Written by: Evan Jones
Although there’s still plenty of great trout fishing to be had in much of the country, it’s never too early to begin planning your next saltwater destination trip. While all types of fly-fishing trips tend to reward those who plan ahead, salt water can actively punish those who don’t, which raises the stakes considerably. Anglers who show up hoping to wing it, whether with a guide or on a DIY trip, will often return with more fish stories than fish photos. So whether you’re looking to chase tarpon in muddy tropical rivers or bonefish on crystal clear flats, here are five tips to help your next saltwater trip go more smoothly:
1. Stay for as Long as Possible
This tip is admittedly easier said than done, but the longer you can stay at your destination, the better your chances of experiencing favorable conditions. Saltwater fishing tends to be highly variable and dependent on numerous factors, such as weather and water temperature, which can change quickly and unpredictably. This is particularly true for trips during winter months, which are usually the most popular times to go. A cold front can drive flats fish down into the depths for several days at a time, and if that happens to coincide with the several days you have open to fish, you’re going to have a frustrating trip. Sometimes that’s inevitable, but there are some things you can do to hedge your bets. When booking a guide, it’s best to add days after your time together, so you can put what you learned into practice on your own. In addition to simply booking more days, choosing destinations that offer more activities than just fishing can also help to mitigate downtime due to inclement weather.
2. Choose the Right Wading Apparel
Leaving your waders at home may be refreshing, but you still need adequate shielding from the elements while wading warm salt water. Regardless of your complexion, it’s never a good idea to have exposed skin, so items like short-sleeve shirts, shorts, and open-toe shoes are out. Not only do you risk sunburn, but exposed skin leads to quicker dehydration and could shorten your allotted fishing time. There are some great lightweight, breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics available, such as those found in the PRO Sun Hoody, drirelease Long-Sleeved Crew, and River Guide Shirt. A pair of quick-dry nylon pants is cool and comfortable, and you can wear them into the restaurant or bar ofter the day’s fishing. As for footwear, it pays to have comfortable flats boots that keep the sand out. You’re going to be on your feet all day.
3. Add Weed Guards to Your Flies
Whether you’re on the bow of a skiff or wading the flats, you’re likely to spend more time looking for fish than actually casting to them. When you do finally get a shot at a fish, it’s often a fleeting one that requires a quick, accurate cast. That’s already enough to test any angler’s skill, without adding additional hurdles like flies that hang up right before a fish is going to eat them. A weed guard may not be necessary where you fish at home, but it will only take one missed fish after a badly-timed snag to make you wish you had some weed protection–particularly if it was a big fish. Besides, if the weed guard doesn’t end up being useful, you can always just cut it off. A doubled piece of 25-pound fluorocarbon offers the best combination of stiffness and flexibility.
4. Always Bring Backups
Saltwater fishing has a way of breaking or destroying gear, which increases the chances you’ll actually need that extra rod, reel or fly line. Also, because saltwater conditions can be highly variable and hard to predict, you may need different gear on different days. Fly shops are scarce to nonexistent in a lot of these places, so you won’t likely get a chance to pick up anything you forgot along the way. Obviously, there is a limit to how much gear you can bring, so try to focus on items that offer high potential value without taking up too much additional room. For example, there is no difference between carrying-on one fly rod tube versus two rod tubes bound together, and an extra spool of new fly line weighs next to nothing in your bag. I always try to have at least two rod-and-reel combos, new 30-meter spools of all tippet and leader material, an extra floating fly line, extra water shoes, and an extra pair of polarized glasses.
5. Avoid Asking “Yes or No” Questions
As you gather local information for your trip, whether in advance or by talking to guides on location, be aware of the potential for cross-cultural miscommunications when asking certain questions. A guide’s primary goal is to keep their clients happy, and most guides know how to engage in the type of “guide speak” that will further that goal. But one thing I’ve noticed in many different countries over the years is that the desire to please can sometimes go too far, resulting in a hesitancy to say or do anything that might contradict the client. This phenomenon is never more apparent than when you ask “yes or no” questions, to which the answer will almost always be “yes” in order to keep the peace. To be clear, this is not a shortcoming on their part, but rather a quirky result of cultural differences that can lead to further misunderstandings and wasted time. Fortunately, it’s easily side-stepped: rather than asking a binary question like, “Is this flat good for bonefish?”, try reframing the question to something like, “Which of these flats would be best for bonefish right now?” so it requires a more comprehensive reply. You’ll both be happier that way.
Evan Jones is the new assistant blog editor. He lives in Colorado now, but he spent a decade living on the water in Florida.
Check out these saltwater destinations available through Orvis Travel.