You’re on the flats, hunting. You’ve spotted a fish, or perhaps a school. What you do in the next 60 seconds determines whether you taste the thrill of victory, or the agony of defeat.
Each fish is unique. But some of your responses need to be automatic.
First, you must be absolutely silent. Any noise lets the fish know you’re there. They may not flee from you, but they probably won’t eat, either.
Determine if the behavior of the fish changes in any way. If it does, it most likely knows you are there. In lightly fished areas you still have a chance. In heavily fished places, just go find another fish.
If the fish’s behavior doesn’t change, quickly scan around. See if it’s a single or if he swims with friends. You don’t want to line fish you didn’t see when throwing to the one you did. The ones you spook will spook the rest.
It’s a single. Next, quickly, what is he doing? Cruising? Tailing? Laid up?
When trout and redfish lay up they are almost impossible to catch. They lie there looking for trouble. If they don’t see you, they certainly see the fly line coming at them. Then they’re gone. Find another fish.
For tailing fish, try to determine the direction they’re moving in and as best you can, anticipate where they’ll go. With a minimum of motion put your fly exactly there. Then wait. For cruising fish, as best you can, anticipate where they’ll go. Again, with a minimum of motion put your fly exactly there. Then wait.
How far to lead the fish depends on a lot of variables, not the least of which is how spooky the fish are that day. The speed of the fish, the depth of the water, the “plopiness” of the fly, wind, current, water clarity—every situation is different. If you put it too close they spook. If you lead them too far they never see it. The goal always is to find the sweet spot.
We have all made casts that didn’t land where we willed them. At that point you must quickly answer the following question: Can the cast work?
If the answer is an obvious “no,” then quickly yet silently try another cast. Your chances just went down quite a bit. A good first shot is the one most likely to work.
If the answer is “maybe,” wait and see how the scene plays out. Patience, silence, and luck all have a bearing on the outcome. That fish may go to the fly if you’re patient.
If the answer is “yes,” or if the fish moves toward your fly when the answer was “maybe,” wait until you’re sure the fish will see the fly when you move it. Move the fly just enough to make it look alive. Predatory fish know that the groceries won’t attack them. Keep the movement to a minimum.
If the fish sees your fly one of three things will happen:
1. It might flee, terrified. Find another fish.
2. It might come over, sniff the fly, and keep on going. Consider casting to the fish again. It’s usually a waste of time, but you never know. Consider changing flies. Certainly if you get two of these in a row you need to change flies.
3. It might come over and take the fly. Strip strike when you feel the take.
Obviously, you will taste defeat more often than success. When both you and the fish are on you might convert 25 percent of your shots. When you’re off, or they are being impossible, you might not convert any.
It’s fly fishing. If it were easy everyone would do it.
Treat schools like you would treat singles. Don’t throw the fly to the fish. Anticipate where they will go and put the fly there. When you’re sure they will see it, move the fly.
Schools are sweet because the target is so much larger. Schools are sour because if you spook one fish they usually all spook. I would usually rather have shots at singles and pairs all day than have to deal with a spooky school. Sadly, the fish don’t often give us that choice. FS
First Published Florida Sportsman April 2014