First Shot

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By Justin Pickett

“With an explosion, the water suddenly gave way to expose the shimmering scales and black fins of a perfect Everglades Silver King.”

The weeks of preparation, tying, and fantasizing had come to an absolute end as I found myself sitting in the backseat of a pickup truck that was hauling a Hells Bay Professional through the eerie darkness of the Everglades. With Captain Jason Sullivan of Rising Tide Charters behind the wheel, Tim Harden of the Venturing Angler and I chatted back and forth about the typical things fisherman banter about. Memories of past trips, how the prior days’ fishing had been, as well as what we might expect out on the water. As with any trip, for me, there is the usual anxiousness that crawls over my skin as visions of acrobatic tarpon dance through my head. I’ve fished all over Florida, but the Everglades has been the one destination in the Sunshine State that has always found a way to elude me. Thanks to Tim and some perfect scheduling, I’ve finally found myself here.

As we pull into Flamingo and step out into the steamy morning, the usual quiet of the pre-dawn hours is immediately interrupted by the constant buzzing of a thick cloud of mosquitos. Apparently, someone told them we were coming and they were waiting for us with empty stomachs. But, even the constant prodding of those vampire-bugs wasn’t going to diminish the excitement we were all feeling as we loaded up our gear and dunked the skiff in the warm waters of the Glades.

The skiff glided into the black water. Tossing the last few pieces of gear aboard, we cranked up and began our disappearance into the mysterious pitch black that enveloped the landscape. As we snaked through the canopied canal, the delightful sounds of the outboard rang in the ear, pushing us closer and closer to our fishing grounds guided only by brightly colored lines on the back-lit map of the GPS. As sudden as a blink, it seemed we were spit out by the canal and thrust into a vast open bay surrounded by the faint outline of distant thunderheads, periodically highlighted by jagged streaks of light. The ride was loud, but quiet, amplified by the dark vastness of the pre-dawn Everglades.

As the boat broke plane and the engine was cut, a tingle ran up my spine. The silence was insane. A faint buzz could be heard near the mangroves from the myriad bugs whirring about, but the moment you were more than a cast-length away… nothing. Not even a breath of wind was present to disturb the calm.

The roll of a tarpon could be heard a hundred yards away as a magenta sunrise began to paint the sky, disrupted only by a few wispy clouds high in the atmosphere. Three sets of eager eyes scanned across a large boxes filled with feathers and fur in order to select the first players in a game of cat and mouse. Lines were threaded through guides and tippets were tied deliberately to trusty hooks as the last few preparations were completed.

I hear Tim’s voice from behind me, “You’ve got first shot”.

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Sunday Classic / 6 Tips for Executing a Proper Figure-Eight Retrieve

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For the first time, this year, I got to experience the thrill of watching a musky devour my bucktail streamer right at the boat during a figure-eight retrieve. I had dreamed of witnessing this first hand for years, and I have to say, it live up to all the hype. You get a huge adrenaline rush every time you lure a musky into following or eating your fly during a figure-eight retrieve. I think this one aspect of musky fishing alone, is why so many anglers fall in love with musky. Although I’ve heard of anglers catching trout, striper and other species with a figure-eight retrieve, musky by far, provide the highest success rate of all game fish for using it. Musky seem to spook far less than other game fish when they’re in hot pursuit after prey, and that’s the main reason this niche retrieve works so well for them. I totally screwed the pooch on my first couple opportunities to use the figure-eight retrieve for musky. This unorthodox retrieve takes a while to get used when you don’t regularly practice it. Done wrong, a figure-eight retrieve will fail to trigger eats. Luckily, during my trip, I had my good friend Charlie Murphy, a genuine musky bum, give me some pointers. Below are six tips to get you executing a figure-eight retrieve like a pro.

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Saturday Shoutout / Know When To Hold ‘Em

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Some interesting perspective on Grip and Grin photos from the folks at orvis News.

There is always controversy around hero shots of angers with their catch. While I personally support responsible grip-and-grin photography, not everyone is on board. Not everyone is responsible either. This piece by Phil Monahan takes a thoughtful look at the issue and calls on some experts for advice. It’s conclusions are hard to argue with.

Take a look and tell us what you think in the comments section.


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New Fly Rods and Reels From Redington

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Watch the video!

Redington made a strong statement about identity at this years IFTD show.

About their own identity, and about yours. The new I.D. reel is one of the smartest designs I’ve seen in years. The reel itself is simple, functional and affordable but what sets it apart are the custom I.D. badges available for it. These badges allow the user to quickly make a strong visual statement about themselves and their fishing.

This is sure to be controversial. I can tell you right now, if you are the guy searching for an antique Hardy, this is not going to be your thing. If, however, you are one of the growing number of young anglers who don’t take themselves too seriously, you may just love it. As an aging punk-rocker who plastered my guitar with stickers, I do.

Check it out and let us know what you think in the comments section.

There is also a new top-of-the-line fly rod. The Crux is a welcome, fast action addition to the Redington lineup. It has a sweet action and a functional composite grip.


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Higa’s S.O.S Baetis

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By Bob Reece

It’s about time for baetis.

As we move into the months of fall, water temperatures begin to drop along with the activity of insect life. While the larger mayfly moments of summer are gone, the always important baetis remain. Nymphing success during these late season months can often be found with a high quality imitation of these micro mays.

Long time guide, Spencer Higa knows what it takes to consistently produce fish for his clients in all conditions. His expertise is evident in the creation of his S.O.S baetis nymph. Its crisp profile and resulting productivity have earned it a permanent niche in bins and boxes around the country. Additionally, its ease of creation has helped it to find favor in the vises of tiers around the country.

Not all nymph patterns induce a sense of assurance in the minds of anglers. Confidence in the patterns that you fish often results in greater success on the water. If you’re in search of a baetis pattern to believe in, let the S.O.S serve as your savior.


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Fight Big Fish with the Butt Section of the Fly Rod Not the Tip

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If you fly fish long enough and pay your dues, it’s just a matter of time until you hook into a giant fish and experience defeat. I’ve always loved the saying, “It’s always the big ones that get away”, like it provides anglers a viable excuse for losing battles with big fish. I’ll admit there are times when we’re at complete mercy of big fish, and defeat is 99% inevitable, but most battles are lost due to angler error, specifically by fighting big fish incorrectly with the fly rod.

For many anglers, every time they lose a big fish, a portion of their fish-fighting confidence disappears with it, and they become more paranoid with each unsuccessful encounter. Overtime, this paranoia and lack of confidence distorts their fish fighting instincts, and they begin to play big fish too conservatively, thinking if they put more pressure on the fish, the tippet will break or the hook will pull free. What they end up doing most of the time is fighting the fish with their rod tip instead of fighting the fish with the mid-section and butt section of the rod. This seriously limits an anglers ability to apply power and steer the fish during a fight, because all the power comes from the butt and mid-section of the rod, not the tip. It also will keep the leverage in the fish’s court, which will take it far longer for you to tire out a big fish. Fight times can be doubled, sometimes even tripled, and that’s bad news for a trophy specimen if the battle is taking place during the year when oxygen levels are low (you can play a fish to death). Furthermore, the longer the fight is prolonged, the better the chance something could go wrong, resulting in a fish being lost during the fight (teeth wearing through tippet, fish raking you across rocks and breaking line, fish snapping you off in a snag, ect).

Fight a big fish the right way
First, set your drag precisely before you wet a line. Doing so, you’ll be confident if you begin applying too much pressure on a big fish, your reel will smoothly let out fly line. Second, when applying side pressure (to flex the mid and butt sections of the rod) on a fish, it’s critical you make sure you’re pivoting your body around and rod away from the fish, while also

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Steelhead, Karma and the Art of Showing Up

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I know of no more mystifying fish than the steelhead.

Everything about anadromous steelhead is a mystery. An esoteric exercise in chaos theory beginning with an inexplicable choice to swim to the ocean and ending with an equally mystifying decision to eat a swung fly. The more we as anglers try to impose reason and method on these fish, the more they defy us. This fuels a sort of brain fever in the steelheader which, unchecked, can manifest itself in self loathing, delusions of grander, obsessive behavior, mysticism and other antisocial behaviors. There is an element of psychology to all fishing but none more than steelheading.

Swinging a fly for steelhead is wonderfully technical. The finesse, the attention to detail and the absolute focus required to do it right are staggering. And while all of the technique is absolutely essential to master and crucial to execute, it often has nothing to do with the catching of a fish. That’s where it gets really mind-bending. I’ve seen it time and again. Talented anglers making perfect casts and swings time after time to no avail, while another angler does everything wrong and is rewarded with a fish. I have personally been on both sides of that equation. It’s a real thing.

In the long run I am convinced that good technique prevails, but in the short run it can often seem random. In the end, there is nothing in steelheading more important than being in the presence of a fish who is ready to eat a fly. End of story. For those of us who believe we control our destinies, that’s a bitter pill to swallow. I firmly believe, however painful it is to hear, that the fish chooses us, not the other way around.

So what is the angler hoping to catch a steelhead on the swing to do?

The best thing I can tell you is, show up, stay positive and do the work. That’s what puts fish in the net. This year on the Deschutes Steelhead Camp I saw a classic example from my friend Mark Haffenreffer.

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Help The Florida Keys Angling Community Recover From Irma

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Images of the lower Florida Keys after the devastation of Hurricane Irma tell a bleak story.

The image above is a spot which may be familiar to many anglers. The former site of the marina at old Wooden Bridge. Now a trash-strewn vacant lot. Scanning the NOAA satellite images of the lower Keys, its hard to form a clear picture of the damage. One house may seem fine, while the house next-door is flattened. When I talk to my friends, who are just now returning to see how much of their lives are left, they respond just as you’d expect a Keys veteran to.

“It could be a lot worse,” they tell me, one after another.

I know that’s more a comment on the irrepressible spirit of the Keys than it is a realistic assessment of the situation. Things are plenty bad and folks in the Keys will need plenty of help. Things could indeed be worse and, with any luck, they won’t be.

Most anglers know enough to know that fishing guides live pretty close to the edge. It’s a rewarding job but the reward isn’t usually monetary. In times like these, guides are often the hardest hit. In a fishery like the Keys, where we depend on the guide community so heavily, a tragedy like Irma can affect us all.

A storm threatens a flats guide twice. Once with the loss of home and property and again with the loss of income. Often the second is the most devastating. Fortunately there are a couple of things we can all do to help.

Bonefish & Tarpon Trust along with the Guides Trust Foundation have

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Sunday Classic / Attractor Flies in Tandem Rigs

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Problems are just part of the game and the better you are at solving them, the more effective an angler you will be. Often the solutions require tactics that are unusual or counter intuitive. When fish are being stubborn a creative solution may be just what is needed.

On our recent trip to the Owyhee River in Oregon, Kent and I encountered such a problem. The Owyhee (the part we were fishing) is a tailwater. It’s a highly pressured and very technical fishery full of picky brown trout. That’s a big enough problem but there were other factors we were dealing with as well.

The Owyhee has an amazingly abundant insect population and the insects are very small. This means that your #22 fly is competing for the fish’s attention with thousands of tasty naturals. The fish do not have to move for food so the only way to feed them is to put the fly right on their nose.

No problem, and anglers generally do this by targeting rising fish because the waters of the Owyhee are stained with dissolved lime and calcium carbonate, a very fine silt that does not settle and gives the water an opaque green tint. The color makes it nearly impossible to sight fish when there are no fish rising. When we were there strong winds had put off the hatches so we were fishing blind. We were catching fish fairly regularly by reading water and being persistent and observant, but I kept thinking there had to be a better approach.

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Saturday Shoutout / Restoring Decency

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I have always spoken out strongly against fishing tournaments where fish are killed.

That’s a conviction that I stand by, and before now, I’ve never read anything on the topic that changed the way I felt about it. This essay by Ted Williams, for The Blog Nature just may have. I have always considered only the negative effects of these tournaments on the fish. I never stopped to think about what they might be doing to the angling community.

“The trouble with tournaments is not so much what they do to fish but what they do to people.”

This is a thought provoking read. Whichever side of the discussion you may be on, it’s well worth your time. Like me, you may come away seeing things differently.


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