Slack is not your friend.
When fly fishing in saltwater, keeping the slack out of the system is job one. Slack can cause missed fish, long distance release and even refusals. A tight line is key at every stage of the process, but many anglers overlook the initial presentation.
Triggering a fish’s instinct to strike relies on the fly having a lifelike action when the fish first catches sight of it. That means that the fly should move in the manner of the prey it represents from the instant it hits the water. In most cases that cannot be accomplished with slack in the system. Even, or maybe especially, when fishing crab patterns where the natural action is the fall to the bottom, slack kills. These flies are often eaten as soon as they hit the water and if the line has slack, you will never know it.
There is nothing more important to success in saltwater fly fishing than a tight line presentation, but it’s not an easy thing to pull off. Here are some tips and a video to help you get the slack out.
Turn over your leader
Easy enough right? I mean, who has a hard time turning over a twelve foot leader into a 30 mph wind. Me, for starters. There are a couple of things that will help. First of all, line speed. The first step in turning over your leader is having the energy in your cast to make it happen. Especially in the wind. You can read all about generating line speed and watch some helpful videos, (HERE) and (HERE).
Another thing that will help you turn over your leader is having a leader that efficiently transfers the energy of your cast. Tie your leader from saltwater hard monofilament. This stiff material turns over well in the wind and carries big flies to your target. Start with a long butt section like six feet of fifty pound test to maximize the energy from your line. Just be aware that this kind of aggressive leader will require some care in making delicate presentations. On calm days a less aggressive formula may be better.
Don’t drop your line when you shoot
It’s important when fishing the salt to shoot your fly to the fish. It lessens the chance of spooking fish, minimizes false casting and gives you a quicker presentation. Many anglers are in the habit of letting go of the line with their stripping hand when they shoot their last cast. This habit is commonly picked up when practicing for distance on the casting pond or lawn. When fishing however, it’s the kiss of death.
Staying in contact with the line will accomplish several things. First, it puts you in the position to immediately take the slack out of your line. Experienced anglers will start this process as soon as the line straightens, before the fly even hits the water. Secondly, it keeps your line from wrapping around your rod as it comes tight, causing a cluster that could cost you a fish. Thirdly, the friction of the line in your hand will keep the energy in the system helping your leader turn over. Lastly, having control over your shooting line helps you not over shoot your target.
Put your rod tip in the water
Dropping your rod tip into the water on your presentation uses the resistance of the water to reduce slack. Even a line with a belly will move the fly when stripped if all of the line outside the tip top is in the water. As your line straightens, crouch and dip the tip.
Don’t shoot all of the line you have off the reel
If you shoot all of your available stripping line you’re stuck. If the fish eats your fly immediately, you can’t strip set without fighting the drag of your reel. Keep enough line available for a good long first strip to clear the slack and, if all goes well, set the hook.
Reach for the fish with your rod
When your fly lands on the water, your rod hand should be extended well away from your body. This puts you in the best position to make effective strips and hook sets. If your rod hand is too close to your body you may not be able to move the fly at all, especially if the current is flowing towards you. You may want to take the time to read my posts on situational awareness and the right hand strip set.
There are a lot of moving parts
Like riding a bike, there are several things going on at once. Making a good tight line presentation is as much about training your muscle memory as anything. Sometimes a picture, or in this case a video, is worth a thousand words.
In this video Captain Joel Dickey demonstrates the components of a good tight line presentation.
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