Reel Time: Make the wind your friend

Reel Time: Make the wind your friend
- Rusty Chinnis | Sun

Whether stalking bonefish in the Bahamas, poling a flat in Florida for tailing redfish, wading into the Northeast surf for stripers, or casting for sea-run rainbows on the West Coast, anglers spend the majority of their time in anticipation. When we do get on the water, we face the unpredictable forces of weather that can throw hurricanes, fronts, windstorms, clouds and various adverse conditions at us.

If you want to catch permit on a fly, you’ll need the advantages a windy day provides. While the world of fishing in general, and fly fishing in particular, present us with many challenges, it’s these challenges that make success all the sweeter. That’s why we hunt gamefish with imaginative mixtures of feathers, fur, synthetic and tinsel. The excitement of making a presentation to a gamefish you’ve stalked, enticing it to take a fly, and then connecting with your prey through graphite and cork makes all the preparation, time, money and past disappointments worthwhile.

With so many challenges facing a fly angler there is good reason to be as well prepared as possible. Too many anglers wait for months to take the “trip of a lifetime,” encounter willing targets under less than ideal conditions (most often the case) and find their casting proficiency severely tested. The old saying that “luck is opportunity meeting preparedness” is especially true for fly fishers. Why not develop the mindset from the beginning that everything we do (on the water and off) contributes to turning odds into opportunities?

Preparation comes in many forms, and the most important components are practiced throughout the year. That means having tackle in top form, as well as knowing how to tie proper knots and flies that imitate your prey’s food. Casting skills are developed over a lifetime, and practice should not be saved for fishing trips, or even the days leading up to a trip. If you can’t get your fly to the fish, all other factors are rendered moot. The best practice is on grass, throwing to targets placed at different distances and angles. Don’t make the mistake of judging your casting ability by how long a line you can throw. Learn to make a tight (in saltwater), accurate, 40-foot cast first, and then work on distance.

While I’ve been blessed to learn from some top fly casters, I’ve found the best instructor of all is having a compelling reason. That’s what leads successful fly fishers to learn the basics and practice.

One of the first and most important lessons I’ve learned is to see the wind as friend, not foe. If you’re new to the game, don’t put off a fly fishing trip because the wind is blowing. On my first trip to the Bahamas, I was face to face with a large school of bonefish just 40 feet away, into a 25 mph headwind! All those days of avoiding the wind meant that I didn’t have the skills to get the job done! Now I appreciate the windy days because I know that if I can be successful then, I’ll be golden on the nice days. Wind-generated waves provide windows into the water and fish are far less spooky and more readily take a fly. If you can make a short, accurate cast into a 15-knot wind, you’ll excel on those rare “perfect” days.

Practiced fly anglers who are mentally prepared and visualize their outcome (just like top athletes) have a definite advantage. They’re primed when opportunity presents itself as “luck.” The next time you have a chance to go fishing, don’t let the wind dissuade you; make the wind your friend. It will pay dividends in your fishing future.

Rusty Chinnis, The Sun's Outdoors columnist, is a professional photographer, certified Fly Fishers International casting instructor, and chairman of the board of Suncoast Waterkeeper. Email