Near as I can remember, I think I walked into Jim Bender's fly shop in Worcester, MA www.thelowerforty.com sometime in 1990. I had been a saltwater spin fisherman for many years, going back to my pre-teen summer vacations with my family near Scusset Beach at the east end of the Cape Cod Canal. I cut my teeth fishing 1/2 ounce diamond jigs for mackerel and pollock off the end of the canal jetty with Zebco 202 spincast outfits. One morning, during the summer of my 21st year, I awoke early at the summer cottage we rented on Sagamore Beach to see a school of mackerel finning the surface of a glass-calm Cape Cod Bay. I grabbed a light 6 foot Mitchell 300 spinning outfit on the deck and sauntered down to the water's edge and tossed the 1/2 oz diamond jig out into the middle of the school. I reeled in the jig to within 35 feet of the shoreline where I promptly snagged bottom.... or so I thought! The line was still moving sideways, and within a few seconds, I saw the swirl of a large square tail!! Fast forward ten minutes, after my yelling and screaming "It's a f#'!k??g striper!!" had awakened everyone in our cottage as well as everyone in the cottage on either side of ours. By the time they all got down to the beach to see what the comotion was all about, I was holding, no, hugging a 16 lb. striped bass in my arms! That was it. From that moment on, saltwater fishing would always be a part of my life.
By the mid 80's I had bought a 13 foot Boston Whaler, despite being married with two of my eventual three children to feed, and without telling my bride, (initially) about the purchase. (BIG mistake!! Not recommended!) I was hooked on casting surface plugs to the ravenous bluefish that showed along the south side of the Cape every spring, like clockwork, on or around the 17th of May. They still do. The striper fishery had completely crashed during those years, so blues were the only game in town, until sometime in 1987 or 1988. Striped bass were starting to reappear along the coast in fishable numbers, and I felt like I had the spinning thing down pretty well, and the fishing mags were all touting fly rodding in the salt. So, I went to the only flyshop in the area looking to get into the sport. Jim was patient with my questions, generous with information, and outfitted me with a Sage DS series 9 wt rod and a Lamson reel spooled with an intermediate slow sinking line. I fished the hell out of that outfit, even after I sold the Whaler in the mid 90's. It took stripers on the Monomoy flats, Pleasant Bay, Brewster Flats, and Pomponesset Bay, all on Cape Cod. I took it to Florida with me in 1994 and caught my first snook and redfish on it. Soon after that, I invested in a vise and fly tying tools (thanks again Jim!) and began to fashion my own flies to help me pass the long cold winters and to experience the added satisfaction of catching fish with my own creations. In all the years since, Jim Bender has been a mentor and outfitter without peer IMHO, and remains my go-to source for quality gear and sage (excuse the pun) advice. One of Jim's friends and long time flyfisher both in the salt and the sweet water, Bob Thunberg, was also very helpful to me in the beginning, and to this day will always chat when we meet on the street or at the shop.
Over the years, in order to learn new fisheries in Florida and shorten the learning curve, I have engaged the services of a few guides who have helped me immensely in my growth as a fly angler.
In the Charlotte Harbor area of SW Florida, paddle fly fishing guide Dave Loger www.nomotorflyfishing.com has been an excellent resource and has consistently put me on fish using a variety of paddle craft. Dave is a consumate professional, meticulously prepared for anything you may encounter on the water from flies, to fish, to first aid. I suspect this comes from the discipline learned during a 6 year stint in the armed services and his subsequent years as a commercial aviator, where attention to detail can mean the difference between life and death. When you fish with Dave, you just know that you are in excellent hands, and that his focus is entirely on you and your time on the water. A first rate guide, and a first class guy!
In the Everglades, Capt. Ned Small www.sightfish.com has consistently gone the extra miles to show me as much of that incredible resource as he possibly can on each charter. We'll cover 70 or 80 miles on a typical day, leaving the dock behind his house in Everglades City by 6:45am and returning as late as 5pm. He'll point out shell mounds, birds of all kinds, vegetation, eagle rays, and sawfish. Sometimes we'll skirt the outside islands. Other times we'll fight our way up narrow creeks and mangrove tunnels to a hidden spot. He has an easy, relaxed demeanor about him, a unique and entertaining writing style in the "Reports" section of his website, and an uncanny sixth sense about flyfishing what I consider to be the most beautiful, complex, alluring, and compelling fisheries and ecosystems in the country, and perhaps the world. To illustrate this point, Ned guided me to an early May encounter with my first fly rod tarpon a couple of years ago. He spotted the fish laid up tight to the mangroves. I would never have seen that fish on my own. After repeated casts to that tarpon , I swear I heard Ned yell "Take" a full two seconds BEFORE I saw the fish flash as he finally turned and ate the fly. It was as though Ned was operating in a time warp two seconds ahead of Everglades real time. Spooky, but impressive. Once a redfish, snook, or tarpon is hooked, that easy-going manner gives way to an intense focus on the business at hand. I try and fish with Ned at least once every year. He makes it fun, enjoyable, and educational, and he does it all in one of my favorite places on the planet.
In Biscayne Bay and/or the canals south of Miami, if you want to get up close and personal with this fishery, if you are up to staying on the water for 10 to 13 hours a day, if you want all fly fishing, all the time, all day long.... then you want to fish with Cordell Baum. If there is a more overtly passionate flyfisherman walking the face of God's green Earth, then I have yet to meet him. I love Cordell's intensity, and his all-out approach to guiding. If he feels he needs to pole you over 10 miles in his canoe to put you on fish...no problem! If he has to wait out a thunderstorm tucked up into the mangroves so you can get a shot at some tailing bonefish or permit in its aftermath..... no problem. Born on the outer banks of North Carolina, raised in Alaska, and transplanted to Miami where he learned that fishery completely on his own, Cordell has a compelling personal story, very reasonable rates, and several fishing packages to offer. After 3 days of fishing the westerly shore of Biscayne National Park with Cordell, you'll learn alot about that beautiful fishery, and be inspired by his passion for what he does.
I want to thank all of these fine professionals and good people for all they have done to enrich my education and experiences as a saltwater fly angler. The next entry will cover what I consider to be the best and most exciting and innovative human powered flyfishing platform I know of. Intrigued? Stay tuned!