Just because I've been fly fishing for a long time doesn't mean I'm a perfect fly fisherman.
I still make mistakes and have lingering bad habits—as I'm sure most of us do. Just the other day, I was reminiscing about a great bonefish trip with Captain Carl Ball on Miami's Biscayne Bay. Carl is not just a wonderful dude to fish with, but he's a great guide as well. Part of being a great guide is being vigilant about calling out the client's errors, but doing so in a respectful way and offering to fix those mistakes. That's precisely what Carl does, and that's precisely why I enjoy spending time on the water with him.
Anyhow, being my first true bonefishing trip, I was pretty amped up. Despite barely sleeping, I was still damn excited. The weather, tides, and guide were all great, so I knew success was sure to come—but that was solely up to me. On this trip, I felt some increased pressure to perform for two reasons: I obviously wanted to catch my first bonefish, and I knew that if I screwed up today I wouldn't be able to get a second chance for quite a while.
Fast forward a couple hours, and I had already caught my first bonefish.
It happened surprisingly quickly and easily, but it was somewhat of a peanut—I wanted an upgrade! Although I already broke the ice, the desire for a bigger fish kept the pressure dialed up. So, when a small school suddenly appeared in close off the bow at 11 o'clock, that's when I made an error that could've cost me.
With a mottled bottom and some passing broken clouds, those fish kind of just appeared out of nowhere—bonefish aren't called "grey ghosts" for nothing! When Carl promptly made me aware of their existence, I rushed my cast.......which landed off course......DOH!!! Not a horrible presentation but not what I wanted. However, fouling up that short cast is not the error I'm eluding to. That error came next when I promptly picked up the line for another presentation. That's when I simultaneously heard Carl's voice from the poling platform firmly tell me to "leave it there"......but he was a split second too late.
My presentation wasn't horrible and I should've just fished that presentation through.
Thankfully, those bonefish were extremely forgiving. Instead of bolting off in a frantic cloud of silt as I hastily pulled the line out of the water, they simply made a slight course deviation but still seemed to remain happy. It was likely a combination of wind riffle, the slightly deeper water, and the fish being fixated downwards in their quest for lurking crabs and shrimp that masked my presence and gave me a magical second chance. This time, I didn't blow it—the fly landed where it needed to and was gobbled up after just a strip or two. Best of all, this one was a slight size upgrade over the first bonefish and helped alleviate the pressure. Score!
After I landed the fish and sent it back home, Carl and I spoke for a minute and dissected the catch. The one error I personally recalled (and knew better even before doing it) was lifting my line/fly out of the water with it very close to, or on top of fish in such shallow water—especially on a presentation that still might've worked. It's an occasional habit (for lack of a better term) that rears its ugly head sometimes when I'm a bit on edge.
I sightfish a fair amount through the year, and most of the time I'm composed and strict about not lifting for a re-cast until the line/fly is safely away from the fish. The sound and turbulence from the line leaving the water can spook them, as can a fly that's zipping through the water on an unnatural path as the rod is lifted. For these reasons, I don't pickup and re-cast until the line/fly is away from the fish and out of the fish's immediate sight. In this instance, the pressure and excitement got the better of me and I picked up way too soon. Luckily, though, I got away with it.
If a cast isn't perfect but a re-cast is too risky, I like to either go ahead and just fish the fly (if the presentation was at least halfway decent) otherwise I may let the fly sit motionless.
I've done the latter many times, especially if I've cast past the target or my angle is off. I don't want to strip the fly AT the fish, so if I messed up the distance or angle, I'll often just let the fly sit there or settle to the bottom in stealth mode and hope the fish moseys on by. Once clear of the danger zone, I'll pick up the line/fly and make my new presentation. Either option can often be better than starting a whole new cast with the fish in close proximity to the line or at an unnatural angle to where the fly would travel.
The shallower/clearer/calmer the water, the more stealthy and leery I am about when to pick up the line for another cast. How the fish are feeding comes into play too, as fish that are searching for food on more of a straight-ahead or upwards angle can be spooked more easily than a fish that's angled downwards hunting the bottom.