By Rusty Chinnis
special to the sun
Out there; its where we all want to be. Whether
its stalking permit in Belize, 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, we actually spend more time wishing than fishing.
When we do get a chance to pursue our passion, we face
the unpredictable forces of a whimsical natural world
that hurls hurricanes, cold and warm fronts, wind storms,
clouds and floods at us.
While the world of fly fishing presents so many challenges,
its these tests that make it so appealing. Thats
why we stalk fish with inventive combinations of feathers,
fur, synthetics and flash. The excitement of making a
presentation to and fooling a feeding game
fish, then feeling the elemental power transferred through
graphite and cork makes all the preparation, time, money
and past disappointments moot.
There is an old saying that luck is the moment at which
preparation meets opportunity. This rings especially true
for fly fishers.
Preparation comes in many forms. Its having tackle
in top form, as well as knowing how to tie proper knots
and flies that imitate the food of your prey. Casting
skills are developed over a lifetime, and practice should
not be saved for fishing trips. The best practice is on
grass, throwing to targets (dinner plates or hoops) placed
at different distances. Dont make the mistake of
judging your casting by how long a line you can throw.
Learn to make a tight, accurate 40-foot cast first, then
work on distance.
While Ive been privileged to learn from some of
the sports best, I've also found that perhaps the
best instructor has been experience. One of the first
and most important lessons Ive learned is to see
the wind as friend not foe. If youre new to the
game, dont put off a fly fishing trip because the
wind is daunting. Ill never forget my first trip
to the Bahamas when I was face to face with a large school
of bonefish just 40 feet away directly into a 20-knot
headwind! All those days of avoiding the wind meant that
I didnt have the skills to get the fly to them,
and since that trip, I relish the windy days. Ive
learned that fish are far less spooky and take the fly
more readily. As an extra bonus, Ill be golden on
those rare days when the wind is in my favor.
Mental preparedness is equally important and often overlooked.
Having the proper mental attitude is a critical attribute
of top anglers. Visualization, or guided imagery, is an
art practiced extensively by all top athletes, but is
seldom mentioned in fly fishing. Its the ability
to form a mental picture of the outcome you desire by
seeing the quarry in intricate detail, and imagining yourself
making the perfect presentation, setting the hook, then
feeling the line and the pressure on the rod as the fish
streaks for the horizon. The "top guns" know
how to make a plan and visualize their outcome. Theyre
prepared when opportunity presents itself as "luck."
Another great asset in this sport is a good guide. While
it often seems that guides have developed a "sixth"
sense for fish, this is a highly developed skill that
comes from constant observation of the habits of fish,
and learning to read the signs on the water. This kind
of preparation often creates the "opportunities"
that result in "good luck." For me, a trip to
the Florida Keys last year perfectly illustrates all of
In late March, I made a date with Islamoradas Capt.
Rusty Albury. The plan was hitting it right for early-season
tarpon. Two days prior to our trip, a cold front blew
through, dropping water temperatures and sending the tarpon
running off the flats. Launching Alburys skiff at
the Lorelei, it became clear that tarpon were not an option.
Instead, I deferred to the guide and opted to stalk bonefish
on the ocean side in the lee of a still brisk wind. I
was disappointed that my tarpon dreams had evaporated,
but quickly focused on the opportunities at hand. While
Albury put me on several schools of bonefish, the conditions
werent great, and the fish were spooky. With the
afternoon slipping away, I began accepting the fact that
it might be a fishless day. Then, Alburys "mental
preparedness" turned a last ditch effort into a lifelong
Poling onto the last flat of the day, Alburys experienced
eyes spotted what appeared to be a school of mullet in
a channel. Less savvy anglers might have let the opportunity
pass, but Alburys experience and intuition caused
him to pole the skiff towards the swirling fish, which
were partially obscured by the afternoon sun. As we neared
the channel, I launched a 60-foot cast to the edge of
the school. Instantly the fly stopped, and when I set
the hook, the fish powered across the channel and onto
the opposite flat. The first thing crossing my mind was
that it was a jack cravelle. But this fight wasnt
like a jack.
On cue, I turned to the guide and simultaneously, we both
exclaimed "Permit!" Turning back, I enjoyed
the powerful run of the compact silver dynamo. This wasnt
a big fish, or a permit but it was perfect for my 8-weight.
After we landed and released the pompano, Albury poled
me back to the edge of the channel and staked out. In
the next half hour, I landed five more poompano on three
different flies. I then relinquished the bow to Albury,
who landed three before the action tailed off.
Over a cold beer and some backslapping at the Lorelei,
we marveled at what the day brought us unexpectedly.
How easy it would have been to let the loss of a days
tarpon fishing spoil the experience. But when opportunity
finally presented itself in the closing hour, we were
prepared to take advantage of it.
Those days might not happen often enough, but if you visualize
your outcome, stay open to change, and stay prepared,
theyll happen a lot more often!