Vol 6 No. 27 - March 29, 2006

The world of fly fishing

By Rusty Chinnis
special to the sun

Out there; it’s where we all want to be. Whether it’s 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, it’s these tests that make it so appealing. That’s 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. It’s 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. Don’t 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 I’ve been privileged to learn from some of the sport’s best, I've also found that perhaps the best instructor has been experience. 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 daunting. I’ll 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 didn’t have the skills to get the fly to them, and since that trip, I relish the windy days. I’ve learned that fish are far less spooky and take the fly more readily. As an extra bonus, I’ll 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. It’s 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. They’re 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 this.

In late March, I made a date with Islamorada’s 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 Albury’s 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 weren’t great, and the fish were spooky. With the afternoon slipping away, I began accepting the fact that it might be a fishless day. Then, Albury’s "mental preparedness" turned a last ditch effort into a lifelong memory.

Poling onto the last flat of the day, Albury’s experienced eyes spotted what appeared to be a school of mullet in a channel. Less savvy anglers might have let the opportunity pass, but Albury’s 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 wasn’t 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 wasn’t 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 day’s 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, they’ll happen a lot more often!

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