FFI Ambassador Bruce Chard's Advice for Offseason Saltwater Preparation
By Bruce Chard
Photo Credit: Louis Cahill
Anticipating and preparing for your next saltwater fly fishing adventure can be as exciting as the feeling of a giant tarpon ripping line off your reel as it launches itself into the atmosphere! Well…maybe not that exciting, but I like to think of that popular saying “life is what you make it”. I also believe a saltwater fly fishing trip is what you make it, as well. So, let’s have a little fun and dive into some advice from experience that will help you to make the most of your next saltwater fly fishing adventure.
Now is the time to prep for your success on the saltwater flats. As many of us are making through winter, with less-than-ideal fishing conditions, it’s a great time to take a look at your saltwater fly fishing gear and skills so you’ll be ready when you step onto the flats or a skiff later this year.
Review Your Gear
Take some time to review your reels, including inspecting the frame, retrieve handle, spool, and drag mechanism. Make sure your drag works smoothly. You want a smooth start up and a full drag range from light to solid tension. Different drag mechanisms require unique maintenance and lubrication. A smooth operating drag system makes for a happy reel and a happy angler.
Double check for any corrosion that may have been caused by errant saltwater from your last outing. Since most saltwater fly reels are designed and constructed with many dissimilar metals for increased strength and durability there are risks of corrosion. Its important to stay away from products like WD-40 to remove corrosion, as this product is actually a degreaser and will literally eat all the very important oils and grease that help your reel function. Since all reels are made differently, checking with your reel manufacturer on the best way to maintain your specific reel.
How’s that fly line and backing looking? Inspect the connection points, especially the fly line to leader connection. Make sure your welded fly line loop is strong and not damaged, as this section can suffer extensive beatings from repetitively being stripped in and out of the rod tip under tension while casting and fighting fish. This major connection is one of the most important aspects of your entire system (rod, reel, line and leader) that allows for a smooth transition of power from the line into the leader while casting and presenting your fly.
Look for fly line cracks or dry rot, and any sand or salt accumulation on the line and backing. Strip off any backing that is not stacked on the spool tightly and re-load back onto spool with adequate tension. This will reduce the odds of backing cutting into itself, knotting and then locking up tight when coming under tension from a fish, which usually resulting in a long distance release.
Modern fly lines can have a long life with proper maintenance but it’s not worth sacrificing success on a saltwater trip if it’s time to replace an old line. Everyone loves the smell and feel of a new car. If you’re a fly fisher, the same feeling is true with fly lines.
This is also a great time to replace old leaders. Much like your fly line, you don’t want to worry about an old leader when you have that bonefish or permit on the other end. Pre-tying leaders in different lengths and weights can save time during the fishing trip. Being prepped and ready to go is always a prudent approach.
Casting - Practice Makes Permanent!
From start to finish, every angler is fishing their best within the last 5 minutes of their trip. Why? They’ve had the rod in their hands every day. Just a few minutes a day, a few days a week, will pay HUGE dividends when it’s time to make the shot a few months from now. Here are some important casting and presentation skills to practice for your adventure.
Casting into the wind – We know all too well that the tropics can offer up some harsh winds to deal with while casting and fishing the salt. Even for the most experienced saltwater casters, shooting line into the wind usually ends with some degree of slack within the system upon final presentation.
In most circumstances, slack is not our friend when saltwater fly fishing. When trying to achieve a critically important straight-line slack less presentation into the wind, try carrying the ENTIRE amount of line you need to make the cast. Then when its time to present you shouldn’t need to shoot line to make the final presentation you need to make. Holding on tight to the fly line with your line hand, and not shooting any line at all during final presentation, will force all the condensed energy within the loop into the leader, dramatically increasing the odds of a slack-less straight line presentation. Even into the wind! You get out of it what you put into it! So, if you apply a lot of power, you will get a powerful return. High line speed, tight loops and low trajectory all help to make for a great slackless presentation into the wind.
Presenting on your Back Cast - I believe one of the most important and underrated saltwater fly casts is presenting on your back cast.
Effectively presenting on your back cast doubles your odds of taking advantage of your opportunities. It’s very important to remember that a BACK cast is a BACK cast. That means your back is toward your target. Practicing until you are comfortable and competent presenting on your back cast will pay huge dividends.
If you’re fishing with a guide and have the backcast in your arsenal, the guide will not have to take valuable time turning the boat so you can make your cast. You can simply and promptly just drop a quick back cast and you are in the game right away. Guides will love you! Also, if you find yourself with a strong wind on your casting shoulder, changing your casting trajectory so your line travels on the down wind side of you might call for a back cast. Practice the same tight loop, high line speed and low trajectory presentation on your back cast and you will double your angling skills.
Strip to Come Tight - Your job as a saltwater angler is to present the fly into the water and come tight to the fly ASAP! If you’re not tight to the fly then you won’t have any ability to adjust any slack entering your system from boat movement or current direction, nor will you have a clue where your fly is relative to the fish. If you don’t know where your fly is, you’ll have a hard time fishing the fly in front of the fish and making that fish eat your fly. This IS the saltwater game folks! Be visually connected to the fish and physically connected to your fly at all times in order to make any immediate adjustments to keep the fly in the zone.
Once you present you MUST strip your fly ASAP to come tight to your fly right away. If you’re not ready to strip your fly immediately, you will not be able to come tight to your fly until you strip all the slack out of your presentation. Most of the time you have to deal with slack entering the system from the boat moving towards your presentation and/or the current direction of the water moving toward you.
Practice laying your line from your line hand into your stripping finger as your loop is unrolling on your presentation cast. You can even start stripping before the leader and fly even hit the water, especially on a low trajectory presentation. This creates a situation where you are ready to strip right away to come tight to your fly and regulate any slack that entering your system. Remember when stripping the fly the distance that your rod tip from the surface of the water is the amount of slack you STILL have in your system. Your rod tip must be very close or in the water to totally reduce the overall slack in the system. So, all in one motion, as your presentation cast is laying out straight in the air and into the water, you’re already laying the fly line within your stripping finger and moving the rod tip to the water and starting your strip, all together.
Just a little preparation and practice will go a long way in setting up success on your next saltwater adventure! Stay tuned for more saltwater information in future Insider emails!