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Maine Fly Fish
Alan

Unfamiliar places and how to fish them (new edit)

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This is just a little help for those who are learning how to fly fish the salt. The topic is not new and I am sure is in the archives out there somewhere. This information is just a rehash of things discussed in the past and may be of benefit to some of our newer members to help cut down on the learning curve. Much of what I have learned is from past and present members of this forum. What I will be talking about is mostly flats fishing, which is where you are most likely to find me. The methods of fishing that I will discuss is what has worked for me and seems to help me to be a more consistent fisherman. Any of the other regular guys that I fish with please add your thoughts. Between all of us we might cut the frustration level way down for our newcomers to the sport.

Disclaimer

I admit to fishing just one type of line 95 percent of the time and that would be an integrated sink tip with an intermediate sink running line. My Buffy or a clouser type pattern is also my number one go to fly. Any and all reference to fishing techniques can be construed to using this line type.

First off.

If you have the time to visit an area where you plan to fish, do so at low tide. Bring a sketch pad so that you can reference what you are looking at with fixed landmarks. These fixed landmarks can be houses, seawalls, islands, points of land, rock piles, stairways, and jetties. The areas that remain flooded at low tide like river channels have important fixed objects in them like mooring balls, red and green channel marker buoys and lobster buoys.

Sketch in the features such as sandbars,cusps, bowls, saddles or any other feature in relation to those fixed landmarks which will be covered once the tide returns. Dotted along all of the aforementioned will be such things as old moorings, abandoned traps, old pilings and any other observed debris is critical so as to not find yourself hooked up on this stuff when the tide returns.

Next

If you are able to stay through the incoming tide until high this may best accomplished for you young married fisher people (men or ladies) by suggesting a picnic. I know a few fisher ladies who are just as passionate about their fishing as the guys :) . A little outing to explore these areas as the tide returns and a nice swim can round out the day.

Watch as the tide moves in and the areas that first flood and how each succeeding area connects from one to the other. Remember one thing. Bait is returning and the Stripers are looking to corner or ambush them. You may notice that the tide could be moving toward the same area but approaching from two different directions. Generally the fish will travel into the deeper area that floods first cornering any of the bait in this area and will be waiting to ambush more bait fish as the flooding takes place from the opposite direction.

In some cases the flooding from both directions could be just about equal and a full scale feeding frenzy will ensue as Stripers from both sides come together. Either way the fish sense this tidal inward flow and will follow this inward flow.

The opposite is true and all of what was just described will pretty much take place in reverse order on the outgoing tide.

In the initial two hours incoming and the last two hours outgoing concentrate your search toward the river channels or open ocean as the case may be in your particular area. The next two hours of the incoming or outgoing tide concentrate your search on the pockets in your sketch that are adjacent to those highest areas like sandbars. In fact if you are able to without being trapped fish these high sandbars do so. Stand back from the edge and cast into the deeper areas and move your fly in towards the shallows of these bars. Try not to wade to deeply into the water toward these deep areas.The temptation is to get as close to the deeper area but resist it. If you go much further than knee deep you are probably going to spook more fish than you would believe. The only exception I can think of is where the slope is so gradual and there is some kind of structure like grass beds or mussel beds then go for it. I guess a good rule would be , sharp deep slope knee deep or less. Gradual slope with structure maybe waist deep at most and advance slowly.

Once the tide has covered everything and may appear featureless consider all that you have sketched. This is the part you will have to learn on your own and is not that difficult. This is my method of learning an area. As the tide flows over, in and around all the structures you sketched out in your first outing you can use this information to kind of have an idea of where the bait will be. When the tide nears full or has ebbed and is in its beginning move out concentrate your search to the shallower higher areas of the flats. You will be truly amazed at the shear amount of large fish and how capable they are at navigating this shallow water. Try standing still and watch around you on all sides. The fish at this point will spook quite easily and making slow deliberate casts are the order of the day. This is sight fishing and can be the most rewarding or the most frustrating depending on how successful or unsuccessful you are. Sunlight is a curse and may keep more fish out of these shallow areas but there is always the exception to the rule. I have been out there on bluebird sky days and just seen the flats teaming with all kinds of fish...go figure.

Current flow

That featureless area you are looking at has current just like a river. The one difference is that at any given time of the tide that current may twist and turn 180 degrees on you. So how do we find that flow? Quite easily I discovered. Make a straight line cast and watch as the line begins to sink. If it continues to sink straight down...no current flow. Moves left or right...we have current. This is a point most folks new to the salt may find baffling and that is why is the ocean to my left, the current is coming from my right? Now refer to your sketch. Remember the areas that flooded first? Consider this and it may make a little more sense. The deeper area may have been away from the ocean or to your right, hence the flow is coming from that direction. Makes sense now?

Now here is the kicker. As the tide gets near full the only current flow may be straight in or none at all.

Fishing

Anyone who fishes with me knows I can't stand still in one spot. My mindset is that the fish are moving all the time. Standing in one spot is like your mother telling you to come to eat and you go to the picnic table in the backyard thinking there is a party and everyone else is inside having dinner at the dining room table. Time to find out why you are the only one at the picnic table. :mellow:

Using what you have learned about where to fish on different times of the tides let's take some of that knowledge and find the fish. Take the example of fishing the first couple of hours incoming and open ocean side of the bay. Not sure of current flow? Try a straight line cast. Current flow from your right. Move as far down the beach to your left and begin casting straight out from the beach. Let your line sink to the bottom with the fly and start your retrieve all the while side stepping to your right. Your line probably has a nice arc in it...that's good. The fly as it is being retrieved is traveling down stream and away from you for half the retrieve. The final part of the retrieve finds the fly nearly straight downstream. Finish the retrieve.This is no different than streamer or wet fly fishing in a river. No fish? Straight line cast once again away perpendicular to the beach retrieve and side step back to your right again. Continue doing this until you hook up. Your chances are greatly improved using this method. Try it. I use this method on all times of tide even if there is no flow. Just keep moving.

I hope this helps and you find as much enjoyment as all of us who fish the salt on a regular basis.

Tight lines

 

Since this original post one recurring thought keeps popping into my head and that is the safety aspect of fishing these areas.  I have been witness to a few close calls over the years.  

Last week I saw a couple of older gentlemen (two brothers) get themselves into a situation that only resulted in a soaking, with the drowning of a cellphone and a set of car keys.  What happened to them had little to do with their age since I have witnessed this happening over and over again to men, women and children of all ages.  In the case of these two gents it was a short walk to the beach but they were both wet and cold.  Remember that hypothermia can happen even in warm weather. The extra long walk back to the car can be a miserable experience and adds to the discomfort.  

(For those of us who have been on this forum for sometime, remember the loss of a young man, Joey Carpenter.  He was a younger man and sadly he drowned at Hills Beach in Biddeford.  A year or so ago a couple of gentlemen at the same beach were trying to wade back from a sandbar and one fellow was said to have panicked when he waded into an area that was already flooded. He died from a heart attack. )

We all love to fish but for goodness sakes please don't let the start of a great time end in tragedy!  

I digress.  

In the case of the two brothers this is what happened.

The one brother who lives in the area was familiar with the place they were fishing.  The other brother visiting from away relied on him for his knowledge of the  place they decided to fish. It was a sandbar just a short wade off the beach at low tide. The experienced one had not fished the area in a number of years and had not pre scouted the area beforehand.  He was relying on his memory of the area from previous years and unbeknown to him things had changed.  The area that he waded out at a number of years ago would have been a fine exit point in the same place at that time.  

This is what changed over the years to that same spot where they had decided to wade out at.   The river had been dredged and the tidal flow over that sandbar they had decided to fish on was now about three or four feet lower in elevation due to winter storms. The area toward the beach which had been a sandy bottom that extended almost to the beach from the sandbar now was eroded out and was a deep hard bottom.  As the tide moved back in over the bar those recollections from the past of the short easy wade back to the beach with the same amount of the sandbar showing was now became  a big surprise.  They were almost immediately at the top of their waders and a few more steps over the top. I was way down the beach frantically waving to get their attention to turn around.  They did not see me and decided to make a run for it and continue to the beach.  After all this was the shortest route. When I did catch up with them I told them if they had walked further down the bar even though it was angled away from the beach and a very long walk they could have waded off in thigh deep water.  

This is what I suggest.  

Read my original post and consider the areas that remain covered with water at low tide and lock those areas into your memory bank.  If there is standing water at dead low then it stands to reason they will be the first areas to deep to wade  when the tide rolls back in.  Unfortunately these areas are most likely positioned in a way to be the shortest distance wise when viewed by you out on the sand flats to the beach.  When we panic our reasoning skills go out the window and the only thought is, this is closer.

Now consider the areas that first uncovered on the dropping tide.  In many cases those areas from the flats or sandbar you decided to fish from may be a further walk to initially when going to or leaving but is definitely the safer alternative route. 

Pick a fixed object of something really visible and its relation to the tide height around it.   A float for instance that is moored permanently in place and perhaps ends up with part of itself on the shore as the tide drops.    When you find that place that is easily wadeable out to your fishing spot mark the spot on shore with another fixed easily recognizeable object.  Now check out that float.  How much of it is now out of the water? Remember the amount that is aground. That is the minimum tide height you can safely wade back to shore when the tide returns.  Also consider how long it is going to take you to walk back to that exit point and factor that in as well. 

Perhaps my worrying nature will help someone with less experience be a little more cautious.

Be safe everyone and have a great time!

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wow Alan....pretty sure i'm printing this out and putting it in my wallet... :P thanks for taking the time and helping to spell out the mystery a bit....can't wait to get back out there!!

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Couldn't be said any better.Of course this guy fishes 10 hour shifts!,Its also reported the fish come when he enters the water!He's the master Jedi

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Awesome tutorial Alan. :)

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Thank you Alan for taking the time to share this and for continuing to teach... I used these tactics on Wednesday morning to baffle (maybe frustrate) two different parties in watercraft who were "sharing' the flat with me. Using the term sharing quite loosely here but that is a different tutorial (and story) altogether. This stuff works guys.

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Thanks for the Kudos guys.

If some of you guys who fish the ledges or the estuaries would like to add your thoughts I am sure the younger more nimble folks would appreciate the help. In fact you old salts who used to regularly fish that type of environ should still offer some suggestions. Fish don't change their behavior like we humans :) .

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Very nice Alan.

Agree with Max - Weatherbie - add this to the stickies.

! step further, Mal has also added lots of tutorials over the years. Perhaps a "tutorial" stickie?

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Thanks Alan! Maybe this year I will actually get around to trying out the salt...

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Thanks Alan! Awesome post. Maybe this will be the year for me. My wife especially loves the picnic part.

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Thanks for this Alan. I've picked up pieces of this from you over the past few years, but it's great to have it all in one place. Those of us who are still on the learning curve are fortunate to have folks like you, Mal and other "old salts" who are so generous with their knowledge.

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Alan..... Just when I think that you are one of the nicest guys in the world... at least the fishing world (maybe you steal lunch money from puppies).... you go and do something like this ! Wan Thai Foo !!!

You have raised the bar of paying-it-forward for us mere mortals !!! You are a good man !!!

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Excellent post! Great information that will save a bunch of wasted time. Something I will definitely use while exploring outside of my comfort zone.

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I couldn't be happier by reading this, thank you!

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I could make many comments to this post but I will say this to...

"Try not to wade to deeply into the water toward these deep areas.The temptation is to get as close to the deeper area but resist it."

Spot on, I can't tell you how many times I've had fisherman, spin and fly wade out and cut off fish cruising the shore line coming to me and push the fish into deeper water... only if they knew.

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Thanks, getting information like this is invaluable to a newbie like me? Been wanting to try the salt for years now. Now I just need to find some places to put this in practice. Again, many thanks!

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I just read this topic Alan posted back in 2013. I have been fishing/learning with Alan over the past couple of weeks and he still teaches and uses this method of fishing. He has made me a believer ! Thanks Alan.

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