Two handed fly rods and Ladders
My fly fishing experiences over the last 20 years has been one of constant experimentation, development and refinement of my own ideas and borrowed ones. It's an ongoing process, one that never ends.
Not owning a flats boat or something similar I needed to duplicate and achieve their obvious height advantages on the flats. To increase the odds of sighting and catching more fish, I needed additional tools to combat the saltwater environment and its many challenges.
The two most important factors involved when sight fishing are speed and accuracy. Neither are achieved overnight, but both are critical when casting to a moving target. To help achieve speed I have found a two handed fly rod to be the ticket. But before you can make the cast you need to see'em first.
To help with site fishing on the flats I use a 5-foot aluminum stepladder. I call it my striper tower! It's a great way to open up your visual cone. I achieve a greater height advantage normally only known to flats boats. It opens up a usually small circle of vision into a vast 50-400 foot arena. This allows my clients and myself to prepare in advance, so speed is no longer as critical. By sighting fish so far in advance it allows you more time to decide there projected path. This is normally determined by direction of current flow, depth and contour of bottom. Any experienced flat angler will tell you that with knowledge of these Routes and highways it's simple to lead them30-50 feet with your fly. By leading your target so far in advance you are allowing your fly to sink to eye level. Thus tripling your odds of hooking up. Hoping the fish will rise up to your fly is normally met with a refusal. Anytime you can make it easier for any species of fish to feed, anywhere in the world you will increase your catch rate two-fold. Also by leading the fish, the noise made of fly and line landing on the water is less likely to spook them.
Through lengthy study of fish movement, I find most Stripers feel most comfortable and prefer to cruise in 3-5 feet of water on the flats (especially the 20-25lb'ers). While many do swim in 1-3 feet of water, most of the big ones don't. Having stood in 3 feet of water over the years and then stood on a ladder in 3-5 feet of water. The difference is vast in the number and size of fish you will see. When standing in waist deep water your vision into deeper water is almost nel. It decreases your visual cone so much that many times by the time you see them, they see you. Now throw in rippled water or a little chop and your visual cone has shrunk even further. Add a ladder and your still in the ball game!
To say the least, a ladder is an incredible aid in the study of behavior patterns. It helps me study their Routes, movement with tidal flows and relationship with structure. Feeding habits, baitfish, and experimentation of retrieves, productivity of certain flies, length of leaders and setting by sight, instead of feel.
One of the more interesting aspects of using a bright, shinny and reflective aluminum ladder in crystal clear water at high noon is its unbelievable attractor like magnet qualities to fish. Having stood on the sand over the years and learned exact routes that these fish run everyday. It was baffling at first as to why these same fish would all of a sudden change their normal route, and come straight towards my ladder. Sometimes they stop 20 feet away and just stare before spooking. Other times they swim slowly around this oddity examining it from a distance, then spook. Needless to say there are times when this gives me an additional advantage over fish that otherwise we may not have a shot at due to distance or the different route they were taking.
I've come up with 2 ideas why they are doing this.
1. They are curious and wondering what this is.
2. The reflective qualities of the ladder in combination with sun and water resemble a possible school of baitfish. Now, I'm not suggesting that you all put tin foil or x-mas tinsel on your waders to attract fish, but could it really hurt?
I think the answer lies with a combination of the above 2 thoughts.
Having spent some time on a flats boat, I've noticed by and large these fish spook if within 30 feet or so of the boat (sometimes 100 feet out!) What makes this equation tuff is if you see the fish 50-70 feet out and its moving towards you. You have an extremely short window to false cast and place the fly 30-50 feet out. If leading the fish is needed, you can see what a small window of opportunity is available. Throw in fussy fish (which is often the case with educated, resident fish) and your available window of opportunity closes down completely.
With the use of a ladder you are much smaller than a boat and less likely to spook them. I can also step down of the ladder completely and lower my upper body to decrease the odds of being in their visual cone. We become completely invisible. Try that on a flats boat?
2 Handed Rods:
A 14ft. 9 weight 2 handed fly rod is what I've found to work the best to increase speed, distance on the Flats and elsewhere. I'm not casting in a traditional Spey fashion or Double Hauling. Instead I'm simply moving the rod in generally the same manner as a one hander.
Boy that rod must be a beast to cast! Actually it's easier than a one handed fly rod. It weighs a mere 10 ounces. Using 2 hands means 5 ounces each and most saltwater one handers weight 4-5 ounces. So there's no more weight in hand. Several of my friends who have had shoulder problems find it less painful to cast than a one hander. Less energy expanded, less arm movement, cast's faster, further, fewer false casts, no double haul, less stress on arm when fighting fish, larger flexible lever to apply additional side pressure. I foresee an increase of sales in this market, due to the fact that most of us are not getting any younger.
The use of a two handed fly rod on the flats and in the salt in general has many more advantages over a one hander. Try casting a one-hander 100 feet fast. Add wind, wide body fly, crab, squid or weighted fly. Some of us can, (I can't) but most of us have not achieved the precision timing or coordination of rod and hand that it takes. Try a 2-handed rod and you'll be amazed at the ease and little effort it takes. Yup, you're right. How often do you need to make a 100 foot cast? Well, when blind casting into deep water, Surf and sometimes the flats we all know that the more time your fly spends sub-surface the greater the opportunity to hook-up. I hook very few fish when my fly is in the air.
I can cast 15-20 foot leaders with ease. The more distance you can put between your line and fly on the flats in July and August mean one thing, more hook-ups especially on the larger resident fish. These fish have acquired a P.H.D. over the course of the summer in what's real or not. Fooling them is not easy, and challenging is a word I use, while others use stronger verbiage!
Casting a Happy Meal:
At times I'm using what I call a "happy meal". It's a large silver dollar crab that simply does not like to be cast with a long leader. With the use of this longer lever, the cast is made with ease.
We all know that when you're a right handed caster and the wind is blowing into your right ear the fly gets stuck in it unless you turn around and throw it on your back cast. Again a two hander has a major advantage over a one hander. Instead of throwing it out on your back cast, simply cross the rod over your chest and you will throw as far as a one hander. When on the flats sight fishing, it's nice to keep your eye on the target.
I find on the flats without a ladder and 2 handed fly rod, I can get 1 shot maybe 2 if I'm lucky at a fish or school. Using both pieces of equipment I can get a SOLID 2 shots maybe 3 if needed as they swim away.
There are many more advantages like throwing you line into the wind easier, on your forward or back. Higher back casts when dealing with rocks or sand dunes. You can pick-up large amounts of line and roll-cast further. Getting additional shots at fish on the flats. Hold more line outside tip before cast is made when sight fishing allowing you to make a 50-70 foot cast with only one back cast. The casting of longer leaders with ease (15-20feet) over smarter resident July, August fish on the flats. Bigger shock absorber when fighting fish, less likely to break them off. Able to tire fish quicker with added length of rod using side pressure.
Try a 2 hander and you'll soon be realizing all these advantages and more. The best being "Fish On!"
Though I will land more fish while sight fishing w/ the best of ‘em. I am by no means a better caster or angler. I simply have added additional tools to my bag of tricks. That make it easier to see more fish with a height advantage and deliver the fly quicker.
If sighting 3 times as many fish on the flats sounds exciting, seeing them further away giving you more time to lead them, giving you 3 times more shots at'em. Casting further with less effort, fewer false casts, no double hauls and increasing your catch rate sounds good. Then step up to the plate with a 2-handed fly rod and ladder. Be forewarned that strangers, friends, other anglers and guides will look at you like you're from another planet. They will all laugh, but in the end they all agree I'm doing something that can only enhance a clients day out on the water, by spotting more fish for them to cast at.
With out a 25 thousand dollar flats boat, you'll be taking a "step up" in the right direction for sight fishing the World Class Destination Monomoy Island Flats.
Randy Jones is a full-time professional fly/spin fishing guide with over 18 years of experience. He has represented the Orvis Corporation as a guide and chief instructor of their 2 1/2-day Saltwater Fly-fishing schools. During the summer, Randy can be found guiding the Monomoy Island area where sight casting on the flats to trophy Striped Bass is his specialty. During the Fall, Winter, and Spring Randy runs drift boat and wade trips on the world class Salmon River for Steelhead, Coho, Browns, Atlantic's, and Kings. For more information visit his web site at www.yankeeangler.com or drop him an email.
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