hesse is a Certified Casting Instructor and Federation of Fly Fishers & Atlanta Fly Fishing and Camping Meetup Organizer.

The Casting Corner

Monday, August 19th, 2013

You don’t need all of the latest gear and fancy equipment to be a successful fly fisherman. It actually takes very little to get started but beware, it’s addictive. Fishing with a fly rod is as easy or as complex as you want it to be. Start easy and buy a simple fly rod and start practicing out in the yard. I recommend taking a lesson or two to get the basics down and cut down on the learning curve, and start taking your fly rod along when you go bass fishing.

If Bass fishing is a redneck sport and fly fishing is a purist sport, I quit. Get over it, it’s just fishing. You don’t need to learn a new language or buy a tweed coat, a pipe and a $2,000 bamboo rod to start fly fishing, just like you don’t need a fancy bass boat and 10 rods to catch bass. Anyone can learn to fish with a fly rod. All you need is one fly rod, a few flies and some water.

If you’ve never tried fly fishing don’t let the image of the complete angler stop you from having the most fun you can have catching fish. Have you ever held the line in your hand while a fish is on the other end of it? That’s one of the unique things about fly fishing; your line hand is in direct contact with the fish. You feel every wiggle of the tail every head shake.

Now, why would a certified casting instructor with the Federation of Fly Fishers tell you to chill out on all the fly fishing mystique and lingo? Because at the end of the day it’s just fishing or at least that is how it starts. Once you try it you tend to get hooked and then it becomes an obsession. You will end up with scores of flies, waders, tools and gadgets and too many rods until one day you do find yourself in one of those fancy stores trying on tweed coats while discussing casting arcs and double spey casts. My point is don’t be intimidated by what is just another way of doing what we all love to do, fish.

There is almost nothing better after a long day at work than to walk down to the lake behind my house with fly rod in hand and cast until dark. Even if I don’t catch a fish I feel the freedom that comes from fishing, the pride of a fly caster making a beautiful cast and the joy of being outdoors at sunset. If you haven’t tried fly fishing, I invite you to join me in the sport that consumes my waking hours and my dreams, fly fishing is fun. Check back in future issues for tips to help you on the way to learning to fish with a fly rod.

Rene Hesse is a Federation of Fly Fishers Certified Casting Instructor

Learning to Fly: An Introduction

Monday, August 19th, 2013


As anglers, we are always looking to challenge ourselves when in search of our finned quarry. With traditional spinning gear, one usually makes the transition from fishing with live bait to challenging themselves by fishing with artificial baits. To challenge themselves further, lighter line tests or lighter leaders can be used. Some people may even get “bored” with fishing many of the new super braids on the market and go back to light monofilament for a change of pace. Many anglers, however, turn to the oldest, simplest and most pure form of angling—fly fishing.

To some anglers, fly fishing is a term that causes a little nervousness. It is a form of fishing many anglers lack confidence in and may find to be a bit too much work. However, with some basic knowledge, a little bit of practice and instruction, and many humbling days on the water, an angler can become just as proficient with a fly rod as they would be with a spinning rod.

The first aspect of fly fishing that all anglers must deal with is the rod. What rod to buy is the first question all potential fly anglers ask. Before you look at brand names, you must decide on the proper weight fly rod. Rods are weighted to coincide with the properly weighted fly line. For example, an 8-weight rod would be fished with an 8-weight fly line, most of the time.

When deciding on a rod, you must examine the areas and the fish you will be fishing. The standard for saltwater fly fishing in Florida, for example, calls for an 8- or 9-weight rod. These rods can tackle just about any inshore species of fish found in Florida. You would not want to tackle tarpon over 50 pounds or large Keys permit with these weight rods. You could, but the fight would be very long and would put the fishes’ recovery in jeopardy. Some anglers prefer 6- or 7-weight rods. These rods are great fun when fishing for reds and trout on the open flats or for backcountry juvenile tarpon. However, if there is any kind of wind or if you like to throw large surface flies, these rods may not work as well. Rods weighted 10, 11 and 12 are usually used for tackling 100-plus-pound tarpon, large Keys permit and large snook around structure. Casting these rods all day to redfish and trout on the flats would not only be tiring but impractical. Finding a happy medium that allows you to do a little of everything is the key to breaking into and enjoying fly fishing.

When you get to your local fly shop, don’t be overwhelmed by the many different brands of fly rods. They are all different, even if they are the same weight rod. Names like G-Loomis, Orvis, Sage, Temple Fork Outfitters and St. Croix are all great rods to buy. They can be a bit pricey, though. The key is to demo cast as many rods as possible. Most fly shops will have demo rods available for you to try. Then, get the best rod that you can afford.

Capt. Jon Bull can be contacted via email at, by phone at (863) 860-7250 and on the many online forums under the handle “Shadowcast.”

2013 Southern Classic Musky Weekend

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

By Adam Lavigne


Deep through the heart of Middle Tennessee flow numerous rivers that comprise some of the finest bastions of southern muskies. They prowl timber, weed beds, sand bars and ledges, looking to ambush every other species that swims in (and on) the same waters, causing anglers to fumble with their line and turn jittery as their massive silhouettes rise from nowhere behind a well-thrown fly. Last year, Todd Gregory of Towee Boats and Brad Bohen of Musky Country Outfitters realized an idea of gathering far-flung musky fly fishermen in one place; thus, the inaugural Musky Fly Fishing World Championship was born at Rock Island, TN, with much welcomed enthusiasm. This year, the decision was made to hold the Musky Fly Fishing World Championship this fall in Hayward, WI, the epi-center of trophy musky waters, while still putting on a spring tournament in Tennessee to continue musky awareness efforts and provide an opportunity for some great camaraderie.

May 3-4 saw fly fishermen from around North America come together in Rock Island, TN, for the Southern Classic Musky Weekend put on by Towee Boats. To make full use of all the fine musky waters found in Tennessee, anglers had to decide whether to chase this elusive predator on the big waters of Melton Hill Lake or in the rivers and tributaries of the Collins and Caney Fork system on Friday, May 3. It turned out anglers couldn’t go wrong with either choice; several fish in the mid 30-inch range were quickly brought to net in Rock Island while Cody Daniels of Team Smith wrangled his first ever fly-rod musky over on Melton Hill, an enormous 48-incher. The Collins/Caney crew wasn’t finished that first day as Steve Seinberg of Team S.C.O.F. enticed a 42-inch musky to inhale his fly. Many more muskies were seen, hooked up with or lost as they weren’t meant to be caught that day.


All anglers were required to fish the Rock Island waters on Saturday but, to be honest, few were eager to launch their boats. A cold, steady downpour caused teams to stand at the end of boat ramps and think twice about what they were about to do. None the less, the prospect of musky overcame the rain and most strung up their rods and went about slinging big flies into tiny holes. Cast, strip, strip, figure-eight, repeat, was the mantra of that day as folks pushed through. Perseverance paid off as more fish were boated. Team Frazen tangled with, and won, a 41-inch fish while Team Maybush pulled a 42-inch musky out of a smaller tributary. By the end of the weekend, nine muskies were netted and safely released, Cody Daniels and Chuck Smith held onto their lead to win the Southern Musky Classic and an excellent weekend was had by all. Towee boats topped it all off with a Saturday night awards dinner where anglers traded tales of their home waters, missed fish, epic days and phone numbers with the intent of tackling new challenges.

The Musky Fly Fishing World Championship, Oct. 25-27, in Hayward, WI, looks to be nothing less than a great tournament with great sponsors that will support the Jose Wejebe Foundation, Wounded Warriors in Action and the local musky conservation efforts of the Wisconsin DNR.

Adam Lavigne is Co-publisher and Editor of the Middle and Eastern Tennessee editions of The Angler Magazine. For more information, visit or contact Todd Gregory at

Fly Fishing for Brook Trout in the Presidential Range

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

By Joe Coklin

Presidential Range, brook trout often seem to appear out of nowhere to attack a muddler. Even trout as small as two or three inches have voraciously pounced upon my drifting muddler. Although other flies will catch trout in these frigid waters, nothing, in my experience, works nearly as well. My best guess as to why the muddler minnow is such a great fly to fish in high-elevation streams is because it looks and acts like possibly the trout’s only large prey item, the slimy sculpin. Muddler minnows are truly effective because they can not be fished wrong; they are perfect for the beginning fly fisher. Cast it upstream or down. Float it, sink it, swing it or twitch it. Wherever trout abound, particularly brook trout, a muddler tied to your tippet will usually produce results. It is the muddler’s versatility, which accounts for its deadly effectiveness. If I were restricted in my pursuit of wild brook trout to a single fly pattern, the muddler minnow would be my choice–hands down. If you do not include a few muddlers in sizes 6-10 in your small stream fly box, the trout will thank you!

2. Woolly Bugger:
fly_woolly_buggerWhen I graduated from worm-dunking to fly fishing back in the ’70′s, this most-ubiquitous fly had yet to be invented. Sure, Western fly fishermen often used woolly worms to good effect, primarily as imitations of giant stone fly larvae in the West’s great brawling rivers. However, it was not until an enterprising Eastern angler decided to add a marabou tail to the established woolly worm that the killer fly we all know was born. A woolly bugger loosely imitates many important trout foods: leeches, minnows, crayfish and the larval stages of aquatic insects as exemplified by dragonflies, dobsonflies (hellgramites) and stone flies. Various incarnations of the woolly bugger have caught everything from tarpon to trout; however, for NH upland streams I favor black, olive and white buggers in sizes eight and ten. A tungsten bead helps to sink the fly to the bottom quickly, especially in plunge pools. IMHO, a trout fisher should never be without a selection of easily-tied woolly buggers.

3. Griffith’s Gnat:
Chironomids. Trout consume prodigious quantities of these tiny insects and in some environments they represent the only food upon which a trout may depend. Chironomids, commonly called “midges”, are most available to trout in ponds and beaver impoundments; however, most New Hampshire trout streams, with the possible exception of high-gradient mountain streams, follow a serpentine course along at least part of their length. These “s” bends often contain ideal habitat for midges due to slower flows and sediment deposition. The griffith’s gnat is a simple dry fly which imitates either individual adults or clusters of them. I often add an antron tail as a trailing shuck in hopes of depicting the difficult transition between the pupal and adult stages of development. As is common with most effective fly patterns, the griffith’s gnat is easy to tie. It consists of a peacock herl body with a grizzly hackle palmered throughout. One should tie these in sizes 14-22.

4. Royal Wulff:
fly_royal_wulffSometimes I choose to fish a particular fly pattern for reasons that have little to do with how effective the fly may be. On a broader scale, this can explain why I generally prefer dry fly “fishing” to “catching” trout with nymphs and streamers. As Buddhists like to say, ” it is about the journey”, not the destination. Well maybe not all the time but often enough. When I am in the mood to fish a dry fly in our small waters, there is none better than the royal wulff. It is easy to see on the water and it floats exceptionally well (especially when moose body hair is used for the tail). I think that it is truly a handsome fly, as befitting its name. Most importantly, despite a gaudy appearance, it somehow retains a bugginess that brook trout seem to love.

5. Pheasant Tail Nymph:
Frank Sawyer was a river keeper on the famed chalk streams of southeast England. He was also a keen observer of nature and an innovative fly tyer. The pheasant tail nymph is his creation. The trout of England’s chalk streams grow fat and fast on a rich soup of macro invertebrates. After countless hours watching the interactions of the trout and its prey, Frank devised a fly that mimicked the general profile of the various insects that comprised his trout’s daily diet. He also tied his pheasant tail nymph with brass wire instead of thread. This allowed him to maintain the slim profile of the diminutive insects he was trying to imitate and also sink the nymph quickly to the level of the feeding trout. Today’s version of the pheasant tail nymph usually includes peacock herl for the thorax and perhaps a bead head; otherwise it is very similar to Frank’s original design. My fly box contains pheasant tail nymphs from sizes 14 down to 20.

Joe Conklin is a member Trout Unlimited, a guide and a renowned speaker. Reach him at -mail:

Fly Fishing for Striped Marlin

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

Bonefish 101

Friday, March 1st, 2013


The bonefish, considered one of the most often sought after saltwater game fish, is elusive, spooky, and fast, a ghost like fish that poses a real challenge to fly fisherman. It makes its home in some of the most beautiful tropic locations worldwide.

Bonefish range in sizes varying from small to medium-sized (2-5 lbs) fish in Caribbean waters to reel rod-benders in Florida and Hawaii in the 8-10 lb range. But whatever its size, the bonefish is a worthy adversary to the saltwater fly fisherman.

When fishing bonefish on the fly, the fisherman is most successful when sight-casting to fish cruising and tailing in crystal-clear shallow water of sand flats or coral reefs. Locating the fish, however, doesn’t automatically mean hookup. The bonefish, an excitable rascal, seems ever on the move, constantly changing directions, darting to all points of the compass.

A sloppy cast will leave the fly fisherman with egg-on-his-face. Spot-on casts are essential to success not only because of the bonefish’s spooky and unpredictable nature but also because of the bonefish’s usually wind-swept habitat.

The angler should be able to present a fifty-foot cast quickly and accurately, skillfully pick his cast off the water, and redirect his next cast to whatever location the skittish fish has chosen.

To find bonefish, look for those areas where the fish are mudding or tailing. Fish in these situations are ways the bonefish feed while in shallow water.

The best times to fish bonefish? Spring and summer provide the best opportunities for success.

For tackle a 6 to 9 weight rod matched with a large arbor reel packed with 150 yards of backing and a floating line will work great. A long leader 10 to 12 feet is often needed when fishing bonefish, so practice casting this type of leader. A skillful presentation will be the key to successfully catching and releasing your first bonefish.

I think the Bahamas are the best place for the aspiring bone fisher. There are many great lodges that are close to world class fishing grounds. Plus the volume of fish you’ll be able to cast to is spectacular. Other great places are Belize, Christmas Island and the Yucatan peninsula.

North Carolina’s Roanoke River Striper Fantasy

Friday, March 1st, 2013

World Class Light Tackle and Fly Fishing Experiences Abound


Some people have bucket lists for species of fish they target, exotic fishing destinations, or maybe they desire to fish with a celebrity or world-class angler. I was able to fill my bucket with a story that I will never forget, nor am able to, due to the camera onboard and a subsequent television show that captured the moment.

Fast forward to September 2011 and my story continues. I had the pleasure of fishing with Hall of Fame fisherman Larry Dahlberg. Larry was in town to do some filming on the newly developed musky fishery on Melton Hill Reservoir. After four days of dodging thunderstorms and putting some nice muskies in the boat, we had all the footage necessary for a quality musky show. While out on the water early in the week, a buddy of mine called and asked if I had seen the weather forecast. He mentioned tropical storm Lee was approaching the area and I immediately thought of Ivan in 2004. My friend asked if we were going to spend the day indoors and cut our filming short. I said even though the weather forecast seemed grim, this could be the best possible scenario for some serious action. I told Larry we’d have a really good chance at landing some stripers if we timed it right so we decided to chase stripers for a few hours before he caught his flight back to Minnesota.


On Labor Day, September 5, 2011, more than five inches of rain fell. This amount of rain flooded the downstream creeks and pushed a lot of the bait out of these creeks. On September the 6th we began the day right up against the dam because of the muddy conditions downstream. Larry quickly caught some nice stripers but the action did not seem comparable to what we saw in 2004. We noticed large amounts of bait right up against the dam but nothing seemed to be moving. It was still lightly raining but we noticed the weather was going to clear within the hour. We moved downstream to check out other locations. We noticed the creeks downstream were running extremely high and muddy and, with no signs of fish, we went back up to the dam to see if we could put a fish or two in the boat before we had to leave. As soon as we got to the dam wall I picked up one of Larry’s swimbaits and made a cast into the discharging water. After three cranks of the reel, I felt something turn on my bait and immediately noticed three 30-pound class stripers chasing my bait. This cast was the beginning of a fishing experience I will never forget. By this time the skies had cleared, the main low pressure system had moved directly over Tennessee and the fish went wild. Every other cast resulted in a 20- to 30-pound striper. In about two hours, we caught over 30 fish, all in the same 20- to 30-pound class with several doubles and triples, all by using artificial lures. We were unhooking the fish as fast as we could just to make another cast. The beauty of this experience is that we were the only boat on the water that day and we had the place and all of those fish to ourselves. Larry was able to put that video together and make a whole separate episode from a single two hour adventure.


Looking back at the scenario it makes perfect sense. Due to the heavy rains, the bait fish in the creeks were flushed out of the extremely muddy waters. The stripers had pushed this bait upstream as far as they could go. When the rain ceased and the sun came out, the pressure had begun to drop and this really started the feeding frenzy. Looking at the paths of the low pressure systems associated with these storms they are all very similar to one another. It pays to pay close attention to the weather forecast and the next time one of these systems comes through Tennessee, it will be a wise decision to get out the raingear and go hit the Melton Hill tailwater.

The Water Haul Cast: A Useful Cast to Master

Monday, January 7th, 2013


In saltwater fly fishing a long (50-plus feet) accurate cast is often required to be successful at catching fish. This cast is called the double haul. The double haul is a wonderful cast once mastered and will make it possible for the fly angler to not only cast his or her fly to greater distances but also help when casting into the wind.

But what happens when the fly angler is casting to fish in deep water? Or casting into the shore break as the currents from the waves are dragging your line back and forth? How about casting a 550 or 650 shooting head or sinking line from a tossing and pitching boat on the open ocean? This is not the place for artful double hauling. This is rock and roll fly fishing and the name of the game here is to get the fly into the water and catch fish.

Often, when casting a heavy sinking line, water hauling is the most practical cast.

Here is how you do it:

  1. Make your forward cast at a comfortable distance.
  2. Once the cast is out in front of you, with the rod tip on the water, strip the line in until you get the sinking part of the shooting head at the tip of your rod.
  3. Slowly lift your rod tip and make a roll cast. This will lay the line out straight in front of you.
  4. Now make a slow back cast and feel the line drag up off the water.
  5. Let the sinking line fall out behind you on the water as if you were presenting a fly to a fish behind you.
  6. Once the line is laid out behind you make a forward cast and pull the line with your free hand with a down stroke towards your hip and then release the line.

The resistance of the water on both the front and back cast or the haul will create enough friction and drag to project the fly line forward acting like a double haul without any false casting.

The water haul cast is also a great way to master the double haul.

Winter Redfish on the Fly

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

Wintertime is what a poet once called “the cruelest month.” This is not the case if you’re in pursuit of redfish in the fly. Wintertime is one of the finest times to target big bull reds in the Gulf of Mexico from Texas to the west coast of Florida.

Why the redfish?
Catching a redfish on the fly is one of saltwater fly-fishing greatest experiences. Not only are redfish very eager and willing to take a variety of flies and poppers, they also have a tendency to feed in very shallow water, making them the perfect saltwater fish for sight casting. There is something very special about seeing and casting to a redfish tailing along a grassy marsh bank and watching the fly disappear into its mouth and the line coming tight. For your first saltwater fly fishing experience, the redfish is the perfect fish to fine-tune your fly fishing skills.

The tackle
The redfish game is simple. All you need is a nine foot long 7 or 8 weight rod matched with a floating line and a fly reel that can carry 150 yards of backing. For the leader, a standard nine-foot leader with a tippet rating of 15 to 20-pound test works best. If fishing for tailing reds, a crab pattern or spoon fly will do the job. A good bet when surface fishing along the mangroves or grassy banks is a popper that creates surface noise and a highly-visible wake.

The set up
In your search for those areas where redfish are feeding, give special attention to oyster beds, mangrove shorelines and shallow flats, where more often than not you’ll spot redfish rooting around and kicking up bottom mud in their search for crustaceans and other food. When redfish are focused on feeding it is possible to move in very close to them, making a long cast unnecessary.

Once you’ve spotted the fish, position the fly close to its head, make a one-handed steady strip of your line and hang on!

Learn to Fly Cast Farther!

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

By Rene Hesse

If you really want someone to read your article, or show up for a fly casting class, that’s what you advertise: Learn to Fly Cast Farther! This article is not about distance; it’s about accuracy, but I had to get you interested. Most folks will not take the time to read about accuracy, much less practice it. We tend to just enjoy the flow of a cast and the nice loops, and then we focus on distance next.

Fly Casting Accuracy would be the title of a fly casting class that would bring in the fly fishers that understand what’s important in catching fish. You may be able to cast a mile, but if it isn’t near a fish, it’s just casting. Hopefully, when you read the following, you will get some key points into the mindset of an accurate caster.

We have to start with equipment that lends itself to being more accurate: 1) A responsive rod—too stiff (fast), no feel; too soft (slow), no control. 2) Bright line so you can see the loops and align them. 3) Leaders that carry the energy to the target and not fade out to a wisp.

Then we have to be physically ready, from our feet to our head. Our footing should be aligned with the target, if possible, knees soft and able to flow; our body’s core like a dancer’s, able to adjust, not stiff like a boxer. Shoulders square to target and rounded, but with chest up. A cleansing breath to get oxygenated, and keep the head up, not tilted, so vision will not be distorted. Our arm casting style can aid in achieving accuracy; if you cast off to the side (on a horizontal plane), you will have a better view of your line, but the cast can go sideways past your target, compared to you going more over the top (or vertical). For short casts, stay more vertical than for a long cast of 45-80 feet, where we have to lengthen our casting stroke.

Now, my favorite part of accuracy casting: getting in your head! If nothing else, remember that accuracy is active seeing, not casual looking. You have to see the target, not the area. Too often we look at a log in the water, a root wad or a rock that will hold fish; we fail to see the four-inch by four-inch specific spot we need to land the fly, and then we have fuzzy targets. Try this: take a moment, look at your fireplace (or anything else) and pretend you want to place the fly in it. Move your eyes side to side, and then up and down to a spot; a brick, for example, that you want to land the fly on. Your eyes should almost bug out as you get zoned in on the spot, not the fireplace. That is active seeing; see your target and pretend you’re looking down a funnel into it. Now make your fly line loop travel down the tunnel to the target. Get the idea?

Now let’s put it together for the cast. You have picked out your target; let me say that again, you have picked out your target. You have the best gear for your situation, and you have positioned yourself to make the cast. Start with less line outside the rod tip than you will need to make the cast (it is difficult to take back line while casting). Focus on making your loops parallel on all planes. A slightly rounded loop is easier to see than a pointed one, so open up to a two-three foot loop, and slow down. Look at your loops, both front and back, until you like the alignment (send the loop down the funnel), and then pick up your target with your eyes again. Try a few false casts, and hover the fly a foot or two above the target (after you stop the rod, move your hand one inch forward and the fly will almost hang in the air for a second). When you get the placement of the false cast where it should be, don’t change a thing, and deliver it on the next cast. Whew! That’s a lot!
Let’s make it easy. Pick out a specific target; make good loops and line them up. Then pick up that target with your eyes again, and make everything focused on getting there. Oh, then get ready to catch a fish!

Fly fishing is about having fun, and catching fish is more fun than not. Focus on accuracy and you will have more fun fly fishing and catching fish.

Rene Hesse is a Certified Casting Instructor–Federation of Fly Fishers Atlanta Fly Fishing and Camping Meetup Organizer.

Learning to Fly—Choosing Your Reel, Backing Line

Thursday, November 1st, 2012



Choosing the right fly reel is commonly considered to be the least difficult part of getting outfitted for fly fishing. Nonetheless, it is an important aspect of learning to fly. Some anglers consider the reel to be nothing more than a spool that holds your line. When tackling freshwater trout or bass, that mentality can hold true. But when pursuing saltwater species, a little more thought has to go into your decision-making process.

The first thing to consider is the material of the reel. Remember, you are using this reel in saltwater, and saltwater destroys everything it touches. Aluminum reels are the top choice when gearing up for the salt. Aluminum is a lightweight material that holds up to the rigors of saltwater exposure. Many reels are machined, which means they are designed to use less aluminum in the reel. This makes the reel even lighter.

The next factor to consider is spool size. Most saltwater fly reels employ a spool size called a large arbor. The spool is wider, which means more backing can fit on the reel and you retrieve more line in one turn of the reel. Both are beneficial when fighting fish that run a great distance, like bonefish, large tarpon and permit.

That brings us to the final factor, the drag system of your reel. Most fly reels employ a cork drag or synthetic drag system. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Cork drags require more maintenance than synthetic drag systems but do not get as heated when a fish is really running on the drag. When tackling the above-mentioned species, your drag system may become the most important factor when choosing a reel. Fly reels can get very expensive. Tibor, Ross, Orvis, Abel and Nautilus are some of the premier names in the industry. There are some less expensive companies out there, but as with anything, you get what you pay for. Get the best reel you can afford.

Choosing what kind of backing is rather simple. Backing is a braided line that is tied directly to the spool. Most fly lines are only 80 to 110 feet in length, so more running line is a must. There are two kinds of backing: Dacron backing and gel spun backing. Both come in various sizes based on pound test. Gel spun backing is the latest rage in the industry because it lays flat on the spool, unlike Dacron. This allows you to put much more backing on your reel. Doing this could come in real handy if you ever want to tackle bonefish or big redfish on a 6-weight fly rod. You’ll need the extra backing.

Fly lines can be very, very technical. Sink ratios, grain weights and various tapers can really confuse many beginning fly fishers. Your line choice should be as easy as possible. If you have an 8-weight rod, you get an 8-weight line. If you are fishing bigger flies or want to make quick casts by loading the rod quicker, over-lining your rod with one size bigger fly line will help.

The other factor to decide on is the kind of line: floating, intermediate sinking or sinking line. For most inshore saltwater applications, weight forward, floating fly line is the standard. For situations where deeper water is being fished, a fly line with a clear sink (or ghost) tip or intermediate ghost tip can be used. Some fly line companies make a completely clear fly line. Your local fly shop will be able to help you decide on this critical part of your fly fishing outfit. Scientific Anglers, Orvis, Monic, Rio and Cortland are companies to consider. Again, get the best fly line you can afford.

Capt. Jon Bull can be contacted via email at, by phone at (863) 860-7250 and on the many online forums under the handle “Shadowcast.”

Learning to Fly—Getting on the Water

Thursday, November 1st, 2012


Learning to flyfish can take days, weeks and maybe even months of preparation and practice. But once you are out on the water, what do you look for? You are basically thrusting yourself into an environment that is completely alien to humans. We rule the land, but fish rule the waters—the advantage is with them. However, nature and the fish we are seeking can provide us with some hints and clues that can help the angler be successful on the water.

Whatever vessel you fish from, be it a boat, canoe, kayak or by wade fishing, stealth is an essential key to your success. When you are fly fishing, stealth is even more essential. For the purposes of this article, we will use a very popular mode of fishing transportation: the kayak.

Kayaks and fly fishing go hand-in-hand. In a kayak, you can get into very shallow water almost silently. When fly fishing, you are not going to be casting more than 40 to 50 feet on the average. Being in a kayak will help you close the distance between you and your quarry, making your average fly cast relatively short. Not to mention, fishing from a kayak slows everything down so you can pay more attention to what is going on around you.

There are always signs on the water that clue the angler into the presence of fish. Nature provides us with many of those signs, and knowing what to look for will make it easier.

The first thing I look for when fishing the flats is bird activity. I especially look for wading birds. These birds are a good indicator that there is baitfish on the flats, and they also can tell you how deep the water is. My favorite example is the great blue heron. This is a bird that feeds on a primary diet of small fish. He has long legs that are about two to three feet long. If I see a heron prowling the flats and I can see most of his legs, I know the water is too shallow to hold fish. If that same heron is in water deep enough so his tail feathers are touching the water, you better believe I will be fishing near him. If he is hunting for his food, you can be sure a snook or redfish is hunting the same area. Diving birds also tell me that bait is around. Pelicans and fairy terns are great baitfish indicators. Chances are the area around them is worth checking out, because where there is bait, predators are sure to follow.

Other clues that I look for are the bottom structure and contour. I like to fish flats that have grass with sandy potholes in them. Trout and redfish have a tendency to hang in the grass on the edge of potholes and ambush bait that happens to pass through the pothole. I also look for current points. Snook are very lazy feeders. They will usually stage up facing into the current and let the tide bring them their meal. Strong tidal flows flush schools of bait in and out of the estuaries, making points and passes great ambush points for snook.

The fish that we are fishing for will provide us with very obvious signs. Patience is key when looking for these signs. They will come quick and are very easy to miss.

The first and most obvious sign is what we call a bust. This is when a fish feeds and breaks the surface of the water. All species of fish, at one time or another, will do this. Listening and judging where the bust comes from will clue you into where the fish are.

Fish that feed on the bottom, such as redfish, black drum, bonefish and permit, will stick their faces in the bottom, which will cause their tails to break the surface of the water. This is called tailing. This is the most coveted fish sign because a tailing fish is an undisturbed fish that is feeding.

Fish that are traveling in shallow water will create a push. This is a submarine-like wake that a fish makes when moving through the water. If the wake is erratic and fast moving, that fish is spooked and will probably not eat. If it is slow and deliberate, that fish is on the prowl looking for a meal.

Fish will give you many other signs to alert you to their presence. It takes time out on the water to learn every single sign that you could ever see. The most important thing is to get out there. Learn your local body of water and learn how the fish behave in it. Your success rate will increase. Let your fly fishing become an art form to you. The rewarding feeling that you will get from seeing the fish, making the perfect presentation, seeing the take, winning the battle and watching the fish swim away after the release is a feeling that you will get addicted to very quickly.

In the end, you will realize that learning to fly was the most rewarding thing you could have done as an angler.

Capt. Jon Bull
(863) 860-7250

10 Tips on Becoming a Better Saltwater Fly Fisherman

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

by Capt. John Bottko

1. Keep a journal.
Success in Saltwater is being at the right place at the right time. The best way to increase your chances of being at the right place at the right time is to keep a record of your past successes and failures. If you found a school of reds feeding on a certain oyster bar an hour before low tide at first light for instance, then that same set of circumstances is likely to happen again in two weeks. A basic rule of thumb is that tides make a complete cycle every two weeks. One week later the tide will be the exact opposite and two weeks later it will be back to the same conditions. There are also yearly cycles. Water temperatures warm in the spring and cool off in the fall and a number of migratory fish move with these changing water temps. If you know that you caught Spanish mackerel on April 20 last year when the water temp was 75 degrees, then this year when the water temp is 75 degrees around April 20th the Spanish will likely show up again. Keeping a journal will increase your success only if you record accurate information on tides, water temps, location, time of year and what fly you used and then review that information often.

2. Make it a point to learn something new each time you fish.
Whether it’s a new location, a new retrieve or a new fly, try something different. Make it a point to explore new territory every time you go out. If you’re having success at a certain spot try to figure out why you’re having success at that spot and then search for another spot that has the same types of conditions. Increasing the number of spots you fish will increase your success. Changing flies, sometimes a different color or different size will make all the difference in the world. Saltwater is no different than freshwater in that if you can match what the fish are feeding on you’re going to have success. Sometimes it’s not the fly but how the fly is moving in the water. There are times when you need to slow down and times when you need to speed up. Vary your retrieves until you find what’s working. Now that you’ve learned something new, record it in your journal.

3. Organize your fly boxes.
There are flies that float, flies that sink, flies for redfish, flies for trout, flies for the surf, flies for high tide and flies for low tide. How do you know what fly to use when, if your fly boxes aren’t organized. Everybody organizes their flies differently but one of the best ways I’ve found is to organize them by fishing conditions. I have a box that I use when I’m fishing for reds in the grass, a box for fly fishing surf, a box for low water reds, a box for fishing bait pods and a box for fly fishing under the lights. These boxes might have both top water and sinking flies in them but they’re geared for specific fishing conditions.

4. Be into every cast.
Nothing will improve your success like concentrating on each cast and every strip of your fly line. A bad cast might spook a school of fish you didn’t know was there. A strip of your fly line at the wrong time could send that redfish flying. Make every cast count. A great day on the water could be the difference between one fish and no fish.

5. Practice your casting.
The time to practice casting is not when your fishing. Take the time before you go fishing to prefect your casting. You don’t have to cast like Lefty Kreh but you have to be able to cast a least 40 feet. With each ten feet beyond that distance your success will go up. Saltwater fish are very spooky in shallow water and the more distance between you and the fish the more likely you’ll get them to eat your fly. It doesn’t matter how far you can cast if the fly isn’t in front of the fish. Put some targets out at different distances and practice getting your fly to these targets quickly. Also practice in all different wind conditions. Don’t just practice with the wind at your back put the wind in your face, on your right side and on your left side. I can’t remember the last time I had the wind to my back!

6. Join a local fly club.
This is the place to find out what happening locally. It’s a place to make new friends that are interested in the same thing you are. Fly fisherman are willing to share information and a local fly club is a source of information that is hard to find any place else. They usually have monthly outings and meetings that are not only informative but a lot fun.

7. Read as much information as you can.
Not only are there a number of great magazines and books on saltwater fly fishing, but today we have the internet. This is an unlimited source of information. Not only can you find information on any subject but you can connect with other fly fisherman thru forums, email and face book. It’s free and you don’t even have to leave your home.

8. Try new techniques and tackle.
Sometimes we can learn from completely different types of fly fishing. The last few years I’ve been using a spey rod in the surf with great success. These are two handed rods that are used for steelhead and salmon on large rivers. They give the fly caster the ability to cast long distances with either their right or left hand depending on the wind and current. Using this different technique and tackle has enabled me to catch fish I was unable to catch previously.

9. Learn to tie flies.
This might not be for everyone but it will improve your fly fishing. You will learn why one fly works and another doesn’t. What makes a fly float or sink? What makes it cut through the grass without getting hung up? What makes it ride hook point up? What materials have the most action in the water? But most of all it will give you pleasure when you can’t be flying fishing. And nothing beats caching a fish on a fly that you tied yourself.

10. Hire the top fly fishing guide in the area.
Nothing is like hands on instruction. Seeing the wake or tail of redfish, on the water, is what it’s all about. Pictures are not the same as being there. Having someone explain why that redfish is where it is. Why that redfish will feed on the fly he has tied on. Showing you how close you can get without spooking it. Showing the right approach for the situation. Guiding you on how to fight the fish and how to properly release it. Instruction in the hands of an expert will eliminate many hours of frustration on your own. Fly fishing is an ongoing process of learning and than being humbled by the fish you’re going after. Yes we all cherish the successes but it seems that the failures are what keep us coming back.

Written by: Capt. John Bottko of The Salty Feather Fly Shop – Jacksonville’s oldest and largest fly shop. Learn more at; or by calling 904-645-8998.