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From Trout to Reds: Making the Fly Transition to Salt

From Trout to Reds: Making the Fly Transition to Salt

The author with an early morning lower Keys tarpon. (Photo by Jimmy Jacobs)

No matter where one lives or fishes, a trip to a saltwater destination is on the agenda for many anglers. Whether it is to escape the cooler temps or to sample the tenacity of a saltwater fish, many fly anglers make the trek to see what hooking into a saltwater specimen is all about.

It is probably safe to say that most fly anglers learned their craft on freshwater, whether targeting trout on a creek or river, or on the bank of a farm pond feeling the pull of feisty bream on the other end of the limber rod.

This was the case with Captain Scott Yetter, a full-time guide in the Florida Keys. The captain was born and raised in northeastern Pennsylvania and grew up fishing the waters of the Pocono Mountains. A “self-described mid-life crisis,” led Yetter to give up the corporate grind and move to Montana, where he eventually began his new life as a fly-fishing guide.

Montana provided a great lifestyle, but along with that was a short fishing season and a long winter. Yetter decided to do what many guides did. He started wintering in Florida and sharing his guiding efforts between the two states. Ultimately, Yetter developed an addiction to the flats of Florida and became a full-time Keys fishing guide.

Many saltwater fish have a hard mouth designed to crush crabs and shrimp. A steady strip set is needed to embed the hook. (Photo by Polly Dean)

Besides knowing where to find fish, the captain is equipped to guide anglers that are new to saltwater, and to help them to make the transition from freshwater angling to successfully landing their first bonefish, tarpon or even permit.

If the bulk of your experience has taken place in freshwater, be prepared to make a few adjustments in how you pursue fish, and hopefully proceed to land your first one in saltwater. Capt. Scott Yetter made the adjustment himself and shares his expertise with his clients of Sight Fish Charters. (

The Strip Set

If there is one difficulty that stands out to the captain, when taking out clients that are new to saltwater fishing or don't do it on a regular basis, it is remembering to “strip set” the hook. Unlike the traditional “trout set” where one raises the rod when a fish ingests the fly, a strip set is a long pull with the line hand to embed the hook in the fish's mouth.

A strip set, or long pull of the line helps to ensure a good hook set when targeting saltwater species. (Photo by Polly Dean)

There probably isn't an angler out there who hasn't suffered from that moment of “trout fever” and yanked their rod straight up in the air the moment they felt resistance. The realization that they are met with nothing on the other end and the sight of the fish running for the hills, is an all too common one.

A bonus of the strip set, is that a missed set looks like a shrimp or crab on the run. Many fish will make another attempt at it. “Keep the rod low and pointed at the fish,” Yetter said, as I placed the Gurgler fly in front of a juvenile tarpon. A direct line between the end of the rod and the fly provides a greater force of the hook into the fish's hard mouth than what a bent rod would provide.

Captain Scott Yetter demonstrates how to keep the rod tip pointed at his fly while stripping. (Photo by Polly Dean)

Several tarpon provided me opportunity to practice my strip set. I felt tug after tug, with many hitting the fly more than once, and then they were gone. I learned that it helped to grab my fly line with three or four fingers of my stripping hand as I made the short strips to entice a bite. I also held the rod out farther in front of me as I made the retrieve. This allowed me to have a better hold of the line and to have more room to make the long stroke of my strip set. A quick short set is more likely to yank the fly out of the fish's mouth.

Don't Spook Them

Freshwater anglers know that stealth is the name of the game in many situations. The same applies to the saltwater flats, but the tactics may differ. Quietly poling the boat across the shallows is a preferred method for most guides, when stalking saltwater species by sight. Capt. Yetter also recommends wearing blue and gray clothing, to keep from spooking fish.

“Make fewer false casts,” the captains says. “Nothing spooks a fish like a line waving over its head.” If false casts are needed to reach the target, make them to the side. Yetter also suggests making side-arm casts for a softer landing of weighted flies, especially those with dumbbell eyes.


Sighting Fish

One of the most exciting aspects of fishing in saltwater is that much of it is done by sight. Much of fishing for inshore species such as bonefish, tarpon, permit and redfish is done by being able to see the fish in order to better accurately place the fly. But learning to see fish may also be one of the most frustrating aspects of sight-fishing.

Polarized sunglasses are a must for cutting through glare and, just as important, for protecting the eyes from hooks flying through the air.

Being able to spot fish takes practice. You will notice that by the end of the day or even after a few days of staring at the water, it does get easier to pick out the shapes of the fish you are after. Any bit of elevation in your vantage point can make a big difference in how far and what you are able to see.

Hiring a guide is a great way to find fish and to learn where and how to look for them. Know the face of a clock - easier said than done for the younger generation.

The elevated platform allows greater visibility for the guide as he gently eases the boat along the shallows. (Photo by Polly Dean)

The best way for a guide to tell you the location of fish is by referencing the face of the clock with the bow of the boat being 12 o'clock. The guide is generally behind you on an elevated platform, with a better vantage point for seeing fish. When the guide calls out a position on the clock, it helps to quickly point your rod in that direction so he or she can further guide your line of sight to the right or left. It is also important to identify, if possible, which direction the fish are moving to know where to place the fly.

Additionally, I find that it helps me to know the distances that a guide may be calling out. Early in the day, I will have him point out an object that is 30 feet or 50 feet away, so that I can be on the same page as my guide.

Try not to get frustrated. Many find it difficult to see fish, especially at first, and it can get trying for both guide and angler when the angler can't spot them. Communicate with your guide and remember he or she is there to make your day a rewarding one.

Make the most of a saltwater trip with practice, practice, practice. Know how to double-haul for the longer casts, but also work on accuracy on the shorter ones. The fish next to the boat are often the most challenging. And don't forget to strip set!

Whether experienced or new to saltwater fly fishing, call Captain Scott Yetter of Sight Fish Charters at to fish the lower Florida Keys for bonefish, tarpon or permit.Email; Phone: (305) 304-6132

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