First Red on the Fly

The excitement was palpable, I was finally able to go home to Florida with a fly rod in hand. This was a big deal to me; the guys at Fishwest heard about it for two months. I knew that I would need to be guided to learn the areas for my self-sustained trips; this is when the research started. When it comes to a guide, I look for a number of things. It is not only someone who is putting you on fish, but someone that you will be spending the day with. Hopefully they are also a good human being. I came across Captain Chris Adams, (Chris), who guides through his self-named company Adams Fly CO. I read his mission statement and policies to see if he met some criteria. For me, being environmentally focused is a very important thing. As fly fishers, we need to protect our resources for ourselves and future generations. Captain Adams belongs to #kickplastic as well as practices catch and release only, so that marked the box. I called him to introduce myself and explain my skill level and intentions. He was more than excited to get out me out on the lagoon and to school me up on fly fishing in the salt. He gave me drills and expectations for my casting distance as well as handling the wind we may encounter. Your guide is most importantly your teacher. Make them aware of what you need to learn.

The day had finally come. I was waiting at a pier in the Mosquito Lagoon Area ready to fish the refuge. To those who don’t know, only seventy-five Captains are allowed to fish that specific refuge per year. Anyone can fish it, but because Captains are considered commercial fishermen, it is a big deal. I arrived fifteen minutes early, as everyone should, and waited to leave. Chris came up, introduced himself, and told me to get on the skiff. I hopped on this awesome 2019 Mangrove 18 model Chittum Skiff that was filled with all of the important Yeti Products you need; from coolers to bottles (we are kindred spirits). About two minutes into the ride to the fishing spot I lost my lucky FISHWEST hat, very disappointing. Luckily, he had one of his own for just the occasion. Captain Adams builds his own rods from Sage blanks and outfits them with custom Tibor reels, Rio lines, and his hand tied leaders and flies. I gawked over these things of beauty, but I opted to use my G-Loomis NRX and Nautilus reel that Mr. J.C. Weeks himself let me borrow. The rod was filled with good fishing karma. There is no way I would put that to the way side.

We saw our first tailing Redfish fifteen minutes into the day and we were on. My first cast of the day went right to him. Unfortunately it wasn’t the fly, it was my line. This is where the teachable moments started to happen. Fly fishing the flats for Bonefish, Permit, Redfish, etc. is one of the hardest situations there is. It requires precision accuracy, the ability to lead, and being able to punch through the wind. I may have been a tad under prepared.  I obviously had the accuracy part down if I was literally hitting the fish, but my leading needed some work. We took some time to dial in my casting and get rid of some of the nervous energy that I seemed to be filled with. Captain Adams kept us on the fish and constantly made sure I was improving. The biggest lesson that I learned is when transferring from freshwater to salt you will make simple mistakes. I was so wrapped up with the need to catch fish that I was missing the point of what we were doing. I was on my old waters doing something I had dreamed of since I picked up a fly rod for the first time and I had forgotten all about that. Chris noticed this and mitigated it in the best way possible. We stopped and sat while I had a beer or two. We talked about our shared love of trout and rap music. My mind was back in the game. The pressure to catch fish is a trap that most of us will fall into if it is a new species or a new body of water. Remember that slow is smooth and smooth is fast. If your cast is bad it doesn’t matter how fast you get the fly out, you won’t catch what you’re after.

We did some pushing around and had a stretch where there wasn’t much, but then we saw them. There was my chance. We had about five tailing Reds without a care in the world besides the food in front of them. Chris turned the boat, I took a breath, and the fly was off. Turning my mind off made it all come easy. My cast was precise, my leading was the best it had been, and I got my eat! Excitement filled the boat and my heart was racing a mile a minute. I set the fly, raised my rod tip, and began stripping. Just because the fish is bigger than you are used to, you don’t have to bring it to the reel. Many fish are lost because people want to watch that reel spin. The fish will let you know when it is time to go to the reel. It was a great feeling to have Chris cheering me on as he knew this was the biggest moment of my fishing career and a top 10 moment of my life. The fish made two small runs but it was eventually brought to net. We kept the fish netted and in the water until we could effectively get some pictures. Just because you want a grip and grin doesn’t mean you should hold it out of the water when you aren’t ready. I have caught Redfish on conventional tackle before, but this was different. I was so excited that I was shaking like a child that just caught their first Bluegill. Not only is Chris an expert guide, he is also an expert cameraman. He took some high quality shots on the boat, and then some more as I stood in the water helping it get some life back. Finally I let it go and watched the spotted tail swirl as it swam away.

At this point I got a chance to talk to Chris about his thoughts as a Captain and a Guide. We discussed what will keep you on the water for a little longer and what gets you stepping onto the dock at 7 hours, 59 minutes, and 59 seconds of your 8 hour day. He stated that the biggest thing is your attitude over your aptitude. You can cast 100 feet, throw the world’s tightest loops, and have pin point accuracy, but if you throw your rod every time you miss a set, you are not what the guides are looking for. Guides don’t just take out experts, they routinely take out people who have never held a fly rod in their hand as well. Your skill means nothing if you are an unpleasant person to be around. You need to be honest with your guide and yourself. When it comes to how he or she plans your day they need to know what you can do. We all tell fish stories, but this is not the time. They will put you on the fish, it is about what approach they need to take to do so. The last big thing is to be receptive to what they are trying to teach you.

These last few things are what I figured out for myself. I believe that if you walk away without a few pages of notes you have wasted the day. Do not argue about your approach and do not discredit them because you think you know better. There is a reason they are guiding and there is a reason you booked them. LISTEN! Remember that they are also on the boat. Chris pushed the skiff for eight hours, imagine how you would feel if someone only talked to you when a fish popped up. Don’t “include” them in your conversation, have a conversation with them. Be a human being, don’t drink too much, keep the fish wet, and enjoy yourself.

I learned a lot from Chris. This started as trying to find some tips for self-sustained fishing. He ended up giving me a better appreciation for the ecosystem I took for granted growing up. It is no joke down there. If you grew up fishing for trout you need to talk to the guys at Fishwest and get some knowledge about what you are in for. For me it was the most enriching fishing experience I have had. I look forward to spending more time down in Florida and maybe more of a permanent move south.

-Nathan Brown