The allure of saltwater flats

This winter of our discontent, cabin fever, the shack nasties, whatever you call it, set in prematurely. The first of November blizzard sent many Alberta anglers fleeing, heaven bent for warmer climes and some saltwater flats fly fishing.

This winter of our discontent, cabin fever, the shack nasties, whatever you call it, set in prematurely. The first of November blizzard sent many Alberta anglers fleeing, heaven bent for warmer climes and some saltwater flats fly fishing.

Several blizzards later, and the stay-at-homes are getting the message: deep snow is making it difficult to get to open dam tailwaters and spring creeks like the North Raven River here at home. Even the most demented ice fishermen are complaining that getting out onto the lakes is difficult and strange, hazardous conditions prevail there when you do: slush, thin ice and cracks under the snow.

The natural result of all this is that I am fielding more reader inquiries than ever before for tips, hints and help about winter fishing destinations, how to arrange trips, what to take, how to take it, and on and on.

I may no longer be the best person to ask. Outside my front door it is déjà vu all over again, back to early February 2005 when I took my last saltwater flats fly fishing trip: a 10-day escape to Cuba.

Earlier than that, I climbed the mountain of snow around the close park out there to get into the hip deep snow on the level and practise casting, particularly my double haul, with my new seven weight, St. Croix four-piece travel fly rod with fighting butt, and Islander saltwater reel, spooled with a Rio weight forward floating, extra stiff fly line to prevent it getting too limp to cast in the tropic heat.

But out there, even on a sunny, bluebird late January day, the line was stiff as an icicle and would not respond to my strongest strokes and heaviest hauls. The neighbours still giggle when they remember the show.

The trip to Cuba was fabulous, and the current view out my front door gives me pipe dreams of a return. In 2003, Herself staked me to my most expensive day of fishing, ever, on the Fiume Sieve in Tuscany, a tributary to the Arno. Our last trip, too early in April 2007, skunked me on salmon and brown trout in the Leguer River in Brittany.

Many callers have already booked a trip; others are considering options. Most are interested in saltwater flats fly fishing, but a surprising number yearn for spring or summertime now in the southern hemisphere: New Zealand, Patagonia, Chile, etc.

I tell all comers and goers about the necessity of multi-piece rods that will fit into checked luggage along with reels, etc., to help ensure that your gear arrives when and where you do and does not get stolen.

For those heading to the saltwater flats, I advise some casting practice with those rods, maybe even a lesson from a certified instructor on the double haul to handle the distances and winds on the saltwater flats anywhere. Lefty Kreh’s classic Fly Fishing in Salt Water is required reading for flats fishermen, particularly beginners.

Outfitters, big and small, can ease the where to go worries and sometimes the expense of getting there. Pioneering Red Deer River outfitters, Garry and Connie Pierce (www.tailwaterdrifters.com) have found great deals and great fishing for many anglers I know: to Punta Allen on the Yucatan Peninsula; the last couple of times I talked to them, they were enthusing about the Bahamas.

Anyone who dreams of fishing elsewhere — anywhere — should subscribe to the monthly The Angling Report (“Serving the Angler Who Travels”) (www.anglingreport.com). It is always among my month’s great reads and is full of reports on great fishing trips anywhere in the world. The current issue headlines Found! Low-Cost Fishing on Cuba’s North Coast, An Affordable Bristol Bay (Alaska) Experience and Dateline Colorado: Trip-Planning File: Three Trophy Trout Spots near Famed Ski Areas.

Lately AR has been reporting on airlines that permit three-day stopovers for some fishing without penalty en route to final destinations. From AR you can order past reports on any fishing destination in the world that might interest you.

Before my traveling came to an end, I had been collecting reports for a spring-summer-fall lifetime dream fishing trip that I might now be able to do on one ticket with some of those stopovers: Iceland-Ireland-Wales, for salmon and sea trout, or sewin; Spain, for zebra trout; and, finally, Slovenia for the most beautiful rivers in the world and the huge and ultra-wary marmorata, marble trout, in some of them.

Where would I go if I were heading for the south and saltwater flats fishing right now?

Unquestionably the north coast of Cuba would be first, maybe trying that AR trip.

Next would be Belize, the best for flats beginners, maybe even geezers who have been there before.

Finally, the Florida Keys, because I love the place, and that’s where I caught my first and biggest bonefish and now that I can’t go anyway, the cost of another pipe dream doesn’t matter.

Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at bscam@telusplanet.net.

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