Saltwater fly-fishing destinations are very different from one another, and each presents unique challenges for tackling fast-running fish. Because of this diversity, it pays to research your destination and plan well in advance. The more questions you ask about your destination before you go, the more successful you will be when you arrive. The following 16 tips can help you prepare for your next saltwater dream trip.
Contact the Locals. Call the guide or outfitter you are considering fishing with before you make firm plans. He wants your business (and return business), so he will give you honest answers to your questions. Ask the guide for a half-dozen names of his clients for references—and call them. Good guides should have a long list, not just two or three names.
Talk with others who have experienced the kind of fishing you seek. If you plan to visit a lodge that’s new to you, contact people who have been there. Get their opinion as to who are the best guides; all lodges have one or two guides that are a cut above the others. Those are the best ones to hire. If you request a top guide in advance, you greatly increase your chances for success.
Use the Internet. Use an Internet search engine or web site to find articles about the places you want to fish. Fly Fisherman’s Virtual Flyshop (www.flyshop.com) has many Fly Fisherman magazine articles and other destination features on tap. Visit Internet bulletin boards devoted to fly fishing, and ask other people for their advice about different destinations.
The Virtual Flyshop’s Marketplace section has pages of sites that offer travel information. Click on Marketplace, then Business Directory, then Guides, Lodges & Outfitters to access the businesses that can put you in the salt. The Florida & Caribbean section, for example, has information from 21 different businesses, many of which also book trips to other regions.
Search online for cheap air fares. Check out priceline.com, travelocity.com, or cheaptickets.com. And don’t forget the individual airlines’ sites. They often have special discounted rates for Internet users, especially if you are willing to go on quick notice.
Determine the Best Time to Travel. Many fly-fishing destinations are best fished during certain predictable times. Find out those peak dates and plan to be there for the best fishing action. I’ve heard too many anglers say, “We just missed the big stripers; they weren’t in yet.” Don’t leave it to chance. Plan your dates carefully.
Many East Coast fly fishers, for example, know that the fantastic run of false albacore at Cape Lookout, North Carolina, occurs from the last part of October through the first two weeks of November. Sure, the run sometimes starts earlier and lasts longer, even into mid-December, but why take that chance? Be there at the peak.
Know the Tides. In salt water, the best times to fish are determined by the tides. Tide has everything to do with the habits offish. Tides move and concentrate bait, and the predator fish know where and when to take advantage of the situation. You should, too. For example, when a tide floods a shallow flat, the big fish move in to feed on the bait. Plan to be there at the right time.
Tides also have a major effect on water temperature—often critical for finding fish. For example, in the hottest part of summer, shallow flats positioned far from deep water become too hot for most fish. Shallows closer to deep, cool water, however, get relief when the tide rises and the cooler water floods the flats, permitting predator fish and bait to move in. The reverse works in the winter. Flats far from deep water get too cold in winter months, and fish flee to the warm, deep water. Flats located near the warmer, deeper water, however, receive the warmer water with every rising tide.
In the shallows and near shore, tidal change is easily recognized. Offshore tides are harder to read, but don’t be misled; they also have a major effect on fish behavior. Ask any experienced billfisher whether an offshore tide affects the fish behavior and he’ll tell you it’s a major part of the game.
Tides can also ruin your fishing. During a few weeks in some areas, for example, floating grass and debris drift in and pile against shorelines; a spring tide (an extra-high tide) sweeps all of the debris to the surface and makes it difficult to fish.
Plan on Bad Weather. Before any trip, ask what the weather will or could be like and prepare for the worst. I follow this rule: It is going to be hotter than they say, colder than they say, wetter than they say, and someone will forget the lunch. It has saved me on many trips.
Wherever you go, plan on rain and bring the appropriate gear. If it doesn’t rain, a raincoat or rainsuit also makes a dandy windbreaker and will keep you dry from splash when fishing from a boat. Always put on your raingear before you motor out to the fishing area; your raingear serves no purpose after you get wet. (I prefer the bib-type pants instead of conventional pants that often slip down when you sit, exposing your waist and bottom to the elements.)
Book in Advance. Once you have determined where and when you are going, book your flights well in advance. I rely on travel agents to do that for me, and the ones who specialize in working with fly fishermen are invaluable. By booking ahead, you can usually get a lower-priced ticket. Again, the Internet is one of the cheapest places to buy plane tickets.
On the plane, try to get an aisle seat between rows 15 and 20 so you can get on and off quickly and there will be plenty of overhead storage for your rods and carry-ons.
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