AFTER THE EAT
(Sticking Fish & Clearing Line)
There are so many things that need to go right in order for fly fishing to be successful. It starts with spotting the fish and making the cast but there are many little details that have to go right in order to hook and land that fish. Much focus can be put into casting the fly rod with very little thought on what comes immediately after. For this blog we will be focusing on two of the bigger species because of their speed and strength. Think giant trevally (GT) and tarpon. After you have spotted fish and launched your beautiful cast, what comes next can only be described as a violent explosion of energy. Be ready. When smaller fish run, you can hang on to the line a bit or fight them with your hand until the fish is finally on your reel. Sometimes the angler might even have time to reel in the excess line to make life easier. With larger, stronger fish this is not an option, they take off in a hurry.
When the fly is in the water and the fish is about to eat, some novice anglers might completely freeze up or will actually just watch the eat, completely missing the hook set. Sometimes it just happens so fast that its not the anglers fault. It’s especially easy to miss a set when fishing for GT. These fish strike very quickly and require a fast hook set. GT are known to make a super fast decision to spit the fly and swim away.
When it is time to set the hook, SET THE HOOK. With larger fish, the hook set is not something to be taken lightly. Set the hook as hard as you can, and then do it again. Do not be afraid to set the hook too hard, it is very rare that an angler will pop a fly off in a tarpon’s mouth.
OK, the hook is set and now there is a whole new set of issues to deal with. Once the fish is hooked, the most difficult part of the fight begins. Clearing your loops. As the fish rockets away, sometimes jumping, you have to guide your fly line through the eyes and safely back onto to the reel so you can begin the actual fight. If anything gets caught or wrapped, grab yourself a new leader and fly and begin again. The most common mishap is having your fly line wrap around the butt of your rod or the bottom of your reel. There are videos of fly lines wrapping around anglers necks, toes and just about anything else you can imagine but this can a does happen to almost everyone at some point.
To prevent this hold your rod and your other hand far away from each other. Making a loop with your retrieving hand, letting your fly line pass through. Pinching it when necessary to keep pressure, always keeping tension on the fish. When the line goes tight bring your hands together so the line meets the reel. It’s also sometimes helpful to keep the reel truned to the side and the but of the rod against your arm so the loop cannot sneak on there. Again, there’s a lot that can go wrong once you’ve hooked a 100 pound wild animal. They’re pissed off and looking to break free by any means possible. This step in fighting large fish is often the most difficult part, and usually the most fun. Its happened to all of us and there is nothing you can do, the line wraps around the butt of your rod and you have that feeling of…ugh, did I just do that. Your guide might laugh and tell you to get a new fly, but it’s all part of the game. Think about steps to prevent this while your standing on the casting deck, always be aware of your line, the wind and make sure when you turn to cast or go backhand on a fish, you make the need adjustment to keep you line where you need it.
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There are many fly rod manufacturers out there both in the USA and abroad. During our last assessment there are at least 15 fly rod manufacturers with a main office in the USA. The members of our team at Tail Fly Fishing Magazine all use different brands and site different reasons for why they prefer a particular brand or model.
I throw a Redington Vapen in just about every size. From a 5 weight to a 12 weight, from trout to tarpon, it works for me. My Vapen casts in any conditions, and even on the windy days without issue. The most important reason why it’s my rod of choice is because I trust it. I can pick up my vapen with confidence. My friend throws a rod that has three times the price but my confidence in that rod is non existent. It is a phenomenal fly rod that is lightweight with serious lifting power but it’s just not for me. He trusts it and swears by it. He will never throw anything else.
The two lessons that I have learned from fishing and buying fishing gear is that one should not ignore a particular rod or brand because of the price tag. The other thing learned was that you should trust yourself on what rod you like. It should feel right and cast without effort.
When it is time to buy a new rod, like any other purchase, you need to do your research. A lot of research can be done online. Reading forums and blogs are great to get an idea, but nothing can beat seeing a product in person. Go to a fly shop, grab some rods, hold the cork and most importantly, cast them. And actually cast them, don’t just wiggle them back and forth. Many people pick up rods and wave them back and forth like a middle schooler waving their pencil to make it wave. You learn nothing about a rod by doing this, besides maybe how fragile it is when you accidentally smack the wall or display rack with the tip.
When you cast a rod, put it through its paces. Cast it into the wind, across the wind. Throw it side armed, overhanded and everything inbetween. You are about to make an investment whether big or small. It’s your stick after all. The obvious comparison is test driving a car. Most people won’t buy a car without a test drive. Yeah, obviously you are not going to do a burnout to test its true horsepower, but you will kick the tires, test the acceleration and the brakes at a minimum.
Even if the most expensive fly rods are not in your budget, still give them a cast. You may be surprised how some of the less expensive rods hold up in comparison. I usually am. That being said, some rods are definitely more special than others and that “touch of specialness” might warrant a higher price tag. Perhaps if you try our approach you might actually find several rods that you like. With multiple options that you cast well making your decision to buy a much easier one.
Remember that it is rude to go to a fly shop and ask for help to only go and purchase what you were looking for online. Make sure to support your local fly shop. If you test out a rods, it is usually assumed that you are actively shopping for a rod. This implies that you might actually buy a rod. Even if you decide not to, buy something else, even if it’s just some flies or a hat. That’s the least you can do to thank the shop for their time and support them so they remain there.
Fly Fishing For Jacks
“Jacks are a trash fish that steal flies from tarpon.” We roll our eyes every time we hear this. Obviously, this person has never caught a jack.
Jacks are a species of hard fighting fish that aggressively take flies, in fact, they aren’t even picky about the fly. Jacks are related to GT and fight like them too. Both fish are a part of the Caranx Genus, making them a bit more than just a distant relative. They are recognizable by their distinct lighter color, black dot on their gill and yellow tint, jacks are not just pissed off predators that pull. Jacks are mainly reef dwelling but they feed on the flats, follow sharks and rays looking for an opportunistic meal and they also like structure in bays and canals. If the tarpon fishing is slow and you don’t know what to do, look no further than the jack.
With the unfortunate nickname of poor-man’s permit Jacks are opportunistic feeders, eating any unlucky bait fish that swims in front of them. These fish are found pretty much wherever tarpon are, from Florida to South America, and as far west as the west coast of Africa. They are both reef and flats fish and easily found almost everywhere.
These fish get GT sized as well, growing up to 70 pounds, the IGFA world record for all tackle is 66 pounds in Angola. Western Africa is know for big fish and outstanding fly fishing. Every few years a photo of giant tarpon (sometimes a world record) and giant jacks are seen there. So if you are feeling ambitious, there might be a world record for you out there. The other cousin to the Atlantic jacks, the pacific crevalle, can be found swimming alongside roosterfish. Almost identical in appearance, these fish behave the same way as their Atlantic counterparts. Many people consider these two fish one in the same.
For flies, throw baitfish patterns, poppers or anything bigger than an inch and strip as fast as you can. Just like a GT or roosterfish, they like the chase. Larger jacks can swim in deeper water than juvenile fish, making larger jacks scarce on the flats but they do show up. However, all jacks eat shrimp and crabs when the going gets tough, so don’t be surprised if one eats your permit fly because they will. Especially if you are casting to permit following a ray or a shark, there are usually jacks there too waiting to take the offering.
From a physiological perspective jacks are required to eat a lot and often. Research discovered that jacks digest their food so fast that it was unrecognizable in less than five hours. Transit time of food through a human digestive tract is about five hours and in a shark its about 48 hours. This might explain why they are always on the prowl for a meal and ever so happy to eat your fly.
However if you are looking for a good time which most times we are, throw on a surface fly. Nothing is quite as exciting as watching a jack get on top of the water to take down a big foam popper. Some people enjoy as much as tarpon fishing, we certainly do.
These fish are so much fun that it makes traveling around the world to catch GT somewhat questionable. Anglers can get a taste of giant trevally, well at least their cousins without the expense. Give jacks a try, you won’t be disappointed.
Photos by Alex Waller
(Originally published in Tail Fly Fishing Magazine #30 – July 2017)
TAG YOU’RE IT
Fishing for these brutes is as challenging as it gets. They are apex predators, and at a special time of year, they roam the flats of New Zealand tearing ferociously through baitfish schools like nothing you’ve ever seen, offering ample opportunities to catch them on a fly rod.
For years, I had been talking to my good friend Alex Waller about heading to New Zealand to experience the mayhem, and see firsthand what Alex and his crew had going on with their tag and release kingfish program. I talked my good friend Ben into tagging along and we packed our gear and jumped on the big metal bird for a short three hour flight.
After landing and packing the car full of gear, we hit the road for the next six hours. The drive was remarkable: the New Zealand countryside is breathtaking, with huge rolling mountains and crystal clear rivers. We felt like we had stepped off the plane and straight into Jurassic Park, thankfully minus the dinosaurs.
Once we had crossed the mountain range, we had the flats in our sights in the distance, and we were all of a sudden like fat kids in a cake shop. We made it to the cabin just as dusk approached, and it was time to go through the usual ritual, pulling all the gear out and spending the night rigging up for the week’s adventures. After catching up over a few Sailor Jerry’s and getting everything ready to go, it was lights out. The next morning couldn’t come fast enough, and we were all up after less than five hours of sleep. After a few cups of strongcoffee and some cigarettes, we jumped in Alex’s whip and headed to the flats as light came over the long sandy straits of Golden Bay, the anticipation building with the rising sun.
We were armed with 9 and 10-weight rods loaded with floating lines, and Alex was nice enough to bring us to one of his favorite spots first thing in the morning. As the tide started to roll out, we made our way into the water and onto the flat, looking for stingrays flapping their broad wings over the sand, leaving muddy trails behind them. The kingfish are known to follow the stingrays as they feed, because the stingrays stir up extra baitfish and crabs, providing a potentially easy meal. Upon spotting a ray, we had to move quickly across the flat and make as long of a cast as possible. Sometimes with the wind you have to make the shot really fast; once the rays see you, they are off like a light and you can say goodbye to any kingfish behind them. When it all comes together and you see three or four green backs swimming aggressively towards you in a meter of water, hunting down your fly, you know it’s going to be fish on. The fastest fish hits the fly hard and fast, and the next 25 to 40 minutes will see you bagging more.
Upon getting a fish to hand, it was time to tag and release it. Alex and his good friend Paul Mills from Revolution Fly Fishing New Zealand established a great tagging program, wanting more information about where these fish went, what they were doing once they left the flats and how far they were traveling before being recaptured (or whether they stayed in the same general location). This was a truly valuable part of our experience on the trip. With over 150 fish tagged and released to date with 10 fish recaptured and released to fight another day, the project is a great way to learn more about these fish and assist in conservation efforts.
After spending a few days roaming the flats in search of these predators, it was clear that the guys had stumbled across something that would keep anglers coming back year after year. The fishing is amazing, but the backdrop that surrounds it–from green mountain ranges to the vast flats–makes this place a small piece of heaven, and provides an experience that will stick with you. After a few crazy encounters with these “hoods,” it was clear to me how much angling ability and fitness plays into it. Running through waist deep water just to get close enough to the rays and get your shot at a fish is very physically challenging, but provides for some insane fishing moments that won’t be forgotten.
After a few days of great conditions and fishing, the weather gods decided to rain down on our party. The temperature dropped over 10 degrees and it rained non-stop for three straight days. We had few other options, so it was off to the local pub to take over the pool tables and drink some beers. The next day, we awoke to 25-plus mile an hour winds and strong rains. With relatively low expectations, we packed up the gear and headed out to the flats, just to see how bad the conditions really were. Sleeping in could have been a better option. The water had turned over and it was muddy as hell. Since we were already out, we headed over the range to a remote little bay with some sheltered flats and bays that looked fishy.
We pulled up to some cool looking water, and as the tide turned and the water started to move, we could see schools of baitfish getting harassed by kingfish. We couldn’t believe our luck as we pulled the gear out. We put some flies in the water, and within a few minutes had raised a few fish and felt better about our chances. Ben got lucky and got the first eat to break the skunk, and we managed a few more fish in some pretty poor conditions. We spent the last hours of the tide casting at the local kahawai, all while enjoying a few beers and some laughs about the ups and downs of the week.
INSIDE THE BOX
Inside the Box is a feature in Tail Fly Fishing Magazine that gives the reader a glimpse inside some of our best fly boxes for an up close and personal look at what top tyers and anglers they bring to fish with. Some of them are beautifully ties flies and very neatly packed, while other are just what made it to top of a messy fly bench, but any angler will agree that there is something to be learned by every photo.
Many of the photos we have shared over the last 22 months are geared for a specific destination or target a particular species on the fly.
We have featured bonefish, tarpon, redfish and blue water species like marlin, sailfish, mahi- mahi and tuna. While it is a fairly simple feature, it’s surprisingly difficult to capture the essence and quality of a nice selection of flies in just a single photo. Many of our guides and pro tyers submit photos for the feature which sometimes end up in our publication. Inside the box gives you a look at what flies anglers bring to target various species throughout the world and now that we print Tail, back issues can also be used as reference material moving forward so keep them handy. Here are some fly boxes that you may have missed in 2017 so far.
If you are a tyer or angler with a unique collection of flies that you want to show off, send us an email.
A Bluewater Box – Pacific Ocean
(published in Tail – Issue 27: January 2017)
Sardines, mackerel and squid are some of the common prey species of the Pacific Ocean and the most commonly imitated prey by saltwater fly anglers targeting these species. The flies in this box are tied to mimic them and entice big pelagic species like mahi-mahi, marlin and sailfish to strike. Many times a popper is paired with a baitfish teaser about six inches behind the popper hook to entire the predator to strike and often times it works. My bluewater box includes my version of the Green Machine, which is a classic mackerel pattern. It is about 6 inches long and has a green barred upper with a white belly. Sometimes It is tied on a 4/0 hook with very very little or no green fiber on top and a black tail is added with permanent marker to better imitate the fleeing mackerel. Another pattern which is similar to the Green Machine Fly is a sardine baitfish pattern in blue and white. This one is also about 6 inches long and usually tied on a 4/0 hook. Poppers in pink are a staple for sailfish and striped marlin but it will also entice mahi mahi to strike as well. The EP articulated squid is another great pattern for the Pacific blue water species but because these are somewhat labor intensive to tie, some people shy away from it. We have had great success with it for mahi-mahi. These all work in the Atlantic too.
Bonefish Box for the Bahamas
(published in Tail 28: March 2017)
Lowcountry Redfish Box
(published in Tail 28: May 2017)
The Lowcountry Box
by William Cochran
Where the “Lowcountry” emerges in the Northeast Region of Florida this concoction of crustaceans will undoubtedly add to your experience with floodtide tailers, lowtide belly-crawlers, redneck permit and big ole uglies. Tyer William Cochran of Coch’s Flies has you covered, regardless of what time of year it is, with a combination of colors and patterns to satisfy every fishy soul. Who knew crab and shrimp could ever make playing in the mud look so good.
Use on redfish, sheepshead, tarpon and we would be willing to bet that you could even get some success with bonefish with some of these.
Tarpon Teaser Box
(published in Tail 28: July 2017)
These are some of my favorite flies that I use for tarpon in the Florida Keys. Tarpon flies are some of my favorite to tie. When fishing the backcountry, I like to use flies that have a lot of movement and different weights and colors to match different situations. On the oceanside I like to use flies that will ride higher in the water column to get those high and happy big girls.
A post by George Roberts of Master The Cast
I’m honored to contribute to Tail Fly Fishing Magazine’s fifth year anniversary issue. You can purchase a hard copy at your local fly shop, at Barnes and Noble, Books-Million, Bass Pro Shops as well as Field & Stream stores. You may also subscribe to it by clicking the link above.
It’s been my experience that the vast majority of experienced fly anglers have a knowledge deficit regarding fly lines. My article for this issue, “A Fly Line Primer,” is my attempt at a concise but useful overview of choosing, using, and tweaking a saltwater fly line for enhanced performance.
To supplement the article I’ve created this short video (using iMovie and the Hudl Technique app) on marking the head of the fly line. I hope you find it helpful.
FROM THE MASTERTHECAST.COM WEBSITE: