Saltwater Trip: Part 1
I will always look back on my first trip to the flats as the most humbling and eye-opening experiences of my fly fishing career. Like a lot of fishing trips, this one began with a last-minute phone call. This call was from saltwater fly fishing guru, Captain Nick Varnberg. He said that the fishing was good. I needed to get to Key Largo as soon as possible to try my hand at saltwater fly fishing.
There wasn’t a cloud in sight, and not a breath of wind in the air. I was bursting with confidence as I stepped onto the boat on the first day. “I am a good caster,” I thought, “And I understand fish. Plus, the weather is perfect, the fish are here. I also have a whole week to make it happen, so how hard could this really be?” Everything was falling into place perfectly, and this looked like the beginning of a successful fishing trip.
After six long days of fishing and dozens of blown shots, all I had to show for my hard work were about a thousand mosquito bites and a fierce sunburn. I had to board the plane back to Denver with my tail tucked between my legs. I had the image of a man-sized fish closing its huge mouth and swimming away seared into the back of my eyes. He ate it, I guess, but I never even felt him. Throughout that trip, it was obvious to everyone, including the fish, that I was not ready to take on tarpon fishing in the Florida Keys. With a little preparation, practice, and pre-trip effort, I could have done better. Who knows? I might have even stuck the only fish I didn’t spook.
Expectations and Attitude
One of the easiest things you can do to have a better first saltwater fly fishing experience is to show up with humble expectations and attitude. Part of my problem was that I had unrealistic expectations for my first time casting to and feeding migrating tarpon. I had been told that it was difficult. However, I thought that I was somehow special. I thought that my “skills” would grant me automatic success. Once you understand what you are up against, your guide will have an easier time teaching and working with you. You will be more focused and ready to take every chance at fish more seriously.
When you step onto your guide’s boat, you should be patient, focused, and ideally not hungover. Your eyes and ears should be wide open. Ask questions, accept criticism, and follow instructions. No matter how well you cast a five weight, it takes some time to get used to the twelve weight rod. If you have never used a twelve weight fly rod, take the time to practice with one for a few weeks before you go, so that you can learn the specific techniques that your guide shares with you. If you do not find fish right away, remember that they are wild. They are unpredictable animals that do not want to be found. These fish usually wait until you are drinking a beer or eating a sandwich to cruise by the boat within range.
For the next few weeks, I will be talking about how to plan and prepare for your first few saltwater fly fishing trips and handing out tips and information that I have gathered from some of the most experienced flats guides in the world. Stay tuned next week for tips on what gear to buy and bring on your first flats adventure.
Andy “Otter” Smith, Guide and Content Writer