You gotta love L.L. Bean.
This past Christmas afternoon, I visited the Freeport store to buy the finishing gifts for a late holiday celebration three days later and found many discounted items, including a collection of 40 Northeastern saltwater flies in an unbreakable fly box. This proved a perfect gift for my oldest daughter, Heather, who fishes in the Atlantic off Long Island in New York.
That purchase started me thinking about winter being the perfect time to gather flies for the warmer seasons or for winter trips south. We have more time to poke around in the offseason to find fly discounts.
Heather fishes for any saltwater fish that bites, but she has a penchant for striped bass and bluefish, and the fly collection leaned in that direction, including Lefty’s Deceivers, Surf Candies, Clouser Minnows, Chain-bead-eye Streamers, Poppers and so forth, with lots of bright-green-with-white or red-with-white wings, great colors for stripers and blues, particularly bright green and white. The Deceivers weren’t the size of Bunker flies, but they were big, all right, as were the Surf Candies, and the Clousers ran a large gamut of sizes — small to quite large.
The box cost $89 plus taxes, nearly half the price for which the Bean fly shop originally sold it. I went away a happy man, knowing my daughter had a grand collection for tackling saltwater critters come spring.
Clouser Minnows made up nearly half the collection, underscoring a trend in modern fly fishing — weighted flies. When fish lie on bottom and don’t look up, fly rodders must bottom-dredge or go fish-less. We’ve all learned that truth by doing exactly that, going fish-less one too many times.
Competent casters have no trouble casting weighted flies, and the secret is waiting a tad longer for the back cast to straighten behind us. Trying to throw a fly with a back cast that hasn’t unfurled yet can result in driving a hook into our back or head.
Many of us travel south in winter for salty fishing in places like the Florida Keys, and the rest of the time we may sit home and tie flies while dreaming of spring. On snowy afternoons, we should make sure to construct plenty of weighted flies that can get to the bottom fast.
Whether we fish in salt or fresh, bottom-dredging relies on two tips:
• Use a shooting head and cast as far as possible to cover the most water on each presentation. Because the caster must wait for the line to sink, it makes sense to blast the line out there big distances.
• After each cast, let out plenty of loose line so the cast line sinks in an L-shape rather than diagonally. As the loose line sinks straight down from the rod tip toward the bottom, the cast line sinks parallel to the bottom, making that L-shape. That trick keeps the retrieved fly parallel to the bottom longer.
I love fishing deep around salty structure. That thought keeps winter dreams going, as we imagine hooking big fish under blue skies with a salty breeze blowing in our face.
In Maine, it’s good to fish for stripers and blues a lot in summer, great practice for winter trips south. Anyone can cast a 4- or 5-weight rod in freshwater for trout and salmon, but an 8- to 10-weight or particularly a 12-weight requires lots of casting on the water to develop timing and skills to throw a good line and then work a fly properly. Summer stripers and blues in Maine help fly rodders bone up for tarpon, bonefish, permit and shallow-water sharks like blacktips or lemons.
When I was buying that box of saltwater flies on Christmas, I was thinking of all this, as well as Heather fly-fishing for Long Island stripers and blues, and maybe bonito and false albacore. She’s even fished for tilefish, and if you’re uncertain what this fish is, don’t feel alone. We don’t hear much on tilefish in Maine — good eats but bad fighters.
Heather loves to fly-fish, but in her youth, team sports like basketball and field hockey interfered with that pastime, as they did with her younger sister, Katelyn. I took them fly fishing for trout and salmon as often as possible to plant the seed, and now Heather has taken a shine to fishing.
Meanwhile, Katelyn talks about fly fishing for trout but has evolved into an adult bicyclist, so I gave her an L.L. Bean touring bicycle two summers ago. We pedal roads with breakdown lanes and have lot of fun on warm, sunny days. I don’t get her out on cold, early spring outings for fear of discouraging her, but that phase will come later.
I slowly bought or gave her items to make the sport more enjoyable, and that’s the way folks get into a hobby like bicycling — just a little push.
This was an extension of Katelyn’s childhood bicycling jaunts that has grown into an adult phase that I hope lasts through her life. Like with all of us, life interferes, but we keep at it and grab time when we can.
Yes, we sit around in winter and dream of warmer seasons and fun times that require a little commitment to become good at a sport, and other folks get into a winter pastime like skiing, ice-fishing or snowmobiling. That’s the beauty of Maine. We never want for an outdoors hobby.
Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at: