Casting Across isn’t a travel agency. That works out pretty well for you, because that means my expertise in the realm of fly fishing getaways is available at no cost whatsoever.
No thanks are necessary. Your angling enjoyment is all the gratitude I need.
Below is my six-step process for planning and executing a fly fishing vacation. I guarantee that it will work for all budgets. Furthermore, I guarantee your complete satisfaction.
Step 1: Dream Big
Mongolia. Iceland. New Zealand. These are the places featured in fly fishing films and magazine cover stories. The fish are big. The scenery is breathtaking. The cultures are fascinating.
It isn’t just fly fishing: it is adventure.
I caught my first bass more than 40 years ago, on a farm pond a pitch and a flip from my current house in the Western North Carolina mountains.
I remember the 4-pounder got away after I stuck the stringer in the mud, and the big green fish simply swam away with two panfish in tow.
I was 12. I was devastated.
Soon after college, I fell in love with trout on the long rod. I never really seriously pursued bass on spinning gear, but this season I’ve vowed to change that trend.
Here’s a few tips for those who wish to brush up on bass basics. Obviously, there are several types of bass. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll focus on the largemouth.
FISH EARLY OR LATE
I caught my first decent bass in late afternoon, but most of the time bass feed at sunrise and sunset. My rule of thumb is to fish when the sun is below the trees. Once the sun passes the tree line, the bite slows considerably.
In the evening, wait until the sun dips below the trees and fish until dark. Dusk is a great time to fish.
Because bass are light sensitive, your optimum windows are fairly tight. Nevertheless, take advantage of them.
Obviously, work and family commitments dictate when you can fish. If you can only go in the middle of the day, you can still fish, but fish deeper than you would if you were on the water early or late, when the fish are running shallow.
TIS THE SEASON FOR BASS
A year or so after I caught my first big bass, I thought I was on a roll and would ride that momentum to fish after fish. One bitterly cold Thanksgiving I charged out on to Georgia’s Lake Burton with a carton of nightcrawlers. I caught a cold, but nary a fish.
What I didn’t know is that water temperature dictates when bass — and other fish feed — and success is largely seasonal. So if you’re a beginner, it’s best to fish in the spring or fall, when water temperatures are more conducive to success. This is not to say you can’t fish during winter’s chill or summer’s swelter, because you can, but your odds of catching fish are better in the spring and fall. Plus, the weather is more pleasant.
WHERE TO FIND BASS
Structure. Structure. Structure. Find the structure —- logs, brush, rocks, lily pads, hydrilla, or grass — and you will generally find the bass. The bass’ primary objective is to survive and they use structure as protection and as an avenue to ambush prey. This means you need to identify the structure where you fish. Learn it. Learn where it is and you’ll certainly find fish.
THE EQUIPMENT YOU NEED
You can probably get by with an initial investment of $100, maybe half that, to get your rod, reel, line and lures.
To get started, it’s best to buy a closed-face, push-button spinning outfit — with the line. If you have to spool your own line, go with 8-pound clear mono. Use an arbor knot to attach the mono to the reel and a clinch knot to attach the lure to your line.
For your second rod, I recommend a 7-footer, medium action TFG Professional Series from TFO, not too soft, not too stiff. Ideally, you want to feel your lure on the bottom as you make your presentation. Once you’re comfortable with a rod, a simple open-face spinning reel is a reasonable step up from the push-button combo.
When I first started fishing, I used shiners, nightcrawlers and crayfish. As I got more skilled, I graduated to artificial offerings. Some anglers thumb their noses at using bait, but there’s little doubt that can you can catch more fish and build confidence with it. If you choose bait, it helps to use a bobber. When the bobber moves, lift the rod to set the hook. Adjust the bobber according to the depth of the water.
My first lures were stickbaits/soft plastics —- mainly purple and black worms rigged weedless. My biggest mistake was chucking the offering as far as I could and reeling like a madman. What I should have done was cast toward structure and let the worm fall to the bottom before retrieving. A bass will often take a worm on the drop. My other lures were the venerable Snagless Sally and the Beetle Spin. These spinner baits helped me cover a lot of water and they were fun to cast. It also doesn’t hurt to have a crankbait or two in your tackle box as well, but plastic worms and spinner baits are a good start.
When I was tasked with writing an ENO hammock review for Fly Lords, I was skeptical. Who takes a hammock fishing? Seriously. Have you ever brought one along? It had never crossed my mind but, I was down to throw one into my bag to see how it fit into my fishing routine.
I shoved my doubt aside and brought the ENO DoubleNest on a recent float down the San Juan with my buddy Chris Eagan of Kokopelli Anglers. I was pleasantly surprised as the hammock made an already chill day even more enjoyable.
In my experience, fly fishing is a pretty damn mellow sport. Sure…there are sporadic moments of chaos and fury when I actually hook into a fish, and sometimes I burn a handful of calories when I have to hike into a spot but for the most part, fishing is chilling. Whether I’m wading a beautiful river in Wyoming or casually floating the San Juan in New Mexico there are glorious moments when I forget about the troubles and toils of regular life and can relax. With this in mind, I figure bringing a hammock along could actually be a good call.
Chris Eagan guides on the world-famous San Juan Quality Waters below Navajo Dam in northern New Mexico. The float is mellow. No rapids, minimal wind, abundant wildlife, beautiful landscapes, endless cottonwoods and thousands of trout. Hammock country for sure. Our float started out pretty slow.
A snowstorm was expected to roll in from the south, and I presumed the pressure change had the fish flustered. They were picky and fickle. Unamused and lazy. But finally, they started to smack our olive leaches and bend our rods.
The caffeine buzz from our morning coffee started to wane and we pulled to shore to set up the hammock, devour some sandwiches, sip some beers and chill. Prior to this float, I had never set up an ENO hammock.
Luckily the set up is intuitive, easy, and literally takes maybe only a minute. We suspended the hammock between two towering cottonwood branches and crawled in. The river boiled with rising trout as blue herons gracefully glided down the run and time slipped away.
Thankfully, these ENO hammocks are just as easy to take down as they are to set up and we were back slaying fish in no time. We floated into the afternoon and had a great day on the water.
I am no longer a skeptic when it comes to hammocks and if someday, I finally get myself a freakin drift boat, I will undoubtedly throw one in my boat bag. I mean why not? They pack small, are easy to set up, durable and make for super extra chill and relaxing lunch breaks on the river. To purchase an Eno Hammock and check out the full line of different products, check out this link.
Outwitting New Mexico’s official state fish
From nearly anywhere in my Santa Fe County home, I have the most fortunate view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It’s where the Rockies start in New Mexico. As I write this, day melds into night, that period when the Muses visit painters and poets.
A towering anvil-headed September storm cloud turns the color of a watermelon over Santa Fe Baldy and Hamilton Mesa. The trailing curved edge of the cloud as it brushes over the mountain tops looks like a sheer lavender curtain moved by wind through an open window.
The moisture wrung out of this moving piece of art strikes the steep dusky mountain slopes, softened by green and blue needles of pines and firs and spruces. The water funnels through gray granite crevices as it trickles downhill. The rain soaks into rivulets and then into ritos with names such as Azul, Padre, Valdez and Chimayosos. These noisy cobbled brooks will soon beget the Pecos proper, but before they do their waters stall in dark pools under the cooling shade of gangly alder trees whose roots knot up the streambank. This is habitat for Rio Grande cutthroat trout.
The Rio Grande cutthroat trout is named for the splash of crimson below its gills, and for the fact it occurs only in its namesake river basin. In the spring of the year, the spawning males are awash in red over their head and chest. It’s stunning, as if they are soaked in blood.
Under these September clouds, the fish lie there finning in pools as freshets wash over them under the shadows of ponderosa boles that have fallen into the stream. Or they lay on the edge of a lichen-covered boulder in an eddy just past a chute of frothy water waiting for a grasshopper or caddisfly or a clumsy moth to flit too close.
With a dart and roll, a bug becomes food. That is unless that bug is a look-alike, mere fur and feathers adorning a tiny barbless hook.
A tug and a splash, and in a moment I can see my reflection on a trout’s shimmering flank and feel it flex its cold muscles in my wet hand as it slips back into the water with a parting flip of its tail teeming with spots like peppercorns.
Rio Grande cutthroat trout. Photos by Craig Springer. New Mexico Wildlife magazine Winter 2018 Vol61, Num1, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.
It’s a persistent longing: outwitting cutthroat trout in the high country, especially with my children, is among my most favorite pastimes. Never do I feel more alive; I’m a participant in nature and not merely an observer. These tiny streams bordered by brush and boulder require stealth and attentiveness and some resolve. The experience hones your senses and is head-clearing, like floss for your psyche. I find myself thinking that I am not thinking at all.
It’s physically demanding, too. A friend of mine likened fishing cutthroat waters to doing yoga while casting. It takes some doing to thread a bow-cast beneath overhanging alders from behind a boulder propped on an elbow. Many cutthroat streams in the upper Pecos as elsewhere in New Mexico are typically small and not well visited. You’ll make your own trail over deadfall and boulders and through patches of prickly wild raspberries properly colored like a trout’s throat.
Trout don’t grow large in small waters, but still, when I catch a cutthroat I feel like a man who just found a bag of money. Each fish is uniquely adorned with a constellation of black spots lying on a background from a pallet of paint, borrowed from a September sunrise accessorized with last night’s tattered, left-over clouds.
The Rio Grande cutthroat trout is the official state fish of New Mexico and holds the distinction of being the first trout documented in the New World. In 1541, as the Coronado’s entrada passed near Pecos Pueblo, one chronicler noted truchas swimming about.
Now, 477 years later, the trout’s native range is much reduced, yet still affords remarkable angling opportunities found nowhere else.