February 17, 2021
Measures to make your bay boat fly fishing friendly.
Fly line management can be a nightmare in just about any boats, other than technical poling skiffs designed to be snag and clutter-free. But many bay boats and open fishermen sometimes need special attention to make them fly-fishing friendly.
Generally, the bigger the boat, the more gadgets that a loose, snaking fly line can find to snag.
On the plus side, most bay boats do have a pronounced “drop-down” front and rear casting deck, and on windy days if you will get in the habit of standing close to the back edge of the deck while fly fishing, the cockpit floor contains your loose line out of the wind very well.
For starters, stow all gear, coolers, shoes, camera cases, and other fishing rods, particularly if you expect to hook a species of fish that will take you “corner to corner” during a prolonged fight. If you wear a stripping basket, this is not so critical. An uncluttered deck is a good safety measure anyway, especially if you fly fish at night.
If your boat lacks recessed, pop-up or pull-up cleats, a standard cleat can be covered with an array of materials to make it snag-free. Foam blocks can be fashioned to do the job. You can duct-tape a cleat in a pinch to fill the gaps that would otherwise snag fly line, and some anglers use sliced tennis balls or slightly larger cut rubber balls to make a nifty cleat cover.
You can choose between investing in a commercial line-stripping bucket or go with a much cheaper collapsible leaf bag, such as those made by Ryobi, and most bay boats have lots of spacious dry storage to stow a leaf bag while collapsed or even fully extended when not in use. And you have the option of weighing it down with a plate weight or similar flat heavy object to keep it in place, even when running at speed from fishing spot to fishing spot. On especially windy days, if you lack stripping baskets, a big, beach towel soaked and them wrung out and spread across the deck or cockpit floor will keep your line from blowing around. So will a 4-foot by 4-foot piece of indoor-outdoor carpet.
A friend I fished with years ago had a 14-foot johnboat for flats fishing on Florida Bay. It had a center console that had every gadget screwed to it that you could imagine: depth finder, swinging cup holders (four of 'em!), plier holders, side rod holders, and of course, the throttle and steering wheel were additional line-grabbers. After much frustration with fly line tangles, we put our heads together and came up with the cure—a section of small-mesh seine net which we cut to size and duct taped to the bottom of the console. Eventually he fashioned egg sinkers to the edges to weight the net down, eliminating the need to tape it.
If you prefer, you can build a “fence” to keep line from blowing overboard on the raised front casting deck with Carbon Marine's LineTack Light Flyline Management Spikes, which when attached around the periphery, prevent line from going overboard. The company also produces a popular fly line mat, which has spikes that hold loose line at your feet in place.
First Published Florida Sportsman Magazine September 2018