Beach Fishing 101

Fishing the Ebb on Puget Sound
Fishing the Ebb on Puget Sound

When starting something new, one of the first questions to be considered is how to begin? The choice at the extremes comes down to plunging in or taking a class.

In my case, I’ve always believed one can never know too much or learn too much, so I opted for a class; assuming I’d pick up the needed technical information, local knowledge about where to go, and get some instruction on casting (for which too much instruction doesn’t exist).

Given I’d been fishing fresh-water rivers, I already had most of the gear I needed. I did pick up a Winston BIII-SX (more on that in a later post); and bought a few flies for the species of choice: sea-run cutthroat trout (bought a few more the day of the beach session).

There are a number of outstanding fly shops in the Puget Sound. But I chose Gig Harbor Fly Shop’s class. I like the area a lot and there are tentative plans to move there when I can cast off the harness of corporate America. The shop’s location overlooking the harbor borders on the sublime. And I was impressed with the shop staff in both past online orders and talking to them in the store.

Their Puget Sound Beach Course (Fly Fishing 1.5) was held in two sessions: the first was three hours on a Wednesday night followed by a four-hour session on the water.

Taught by Blake Merwin, the owner of Gig Harbor Fly Shop, the course was a great introduction to fishing in the salt water of Puget Sound.

The three-hour classroom session, taught with slides and a lecture that was interspersed with tales of trips local and afar, was like drinking from the proverbial fire hose. I scribbled notes furiously as the course covered equipment, target species, food sources, tides and winds, and where to find good fishing. When I reread my notes I was surprised how much ground we covered. One tip: if you take the course please bring beer – none of the five students in our class did and it’s a shop practice!

The Saturday session was held on a sunny Saturday morning on a local beach near Gig Harbor. The tide tables called for a -1.3 foot low in the afternoon so we were in prime time to fish the ebb.

Driving over the Narrows Bridge earlier, the winds were calm and the water smooth. By the time we met at the shop, bought a few last remaining items, got down to the parking lot and got into our waders, the wind was up. A very visible back eddy in front of the beach matched the strong ebb.

Blake took some time to explain the beach and where good fishing should be found as well as tips for fishing different types of flies.

We five students separated along the beach and sought to catch a sea-run. Unfortunately, the back eddy never dissipated allowing a rip to form close to the beach. The bottom line is that no one caught anything.

And it wasn’t just the five of us. Water birds on the water weren’t diving for anything; a seal that poked his head up out of the water disappeared; likely finding better fishing elsewhere.

But I wasn’t disappointed. One doesn’t go fishing to only to catch fish. As Haig-Brown consistently alluded: fishing is more about context than practice. Standing on Puget Sound watching the sea birds and a bald eagle circling overhead, and feeling the chill of the wind and the warmth of the sun more than made up for getting skunked.

The course gave me the tools and information to head out on my own. And we did get some good information on where to go on our own. But you’ll have to the class to find out where.

First Casts with Winston BIII-SX

Finally, I got a nice day for a first casting session with my 9’6” 6-weight Winston BIII-SX. The rod, as the day, did not disappoint.

The day was pleasant for early March – sunny and relatively warm (high 50’s) with no wind. I could have gotten out any time in the last month after I had the rod delivered, but who wants to stand in the rain on a cold, windy day and cast across a muddy backyard?

A first experience is always what it is. But when possible it’s always better to stack the odds for success rather than failure. Most life experiences begin with excitement mixed with trepidation as the expectation turns into reality. That in itself is enough; other factors that can be avoided, should be: a flat tire on a first date; spilling coffee during an interview with a potential employer; or having rain pour down the arm through a loose cuff while casting a fly rod for the first time.

And a warm sunny day seemed to be to the ticket. Not having to deal with layers and outerwear was something worth waiting for. I managed about 20 minutes with the rod – not long as I wanted, but about all I had given the day’s schedule.

As to the rod and how it cast? It’s a Winston: different than the BIIIX, but still a Winston in looks, feel, and casting.

The components are Winston quality. They require almost no comment. This is a beautiful green stick. I’ve read some complaints about the black anodized aluminum reel seat, but I don’t what the complaints are. I thought it looked terrific – particularly with the script R.L. Winston on the seat.

This post is what I’d call initial impressions given the limited time I’d spent casting and in the condition I cast it. It won’t be called a review until I spend much more time with the rod and in more conditions..

I was using an old Orvis large-arbor reel with a similarly old SA Mastery GPX 6 weight line with an Umpqua practice leader; I keep those for casting in the backyard and keep my Nautilus reels for use on water. I didn’t check rod/reel balance this time – I was just in a hurry to get out and cast. The rod/reel combination felt comfortable and I didn’t notice any issue with balance.

My first cast was made with about 20 feet of line stripped out. I had no problem getting the line to load the tip – but the tip was all that loaded – and make a reasonable-looking pick up and lay down cast. I say reasonable to focus on any limitation being mine, not the rod.

I began to shoot line and without hauling (something I still have to pick up) was making 50-60 foot casts with little problem. The cast tracked well, with me being able to put the fly where I aimed.

I watched my back cast on every cast for this first session to know when to begin my forward cast as well as to watch the rod tip, which is something I no longer do with my BIIX. I have the feeling a bit more practice and I’ll be able to do that with the BIII-SX.

I had never cast the BIII-MX so I can’t offer any comparison. Other early reviews I’ve read suggest the BIII-SX is a smoother cast than the MX. I can only say it’s faster than the BIIIX. By how much, and how it comparatively handles wind, is something I still have to discover.

My deltoid was bit sore after I finished – much more noticeable than when casting my BIII-X 5-weight. That could be to the almost five months from when I was last out on the Yakima river, or it could be due to the stiffer feel of the rod (I’d noticed similar sensations when casting a Sage One).

My casting is a work in progress, and as my technique improves along with more casting this year, that should problem should go away.

I bought this rod for use on the beach this year, fishing for Puget Sound cutthroat trout. With a more practice to learn how the rod behaves – as well as polishing my casting skills, I should be ready.