January 6, 2013

Allen Afield: Mainers gifted with outdoors recreation, world-class outfitter


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.

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