Welcome to Fly Fishing The Salt! If you are just discovering the joys of fly fishing the salt (or salt chuck as some call it) here you will find information to steer you in the right direction. Tips on what equipment to use, why, where and how to fish. And we will try to include a little inspiration to get you going. For the experienced salt water angler, there will be personal stories about real fishermen and their experiences, tips on what flies for which fish and techniques that work. Your stories and articles are also most welcome. Share the knowledge and adventure. Pass it on! This is for you.
"Fly only" Scud takes a hit
Hot July nights fishing can make you sweat like a whore in church as the temps drop down to almost 85 at night and the humidity hangs about 90%. Last night the temp was the same but several things were different for this trip. First, the evening breeze was from the SW early and then from the north later making it really nice on the water. The second was when my fishing friends for the night, Maxi and Heidi called and asked that I bring a spinning rod on the boat for the little woman. "She wants to learn fly tossing but not ready for night fly fishing," explained Maxi. Well, I bend for friends like this. I brought the dreaded "devil rod" along. Glad I did.
I focused a long time ago on fly fishing; try being most excellent at it and to provide a near perfect platform to fly fish from. I am not proficient in spin fishing techniques at all and had to call a fellow guide to ask about how to catch fish this way. He mentioned a couple of top water lures with names out of the NASCAR dictionary. I should have been sitting in the boat waiting on the fishing team when I was wondering through Kmart looking for said plugs to arm Heidi with. I took the rig to the dock out back and did three casts to make the "evil treble hook clustered" thing work like Unk told me; "walking the dog." We hit the water with a half hour of light left armed with my new vast spinning experience and headed to a flat nearby home to practice before the lights went out. Oh, on getting into the truck, Heidi was noticed by some neighbors. She is not hard to miss. I yelled at them she fished naked and as we blasted off they were begging to come along.
I showed Heidi once and she had it. No mystery there as her daughter, when 14 (now a mother of 21), picked it up in one short lesson too. Isn't reverse DNA transfer neat? Heidi was throwing about a hundred feet on the light weight rod and bail type reel flawlessly. I was teaching as Ron poled us on a big grass flat in a couple feet of water and the fish were trying in vain to jump on the plug. I corrected her with one cast on how to retrieve it better so the dog "walked." She got that too. Then, noting she was Omni directional and did not seem to care as long as it went long and out of the boat, we showed her the swirls the fish made in the water and told her she would have to toss at the swirls. I demoed one aimed cast then she hit the first target she tried to hit. Then the setting of the hook I explained. She started getting that and had several big hits and "just about" hook ups. Then one hit her lure about twenty feet out. Determined not to miss this one, she gave a mighty set. The fish threw the hook infested "evil" plug back at her just missing all of us and it crocheted her name around the front platform. I took the rod as she tried to trace the line to the blister of hooks lodged somewhere near an artery of one our legs.
Just then Ron and I saw a monster "bust" off the starboard side, about 150 feet away...and there was a deep red/gold hew to the big tail that flashed. Heidi did not see the act and had just freed the killer plug. I had the rod and just flung it as far as I could at the big swirl fading in the wave pattern. I hit about ten feet left of it and gave it a big "chug." A monster bust happened at the plug but missed and the fish followed with a second big slash and the plug went missing as the line when tight. Setting was not a problem to be considered but I tried anyway. It was like trying to pull a truck out of the water. The fish took another fifty feet of line before it slowed.
I "thought" this reel had 10 or 12 pound line on it. I also had the drag at about a pound for trout, not monsters. I guessed and tightened the little reel's drag "a bit." I was able to make some ground with the fish toward the boat. Ron and I had pretty much confirmed it was a red but disagreed on the size. A big fish on our flats is in the ten pound range this far from the bridge and ocean. Ron insisted it was a "monster." Heidi was cheering for either size. I pumped, gaining for a bit, and the fish would "leave" for another twenty feet again. I tightened the drag some more and "twanged" the line to see how tight it was. The "high C" notes indicated I was working toward breaking strength...whatever it was. Did I mention I don't fish this way?
The short runs and uptake continued and the boat started going to the fish, not the other way around. I got it to the fifteen foot range as we followed along the flat toward deep water. I did not need gravity adding to the fight at depth but the fish saw the boat and pulled us around to the stern and back toward shallow in its' attempt to get rid of us. Ron refocused the direction with the push pole like a pro so I could fight in the front half of our little world. It was getting dark when I got the fish used to seeing the boat inside ten feet. I could now see this one had shoulders and was pretty big. Ron came down to help net it. Only the head would fit in the net. I tried to explain he would have to get the big head in the little net and then grab it by the tail to lift it in the boat. This tried and true method did not get well explained. It sounds easy here, but in the near dark with a big fish splashing it was testy. Ron suggested we swap positions and we did and I hoisted the "bull" in. This all happened in about ten minutes but a recording of the discussion would have had to be slowed down to understand clearly. The "time compression" in our minds made it seemed like an hour long fight.
With 82.5 degree water and a seemingly long fight, time was at the essence to get the big lady back in the water. Most all "bulls" are really females as they have to pack the millions of eggs they carry. One big slow down was the "most evil deadly multi treble hooked damn plug." She had it totally in her mouth with the tail bundle of deadly hooks stuck in the back of her tongue and the front cluster under the front of her tongue about five inches forward of the otherwise adequate back hooking. That only left the last treble hook in the middle of the plug to snare me while trying to unhook the back cluster without hurting the pretty fish...any more. PETA, I may agree with the fish feeling pain from contraptions like this. I got it done and then we pan seared the fish with flash picture taking before I started the revival part of the release. Again, time compression may have had a part of my feeling we might have had her out of the water too long. We didn't and it took only a short period of me holding her along side the boat while letting the water work through her gills. She took charge in a short minute and tried to break my wrist leaving. Fist bumps went all around. My big regret was not letting Heidi catch that fish. She could have done it with a little coaching...or none. I should have at least handed it to her after the hook up, but I really did not think of it. It settled into a boat team effort and all did their part.
The sun set in a subtle orange glow and we changed lures and flies to ready for the "under the lights" night fishing. While Heidi held the light and I tied, Ron hooked and landed a pretty little seatrout while tossing a popping fly at swirls in the fading light. Off we went four miles away to work the lights under the Destin Bridge.
With a slow tide flowing out and fish busting in the light that tells mariners the height of bridge to pass under, I set up for Ron to cast a popping fly in amongst the fish slashing at shrimp passing through the light beside the bridge weir. The light is on the end of this metal and wooden fence like structure about seven feet above the water.
It took him only one cast to catch a nice ladyfish. They jump and splash putting on a nice fight. He caught another and then suggested Heidi try again with the "SOB" spinning rod, my name for it, not his. To hold position for this sort of bridge fishing it takes the big motor running. Adjustments are made to position so the lure gets thrown above and past the light pattern. It should be retrieved back in the direction of the flow thereby playing like the food the fish are so voraciously eating. The motor noise should scare some fish away but the highway 98 traffic fifty feet above might mask it. Then, also, every ten minutes this night another boat would go through the bridge pass twenty feet away from the light. Motors didn't seem to scare them.
The instant ability Heidi showed in the light did not seem to translate through the sundown. This was a different lure; a DOA shrimp (single hook like it should be) and we did not practice this casting in the light, my bad. She had all sort of problems getting a good cast as she tried to miss the bridge and still get near the fish. Ron tried it and had little luck either. I made an attempt to toss it while keeping the boat under control in the bridge currents to see what the problem was but we would either crash or I could cast the SOB rig, not both. Ron went back to flies and caught another couple ladies.
Heidi then asked if she could stand by me and practice some. I never mind a fine bottom inches from my face so could see no harm...in the practice. I did tell her she was in charge of not interfering with Ron's backcast as she was the only one who could watch it. That concept was a little advanced for a novice and I did not watch the action unfolding. I was working the positioning for the angler up front and basking in the warmth of the "captain's position" on the boat. In mere moments there was line, fly and faux shrimp tied in a massive tumble weed pattern near the middle of the boat. I went from happy captain to deckhand knot untangling in a second. As in most night work, I could handle the boat or untie knots, not both. I almost ran us into the bridge. Not only the lines were distracting but Heidi, now holding the light, still standing beside me as I sat, but now facing me and lightly "brushing" against ear (completely innocently I am sure), added to my total lack of focus. We just missed the bridge and death. I cleared us out of the threat and we floated while I worked on the lines. I did let her hold the light and continue "leaning" on me...so she would not fall overboard.
The "bird nest" was not to be undone so I broke the spinning line, not the $70 fly line, and Ron was good to go. I got set to reattach the shrimp to the SOB rod and Ron suggested we pull out the "much hated multi hook killing weapon" as Heidi had been good at tossing that...once upon a time...in the light of day.
I went into my "the customer is always right" mode and tied the weapon of mass danger back on. Back to the light we went and in one cast she had it hooked to the bridge. The three person effort to get the line and $8 plug back was a scene out of the three Stooges, or the three blind mice. I repositioned again and the efforts did not get much better. Ron, who had been coaching mightily (ever see a man try to teach his wife anything, especially when he does not know what he is teaching?), took over and in a cast and a half had fouled the reel into full stop. I took a quick look at it and could see it was more than the little LED lights on the boat could help me with. I declared, "The Evil Bitch is dead and we would now fly fish like normal humans." They got a little silent but Heidi piped up, "all is well, I would enjoy watch you boys play." Then, I realized how stupid I was. I could have worked the fixing of that reel, with helping light holder next to me, into a heart attack and died a happy man. The counter thought was that my last fish in life would have been a great one, but on a damn spinning rod.
We glided over soft molten water on this beautiful night with the stars blazing over us back to my local neighborhood and pushed past a few nice lights that held no fish. The tide was slack and then we noticed another dock with fish busting bait in a weed patch under a light. There was a little tidal movement there. Ron got three passes and although the fish were eating the small white fly, he could not hook up. I took the third pass (I would motor up stream and we would float by as it was way too deep to pole) and managed to catch a bluefish and a ladyfish. It was getting late, near midnight, and we planned the underwater light behind my house for the last stop. I had the "last caught fish" meter back to "normal" with a fly rod.
Lots of nice ladyfish were roaming through the 30 foot circle of light on my home underwater light. Ron expertly worked the light as good as anyone could but still could not hook up, even when the fish was gulping the little fly. He handed me the pole and I managed to get one fine ladyfish that ate the fly so deep I had to leave it in the fish. Small hooks will rust away quickly and he will probably make it vice, tearing up the fish trying to recover a two cent fly.
That was it for the night, great by any measure. Like night flying, everything that can go wrong does and big things can happen. But, in flying you die, while in fishing you get a million laughs. This night was a hoot! I hate to say I had a ball landing that first fish. It is my largest red in Florida at 24 pounds and over three feet long. What a way to usher in July Fools Day.
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