Into the Backing

I was in LA this weekend and took a detour to the Will Rogers State Park Beach in Santa Monica. My guide Lee Baerman and I were a bit skeptical about the afternoon. The low tide was only a couple of scant hours away and it was in the middle of the afternoon on a completely clear day. Not the best conditions.

Still, I had several hours to work on surf casting with a full brand-spanking new Hydros 300 grain sinking line (thanks Dan Davala of Orvis Clarendon). I was worried my arm would feel like lead, but Lee (a FFF certified flycasting teacher) gave me plenty of instruction. The key–waiting until just a few feet of my line was out before casting, thus, I was really casting the leader and letting the weight do the work. Next we worked on reading the waves and when to set the line down–apparently just after the set of waves filled the target zone with enough water for the fish to hunt food–and then strip, strip, strip.

As the day wore on, we had bumps but few takers, just one small and feisty ray. Still the surf candy was a particularly pleasant distraction, I mean, its LA right? Lee quipped–where else can you fly fish and see bikini-clad beauties but the beach!

Finally, after about two hours, I let loose one of my longest casts and then felt a solid hit. I strip-set the hook, and away we go! I saw the flash of brownish dorsal fin and then the fish ran, and ran, and ran. I was into my backing in just a few seconds with Lee coaching me to play the fish gently, to bob the rod to keep the fish from sucking bottom if it was a ray or pick line up if it was a shark. I gathered up line as the fish came back into the surf, and boing–he was off. Examining the leader revealed the fish and bitten clean through it. Oh the pain, the joy, the pain. It was a big fish. Later, we were able to surmise that it was either a shovelnose ray or a leopard shark. Whatever it was, it was a great fighter–I’ve never been into my backing on my 8wt.

The rest of the afternoon was a lesson in “reading water” as we explored troughs, still water, rips, converging waves and perpendicular currents for Corbina. I had one more good hookup that got off, but Lee surmised we probably had foul-hooked a ray because we were able to retrieve the leader with one of his beautiful hand-tied flies on it. It was surprisingly not a sand flea pattern. To paraphrase, “If you walked into a room with a hundred gorgeous blondes and there was one brunette–you’d notice her.”

How can you recommend a guide if you haven’t caught any fish with him? Though we didn’t land anything, we had hook-ups, big ones, and the time was well-spent. I’d give five hours of guided instruction over an hour of heavy fishing any day. Thankfully, Lee obliged.

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