Category Archives: lessons

Here Comes The Sun

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.


A Little Bit Of Buddah Goes A Long Way

“Chaos is inherent in all compounded things.  Strive on with diligence.”


Salt Bum
Buddah & Mangroves Mark The Spot.

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.

There Are No Shortcuts To Better Casting

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.



Take It Easy & Cast 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…

A Lesson Learned 4200 Miles From Home

Sight fishing in the gin clear waters of an estuary where you routinely hear waves pounding the shore just over the dunes can lead you to believe you’re dialed in when it comes to how you handle a fly rod. Sure, you’ve got to be vigilant, eye on the ball at all times and ready to get in the game the moment a fish appears, but for the most part it becomes a matter of routine. Leading a redfish or trout is a calculation that happens in the blink of an eye, or rather the moment in time that it takes to develop a backcast and shoot line to the spot where you want the intercept angle to originate.

Recently a trip to Alaska opened my eyes to line control in a big way. I spent two weeks, nearly 16 hours a day immersed in a clinic put on by two guys that dissect water in a way that had my attention. Seriously, there was no end to the nuance of the ways they covered every possible spot a fish might be laying in wait for a passing meal.

A lot of humor comes at the expense of trout anglers when they’re on the pointy end of a skiff facing an onshore breeze that seems to keep their intended target just outside of casting range. Guides can spin yarns at the dock over a morning cup of coffee that will have you in stitches as they recall a sport that nearly started a tropical storm whipping fly line to and fro in a panic at the sight of a fish.

For the record, I’ve told a few of those stories as well.

Now, I have to tell you there is some modicum of truth to the generalizations made relative to casting skills between trout anglers and someone who spends most of their time in salt. Its simply a fact of life. The clinic I witnessed in the wilds of Alaska changed my overall bias towards the skills required to fish successfully on a river or stream.

In its most simple form, I’ll call it line control. The cast is merely an introduction from what I saw. A howdy-do, per se. The conversation that follows was the interesting part of the encounter. While it wasn’t 100% sight fishing, it was so akin to it, the line control I witnessed made it clear to me that the essence of it was the exact same thing.

Just like in shallow water sight fishing their is a point where the magic was going to happen. The point in space where a collision was going to occur and the line would come tight. The tug.

Anytime I was on the down current end of the raft, casting to a spot where I thought a fish would be lying in wait; from time to time, there was. Fish on. Yet, when I was on the oars, I would watch these two cast to a similar target, yet their fly would skate or drift through the same point in slow motion, lingering in the sweet spot begging to be eaten. The difference being plainly, my offering was there and gone in the blink of an eye.

They caught fish at a rate of 3 to 1 compared to my effort.

As I watched them, I started to realize that they were more connected to what the fly did once it was in the water. Getting it there was just the beginning compared to my approach which was to have it arrive at the destination.

Mend. Mend. Mend, Goddamit!

Well, its not just for trout fishing anymore in my mind. What?!?

Mending in saltwater sight fishing? YES.

But thats a technique to reduce line drag to ensure a dead drift for wary trout…

Agreed, but the principles of it apply to feeding fish on the flats as well. After making a cast to a moving fish, the ability to adjust the angle of a retrieve more subtlety is invaluable. If you can do it without picking up fly line and recasting you avoid spooking a fish by having line in the air.

I now find myself kicking out line to drag an angle to an arch or raising the rod tip to sweep the fly line to one side or the other to get the fly to where I want it, the point of collision, rather than re-casting.

This change in tactics has accounted for plenty of hook-ups where in the past they likely wouldn’t have happened.

I’ll never look at a trout fishing the same way again.

Flood Tide – Mosquito Lagoon Edition

The lunar influence on the tides around Mosquito Lagoon are measurable, but unlike the tides of the spartina flats to the north it is a sustained level that impacts the estuary more so than the periodic incoming and outgoing tide cycle.

Fishing the flooded spartina in St. Augustine and Jacksonville is no doubt a worthwhile experience, but there are “flood” opportunities in Mosquito Lagoon. One of the most readily accessible of these atypical high water season fishing areas is manmade.

Over past decades the quest for control of salt marsh mosquitoes lead to the digging of many ditches across the entire lagoon to reduce breeding habitat. More recently, there has been an ongoing effort to remove the unintended consequence of this work, artificial upland areas created by piling spoil adjacent to the cuts.

Use Google Maps to locate remediated ditch lines where water is now allowed to sheet along the marsh and on high tides you will find redfish meandering along in the mangrove shoots looking for an unsuspecting crab or mosquito fish.

A Differing Approach

Tailing redfish are extremely fun to target when sight fishing. Depending on the type of bottom they are feeding over, they can also be frustrating beyond belief to feed successfully.

One of the reasons for it in thick grass is the fact that their vision is impaired by the grass itself.

The next time you’re experiencing apparent refusals, keep in mind it may simply be that the fly is not being seen.

Switching to a top water fly may be contrary to conventional wisdom, but it works.

Cast a foot or two ahead of the direction the fish is feeding and wait for it to move. A couple of subtle strips is usually all it takes to get their immediate attention and you find yourself clearing line and getting on the reel.

The fall lunar cycle is piling water up inshore, now more than ever, you might consider this different approach to tailers. It could spell the difference between success and failure.

Slow Down & Pole

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.

It’s The Indian, Not The Arrow

A lot of money is spent every year by fly rod manufacturers to message anglers with this timeless message; You’ll cast better if you buy our new greatest fly rod ever.

For the most part, its a bunch of B.S..  Really, the rod is part of the equation, but its hardly the end all, be all, when it comes to placing a fly in front of a fish.

If fly rod manufacturers were building airplanes or spaceships, we would be able to go from New York to Tokyo in 10 minutes or head up to Mars for the afternoon if you transposed their claims to flight.

The simple truth of the matter is this:  The angler is an engine. The fly rod a transmission, and fly line is the driveshaft.

If the engine isn’t tuned to perform, the transmission and drive line simply won’t deliver the power to get the payload to the target.

In a nut shell, its the indian, not the bow or arrow that gets the job done.

Once you’re able to exclude the latest and greatest hype from far more crafty minds than mine, you can cut through the marketing and evaluate fly rods at their basic level to guide you in your buying decision.

The Bow & Arrow

The blank is the core of the assembled product and depending on what it is made from, it will have different flex characteristics.  Beyond simply the material, the manner in which its layered and rolled into a long tapered cylinder affects its flexing profile.  Blanks range from slow action to ultra-fast action depending upon this principle.

The remaining hardware that is affixed to the blank, from the reel seat, cork, winding, stripping and running line guides and tip top make it a fly rod.

Blanks and components can range in quality and depending upon that alone, can affect the cost to make the rod.  The retail price is arbitrary and is determined by the seller, often in an effort to imply just how great the fly rod must be.

Key things to look for in the components are the quality of the cork, the material used for the reel seat and the guides.  Anodized aluminum and titanium are corrosion resistant and fare well in salt water if thats where you plan to fish.

If you’re aware of the qualities to look for you will be armed with the knowledge required to save a few bucks and still end up with a rod that will perform well and last a life time.

The Indian

Plenty of anglers have taught themselves to fly cast.  Its not rocket surgery.

If you’re lucky enough to be one of the well coordinated anglers that possesses a natural ability to form a tight loop you’re good to go from the start.  If not, invest in some hands on lessons.  Find a friend you trust, a guide or an instructor that will give you low key, constructive advice on what you’re doing right and guidance on how to improve on areas where you’re not quite up to speed.  Don’t settle, instruction that is belittling or doesn’t fit your personality is more harmful than good.  Once you’ve worked through any issues and form a solid casting foundation, practice.

Practice, practice, practice.

Spend time on the lawn if you must, but make an effort to find a pond or stream where you’ll be casting on the water to make the practice pay off.  The key to any learned behavior is to practice it in the same manner you’ll have to perform it.  Fly fishing is no different.

The Scoop

To tie all of this together, the final piece of advice is to avoid the very human condition of buying into the latest marketing and spending your hard earned money on a “silver bullet” fly rod based on claims of it turning you into the best caster ever.  Use your intelligence and knowledge to examine as many fly rods as possible, cast as many as possible and then, and only then, decide which one feels the best to you and how you cast before buying.  You just might find out that a less expensive option serves your style much better than the newest, latest and greatest…

The only objective part of your buying decision is going to be how well a fly rod has been made by looking at the components that were used.  The rest is subjective.  Make sure its slanted in your favor and leave that “best caster” title to the guy at the ad agency.