Monthly Archives: April 2014

Getting Ready for Tarpon and Snook

Summer is almost here and the arrival of Florida’s suffocating heat means one thing if you’re a dedicated sight-fisherman.


In a few weeks, many Florida flats will welcome the popular game fish.  And fly fishermen will be waiting. Some will struggle, muddling along with the hope that enough shots will yield a Kodak moment. Others — albeit a small fraction of the long rod elitists — will catch and land fish regularly.

The difference, quite often, comes down to casting. The better you can cast, the more fish you’ll catch. Period.

Below are a few tips to consider while preparing to dance with the Silver King.


Practice makes perfect.

Saltwater fly fishing is a skill, yet many anglers treat it as a hobby. They fish, but they don’t practice and if they practice, they don’t put in enough time to truly hone their craft.

“You have to practice,” Peter Kutzer, an Orvis casting instructor, said. “You don’t see golfers going out on courses without practicing and taking practice swings. They go to the driving range. They chip and putt to help with their short game. You have to practice your fly-casting game as well. Chasing tarpon is not a poor man’s sport. It’s tough. You’re going to be a lot more successful if you spend some time practicing.”


Lighter is Better.

And if you do practice, go with a lighter rod at first, which should help shake off the rust from a long winter layoff.

“I’d recommend they get some time under their belt and if saltwater fishing is what they really want to do, then get some time with a 7, 8 or 9 weight,” Kutzer said. “Start with one of those rods. They’re a little easier to handle. They can help you develop some of that muscle memory with something a little lighter. Some of those heavier rods can be tougher.”


It’s OK to Break Your Wrist

One of the first things we’re told as novice fly casters is to never, ever break our wrist. That’s fine if you want to chase bass and brim at your neighborhood pond. Tarpon on fly requires sharp loops to pierce those nasty headwinds and generate casts of 50 feet and longer.

“When you’re an experienced caster, you’re looking for ways to increase line speed,” Keys guide Bruce Chard said. “When you snap your wrist and allow for more application of power throughout the casting stroke, you’re going to increase line speed. But, you’re timing has to be impeccable, and you can’t have good timing if you’re not an experienced caster.  I’m not saying you can’t do it. It just makes it a little more challenging to form a nice tight loop.”

The bottom line: If you’re a beginner, don’t break your wrist. If you’re more advanced, check out Joan Wulff’s videos on the power snap, but the learning curve is anything but a snap, which is why a stiff wrist is better for the newcomer.

“It has everything to do with that,” Chard said. “Usually when you’re a beginner, you have too much movement. You’re moving your arm. You’re moving your shoulder and everything all over the place. And we (as instructors) need to get them to quit moving long enough to have a nice short stroke and feel the rod load, stopping abruptly while keeping that rod on a straight-line plane. That helps them form a nice, tight loop. Once they start forming nice, tight loops, then you can do whatever your want to increase line speed, and there’s a number of different things you can do and snapping the wrist is one of them.”


Different Strokes for Different Folks

There are, in general, two distinct approaches to fly casting. On one side of the spectrum, there’s Joan Wulff. At the other end is Lefty Kreh. Joan teaches a more vertical stroke that pulls the butt of the rod through the last part of the motion. Her motion is compact with a minimum of body movement.

Lefty uses a more horizontal approach to the stroke. He pushes butt of the rod towards the target and uses more of his body with an open stance.


Dave Chouinard shows his winning form at the 2013 Big Gun Shootout.

Many top distance casters — Paul Arden and Peter Hayes — are pullers. Many weekend anglers are pushers. Kutzer believes in both methods and says good casters can make either work and quite often they have to, depending on the conditions. Lefty’s low-elbow horizontal approach can work great on a flats boat elevated above the water. But use that while wading a thigh-deep flat and your back cast will smack the water. Vertical is the way to go.

“What a lot folks see is their accuracy gets better,” Kutzer said. “They’re pointing at their target; they’re more lined up. When you cast vertical, it’s a little easier to know if you’re going too far back. The downside, though, to being vertical is you’re going to be a little more susceptible to the wind.”

That’s when you have to flatten out your forward stroke. But executing a quality back cast is pivotal. A poor one often ensures a lack of accuracy or distance. Or both.

“One of the big hurdles people deal with is being aware of what their back cast is doing and being aware of their tracking,” Kutzer said. “Tracking is huge. If you want to make a long cast, the easiest way to do that is to have a good loop on your back cast and to do that you have to track well on you back cast. Loop way around to the side, twist your hand and you bring that rod out and around, it’s going to be really hard to get that line nice and tight and get some distance on your forward cast.”


Fundamentals Matter

We can debate Joan versus Lefty and their merits of both for years, but Kutzer, as instructor, has to simplify the physics of fly casting into palatable bits for his students. Maybe we should do the same.

“Three things,” Kutzer said. “You have to make a rod bend. You have to make it stop. Twice. And that’s not easy because in everything we do (in sports) we almost always follow through. The third thing is you have to keep everything in a straight line.”

Sounds simple, but it’s not. Time to go practice.


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Aches and Pains From Fishing

If you’re age 40 or younger, disregard this.  You need not read further. Once you pass the big 4-0, all sorts of aches and pains plague us. Stiff back, bum knee, sore shoulder, there’s always something that hobbles us as soon as we get out of bed in the morning.

 My malady is plantar facsciitis. Wading kills me. Not so much when I’m in the water, but afterwards, I’m hobbled. The problem is you can’t fit orthotics in flats booties. That footwear simply isn’t made for any sort of insert. That’s something that I have to live with.

That said, I made the condition worse. I wore old flats boots. They weren’t awful, but the support was waning. When that happens, my arch screams for help. I realized this issue this spring and I went out and got new flats boots. Same brand — Orvis — but newer. Big, big difference in support and how my feet felt afterwards. Pictured below are both sets of boots. The green ones, as you see, now flop at the ankles. The tan ones don’t. They’re newer and stiffer. Moral of the story: When in doubt, buy a new pair of flats boots.


Guess which pair is shot?

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From Bass to Tarpon

Shaw celebrates.

Shaw celebrates.

Interviewed Shaw Grigsby, Jr. this week for a story in The Drake.  Shaw, of course, is known for his success during a 30-year career as a pro bass fisherman and the limelight from his television show, One More Cast. What many don’t know is that Shaw is a big, big fly fisherman. His favorite fish on the long rod is Homosassa tarpon.

“A most exceptional fish,” Grigsby said over a recent lunch near his home in Gainesville, Fla. “They’re not the easiest to feed. You have to do things right. You have to make the right placement. Most of the time, it’s pretty heavy wind. You have to get it in a good spot. You have to be able to back cast, side cast. You just have to be able to do it. It doesn’t have to be pretty. It just has to get there. Then hooking them, it takes every bit of knowledge you have to clear your line, getting things up, so you can land him. Then you have to fight him. It’s not to the point where it hurts you, but it’s to the point where it taxes you.”

To the right  is a tarpon Grigsby landed in the early 1990s, a fish estimated to weigh more than 170 pounds, and was not too far off Billy Pate’s then world record of 188 pounds on 16-pound tippet set in 1982.


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Project Healing Waters Info

Editor’s Note: The following is from Pat Damico, a Tampa Bay Fly Fishing Club board member. Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing is a great organization. Think of it as a way to give back by giving your time. May 17, Bradenton. Mark it on your calendar.

As some of you already know, Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc. is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military personnel and veterans through fly fishing, fly tying, rod building, fly casting education and outings. We have over 170 active programs at VA facilities, some of which are in Florida. Trout Unlimited and International Federation of Fly Fishers clubs provide volunteers to assist in this worthwhile endeavor. Most emphasis has been on freshwater salmonoids leaving a vast untapped area of saltwater that we are only now beginning to pursue. Many of our facilities, especially in the Sunshine state, are close to saltwater. In my position during the past 6 years as Regional Coordinator for the Deep South I have wanted to introduce our deserving veterans to the wonders and joys of fly fishing in the salt. We have been able to do this in a small way and have watched the joy and satisfaction that has accompanied all involved in these trips.

We are again in need of Captains and boat operators who are responsible and interested in giving their time to help those that have given so much for our freedom. This event at Bradenton Yacht Club, Armed Forces Day, Saturday, May 17, will be our third from that facility. Much of our previous success has been due to our generous volunteer boat Captain’s. Our day will begin with a short meeting of Captains and volunteers before embarking on a 9-1 p.m. fishing trip in the bountiful waters close to the Club. A fly club volunteer will accompany each veteran on a boat allowing the captain to concentrate on his or her ability to get to areas where flies can be presented to fish. The Bradenton Yacht Club has proved an ideal location on the Manatee River which offers many protected areas as well as easy access to Tampa Bay. A private launch and adequate parking are located on club property. After fishing we will have lunch. A program will follow paying tribute to our veterans.

Hells Bay Boats has been very supportive of PHWFF providing some of their local Captains and boats, but more are needed. We would like to have about 30 boats participating as this number will give us a balance of vets, volunteers and Captains. Please consider helping us with this event. A definitive schedule of the program will follow. Feel free to contact either Larry Lurie, Deep South Area Coordinator PHWFF or Capt. Pat Damico with questions or concerns. Please post this information in your club Newsletters.


Healing those who serve,


Capt. Pat Damico, St. Pete Beach,

Larry Lurie, Orlando,

Mike Reeves, Bradenton Yacht Club, 813-340-5510

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Snook on the Beach

May is almost here. Pretty soon it will be time for Beach Snook. Hopefully, the weather cooperates.

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The Myth of Bending the Wrist

Thou shall not bend the wrist. How many times have you heard that mantra when you watch a video or read about fly casting? I’ve heard that piece of advice and followed it intently from day one.

Until now.

The other day I was  watching Paul Arden of Sexy Loops and Master Casting Instructor Bill Higashi conduct a seminar. Both are outstanding distance casters. Both break their wrist. That led to a review Joan Wulff’s instructional videos on the power snap. She breaks her wrist and this wisp of a woman can throw a fly more than 100 feet. Further intrigued, I found Bruce Chard’s video on the wrist snap for line speed. Essentially, it’s Joan’s version of the power snap on steroids.

I certainly don’t have all the answers on fly casting. But my feeling is that the wrist snap on the  back-cast and forward cast creates line speed. Can you cast without a wrist snap? Sure–but snap your wrist at the right time,  the loops tighten and the line speed sizzles. Break your wrist throughout the stroke and the loops widen. Timing is key. Perhaps that’s why many instructors teach their students not to break the wrist. Initially, it makes sense, but eventually one has to take the next step and advance.

On freshwater, it’s not as big a deal, because line speed and distance are not as essential;  in the salt and the wind, they are. The wrist snap, in my book, sharpens the stops at each end of the cast. Improve this and everything else should come together in concert.

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The Spring Drake

Got a column in the spring issue of The Drake on my appreciation for reds in the marsh in St. Augustine. The Drake is a great read. I have a lot of respect for Tom Bie and Geoff Mueller in sticking with their commitment to quality writing and photography. It’s not easy to find that these days. Quality journalism doesn’t pay, but somehow those guys have made it work.

Thanks to everyone in St. Augustine who helped me with the story — Vaughn Cochran, Tim Boothe and Kevin Keastman.  You all were great. I’ll be back this summer, that’s for sure.


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