The Torrid Confessions of an Amateur Saltwater Angler



So you think you got game with a Fly? I did too. We were both wrong.

I’ve always wondered why football fans prefer big time college football over the NFL. Maybe it’s the Alma Mater connection, the lack of million dollar contracts, or the ever-present team first concept. Trout fishing on a Fly is a lot like college football. It’s as warm and fuzzy as a fall matchup between the Bobcats and the Grizzlies. The sentimental feelings that home trout water brings an angler is what keeps you going back to your favorite river or stream season after season.

There is nothing quite like the early morning smell of a Montana trout stream. A delicious aroma that reminds me of a mix between wild honey and right out of the shower Shaved Trim. That alluring endorphin that connects us to our water and our trout. A Fly Angler’s home water becomes as natural as pushing your face into your main squeeze’s bosom.

Football fan’s that love the NFL over college football would argue they enjoy “The Show” because of the enhanced speed, power and competitive balance that exists between defensive intensity and the high powered offenses in the NFL. Fly fishing in The Salt is a lot like the NFL. The Power, The Speed and The Stealth of Salt Water species on a Fly reminds me of screwing when I was a young man. You know, a lot like the Eagles lyric;

“They had one thing in common: They were good in bed. She’d say. Faster, faster. The lights are turning red. Life in the Fast Lane. Surely make you lose your mind.”

The Salt, has made me “lose my mind”.

There are no warm and fuzzy’s in The Salt. There is either The Thrill of Victory or The Agony of Defeat. Nothing in between. There aren’t any strike indicators, reliable Trout holding water, or #18 nymphs with a Firebead. Nope, The Salt can make a good angler as inept as a guy with a 10” dick who can’t please a woman. Total humiliation. Failure as an angler. Shots at lifetime fish you never get back.    

Though an Angler can be brought to his or her knees by The Salt. That same Angler can also be given a feeling that you cannot understand until you throw a Fly in The Salt. The Salt will never take away your love, need or desire for your home trout water. It will instead teach you that there are some big bad fish out there. Fish that make a two foot Brown Trout seem like an afterthought. Avid fly anglers either choose to engage in this angling fracas or they don’t. An angler doesn’t need to experience The Salt in order to fulfill their fly fishing destiny. An angler needs to experience The Salt because it’s the “The Show”. Kind of like the difference between a sober AC/DC concert or an AC/DC concert that starts out with a doobie and double shot of Vodka. Or the difference between taking your woman to bed with her high heels on as opposed to off. You get the picture.   

The Salt doesn’t change how we feel about Fly Fishing it enhances what we feel. It makes the sport we love even better. Though the locations of where to fish The Salt are as varied and available as cheap Chinese made Fly Reels in our sport. It’s not important where you go and seek this thrill, but rather that you find the angling courage and money to go do it for yourself.  

Just like an angler doesn’t become a competent Streamer angler in their first season, they’re not going to be ready to land 100-pound Tarpon on their first Salt trip either. It takes time. It takes money, and it takes dedication. Sound familiar? It should because it’s the same fucking thing you did to get good at consistently catching Trout. The difference in The Salt is you get to hone your Salty skills in stunning and wild locations that involve endless Salt flats, sky blue water and all the booze and “B” grade weed that an angler can handle.     

Of course, it would be quite Amateurish of the Foul Hooked Whitey not to give proper credit to where proper credit is due. In The Salt, The Guides do everything for us Amateurs. What’s that? “Everything” you say? Yes, everything. Saltwater Fly Fishing Guides are some of the best Guides on the planet. The Salt Guides that I have fished with are versed in exceptional flats boat operation and complex ecosystem navigation skills that make a lot of freshwater guides seem like Thomas the Train conductors.  These “Salty Visionaries” are responsible for spotting fish that are by the way near IMPOSSIBLE to see most of the time. Because you see in the sport of Salt on a Fly, if you don’t see a fish you are not casting your Fly. Saltwater Guides will literally tell Amateurs like me where to cast the Fly, when to strip the Fly, when to “wait” and when to “set” the hook. In a lot of cases you are doing what your Saltwater Guide says without seeing the Fish until you feel the eat and then that magnificent surge of power thereafter. Simply put, Saltwater Guides are Fly Fishing “seeing eye dogs” for Saltwater Amateurs like myself. If Salt Water Guides were sex therapists, a guided day would go something like this;

“OK, now appreciate how fine of ass that is. Let that excitement and desire arouse you to a firm hardness. Now from behind, gently approach her and carefully give her your #8 weight Sage rod. Good job! Now thrust your pelvic region back and forth all while building momentum and friction. There you go. She want it. Fish On”!!! A crude comparison even for the Foul Hooked Whitey but a fair comparison none the less. If you’re going to find the “G Spot” in the sport of Saltwater Fly Fishing you are going to need a quality Saltwater Guide to help you find it.

The Salt isn’t about us Amateurs, or even the world class Salt Guides. The Salt is about the fish species and what they do after a hook set. The power saltwater species provide a Fly angler is as addicting as a weekend spent on Tony Montana’s yacht. Once you experience The Salt’s power you will never forget that feeling. You’ll fade back to those moments spent in The Salt late into your Golden Years like an NFL Linebacker remembering how he use to dominate the line of scrimmage. Even though I’m still an Amateur by all Salt standards, I’ve still had enough moments to know that I want to fish in the NFL.

The number of Saltwater fish species available to catch on a Fly is as vast and diverse as all the shitty fly tying materials available at your local Cabela’s store. Out of the dozens of Saltwater species that will eat a Fly, Fly Fishermen in The Salt prefer a handful of specific species to fish for. Those species include Bonefish, Permit, and of course Tarpon.

Bonefish- The “Rodney Dangerfield” in The Salt according to a lot of freshwater Fly Anglers that don’t know what the fuck they are talking about. You see in the Big Sky Country we have a native fish called a Mountain Whitefish. Though dramatically darker in color compared to a Bonefish, a lot of the worldly folks here in Montana like to call Bones “the Whitefish of the Flats”. That’s like comparing the New England Patriots to the Clemson Tiger football program. From a Saltwater Amateurs perspective, Bones are the best bang for your buck with a Fly in The Salt. Bonefish are some of the toughest Fish to see in The Salt. Bonefish are spookier than a white guy at a Black Lives Matter rally. This Amateur has “blown up” more Bones casting to them than a US Air Force blanket bombing campaign in Iraq. If you don’t drop your “crabby patty” quietly and just right, those damn Bones will scatter like migrant workers at a slaughterhouse during an ICE raid. Oh, yes indeed, Bones are way more challenging than catching a Montana Whitefish on a Red Copper John.

Pursuing “tailing” Bones on the Salt Flats is as hypnotic and sexy as the line on the back of my wife’s thigh high stocking. You have got to be crazy ass quiet when approaching tailing Bones. By quiet I mean in how loud you walk during your approach to Tailing Bones. By quiet I also mean how loud you are during your double haul and false casts prior to your actual drop shot. Bones are so spooky. I had a Bahama’s Guide tell me once how he picks out his Guide pants and shirts based on the fabric they are made of and how loud that fabric is when the wind blows. Let’s just say there isn’t a boom box playing Def Leppard’s Pyromania on a Flat’s Boat.  

The main reason Bonefish are so special is not because of the difficulty in presenting properly to a Bone, but rather because of their sheer power. Regardless as to what size of Bone you get to eat your Fly, Bones are absolutely shocking after they start to run from you. You had better make sure that the kid wearing a Flat Bill cap at your local Fly Shop knows how to tie a quality backing to Fly Line knot. If he doesn’t you can kiss that Fly Line goodbye because whether a Bonefish is 12” long, or 25” long rest assured your backing is going to be used. Let the Foul Hooked Whitey be perfectly clear on this Salt Fly Fishing fact; If you have not caught a Bonefish you simply have no idea how powerful a fish they are on an 8 weight. It’s that intense. From the quiet approach, to the subtle bug drops, to the surge and power after a hook set. Bonefish are the Rocket Ship in the sport of Saltwater Angling on a Fly. You could take the last 10 quality Trout you caught and maybe, just maybe they would equal the intensity of one average sized Bone. I had a good customer tell me once, “I don’t think I would enjoy fishing for Bonefish because they’re just not as pretty as trout”. This customer is not ready for the National Football League.

Permit- Of all the primary Saltwater species with the most vaunted reputation, Permit is the species I understand the least. I write that because before I even went on my first Salt trip I had heard so many different comments and conversations from my customers regarding this very difficult to catch “Tiger Musky of the Sea”. I call Permit the “Tiger Musky of the Sea” because this fish drives some damn savvy Saltwater Anglers out of their fucking minds. I don’t mean Amateurs like myself. I’m talking about affluent anglers that have travelled all over the planet in pursuit of Permit. These Saltwater Anglers are so into the difficulty of a Permit eat that most of the avid Permit Fly Anglers I know can tell you exactly how many Permit they have caught in their career. One Permit enthusiast put it oh so eloquently one day in the shop by saying, “I thoroughly enjoy getting my ass kicked by those fish”. This is the same guy that gets turned on by having a woman step on his nut sack wearing a pair of stiletto heels. Having heard a dozen or so of these Non-Amateur Saltwater Anglers verbalize their unwavering desire to dupe the toughest of the tough to dupe with a Fly, I concluded that this salty bitch just isn’t for me. The Foul Hooked Whitey does not back away from a challenge, but damn throwing line in extremely difficult weather conditions for a fish that won’t eat for a multitude of reasons makes me feel like I am trying harder in this relationship than the “Tiger Musky of the Sea” is.

While fishing in Mexico late last year, I had a good morning landing a couple of nice baby Tarpon. My guide Julio suggested that because of clear skies and nice weather we should go to another area and see if we could get a Permit. I was so jacked from the Tarpon experience, I was excited to try for a Permit. Over the course of about 3 hours I was amazed how Julio put me in front of 30 or so nice sized Permit right off of a beach area with a couple of private piers. Of those groups of Permit, I had several decent shots at these “Tiger Musky’s”, even for an Amateur Saltwater caster like myself. Each time I successfully peeled off a couple of Permit from a chain gang of extremely fast moving Permit, I held out hope that I would get to join that elusive and exclusive “Tiger Musky of the Sea” club. Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be. Though I had a lunge or two at my “crabby patty” I never felt that eat and run.

Just before Julio told me it was time to head back to the Lodge, we had one more shot and low and behold, two Permit followed my Fly until literally all I had left was Leader out of my rod’s tip top. With no line left to strip, these two “Tiger Musky’s” sat there in suspended animation aimlessly hovering a foot or so behind my bug without any attempt to eat my Fly. It was as if they were Nemo and Dory in full on Ellen DeGeneres and Alexander Gould voices saying;

Nemo- “Look at those frick’n idiots”.

Dory- “Yeah and what a shitty crab pattern”.

Nemo- “Should I fake an eat and give that Moron a thrill that isn’t even real”.

Dory- “No. Let the Gomer go home and tell everyone how he almost caught a Permit”.

Nemo- “Fucking Amateur”.

I should have tried a “figure 8”…..

Tarpon- If there is a fish species in The Salt that personifies the challenges and greatness of fishing The Salt on a Fly, it is most certainly a Tarpon. Catching a Tarpon on the Fly is very similar to recklessly driving a dump truck at high speed, or seeing the rock group KISS live from the front row without adult supervision when you were 13 years old. Hooking into a Tarpon is chaotic painful bliss. You ever have a Trout spool you and have the handle on your reel bruise the knuckles on your hand. I didn’t think so. They don’t call them The Silver Kings for nothing. The way a Tarpon WHACKS your Fly, or the explosion of fish and water after you put a hook into a Tarpon are those moments that will play over and over again in your mind. Tarpon eats, hook sets and the battle to the boat are as spectacular and meaningful as a lifetime with the same woman. In other words, catching a Tarpon is life changing to a Fly Angler.

The hypnotic fascination that Tarpon brings to Fly Anglers is rooted in a Tarpon rolling or breaching and exposing their location. One of my favorite Salt Guides calls looking for Tarpon “roll watch”. This Amateur cannot even begin to describe the “angling boner” you get when you see a surface boil created by a Tarpon. Of that surface boil, one side of it contains a Tarpon snout and the other end a Tarpon tail. If you put that Bug on or near that surface boil you are probably going to get a follow and eat. Though Tarpon are no pushover to eat your Fly, they are also not as difficult as the “Tiger Musky of the Sea” either. When you get a Tarpon eat, you had better learn quickly to keep your rod tip down and reset that hook at least two more times before that magnificent fish demonstrates it’s typical out of the water, tailing away from you surface action. Watch the knuckles. Granted it all happens so damn fast. However, if there is one aspect of a Tarpon that experienced Fly Anglers will warn you about it is that Tarpon have a rock-hard mouth. If you don’t get that 2/0 hook into a Tarpon solid, odds of you bringing the Tarpon to the boat is a lot less. Once you get the honor to hold a Silver King, you will be amazed by that incredible mouth, those beautiful eyes and the stunning Tarpon silver scales with their subtle purple hue.         

Though this Amateurs Tarpon experience has been regulated to catching Baby Tarpon only so far, those experiences have driven me to plan and strive to catching a Big Girl someday. One day in the shop, I was complaining to a customer about how difficult it has become for me to thread a #20 Dry Fly because of my age-related worsening eye sight. An industry product representative by the name of Brandon Prince was in my shop on a routine service call. While I spoke to my customer about the many “cheaters” (bifocals) available to Fly Anglers, Brandon kept shaking his head while repeatedly saying, “but you don’t need to worry about that problem anymore”. When I asked Brandon what the hell he was talking about, Brandon deadpan replied “you don’t have a problem tying on a 2/0 hook do you”.   

Brandon was right.

There’s aren’t any size #20 hooks in The Salt.

A College Football National Championship will always be an important part of your life.

A Super Bowl Championship will change your life forever.



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