Alberta Outdoors: Salt water casting
by Bob Scammell
Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Whether caused by global warming or galloping affluence, Alberta’s fly fishermen are becoming increasingly anadromous: after a summer in fresh water, schools of them are drawn down to the salt water.

As a known addict myself, I start getting inquiries about salt water fly fishing just after November 30th when most hunting seasons end. Many readers ask about destinations; other anglers are already hooked, booked somewhere and just want tips, hints and help.

My own experience and the feedback of other anglers, leave my long-held opinion unshaken that Belize is the best destination for the beginning salt water fly fisherman. There are many reasons, but two of the most important are the wide variety of salt water quarry available in Belize – featuring fly fishing’s “big three,” bonefish, permit and tarpon – and that English is the official language of Belize. The many excellent Belizean guides may speak Spanish among themselves, but to you, in English, they will be more articulate and understandable than most Canadian high school graduates.

I would return to Belize any time I had the money saved, and also Cuba, which has become the destination of choice of many Calgary salt water fly anglers. The Bahamas are a distant dream, because the trip, so far, seems much more expensive than either Belize or Cuba.

At least three Calgary fly shops organize and book trips to Cuba. A reader recently informed me that his forthcoming trip to Las Jardines de la Reina, off the south coast of Cuba, booked through Mike Gifford and his Country Pleasures store, costs $4200 US, plus $900 Can. for the flight.

That is the superb trip I took two years ago on which, among the amazing things I learned, was that when the Italian outfitter, Avalons, was starting their Jardines mother-ship operation, they brought in the legendary Lefty Kreh to train their guides from scratch. That explained why I had been noticing what superb fly casters the Avalons guides were and how they seemed to enjoy it so much that they would hold casting tournaments among themselves in their time off. The guides in Belize were also smooth, powerful, quick casters.

When I returned from Cuba I asked Lefty Kreh why the “native” salt water guides were such superb casters. Here’s what Lefty, who had just had his 80th birthday, replied from Maryland: “What you said about everywhere you go and see natives casting and they can make one back-cast and haul and fire the entire line….There is good reason for this. They are doing what is instinctive. (Lefty’s emphasis.) Almost all our fly fishermen are taught the 9 to 1 o’clock method developed centuries ago in England. The method I use is what the natives use and very slowly it is being accepted in countries where there are no books and videos that teach you to cast the English method….”

Salt water casting is different from most fresh water fly casting. Generally in the salt, you are sight-fishing to fast-moving quarry, so you must be able to deliver the fly quickly, with one back cast to varying distances and usually in winds of variable intensity blowing from all points on the angler’s casting “clock.”

I advise beginning salt water anglers to tweak their casting technique, at least half-master the double-haul, before they go. Where you go to do that is not particularly simple. Gord Kennedy of Calgary’s Westwinds Fly Shop, who books trips and takes anglers to Cuba, says “I have been teaching anyone who has purchased salt gear from us. I am willing to help anyone who needs it. Graham Anderson is also available to help me out.”

Jim and Lynda McLennan of Okotoks operate Private Fly Casting Improvement Clinics: $100 plus GST for one person, or $60 plus GST per person for groups of from two to eight anglers.

Certainly I’ll take some kind of refresher course in casting before my next salt water trip, which will probably be back to Cuba. The other personal pre-requisite, I have decided, is a major brush-up of my spoken Spanish. Very few of the Cuban guides I encountered spoke much English. As a default position, anyone going to Cuba should at least study and take with them the booklet, “Spanish for Anglers,” which Gord Kennedy will be able to supply when his current renovations are complete and his inventory is out of storage.

The only linguistic surprise my skiffmate, Grant Hopkins of Ottawa and I got from our guide, Benba, was when we were grousing and griping about the big bonefish we were scaring off by casting behind, instead of ahead of them in the cramped quarters of a mangrove “river.”

From up on his poling platform Benba clearly enunciated this wisdom: “Head is at other end from tail.”