As a sportsman that has had a spinning rod in my hands for most of my fishing life, I was indeed a bit taken back when my middle son Victor introduced me to serious fly fishing.
I had a brief stint with a fly rod as a western Pennsylvania trouter. Growing up, I was even a small-time camp fly instructor so I was not a total neophyte. After several sessions with my proficient middle son, however, it was apparent that I indeed needed to hit the books a bit if I was to be anywhere at all profient with the long rod.
I read as much as I could on the subject and then proceeded to travel to the neighborhood golf lakes near my home. I watched wind knots and errant casts slowly become a thing of the past. I started out with a nice 8-weight rod and a matching reel that held 300 yards of 30-pound test Gel Spun backing (regular Power Pro works just fine too) and attached that with a nail knot to the 8-weight floating line. The integral loop at the end of the fly line makes changing leaders easy. Choose a leader based on conditions, the size of the fly and the fish you are targeting.
As frustrating as that was (and still is) I managed to send a hand tied imitation bug across the slick surface of the pond one night and after a barely detectable "slurp" I was fast to a nice bass. The bass' initial surge took most of the fly line out on the first rush and after several harried moments and one brief mini tangle I soon had a 2 pound bass lying on its side. I took a pair of my son's hemostats and twisted the barbless hook out of the fish, and in a small swirl, that fish was gone.
What remained however was a deep fascination with the ability to make a small piece of thread and glue into something that resembles a food item for fish. Now, add the need to direct it gently and in total stealth to a waiting opponent. There in lies my fascination with fly fishing.
Fly fishing in Florida has been going great guns and recently there has been a tremendous resurgence in the sport. I have noticed that there has been a recent change to include fly fishing awards and divisions in most major tournaments. In the Keys I have been fortunate enough to win several titles and a few extra bucks toting the long wand to these events. My largest dolphin on fly to date is just under thirty pounds and was good enough for a first place finish in the annual Caloosa Cove marine event held each year in the Islamorada area each May. Offshore fishing for dolphin with a flyrod has its challenges and its limitations, but working within those areas offers and angler a thrill that convention tackle simply cannot even come close to offering.
I have branched out lately to include cobia fishing on fly now and here is what I can share with you from my experience.
First off you do not need to be a Joe Brooks type fellow to enjoy flyfishing for cobia. These fish are easily at home close to the boat. They also are attracted to the surface once one of their buddies is hooked, so you can easily go the route of watching and waiting. By this I mean take your fly rod cobia fishing with the guys that are using the spinning or conventional gear. Once a fish is hooked stand by for your chance to throw a fly at the trailing fish.
That is the extact technique that my son Victor and I used to get a nice limit of cobia while fishing with fellow charter Captain Mike Biffel out of Key Colony Beach in the Keys. Mike who is also a charter captain and a true fish nut( I would know what the qualifications are for that title) took my son Victor and me out recently into the Gulf of Mexico to do some fishing for cobia. Once we were on the spot Mike slowed the boat down and then drifted a bit to get a line on the current and then we proceeded to anchor up quietly above tide on the spot. Mike likes to let a spot settle down a bit before flailing begins and also we a sent chum line out the back to see who we could interest in a game of tug and war.We did not have to wait too long as a smart tug on one of the spinners we sent downstairs soon had a drag chirping and before you know it it was time to cast a fly.
That first fish came up and soon was followed by another 25-pounder that looked like it was its twin. Being careful to land the fly away from the first hooked fish I let the fly settle a bit and then when the cobia came near I stripped it away in a hurry and it was immediately pounced on. I pointed the rod at the fish and then quickly stripped hooked the fish using a sharp tug and sweep of the arm to set the hook.
Using the rod to do this is a sure way to break even the finest made rods, as a fly rod's length is used to slowly and surely tire a fish and should never be used to drive a hook home. They are simply too whippy in the tip to do this. Learning to strip-strike is something you need to practice on the fish in the pond before trying it on the bigger saltwater fish. Most saltwater fish have very hard mouths compared to the freshwater pond dwellers. Keep that hook sharp for easier penetration on the hookset. Steady pressure will prevent the hook from slipping out. When it come time to release your fish it is easily done and you will not lose the fly as most flies are tied to a very light leader that can break easily on thrashing fish at the boat.
Flies (even homemade ones) are expensive and using a single fly all day to fish with is a dream and not reality. These saltwater battlers have a host of teeth that range from heavy grade sandpaper to the most awesome sets of shears known to man!
Flattening the barbs with a pair of pliers is a good all around idea for you and the fish. Fish are frequently lost on the hookset and when attempting to land the fish. To even the odds a bit be sure that you have a good idea where your line is when casting as there is always excess line to deal with when fly fishing. Once the fish is hooked you need to clear any line that is lying around and be sure that it does not tangle when heading for that first guide at warp speed. Murphy's Law can be invoked anytime during this process, so keep your line under control.
After hooking the fish, let it run and take as much line as it wants on its initial run. This gives you time to clear the lines and also set a battle game plan based on the size of the fish and the weight of your rod.
An 8-weight rod can handle fish between 7 to 15 pounds. The 9,10 12 and 14 weight are rods designed for certain species and certain applications. Try to match the weight of the rod to the expected normal weight of the fish you are intending to catch. Nobody wants to wait all day in the boat while you play a 40-pound cobia on a trout rod that you brought along so you could "fly fish".
Match the appropriate rod and reel to the fish that you are targeting. I prefer a 9-weight for cobia, a 10-weight for schoolie dolphin and bigger cobia, and a 12-weight for the larger offshore fish and tarpon. Although larger fish can and often are landed on smaller outifts it is best for the fish to be released as soon as you can without over stressing the fish with an extended battle.
When battling the larger fish try and keep your fly rod pointed at the fish and held in the 10 o-clock position. Do not have the rod over extended as that also leads to a busted blank. Fly rods have a huge source of power and it comes soley from the entire length of the rod acting as a single unit of pulling power. Once you have mastered that ability of the rod's power, you can easily whip the larger fish in an appropriate amount of time. Often you will not make it your backing if there is the right amount of pressure levied against the fish. Each battle and fish is different and requires experience to know how to handle each situation. Only with practice comes experience and experience is what makes us all better anglers.
I prefer the large clouser types for cobia. Most cobia are not too picky and will readily strike most flies as long as they are similar to what the cobia are foraging on. Crab imitations work well and any larger type shark flies that are in a bright color will trip thier triggers as well. Experiment and try to match what local baitfish are available. Pinfish and pichard imitations work well. Do not be afraid to throw a surface popper as the strikes are video worthy.
My son Victor is an accomplished fly tier and he keeps me in a steady supply of his special "Cobia Killers". They are a bright orange fly that has a head and body for bulk tied to a sharp Gamagatsu 6/0 hook in the ride-up position.
I usually tie a small section of number nine wire to the fly when cobia fishing as the ever present kings and blacktips are willing and able bite the fly off. The cobia are oblivious to the wire and have no problem hitting it. Wire also prevents your leader from chafing.
Visit your local fly shop and you will quickly learn what flies are working in the local waters. The trick is to get out there and enjoy the unparalleled satisfaction that fly fishing offers an angler. Whether you fly fish or spin fish the most important thing is you are fishing. Keep your lines wet until next time!