Out there! It’s where we all want to be, and where we get so few chances to actually spend time. 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 can send us hurricanes, fronts, wind storms, clouds and floods. Golf anyone?
While the world of fishing in general, and fly fishing in particular, presents us so many challenges, it’s just these tests that make it so appealing. That’s why we stalk fish with these inventive combinations of feathers, fur, synthetics and tinsel. The excitement of making a presentation to a feeding game fish, fooling it into taking a fly, and then feeling the elemental power transferred through graphite and cork makes all the preparation, time, money and past disappointments moot.
With so many unavoidable pitfalls facing the fly angler there is often a propensity to just hope for the best, and then take what the gods give you. How many of us have waited for months to take that trip of a lifetime, had perfect conditions and then found our casting abilities no match for our prey? The old saying that luck is “opportunity meeting preparedness” is especially true for fly fishers. Why not develop the mindset that everything you 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. By being prepared, I mean having your 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, or even the days leading up to a trip. 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 ability by how long a line you can throw. Learn to make a tight, accurate 40-foot cast first, and then work on distance.
While I’ve been privileged to learn from some of the industry’s leading experts over the years, 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…. into a 25 mph headwind! All those days of avoiding the wind meant that I didn’t have the skills to get the fly to them! Now I can appreciate the windy days because I know that if I can surmount the challenge I can benefit from the conditions. I know that fish are far less spooky and will more readily take the fly I put in their path and that waves on a riffled surface can provide windows into the water. As a bonus, if I can make a good presentation into a 15-knot wind 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 skill of top fly fishers. Visualization, or guided imagery, is an art that is 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 exquisite detail and imagining yourself making the perfect presentation, setting the hook, 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 an opportunity presents itself as “luck.” So the next time you have a chance to go fishing don’t let the wind dissuade you. The fishing might actually be better and at the worst, you’ll get some practice that will pay dividends in your fishing future.
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