Ask the Experts: What Should Anglers Work on Before a Saltwater Trip?

Written by: Evan Jones

If you take the time to work on saltwater-specific casting and fishing skills before a trip, you’ll enjoy your time on the water more and catch more fish.
Photo by Tom Rosenbauer

Anglers who primarily fly-fish in fresh water often struggle with the transition to saltwater angling. Not only are the technical demands different, but opportunities to put your fly in front of fish can be fleeting, as well. The best preparation, as usual, is to practice. But which skills should you practice before a saltwater trip, or if you’re just looking to keep your skills sharp? We asked a few of our seasoned, Orvis-endorsed saltwater guides to describe three of the most common shortcomings of freshwater anglers they see on the water, in order to identify some specific benchmarks to consider that will help you make the most of your time on the boat or wading the flats.

Capt. Dave Pecci, Obsession Charters (Maine and Southwest Florida):

1. Increase your casting distance: Casting 40 feet or more is something stream anglers rarely do, but it’s a must out here. Usually when the boat is within 40 feet of a saltwater fish, it will either develop lockjaw or spook away entirely. 

2. Practice casting larger rods and flies: Most trout anglers are not accustomed to using the energy needed to cast heavier rods in weights 8 and up. They also rarely cast large or weighted flies.  

3. Work on stripping flies: A surprising number of trout anglers are unfamiliar with the concept of fishing baitfish patterns. Stripping these flies back in after the cast seems foreign to many who primarily fish with dry flies.

If I were allowed a fourth, it would be line management. If a trout angler accomplishes the above three, then the next step is the ability to manage their fly lines while casting or fighting a fish.

Capt. Conway Bowman (Southern California):

1. Practice making quick casts: Most freshwater fly anglers, and some saltwater anglers, don’t know how to make a quick, accurate cast when a fish is close to the boat. In my opinion, this is the most important cast of all. Close-range casting needs to be quick and accurate, and that can be very difficult to execute if you haven’t practiced.

Establishing the “clock face” ensures that you and your guide are pointing in the same direction.

2. Learn the clock face: Ask any guide, and he or she will tell you what frustrates them most is anglers not understanding the boat as a clock face. It’s simple: the bow (front) is 12 o’clock, and the stern (back) is 6 o’clock. Once these are established, the right side of the boat is starboard, and the left side is portside.

3. Backcasting: Learn to deliver the fly on a backcast. The best way is to “water haul” the fly line by making a forward cast first, laying the line on the water in front of you, then shooting the backcast at your target.

Capt. Jason Sullivan, Rising Tide Charters (South Florida):

1.  Work on keeping the rod tip low: When stripping, the rod tip should be held just under the water’s surface. That helps to move your fly on every strip by keeping slack line to a minimum. It also allows for a quicker strip set when the time comes.

2. Practice double-hauling: The double haul is extremely important when you’re casting bigger rods in windy conditions. Also, it speeds up your line which allows for longer and quicker casts.

3. Learn not to “trout set”: When a fish eats your fly, it’s important not to move your rod until you feel the weight of the fish. Any movement before then usually results in missing the bite. 

Evan Jones is the assistant editor of the Orvis Fly Fishing blog. He lives in Colorado.

2 thoughts on “Ask the Experts: What Should Anglers Work on Before a Saltwater Trip?”

  1. Nice tips just what I’d teach as an instructor.
    One more would be before you go on that trip of a lifetime book a lesson to sharpen your casts up.

  2. I cannot emphasize the short cast strong enough. I’m a seasoned very good caster but I had booked a celebrity guide in the Keys and decided I would show off my skills and not be embarrassed … one maybe two back casts and booming out 80 ft plus was not a problem. Satisfied, I flew down excited and confident.
    The day started very well, bright, clear, sunny day with a slight breeze. Pleasantries were exchanged, lines stretched then came the cry, “Tarpon! Big one! ten o’clock 20 feet!” What?! I couldn’t figure out quickly enough to ONLY cast for 20 feet! Embarrassing the crap outta myself. Both of us started laughing, me outta embarrassment and he out of fun.
    Be prepared for any quick cast, short, long or medium.

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