Fly Fishing for Bill Fish
10 Instructions & 10 Hints
For the first timer or the fly fisher who hasn’t done it in a while..
By Capt. Will Kitsos
After ten years of learning how to help and teach fly fishers and non-fly fishers how to catch bill fish on the fly I have developed my set of instructions and hints.
Set up the rod so that it is ready to pick up and cast. I like the rod to be suspended in a horizontal position off the deck. The easiest way I have found is to have a 5 gallon bucket with about 2 inches of water in it placed far enough forward from the stern and as close to the rail as possible, to allow passage while waiting for the fish to attack the teaser. Let the rod rest with the reel suspended over the bucket and with the rod tip on the transom protruding no more than 2 feet astern.
Only strip enough line out of the reel for the cast, about 30 feet to the fly. Measure the distance with you standing against the stern corner and leaning out a little. Your fly will be located where you want the hook up to happen… up close and personal.
Strip the line into the bucket leaving a good two feet of fly line out of the rod tip and the rest of the line in the bucket. Bring the fly back to the bucket and hang it on the rim of the bucket. Push the line on the deck to the side and keep it out of the way.
Time for a wet run…. The key to success is ‘rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse’ until you and the crew think you are ready for the real thing…
Here we are, the zone where the fish should be and the boat is at trolling speed. Your rod is ready and you aren’t paying too much attention. You’re drinking a drink, you’re eating a sandwich, and you're talking about work. There is one teaser in the water and the mate has control… when suddenly the mate and/or captain are saying/ yelling, “Here he comes, here he comes. Viene! Viene! (Be-any, be-any)” That’s your cue You’re on!
- Take a deep breath and let it out.
- Walk to the rod set up and pick up the rod in one hand and the fly in the other while keeping the rod in a horizontal position. Make sure you secure the line to the rod handle with your index or middle finger. Make sure the line isn’t wrapped around the tip.
- Walk to the very stern corner of the boat with the rod parallel to the water until you are leaning against the stern in the corner…. The casting line will follow you from the bucket and it will be ready for the water load, a one shot cast. No false cast needed…. Make sure you aren’t stepping on the line or standing in a loop of it.
- Toss the fly into the water making sure there is still line on deck, about half of the full cast distance of 30 feet. Keep the rod tip straight out or pointed slightly downward. Do not let all of the loose line pay out into the water.
- Hold the line with your stripping hand so the rest of the line doesn’t go out and focus on the incoming teaser… See the fishy? He’s behind it. It’s the big black thing with the pointy face and the blue neon flashers on its’ sides. As the teaser comes in don’t anticipate … wait until you hear… “Cast! Cast! Cast.”
- Cast straight behind the boat, not at the fish or the teaser. Make an aggressive semi-sidearm back cast haul. Wait until you feel the fly and line load behind you and slam the forward cast so all the line is out of the rod and the fly makes a splash. I prefer to bring the fish as close to the stern as possible and pull the teaser as the cast order is given. I find this technique makes the fish turn as he senses the splash of your cast and the pop of your fly forcing it to approach and hit the fly from an angle. The fish is less likely to get behind the fly and bat it around. A side take is the best chance for a good stick in the corner of the mouth.
- Pop it! Pop it… Pop 1-2-3, pop 1-2-3, pop 1-2-3… now stop the pop. Keep the rod low to the water grab the line at the stripping guide and pull it back…pop. While still holding the line firmly return your popping hand to the stripping guide and pop so the fly doesn’t skip out of the water but just enough to get the fishes attention. .. Do not strip the line in….Pop 1-2-3 get the rhythm… this gives the fly line time to straighten back out and leaves no line on the deck to wrap around feet or the rod butt when the fish grabs it and you set the hook….If the fish even looks in the fly’s general direction take one more pop and let it sit there for a few excruciatingly long seconds. Many an angler has popped just when the fish reaches its’ target.
- Set the hook! Keep the rod low. Don’t anticipate the hit. When you feel the hit make a line set with one hand and bring the rod into it gradually all the while keeping the rod low. If the fish is coming from your left side to the fly, set to the left. If the fish is coming from the right, set to the right. I tell my fishers to set into the fish’s mouth. Once the fish is impaled get your hand away from the reel and let the drag do the work… add a little palm, and I do mean palm, to keep the hook in place until the fish turns and the barb is set… your knuckles and fingers will thank you
- Off to the races! Keep the rod low during the fight. At the hook set if you raise the rod it does a number of things. It changes the angle of the hook and doesn’t allow a straight line set. Raising the rod also puts less rod power into the set because you only end up with a tip set. Not to mention that if the fish really doesn’t have the fly that it will be like doing a back cast right into the out riggers… game over for that one. When the rod is low and the line is screaming out, and the backing is screaming out and you are screaming out, keeping your rod tip low will provide more line drag which helps keep the hook in place.
The fish fights the line drag, the power section of the rod… the butt section… and your arm, hopefully wearing the fish out faster than you.
- Try to keep the fish on the surface. These pointy nosed, Goo-goo eyed, fish-breath devils are opposite reactive when it comes time for the hauling. You pull left and reel up the slack… they want to go right. You pull right then reel up the slack… they want to go left. You pull up… don’t pull up until the fish gets very close to the boat. Think of it in terms of being a down and dirty fight. Your arms will thank you later.
Dry run rehearsal... If possible go through the motions at home… on the front or back lawn or at the park, and if you really want to raise some eyebrows try practice casting while your friends look for their balls on the golf course. Never cast a fly line on gravel or pavement.
Do you have your own boat? Do you know some one with a boat? Any I-can-stand-up-in-it boat will do on either fresh or salt water. Go through the motions described above with a big popper fly and this will help you get used to casting with a water load and with the slow and steady 1-2-3 popping action.
Wet run rehearsals
- Wet run rehearsal is a must… this synchronizes the fisher with the crew. For each rehearsal start with step one… Take it from the top, don’t rush it and breathe.
- Just because you think “This is just a rehearsal.” a fish might not know it and come to the teaser. As soon as a teaser is in the water you are actually fishing. Believe me it has happened often. There we are performing the manditory rehearsals on my boat and here comes a fish for real. Many a time I’ve had to convince the fisher that “This is not a drill!” Dry run rehearsals at home or where ever you chose to do them will help you.
- Check the rod set up frequently to make sure all is the way it should be even if it is your fishing partners turn. The sooner your partner gets hooked up and gets the picture the sooner it’s your turn.
- Pick up the rod in a horizontal position. Check for tip-wrap. Toss the fly out.
- Once the fly is in the water try to find the fish behind the teaser. Don’t stare at your fly. And don’t let the water drag pull the line out of your hand.
- There is nothing subtle about the presentation, make the fly splat the water when you cast straight behind the boat… not at the fish or teaser..
- Stop the pop! I can’t emphasize this enough.. The closer the fish gets to your fly the less it sees your presentation.. The fish took aim. It might be just sauntering up to it before it springs upon it like a cat. You popped… the fish missed it and now it’s behind the fly batting it to kill it before it attacks from the rear…. Not good.
- Pick it up and cast again! There’s the fish mashing your fly with its’ pointy little face and you feel it… your instinct tells you to set. You do and there’s nothing there but a floating fly and a space where the fish used to be. Pick the fly up and cast to the opposite side of the stern from where you’re standing. Make a big… big splat and pop again.
- You’re hooked up! Congratulations the fight is on. Down and dirty is the key and to make the experience as physically painless as possible I recommend for you to practice reeling as fast as you can for as long as you can to make up slack. Put the reel on the rods’ butt section. Hold the rod in a side arm position to either side without any line out of the reel. RREEEEEL like Hell until you can’t reel any more. Switch sides and do it again.
- When the fish gets close to the boat and the mate and or captain tell you to back up. I know you want to lean over and watch as the mate grabs on to the bill but fight the urge. Many a fly rod explodes when the fish is close to the rail because the angler over extends the rod trying to get a good look at the fish. Fear not, as soon as the hook is out you can get a close up view without destroying your rod.
Congratulations, you've just landed a billfish on the fly.... exhale and smile for the photo op. Hope you had as much fun as you thought you would and then some.
See you at the Crocodile dock.
Captain Will Kitsos
What to Bring on Your Fly Fishing Trip
Captain Allan covered the hardware end of it and if you’re bringing your own gear don’t forget the following items because I also maintain that a very important part of your gear is your body.
Your Eyes, don’t forget to bring those.
Polarized sunglasses help you locate the fish when it’s close to the boat. If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it more than twice…
“Where’s the fish? Where… where?”
“Pleeeease, just cast the fly he’s out there, believe me.”
Arms…. You’re going to need those too
Your fighting/pumping arm will take a beating from a fish that just doesn’t seem to want to come to the boat. I recommend doing a modified curl, sort of a side curl. First to one side then to the other with 2- 3 pounds of something, with a grip about the size of a rod grip. Do this every other day until it burns, starting at least 2 weeks before your trip. By doing this simple exercise you will prevent a most embarrassing inevitability, what I call The Rod-hand Switch and Shake-it-off Syndrome.
Your reeling arm needs work too. You will not be reeling the fish in, you will be reeling the line in after you have pumped the fish closer to the boat… hopefully.
Practice reeling as fast as you can, for as long as you can. Practice with your fly reel attached the butt section of your rod, minus the tip section and with no line out of the reel. Hold the rod to one side with the reel handle facing up….reeeeeel like Hell. Then switch sides which will result in your reel being flopped over and let you know just how fast you can reel a reel with no tension on the line in the inverted position..
This will help prepare you for a quick run to the boat by a fish that has 360 degrees to travel after the hook up, 180 degrees of it straight at you. You have to keep that line tight.
Hands and fishing gloves.
They provide better grip on the rod and reel handles and can prevent line cuts and burns caused by screaming fly and backing lines, and mashed fingers caused by your reeling hand slipping from the reel handle as the fish pulls back. Also if you’re ‘palming’ the drag the gloves will help prevent palm blisters during the first few minutes of the fight.
Your back muscles should be loose and flexible; by doing the afore mentioned exercises in a slightly bent forward position you should find out that a massage at the end of the day would be great.
Feet and foot wear
Shoes or strap on sandals with a deck sole help you keep your balance and remain one-with-the-deck while you are repositioning yourself as you fight the fish… you aren’t going to be sitting in a chair and sometimes the deck is wet and there are a few unruly swells to add a bit of a twist to the balancing act.
That’s about the head to toe of it in my humble opinion, so we’ll see you at Crocodile Bay Resort, Costa Rica!
Capt. Will Kitsos
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