Fly line is like an aggressive snake, it will bite you in the rear every chance it gets. Turn it loose on the ground or the deck of a boat, and it will reach out and grab everything within reach. Throw in some wind, and things get worse in a hurry. But if you manage to keep the fly line under control, lower your profile, and alter your casting stroke, breezy-day frustration is preventable, or at least greatly reduced.
When you sight-fish on an open flat or bay from the bow of a skiff or bay boat, during windy conditions, there is no place to hide, so you need to make a few adjustments to fly fish effectively. While standing on a bow casting platform helps you spot fish sooner, the added 15- to 18-inch elevation makes it harder to keep the loose fly line between your reel and the deck from blowing overboard without stripping into a bucket or similar container. Also, when it’s windy, the boat tends to rock more, often when you don’t expect it, so footing atop a small platform becomes precarious.
Rather than risk falling or letting your unsteadiness sabotage your fly fishing, step to one side or in front of that casting platform. If the platform is removable, it’s best to just leave it at home when you know the water will be pretty choppy and your boat will be pitching considerably. On the windiest days, I also step to the back half of the forward deck, where I’m able to let the fly line drop into the cockpit as I strip. The gunwales keep it from blowing into the water, however, any coolers or gear bags must be placed a safe distance away to prevent snagging during casting.
A stripping bucket, a stripping basket that you wear on your waist, or one of the increasingly popular fly-line mats with rubber spikes will also prevent fly line coils from blowing about. Fly-line management spikes (carbonmarine.com) that you attach around the periphery of your casting deck, essentially building a fence to keep your fly line contained, is yet another option.
The rule of thumb is never pull from your reel more fly line than you typically cast. That especially applies on windy days, when you should also take into account that surface chop will reduce your visibility range appreciably, and you’re bound to make shorter casts, most likely at fish you spot closer than 50 feet away. So why pull off 75 feet of line and have that extra, unnecessary length to manage?
In speed-casting scenarios for fast-moving fish, where you hold your fly in hand and trail a loop of fly line in the water alongside the boat, a wind-blown surface allows you to get closer to fish most days, provided the hull is quiet in a chop.
Cut your leader length down 25 percent or more. That 12- to 14-foot tapered bonefish leader will be much harder to turn over against the wind, and will more readily blow off course. A 9- or 10-footer will cast much better in windy conditions, help make those quick deliveries inside of 40 feet, and put enough distance between your fly line and the fly. Remember that, when it’s windy, the water surface is usually choppy anyway, and that helps mask your presence. I’ve caught redfish on 7-foot leaders and bonefish on 8-footers.
Consider changing the traveling plane of your line. Rather than cast “over your ear,” as when throwing a football or baseball for distance, decrease the height of your casting hand and make both your backcast and forward cast with the elbow in tight to your body and the forearm traveling at a 45-degree angle in relation to the water surface. In extreme wind, you might even put more sidearm into it. Don’t assume your backcast will hit the water—if you make a snappy backcast with sufficient line speed, and stop your rod tip sharply and pointed slightly above water level, your line, leader and fly will follow the tip.
If you are casting into the breeze using the aforementioned casting mechanics, a sharp haul on the line at the right moment will build additional line speed. Try to cast down at your target rather than at a level plane. There’s less chance of the fly being blown off course. In many flats scenarios, the fish swim into the wind rather than the tidal current. This enables you to cast downwind a considerable distance. As Lefty Kreh was fond of saying about wind at your back, “You can cast more fly line than you can buy!”
Fish slim-profile flies that won’t catch the wind as much, and go with the lightest-weight versions that will get your fly down to the desired depth. I also find that moving up a rod (and line) size is a big help. Put away that 8-weight you normally use and go with an 9, or even a 10 if the required flies are on the bulky or heavy side. Line-wise, the typical bonefish taper with an aggressive head taper will also load quicker with less line outside the rod tip. Again, better for those shorter casts you will need on windy days.
Fly Line Prep
Remember to always stretch your fly line before you start fishing, whether it’s windy or not. Un-stretched line has memory, so it stays somewhat coiled depending on the type of coating and core, and the water and air temperature. The more coils on the deck, the more they’ll catch the wind. They’ll also tangle badly, even in a stripping basket or bucket. Take the time to clean your line once or twice day in salt water, as well. It tends to cling to itself and tangle more readily when it’s dirty.
Though there are various innovative, quality line-control devices on the market. I had a Line Tamer some years ago, which cost me about $180 but I mistakenly put it in my truck bed, but it blew out on the Turnpike. Never found it, and never spent that much on a reasonable alternative. I carried a large, heavy (and inexpensive) Terry cloth towel aboard my john boats and skiff. I would soak it in sea water, wring it out, and then spread it out over my casting deck or floor of my boat and it did a good job of preventing my fly line from blowing around on windy days. The friction prevented it. In fact, I am convinced that it kept the line cleaner, not to mention cooler, on sultry summer days.
My first decked aluminum bass boat, which I used on the salt flats, was carpeted, and that carpet kept my line from sliding around fairly well. Speaking of carpet, an old friend used to stow a 3 foot by 3 foot piece of shag in his skiff to use as a stripping mat. My carpeted, aluminum bass boat also had a foot-control bow mount troll motor, and the foot pedal loved to grab my line. I bought a small, weighed seine net to cover both the pedal and the motor head when in the on-deck position.
My modern flats skiff, which is designed with fly fishing in mind, has no line-grabbers to speak of other than the console. Even so, I sometimes toss a wet towel over the bow-mounted trolling motor when it is not deployed. When it’s really windy, I break out my collapsible leaf basket, which can be bought at the garden center of most box stores for under $30. It collapses into a disc 4 inches thick and, at 22 inches in diameter, it’s small enough to stow in most skiffs and bay boats. When you pop it open (it has a sleeved, spring frame), it stands 26 inches tall, a good height for stripping line into. Many fly fishers add sinkers, small exercise plate weights or a marine-grade plywood floor to the bottom, which has holes to allow water to drain.
Fly-Line Management Products
HMH KR LineTender is, so far, the best stripping basket I’ve come across. Made by a well established fly-tying vise company, it is a water-resistant cloth basket with a tough, mesh bottom. I added the optional mono loop Line Shooter strips, rigid and 6 inches long, that fit into the mesh via prongs. They house three large, stiff mono loops each, which keep line coils orderly. The frame is stiff but flexible, lightweight, and about 19 inches wide. It has a handy pocket in the back, outside the line containment area, to store small items such as flies, leaders, or even a cell phone and wallet.. And it is about 8 inches deep, which seems just right for line control. It also has an adjustable mesh belt, meant to be worn snugly, so the basket juts straight out from your waist. Wear it too loosely and the basket sags, causing the fly line to pile up in the front. Since it has a mesh bottom, you can’t wade too deep, or fish it in the surf with swells above crotch height, otherwise the water will lift the line out of the basket. Sells for $49.95. Visit hmhvises.com.
Orvis sells its Durable Stripping Basket, a solid plastic basket shaped to hug your body, with an adjustable belt. It has rod rest indentations, and solid, built-in line separation cones on the bottom. Many fly fishers drill holes in the basket’s bottom for drainage. Retails for $59. Visit orvis.com.
Strip and Feed’s Ultimate Fly Basket is as basket-style fly line container that comes in two sizes, with or without a tapered cutout on one side, which many feel makes it easier to feed line into it, and then shoot it out of the basket. The company also offers its Toad Loader, a deck mat with built-in, tapered cones that serve to keep line coils separated to decrease pile-up and tangling. Visit stripandfeed.com.
Carbon Marine (carbonmarine.com) offers its popular Line Lair, a rubber mat with approximately three-dozen spikes that keep fly line coils apart and in place in windy conditions. It can be rolled up and stored in small hatches, and it floats should it accidentally go overboard. It is 20 inches in diameter, weighs 4 pounds, and happens to fit well in collapsible leaf baskets made by both Ryobi and Toro. The company also offers its more traditional bucket-style line container, the LineHut. Made of marine-grade materials, the standard model stands 24 inches high, and the opening is 12 inches in diameter. Weight is 6 pounds, 4 ounces. Retails for $175. Should you desire different dimensions, the company offers custom sizes, with openings ranging from 13 to 18 inches in diameter, and heights from 25 to 32 inches. In addition, Carbon Marine also makes its LineTack Light spikes fly-line management system. The spikes can be used on the deck or rails of most boats or canoes, and come with elliptical EVA-foam adhesive pads that stick to any flat or curved surface, but can be removed without damaging the surface. The system is available in kits of 12 spikes ($39.95), 24 ($69.95) and 36 ($89.95), all with extra adhesive mounting pads for re-application.