Imagine breaking white water, turbulence, waves wind and seaweed, slippery rocks and sometimes warm driving rain sea mist and spray. You’re a right handed caster and the wind is blowing from the south west – force four touching five occasionally, you’re on a southerly facing shore with a rising tide! Interesting times for the saltwater fly fisher!
The presentations described in this post are made from rocky platforms that allowed me to be slightly above the fish, I can see them and the fly and no doubt at times, the fish can see me. I’m not casting very far. Sometimes it’s more difficult than this, but at difficult times opportunities exist beyond the norm. In shallower water with breaking waves where you don’t have the opportunity to cast into deeper gullies from a height and you might need to take the challenging step into the cauldron.
Great care must be taken by the angler in these circumstances – especially as he will often find himself fishing alone under these conditions. One of the key elements of this type of fishing and one often forgotten about (beyond been able to cast and stay safe in this environment) is line management. No cast can be made safely with the right hand in these circumstances whilst facing the sea, the Belgian will get it out there but there is the subsequent loss in distance, were looking for a little bit more this time.
So we learn to cast backwards into the rough sea. First I strip of the line onto the ground, the head drops down first, running line on top, stretched a little against the drag. Then I pull it all back into the basket running line first. I use a mangrove hip shooter which is deep and sits low to my left side. I can take out the line spikes in the bottom that are taller and more flexible and hold the running line higher in the basket; this allows the line to drop to the bottom around the stiffer shorter spikes. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. Casting backwards with the line basket on your left hip, the windward side, and unfortunately the ‘wave ‘ward side too does present its own issues. This can be problematic for a number of reasons.
- One thing the hip shooter does it forces you to remain somewhat shallow.
- Line tray is to the left and windward side whilst casting backwards.
- The hip shooter is buoyant and will rise and fall in waves pivoting at your waist belt
- Sometimes a coil of line will loop between you and the side of the basket under the belt support; it needs to be dealt with
- Waves will spill the line out of the line tray
- The running line needs to travel out of the tray close to and across your body and clothing during the backward cast
- When you turn to engage the cast and control the fly the tray is now on the lee side of your body – often creating a more difficult swirling ‘close to’ breeze that whips the running line out of the shooter
- You’ve made the cast turned and with good turnover and after you have engaged the fly you strip, strip and then you get a tangle!
You’re fishing and the tangle is not too bad, you can see the head twenty feet away – waves are breaking down on the line and there’s weed close to shore. Decisions regarding your action should be based around the time you can afford to release the tangle without getting the line, the leader and the fly already at sea into even more trouble which you will have to then deal with.
- If you are fishing with a floating line you may have more time
- If you are fishing with an intermediate, you will have less time
- If you are fishing with a sinking line it’s probably very little time anyway
Decisions regarding time spent untangling running line mid retrieve should be made regarding depth of water, distance between running line tangle and the head, the extent of the tangle and the difficulty of the conditions. There is a possibility of increasing time spent untangling by using the wind to retrieve the fly and line and keep it out of trouble until the tangle is sorted.
This frequent line management under these conditions is a skill in itself that takes a long time and a lot of patience to learn – but keeping YOU fishing and the fly in the water longer will inevitably lead to more fish.
Some points worth considering
- Try not keep more running line in the basket than is necessary or is greater than you can cast
- Never travel from place to place in tough conditions over rocks with line in the basket
- Finer running line is more liable to tangle than a more robust running line, remember its about control, distance is not an issue in these circumstances
- NEVER take your eye off the sea when you are dealing with a tangle
- Sometimes a tangle is a tangle – disengage and stop fishing to get it out
- At times a ‘survival cast’ of simply lifting the entire line off and out of the water back onto the shore is needed
- Try to get fish onto the reel in these conditions rather than ‘hand lining’ the fish – this can lead to trouble for both of you
There’s a lot of challenges going on in these conditions that force you to remain focused – never lose sight that your safety is always a priority.