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What Casts/Techniques Should You Know?

by Captain Jim Barr on 09/14/16

This short article is addressed to the fly angler who has a good grasp of the basics of fly casting but who aspires to get better. What follows are a lit of casts and techniques that I instruct in my Advanced fly casting lessons. Most apply to fresh and saltwater environments but typically are used more frequently when fishing in saltwater where we typically need to achieve greater distances and with faster presentations, and are less concerned with the need for accuracy (i.e. dropping a dry fly on a rising trout's nose). None of them are difficult to learn and typically most can be picked up in a couple of two hour lessons. If interested and you are in the southern New England area, please contact me for private casting lessons.

  1. Saltwater Quick Cast- typically used by an angler on a flats or bay boat who needs to make an accurate and fast cast to moving fish in relatively calm water. This cast is imperative to know when fishing for Bonefish, Tarpon and Permit, and for Bonito and False Albacore in New England waters.
  2. Single Haul- this is "one-half" of a double haul. It is designed to help speed-up a number of types of casts and to quickly achieve higher line speed and distance.
  3. Double Haul- used to achieve higher line speed, greater distance and with less false casting. This cast and the Single Haul are imperative for anglers fishing in windy conditions and who may be casting large air resistant fly patterns.
  4. Off Shoulder Cast- this cast is helpful to the angler who has wind blowing against their casting arm/shoulder where the fly line passes perilously close to the angler on both the forward and back casts, and when the angler needs to present a fly when a traditional back cast cannot be made due to wind or obstructions.
  5. Roll Cast- typically used to cast the line when there is no room to make a traditional back cast due to obstructions such as bushes, trees, a boat's center console, another angler on the boat etc. This can be combined with the Off Shoulder casting technique. The Roll Cast can also be used very effectively to quickly reposition line and to assist in stages of repositioning a sinking line closer to the water's surface in preparation for a cast.
  6. Single Water Haul- using the surface tension of the water to load the rod in preparation for the backcast to achieve additional distance.
  7. Double Water Haul- using the surface tension of the water to load the rod on both the forward and back cast as a setup to a high overhead forward cast.
  8. Long-Line pickup- a casting technique used to pick up very long lengths of fly line in preparation for a forward cast.
  9. Casting with the Wind at your Back- a variety of techniques to take advantage of wind blowing from behind the angler to achieve significant increases in casting distance.
  10. Casting into the Wind- techniques to help the caster achieve higher line speed and presentation angles to be able to mitigate the distance shortening effects of wind.
  11. Belgian Cast- a wind casting technique that utilizes an oval shaped path of the fly rod starting with a low casting plane for the back cast and coupled with an "angled-up" forward cast in order to take advantage of wind at the casters back.
  12. Change of Direction Cast- a casting technique that allows the angler to make a quick change in direction after a cast has been initiated.
  13. Extra High Back Cast - a casting technique designed to get the fly and line above an obstruction to the rear of the caster or to insert the back cast into an opening behind the caster (such as a space between trees) to allow for a longer forward cast.
  14. Barnegat Bay Cast- a backhand fly casting technique that allows the angler to present a low angle (plane) cast in windy conditions and/or to keep the fly line on the forward and back hand casts outside the interior of the boat.
  15. Dapping- a simple way of presenting the fly at very short ranges using a "high-stick" approach.
Other Techniques:
  1. False Casting uses
  2. Why we overline a rod and by how much       
  3. Casting heavy lines
  4. Slipping line
  5. Casting Shooting Heads
  6. Controlling long line with coils
  7. Controlling line on the Shoot
  8. Open v Closed Stance
  9. "Fishing the Hang"

Musings... and a Trade Secret for the May/June Worm Hatch

by Captain Jim Barr on 09/14/16

It was an early May in the late afternoon, probably twenty years ago when I first started fly fishing the Rhode Island Cinder Worm emergence. I didn't guide then, and for most of my saltwater fly fishing I wade fished, rather than fishing from a boat. One of my favorite spots was Ninigret Pond in Charlestown, RI. I still fish in Ninigret, but now it's 100% from a boat and most of the time I'm guiding. The Grassy Point area of the pond is easily accessible by car combined with a short walk to one of the better coves in the eastern end of the pond. In those days the drill was to get to the pond no later than 3:30pm basically any day from about the end of the first week in May to about mid June. You can still fish the worm hatch from this location but as you near the end of May, the worm "hatches" as we call them, mostly happen at some distance from the Grassy Point area- that's pretty much still the case.
Capt Jim Barr Hickory Hills 1963
1964- Lunenburg, MA
  I'll digress a bit... I often fished solo then and even today when not guiding I still enjoy going alone, I don't know why, it's not that I'm anti-social, far from it actually, but it's just something in the genes that drives me to seek privacy when I fish. As a kid I would often fish alone, sometimes not returning home in my rowboat until way past dark on Hickory Hills lake where we lived... I would always be worrying my parents when I wasn't back by dark, and be reminded of that too frequently. No such thing as calling in from a cell phone to advise that all was well and that I was making my way back.
Anyway back to Ninigret Pond thirty-two years later. The worm hatch is very much a top water game. I still refer to it as the closest thing a fly angler can get to dry fly fishing in salt water. In 1994 the worm hatch was far less popular than it is these days. You pretty much knew most of the anglers you encountered there, most were from Rhode Island. Many of us were good friends who had migrated part time from fly fishing in freshwater for stocked trout. We still loved wading fresh moving water, but there was this allure of catching much stronger fish, ocean fish, using our heavier weight fly rods. Some of us had 8-weights because we used them for fishing for largemouth bass, some even had 9's for those who journeyed north to fish New York's Salmon River for steelhead or and to New Brunswick to fish the Miramichi for atlantic salmon.
The patterns we used to fish for stripers in Ninigret Pond during the worm hatch were pretty much home-developed and for the most part, untested. Most of us were freshwater fly tyers, fairly creative, and in some cases, very talented. We could with ease replicate what we thought to be reasonable facsimiles of the cinder worms we saw swimming in the pond. One day I stumbled across a cinder worm pattern at the Fin and Feather flyshop in East Greenwich, RI, a shop owned by a couple of good friends. "The Fin", as we called it, was a place where many of us would stop by on a Sunday morning, shoot the bull, sip coffee, watch an 8-track fishing video on the TV above the fireplace, and to catch up with one another on our fishing successes, what was hatching and where, and to learn the latest about each other's family and careers. It was a very warm and genuine place where no one was an expert and people were a hell of a lot less bossy and disrespectful than today. I miss that place and those days.
The real deal

   This is becoming a ramble, sorry. Let me get back to the point of the article which is to offer a tip on fly fishing the Rhode Island Cinder Worm hatch. One particular day at The Fin, I found a pattern in their fly bin, the Page Rogers Cinder Worm. It was a very odd looking thing, bright red in color, tied with what looked like a decorative velvet tubing that you'd see on a couch cushion or stuffed chair. It was mounted on a 1/0 stainless hook and had a dark head made from either black or dark green chenille or maybe it was iridescent peacock herl. I had never heard of Page Rogers but after I bought a few of these baubles, I looked her up and a year later actually arranged her to present at the United Fly Tyers of Rhode Island, a fly tying club I started with a couple of friends, a club that was authorized by the original United Fly Tyers of Boston. Anyway, I added these weird looking flies to my saltwater box and used them one particular night fishing the worm hatch in Ninigret Pond.
Page Rogers Cinder Worm

   I was fishing alone that night. Bass were really chowing down on a solid worm hatch that was unfolding right in front of me. They were slurping on the pinkish/tan colored naturals. I was trying what seemed like every pattern in my meager collection, attempting first to catch fish on my flies...without a heck of a lot of success even though, TO ME, my patterns looked remarkably like the real deal.
A hundred yards to my left, down the beach at Grassy Point were two fly anglers who were absolutely slaying the bass, one after another, hooting-hollering-laughing. I was jealous, perhaps a bit insulted, and nearly at my wits end. Then I remembered the Page Rogers pattern made from that bright red couch piping. What the hey, I tied it on, and in short order caught a bass, and another, then another- maybe fifteen minutes between each take. But those guys just down the beach from me, were hooking up on every other cast. WTF were they using?
In those days we often fished into the night, wanting to eek out that last take before reeling up and making the fifteen minute trek back to the car, to get out of Ninigret Park before the 9:30pm curfew, when the park ranger locked the gate. It was time to go. The anglers to my left were ahead of me by a few minutes so I had to hurry to catch up with them to try and find out what pattern they had been using.  I had to know. In short order and panting from being out of breath, I caught up with them and with my tail tucked firmly between my legs, begged to learn their pattern. I was sweaty, out of breath, and desperate. They were well groomed, cool, and somewhat pompous donning their Orvis wear. I must have looked pathetic, but I didn't care. I was just short of going to my knees to implore them to give up there secret fly. They were "Connecticut shrewd", probably corporate insurance geeks (like me). They first asked to see what I had been using- I gladly showed them my bright red Page Rogers couch fly, a small and humble price to pay for the key to their Holy Grail. They snickered to one another, pulled from their flybox a fresh Page Rogers couch fly... in TAN!
   Another (inaudible) WTF! on my part...  One of them smiled and in what I perceived as somewhat of a descending manner, told me they start out with the same red version, but dip it in a solution of Chlorox bleach and water morfing the worm into something ranging from pink to tan. The longer the fly remained in the chemical bath, the more tan it became.
That was It!... a mere subtle color variation!...everything else the same. Bright red vs. bleached to pink and tan, the difference between world class catching and my struggle.
Since then, my go-to pattern for fishing the cinder worm hatch is the "Page Rogers Bleached". For me, it outfishes by a clear margin every other pattern I have experimented with in the twenty plus years of fishing the cinder worm emergence.  Whodathunkit?
Water, hooks, peacock herl, thread, Goop, and Chlorox bleach are all easy to find... bright red velvet tubing is not. On scrap furniture collection day in Newport and when local colleges let out for the summer and students trash their dorms and apartments of beat up furniture, I can be found cruising city blocks and campuses scouting for bright red couches with velvet tubing trim. There's a method to this madness.
2014- Charlestown, RI
The following YouTube video takes you through the tying process of my version of the Page Rogers Cinder Worm fly. I start out with bright orange velvet tubing for this pattern. It's best to first bleach a length of the tubing (assuming you can find it) before you tie the pattern. The original bright red fly can still be found if you look hard. My recommendation is if you do find them, strip off the head material, then bleach the fly, then retie the head so it's dark, close to the coloring of the real worm. Alternatively, if you bleach the fly with the dark head, you will have to use a black or dark green Sharpie to recolor it appropriately.
Wine not Cinder Worm
Good luck!

Good Lord!, where did you learn to fly cast?

by Captain Jim Barr on 09/14/16

I give a lot of private and some group fly casting lessons, and before we begin each lesson I go through a process of casting the student's fly rod and line combination if they have brought their own equipment. Half the time the combination is horrible- totally wrong, 25% of the time the combination is "just OK" with the balance being "pretty good", but most of the time none that perfectly matched. So where do these abysmal decisions as to line/rod combinations come from? I suppose some come from people who buy their combinations "on-line" through an internet store, some combinations are purchased at big box stores and from a sales person who is not qualified to provide good advice on fly fishing equipment, and some come from fishing shops who should know better on how to counsel the customer but who don't either carry an adequate inventory to provide a diverse selection, or who lack the casting expertise to provide good advice,  and/or worse yet- who are motivated more with profit pushing with products with the highest margins.  In almost every case, the customer does not have the benefit of knowledgeable advice that creates a solid value proposition.

My recommendations are straight forward:
  • If you are just starting with fly fishing, ie. you've never gone before, and you don't know where to start, get to an IFFF Certified Fly Casting Instructor for a few lessons. Don't even think about buying your own equipment before your lessons. Thank your friends for offering their help, but find a professional. Every good instructor I know has a quiver of fly rods and line setups they can bring to a lesson for the student to play and experiment with. I would much rather go to car dealer who carries ten different makes and models than to go to the Henry Ford dealer, where you can have any car you want as long as it's a black Ford.
  • If you have been fly fishing for some time but you're struggling with your ability to consistently cast 40 feet with accuracy, get professional lessons, and in that process your instructor can test your fly rod/line combination. It may be that you fall into that 50% category where the majority of your problems come from mismatched equipment. A good instructor will also immediately recognize poor casting form and start to put you on the path to improvement. Many instructors will take video of your casting technique and provide you with not only immediate video feedback, but assemble a short series of videos they will provide you illustrating before and after techniques, and to reinforce advice provided the day of your lesson.
  • If you know how to fly cast reasonably well and are in the market for a new rod or fly line, buy that equipment from a seller who is knowledgeable and who will allow you to thoroughly test several rods and lines so that you are making a tested and well informed decision. Buying fly rod and line combinations must be a much more cautious process than selecting surf, spinning or conventional casting rod and line combinations.
Where do you go for good advice and qualified instruction, my recommendation is find a Certified Fly Casting Instructor associated with the International Federation of Fly Fishers based in Livingston, Montana. ( Take a tour of their website first to become familiar with the organization, but hone in on the "Casting" page and specifically in the drop down box, "Find a Certified Instructor"... here's a direct link.(
Every state has certified instructors- find one closest to you and take a solid step towards improving your fly casting and fly fishing fun.

It only stands to reason, that if you can REACH more fish, you can catch more fish.

Let RIO PRODUCTS help with your Fly Casting

by Captain Jim Barr on 09/14/16

As a recreational fly angler initially, and then as a professional fly fishing angler, I have developed my preferred list of equipment, to include rods, reels, fly lines, leaders, tippet material and of course, fly patterns. For the sake of this brief article I will skip the rods, reels, leaders, tippet material and fly pattern discussion and save them individually, or collectively for another day and another article. (FYI, in the January 28, 2016 newsletter I penned an article pertaining to my thoughts on saltwater fly patterns.)
Of the entire suite of fly fishing hardware used to get a fly in front of a fish, in my estimation THE most critical item- is the fly line.
I don't have the time or the interest in experimenting with and testing all the fly lines in the market place and laying out all my findings in an elaborate Excel spreadsheet to help identify the winners. I will leave that to someone else who gets paid to do those kinds of things, or someone who has more time. I have tried most of the major fly line brands, and yes it's probably fair to say that I have not kept up with the "latest of the latest" developments of the various horses running the race to be "the best", but I have a pretty good handle on what's out there. In my estimation, of the high-end lines now available, most are pretty good, some are absolutely horrible irrespective of their pretty packaging, marketing hype and cost, but with only a few who are leading the race to stay ahead of the field by consistently researching, testing and developing new technologies. I don't offer the following opinion out of any pecuniary incentive to do so, my intent is only to provide good guidance to my friends and clients on how to cut through a lot of the marketing bull and get to a point where they don't have to go much further in making a sound purchasing decision.

From where I sit, RIO PRODUCTS is without peer. In the four years that I have been associated with Far Bank Enterprises, the holding company for Sage, Redington and RIO PRODUCTS, I have been primarily fishing with RIO lines. They have performed wonderfully, so much so that in preparation for the upcoming season I recently swapped out all other manufacturer's fly lines (for saltwater and freshwater applications) from my personal and professional inventory, and likewise am recommending RIO to all my fly casting students (both freshwater and saltwater anglers). RIO's fly lines are the only lines that my clients and I will fish with going forward. They offer the largest inventory of fresh and saltwater lines of any manufacturer. Their diversity of types, weights, lengths, densities , coupled with unmatched customer service and technical help desks, is beyond any other fly line company in the world marketplace. I will also say that if you don't have a resource available to you that is knowledgeable about fly fishing and in particular the best fly lines for your type of fishing and level of proficiency, who can provide you with good guidance on what's the best line for you- you can't go wrong by consulting with RIO's experts in Idaho Falls, ID at their manufacturing offices. Some may opine- that's like asking the fox to mind the chicken coop, and I get that, but I think their products and integrity are that good.

In my opinion, for saltwater fly fishing in northeast United States waters, the four most critical features of a fly line are:
  • "Slickness"-  During the cast the ability of the line to freely sail with minimal friction through the guides on the way to the target.
  • "Non Slinky-Toy Behavior"- Lines that retain "memory" from being wound on the reel will develop tight coils when being stripped from the reel, and the propensity of the line to resume the coiling behavior when on the deck or in your stripping basket even, after you have done your best to stretch it before and during your fishing outing. A coiled line will in many cases either prevent you from making a cast, or at a minimum, rob you of casting distance.  
  • Using a line that has minimal stretch. A line that stretches under load will cause you to miss strikes and hooksets, and will be problematic when fish make long runs in current combined with changes in direction. The inability of the angler to maintain a tight connection to the fish as a function of the traditional 30% stretch factor existing in most lines, is the primary reason for fish coming unbuttoned, aside from poor hooksets.
  • For the beginner to low intermediate fly angler, to have a line that has a shorter and heavier "head" section, that has the mass and weight of the fly line concentrated in the forward-most section of the line, which permits easier loading of the rod, and faster presentations due to less false casting, particularly in windy conditions.
Many of my fly casting clients struggle with their casting, particularly in bumpy and windy conditions that are made worse when they must use a backhand cast to reach the fish that are positioned to their "unfavored" side. In my parlance, unfavored means essentially an awkward cast to their non-dominant side when the angler is not allowed to bring their back cast over the interior sections of the boat on account of safety considerations for the captain and the other angler.
Mads Potter Pond bass
Ms. Madeleine- with fly caught striper
OK, what's the point?
RIO manufactures a group of fly lines they call their InTouch Outbound Short series. The head or front section (heaviest portion of the line) is 30 feet long in each of their four lines in this line series- full floating, floating running line with intermediate (slow sinking) tip, full intermediate, and their fast sinking tip with intermediate (slow sinking) running line.  Because the front loaded head of each of these lines is only 30 feet long, they load the fly rod very quickly, and enable the angler to cast very long distances even with heavy/bulky fly patterns. Also, the line has what RIO refers to as their ConnectCore that provides ultra-low stretch performance. Aside from ConnectCore, RIO boasts other breakthrough technologies namely MaxFloat Tip, MaxCast, AgentX and Extreme Slickness. These technologies are explained on their website.
As to fly line construction, most lines have a head section that is anywhere between 35 and upwards of 50 feet long (as in the case of RIO's Bonefish line). For the beginner and intermediate caster, these longer head lines can be very difficult to pick up quickly and cast without excessive false casts to build line speed and load energy into the rod.
RIO's InTouch Outbound Short line series with the short, aggressive front taper, loads rods deeply and efficiently for effortless casts- the perfect prescription for many fly casters. If you fish and/or take saltwater fly casting lessons with me you will be using these lines and will quickly see how they improve your casting performance.
For more information on RIO PRODUCTS visit their website at: To go directly to more information about their InTouch Outbound Short series of lines, go to:

Also click this link that will take you to RIO's Fly Line Selector tool that will help you identify the best fly lines for your specific fly fishing interest.


False Albacore- Next on the hit parade

by Captain Jim Barr on 09/14/16

A false albacore caught on a fly or on light tackle is an unforgettable experience. September and early October bring scores of these fish to Newport area waters. If you are unfamiliar with these fish, the following slide copies were pulled from a PowerPoint presentation I gave this late winter at the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association fishing show. They will help you better understand their physical characteristics. We don't travel far at all to find these ocean speedsters, in a typical fall we will find them in good numbers in Newport's near-shore waters and in the lower sections of Narragansett Bay.

These fish are not necessarily difficult to catch, there's a lot of hype surrounding the challenge. Targeting them from shore can be a difficult proposition if they remain out of casting range, but in all years they can be landed at quite a few Rhode Island shore locations. Without question however, the best way to target ocean green bonito and false albacore, is from a boat. I chase these fish every opportunity I have when September arrives. Typically I start looking for them in earnest during the first week of the month. Oftentimes they are running with the bonito that arrive in late August. False albacore are not good table fare. The only time I would eat one is (maybe) if I were stranded at sea and had nothing else to eat. Their flesh is extremely dark, oily and not pleasant. The bonito on the other hand is a great eating fish, both grilled or sashimi style. These fish are somewhat similar in appearance but very easy to distinguish. Last year I had on-board several gentlemen who were professional chefs. They wanted to take a few false albacore back to their kitchens for a special recipe they knew about. I did my best to convince them these fish were not palatable, but they insisted on taking a few home. I followed up with them a few weeks later as to how the recipe worked out... their paraphrased response... "well, it's an acquired taste". Oh yah, sure guys... you mean it sucked like I told you it would!   Good fun!
Dr. Frank Farraye- Sharon, MA.
Anyway, these fish are generally moving pretty fast when you find them. If you want to nail one with a fly rod, you need to be fast, very fast in your casting and you need to know how to cast in all directions on very quick notice. There are times when they will slow down and corner bait and a normal cast will result in a hookup, but when I am preparing charter clients for a shot at their first albie or bonito, I stress the need to be quick with the cast and to lead the fish. Their primary forage are small bait fish. Generally the bay anchovy is the predominant bait but they will also chase the atlantic silverside, peanut bunker and baby butterfish. As for fly patterns, nothing esoteric is required, most of the time I am using small Lefty's Deceivers, Clouser Minnows and small (size 4 hook) bay anchovy patterns, all pretty straight forward stuff, and flies that I personally tie.  
Alex Key- San Francisco
As for the light tackle angler, again nothing fancy or expensive is required. We catch these fish on everything from the Rebel Jumpin' Minnow (5" hard plastic twitch bait in bone color), poppers, shiny metal spoons such as the Crocodile, the Hogy Epoxy Jig, and soft plastics, the best being the Hogy Original in 7-8" in white and pink. None of these baits are expensive and on any given day they all work great.
My drill is this: As for fly fishing, I prefer clients use my fly rods in 9 and 10 weights (All are Sage rods). I reserve use of the 10's for when we have windy conditions. Lines are manufactured by RIO Products featuring their Intermediate Sinking Outbound Short (1.5" drop per second), and Sinking Tip Outbound Short (6" per second). I don't use floating lines for albies and bonito- they are too light to punch through the wind, and I want the fly to be sinking, not sitting on the surface. Leaders are standard 9 feet in length, comprised of both monofilament and fluorocarbon. I tie all my leaders using standard Berkley Trilene monofilament for the butt and middle sections (40-30-20 lb sections with the last section being fluorocarbon typically in 15 lb). Many times when there is no need to get fancy with fluorocarbon tippet (when fish are plentiful and not picky)- the leader and tippet will be 100% monofilament. Fluorocarbon is a stiff material and is not "knot friendly" and frankly most of the time it's unnecessary you use it, but when it is, Berkley's Vanish fluorocarbon works just fine, and it's cheap.

For the light tackle angler, the setup is simple: 7 foot medium to heavy medium flex spinning rods manufactured by Bass Pro Shops. Their Inshore Extreme rod is superb ($99), nothing fancier necessary. I use the smaller versions of the Shimano Saragosa and Quantum Cabo and Smoke spinning reels. All are great reels at reasonable price points. For line, I use Bass Pro's XPS 8 Advanced Braid, in 30lb test, in green.
Bay Anchovy

All of this equipment (with multiple backups) are on-board my boat.
If you are keen to get in on this action for September and October, call me soon and make a reservation for an outing. You will have a blast, of that I'm  confident

Rehabilitating Flies and Prepping for Bluefish

by Captain Jim Barr on 09/14/16

A fly fishing guide's fly patterns take a real beating in the course of the fishing season...Stripers and Bluefish really tear 'em up. They come off the fly tying vise as "semi" works of art but in no time they are pretty beat up, so much so they won't catch fish.

You have a few choices, scrap them and buy replacements (god forbid at $4 and up per copy), tie fresh new patterns, or try and rehabilitate them to the point where they are serviceable. Having been a fly tyer and tying instructor for a very long time, and having maintained a ridiculous supply of hooks and materials, my first choice is to see if I can rehab these beauties, sometimes just good enough to use as flies for bluefish. As you know, blues are not too discriminating when it comes to fly patterns and lures. Some have opined that if you tie a hook onto a flattened beer can, toss it into a school of crashing blues you can get a hook up. That's pretty disingenuous but probably close to being accurate.

By mid-summer I have a fairly sizeable collection of ratty looking flies. I throw them into a plastic bag and wait for down-time to get out the vise and replacement materials, to then go about with my rehab project. Much of the time I will store rehabilitated flies in my bluefish collection.  

Below are a few photos of this week's before and after rehab project. Just a little time to bring them back to life after cutting off the damaged materials and replacing with new feathers, buck tail, flash and chenille. The flies are arrayed in the exact before and after positioning. Not bad, at a total estimated materials cost of about $1. 

 Here are a few closeups of the before and after for a few of the uglier patterns.
This collection of rehabilitated flies now go into the bluefish collection although some are clearly good enough for stripers, false albacore and bonito.
At the age of 14 in 1962 my father gave me a Niagara Fish Hook Holder (now $25 on EBay) to keep my snelled largemouth bass hooks organized. A number of manufacturers still make knockoffs, but "The Niagara", manufactured by H.C. Buicke & Sons of Tonawanda, NY was the first to make them (I think). Anyway, it and other spin fishing gems from days gone by remain in my ridiculously large inventory of fishing tackle, most of it not used, but I hold onto it because it reminds me of my dad.

However, The Niagara I still use as a type of "leader stretcher" for my wired bluefish flies. For those who don't know (but may care), a bluefish is a saltwater fish with extremely sharp teeth. They routinely slice through nylon monofilament fishing line when they eat the lure or fly. If an angler does not protect his/her lure or fly pattern using heavy wire, the bluefish takes it and you don't catch the fish.

On one end of a 4" section of 30 lb. plastic coated wire, I tie a loop knot. On the other end I tie the same loop and then I tie on a snap link or swivel. I put the wire of the snap through the eye of the fly pattern, then put the loop of the wire leader onto a spring loaded sliding hook on the hook holder and insert the hook into another slot on The Niagara. All my bluefish leaders and the flies are stored on this antique for ready access when we need to quickly rig up for blues. By keeping them on the stretcher, the wire leaders do not coil and this technique makes changing flies very fast. When the fly is nearly destroyed I unsnap it and quickly replace it with a fresh reconditioned fly by simply opening then closing the snap. Perfect.  My father was a McGyver-type ... he would have loved this setup
The Niagara Hook Holder
Green River, Warwick, RI

Odds 'n Ends

by Captain Jim Barr on 09/14/16

Skinny Water Charters got a mention in the Spring 2016 issue of Anglers Journal magazine in an article entitled "Magic Hatch",  authored by Capt. John Jinishian. This brief but well crafted article talks about the Rhode Island Cinder Worm Hatch. Here's the link:  

In the next couple of days I am having a foredeck casting brace installed on my bay boat. This will provide a significant level of stability for anglers wanting to cast from the foredeck in bumpy conditions. The brace is removable and will be stowed behind the helm leaning post when not deployed. It will look something like the photo on the right. 
A fly rod that gets a lot of use will in time show a significant degradation of the cork grip. Typically the grip will get dark and slippery from wear and tear, and from hand oil, perspiration, sunblock, fish slime etc. Also the cork rings will begin degrading as small pieces of the cork material begin chunking out. There's an easy fix for this that will bring the grip back to near factory condition and it doesn't take much time. First off, use some very fine grain sandpaper and gently sand the grip from the top to the bottom, take your time and be careful. It's best to cover the rod blank near the grip with standard masking tape, a two inch protective wrap is all that's necessary. Likewise protect the first inch of the reel seat with tape. This will provide protection to these delicate components as you sand the grip. Next, find a wine cork (I have plenty- just ask) and with slightly heavier grit sandpaper, sand the cork and save the cork dust in a small container. Next on a large "Post It" pad, make a small pile of the cork dust and mix in Elmer's wood glue (cream color) with a coffee stirrer or toothpick. Then go about filling the pits in the grip with the cork dust/glue mixture- carefully packing each pit and then smoothing the surface as best you can without pulling the mixture out. Allow the grip to fully dry and then sand it again, at first very gently with the heavier sandpaper you used on the wine cork. This will remove a lot of the rough spillover material and high points. Then, use the fine sandpaper to sand the grip smooth. You will be amazed how nicely the cork glue mixture has restored the grip. 

And then there were 5!  I didn't break this four piece 8-weight rod from a section of the rod that came unseated, I broke it putting too much pressure on a gorgeous steelhead I hooked last December on the Elk River, in Erie, PA. However, I have seen anglers on my boat who choose to fish with their own rods, routinely cast off the tip section and the next section below it when they are false casting. Over the course of a five hour or longer charter, with god knows how many false and actual casts being made, multi-piece fly rod sections will start to work free from one another, no matter how firmly you seat them when you set up your rod for the day. (This applies less to zipguns- my term for spinning rods, but even multi-piece zips will work free.) A surefire and easy way of preventing this from occurring is to apply simple candle wax to the male ferrule sections. Then when you join each section during the setup, join each section at right angles to the other and slowly twist and push the two sections together. I can virtually guarantee they won't migrate during the day and cause you to cast off a section or break the rod from a loose connection.

As a kid you may have played with a Slinky toy, I still do, but the ones I play with belong to clients and are actually coiled and twisted fly lines from either having been stored on the reel for way too long without stretching before a fishing outing (line memory), or line twist that can be caused by a number of factors that include casting with an oval path of the rod tip. Let me explain the latter. Fly casting at it's very basic definition is the back and forth movement of the fly rod, and the fly line that kind of goes along for the ride. Multiple and linked forward and backward strokes that we make without actually shooting the line to the target is what we call "false casting"- a process that gets us ready to make the final cast. False casting can be done to lengthen line, incrementally change the direction of the fly line, dry a fly that has been waterlogged, gauge distance to the target, etc. As we go through the motions of casting, the rod tip should follow a straight line path (SLP) in it's front to back movement. A rod that follows a SLP with proper power application and good starts and stops on the forward and back casts will cause your fly line to develop narrower loops (generally good) and avoid large loops from a convex rod tip path, or tailing loops caused by a concave path of the rod tip.  For further information about SLP visit .As for line twist this can develop from casting large non-aerodynamic fly patterns, stripping off too much line and not casting all of it and from the casting stroke itself.

As for the casting stroke, if we unconsciously introduce an off track casting stroke or an elliptical or oval stroke in our forward and back casts such as in the Belgian cast, and we do it repeatedly the off track path and the more exaggerated elliptical path of the rod tip can introduce line twist and coils resulting in a line that does not freely pass through the fly rod's guides. The spare line at your feet below the reel can be severely coiled and the line between your line hand and the deck or water's surface can be severely twisted onto itself.

How this plays out will not only affect your ability to achieve distance in the cast because the coiled line gets hung up in the stripping and snake guides as it leaves the fly rod toward the direction of the cast, but the coiled line can actually be so severe that it will not pass through one or more of the guides. In the latter case, let's say you have made your cast, a strong and fast fish eats your fly and immediately heads for Block Island, your coiled line gets hung up in the guides and you, 1. Break off the fish of your dreams, 2. Rip out a guide on your rod, 3. Break the rod because you cannot control the fish, or 4. All three.

So, how do we solve the problem of coiled lines? First, before you fish, stretch your line at home or at the dock or have the guide tow your fly line (with no fly attached) behind the boat as you leave the dock. The water tension acting on the line will not only stretch it but uncoil it. Alternatively try these steps as illustrated by a RIO Products representative:

To fix bad tracking problems first see if you have the problem. At home (not while fishing) examine the path of your rod tip and fly line as you practice casting. Lay out a target in front of you on the lawn (a hat, soccer cone etc) and another behind you. Run a string, rope or tape measure between the two targets (spread the targets about 120 feet apart). Stand on the halfway point and begin your false casting along the line. Carefully watch the fly line in both directions and adjust your casting stroke so that the line tracks to each target. Better yet, before you make any changes to your casting stroke set up a tripod with a GoPro or camera phone. Position the camera 60 feet or so away from your casting position facing you from your front target. First false cast toward the camera for 5 minutes, then turn around leaving the camera as is and cast towards the rear target. Examine the footage of your video and you will readily see if your rod and line are tracking correctly  Make corrections as necessary and record yourself again.
Another option of course is to contact a IFFF certified fly casting instructor for professional assistance.  

Golf Clubs and Fly Rods

by Captain Jim Barr on 09/14/16

A number of years ago I was deplaning in Albuquerque for my connection to Farmington, NM. I was on my way to fish the San Juan River, an absolutely gorgeous river that holds massive rainbow trout. In those days there were very few restrictions as to what you could bring on board and stow in the overhead bins. Four piece rods were not the norm then, it was a two and three piece fly rod world. In addition to five rods (4-6 weights) I carried on a daypack holding a few fishing essentials such as reels, flies, waders and wading boots (in the event the airline misplaced my checked equipment). As I was standing in line in the aisle which was very slow in moving, I noticed a guy behind me dressed in a pastel knit shirt sporting the Pebble Beach logo. His perfectly clean golf hat was labeled "Ping", he sported bermuda shorts, and Weejun loafers... he was basically a peacock. I had been traveling all day from Providence, I was worn around the edges, probably smelled like I needed more English Leather, my cutoffs were tattered, I wore sandals. We clearly were at opposite ends of the sartorial splendor chart.

So, as my five rods that were duct taped together brushed up against his pink Ping golf shirt, he got a little annoyed. I could hear him clear his throat as he was about to say something that was likely going to be a smart ass remark. I had seen a lot of guys like him before when I was in the insurance business, he looked like the typical snotty producer (sales guy). Sure enough then came his opener... "So, are you going fishing?" I turned around, looked down on him, made a point of taking my time in the response as I studied his foppy attire and immediately determined he was indeed a wise guy. My turn.  I responded...."so what makes you think that?" He replied, "Why On Earth would you need to bring five fishing poles?". (Fishing "poles"!!, oh man). I replied, "...well sir judging by your attire I suspect you are a golfer, I love golf and we therefore have something in common. Now let me ask you this, why on earth do you carry 14 clubs in your bag? Different conditions and distances require different clubs right? Well in fly fishing we don't carry five "poles" to the river, instead we assess the conditions on any given day or time of day and make a choice which "pole" to use based on a whole raft of variables. Sometimes we change "poles" as we encounter changes in wind, water flow, different fly patterns that require a stronger rod, and sometimes we even break a rod while wading the river or playing a big fish." 
At first he looked a bit befuddled, but then the peacock smiled, and then apologized for being a wise guy. We chatted in the terminal, wished each other well. He made his connection to Carmel and I made mine to Farmington. I love these kind of encounters- make a point and make a friend.

MacGyver Stripping Basket

by Captain Jim Barr on 09/14/16

Like many fly anglers, my first wearable fly line stripping basket was a Tupperware dishwashing tub with two holes melted into it on either end of one of it's long sides using a heated screw driver, and finished off with a bungee cord fixed to the holes, and then stretched around my waist. Simple, super cheap (and cheap looking), but it worked. Then came a variety of iterations such as laundry baskets, then molded plastic inserts with an array of "cones" that were dropped into the tub designed to keep the line from tangling onto itself, secured by epoxy or in my case pop riveted into place. There were also designs that used heavy duty string trimmer line, clipped at 2-3" lengths and epoxied into the floor of the tub... on and on.

Then somewhere along the time and expense continuum, Orvis developed their version at $80 a copy, made from a sturdier plastic, with a fancy web belt, and injection molded cones together with a rod rest. They are nice, but heavy and pretty expensive. Whatever the size, construction and cost, they all worked great for helping to manage fly lines, particularly on windy days and in the surf, and if you didn't put holes in the bottom to let the water drain, they also made pretty good open-top beer coolers. Most of us however defaulted towards constructing our own MacGyvered versions.

Then as fly fishing in saltwater from boats became increasingly popular, along came a variety of deck-positioned stripping baskets or line tamers, as the case may be, again- neat designs but many of them pretty expensive, some running in the vicinity of $200, like this beauty. Nice, but expensive.

Most of my charters following the serenity, no wind and flat water conditions of the spring cinder worm hatches, are in Newport near-shore waters. For the spin fisher, wind acting on their fishing line is a non-event. Line is always in reserve on the reel so the wind is only a factor in reducing the distance of the cast or perhaps it's direction. However, wind, a bumpy boat and a wave-splashed deck acting on excess/loose fly line can be a show stopper. Fly line will always find something to hang up on, be it a cleat, the trolling motor, your feet, etc. Storing excess fly line in a stripping basket as you are casting will definitely up your catch rate because the line can run freely into the guides as the fish takes off. Also, while moving from location to location, a secured stripping basket will enable the angler to temporarily stow the rod and loose line in the basket while the helmsman makes longer runs to new fishing locations. The following video was taken in the fall of 2011 and depicts two anglers on their first false albacore fishing outing. In this video you will see one angler tight to a hot Albie but because of poor line management manages to get a loop in his fly line that hangs up in the guides nearly resulting in the angler losing the fish or worse yet, breaking his rod. Both of these anglers had excess line on the deck during the outing in danger of tangling. When a false albacore is hooked, typically they will swim away from the boat at top speed, that's 60 feet a second! A tangled fly line gets jammed in the guide-set in a heartbeat, oftentimes resulting in a lost fish, or the sections of the rod coming apart.  This video is displayed not to embarrass anyone but simply to illustrate the importance of line management. The tangled line would likely not have occurred if the angler was using a stripping basket (personal or deck positioned).

With a bit of creativity and small money I developed for my boats the "Ryobi Special" deck-positioned stripping basket. This design may be a bit different than other MacGyver's have devised, but it basically follows the same idea of using a leaf bag as a container for slack fly line. Materials for two baskets rang up just south of $80 and took about an hour and a half to design and fabricate.

Materials for two baskets:
Ryobi 21" diameter collapsible leaf bags-$40 (Home Depot). 5/8" rubber doormat-$10 (Christmas Tree Shops). Ensolite ground pad- $0 (Eastern Mountain Sports,  leftover from my backpacking days). 10 lb barbell weights- $10 each (Walmart). Zip ties-$6 (Home Depot). The leaf bag is spring loaded, collapsible, with buckles to hold it closed when not deployed. The combination rubber door mat and Ensolite pads provide cushioning and encapsulate the barbell weight that's used to stabilize the basket and keep it from being blow overboard. The zip ties create "fingers" that keep the fly line immobilized and free from tangling. I sprayed the barbell weights with clear polyurethane to prevent rust and corrosion from rain and salt spray.

Casting Corner- Line hand, the "O", and Striking the Fish

by Captain Jim Barr on 09/14/16

One on the most common casting errors I see plaguing fly anglers on my boat is their line hand is oftentimes positioned too high and too close to the fly rod and reel. Typically if the line hand is near the rod in the false casting and line shooting stages it means the hand, forearm and upper arm are all in a "high" position, and whenever that occurs for a sustained period of time (a day fly fishing), the arm gets fatigued as does the shoulder and the back and the angler tires more quickly. The other thing that oftentimes occurs is when the angler finally shoots line on their forward cast, the excess line on the deck or in the stripping basket rapidly shoots upwards and collides with the rod as the idle line is pulled up by the weight of the line outside the tiptop. This collision can occur anywhere from the rod butt and up to and including the first stripping guide. Two things happen when you get collision of the line (line slap) against the rod: 1. You lose distance in your cast because the line does not run smoothly through the guide set, and 2. The excess line will oftentimes wrap around the butt of the fly rod, or the reel, or the first stripping guide, or perhaps all three points. In each case there goes your opportunity to make the distance and expeditious cast to the moving fish. Missed opportunity!

My recommendation is to keep the line hand elevation somewhere between the angler's waist and the middle of the chest, and to keep the line hand upwards of two feet away from the rod. By doing this your arm is not in that high, stressful position and your arm movements are more relaxed as the hand and forearm are in a more ergonomically efficient and comfortable position. You will see this recommended arm position in the attached YouTube video. You will also see that I am pinching the line with my left hand between my thumb and forefinger as I make an "O" with those two fingers. As I execute my false casts preparing to shoot the line towards the target, I can either keep the line pinched (static) until I have the line speed and direction I want, or I can slip line both on the forward and back false casts in order to lengthen the amount of line I am carrying in the air.
You will also see that when I release the line in the final forward cast, I release it so that the line is enclosed inside the "O" that I have formed with my fingers. I do this for two reasons, each very important. By maintaining control of the line inside the O, I am effectively using this finger positioning as an artificial (finger/hand) stripping guide- the first one if you will that operates to align and funnel the loose/excess line into the first stripping guide on the fly rod. The other important reason for keeping the line controlled within the O, is that when my line and fly lands on the water, I can readily transfer the line to my rod hand pinching it between my right forefinger and the rod grip, while pinching the lower section of the line with my line hand as I prepare for my retrieve, or better yet for strip-striking the fish. Many anglers will simply let go of the fly line in the process of shooting the line. I have seen many of those same anglers miss strikes that happen instantaneously as the fly hits the water because they are fumbling to regain control of the line. After making the cast I strip the line between my rod hand forefinger and the grip. I pinch that line tightly as I reach up with my line hand to the grip to pull the line in for the next retrieve/strip. The fly line must always be held tightly- slack line is a killer and causes anglers to miss the strike.  
While on the subject of striking the fish, many anglers new to fly fishing in the saltwater are used to striking (setting the hook) the fish using the traditional "trout set" where the rod is raised in a high position. If you employ this technique in saltwater you are going to miss a lot of fish or because the hook set is weak, the hook will not penetrate the fishes mouth and it will come unbuttoned. The proper technique is to start your retrieve with the rod tip at water level or just above with zero slack in the line. When the fish eats the fly, the angler keeps the rod position low (water level or slightly higher) and with the line hand pulls the line back with force parallel to the rod and water inducing a fast and strong connection to the fish. Generally it's a good idea to strip-strike (line strike) the fish several times in this low position, then angle the rod to either side .... then raise the rod to begin playing the fish. High trout sets are sometimes ingrained in an angler's DNA, but using this technique in saltwater can cause you to lose a lot of fish, and also potentially break the tip section of your rod by putting too much force on it.

Pulling The Fly From The Feeding Zone

by Captain Jim Barr on 09/14/16

There is a common belief that fly anglers need to strip their fly very fast during a False Albacore and Atlantic Bonito (funny fish) feed. This is typically not necessary, in fact it can be counterproductive. Like any saltwater fish that is feeding on bait fish, the angler must determine the appropriate pace and position necessary for the fish to sight the fly pattern, be tricked into believing it's the real deal, and commit to eating it. It is true that funny fish are fast swimmers, in fact two of the fastest swimming fish in the ocean. In hot pursuit of bait or in fleeing, a false albacore can swim 60 feet a second. Remember, bay anchovies, silversides or butterfish are very small and incapable of sustained speeds anywhere near that of the funny fish "drag racer". So what's the point of stripping so fast?...frankly there is little. An exception might be when you have a school of fish moving quickly to locate and chase down schooled-up bait. We've seen what happens when in the boat we attempt to follow terns and gulls that are flying just above racing and marauding tuna.  However once these tuna locate a bait ball and "circle it up" they can actually become pretty controlled, slow and methodical in their feeding habits.

Once a school of false albacore and bonito circle up on a bait ball, and you cast into that melee, you can very easily pull your fly pattern out of the feeding zone too quickly by stripping over aggressively. So, what should be your strategy?
Let's take a look at two video's that I took of a mixed school of false albacore and bonito feeding on bay anchovy, their favorite meal.
Video #1- shows a school of fish that have balled up a school of bait and are attacking it super aggressively from multiple directions. In this frantic feed, bait fish are spraying from the water as tuna's are climbing through it at high speed but in geographically tight areas. Here, I want to use a moderate retrieve with a fly pattern that is larger than the average bait being chased. I want my fly to stand out in the crowd, I clearly cannot swim my fly in the same direction of the fleeing bait as my retrieve and the direction of the bait and the tuna may be at opposing angles. I want to anticipate from which direction the fish will likely attack, get my fly into or near the bait ball, make a relatively slow strip and await the hit. Alternatively, I may want to use a fast sinking tip fly line and get my fly out of the crush, where it can readily be distinguished from the bait school and therefore become more vulnerable. Top water breaking funny fish can follow the iceberg theory, where there is actually more action out of sight (below) the top water explosions we see in this video.
Video #1
Video #2- a better video to illustrate my point about retrieval speed. Here I have put this fly angler right on top of several schools of lazy feeding false albacore. These fish have bait contained in several areas, with no avenue of escape. Here the angler is stripping his fly entirely too fast. He is a very good caster, and is laying his fly pattern in the middle of the feeding fish, but his fast retrieval rate is pulling it through and out of the feeding zone. A much better strategy is to drop the fly into the action and either dead drift it, or move it slowly as if it were injured. In this instance a close replication of the size, profile and color of the bait fish is likely more important than in Video #1 due to the casual feeding behavior of these Albies.
Video #2
So the takeaway here is to study how the bait is moving, assess the feeding behavior of the fish and their speed, think about the fly selection (again, exact imitations may go unnoticed), and a retrieval rate to fit your observations. The most important element is to keep the fly in the feeding zone. It's difficult to use discipline when you're "on location", the fish are on your doorstep, busting the surface and causing your heart to jump out of your chest. Howeve through observation, planning, executing a good cast and coupling it with the right retrieve, you will unlock the mystery of catching these wonderful fish. 

If you have the luxury of finding feeding fish without any competing anglers nearby, have fun, keep bent rods low and try to limit the hooting and hollering to maintain your privacy as long as possible. If you fail to be cool, you will become the Pied Piper of Hamelin and have everybody and their brother suddenly crowding your water.  

Use Your Sinking Line (much) more Often

by Captain Jim Barr on 09/14/16

Very few anglers know how to efficiently cast a full sinking or sinking tip fly line. They are much better at casting their floating and intermediate sinking fly lines, but the fact of the matter is the sinking line is a much more effective line to use when fly fishing deeper water. Rarely are the fish feeding on top, so in most cases using a floating line in our local waters, particularly when targeting false albacore and bonito, can be a waste of time and energy. Most anglers will default to using the intermediate sinking line, either a full intermediate line or the more popular and easier to cast, intermediate tip line (that has a floating running line behind the sinking tip). The intermediate line is not a bad choice, it's just not an effective line to use when targeting fish that are feeding in two feet or deeper water. Let's review the math.

The typical intermediate line has a sink rate of 1.5 inches per second. If we have fish two feet down, the straight calculation indicates it will take 16 seconds for that fly to reach those fish. Perhaps a bit less if the angler is fishing a weighted fly like the Clouser Minnow. Let's say the fish are at three feet, now the wait time before you should start your retrieve becomes 30 seconds. Understand these calculations do not consider the delaying effect of a long leader that takes additional time to sink, combined with wave action and wind that can inhibit the sink rate of that portion of the line at or near the top of the water column. The intermediate line is nearly as easy to cast as the floating line, but most of the time it is an inefficient line to use when targeting fish in depths beyond a foot. Show me an angler who will wait 30 seconds or a bit longer to start their retrieve when using an intermediate sinking line.

OK, let's now consider a different model- using a fast sinking line, either a full sink or sinking tip. These lines come in a variety of sink rates and what line you ultimately use may vary depending upon the make and model of your fly rod, and whether you are fishing in fresh or salt water and what species of fish you are targeting. I visited the RIO Products website and plugged in a few variables in their Fly Line Selector web tool. (

As an example, when utilizing this selection tool, I answered the software prompts accordingly (Open this tool and plug in your variables so you get my drift). I fish a single hand, Sage Method 9' 9 weight rod, in cold water, for striped bass, in saltwater, from a boat, I prefer the sink tip (a full sinking line can be a bear in aerializing and casting...too much weight), and I am an experienced fly caster. The software suggests three options, the one I choose is the InTouch Striper 30ft fast sinking tip line. (I don't want the intermediate lines given their painfully slow sink rates). The software then provides the details on the line I like, in the instant case a 350 grain (#9weight) with a head length of 34 feet and sink rate of 8.2 inches per second for the sinking tip, and 1.5 inches per second for the intermediate running line behind the head.

"Up to the gunnels"
(or so it appears)

OK, so back to the exercise of the model where our fish are two to three feet down. At two feet, my preferred line choice will get the fly there in 3 seconds, or about 4.5 seconds for fish at three feet. I like those sink rates much more because I can spend more time fishing and less time waiting for the fly to sink to the level of the fish (generally fish are not static). The other consideration here is that a fly angler who has practiced and is reasonably proficient at casting a sinking tip line, can take one false cast and deliver the fly to the target versus taking multiple false casts (which translates into wasted time) that most casters employ when using intermediate and floating lines. This too translates to more fishing time and less time (and body strain) than when casting an intermediate line. When fish are deeper than three feet, which is often the case, the sinking and sinking tip lines become the only logical choice. Your captain should tell you how deep the fish are holding, quickly do the math for you, and advise the appropriate delay you should follow before you start your retrieve.

The considerations are several: If you have a sinking line, use it more often. If you don't you should buy another spool for your reel, backing and a new fly line... and then learn how to cast this heavier line. As a guide I can tell you from experience that most fly casters cannot cast a sinking line to save their lives!  Typically they take too many false casts, end up with way too much line outside the rod tip... and it generally goes down hill from there. As an IFFF casting instructor, I can, in pretty quick order, get my clients casting a sinking tip line, maybe not the 80 foot cast they dream of, but a cast that's long enough to present the fly to deeper fish. Alternatively, you can take off-season casting lessons to learn how to cast these heavier (and infinitely more effective) lines so that come next season you are better prepared.

Using Sinking Lines

by Captain Jim Barr on 11/13/14

Many anglers don't like to fish with sinking lines, whether they are the full-sink variety (fading quickly in popularity), or the sinking-head variety (in a wide variety of sink rates). This is too bad because in most instances when we are fishing in salt water, the faster sinking lines are going to get the fly in front of more fish than your intermediate (slow sinking) line. Of course there are exceptions to this, such as when fishing the worm hatch when all the action is on the surface or when fish are feeding very high in the water column, or when you are fishing very shallow water and using a sinking line is going to have you hanging up frequently on structure or weed. Much of the time when we are fishing in saltwater we are not sight casting, rather we are prospecting for fish that we know or we suspect are in our waters. If you spend the lion's share of your time casting floating and intermediate sinking lines (1.5 inches/second), you become very comfortable with the pickup process, and the timing delays in your forward and backcasts that you need to employ to get the line to roll out properly in preparation for the next or actual cast.

When your guide suggests you switch to a rod with a sinking line, you immediately say to yourself..."aw crap!", and in short order your casting gets clunky and you remember how much you hate sinking lines. I think as saltwater anglers we gravitate toward the floating and intermediate sinking lines because they are easier to cast, and when we want to catch our fish on or near the surface. We want to see the water blow up on the take, or the big swirl as we turn the fish. The fact of the matter is, not unlike the iceberg theory where 80% of the iceberg is below the water line and never seen, ocean fishing for any of our local (New England) species is largely a sub-surface game. So, my recommendation is if you want to catch more fish, particularly from a boat- make the sinking line your friend. Practice casting it!

Picking up the Sinking Line

Picking up your floating and also your intermediate line in preparation for your next cast is generally a piece of cake. If you can roll cast first, then pick up the line using a single haul, the process of delivering your next cast becomes much easier. If you haul on the pickup to get the line moving more quickly, on your backstroke you can also slip line to quickly get more line airborne, then drift a bit at the end of your backcast before you come forward and shoot line (what the hell is this guy talking about!), then you're in fat city.

However, when we cast with any of the sinking lines, a few things have to change to get it right. For the sake of discussion let's start with the scenario where our line in already in the water at some depth and we are stripping in line getting ready to pick up for our next cast. If we are using one of the heavier grain sinking lines, considerable line may be at a deep and steep angle in the water column. You can be Charles Atlas yet still be unable to pick up the entire line that's beyond the tip of your fly rod in preparation for your backcast. So, the pickup for the backcast needs to be done in stages in order to get all or most of the fly line on top of the water's surface so you are positioned to execute the backcast. How we do this is pretty straight forward.

Employ the Roll Cast Pickup

Recall the Roll Cast you use when casting in fresh water when you have no room to backcast due to some type of natural obstruction behind you such as a river bank, bush, tree etc. If we slowly haul with our line hand as we raise the rod to a high position (so the reel is level with our ear), then execute the roll cast, this gets the line moving towards the surface. We may have to execute another roll cast if the line is still deep, perhaps even a third time. Each time we execute this maneuver we continue to reposition our sinking line closer to the waters surface. The last roll cast should have the line on top of the water's surface. As soon as the line lays out, you start your back cast with a Water Haul which is "fly cast speak" for simply allowing the surface tension of the water acting on the fly line that provides resistance against being picked up by the fly rod. As you initiate the backcast the rod loads (bends) beautifully, the water then finally gives up it's grip on the fly line and you are into your backcast. Slip a little line in that backcast (allowing the weight of the line to pull extra line through your line hand), then pinch it, drift the rod backwards slightly, then start your forward cast using another haul- then let'er fly. Whew!!

As you read this you're probably now thoroughly convinced you hate fly casting, particularly with a sinking line. I realize this may be difficult to visualize, but thirty minutes with a qualified fly casting instructor will enable you to use this casting technique, that can also be employed when casting your floating and intermediate lines. The roll cast used to reposition the fly line has many applications that can be utilized in virtually all your fly fishing presentations.

Roll Cast Pickup Video Demonstration 

My friend Peter Kutzer of the Orvis Fly Fishing School in Manchester, VT is featured in a YouTube video executing the Roll Cast Pickup (above title is hotlinked).

Six Tips for Casting Sinking Lines- Tom Rosenbauer/ Orvis

The following link will take you to the Orvis website for additional information on using sinking lines.




Bird Casting for Accuracy (and fun!)

by Captain Jim Barr on 07/16/14

Recently I was giving a fly casting lesson in a nearby park. We were practicing distance and accuracy drills using my traditional props of brightly colored hula hoops and soccer cones. Fun targets but static... not dynamic in any way, and incapable of providing feedback. Several blackbirds were nearby foraging in the grass for worms and bugs... hopping, pecking, chasing flying insects... you know the drill.

Hmmm I thought... moving targets that eat bugs... looks a lot like trout fishing to me, but absent issues such as drag, matching the hatch, tippet size, the list goes on.

If you practice casting in parks there are a myriad of targets from which to choose... trees, bushes, discarded coffee cups, dog doo (bad choice), but all of them are static in nature, and although they help improve your casting techniques, they aren't optimal because fish move and you really should be casting at moving objects to simulate the real world.

I've tried practice casting to moving targets in the past, children and dogs (using a harmless yarn fly with no hook), and although they are perfect in a number of ways, their parents, owners and animal rights groups provide feedback of course, but not the kind I'm looking for. But birds...!

So quite by accident I discovered that parks and birds provide the perfect, dynamic practice range and targets for improving my distance, accuracy, speed and presentation skills... combined with constant feedback.

Prior to arriving at the park I tie on a yellow yarn fly (minus the hook) to my leader, then microwave a bag of popcorn (birds prefer Orville Redenbacher Gourmet- the buttery kind.) Then upon entering the park I carefully approach a "bird-active" area and begin dropping the popcorn in small piles (I do save some for lunch by the way). In short order I have lots of moving targets at varying distances and directions. As each pile of corn is consumed, the birds become conditioned and aggressively fly to and run down my artificial fly. The bird approaches, bends down for the easy meal, you retrieve the fly or pick up and lay it down a few feet away... the bird continues the chase.   Perfect!

Wanna get some real belly laughs and simultaneously practice your fly casting techniques?... try "bird casting", it's a hoot.




Five Common Casting Problems

by Captain Jim Barr on 02/09/14

1.      Why isn't the line straightening in front?

  • You may have forgotten to start every cast with the line fully extended on the water or ground, straight in front of you with no slack.
  • You may be pulling the rod too far back during your back cast. This will cast the line down toward the ground or water behind you and, consequently higher up on the next forward cast. To fix this, attempt to bring your rod to an abrupt stop nearly vertical (near your ear) during the back cast. Your next forward cast will have a much better chance of straightening out.
  • You may be pausing too long before you start your forward cast, which allows your back cast to fall near the ground or water. This sends your forward cast up high, and makes it fall in a heap. Open your stance and watch your back cast to understand the timing for bringing the rod forward. 
  • You may be accelerating to a stop with too much force, causing the line to bounce back after it has fully extended in the air.
  • You may be starting your forward cast with too much speed, which sends the line up high in the air, and then into another heap. Remember to start slowly, then smoothly accelerate to the hard stop. Pretend you are flicking paint off a brush on your forward and backwards stops. 

2.      You hear a noise like a snapping bullwhip during your forward cast.

This happens when you start your forward cast too soon, before the line in your back cast has had time to fully straighten. To correct this, pause a bit longer between the back cast and forward cast.


3.      The line keeps hitting you or the rod.

This usually happens because there is a crosswind blowing the line into you or the rod on either the forward or back cast. To fix this, rotate your body so the rod is on the downwind side of your body (off shoulder cast). Also, be sure to cast with the rod tilted slightly off to the side, away from vertical.


4.      You hear a "whooshing" noise during the back cast.

You are probably beginning the back cast with too much speed. Start slowly. Remember the rod goes fast only at the end of the cast, not at the beginning. You may also be moving the rod through a very wide arc. Keep the casting arc narrow by stopping your back cast just barely beyond vertical. The more line you have aerialized the wider your casting arc needs to be in order to maintain line speed and to prevent the line from dropping. 


5.      Your casting hand is getting tired.

You are working too hard. Take a break. Massage your casting hand with your line hand. This may be a good time to start living dangerously- try casting with your other hand.  

Tips to Make You a Better Fly Angler

by Captain Jim Barr on 02/05/14

Hook Set- Many fly anglers new to the salt environment utilize the same fish striking (hook set) they do when striking a trout taking a dry fly. This is an overhead, high rod tip motion with the butt of the rod somewhere between the angler's waist and shoulder. If you use this technique when striking a saltwater fish (Stripers, Bluefish, Bonito and False Albacore to name a few), you're going to miss a lot of fish. The proper technique in saltwater is to keep your rod tip low to the water during your retrieve, and even putting the tip under the water's surface is perfectly acceptable. The retrieve has the fly line loosely pinched between the the forefinger or middle finger (or both) of the rod-hand and the fly rod grip as the angler strips in line with the line-hand in a fashion that best imitates the swimming motion of the bait you are imitating. As the line is stripped over the fore-fingers of the rod hand the angler applies more pressure to the pinch point so that if the fish strikes the fly as the angler drops the line to pick it up again for the next strip- the line will stay tight helping to hook the fish. As the angler repeatedly strips line imitating the swimming motion of the bait, when the fish strikes the fly, the angler is in a position to "strip-strike" the fish keeping the rod tip low. The strip-strike has the angler pulling the line with force with the line-hand as he releases pressure at what was the pinch point on the rod-hand. The fly line will go tight immediately, and the rod will begin bouncing under the pressure and head-shaking action of the fish. Typically the hook is set in the fish's jaw, however it's perfectly acceptable to strip-strike the fish again with a good degree of force to "seat" the hook. The angler then raises the rod to play the fish.

Rod Positioning While Playing a Fish- After the angler has set the hook and is now playing the fish, care must be taken to land the fish. I see many anglers who engage in hand-to-hand combat, "fighting" the fish as if it's a 200 lb beast. It's unnecessary, and I typically coach new anglers engaged in this life and death struggle, to Relax. Yes, keep pressure on the fish, don't allow a slack line and when the fish wants to run, let it. If the fly reel drag is set properly it will do the work of applying pressure and slowing the fish's run. Typically there is no need (except for the macho photo shot) to rear-back and bend the fly rod in half as you play the fish. The drag and the spring action of the fly rod will do the lion's share of the work. When the fish slows and you can turn it, do so, but keep a tight line and if the fish makes a run back to the boat as Bonito and Albies typically do, reel like a mad person to maintain a tight line/contact with the fish. If the fish pulls to the right, apply pressure to the left, and vice-versa- this will tire the fish more quickly. It's also OK to the turn the fish from side to side to tire it. Remember, for toothy fish, each time you reverse direction the leader is being pulled across the fish's teeth. In the case of Bluefish particularly, a steel leader should prevent being cut off.
Never put your line hand on the rod blank above the fly rod grip to apply additional leverage. A fly rod is meant to flex deep into the handle and putting pressure on the fish with your hand positioned on the blank above the grip may very well cause the rod to break. Additionally, try not to bring the butt of the rod above your waist while fighting a heavy fish. A high rod position exerts significant pressure (bend) on the tip section of the fly rod which may result in breakage.

Go Barefoot in the Boat- If the weather/water is warm, going barefoot in the boat helps the angler to avoid stepping on their fly line. Footwear of any kind provides enough insulation to prevent you from being able to feel that you are stepping on your line. Many a cast has been ruined and a fish lost by a pinched line on deck.  Bare feet can also present a slipping hazard on a wet deck, so you be the judge. Alternatively use a stripping basket to hold your fly line. Also, remember to stretch your fly line, preferably before you board the boat, and if that's not possible or you forget, strip the fly line off the reel into the wake of the boat as you relocate. Water pressure applied to the fly line will stretch the line and remove any twists and coils. If you do not cast in a relatively straight plane, but have a circular or "oval" rod rotation, this will add twists to your line causing it to kink.

Fluorocarbon or Monofilament Leaders- I have a couple of simple rules on this subject.
1. First, I don't spend stupid money on monofilament and fluorocarbon tippet material. For fluorocarbon I buy "Vanish" manufactured by Berkley. For monofilament I buy "Berkley Trilene Big Game" in Clear,

I buy spools of this quality line in different tests. For Fluorcarbon, typically 17 and 20 lb. for $13 (250 yards), and for Big Game, typically spools in 10, 12, 15, 20, 25, 30 and 40 lb. test ($12 for 1/4 lb spools ). I tie my own tapered leaders thus the reason for buying multiple spools of different test. Ultraviolet rays combined with the effects of saltwater degrade these lines, so annually I throw out the leftover spools and buy fresh material.

 2. When it comes to what lines to use. My simple rule is if I am using a floating fly line with a floating fly pattern because I want the fly to be on the surface or just below the surface, my leader and tippet system is made entirely of monofilament (nylon) line. On the other hand, if I am fishing deeper waters, particularly around cover such as heavy seaweed, ledge and boulders, the first four feet of my leader is 40lb monofilament, but the balance of the leader system is Fluorocarbon material. Fluorocarbon is nearly invisible under water and it is made of a heavier density copolymer... so it sinks. It's valued for its refractive index which is similar to that of water, making it less visible to fish. Mono floats/Fluro sinks- easy to remember.

Keep Boat Noise to a Minimum- Some years ago I was snorkeling in the Virgin Islands. I was submerged maybe ten feet swimming about the coral reefs checking out the sights. From several hundred yards away I could clearly hear the high pitched noise of the propeller of an approaching boat. As the powerboat throttled down the pitch changed but it was still remarkably loud. I then heard a series of bangs, thumps and then the beat of music. I surfaced and a hundred yards from me was a powerboat playing Reggae music and the skipper was making those banging noises as he deployed a couple of swim ladders.
   On my boat I constantly remind my charter guests to try and keep noise to an absolute minimum. Don't let the hatches slam shut, don't throw their bags around or make noise putting down rods, no music, or excessively loud talking or "yee heeing". I know I must sound like a curmudgeon, but noise and vibration on a boat scares fish, particularly in skinny water environments. The fish and I don't want to hear the radio play-by-play of a Bruin's playoff hockey game on Ninigret Pond while fishing the worm hatch. True stories.

Fresh Water Bath for Flies- If you fish with fly patterns that are not tied on good quality stainless steel hooks, bring on-board a large plastic container (with a screw-on lid) of freshwater and when you change patterns drop the salty fly into the freshwater bath- and leave it there until the end of the trip. Those flies will last much longer if all salt deposits are washed off. You can also use the freshwater bath to dip your sun and street glasses in when they get doused with salt water.

Sometimes You'd Like to Say... "Man, You Are a Lousy Fly Caster!" ... But Help is on the Way.

by Captain Jim Barr on 12/14/13

Beginning with the 2013 fishing season I formed a pro guide relationship with Far Bank Enterprises.  Far Bank is an integrated manufacturer and distributor of fly fishing products, including fishing rods, fly reels, fly lines, leaders, tippets and performance outdoor apparel. Far Bank subsidiaries operate under the brand names of Sage, Redington, and RIO Products. Sage Manufacturing is a renowned leader and producer of the world's finest high-performance flyrods. Redington designs and produces innovative, high performing fly fishing products, as well as trending apparel inspired by the Pacific Northwest. RIO is a pioneer in developing fly lines, leaders and tippet material offering premium fly lines for both freshwater and saltwater fishing applications. This article is not intended to be a product review of these fine brands but I did want to talk a bit about RIO fly lines I invested in for all my fly rods at the beginning of this past season. Roughly half my clients are light tackle spin anglers who have not made the move to fly fishing. Of the other half, half of those folks dabble in fly casting but many come from the freshwater environment as trout anglers who have not had much experience fishing in the salt water, and therefore have not used the heavier rods and lines, and have not fly casted from a bumpy platform, to fast moving fish and oftentimes, in windy conditions. Over the course of my fly fishing experience, at one time or another I have used most of the competition's then current fly lines in floating as well as in a wide variety of sink rates. Some of those lines were absolutely terrible, however on balance most performed reasonably well, but all were deficient in one aspect or another. Those defects ranged from being inaccurately categorized (numbered) in correlation to the weight and action of most of the high end rods that I've used, poor quality coatings that prematurely cracked in the "working" part of the fly line, and poor loop welds that separated under normal casting conditions. On many of the intermediate clear lines a number of these lines picked up the colored dye from the backing, and many had head sections that had front tapers that were too long and light offering no help to the beginner to even the advanced intermediate fly caster, in their effort to load  the rod with minimal false casting.

The biggest problem without exception spanning the manufacturers was the issue of lines that had a propensity to coil and tangle despite proper care and diligent and repeated stretching. In fly speak we call that problem, "memory". Most any plastic fishing line, be it monofilament or fly line, that's used in a cold water environment, when tightly wound on a spinning or fly reel, will come off that reel in coils much like a Slinky toy. It's part of the deal with spin fishing and although you do develop line twist and coiling and occasional tangling, it's fairly easily to manage. On the other hand, line twist and coiling is a very big deal in fly casting for a number of reasons, not the least of which is having those coils tangle at your feet, around your reel and in the fly rod's guides ... particularly while there are fish in front of you. Many an opportunity to cast the fly quickly to a fleeting fish has been scuttled by a tangled fly line. Some lines even develop knots that must be cleared while playing a fish! A large fish pulling on a taught fly line that's knotted can easily break the leader and in some cases bend or break free a snake guide on the rod. All fly lines irrespective of the manufacturer need to be stretched before and during an outing, particularly in cold and windy conditions, and methodologies on how best and when to do that is subject material for another article.

The other issue with many fly lines used in salt water is the front taper is typically too long to provide any assistance to the beginner and intermediate fly caster in helping to quickly load the rod, by providing a heavier mass to the leading section of the fly line. Having more weight towards the front of the fly line helps to minimize false casting, by loading the rod more quickly as well as aiding the caster to punch the line through wind while presenting a heavy and/or wind resistant fly pattern. Many lines have a front taper that can be as long as seven feet long before the heavier belly section of the line begins. There are several issues with a fly line with a long and lightweight front taper that create problems for the average beginner to intermediate fly caster:

1.      It takes more strength and a better technique to get the head of the fly line (front taper, belly and rear taper) aerialized to begin the false casting process. I find that a general rule is that the average line is going to load the rod best if you can get about 30 to 33 feet of line outside the tip, and many casters cannot accomplish that without excessive false casting. (Excessive in my view is over three false casts). Many beginner and even intermediate casters will retrieve virtually all the fly line before they start the process of false casting in preparation for the next presentation. That too is a subject for another article. 

2.      Faster starts and stops with the rod during the casting stroke, combined with the need to develop more line speed, are critical elements in most cases to making the longer casts required in most saltwater environments. Most beginner and intermediate casters are used to casting in the trout stream or on flat water and have never mastered creating the kind of line speed coupled with crisp starts and stops of the rod that form the narrow wind resistant loops required in the salt environment.

3.      In the forward cast, when the rod (which is really a long spring) is stopped, it then transfers it's stored energy into a dynamic that pulls the fly line forward and over the tip of the rod on its way towards the target. In this forward cast, as the lower leg (of thin running line) lengthens (in relation to the rod tip) it is pulling on the heavier forward section of the fly line we call the "head" The head and some running line is typically above the lower leg and thus is referred to as the "upper leg". The head typically consists of the rear taper, the belly, and the front taper. Apart from being a heavier density than the running line, it is also a thicker diameter. It is the head that is the laboring oar in getting the line to fully turn over, and to pull excess line coiled at the caster's feet or that is loosely coiled in the stripping basket, and that finally carrys the fly to the fish. To a certain degree, the more weight and mass closer to the end of the fly line the easier it's going to be to get that fly to the target.

OK, so where does this leave you as a beginner or intermediate saltwater fly caster? First, without consideration for the type of fly line you are using, you have to improve your casting techniques to generate more line speed together with narrower loops, and you must achieve this while at the same time striving to reduce the number of false casts you take in preparation for the final presention of the fly. You have to be more efficient and faster. The problem is that you don't have the time (and/or interest) in taking casting lessons, reviewing casting videos and practicing in the park.  

Part of the answer on how to improve your saltwater fly casting is to take advantage of fly lines that are designed and engineered to assist the beginner and intermediate caster. Rio Products makes the Outbound Short series of lines. Outbound Short lines are designed to cast large and heavy flies very long distances. The key to these lines is in the design of the front taper. They have a short, aggressive front taper that easily carries large, weighted streamers, while the powerful head design loads rods deeply and efficiently for effortless casts. A full range of line densities make this a very versatile line series. Each line features RIO's XS technology for super slick performance, and is built with a supple, coldwater coating that ensures the line remains tangle-free.

Now it's true that RIO is one of my sponsors and I suppose it could be argued that I'm partial to that brand. However after watching many of my clients struggle with their casting, specifically difficulty in loading their rods quickly, to minimize their need for excessive false casting, and to present the fly accurately, I have found that the Outbound Shorts in floating, intermediate and fast sink tips have made a huge difference.  

The table below was set up to easily visualize the construction design of three comparitive lines manufactured by major line manufacturers, in addition to RIO. At first glance you would surmise the component lengths of each of these lines (all intermediate sink tip) is essentially the same. However look carefully at the very short Front and longer Belly lengths of the RIO Outbound Short as well as the short Rear Taper versus the competition. Herein lies the key differences in terms of how the RIO line more easily loads the road enabling the angler to present big and wind resistant flies. RIO has the shortest Front Taper and longest Belly of the competition, and it's Rear Taper is also the shortest of those manufacturers. The heavier short front taper combined with the heavier belly of the line and the short rear taper (relative to the thin diameter running line) concentrates more weight to the front of the fly line. Said another way, the total head length is closer to the fly.

(Sorry for the look of the following chart- it did not transfer well from Excel to this software...but you'll get the point)

Fly Line Comparisons (Intermediate sinktip)
















Front Taper








Front & Belly




Rear Taper




Total Head




Running Line




































































































































Outbound Short




































 In northeast saltwater fly fishing we are primarily targeting Stripers, Bluefish, False Albacore and Bonito and we are doing it largely in bumpy seas accompanied by strong winds. Fly presentations to these fish in almost all cases is about getting the fly to the fish quickly and with reasonable accuracy. This is contrasted with the delicate presentations required for trout and saltwater species such as Bonefish, Permit and Tarpon where gentle and accurate casts are paramount for success. To this end, fly casters are going to have more fun and success on our waters if they can make good short and medium range casts quickly, with reasonable accuracy, and these Outbound Short lines manufactured by RIO will significantly help accomplish those goals.

Rio Products website





























Switch Rods in the Salt

by Captain Jim Barr on 12/10/13

About every other year I take a trip west with a couple of friends to fly fish for a week or so. We no longer bring onto the airplane any of our fly fishing equipment and clothing we'll need for the trip, instead we box virtually everything and ship it via UPS to either the lodge where we are staying or to the local UPS store in the nearest town to where we'll be fishing. Given the prices airlines now charge for checking bags, it's cheaper and more reliable to go the UPS route plus it's just more relaxing to not carry stuff or worry if it's going to get to our destination on time. Before we started this revised approach to shipping our gear, like many fly anglers we attempted to bring onto the plane a carry-on bag that included fly reels, fly boxes, tippet spools, vest, waders and boots. We'd also bring an assortment of fly rods of various lengths and weights for varying stream and wind conditions that were stored in aluminum tubes (you can never bring too many rods, what if...?) Many traveling anglers got into this practice so that if the airline temporarily lost one's bags they could still fish for a few days before the bags were discovered and shipped to where you were lodging. One year in the old days I was deplaning in Salt Lake City to meet my connecting flight to Billings, MT. I was carrying a bundle of four rods in their short tubes when this guy in line behind me tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and he asked if those were fly rods in the tubes. I could tell just by looking at this guy with the country club logo on his golf shirt and "Titleist" embroidered on his hat that the question and my anticipated response was a setup for a zinger. So I played his game. "Yes" I answered, and sure enough then came the hook (or slice) as the case may be. Smugly he asked, "Why on earth would you need four fly rods to catch a fish". Then it was my turn... "for the same reason you as a golfer might need fourteen clubs to make a Birdie". I have to give the guy credit, for being insulted he smiled and wished me good luck. Since that time, like many of us, I have continued to add to inventory without selling or giving away very many of these rods and reels, as their use had declined by being replaced with newer (and generally more costly) equipment. Part of my excuse is that I am a fly fishing guide and am expected to carry on the boat equipment manufactured by companies that endorse my business. The other reason is that I'm also a hoarder. Rods  made by (or for) Sage, Redington, Orvis, T&T, Bass Pro, Temple Fork, Loomis etc. all do a good job at casting a fly line. Of course they all vary in construction, finish, weight, blank material and wrapping color etc.- but in the hands of a reasonably good fly caster- they all get the job done- reasonably well. Generally we think in terms of using shorter more delicate rods for casting shorter distances and in environments that preclude using the standard 8 to 9 foot length rod, a brush crowded and narrow stream for example. Generally we don't think much (if at all) about using rods longer than the standard 9 footer for casting longer distances. For those of us that fish primarily from a boat, we default to using the 9 foot rod because in most cases we can drive the boat closer to the fish as necessary precluding the need to routinely make a 70 foot and longer cast. That however is not the case for the shore-bound fly caster. With a 9 foot rod the lion's share of fly casters will be unable to reach the fish that are beyond 70 feet and when you factor in wind, apart from all but a tailwind, the average caster will be unable to cast even that far. So what happens if you are one of those anglers?, you either don't catch those fish with the fly rod or you resort to using a spinning rod (which is just fine by the way). Herein resides the analogy to the wise guy with the golf shirt. Facing a head wind on the tee and a target that's some distance away, the golfer is going to use a club that is powerful (like a driver) that can exert a lot of energy on the golf ball to achieve maximum distance, or if it's a shorter distance to the green but still a long way, he might use a two or three iron with a shallow angled blade to keep the ball at a lower and flatter trajectory particularly if wind is an issue. The choice of which club to use is in keeping with how far and accurate the shot must be. In fly casting we use the shorter and lighter weight rods when we are close-in and when the presentation needs to be precise and delicate. For the longest casts, however, generally we default to using our 9 foot rods and hope we can get the distance we need to reach the fish.

Longer rods for longer distances... what a revelation!

Here are three scenarios I see played out frequently:

1.      Anglers are wade fishing an estuary/salt river. Those with 9 foot rods are casting into a headwind to a well defined seam where slow water meets a current. Stripers are holding at the seam and beyond to the opposite bank. Repeated 55 foot casts yield no takes, occasionally an angler makes a good cast with a narrow loop, the fly line punches through the wind and the fly lands at the 65 foot seam...hookup. There are also fish rising at the far bank, a 90 foot cast...even on their best day, anglers with 9 foot rods can only watch and wonder how nice it would be to reach the fish, or alternatively find a place to cross the river and make short casts to those fish.

2.      Anglers are wade fishing in the surf and facing a head wind. The fish are at 80 and on the far side of a three foot shore break. These fish are certainly within range of a spinning rod but you didn't bring one and/or you're a fly fishing purist and would never think of using one (foolish). Using your nine foot 9 weight single handed rod, while facing the wind puts your best cast at 60 feet and your line piles up in the waves.

3.      Anglers wade fishing in our salt ponds during our infamous "worm hatches". Fish are actively taking worms at 65 feet or further from the waist deep angler. Wind is not a factor but having little or no back cast room due to brush and small trees behind the angler, they do their best with high back casts or ineffective roll casts to push the fly the required distance, but the fly still falls short...way short. More watching and wishing the ability to reach those fish. Why didn't I bring my little boat?

In these scenarios, the angler using an 11 foot two-handed Switch rod, and a reel loaded with a line specifically engineered for use with the Switch rod, can make effortless single and double handed casts using both the standard overhead, the standard Switch Cast (aka Forward Spey Cast) as well as any number of other Spey casts (Single, Double, Snake Roll, Snap T, Snap Z, Circle, the list goes on). This rod and line combination enables the angler to easily reach those fish at 65 and 90 feet and once proficient, an angler can cast 100 feet and beyond. A Switch line has a long floating head (50-60 feet) and has at the fly end, a welded loop. To the loop the angler attaches a standard leader using the loop to loop method for top water presentations and alternatively for deeper presentations, varying lengths of slow intermediate sinking tip and fast sinking tips plus a short section of leader. With a Switch rod the angler can easily cover much more water than the poor guy toughing it out with the nine foot rod. It's truly amazing how much additional distance the angler can achieve with a two foot increase in rod length, combined with the two-handed grip that permits nearly effortless casting.

In summary, recall those times on the water when the fish were out of range of your longest casts, recall the analogy of the golfer who selects a different club to achieve the distance required, consider the extra rods in your inventory that you rarely use and give some serious thought to selling a couple of those nine foot rods, and buying a Switch. If you are primarily a wading angler, the Switch will significantly expand your range enabling you to cast to water that historically you could only hope to reach, while at the same time enabling you to cast the shorter distances that may be holding fish. I am still strong enough to carry a golf bag with fourteen clubs to assure I am adequately equipped for the short and the long game. My father was a lot smarter. In his later years he used an adjustable golf club and with a small wrench he could adjust the angle of the head by changing the pitch of the blade to convert the club to what was needed. The Switch rod provides similar utility enabling the angler to easily make short, mid-range and very long casts in all types of conditions, while simultaneously protecting the casting shoulder, arm, elbow and wrist.

The following link goes to the Rio Products "Spey Center" website that provides a wealth of information on Spey and Switch rod casting.

Additionally, the following link will refer you to a You Tube video illustrating traditional spey and switch rod casting and discusses in fair detail the variety of lines that can be used with the two-handed rod. (At 7:27 in the following video from RIO Products, Switch rod lines are discussed)  
































Not So Fast!... Suggestions for preparing your fishing equipment for the off season.

by Captain Jim Barr on 10/30/13

Not So Fast!

Suggestions for preparing your fishing equipment for the off season.

Now that the 2013 northeast saltwater fishing season is at an end for most anglers, excepting the die hards,  don't be so quick to put away your equipment for the winter months in "as is" condition. End of the season maintenance of fishing equipment used in saltwater requires careful cleaning to avoid ugly surprises when spring arrives and you are ready to get back on the water. The following suggestions will help you wind down from what I hope was a great fishing season by helping you prepare your equipment for its winter slumber. Another reason to clean and prepare your equipment now is for that unplanned opportunity that may arise to fish in the southern climates this winter. If your gear is ready to go, it will be one last set of chores you need to deal with when you are getting ready to wet a line. The process of cleaning and organizing your equipment now can also be helpful in identifying those items you would like to add to inventory or replace that can go onto your personal holiday wish list (to avoid the socks you don't want and the stale fruit cake!)

The following is a review of what's critical:


Fly Reel & Spare Spools:

Use a line winder and remove all the fly line from your reels and spare spools (or carefully coil the fly line by hand). Anglers Image makes a simple, low cost line winder. Preferably use a high speed line winder with an electric drill to remove the fly line and the backing. A product called "Smart Spooler" is particularly good for both removing and re-spooling fly line and backing:

Once the lines (and backing) are removed, thoroughly clean the reel and spools using hot water, mild soap, a spare tooth brush (mark it so you don't end up using it later to brush your chops) and a clean rag. The following YouTube video by Captain Bruce Chard may assist in the steps for both a short and longer term cleaning regimen. .

I keep my fly reels and spools organized in compartmentalized reel cases. As a fly fishing guide I have several of these and they are great for keeping equipment organized and protected. I have separate cases for fresh and saltwater reels and spare spools. You can easily overspend in this category and it's totally unnecessary:  A very good choice is Bass Pro's Reel Tote:

For fly, spin and baitcasting reels, purchase a reel cleaning kit that contains the simple tools, solvents, oil and grease your reel needs to say healthy: Always save your reel's maintenance instructions that become very helpful in knowing the specific lubrication points for your equipment. If you're not the type of angler who likes to personally maintain your equipment, find a local shop that is professional and get your equipment to them sooner than later while they are not busy.

Fly Lines and Backing:

Inspect your fly line backing closely. Dacron and Gel Spun backing is very durable however it can become damaged from exposure to the elements or if a fish takes you deep into structure during the fight and rubs the line against abrasive surfaces. If it is frayed in spots or simply has not been replaced for some time, replace it with fresh backing, it's cheap insurance to prevent losing the fish of your life. In most cases 30 lb Dacron backing is perfectly adequate for saltwater fishing. (Use 20lb for freshwater). If you desire a thinner backing that will allow more line to be added to your large arbor spools, Gel Spun is a good choice, albeit a bit more pricey. In most cases, 200 yards of backing is plenty for stripers, bluefish, false albacore and bonito. For other faster and longer running fish, best to consult with an expert shop or guide who can advise what's necessary. 


Inspect your fly line closely, particularly the first 30-40 feet, for cracks in the plastic coating. Repeated casting and exposure to salt, sand, and the sun's UV rays will take a heavy toll on fly lines. If your line has cracks, it will likely be to the "head" section of the line and the line should be replaced. 


(You may want to cut off the head section of the fly line and retain the running line portion for fashioning shooting head systems.)  If the fly line is undamaged clean it with warm soapy water and apply a dressing.  Regular cleaning and dressing of your fly lines is absolutely critical in preserving your investment.

Rather than rewinding your fly lines back onto the spools, coil the lines in large coils and secure the coils using pipe cleaner ties. Label large plastic re-sealable food bags with the specifics of each line (line type- floating, intermediate, fast sinking etc, and weight) and store the lines in a cool, dry location. Keep these lines stored until spring when you will wind them back onto the reel and spools using your line winder or by hand. Storing lines in large coils will mitigate line memory so that come spring you are not dealing with "slinky toy" coiled lines resulting from being tightly wound on your spools during the off season. I would also suggest that you discard all leaders/tippets tied to your fly lines and await the arrival of spring to replace them with fresh material. 


Spinning and Baitcasting Lines:

 As a fishing guide the lines on my spinning and baitcasting reels take a beating. I go back and forth between using monofilament and braid. Both have good and bad qualities. Monofilament is inexpensive and tangles less frequently than braided line. Mono's primary downfall from my perspective is that it does not cast as far as braid and has too much stretch. Braided line permits very long distance casts, it's strength to diameter ratio is a real plus, it does not stretch under load and it creates a super sensitive connection between the angler and the fish, however it is prone to easily developing wind knots and it is prohibitively expensive to replace each season. As for monofilament line maintenance, I simply replace it with fresh line on all reels after each season. As for braid, I replace it when I need to.

In both cases for removing old line from reels, I use empty line spools and attach them to a variable speed drill using a MacGyver-type bit or the line winder mentioned earlier in this article. On the spinning reels I secure the open bail with a hair tie to prevent it from accidentally tripping while the line is being rewound onto the waste spool or line winder. In both cases the use of a line winder for adding new line makes the job infinitely easier. Remember to recycle your lines to prevent injury to animals and the environment.

Baitcast Line Winder:

Spin casting line winder:

Fly, Spinning and Baitcasting Rods:

Use an old but clean toothbrush and with hot soapy water clean the reel seat, the fittings  that secure the reel to the reel seat and the screw threads of the reel seat. Clean around all of the guides and the tip top. If the cork grip is discolored, or slick with an oily residue- use a very fine grit sandpaper or fine steel wool and carefully rub down the grip to restore it's color and smooth surface. (Use masking tape to cover the rod blank and the reel seat immediately adjacent the cork grip to guard against scratching). If there are cracks in the cork or sections where the cork filler dislodged, mix cork dust (sand a wine bottle cork and collect the fine dust) with waterproof glue (Elmer's), and using a flat wooden stick or coffee stirrer, push the paste into the cracks and pits. Wait 24 hrs to allow the cork/glue slurry to cure and then carefully sand the grip with fine grit sand paper to return it to nearly new condition. Wipe down your rod sections with a clean cloth soaked in hot soapy water (use a mild soap). I like to then polish each rod section with a furniture spray wax such as Pledge. Spray the wax onto a clean dry cloth and polish each rod section. For multi-piece rods, apply beeswax, bowstring wax (or paraffin wax at a minimum) to each male ferrule of the rod sections. (The wax keeps the rod sections from coming loose after repeated casting). For fly rods, store the rod sections in a rod sock and secure everything into the appropriate rod tube. (If your rod tubes have a description of the rod on the exterior make sure you have got the right rod in the right tube, otherwise you might be in for a surprise when it's time to fish. Pay attention to the details. Store the tube in a cool and dry environment. For one-piece rods, several storage related products are very helpful in organizing and protecting your investments. Most anglers will store their rods with the reels attached and that's fine as long as it's done carefully. Most however roughly gather the rods together and prop them in a corner of the basement or garage so they are stacked on top of one another. I have several suggestions:

1.      Remove all terminal tackle and wind all the line onto the spool and secure the line with a rubber band or ladies hair tie.

2.       Slip rod socks over each rod to protect the blank and guides from damage. Most of our rods these days are constructed of graphite. If these rod blanks are scratched or nicked they can easily fail under the load of a fish or during the casting process. Protect your rods with simple covers:

3.      Rather than propping the rods leaning against one another, develop a system for storage, whether it's overhead or standup design. I recommend vertical storage systems in rod carousels. They don't use much space, and they rotate making it very easy to remove specific rods without sorting through the "pickup sticks" type storage.

4.      Where necessary, replace worn or broken guides on your rods. The following link will take you to a You Tube video that explains the repair process.

Zippers: Take particular care with any clothing items and gear bags that have zippers. Zippers exposed directly to salt water and salt air can get encrusted and lock up, and when you forcibly try to free them because you're in a hurry, the zipper head or slide will often break. The following link will take you to a blog on my website that offers tips on how to remove salt, clean and maintain zippers exposed to the salt environment. 

These suggestions cover much of what anglers should pay attention to as they prepare to put their equipment away for the winter months. Like your car or your house, regular maintenance will help ensure that your equipment will last longer, look better and be ready for next year's fishing season.


























Risk Mitigation for Wade Fishing at Night- A Lesson Learned the Hard Way

by Captain Jim Barr on 10/03/13

Personally I would rather saltwater fish in very shallow water (preferably with a fly rod), thus the name for my charter business, Skinny Water Charters. (  Most seasoned striped bass anglers know these fish prefer to feed heavily at night and in the low light of early morning and evening. It's true that in the spring and fall months stripers can be found in the middle of the full light of day, typically when they are making their spring and fall migrations or when they have pushed bait to the surface creating those dreamy sustained top water blitzes. This top water action is found in both shallow water as well as deep water environments. In Rhode Island, during July and August, stripers will often retreat to deeper and colder water that can significantly degrade our shallow/top water fishing opportunities.

In Rhode Island we are blessed with many shallow water /tidal estuaries, flats and salt ponds, absolutely wonderful places to fish for stripers and hickory shad. During those warm summer months one of my favorite places to fish are the salt ponds along our southern coast, each of which is connected to the ocean via narrow breachways that supply cold and highly oxygenated water, and striper forage that includes crabs, shrimp and a variety of small baitfish. Ideally I like to target fishing in darkness, during an incoming tide, and in skinny water. During periods at and surrounding the new and full moons that bring big tidal exchanges and fast moving currents, the incoming night tides can produce spectacular fishing in a beautifully serene environment- few if any competing anglers, no waves or engine noise from passing boats, only the composite sound of the ocean breaking on the distant barrier beach, the occasional screech of a seagull or tern and the nearby slurping of stripers feeding in shallow water.

Tragedy Narrowly Averted


Several years ago on an early July evening, the stage was set for such an outing. In two canoes, three of us crossed the narrow breachway as the tide began to turn. The new moon would guarantee no light except the faint glow of a starry sky. We each wore a life vest for the crossing, and brought our chest waders, chest packs, and headlamps that would provide the light we would need to change fly patterns and hopefully unhook fish. We anchored the canoes in a foot of water on the southernmost end of an expansive sand flat that was beginning to come alive with gulls and terns wheeling over clouds of sand eels that were beginning to school on the flat. We removed our life vests and stashed them in the boats for the return trip, wet waded the short distance to dry land to put on our waders and packs, string our fly rods and tie on our starting fly patterns.  In short order we were positioned on the flat and casting to nervous water as the sun set and the salt pond began to fill with cold ocean water.  Our timing was near-perfect, as the light fell from the sky and the "sun setters" on the far shore packed up their beach chairs and wine glasses, the parking lot emptied, and the stripers began feeding heavily.

As expected the top water fishing became spectacular. We had the entire flat to ourselves on a warm summer evening with all the striped bass we could ask for feeding on the surface as close as a rod length away. We continued to wade the flat casting to pods of breaking fish as they recklessly fed further north on the flat into the belly of the salt pond. During those several first hours of the incoming tide the fishing was so fast and furious that we paid little attention to the gradually deepening water and the distance we were opening from our anchored canoes. The sky was black, the only light being our headlamps that we turned on occasionally to change a fly and unhook a bass. I glanced at my watch and realized there were two more hours of incoming tide before the water went slack. Panic set in when I realized we were roughly 200 yards from where we anchored the boats, that the current was still flowing heavily against us and that I recalled having crossed through several  low areas on the flat where the water would be deeper than the waist high depth I was now standing in.

We soon realized our peril. I was the strongest wader of the three of us, so the plan was that Paul would stay with his girlfriend, turn on their headlamps and make whatever progress they could as I pushed hard against the current and deeper water to get to the boats before we were all swept off the flat into the deep water where with all our gear weighing us down there would be little chance of avoiding being drowned.

As I crossed several deeper areas on my way to the boats, as feared, the current pushed water over my waders so that by the time I reached the relative safety of the canoes I was exhausted and my waders were nearly full despite wearing a tight wading belt.  I stripped off my beach shoes (I never wear wading boots when fishing in saltwater estuaries) and waders and piled into the canoe and floated them down-current to my friends. Together we found shallower water further west on the flat, and eventually paddled back to the launch.

Lessons Learned


I have since wade-fished that same flat during similar conditions but I do a few things different than the night we came so close to tragedy. What's different?

-          I tell a friend or family member where I'm fishing and roughly what time I expect to be off the water, and that I will text message them when I am on dry land.


-          I wear an inflatable life vest. The type that you can manually inflate by blowing into a tube, but that also allows for instant inflation by pulling a lanyard that opens a CO 2 cartridge. These vests are very lightweight and not bulky and they provide a high degree of peace of mind when wading at night near deep water. Jacket/product/11090805012133/?hvarAID=shopping_googleproductextensions&om_mmc=shopping_googleproductextensions&kpid=11090805012133

-          I wear a chemical light stick and a plastic whistle on a breakaway neck strap that is activated by bending the plastic tube. These light sticks are waterproof and glow for many hours without worrying about losing battery power. They are also bright enough to change fly patterns and to handle a fish.

-          My headlamp is waterproof and my batteries are fresh. If I do happen to be swept into deeper water, I will be easily seen by someone providing assistance.

-          My cell phone is encased in a Lifeproof case

and the case is inserted into the Lifeproof Lifejacket  Float


-          I tether my canoe or kayak to my wading belt as I wade across the flat. Gone are the days of having to fight against a strong current to get back to my boat.

As anglers we generally are in overkill mode when it comes to gear that we take fishing. At the end of every wade fishing venture I take, I can easily identify half the inventory I brought that I didn't use, but the problem is I don't carry forward that lesson to the next outing. If you can build into your behavior a discipline that steers you away from toting stuff you never use and backfill some of that space and weight with the safety gear noted above, you will be more inclined to fish some of those quasi-risky locations and conditions where the big ones prowl.









G olf
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