There he is, right in front of you! After a sultry morning searching the flats you finally spot a red rooting around, barely 40 ft. away. Salvation! This is what you came for. The red wiggles his tail taunting begging. "Ha," you say, "It's an easy cast. I'll be telling my friends about this one." You catch your breath and get a little line in the air. But something's wrong. You can't seem to strip out enough line. "What-tha' Who-tha'" You glance down and spot a dangling coil of fly line snagged at your feet. You lift one leg and frantically try to free the line but Mr. Red spots you and bolts into the steamy distance. "N-n-n-n-o-o-o-o!" You won't be telling your friends about that one.
OK, here's another one: You stand confidently on the bow of the boat as your buddy plows through lazy swells toward a big school of surfacing jacks. Having rehearsed this scenario a thousand times, you're at the top of your game- rigged and ready. As you approach the frenzy you load the big 10 wt. and shoot a cast. The fly line unrolls perfectly, dropping a fat helpless popper in the center of the cannon-balling jacks. Your heart stops as the popper vanishes into the boils and you set the hook hard against a powerful force. "Fish On!" It's an ESPN moment. Several coils of loose line whisk off the deck and zip through your fingers as the fish speeds away. The line draws tight and you expect to here the reel start singing. Instead you nearly get your arm yanked out of its socket as the line jerks with a mighty "CRACK." Fish off. You regain your composure and realize the fly line is half-hitched around the butt of the rod. "Crap!"
Ever happened to you? It's happened to me. Boat cleats, anchor ropes, ice chest lids, sandal straps, and even your own fly rods are all hungry for fly line and ready to conspire against you. What can you do? Let's run the gamut of line-snagging scenarios and look at a few ways to mitigate them.
In the Boat
There are a handful of boats designed with fly fishermen in mind. They're equipped with flush-mount cleats, smooth lines, low controls, clean decks, and are a real joy to fish from. But, many boats are not fly friendly and are filled with line-snagging items and cargo. Exposed cleats, trolling motor parts, loose rope, dry box and ice chest handles, bungee cord hooks, and exposed tackle will grab your fly line and ruin your cast every time.
The easiest way to protect your fly line in a boat is to use some sort of carry-on stripping basket. You can purchase a tall stripping basket designed specifically for the deck of a boat or you can make one from a rigid or collapsible laundry basket or a tall kitchen trash can. A waist-type stripping basket is cumbersome in the close quarters of most boats and therefore not a good choice.
If room on the boat is really tight, an alternative option is to cover up line-snagging items with mesh netting. Mesh netting works really well for shrouding ice chests, trolling motors, and other bulky objects. You can purchase several yards of mesh material, roll it up, and keep it handy in the tackle bag. It also works well in a kayak, where free space is minimal.
Your shoes, especially those comfy sandals, are well-known line grabbers. The little tabs and straps continually bite at loose line. In warm weather, the best solution is to take your shoes off. Your fly line won't get caught between your toes and you'll feel it if it gets between your bare feet and the boat deck. If you choose to wear shoes, select a pair with as few exposed tabs and Velcro closures as possible. The old-style white slip-on type canvas loafers are perfect.
What do you do with loose line while you're wading and sight casting the flats? I still haven't found a perfect solution to this problem, but you can start by snag-proofing your footwear and wading accessories. Remove or cover up all the dangling items on your wade belt like pull-strings, snap rings, and straps. The quick-connect straps on your wade belt and stingray guards are especially problematic. One solution is to shroud them by slipping the straps inside pieces of narrow bicycle tubing. The tubing covers the entire strap. It works great! You can use bicycle tubing to cover the straps on your kayak hatches too.
If you have problems with fly line hanging on your wade boots, cut the ankle section out of an old pair of neoprene waders and slide it over the ankle of your wade boots to cover the zippers or lacing. You can also use a neoprene sock or gator the same way. And what about all those tools hanging around your neck? Tuck 'em. Slip all hanging accessories (line cutters, hemostats, etc) in a chest pocket. Now you're ready to wade.
Normally when hunting reds on foot, I keep my rod tucked under my right arm and just strip-and-cast when I spot a fish. This way, I keep the line away from oyster shells and weeds. But, if I am wading areas with lots of fish, or areas where fish are in close, I prefer to keep some line in the "ready position." To do this I usually strip out about 20 feet of line and pinch it in my casting hand in several large loops. When a fish is spotted, the loops can be dropped or easily fed out and I can cast quickly. It works pretty well and keeps the loose line away from my feet, off oysters, and out of weeds when I am not casting.
Jagged barnacle-covered jetty rocks swept by waves and currents are a fly line's worst nightmare. The best way I know to control and protect fly line on jetties is with a waist-mounted stripping basket. They take getting used to, but they work. If you ask 5 folks what their favorite style basket is you'll get 5 different answers. Mine is a Rubbermaid dish tub (the deep one) with a flat bungee cord belt and a piece of a long-fibered plastic turf doormat hot glued to the inside bottom. Total cost- about 8 bucks. It works great and keeps the fly line free and clear of nasty obstructions. Whatever style basket you choose, make absolutely sure it never obscures the view of your feet or where you are stepping.
Remember to identify and guard against line-snagging obstructions in your boat. Streamline your clothing, waist pack and wading boots, and learn to use a stripping basket. You might even find you enjoy going barefoot on the deck of a boat. Hopefully these tips will help you spend more time casting your fly line and less time untangling it.