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