Getting the Job Done

Craig Rist benefits from a heavier rod on the flats

Ahot 30 knot wind was blowing straight into my face as I stood on the bow of a skiff in the Florida Keys, hoping to get one more shot at a permit, the holy grail in the eyes of so many saltwater fly fishers. I had spent the last three days persevering with my 9-weight, which I love, but I was just not getting the bulky crab quickly enough to where it had to land, within sight of a permit, let alone getting a bite from one of these super sensitive fish. Today was my last chance, so something had to change. I ditched my 9-weight rod and through pure desperation I changed the leader on my 12-weight tarpon rod and tied on the crab fly. Several hours went by looking over the seemingly endless flats which appeared to be devoid of life. My strained concentration was broken by a flash and then sudden materialisation of a permit, head down, 60 feet out. I dropped the fly and began the cast. As soon as the rod loaded up I found myself in complete control of the delivery. I quickly lengthened line into the wind and sent the crab plunging into the water, half a metre in front of the fish. The permit hadn’t seen it so I gave the fly a slow strip to get its attention. It immediately lifted its head, took one look at the poling skiff and made off across the flats as though I’d just thrown a brick at it. ALL WRONG No fairytale ending on this trip, but it was as though someone had just thrown a bucket of iced water over me. My thinking on rod choice had been all wrong for so many years. My mistake had been to choose a rod weight to suit the size and fight of the fish. This has no doubt come from my trout fishing past, where a dry fly has little effect on the cast. I now realise that it’s far more important to be able to consistently get the fly to where it has to be, to get the job done. I once asked Dave Bradley what size rod he would recommend for permit fishing in Australia. Without hesitation he said a 10-weight, due to the wind and the heavy crab flies that are used. At the time I was trying to buy a rod that could cover a wide range of fish — note I said fish, not flies — so I compromised with a 9-weight, thinking I could do it all with one rod. How wrong I was. Returning from Florida, I immediately purchased an 11-weight Meridian. I was totally converted to this theory and I was going to make doubly sure this time by going two sizes up. The decision to go with an 11-weight for permit was reinforced further after reading an article on Del Brown — of US permit fame. He had used 10-weight rods with 11-weight lines for years to get the job done. All I can say is, we live and learn in this game. Casting a 10- or 11-weight fly rod that was built in 2017 is nothing like the earlier heavy broomsticks that were available 10 or 15 years ago. The latest rods are light and powerful and a joy to cast. When matched with a lightweight reel they can be cast all day, with ease. Hinchinbrook Permit The quest for another Aussie permit is always on my list when travelling north to the tropical flats they inhabit. I had hooked up with my old mate Roly Newton for a mixture of jungle rivers and flats fishing. Roly knew my soft spot for permit and we soon found ourselves searching the flats. The 11-weight line took charge of the heavy crab and I was casting it with confidence. Over the next two days we both had at least one or two shots at permit coming off the flats on an out-going tide, but with no interest at all. On the third day Roly had a couple of good follows and I thought it was going to happen for him, but permit being permit, they both turned off. The day was getting late and the tide had already turned to go out. The wind was blowing hard with two-foot waves pushing onto the flats from the channel. We were drifting down wind when a school of permit suddenly appeared as they made their way off the flats to the channel. I was already standing on the bow so Roly quickly powered up the electric outboard to give chase into the wind and waves as they passed 80 feet off the port side at 10 o’clock. We were losing ground on them, so it was now or never for me. I punched out a cast into and across the wind. My crab landed two metres ahead of the school and sank to the bottom unnoticed. The school had already started to turn towards the channel away from my fly. I had to fish it out, so I slowly gave the crab a long slow strip as the school of up to ten fish passed by. As each fish passed the fly without reacting, my optimism dropped away with them. Then without warning the second last fish broke away from the school and started swimming over to my fly. I paused and then gave another long slow strip. To my amazement the line started to draw tight, and I immediately started to strip faster to set the hook. I was finally connected. I couldn’t believe my luck. A solid and intense fight followed until Roly could finally slide the net under this beautiful fish. I knew then that there was no way I would have pulled off that cast with my 9-weight, or possibly even a 10-weight. What a way to end the last day and to reconfirm my decision to go up in rod weight. Blue Bastards Big heavy 2/0 crabs are not only good for permit but for blue bastards as well. Getting a crab fly onto the bottom and holding it there during the presentation can be more important than the actual appearance of the fly. A floating line with a clear intermediate sink-tip connected to a long fluorocarbon leader also helps. On a recent trip to the Whitsundays I was doing a solo explorative trip in search of golden trevally and permit. It was day one and I had just put the electric down to sneak into a shallow mangrove-lined bay. A hard rocky bottom out wide gave way to a soft muddy bottom covered in sparse weed growth. There was a light breeze blowing and the water was clear, perfect for sight fishing with the blue sky overhead. With my 11-weight in one hand and the remote control for the electric in the other, I slowly made my way over the soft bottom in three feet of water. At the very limit of my vision, 60 feet out, I spotted a bluish grey shape moving over the shallows towards me. Instinctively I made the cast, leading the fish with the crab. By now its identity was no mystery as it swam along looking for something to eat. I had caught blue bastards before, using a slow constant retrieve with a crab on the bottom, so I tucked the rod under my arm and ever so slowly used a double hand retrieve to walk the crab away from this fish. The bastard followed closely for a few feet before inhaling the fly, and I gave two long fast strips with both hands to set the hook into that rubbery mouth. Hitting the anchor lock on the remote to hold the boat in the wind and not spoil the rest of the flat, I stepped down from the platform to enjoy the fight and the moment of success. Soon my unexpected prize was in hand and back into the water. Continuing along the mangroves, I spotted more blue bastards, both brown and blue in colour. The wind dropped out so I lengthened the leader to give the crab more distance from the fly line and to soften the presentation a little. The same technique worked on these fish as well and I spent the next couple of hours presenting heavy crabs to them with confidence. Southern Flats Saltwater flats fishing does exist in Tasmania and the star of the flats is the black bream. These fish are a formidable challenge and when you get a shot at some really big fish you need to make it count, as chances don’t come around that often. I like to use leaders that are at least 14 feet long. The flies are usually small Clousers when prawns are around, but even these can be a struggle to cast on a 6-weight into the wind. Just like fishing for permit, when you get an opportunity you need to get the fly to where it has to be, quickly. So these days I have found a new use for my 9-weight fly rod, on these southern flats. Again I can’t get over how much easier it is to stand on the bow and put the fly where it needs to be. My first southern flats trip with the 9-weight was in April. At this time of year opportunities to find fish on the flats are limited and I knew if I got a chance at a big bream it had to count. The tide had already started to push up through the channels and onto the flats. Small silver trevally spooked off the boat as did the occasional small flathead. None of these were worthy of making a cast, or taking my eyes off the game at hand. The day wasn’t looking good, and I was about to release the fly to make a cast at a much larger silver trevally when two big bream came into view. They were busy feeding, nose-down into the current, oblivious to the boat, for a few seconds anyway. I made two false casts to drop the fly ahead of them. The gold and black fly stood out over the sand and I could see it clearly as the tide took hold of it. As the fly neared the lead fish I began stripping it past, using a series of quick start-stop retrieves to mimic a fleeing prawn. The big bream had its blue lips around the fly in a flash and the line came up tight. Any loose line in the stripping basket had gone in seconds as the reel spun under a light, preset drag. Several metres of backing shot out through the rod guides before the fish finally turned. I fought the fish smoothly back against the tide towards the boat and after a few more stubborn runs it finally gave up and was led into the net. I had no need to measure it, content in just having landed a black bream of this size. No other bream were seen on the flats that day, and with the score one for one I went home happy, having made the most of the only shot I had.

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