You've finally decided to take the plunge into saltwater fly fishing. You bought the rod, collected some flies, and practiced casting in the yard. And now after all the preparations and rehearsals you find yourself on a shallow flat staring at a writhing bunch of redfish 50 feet in front of you. This is it pure adrenaline. This is what you dreamed of. But you quickly discover a big school of reds is a lot more intimidating than that plastic target in your front yard. No matter how equipped, practiced, and informed you are, a big fish waving at you in shallow water always puts you in your place. So let me offer up a few suggestions that have worked for me over the years. Hopefully they will help you streamline your game so you can make the most of your chances at redfish on the flats.
When it comes to casting, the bottom line is that most of us can't cast as far or as accurately as we think. If you find yourself on tailing fish and your best casts are coming up short, don't cast harder, just move closer. This means organizing your fly line, collecting your nerves, and quietly slipping 8, 10, or even 20 ft. closer. Yes you might spook the fish, but you will definitely spook them if you hold your position and keep fruitlessly banging away with your fly line. Remember- putting yourself within range of your target is absolutely essential to hitting it.
When fish are spotted at a distance, our natural tendency is to walk directly at them. But if the fish are moving, as they often are, we often approach from behind and default into a trailing position. This is a tough place to be because it requires us to make clean casts over their shoulders and retrieves right back in their faces. And, because moving fish always seem to continue moving, we are hard-pressed to keep pace with them. A better alternative is to try to swing around and ahead of distant fish rather than follow them. Get to where the fish are going and try to position yourself in their trajectory. It isn't always possible to do this, but it is a great setup because once an angler gets in position he can lay low and wait for the fish to come to him. When the fish move within range, a fly can easily be cast ahead of the school for a natural presentation.
Choose the right fly
There are about a million flies that will catch a redfish, but the really great fly patterns have other things going for them. They are easy to cast in the wind, they don't become twisted or tangled on the hook, and they are weedless. These are important characteristics in a fly because nothing is more frustrating than picking loose a tangled fly while you watch a redfish swim away. So when you select flies, think "headache-free." Good staple patterns like Clousers, Weedless Spoons, Bendbacks, and Crazy Charlies generally won't let you down. Another worry-free pattern is the popper. Small foam poppers like VIP's or small hard-bodied poppers like East Cut Poppers are terrific flies because they are weedless, they land lightly on the water, and an angler can watch the fish's reaction to them.
Lighten the Load
Let's face it- gear is cool. We all love boxes full of flies, tackle bags brimming with spare parts, and wade packs stuffed with supplies. But the problem with gear is that we become a slave to it. Rather than concentrating on fishing, we spend our time searching for something in the bottom of our gear bag or lamenting that crucial item left at the house. But the truth is, you really don't need much gear seriously. If you are wading the flats you need even less. In fact, carrying too much stuff is a liability. It inhibits your casting stroke, makes you less stealthy, and becomes cumbersome and hot in a hurry. My suggestion is to make reasonably short wades and carry with you only what is required. For me, this is 3 or 4 flies, a spool of 12 lb tippet, a pocket camera, a pair of good pliers, and a cotton towel or bandana. That's it. Everything I carry easily fits in my pockets. All the other crap stays in the boat or the kayak and I can concentrate on the fishing instead of fishing stuff.
Remember, fishing is meant to be fun so make it that way. Know your physical limitations, put some thought into what you do, simplify your game, and enjoy yourself. Practicing these things will help you find your way to better angling skills and more success on the water.