The only phrase I find more challenging than, "That won't work," is, "You can't do it that way." I don't exactly know why, but whenever I hear that an idea won't work, my mind gets cranking. I usually end up under a lamp in the garage or out on the water somewhere way past a reasonable hour. The real beauty of "wasted" hours inventing and testing and challenging the establishment is that you always learn about the problem you're grappling with inside and out, and every now and then you find a way to solve it. And why question standards? Because doing the same thing everyone else is doing over and over and over gets a little boring.
You hear a lot of, "That's not gonna' work" when it comes to fly fishing and fly tackle. Fly fishing is steeped in tradition and has long had a reputation as a carefully executed, methodical, highly focused, and overly pontificated form of angling. When it comes to fly fishing, I guarantee you that every time you try something out of the ordinary, someone is going to tell you why it won't work and why you are going to fail. I've been on the receiving end of that deal plenty (and experienced plenty of failures). But I fish for me not someone else, and the way I look at is, "If everything has already been figured out, why bother doing it." So, I thought I would share with you a few unconventional ideas and tactics that are slightly off mainstream. They are by no means all my original ideas, but each can add a little fun and possibility to your game.
The Tapered Leader
There are basically 3 types of tapered leaders for inshore fly fishing- hand knotted, smooth factory tapered, and furled (spun). The design of these leaders follows the principles of physics. The purpose of the taper is to transfer and concentrate energy from the fly line through the leader to the fly. If all goes right, the net result is a smooth clean turnover. Sois a tapered leader required to successfully fly fish? Not always. If accuracy and delicacy are paramount (like sightcasting to spooky fish), a tapered leader is the best choice. But, in other circumstances where presentation is less important, monofilament straight off the spool works fine. These situations include blind casting flies in guts and channels, working flies on sinking lines, and at times when you are fishing the surf. For channels and guts I use a 7 foot section of 17 lb fluoro; same thing for sinking lines, but I shorten the leader it to about 3-4 feet. These leaders sink quickly and don't hang on weeds. In the Texas surf, tooth protection throughout the leader is important, so I'll bump it up to 20 lb mono or more in a 4-6 foot section depending on wind, current, fish voracity, etc Incorporating the options of using straight mono is helpful because it makes your game more flexible and keeps you from becoming solely dependent on a specialized leader. It's insurance- no matter what happens, you can always pull some mono off the spool and keep on trucking.
There is a general assumption that sinking lines won't work on the flats. True, if all you throw are small poppers. But, if you're casting sinking flies like shrimp or baitfish patterns, sinking lines (intermediate) work quite well. The benefit of intermediate sinking lines is that they ride slightly under the surface and beneath much of the floating debris that slides down floating lines and snags on the fly. Intermediate sinking lines also allow flexibility if you're positioned along the edge of a drop or channel. On a wade, for example, you can work the spoil edges and flats one way, then turn and hit the channel on the way back. Your approach now is more versatile.
Backing and Drag
Many embellished stories and advertisements would have you believe that you need 200 yards of 20 lb backing and a steroid drag that can turn a wild hog if you want to land a fish in saltwater. For Texas inshore fishing (what most of us do), you don't need anywhere near that. In fact, most trout and reds have done pretty well if they kept your backing knot submerged for more than a minute or so before they turned. Tuna they aren't. I much prefer to load my reel with 100 yards of 30 lb Dacron, and set the drag just light enough not to backlash if I strip it really hard. If I need a little extra "umph" I'll palm the reel or make a very slight turn of the drag knob. The 30 lb Dacron is tough against oysters, and won't slice fingers as easily as the 20 lb stuff. It's a simple matter of matching tackle to the environment and the quarry you're after.
That Ain't Fly Fishing!
I love probing deep water with fly tackle. It stemmed from my passion for chasing stripers, and has led me down a road of techniques that push the limit of what is accepted as "fly fishing." Case in point- I was recently sitting side saddle and drifting in a kayak over 80 feet of water on a cold, dreary day. The fish were suspended at around 40 feet and I was experimenting with drifts to see if I could get a fly down to them. A boat approached and two individuals saw my fly tackle. "Look he's fly fishing," one of them commented. The other guy noticed I was not casting, but dragging my fly line. He said, "That ain't fly fishing That's cheating!" I kept my mouth shut because I wanted them to leave, but what I was thinking was, "Buddy, you go home and tie some flies, rig up your leaders and fly rods with heavy sinking lines, paddle your butt 2 miles out here in this 45 degree water and see how well you fare. Then you can talk to me about cheating."
The point of my story is that fly fishing is what you make it. If you are bound by the rules of the IGFA or a tournament or something, then you follow those rules. If not, then you are free to fish for yourself. It seems to me after you have invested the time and energy to learn how to fly fish, you are entitled to experiment a bit. Goodness knows, by choosing fly tackle you've already chosen the road less traveled. Be honest about your techniques, but experiment and have fun. You might learn something that will really improve your skills as an angler.
That's not a Gamefish
No matter where you go, anglers have established a fish pecking order. Gamefish occupy the top. Sometimes this pecking order is based whether the fish is rare, or selective, or brash. Other times the order is strictly based on palatability. I have my own list and it operates off the "Oh yeah!" system. Fish that can leave a mark on you score pretty high, as do fish that can destroy your tackle. Other contenders include fish that should get some respect, but don't, and fish that pull way too hard for their size. There's also a "cool" factor- like redfish on hard sand, or specks in the surf. Each season the list re-distributes itself.
What I am getting at with all these things is that the game is huge and opportunities abound. Angling is what you make it. There is absolutely no reason not to experiment with new techniques, try to unravel the unknown, and marvel at the diversity around you. That does work and it's all good.