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Make Your Boat Fly Fishing Friendly

Learn to eliminate fly line snags on the boat and catch more on fly.

April 11, 2016
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Snag-proofing should be a priority when fly fishing from a boat.
Fly line is like a small child, bound to grab everything it comes near. Turn it loose on the deck of boat and it will snag somewhere, usually at the worst moment, like when you’re casting to a nice fish or clearing loose line when that beauty you just hooked is off to the races. That’s why making your boat snag-free is important. Contain your fly line and you will catch more fish. Mike Conner

JUST ENOUGH

Stripping off your reel only the length of fly line you typically cast in a given situation decreases the likelihood of it snagging something, blowing overboard, or creating those frustrating snarls. But even if you own a boat designed with fly fishing in mind — a flats skiff, for instance — you still need to fly-line proof it to minimize preventable mishaps that result in missed opportunities and lost fish.

CLEAR THE DECK

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Although fly fishing barefooted helps prevent you from stepping on loose line during the cast, managing fly line takes more than kicking off your footwear. Line management is especially challenging when its windy. And while you can’t control the wind, clearing the deck and cockpit of movable obstacles such as tackle bags or boxes, buckets, coolers, seat cushions and, say, the foul-weather gear you shed once the sky clears or you finish that open-water crossing, greatly reduces chances of some unruly loop of fly line catching or tangling.

A blanket to drape over the boat's console eliminates several snags — rod racks, steering wheel, etc. — at once.
The Cover-Up Mike Conner

Permanent fixtures, like cleats, latches and vertical rod racks, are also primary fly-line catchers. And larger, immovable objects, like pedestal seats, the leaning post or the center console (think steering wheel, throttle, fish finder, etc.), are occasional offenders. They don’t pose much of a problem, that is, until choppy seas force you off the forward casting deck and you fly fish from inside the cockpit, closer to midship, or until you have a second fly angler onboard and he’s casting from the rear of the boat.

I carry a large beach blanket and drape it over my console, and I once fished with a guy who used a section of seine net in the same manner. It really did the trick when we both fly fished at the same time, one of us from the cockpit or the smaller, rear casting deck.

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If you have a bow-mount trolling motor, make sure you cover it also.
Towel time. Mike Conner

If you have a bow-mount trolling motor, you’re better off keeping it deployed (if the water is deep enough) when you fly fish. Otherwise, drape a big towel over it, making sure it covers the entire head, shaft, and the lower unit with the propeller. Don’t forget to soak the towel first. It stays put much better when it’s wet and heavy. Another option is to install a quick-release mount that enables you to move the trolling motor — base or gator-mount and all — off the bow by just pulling a pin.

The Strip and Feed Ultimate Fly Basket is an excellent fly line management tool.
Containment Options Courtesy Strip and Feed Research

There’s a few commercially made fly-line management devices available, ranging from specialized buckets you strip the line into to mats that keep the fly line from sliding off the deck. The Strip and Feed Ultimate Fly Basket (stripandfeed.com) comes in two sizes and has a tapered cutout on one side, which many feel makes it easier to strip line in and then shoot it out. The company also offers its Toad Loader, a deck mat with built-in, tapered cones that serve to keep fly line coils separated to minimize tangling.

Rubber mats with spikes to keep fly line loops from tangling are also available.
Other line management options Courtesy Carbon Marine

Carbon Marine (carbonmarine.com) offers a couple of different rubber mats — the LineLair and LineLair Pro — with spikes that keep fly line coils apart and hold them in place in windy conditions. They come in round and square shapes and can be rolled up and stored inside small hatches. They also float, should they accidentally fall overboard.

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Carbon Marine's LineHut is a sturdy, more traditional stripping basket.
Traditional bucket Courtesy Carbon Marine

Carbon Marine also offers a more traditional bucket-style line container, the LineHut, made of marine-grade materials. The standard model stands 24 inches high with the opening 12 inches in diameter.

A foam stripping bucket from Sea Level Fly Fishing is easier to pack in a compartment and requires water be added for weight.
Soft fly-line stripping bucket Courtesy Sea Level Fly Fishing

The Sea Level Flyfishing Bucket II Standard (sealevelflyfish.com) is made of foam and weighs a mere 4 pounds — 14 pounds with the additional bottom ($35) that, when stacked atop the original bottom, creates a chamber to hold water that you add for extra weight when ready to fish. The company’s Bucket II Mini is an alternative for smaller craft, such as Gheenoes, canoes and kayaks.

A wet towel stretched on the deck does a decent job keeping fly line contained.
Cheaper fly-line containment Mike Conner

Accessories for fly-line containment can be pricy, but there are more affordable options. For instance, instead of springing for a one of the specialized mats, I discovered that stretching a wet towel on the deck helps keep the fly line pretty still. My first aluminum bass boat, which I used on the salt flats, was carpeted, and that carpet kept my line from sliding around fairly well. A fly-fishing buddy used to stow a 3-foot by 3-foot piece of shag carpet in his skiff to use as a stripping mat. It was purple, as I recall, and quite stylish (in the late 70s).

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A collapsible leaf barrel is an inexpensive and very portable fly line management alternative.
Collapsible choice Mike Conner

If you’d rather not shell out a couple hundred bucks for one of the stripping buckets, a collapsible leaf barrel makes a suitable alternative. I bought one recently after my LineTamer, a $170 bucket made by a company no longer in business, jumped out of my skiff at 4 a.m. on the Florida Turnpike. It’s made by Ryobi, available at Home Depot and other hardware and lawn and garden stores for under $20.

The collapsible leaf barrel does require a little customizing to add weight and help it stay put.
Pros and cons of a collapsible leaf barrel. Mike Conner

When you pop it open (it has a sleeved, spring frame), the barrel stands 26 inches tall, a good height to comfortably strip line into it while fishing. It appears to be made of vinyl and is reportedly mildew- and tear-resistant. The leaf barrel is, however, so light that I had to add a 10-pound dumbbell plate weight to the bottom (which has holes to allow water to drain). I have seen photos of 3/4-inch marine-grade plywood cut to fit inside the barrel for the same purpose. And I hear you get the same results with a heavy-rubber mat (like you’d find in a restaurant kitchen), often available at hardware stores.

Portability is a major asset of using a collapsible leaf barrel for a stripping basket.
Amazingly portable Mike Conner

While not as snazzy as the specialty stripping buckets, the leaf barrel collapses neatly into a disc only 4 inches thick. At 22 inches in diameter, once collapsed, the leaf barrel is small enough to stow in the bow hatch or similar sizable compartment in most boats.

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