Written by: Sarah Hoog
If you’ve read any of my past saltwater blogs, you may remember a trend that runs through each of them: the wind! It was January 23rd, and we’d had only a few days of variable wind in almost eight weeks. Variable means no wind, my favorite kind of day. But, I was working in the shop those days and instead watched as our guides departed with their clients while I stared out the window—there may still be face prints on that window—and wished I was with them.
The one day I did get to go, it was blowing 22 knots with vicious gusts and partly cloudy skies. Most would have cowered at the dock or on their sofas watching football. We went fishing.
Now, I’m the first to admit that casting in the wind terrifies me. I have nightmares of the fly imbedding itself in my calf, thigh, back, arm, neck, ear, or the very worst: my face! And that’s just self reflection, I also dream of maiming my guides, badly. So on days such as this, I just plan to use a spinner. So, as we pulled away from the dock, I asked my captain (Capt. James Koch, a guide for our store in Key Largo) where the spinning gear was. He replied, “We’re just going to throw the fly today.”
Okay. . . . I wondered if he knew his life was in danger with this decision, but I figured he would discover my spastic casting as a result of the wind once we were on the flats. First spot we stop, he jumped up on the platform and said, “Just don’t hook me.” Wow, no pressure for me. I took a few practice casts with James’s 9-weight Helios, as it was the first time I had picked up a fly rod larger than a 5-weight since May. I was feeling pretty good because the wind was blocked by the mangroves and I could hit my marks as needed. James said, “Reel up; we’re gonna move.” Of course we were; why would we stay where the wind isn’t a problem?
A short run later, we stopped and the wind was at my back. We rounded a point, and there was a big school of nice bones. James got excited, which usually makes me even more spastic, but I cast and it was perfect! Landed right in front of the school. “Strip, strip, STOP, STOP!” By this time something had my fly, so I set the hook and saw a houndfish skyrocket and take off to the right with my fly in its mouth. What just happened here? That was supposed to be a bonefish! Ok, houndfish one, Sarah zero. . . .
A bit later, we’d moved to the ocean-side flats and I now had a 22-knot wind in my face. The water was much dirtier and the fish didn’t appear until they were right next to the boat, which happened with the first school we saw. Twenty feet off the side of the boat were fifteen to twenty very nice-size bonefish, lazily milling around as though they were waiting for me to compose my self and toss them lunch. I did, and my shadow spooked them. How frustrating. . . .
The final school of our day appeared, and I was lollygagging with my fly in the water. James said, “Look to your right, look at that school!” I looked over and at the same time felt a tug on my line, which was floating off to the left of the boat. “Cast over there!” he shouted as I said, “I have something!” What could possible have decided to eat my fly at such a critical time? I stripped the line in only to find. . . wait for it. . .a pufferfish whose splashes at the side of the boat managed to spook the school of bones that were patiently waiting for me to catch one of them.
I am conquering my fear of wind one day at a time. I actually managed to cast into a 20-knot wind that day, as we chased a mudding school, and kept coming up short by just 5 feet. All it takes is practice, but yet again I have returned to the dock a great big 0-fer. But that’s okay, because just being out on the water is worth any heartache if I miss a fish. Otherwise, what would I write about? How much fun could it be to say every time, “It was perfect, and I caught everything I cast to!” Bah, how boring!
Sarah Hoog is the manager of Orvis Ocean Reef in Key Largo, Florida. She spends time chasing bones, Tarpon and Permit on the Florida Keys flats, snook and redfishing the Everglades with her husband, as well as Tournament fishing the Florida Keys Sailfish Circuit with her Ladies Team in the winter.