Being Better

Over the next few columns, Peter will be looking at the value of having good fishing systems in place for different situations, starting this issue with saltwater flats.

For the past week I’ve been watching the 39th World Fly Fishing Championships here in my home state of Tasmania. Watching (or rather, studying) the many exceptional anglers whilst they fished the river wading beats or the boat-drifting sessions, it was clear that they absolutely shone when compared to the other very good world-class anglers.

The exceptional anglers are in another class. It is so glaringly obvious when you watch them fish. So much so, many of the spectators – some of them flyfishing novices – could easily discern the difference. Comments like, ‘He wades so quietly!’, ‘He casts so effortlessly’, ‘Isn’t he so accurate?’, ‘His line is never twisted or tangled’, were often heard.

To my mind, the exceptional anglers do everything right, and there were a couple of things that really stood out to me which made the difference between these anglers and everyone else.

Firstly, they are big on the many small details which make up the whole. Their technical skills, clearly honed from many thousands of hours fishing in a competitive manner, made them look graceful and efficient and smooth.

Secondly – and this is the point of this piece and several upcoming columns – is they clearly have a system they work to.

It’s a little like McDonalds I guess. Like them or not, McDonalds have a system they adhere to. It’s as efficient as they can make it and it’s the same system in in any store in any country in the world. They do this because it works – always. Stick to the system and you minimise (and often completely avoid) the stuff-ups. We should consider looking at this concept for flyfishing.

In addition to the epiphany I had whilst watching the world champions, I had a parallel thought that relates to my guiding business and teaching flyfishing in general. Recently, while wading the bonefishing flats of the Cocos Keeling Islands with my new-to-saltwater flyfishing partner Di, it became obvious after the first six good opportunities were blown, that I needed to teach her The System. It was pleasing that Di quickly understood and then adhered to the system, and we ended up having a terrific time catching many fish.

Di was rewarded for being ready to go when this bonefish swam into view.

Most of the good, experienced anglers I know have systems they work to for various types of flyfishing. In this column, I’ll detail my ideas on wade polaroiding saltwater flats.

Then, in future columns I’ll look at:

  • Wade polaroiding shallow highland lakes (similar but not the same as saltwater flats).
  • Loch-style drifting from a boat (dry fly searching and wet fly searching).
  • Wind-lane fishing from a boat.
  • Wade fishing medium-sized streams and rivers.
  • Stalking fish in rivers and highland lakes.

Wade polaroiding saltwater flats

To saltwater flats first up, and we need a system which helps us avoid the muck-ups that result in missed opportunities. Some of these (and this is just my shortlist really) are:

  • Fly sticks as you initiate the first back-cast.
  • Line rod wraps when you start to cast.
  • Line tangles around legs or under your feet during the cast.
  • Weed or coral on the fly.
  • Running-line tangles on the delivery cast.
  • Too slow to deliver the fly – the fish is gone.

As I see it, this all comes down to being ready to go at any time, and therefore having a line management system in place which will always work when you need it to. If you couple this technical detail with an efficient wading coverage of the available water, you’ll be successful, and your day will not be as frustrating as it could be otherwise.

Efficient wading and being well organised = finding opportunties and converting them.

Where to start

In terms of orientation, I suggest you mostly try to polaroid with the sun at your back. Who knows where the wind will be, so learn to cast well at all angles to it. With extensive sand flats at your disposal, I think you should zig zag away from the sun. If there are channels or drop-offs, you should try to constantly ‘kiss them’ on one side of your zigs or zags. You may work out that the closer to the depth change you are, the better the fishing is.

If there are islands of coconut trees or hills with height, then it can be wise to spend time close to them and polaroiding towards them. This is because if there is much cloud in front of you, then the backdrop of the trees will replace the white impenetrable reflection of the clouds, offering a dark ‘window’ which enables you to see into the water exceptionally well.

Be mindful of the bottom you are walking on. If the fish always turn up on the turtle grass, or maybe when it gets a little rubbly then that may be a better spot, or perhaps the boggy spots are good? One way or another, you need to gather an understanding of where the fish are more common, and then of course spend more time in those spots.

When you lose the sun, you should stop wading… then start again as visibility returns.

In good light, and good vision, I suggest you wade as fast as you can while being quiet. Often, the angler who wades the furthest will find more fish. On that point though, learn to wade with minimal noise and disturbance. Be stealthy and don’t put up a pressure wave in front of you. Don’t lift your feet from the bottom very much; imagine you are skating on ice. (Incidentally, it’s amazing how spare line will somehow get between your legs, even though you don’t think you’ve stepped into the loop!)

How to start – the set-up: always being ready and organised

Start your set-up by making a cast out to a few metres beyond the extent of your vision. Now strip the line in using long strips to place each strip into your Stripper Clip. Yes, in my view you need to use a Stripper Clip when flats fishing. See how it works HERE.

Be sure to leave out a rod length or a little more of fly-line, then make sure you hold your tippet a few centimetres from the fly which is inside the palm of your line hand. If the fly is here, it can’t get tangled on the leader or stuck in your trousers or snagged on the coral, etc.

If the fly is in the palm of your hand, it can’t get caught on anything.

Depending on the light conditions, I’m constantly adjusting the amount of line outside the rod (the start length). In bad light, I shorten it up in anticipation of seeing a fish that’s almost under my feet. If the visibility is fantastic, I will have two rod lengths or more outside the rod.

When I wade with good visibility and a long start length, I always ‘cock’ the rod behind me on the downwind side. I hold my rod hand higher that my line hand. This helps to avoid the start-off tangle with the leader or fly and rod butt, or the first hanging loop.

This cocked position often enables me to make a single forward cast that is very unlikely to tangle. The speed of this action without fish-alerting false casts, catches a lot of fish. Furthermore, by always moving the rod to the downwind side (this changes with the zigs and the zags) it reminds me of the casting plane that is required for the tangle-free false casts if needed.

When wading with poor visibility, I really shorten up to just a foot or two of fly-line outside the rod tip. In this case, I hold the rod more forward, whilst holding the fly in my palm. I also hold halfway up the leader with my thumb and index finger. With these fingers, I apply a slight bend to the rod tip. This avoids the tip wraps which so often occur with loose line, strong winds and jerky tip movements. By applying a little tension, I can guarantee not to have a tip wrap tangle as I start the cast.

Be ready and learn to cast effectively regardless of the wind direction.

Check and reset the system constantly

It’s important that you check and reset your system often. I’ll pick a target and make a cast every 4 or 5 minutes. I’ll do this at differing angles to the wind, and for two reasons.

  1. I want to keep on my toes with the casting plane, speed and accuracy that is required under the day’s conditions.
  2. Most importantly, I want to be sure of quick, tangle-free, efficient deliveries. You should be constantly practicing for this. I find that, as careful as I am, if I wade for 30 minutes in a zig zagging manner at different angles to the tide and the wind, then my cast will be tangled in some sort of way. My advice is, learn to reset quickly and often to better guarantee good outcomes.

More next time.