Call Ahead for Licenses. Some states allow you to call ahead and use your credit card to get your fishing license. It can save a lot of fishing time.
Copy Your Passport. Make several copies of the first page of your passport and store them separately from the original. If your passport is stolen or lost, you will have the information needed to get a replacement.
Take Proper Equipment. Once you pick a destination, ask the guide or outfitter what equipment you will need. In the U.S. and especially in Florida, guides often have better equipment than you. And because they know their gear and their knots, they often prefer that you use theirs. This has two advantages: First, you get to use the right tackle for the job; and second, you don’t have to buy or lug unnecessary gear. On the flip side, many anglers only trust their own gear because they are familiar with it. It’s up to you.
Outside the U.S. is another story. While some lodges, such as Casa Mar tarpon camp in Costa Rica, have all the proper tackle, most places don’t. Some don’t even have flies, and almost none stock reels, rods, or lines. For these places, be sure to take the tackle (and spare equipment) necessary for the desired species, and pack enough for your entire trip.
Take a Waterproof Bag. A waterproof bag is invaluable in a boat, especially when the boat is in motion and water splashes over the bow. The bag keeps valuables such as wallets, cameras, film, flies, food, and clothes dry. They are available from L.L. Bean, Orvis and many fly shops. A clear-plastic waterproof bag allows you to see what is inside. Put the bag in a boat’s dry storage for extra protection.
Consider Other Species. Be prepared to fish for species other than the ones you set out to catch, because conditions are not always favorable. On a billfish trip I took, for example, the billfish were not around, so I fished a light, 8-weight fly rod and caught small tuna, rainbow runners, different kinds of jacks, dolphin, and several other species. I had a ball.
It may sound foolish to say this in a fly-fishing magazine, but in some saltwater locations you may want to carry spin- or plug-casting gear, too. Unless you are a superb caster, there will be windy days when you’ll be better off sitting on the dock than trying to cast a fly line. I’d rather fish with spinning gear than sit around.
Use Sun Protection. Take an extra hat, spare polarized sunglasses, and plenty of strong sunscreen lotion. Long-sleeved shirts designed for tropical use can reduce your exposure to the sun without making you feel uncomfortable. Consider wearing a sun glove if you burn easily. Apply sunscreen several times a day because it easily washes off your hands when you handle fish. Be careful to keep the sunscreen off your fingertips and the palms of your hands, because many sunscreen products can damage fly lines.
Pack Wisely. Carry two bags and pack half of what you need in each bag. If one is lost or misdirected, the other will provide enough to fish with. Luggage tags tear off, so I suggest you use duffel-type bags and label your name and address (but not your phone number) on the side of the bag. And don’t forget to tear off any old flight tickets before your next trip. Wear a money-belt when traveling to countries where crime is a factor.
Carry your reading material, tickets, and other valuable items in a backpack; this leaves your hands free. Remember that some airlines in and outside the country will only allow one carry-on, and attendants are more serious than ever about enforcing size restrictions. If in doubt, check on this prior to your trip. While fishing, make sure your country exit document is stored in a safe place with your passport. Without them you cannot leave the country.
Think Comfort. Nothing is worse than being uncomfortable on a long trip, so pack accordingly. Take any medicine you might need in case you can’t get it at your destination. Don’t forget allergy pills, heartburn medicine, Imodium, aspirin, and lip balm. Pack things like tacky gauze tape, bandages, or a finger sock to protect the index finger of your rod hand when you are stripping line and fighting fish. Bring extra prescription glasses or contacts if possible, lotion for sunburns, and any other items you might need.
Go Early. Get to an airport more than an hour (two hours for international flights) before the flight. Know where you will park your car, pick up a shuttle (if necessary), and check your luggage. Carry small-denomination bills and change for airport meters, parking fees, tips, and snacks from vending machines. Take an apple or other healthy snack in case you don’t get or can’t eat food from the airline.
Take a Fly Swatter. If you are fishing in southern Florida or on tropical flats, I urge you to take along a fly swatter. I’ve seen many fish lost because someone was busy trying to kill a biting fly. A swatter is an essential tool in a flats boat; in fact, there should be a law requiring all guides to carry them. It also comes in handy around most estuary environments, where mosquitoes and horseflies thrive.
By following these 16 tips, I’ve reduced the number of problems encountered on my trips and increased my chances for success. I’m sure there are many other tips that can help you, and I encourage you to make these and others you might know a basic part of your trip planning. You won’t regret it.