I was recently asked by April Vokey to craft a few words for an article on her platform; Anchored Outdoors.
Being a sticker nerd with a bad fly fishing habit, I chose to opine a bit about them:
Surely you have seen stickers for sale at a fly shop, picked up a few at a show or have been given one or two by a friend. While mostly viewed as a promotional item (even though most times you pay for them), there is a secondary market that exists for these colorful, uniquely identifiable pieces of vinyl.
Beyond their intended purpose of building a brand, promoting products or memorializing an event; stickers are themselves a form of currency in the fly-fishing community. A few years back I flew out West and joined a friend for a few days’ worth of adventure and the concept of their value really gelled in my mind.
It would be a difficult task to find a more personable and entertaining guide in the Bahamas than Tory Bevins.
Aside from his casting prowess, he’s a Raconteur of the first order.
If you find yourself on South Andros, look him up. He works at Andros South. If you’re fishing DIY or at another lodge, you can find him after quitting time at the small bar by Little Creek or up island at the Rust Barge.
His casting style is simple to understand and works incredibly well. Take a few minutes to get in the groove and you’ll be slinging string like a pro.
I’m headed out to fish today & the forecast is fantastic! Its the kind of day often referred to as Chamber of Commerce conditions. Little to no wind, maybe a breeze. Cloudless, bluebird skies will dominate the day.
Today’s conditions will make it very important to respect the sun. Every cast I make will be undertaken with the sun’s position as part of my casting equation.
Shadows, no matter how small, matter. Fly line overhead has the ability to cast a shadow. A moving shadow, like that of a bird, makes every targeted fish nervous and will instantly change its personality from hunter to hunted.
When looking at an approaching fish, I always visualize where the fly, leader or fly line will cast a shadow and plan my angle accordingly to limit the effect it may have.
By avoiding having a shadow wreck an opportunity, you’ll increase your success rate by being aware of the sun.
“Chaos is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on with diligence.”
A lot goes on in my mind when I’m standing on the bow of a skiff awaiting a glimpse of the intended target of the day. Whether it be a bonefish, redfish or tarpon the decision making process remains the same. The responses vary and their sum total dictate the difference between success and failure.
Understanding how to best choreograph your response in the face of chaos will dramatically improve your results.
I find it helpful to draw from past training that was unrelated to fly fishing and apply its principles to help me on the water.
The training highlighted the human decision making process. A simple acronym of the equation OODA sums it up.
It translates to Observe + Orient + Decide = Act.
It describes what we as humans do all day long, every day, as we move through life. How well you apply it in specific, performance driven, instances directly relates to how successful we will be in that particular endeavor.
My son and I exploit each other’s failure in the Observe part of the equation routinely around the house. Its a never ending game. One of us lurks around a corner or behind a piece of furniture awaiting the other to casually pass by, oblivious of the others presence. When one of us strikes, the victim is typically left reeling, trying to recover from being startled, sometimes to epic proportions.
When on the water, I do my able best to observe my entire surroundings. The Observe component is important. Your situational awareness has to be on point to spot fish at a distance. The further out you can set your range, the more time you’ll have to complete the remaining portion of the equation.
Orient is a simple way of describing the process of recognizing what is happening within your immediate focus and situate yourself for a response. When you have inadequate time to orient, chaos follows.
Once you have processed the observation and orient to meet its particular challenge, you’ll only then come to a decision on how you’ll respond. The Decide portion of the problem in my opinion is where the game is won or lost. Taking time to process the information you’re absorbing properly allows you to execute a cast when and if its time to do so.
In real world, daily life, the Decide component is often the easiest to parse and thereby get yourself in trouble. Think of it in terms of traveling down the interstate at 65 MPH with only 5 feet between your bumper and the car in front of you. The best mind can’t complete the Observe, Orient & Decide in that space. You’re going to end up making an insurance claim if you make it a habit.
On the water it most likely means a lot of missed shots and blown out fish.
By compressing the OOD, you’ll have ample time to Act.
Be diligent in the complex portion of the equation where you have to recognize an opportunity, prepare your response and decide based on great preparation to turn it into a cast. Both you and Buddah will be jolly.
Every fish that comes aboard my skiff or comes to hand doesn’t get its mugshot taken, but when it happens, the subject most likely swims away muttering unspeakable things about the paparazzi.
I’m a catch and release angler at heart, so photos are the hallmark of my experience. My number one maxim: The most memorable fish is the one you release.
I really focus on the fish when capturing images to document my time on the water. Sure, I include human subjects at times, but for the most part the focus is on the prize.
I’ve been taking pictures for decades. I used to burn lots of images on film back when 35 mm was king. I sent rolls upon rolls away to a mail order processor in hopes of seeing an image that was worthy of a matte and frame.
Digital changed that. What it didn’t change was the basics of photography.
My father has thousands upon thousands of 35 mm slides from travels across the world, his understanding of photography was from experience as well as formal training and I was lucky enough to have him as a coach and mentor.
His guidance built my photographic foundation and shaped how I view the world and subjects through a lens.
The Gallery above is just a random selection from a photo dump from my iPhone. It demonstrates a couple of the principles that I believe could be helpful in improving your photography skills.
Composition is King
When you frame an image, pull the subject in closer. The idea of everything in view is often the enemy of a great image. Just like having a clear focus, the composition of the entire image is better tight. Have a subject and commit to it. Put the subject in view, not just in the center, but make it dominate the frame.
More is Better
Don’t get hung up on the composition so much so that you miss the shot, you can fine tune it later with a small amount of editing. Pull in the image and start firing. I hammer down the shutter and get a handful of images. Its within the affray where I find the gems. Action begets success.
Sort it Out
Take a few moments when you get off the water to do a cursory, quick edit to discard the horrible and unusable, but be careful not to be quick to discard. Soft or slightly out of focus can often be fixed with editing and a detail within an otherwise uninteresting image may be mined out with cropping. After the initial weeding, walk away. When you come back to the images later, you’ll likely see them with a more creative eye.
Get To Know Your Camera
I shoot a lot with the camera on my phone simply because its there and easily accessible. I have a whole stable of Nikons ranging from DSLR to a basic AA battery powered point and shoot model I take on expeditions where charging batteries will be difficult. Each camera gives differing results and I know like reflex how the shot needs to look on the LCD screen to be ideal for usefulness. I only got to that point by experience with each camera. Experience came at the expense of a lot of crappy images. Now that I know them well, its become very easy and quick to compose images and capture them. A bump to get depth of field and I’m ready to roll.
Lastly, but most importantly, keep our friend’s health in mind when setting up shots. In the water, breathing, until the moment you’re ready to pull the trigger and capture your best fish.
I hear it all the time; “If I could cast better, I would fly fish more.”
The secret to better casting is to cast more.
The secret to casting better is to cast more in challenging conditions.
The secret to casting better is to stick with it.
I flyfish 99.9% of the time. Its just what I’ve grown to love and its what I prefer. I may not produce the same numbers of caught fish as I once did with traditional tackle, but I find my experience more rewarding.
Casting more is key to getting better. Not on the lawn, but on the water. I’ve found that simply spending time on a local pond in the neighborhood is both a great way to unwind at the end of the day, the increased the frequency of working on casting translated to better and more successful time on the water when actually fishing.
Practice on the water is key. The rod and fly line are working in their intended environment.
Add to the practice sessions by introducing challenges that will cause you to fail. A tree in an uncomfortable place behind you, a stiff breeze or a dock that blocks the ideal casting lane will force you to problem solve when it matters least and give you experience that will prepare you for when it matters most, on the water actively fishing.
A challenge that is often overlooked, but will always present itself in the real world is a need to deliver the fly on your weak side. Spend time working on delivering a fly on the back cast. If you have confidence and accuracy on the back cast delivery, you’ll double the water you’re able to fish.
Lastly, leave the gear at home. All too often a spinning rod is the crutch that enables failure in fly fishing, especially in the saltwater environment. They are evil and sap your resolve to stay the course. Remove it and stay in the game even when the conditions are sporty. You’ll be forced to improve and the rewards will get bigger and better.
When you’re alone on the dance floor its not uncommon to feel a bit self-conscious and imagine the spotlight shining down on you exposing all of your flaws.
Performance anxiety can ruin the moment if you let it. To date, there is no little blue pill that you can take before you head out the door to ensure you’ll be ready when that sexy [insert species] shows up looking to tussle.
Many times I’ve stood on the poling platform methodically pushing across a flat and I’ve quietly admired the smooth tight loops being formed by the angler up front who has lofted the fly for a momentary break from the monotony of the stalk.
That admiration quickly erodes as their cast crumbles when a fish appears, ready to be fed fur and feathers.
These failures are more often than not simply a by product of rushing and loosing focus on the casting stroke.
I’ve adopted a new policy for my skiff that focuses on providing positive feedback on those perfect, yet lonely false casts that will never find a target. I ALWAYS make sure to point out the results of the relaxed cast. Its beauty, grace and distance are all noted. Its followed by the reminder: Keep that cast, and take it easy when the fish shows up. Time is on our side. Don’t rush it, take it easy.
I’m no original thinker, so don’t take my word for it, listen to Andros South’s very own raconteur:
If you need to, hum the lyrics from this Eagles tune to yourself:
Lighten up while you still can
don’t even try to understand
Just find a place to make your stand
and take it easy…
I’m astonished nearly ever time I spend time on the water in Mosquito Lagoon at the pace other anglers move through an area. Their arrival under power to a flat disrupts the natural flow of its inhabitants and rarely do they stick around long enough to see the true personality of the place before firing up the outboard and departing for the next stop on the milk run.
I’m certainly not complaining, this frenetic pace often leaves the best areas I frequent a veritable ghost town. The less human impact on the areas the better for my experience.
I was sitting at the end of a long dock alongside the intracoastal waterway a few weeks ago waiting on friend to arrive in his skiff when I had the chance to talk to a neighbor who was lamenting on his lack of success on the water. He was frustrated and seemed surprised when I said that there were lots of redfish in the areas he was getting skunked. As we talked more it became apparent to me that he was taking a random run and gun approach to his fishing and the lack of success was self imposed.
I’m no expert, but I do spend a good bit of time on the water, so I shared with him what I felt were keys to my success.
1. Fish only three places that are in close proximity until you are confident that you understand when they are productive and why and have the track record to prove it.
2. Become intimate with the area, pole it, go slow and learn the nooks and crannies and what you should expect to find on low or high water. Dedicate time to simply sit back and observe, leave the rods stowed and observe the fish and their movements without pressure.
3. Write it down. Make note of conditions and what you found worked in those situations. I often refer to data from years past when I want a change of venue. I’m always surprised at how well I do when I go somewhere based on past notes vs. flying by the seat of my pants and hoping.
Time on the water is meant to be enjoyed. Slow down your roll and soak it all in, just don’t soak bait.