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Ready, Set, Fly: A Comprehensive Guide to Preparing for a Guided Fly Fishing Trip

Picture this, you've booked the trip and the date is quickly approaching! I can tell you firsthand that this feeling is like being a kid at Christmas again; excitement and jubilation! But.... this trip starts well before you step foot aboard. There is plenty of preparation in store so that when your guide says "30 ft, 11 oclock", you are ready to present a tasty fly to that unsuspecting fish. Allow me to give you some tips that will if worked on, help you have a more successful guided trip.


Timing & Accuracy

When I say timing, I am speaking of the ability to get a fly in the water ASAP! While a quick, but errant cast is ineffective and potentially detrimental to the opportunity. These two aspects of fly fishing go hand-in-hand. It's hard to say which is more important, some might argue one versus the other but ultimately, these skills can be practiced to reduce any need for the argument.

Prior to stepping on the bow, practice holding your fly in hand, ready to capitalize on any opportunity. If you're unfamiliar with holding a fly as you begin your cast, YouTube has plenty of videos that can teach you. Try a couple out and find what works best for you. Ultimately, your goal should be to be able to drop your fly into shoot 30-50 ft. without a bunch of false casting, the less the better.

Now that you've learned to engage a fish quickly, it is necessary to deliver the fly accurately. I prefer the hula hoop method. You can buy a multi-pack of hula hoops on Amazon for about $20. Set up hula hoops at 10, 20, 30, & 40 feet and get to work! I like to make a game of it and reward myself a bit, maybe no beer until I hit 30 feet 4x in a row. When you feel good about those distances, I would move the 10 ft to 50 ft, rather than shifting the entire setup further out.

Once we get to a good place with both these skills, combine them to create a simulation of stalking a fish while it's working down a bank. The goal is to reduce the number of false casts while not diminishing accuracy, this will effectively get your fly presented to the fish faster!



You're on the bow and here it comes!! Your guide calls out, "redfish 30 ft, 9 o'clock, working left to right, make the shot!" Now the nerves set in and you pump out a big back cast with your eyes set on the redfish, as your loop turns over, you shift your weight a little too much and the redfish feels the presence and peels out. Ugh. When fishing pressured fish, being as stealthy as possible is very important. You'd be surprised how a little shift in the boat and the fish can feel the displacement change.

To help reduce/eliminate this, I recommend practicing casting using your upper body. This isn't a difficult skill to practice but can be very useful. This is going to be effective when casting 20-30 ft and very effective when casting less than 20 ft. The closer the fish is to the boat, the more effective it will be.


Clock Reading & Practice

There is nothing more challenging than miscommunication on location of a fish due to misunderstanding. I have had people ask, "my 3 o'clock or your 3 o'clock?". I cannot speak for every guide, but I know for myself, the bow of the boat is ALWAYS 12 o'clock and I will always be directing the angler towards their fish based on the boat. With that being said, I wouldn't assume this is a standard and this is a conversation that I have with every client so we don't find out the hard way. Get with your guide and find out how they announce fish.

Now that we have that covered, let's talk about practicing while using clock reading. Your guide is going to work to set you up for the best cast in any given situation, but it doesn't always work out like that. So to practice, grab your hula hoops from earlier and set them at different "times" in the 20-40 ft. range. Now with your body facing 12 o'clock, work your way around the clock as best you can without drastically changing positions. This is going to help you when you find that solo fish hanging out by themselves and time is of the essence. Rather than shifting the boat and potentially disturbing the fish, we're going to lay down a nice backhand to 4 o'clock and get ready to offer up something tasty.

If you have the opportunity to practice cast on water versus grass, I recommend getting the hang of picking up your line from behind you. It is very common to practice our cast ahead of us so picking up the line is muscle memory. When you get in a situation where you have to land a back cast, picking up the line again isn't going to be second nature and your guide probably isn't going to be excited about the idea of you turning all the way around to pick up the line thus putting them in the danger zone.


More Practice!

There are a ton of drills & skills to work on so the practice is never finished. Think of someone who plays golf, they go to a driving range and/or a putting range. Not practicing is only limiting yourself.

Some things I would work on that are just muscle memory type skills; stripping with the rod tip at the water and pointing towards the fish & a solid strip set.

Stripping the line with the rod tip at or near the water is going to allow for a straight pull of the line. If you raise your rod tip and strip, there is a big difference in how your line responds. The line will wobble and shake and can change the cadence of the strip to the fly. When fish are following a fly, any change in rhythm will often deter the fish from a strike.

When stripping line, we want the rod to be pointed at the fly. This is going to have a huge effect on the outcome. When the fish strikes the fly, we want an immediate strip set. This doesn't seem to be rocket science but by having the rod pointed at the fly, we get an immediate response with the strip set. If your rod is pointed, say 10 degrees different, the rod is going to flex and that bit of flex is now lost energy that would have been delivered to the set. Once we have a nice strip set, we can introduce the fly rod into the fight to put pressure on the fish.

If you're accustomed to a trout set, it is imperative to practice your strip set for saltwater fly fishing. The amount of fish hooked is going to be drastically different just based on this alone.


Putting It All Together

Let's be honest, not every day is going to be a picture-perfect day on the bow. Utilize these tips to reduce frustrations and give yourself a better opportunity on the water. Communicate with your guide, wear some nice polarized glasses, wear suitable clothing, be prepared to stand all day, and most importantly, have fun!

Also, if you're fishing your own gear, talk to your guide before the trip to ensure that you are fishing the ideal setup for the area.

I hope this helped you prepare for your next big adventure!

Capt. Sean McDonnell

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