Friday, November 29, 2013

Be Ready!

Some of us were sitting around the other day having a cold one when we started talking about an important, yet rarely discussed, time in our fishing days. We were discussing that time period between meeting your guide and when you make your first cast to a fish. As result of this conversation, we decided to offer some hints on how to approach and best be ready for this time period in your fishing day.
We all agreed there has been plenty written about fly rods, fly reels, terminal tackle, flies, casting styles, retrieval styles, places to go and when to go there, but the topic of being ready to fish for the day is not talked about very often... but being ready: ready to meet your guide, ready to load up, ready to launch, and ready to fish can make a big difference in your day.

Here are some suggestions that can make you more efficient in your preparation which will translate to a smoother pick-up, launch and first cast. A little forward thinking about how you pack, where you put things on the boat, and being ready to fish can give you an extra 30 minutes of fishing time, make your guide a happy person, and just maybe ensure you don’t miss the first and only fish of the day.

Preparing for Pick-Up
Foremost, be on time.  No one likes to be kept waiting and that applies to you as well as to your guide.  Establish your pick-up time and make sure you meet it.  That usually means doing some packing the night before.  If you have not been to your location or fished with your guide before, you might ask your guide the night before how the morning will go. This will help you pack.  Will you rig up your rods before or after you launch?  What kind of fly line and leader is recommended?  Should you plan to have multiple rods ready? Don't ask a million questions... just those crucial few that will help you prepare and be ready.
Try to minimize the amount of gear you have to schlep around.   It’s easier on you and you will make a better first impression with your guide if you don’t show up bringing the equivalent of an entire fly shop.  A rod tube/case and a boat bag is pretty optimum.  Sometimes if you have lots of camera gear or are going to a location with a large variety of fish that requires more than average gear you might need two bags.  If you are bringing two rods or less, you might leave the tube/case at home and simply bring the rods in their socks.  Four piece rods are always best and will usually fit in at least one of the cargo compartments on the boat. If you only have two piece rods it might be best to bring the protective tube.  Again, ask your guide what is best
Your boat bag should be water proof (or water repellent as a minimum) and should be able to fit in the cargo compartments of most boats or under the seat.  Cluttering up deck space with gear often results in stumbling around, loud noises, tangled fly lines, and worse, broken gear.  A boat bag with a wide opening mouth is better than a bag with a narrow opening that requires you to remove some gear in order to find stuff that is beneath it.
Since you are only bringing one boat bag, it pays to think about the order in which you might need the stuff you put in the bag.  For instance, if you will be putting together your rod and reel before you launch, don’t put your reels in the bottom of the bag.  If it will be cool or rainy on the run out, keep your rain jacket near the top of the bag.  If you wear gloves, protective stripping sleeves, a face buff, pliers, have extendable fighting butts for your rods, or anything else that you need or want to have on before you start fishing, make sure it is easy to find near the top of your boat bag.  Zip lock bags are great for keeping small pieces of equipment together and easy to find.  Put on sunscreen before you leave your room.
When your guide shows up, be ready.  When you stow your gear in the boat make sure you and your guide know which gear you’ll need to access during the day.  Ask if you should put your rods together and put them in the protective sleeves in the boat.  Do not string the line through the guides unless you will be tying on a fly. 

Be Ready to Launch
Most guides have launched their boats so many times they have a well-established routine.  Often trying to help launch only disrupts that routine with the end result being less efficient.  Always ask if you can help before stepping in.  Your time might be better used to put on a buff, gloves, stripping guide, pliers, etc.
Many guides prefer you not wear the shoes you wore on the gravel path onto their boat without rinsing the bottom off.  And many guides do not want you wearing shoes with dark soles that can mark their deck.  So be prepared with shoes that have non-marking soles and that you can rinse off.  Or if you fish barefoot be ready to remove your shoes as you board.
Most flats skiffs have protective rod holders beneath the gunwales of the deck.  If you are in a panga or other type of boat without protective rod holders, ask your guide where the best place is to secure your rod (if you haven’t already stowed your rods).
When your guide starts motoring out, be ready with your jacket, buff, or other gear you need for the run.  If you wear gloves, protective stripping guides, or other equipment, get ready as you motor away from the marina.  Waiting until you get to the first flat wastes time.  This may mean you need to keep your boat bag by your seat for a bit.
Obviously, take care not to have your gear blow overboard. Also, make sure your hat is secured so it doesn't blow off and you have to waste valuable time going back to retrieve it. Pull you buff over your hat or use clips to attach your shirt or jacket to your hat.
If you didn’t do it before you launched, you might try to string your rods while you motor out, but ask your guide first.  There is often a “no wake” zone that requires slow going and that’s a perfect time to get ready.  Ask about terminal tackle and flies and get ready (this is a good question to ask the night before or when you are stringing your rod at the dock or beach).  If you don’t your guide will often have to stop some distance from your first flat to allow you time to rig up.
Being ready helps the launch go smoothly and quickly. And it is definitely bush league to plug up the launch ramp or slow your party's progress because you left something in the truck or in your room!

Be Ready to Fish
As you near your first flat or fishing spot, your guide will usually slow down and often stop the motor to avoid spooking fish.  We  cannot count the number of times we have pulled up next to a flat only to bump up a tarpon or bonefish.  Not being ready would have meant missing a chance at those fish.
Remember you have entered the quiet zone.  No dropping hatch covers, slamming cooler lids, tossing gear bags, and no stomping noisily around on the deck.  Be efficient, but be quiet.
Have your buff, your protective stripping guides, your pliers, hat, sunglasses on and ready as you pull up.  Follow the guide’s advice, but usually one must be ready to step up onto the casting deck and start scanning the water immediately.  Strip off at least 50 to 60 feet of line (more if you can accurately cast more) and stretch it between your hands to remove any memory coils.  This is especially true if it is cool in the morning.  Tropical lines stiffen when the temperature drops and retain memory coils from the reel.  If you try to cast the line without stretching out those coils, you risk a massive knot and another blown opportunity.
Once you’ve scanned the water and made sure there isn’t a fish in the area, pick a target and cast your fly.   This serves several purposes.  First you reverse the way the line is coiled on the deck – so the part that will fly out when you cast will be the top most part of the line.  Second, you give your guide an indication of your casting ability.  If you make a cast that approaches your maximum accurate range, you can tell your guide.  This helps your guide know where to position the boat and coach you when to cast.  You and your guide can also agree on the distance of that cast.  Sometimes guides and clients depth perception differs and it helps to get agreement on what is 60 feet before you actually cast at a fish.  By actually picking a target rather than just randomly casting, you give yourself some target practice.  You also avoid casting into an oyster bed or coral head that can snag your fly and cause more delays and commotion to retrieve your fly.

Strip your fly back making sure to carefully coil your line without snags.  Leave your leader and about 10 to 15 feet of fly line outside the tip top.  Hold the fly in your non-rod hand, pinching the bend of the hook between your fingers.  Holding the leader or the head of the fly make it possible to hook your finger when you start to make a cast, something that is both painful and causes delays.  
One last recommendation – pick your stance, plant your feet and don’t move them.  Anglers afflicted with “happy feet” eventually step on their line at a crucial moment, get tangled up or make lots of noise.  Having "happy feet" can also rock the boat and this sends out little waves that put fish on the alert. Yes, the creak of a hatch cover can spook fish, but the thump of a foot on the deck resonates through the water like an explosion.  Fish may not spook, but they will know something else is in the area and that makes them very nervous and on guard.  And never, ever scrape your foot along the deck in an attempt to reposition your fly line.  This is absolutely the worst thing you can do to your fly line. It can put a permanent twist in your line that you will fight for as long as you keep that line.

We hope you like these suggestions. If you have more suggestions or any comments, we would like to hear them.  We'll try to keep these thoughts on Being Ready a work in progress, so please chime in with your suggestions!

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