The big W. No matter the temperature, the wind is a constant factor in saltwater fly fishing. Here on Puget Sound, 10 knots of wind is a calm day. Those of us who spend a lot of time participating in this great fishery know the wind to just be something we have to deal with. Learning to deal with the wind is the only way to be able to fish the Puget Sound on any sort of consistent basis.
The two biggest tips I can offer for dealing the wind involve casting, and positioning.
When it comes to casting in the wind, there are two important factors: First off, is the double haul. Learning how to double haul is absolutely crucial for any saltwater fly fisher. Not only does it help achieve better casting distance on calm days, it is often the only way to successfully fly cast on windy days. Double hauling increases line speed dramatically, and high line speed is necessary in order to punch a fly into the wind. Increased line speed also helps minimize false casting, and the less false casting one does in the wind the less likely they are to put a heavily weighted fly in the back of their head, and the less chance of wind ruining a cast. There are plenty of good videos available online for learning to double haul, including one by Tim Rajeff that we have posted in our useful videos section of the South Sound Skiffs website. If you are not one who likes to try to watch videos and learn that way, then I highly recommend finding a certified casting instructor and taking a lesson. This can be an absolute game-changer for someone just getting into saltwater fly fishing. Anil at Puget Sound Fly Co. in Tacoma, WA is known as one of the finest casting instructors in our region, and I highly recommend him.
Another tip for being able to manage in the wind is being able to cast backhanded. If you are a right-handed caster, and the wind is blowing from right to left, it will blow the cast into your body as mentioned above. However, if you turn around and cast backhanded then this is no longer an issue. When casting backhanded, you essentially swap the roles of your forward and back cast. Instead of making your final cast on your forward stroke, you reverse that and make your final stroke your back cast. If you are on the beach this technique will have you facing the beach instead of the water, so this is probably going to be a bit strange at first, but it can be an extremely useful tactic when dealing with persistent wind. Again a good casting instructor can help you get more comfortable with this technique, but one thing I will mention here is that I’ve found that its crucial to not overpower your rod when backhand casting. Focus on slowing down and letting the rod do the work and you will be surprised at how easy it is to cast this way.
The other factor involved with fly fishing in the wind is wind direction. If the wind is directly behind you, for example, it is much easier to fly cast than when the wind is blowing directly in your face. Same goes for left and right wind direction. If you are a right-handed caster and the wind is coming from your right to left, it is going to blow a standard fly cast right back in the direction of your body. This is a recipe for burying a hook somewhere in your body. On the other hand, if the wind is blowing from your left to right, then it is blowing the cast away from your body and is much more manageable.
When beach fishing its important to know from which direction the wind is coming and to use that knowledge when selecting a beach to fish. If the wind is blowing 20 knots from the north, then its probably not the best idea to fish a north facing the beach. This is where having a handful of beaches that you know well, including how fishable they are in certain wind conditions, is important. If you only know north facing beaches, for example, then it’s going to be tough to fish during a stiff north wind. If you are familiar with some south-facing beaches, then you will have the option to have that north wind at your back.
When fishing out of a boat the wind can be just as big of a nuisance, but can also create some dangerous situations. It’s no fun being on Puget Sound in a small boat when the wind kicks up, so it’s extremely important for any boater to pay close attention to the weather forecast. It’s also important not to push your luck with the wind. If the wind picks up and shows no sign of slowing down, it is often the smartest move to simply head back to the dock and call it day. There is no reason to risk lives in the name of trying to catch a fish.
When the wind is constant, but not enough to pose danger, then a similar thought process used in beach selection comes in handy. Using the contour of the shoreline as something of a windshield it is often possible to get enough protection to fish effectively. In the south Puget Sound, there is an abundance of islands as well as small bays and estuaries where a boater can find some protection from the wind. Knowledge of the waters you are fishing is extremely important here and can make the difference between a great day on the water and having to head home to watch TV.
Puget Sound provides an incredible opportunity for year-round saltwater fly fishing, and I highly encourage anyone reading this to get out and see just how incredible this fishing can be in the winter. Many folks can’t be bothered to get out and fish during less than ideal conditions, so the ability to deal with the winter weather can not only provide some great fishing, but it can provide some solitary fishing as you may often find yourself the only one out on the water! Hopefully, some of these tips will help you plan your next winter fly fishing trip and perhaps make your day just a bit more comfortable.