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Great Expectations – the first timer’s guide to Orvis’ Beginners Saltwater Fly Fishing Weekend

Guest post by Joe Walker, Orvis Beginner's Saltwater Weekend guide.

How do you measure success?

As an angler that may seem a daft question, but for the events and guiding team that put the Orvis Beginner's Saltwater Weekend together, it’s a pretty important one! After-all, it’s a tricky order with an event of this size, but if it’s ever-growing popularity is anything to go by (in this age of relentless rating by social media), well that is pretty good indication that it’s comfortably hitting its mark! It also signals the continuing growth in interest for this exciting arm of the sport too. Ultimately, for the team, success is fulfilling as many of the attendees expectations as possible.

So, what can the attending saltwater novice expect over the two days?

Will I catch anything?

Well, let’s address the thorny issue of fish, first of all…

To paraphrase the late, great Douglas Adams: The sea is big. Really big. I mean, you may think it’s a long way to the Stockbridge Orvis store, but that’s just peanuts compared to… well, you get the picture. So what does that mean for you? It means that there are no guarantees of course – this is fishing after all, and those fish are free to move about with no regard for us poor anglers whatsoever. Will you catch over the weekend? You very well may. You may indeed ‘fill your boots’ if you happen to be at the beach just as that shoal of bass crashes into the baitfish right in front of you. That’s the beauty of saltwater fly fishing; it’s unpredictable nature makes success even sweeter. The weekend is all about learning to tip the odds in your favour.

What you will get is the guiding team giving you the crucial head-start in understanding how to read the coastline and begin to effectively narrow down the almost infinite choice of where to put your fly. You’ll leave with an understanding of where your best chances lie, and when. After that, it’s all down to time on the water. What we’re hoping you will definitely catch is a huge dose of enthusiasm for it!

What conditions can I expect?

Frankly, if I could put that down here with any degree of certainty, I’d finish typing this up and immediately go and buy a lottery ticket. The great British summer is a fickle thing, so in terms of the weather, expect the unexpected! The coastline is invariably exposed. This means any breeze that’s forecast is almost always magnified, not to mention the complications of temperature differentials etc. A big part of the planning for the event revolves around the skill of the team at being able to adapt plans to mitigate a tricky wind direction for example. What’s more, we’ll explain to you how you can do the same. A maritime climate does keep us on our toes in ‘the salt’, but you can learn to work with it and maximise your fishing opportunities.

Of course, there are times when you have little choice but to tackle that annoying breeze head-on… literally. Fortunately, a big part of the first day revolves around the casting workshop,  where you will receive top-notch coaching from one of the 10 GIAIA qualified casting instructors Orvis has teamed up with. These professional and highly experienced instructors are there to help you get the absolute most out of your time, whether you’ve never held a flyrod before, or you’re an old dog with bad habits and a desire to learn new tricks! One thing’s for sure, you’ll leave a better caster than when you arrived!

Naturally ‘conditions’ is a term that covers far more than just the weather. There’s tides, currents, waves, uneven rocks, steeply banked shingle, shifting sand and gloopy mud to consider too! The coastline around the Beginner’s weekend HQ is extremely varied – that’s precisely why we host it there. It gives you a good understanding of the benefits and challenges of the different environments you might encounter around the coast. There will be a big point made about safety. Coastlines are hazardous places if you’re not familiar with the potential dangers, so we’ll be sure to carefully help you assess the risks and avoid getting into any trouble.

Waders and good, solid wading boots are, if not absolutely essential, highly advisable. We did have one brave gentleman last year who, lacking waders at that point, wet-waded for the whole weekend. Even in the hottest of summer days, wet-wading can become a bit of an endurance test after a few hours, and the sea temperature this year may well still be a long way from ‘balmy’! As it happens, that particular angler caught the best fish of the weekend, but his triumphant trophy-shot clearly shows a man smiling through chattering teeth!

You’ll be fishing over mixed ground, from clean, hard packed golden sand, to silty gravel peppered with bladderwrack and open shingle beach. Wear a hat, definitely don’t forget to bring your sunglasses, and make sure you’ve got plenty of food and water… partaking in saltwater fly fishing expends a lot of energy and can cover a lot of ground! Moving from mark to mark is essential as the team will want to stay ahead of the tide and ensure everyone gets the experience they need. Keep your phone charged, and make sure you either have plenty of change for parking, or the parking apps PaybyPhone and JustPark installed … no one wants the weekend spoiled by a ticket slapped on their windscreen!

What can I expect from the guides?

In short, the benefit of their hard-earned experience, friendly and informative tuition, and a whole heap of unbridled enthusiasm!

The guiding team know the area intimately, and are there expressly to make sure you get as much as possible out of the weekend. We absolutely love saltwater fly fishing and the UK coastline, so for us to be able to share the knowledge we’ve accumulated with like-minded aspiring ‘swffers’ (as we often refer to ourselves) is a genuine pleasure.

We’ll be wearing fetching high-vis jackets, so you’ll be able to spot us a mile off. Whilst some of us may carry rods (for demonstration purposes only) we won’t be fishing – we’re there expressly to help you with yours. We’ll move around constantly to ensure you have the chance to quiz us and talk all things ‘swff’ – If there’s something you’re not sure about, don’t be shy! Attendees come with experience ranging from ‘never picked up a fishing rod in my life’, to veteran sea angler/first time fly fisherman, to ‘old hand’ on the river, but ‘salt-curious’, so we’ll attempt to field all your questions, no matter what angle they come from!

What can I expect by the time I leave?

Well, if previous years are anything to go by, first and foremost a good understanding of all the basics required to get out and enjoying saltwater fly fishing, both in the UK and abroad. You should also expect maybe some tired legs, probably a whole bunch of new friends, and almost certainly a strong desire to get out on the shore and try it again.

How do we measure success? More than anything, by the smiles on the faces of everyone as they leave!

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