Small Wonder, Middle Georgia’s Shoal Bass

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By Justin Pickett
THE SETTING SUN IS WARM AT MY BACK AS I STAND AT THE REAR OF MY JEEP.
I slip on my guard socks and wrench down on my boots until I’m happy with the fit. No need for waders today. The deep south humidity is smothering as I place my Buff around my neck. I dig through the mess that is my gear bag, and pull out my reel and place it on my six weight rod. I’m anxious as I slip the fly line through the guides, but I know that haste often does not lead to happiness. “Slow it down, take your time,” I remind myself.
I peer into my fly box, looking at all of its different inhabitants. Flies I’ve either bought, tied, found, or that have been gifted to me. The colors, the variety of materials. The unique purpose each pattern serves. There are several flies that have not so much as kissed the water, and a select few that have some serious frequent flyer miles. I don’t know why I stare for so long. It’s almost comical. I knew what fly I was going to fish with before I left the house.

I smirk and shake my head as I grab and inspect my go-to fly. It’s a simple fly, but a deadly one. It is a variant of an old, tried and true pattern. The materials reside around a size #4 streamer hook and are dark olive in color. The free flowing, marabou tail has just a bit of flash added to aide in piquing the interest of the fish that I seek. The body is wound with hackled feathers, and within the body are several rubbery legs, protruding from each side just before the nickel conehead. Ah, that’s where the life of this fly exists. The long, webby schlappen and the speckled tentacles breathes this fly to life. It is not prey. It is a seeker, and find, it does. My quarry just can’t seem to resist it once it is swung through their space. Add a little dash of confidence and a pinch of mojo, and how could one go wrong? 

As I look over the bridge I can see fish rising, splashing at the surface each time they take a mayfly that has perilously drifted into their feeding lanes. Topwater isn’t my game plan though. The river is running at the perfect flow, just a touch high, and that’s just how I like it. I know this is going to be a great evening. The “magic hour” is approaching as I cinch down on my loop knot and hang my fly on the hook keeper. I set my drag. I grab my sling pack and clip my hemostats to the shoulder strap. I check again to make sure that I have my fly box and the few tippet spools that I need.

For those that fish within its banks, this location is endearingly known as “The Promised Land.” It is a

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Concentration, Relaxation and Communication Equal Better Bonefishing

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By Louis Cahill

Concentration, Relaxation and Communication. I wish I could claim those words.

I’m quoting Jose Sands, bonefish guide at Andros South Bonefish Lodge. That was his answer when I asked what he thought was the key to successful bonefishing. As usual, he nailed it.

Plenty of anglers are frustrated or intimidated by bonefish. Bonefishing is a complex game with a lot of moving parts and all too often what should be a simple formula breaks down completely. When that happens it’s usually because one or more elements in Jose’s recipe are missing. It’s easier said than done but if you can accomplish these three things, the pieces start to fall into place.

COMMUNICATION

Most saltwater fishing is a team sport. Whether fishing with friends or a guide, you are generally depending on someone else to help you find fish and make a good presentation. Things happen quickly and everyone needs to be on the same page and communicating efficiently to make it work.

There are some universal ideas that everyone needs to understand in order to have good communication. Understanding the bow clock, for instance. When your guide tells you there is a fish at eleven o’clock, forty feet, moving right, it should be a simple thing to find that fish. You learn pretty quickly however, that everyone’s forty feet is not the same and even your guide will occasionally lose track of where eleven o’clock is.

It pays to take a minute at the start of the day to pick an object like a mangrove sprout and decide how far away it is. That helps you calibrate for the day. I find that guides often call out distances that seem much farther than I think is realistic. Not because they don’t know how far away the fish is, but because we are looking at it from very different perspectives. Mine on the bow, and there’s, from the platform at the back of the boat. It’s also worth the time it takes to look at the bow of the boat and confirm where twelve o’clock actually is before you waste a lot of time looking for fish in the wrong spot.

Guides will also use terms like “drop the fly” and “shoot the fly,” to indicate how it should be presented. Drop means you are already carrying enough line for a good presentation, while shoot indicates that you need to let some line go on your delivery. These kinds of directions vary from guide to guide, so take the time to ask early on. It’s impossible to over emphasize the importance of good communication.

I have about a 40% hearing loss and it’s a huge challenge for me. I remind my guide several times during the start of the day that I am deaf as a post. No guide likes to shout in the presence of bonefish but if I can’t hear their direction we both wind up frustrated.

CONCENTRATION

The thing I enjoy the most about bonefishing is the same thing that makes it so difficult.

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5 Tips For Better Dry Fly Fishing From Ronnie Hall

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There are few things more rewarding than a wary trout rising to a dry fly.

Seriously, who doesn’t love fooling fish on a dry fly? Rising fish are like puzzles waiting to be solved and when they are, the angler is rewarded with one of the greatest visual displays in fly fishing. The rise.

Unfortunately, there is also the agony of defeat. All too often your offerings may be refused or worse, just plain ignored. Hold on, don’t go for the cherry bombs just yet. Our buddy Ronnie Hall (Yoda in residence at the Fish Hawk in Atlanta,) has 5 tips to help you unlock the puzzle of rising trout.

#1 Presentation is always the most important aspect of fly fishing, especially when it comes to dry fly fishing. As the British say, “It’s not the fly, it’s the driver.” Practice making the proper casts to achieve a totally drag-free drift. Practice your reach cast. Take the time to get into position. Accuracy is a part of presentation too. Getting your fly to float directly in the fish’s feeding lane is a must. Large trout will not waste energy moving any distance to eat a small fly. Trout are very efficient in their eating habits. They don’t waste energy!

#2 Color, know when it matters. On bright days trout see color more accurately. During some hatches, like tricos, trout may use color to target egg-laden females. Color is not always the most important consideration in choosing a fly. Often silhouette is more critical, especially when fishing opaque imitations, such as beetles or hoppers.

#3 Size matters. When unsure of dry fly size, always go smaller. Selective fish will always more readily accept an imitation which is too small over one which is too large. Often mistakes in size are angler error. It is a human shortcoming to imagine things larger than they are. If you can, catch an insect and compare.

#4 Watch out for masking hatches.

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What’s Correct, Left or Right Hand Retreive?

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I cast right handed so I should reel with my left hand right?

Ask a saltwater guide and 95% of them will tell you the correct way is to always reel with your dominant hand. Ask a trout fisherman and most will say you should reel with the hand opposite your casting hand, because that way you don’t have to switch hands in the middle of fighting a fish to reel. I could go on and on arguing for both sides actually, but I think in the end it’s really a matter of personal preference. In my opinion, there’s no right or wrong way to reel as long as you’re able to get the job done on the water. I figured out a long time ago it would be beneficial for me to learn how to reel and fish effectively both ways. That way it would never be an issue when I was borrowing gear from a buddy, fishing the rod my guide has rigged up for me, or hitting the saltwater flats. It’s worked out great for me and I highly recommend others doing so.

That being said, having sat here and pondered this subject for about an hour now, I decided to call a couple of my buddies in the industry to get their personal opinions. My first buddy works at one of the most prestigious fly shops in the country and he told me the left hand right hand debate, has become one of his biggest pet peeves. He says customers come into the shop all the time asking to get a reel spooled up and when he asks them if they want left or right hand retrieve, he often gets the answer, “Let me call my buddy and ask him what setup I should use”. My fly shop buddy argues, “There’s no law or rule that requires us to fish and reel a certain way. Who cares if someone says your ass backwards. You have every right to fish the way you feel most comfortable”. I happen to strongly agree

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I’ll Have The Fish

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Is Aquiculture Wrong?

I got into a discussion with a friend the other day that put a burr under my saddle. We were talking about what fish is OK to eat and what isn’t. Not in the way that I refuse to eat a catfish from the Chattahoochee but rather how no one should be eating wild steelhead. My friend, who is not a fisherman, asked “what about farm raised fish?” Without thinking about it I said, “sure, that’s fine”. He then went on to explain that he did not eat farm raised fish because it was cruel to take a fish that was meant to be free and confine it in a pen. ( I’m not going to dwell on this idea for too long for reasons that I think are obvious. If that’s the story you want to hear, click here! ) I am unashamedly opposed to the idea of causing unnecessary pain and suffering to any living thing but I also understand what these teeth were put in my head for. I could write a couple of thousand words on this but instead I’ll leave it at this. I remember standing on a gravel bar in Alaska watching a salmon struggling in the current. The fish’s tail was missing along with the last eight inches of him. Two trout were following taking turns eating him while he was still alive. My point being, if we are going to get into the business of attaching human emotions like happiness to fish, let’s be sure we’re choosing the correct emotions. Nobody cares about fish more than me, but that’s their nature. If you hold still long enough, they’ll eat you. I’m really not sure what happiness is to a fish but most of them will choose to stay in one spot if there is plenty of food so I’m not worried about the pen.

Still, this got me thinking. Did I give the right answer? Is fish farming OK? With recent outbreaks of Infectious Salmon Anemia in the Pacific Northwest spreading from fish farms and threatening wild Pacific salmon I had to wonder. Hundreds of thousands of farm raised fish escape into the ocean spreading, not only disease, but their scientifically altered genes, wreaking god knows what kind of havoc on wild populations. Sometimes these escapees are non-native species that out compete native fish. In fact, these fish don’t even need to escape to do their damage. With massive fish farms at the mouthes of some of the world’s best steelhead and salmon rivers wild salmon, steelhead and smelt must run a gauntlet of disease every year to spawn. And what of the impact of all those penned up fish on the ecosystem? It’s clearly a mess but what’s the answer?

The world’s rapidly expanding demand for seafood is greater than the oceans can sustain. Popular species like tuna are under immense pressure. Fish size and numbers are way down in the open ocean. Clearly we can’t all eat wild fish. I spoke to

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Bonefish Heaven

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By Louis Cahill

This tiny key is the only dry land in sight. Just a rise in the sand with a little knee high vegetation, interrupting a seemingly endless white sand flat.

The skiff glides silently around it’s shore. The water is Coke bottle green and glistens in the bright Bahamian sun, a breath of breeze keeping it playful and light. In the distance, I can barely make out the dark stripe of deep water between us an Cuba. This is the southern keys. The place where South Andros breaks up into a complex of keys, shallow sand flats and, finally, faint sandbars before giving in to the sea. It’s bonefish heaven.

About a hundred yards ahead there is one sizable cluster of mangroves hugging the shore. Everything else is white sand and water. My eyesight, after seven surgeries to save my right eye, makes the whole scene resemble an impressionist painting. It’s beautiful and, at once, disorienting. Everything in my life now has an extra layer of challenge but I find that standing on the bow of a skiff, searching for bonefish is as comfortable an occupation for me as anything I do. Easier than driving and far easier than anything involving a computer screen. I know what bonefish look like, even if Monet or Dali are pushing the brush. I know how they behave and how they think. Perhaps most importantly, I know who I am standing on the bow. I don’t have to think to do this.

“I don’t care if you can see. You can point that rod and you can cast. We’ll catch fish,” Ronnie Bain told me when I stepped on the boat that morning. 

A year ago, when I was in much worse shape and really shouldn’t have been here at all, I fished with Ronnie the first day of the trip. I had been in bed for six months. Three months I was not allowed to roll over. I became so degraded I couldn’t walk without help. The doctor told me to sit on the couch and hold my head up straight for thirty minutes a day, and when that thirty minutes was up I was exhausted and had to sleep. It was so disorienting I thought I might puke the entire time. I’d only been back on my feet a couple of months when I stepped onto Ronnie’s boat. I wasn’t at all sure I could stand on the bow and I could nearly see my hand in front of my face. I put on a smile and made a good show but I was afraid. Afraid that fly fishing, and specifically bonefishing, was over for me.

We had run down south that day too. A long ride down and when Ronnie stopped the boat he beached it on the back side of a little key and told us to get our wading boots on. Quietly, I panicked. There was no way I was up to wading. Not only was I not going to catch fish, I could seriously hurt myself. I was slow getting my gear together and Ronnie got his other angler set up on a wade line and came back for me. He helped me out of the boat and, with my arm over his shoulders, carried me across the flat. The bottom was rough with coral and I couldn’t see where I was putting my feet. My legs shook with every step. Ronnie held the back of my shirt as I cast and guided me, his voice soft and calm.

“More left, more left, a little longer, put it down.”

Within a minute I was hooked up to a bonefish. In the two years of ordeal and pain and helplessness, no one but my wife had been as compassionate with me as Ronnie Bain was that day. I don’t know if he has any idea what a gift he gave me, or if he could see through my dark glasses that I was balling like a child when I released that fish. I’ve caught a lot of fish in my life, but none as dear to me as that one. 

“Ok Louis, we got two fish coming, a hundred yards out. Big boys. Coming by that big mangrove right now. You see them? Take your time.”

I look and I do see them. He’s not kidding, they are big fish.

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7 Reasons Why SUP Fly Fishing Is Here to Stay

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By Jason Paul

As anglers are increasingly searching for creative ways to get on the water, the sport of SUP fishing continues to grow in popularity with each passing year. 

But did you know that SUP fishing is a relatively new twist on something that actually goes back thousands of years? While the modern-day SUP fishing movement began approximately twenty years ago, the anglers of Peru were paddling around thin fishing canoes made of reed at least three thousand years ago.

In reality, this form of fishing has been around in some form or another for centuries because of the many advantages it offers over fishing from a boat or land. In this article, we’ll take a look at seven key reasons why SUP fly fishing is here to stay.

#1. Portability and Convenience

When compared with boats, stand up paddle boards are incredibly convenient to get on the water and inflatable fishing SUPs can even be deflated, rolled up, and brought along with you wherever you go. While traditional fishing boats have many obvious limitations in terms of where they can and can’t go, a lightweight paddle board and your fly fishing gear can be easily packed up and brought anywhere, opening up a whole new world of exciting opportunities and spots to fish.

#2. Accessibility

Everyone knows just how important it is to find the fish and there’s no easier way to reach the perfect fishing holes than on a SUP. Paddle boards are far more agile than boats and even kayaks, giving you an unfair advantage by allowing you to easily go where others can’t.

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Glass or Graphite, What’s Right For You?

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When choosing between graphite and fiberglass fly rods, it’s smart to consider where and how you fish.

I got an email the other day from a reader. Here’s an excerpt:

“I am looking at a 7wt predominantly for trout and smallmouth here in Tennessee. I currently have a mid action 6wt that is really nice, but since I don’t have a boat, it’s hard to make long casts with weighted streamers to trout on the opposite bank. I recently found the blue halo 7wt glass rods, and I guess my question is how do you feel about fiberglass streamer rods? Do they have the muscle to turn over the same weighted streamers a graphite 7wt would have?”

It’s a great question. There’s a lot of enthusiasm right now for heavyweight fiberglass fly rods. I have one myself and I enjoy fishing it very much. Does that mean it’s the best tool for the job? Not necessarily. If, like the fellow who emailed me, I was mainly concerned with casting a heavy fly to the far bank, it’s probably not the rod I’d choose.

I like fiberglass rods a lot. I have glass single-handers in weights from 2-8, and a one spey. There are some things they are very good at, and some things they are not. You can make a long cast with a heavy fly using a glass rod but you’ll have to be a great caster.

When you are deciding between glass and graphite, consider the strengths of each.

Strengths of fiberglass fly rods

Feel: Fiberglass rods have great feel, which means that it’s easier to feel the rod load. The feedback which the caster receives from the rod makes casting very pleasant for anglers who enjoy feel.

Tempo: Glass rods are slow. That’s both an asset and a liability but the slower casting tempo which comes with a slower rod is easier in many ways. If you were trying to play a complicated piece of music, wouldn’t it be easier to play it slowly?

Presentation: Because they do not generate the line speed graphite rods do, glass rods lend themselves to delicate presentations. Remember, however, that presentation is about casting skill and material alone is not the answer.

Strength: Not strength as in casting power, but

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Catching Big Trout Sometimes Takes Multiple Attempts

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Several times this past year guiding, my clients would miss a big fish opportunity during our fishing trip.

Sometimes it would be because of a poor hook set, other times, it was completely out of their control by last second refusals or turn offs from the big fish. We’d always make several more casts and try using different flies, but most of the time the big fish would have already caught on and would ignore our offerings despite perfect presentations. Without giving up on the cause I would tell my clients, “no worries, let’s come back later in the day and give that big fish another go”. Not always but quite often, we’d come back and catch that big fish the second time around. When we were fortunate enough for it happened it was the most thrilling guiding for me, and my clients couldn’t have been more pleased and proud of themselves.

If you find yourself wading a river or stream and spot a big fish but don’t catch it, don’t accept defeat, let the fish cool off and come back an hour or two later for a second shot. If you do everything right, most of the time you stand a very good chance at catching the trophy. This simple fly fishing tip, is overlooked by a lot of anglers and it’s paid off for me time and time again throughout my years guiding. Don’t be

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Cobia on the Fly

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By Owen Plair

ONE THING I ABSOLUTELY DESPISE ABOUT THE SPRING IS POLLEN.

It seems like every time I wash the skiff, in just a matter of minutes it’s tainted by the yellow crap we call a sign of spring. There is one thing, and one thing only, that I do like about all the damn pollen. It means it’s only a matter of weeks before I start packing the 11 and 12 weights on the skiff for the big brown Cobia as they start to show up here in the Broad River.

I was born and raised on this river and have been fishing it since I was 3 years old. What makes this river special to me is, in addition to being an excellent fishery for Redfish, it hosts other species through out the year including Tarpon, Triple Tail, Sea Trout, Flounder, Jacks, Spanish, Blues, Lady’s, and very well known Cobia.

Around the last week of April, or when the water temperature hits around 68 degrees, the Cobia start to move into the Broad River here in Beaufort, SC. What’s cool about these Cobia is, they come inshore 8-10 miles to spawn. Cobia are an offshore species and can be found on near-shore wrecks or off the beaches from Key West all the way up to the Chesapeake Bay.

IMG_5446_2Most places, you catch Cobia swimming under rays, jigging them up from the bottom, or cruising the surface looking for bait. Here, they offer some really great sight fishing on the fly and put up quite a fight, being between 10-80 lbs on average. They’re also a very popular species for the dinner table.

What makes our Broad River Cobia unique is that they are their own strain of Cobia. The fish that come inshore every year to spawn in the Broad have their own unique genetics, compared to all the other Cobia. This was discovered a few years ago by scientists from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. So, the Cobia we target on fly in the River are from a long line of fish that have been coming into this river to spawn for who knows how long.

I started Fly Fishing for these fish about 7 years ago and it’s still one of my favorite seasons to guide, because of how special it is targeting this offshore species so far inshore. When the water temperature hits around 68 degrees the Broad River turns into an vibrant estuary filled with various different bait fish, sea turtles, jelly balls, spanish, blues, in blueish/green water similar to the Gulf of Mexico.

HERE’S HOW YOU TARGET COBIA SIGHT FISHING ON FLY?

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