Change The Retrieve Not The Fly

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By Louis Cahill

We’ve all been there, the fish follow the fly, they look, they chase, but they don’t eat.

I was talking the other day with one of the anglers joining me for a week of bonefishing on South Andros. He was tying flies, and like any of us, eager to be prepared for anything the fish might want. I was explaining to him that, in my opinion, having the right weight fly for the conditions was as, if not more, important than color or profile.

“The fly may not look exactly like food, but if if acts like food it’s going to get eaten,” I told him.

That’s especially true of bonefish but I think the idea carries over to any fishing situation. If your fly acts like food, you’re on the right track. That’s essentially the idea behind a good dead drift and it’s the idea behind a good streamer retrieve or a swung fly.

Most of us rush to change flies when we get refused. There are times when that’s the right thing to do. When you’re playing match the hatch with a picky riser, for example. Once an educated trout refuses a fly, it’s best not to show it to him again. However, if you’re engaged in a more active kind of fishing, like streamer fishing of saltwater, you’re often better off to change the retrieve.

If the fish is following the fly, he sees something he likes. Your fly is at worst half right. Changing the retrieve to make that fly behave like food might be all you need to do. The obvious advantage to this is, it’s a correction you can make immediately, while the eat is still possible.

Let’s get back to bonefishing for an example. Let’s say

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The 5 Essentials Of A Good Fly Cast Revisited

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Let’s take a minute to look at the 5 essentials of a good fly cast.

I was giving a talk about saltwater fly fishing the other day when i mentioned the 5 essentials. I was shocked to find that no one in the crowd knew what the 5 essentials are, or that they even existed. I’ve never written on the topic because I thought it was common knowledge. Apparently I was wrong.

I did some research and was even more surprised to find that there is a good bit of variation in what has been written on the topic and there is some of it I don’t agree with. That said, understand that what I’m about to set out for you are the 5 essentials as I learned them and as I believe they are best explained. They are roughly equivalent to the 10 commandments for the IFFF and there will no doubt be some who consider any variation sacrilege. I encourage you to read the original and take both as good advice.

The 5 Essentials are the work of Bill and Jay Gammel. Their article on the subject was written in 1990 and while it’s important work, you should bear in mind that it pertains to single hand, overhead fly casting. Many of the ideas apply to other casting styles, but not all. I have discussed this version with some of the most knowledgeable IFFF casting instructors I know and am very confident in it.

The 5 Essentials of a good fly cast

The first thing I learned about the 5 Essentials was that there are 6 of them, so you can see that I’m off to a good start.


Lefty Kreh described this motion as feeling like throwing wet pain with a brush. If you start too quickly, the paint will fly back on you, so you start slow and speed up as you go. The casting stroke should do the same, start gently and accelerate smoothly, stopping at its fastest point. This leads us to essential number 2.


Here is where I first deviate from much of what is written on the topic.

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8 Tips For Catching Bonefish in The Worst Conditions

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“There ain’t no fun without the sun.”

If you’ve done any bonefishing at all, you’ve probably heard that expression.

Short of a full on tropical storm, there’s nothing worse than a dark windy day for bonefishing. It makes finding fish nearly impossible. Cloudy days turn the surface of the water into impenetrable glare, and wind makes it impossible to see pushes and nervous water. It’s a wicked combination.

On a recent trip to Abaco Lodge we had a couple of days just like that. The last day of our trip there was no sun and 30 MPH wind. Sounds bad, huh? Well, here’s the thing. While most anglers stayed back at the lodge, my buddy Scott and I were into double digits by lunch. Thanks to some great guiding by Captain Freddy (formerly of Andros South) and some attention to the basics, we had great fishing in spite of the weather. We even got to hear some of Freddy’s famous singing.


Focus on your short game

Most of the fish you find will be very close to the boat when you see them. Maybe no more than a leader length away. Your success depends on being able to deliver a short, accurate cast in a hurry. Two things that will help are a good ready position and casting stroke.

Be sure you have 7-9 feet of fly line outside your rod tip. This will allow you to load the rod and make a cast with no false casting. Have your fly in hand and ready to deliver. Remember that for a short cast you need a short stroke. Give it plenty of gas, but keep that stroke short, the rod tip should only move a couple of feet. You’re casting with just the tip of the rod. See more HERE.

Adjust your retrieve

When you make a really short shot, your retrieve has to change. If you strip away, you’ll likely run out of line before the fish eats. Use short, twitchy strips to tease the fish in.

Find shelter from the wind

We all struggle with casting in the wind. Once foamy white ribbons start to form on the water (18 MPH) it’s a real challenge. Don’t fight it if you don’t have to. Try to find flats on the leeward side of high ground or even tall mangroves. Spots like these give you a respite from the wind and improve your visibility greatly. The calm water in the lee will show pushing water and even the occasional tail.

Look for feed marks

When visibility is poor, it’s tough to even know if you’re on the right flat. Check the bottom for feed marks. These dark gray spots on the bottom are made when bonefish bury their heads in the sand chasing crabs. The darker the feed marks, the fresher they are, and their number tells you how many fish have been feeding. If the water is at all milky, fish are very close.

Use dark reflections

Reflections on the water of dark mangroves, trees or high banks create

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The World’s Best Blood Knot

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Chris Fave ties a lot of blood knots. About half a million a year.

You’d expect him to have a trick or two up his sleeve. I saw this video he put on Facebook and immediately asked him if I could share it. Chris uses a toothpick to tie a blood knot perfectly in seconds. It’s a pretty sweet trick.

Chris’s hand tied leaders are available in fly shops or on his site. He has tapers for every ovation. Check them out HERE. Thanks for sharing Chris!


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Mora’s Dorado Streamer: Video

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Watch the Video!

Dorado streamers are an exercise in elegance.

The first time I tries tying streamers for golden dorado I made a mess of it. I imagine that is a pretty common experience for anglers tackling this apex predator for the first time. Coming from a background of tying streamers for species like trout, pike and musky, my instinct was to put way too much material on the hook. The flies looked great, but they were impossible to fish in the way they need to be fished.

Dorado fishing is intense. There is no explaining it. You just have to experience it for yourself. It’s streamer fishing at it’s absolute best and most demanding. You have to make accurate cast, quickly, and you have to do it all day. Your ability to accurately cover structure is key. It’s like tactical shooting with a fly rod. If your fly is too heavy, you’ll be toast at the end of the day when your chance of hooking a kraken are their best.

The most important thing in tying any fly is to understand the target species, how they feed and the triggers that make them eat.

Dorado flies don’t need to run deep. The fish is not afraid to come to the surface, or of anything else for that matter. They also do not need to push a ton of water. They do need a sizable profile, great action and high contrast. Effective dorado patterns deliver these elements with the bare minimum of materials.

The guides at Parana on the fly, where I host my annual dorado trip, tie every day. These guys know dorado and are masters at crafting effective patterns. Don’t be fooled by their simplicity. It’s exactly that simplicity that makes them effective.


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Swinging Streamers on Big Water

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By Kent Klewein


If you’re willing to put in the time and hard work eventually you’ll be rewarded with a big fish. During high water flows on rivers where habitat is insufficient out in the main river, many trout will relocate to the banks where they can use the irregular banks and it’s abundant cover to shelter themselves out of the excessive current. There next move, once they’ve gotten to the banks, is to find prime ambush spots where they can easily pick off prey moving by. This is why casting to the bank and ripping streamers back to the boat is so effective. You’re repeatedly putting your streamer right in the kitchen where good numbers of fish will be feeding.

The majority of the time this scenario works great, but what do you do when you find yourself in areas where the water is super deep and the fish are sitting on the bottom? These places make it extremely difficult for anglers using the pounding the bank technique to keep their streamers down deep in the strike zone during a steady retrieve. Even with a full sinking fly line the cards are stacked against you. Don’t get me wrong, it can still work, especially if you cast upstream of your target water, and give your streamer time to sink before you begin your retrieve. Unfortunately, you won’t always have the time nor the room to pull this off, and that should have you searching for an alternative method that’s better suited for fishing your streamers in these deep water locations.

Swing Streamers through deep water hot spots
The best method I’ve found to consistently get hookups from deep water fish is to swing your streamers across their noses. This allows you to keep your streamers in the face of the deep water fish longer, which often will yield more strikes.

Step 1: When possible anchor your boat upstream and slightly across from your prime deep water. (It could be a nice drop off, a series of buckets, or just a long deep run or pool. The main point is that the water is too deep for you to use a standard strip retrieve, and anchoring up will provide you time to work the area thoroughly).

Step 2: Make a cast

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American Potcake

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They each peer inquisitively through the zippered opening of the black tote and repeat, “Oh my God! She’s adorable.”

I have known for years that I wanted a Bahamian Potcake for my next dog. These bright eyed, slender dogs, common throughout the Bahamas, stole my heart. The Potcake, only recently recognized as a breed, is a kind of super-mutt made up of the working dogs that colonists brought to the islands to work the plantations. They are wicked smart, hardy and, once bonded to a human, fiercely loyal. They, in many ways, exhibit the traits I admire in the Bahamian people. Not surprisingly, as they, without meaning to be insensitive, share a very similar backstory. Each has carved out a life for themselves under harsh circumstances, maintaining strong family structures, and living by their wits. The Bahamians and the Potcakes, not only exist but thrive, against all odds, and in doing so have developed a strength of character which is both admirable and endearing.

I’ve been fishing at the Andros South Bonefish Lodge for many years. The staff and guides there have become friends and the island of South Andros a place of refuge where I feel an uncommon sense of well being. There is a small family of potcakes there, who I have become attached to, the eldest being a female named Brownie. Although these dogs enjoy the adoration of anglers from around the world, they are not exactly domesticated. They are not exactly feral either but some of them, especially the puppies, are untouchable. Brownie, however, is one of the best natured dogs I have ever known and, from each litter, at least a couple of her pups has her sweet disposition. While all potcakes are great dogs, this family line is truly special to me.

South Andros is a poor island. Its people, for the most part, have big hearts and small wallets. There is no veterinarian on the island and few folks have the money to fly a dog to Nassau for medical care. Certainly not for non-essentials like spay and neuter. As a result, a huge population of feral potcakes fight for limited resources. The name potcake comes from the traditional Bahamian dish of peas and rice, which leaves a burned matt in the bottom of the pot, called the potcake. These are thrown out for the dogs and beyond that their diet is random lizards, bugs and whatever washes up on the beach. Many of them starve, or are killed for hunting livestock.

This year, things lined up for me and I decided it was time for a dog. I could adopt a dog easily at home, but what I wanted was one of the Andros potcakes. There are always fresh puppies and I found myself drawn to one in particular. A little black puppy, the runt of the litter, who the guys at the lodge named Permit because she was impossible to catch.

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The Fusion Warrior

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If Lance Egan’s Rainbow Warrior and my Fusion hooked up and had a beautiful baby, what would it look like?  

Wyoming winters are long, really long.  These conditions can be challenging to endure, yet they provide ample time for creation behind the tying vise.  After posting a tying video for Lance Egan’s Rainbow Warrior I couldn’t help but wonder.  I was curious what a combination of my Fusion and his Warrior would look like.  

I’m a huge believer in the combination of a little flash and a lot buggy when it comes to nymph.  The combination of these two patterns fills that niche wonderfully.  The use of grey ostrich herl in the abdomen provides ample movement and a subtle veil to the flash of the underlying tinsel.  The application of the Rainbow Sow Scud dubbing provides mottled coloration and a soft hackle like movement when applied with a dubbing loop.  Tied on the Tiemco 2499BL in black, the pattern supports a significant gap that helps to increase the odds of hooking and holding fish.  

When fishing this pattern I use it as

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Spring Bass Tactics for Southern Appalachian Lakes

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Spring Bass Fishing Tactics for fly anglers interested in Southern Appalachian reservoirs.  There’s tons of lakes readily available for fly fisherman to catch bass throughout the Southern Appalachian region. Unfortunately, these lakes aren’t your two-acre farm pond in your backyard or subdivision that you grew up fishing as a kid—they’re multi-thousand acre reservoirs that can be extremely challenging to learn how to fly fish. Fly Fishing Reservoirs starts with fishing the correct areas. Fly fishing for bass on public reservoirs is much like trying to find a needle in a haystack. If you don’t have a general idea of where the needle is located, your chances of finding it are slim to none. To be successful fly fishing lakes, you’ll have to quickly be able to eliminate areas of the lake where the bass aren’t located and then narrow your focus to small areas of the lake that provide bass what they need. Bass need the following: suitable habitat, satisfactory food and comfortable water conditions (water temperature & water depth). All these change depending on the season. In our case, we’ll be focusing on what bass need during the spring. Just like in trout fishing, bass fishing is all about bypassing unproductive water and spending your time fishing the productive water. Eighty percent of the bass on the lakes will be found in 20 percent of the water. If you want to catch them, you’ll need to maximize your time fly fishing the correct water. A Quality map of the lake is critical Keep in mind, all maps aren’t created equal (and many are total crap). The map you want to buy needs to have enough detail on it that you can get a clear picture of what the lake looks like underwater and what types of cover it has. … Continue reading

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The Fight Isn’t Over When You Get a Tarpon Boat-Side

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Catching a tarpon on the fly is a feat most fly fishers dream about but never experience. Some fly anglers get lucky right out the gates, but for most of us, catching one of these beasts on the fly often takes several trips to accomplish. My good friend Capt. Bruce Chard is one of the most competent tarpon guides I know and has taught me a great deal about chasing the silverking. When he put me on my first 125 pound plus tarpon he made a point to let me know that the fight isn’t over when you get a tarpon boat-side.

Bruce Chard explained to me that many tarpon

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