In the lead up to the second annual Orvis Beginners Saltwater Weekend, we wanted to interview the festival guides about their experiences, what they hope to see at this year’s event and their top tips! We’re kicking the series off hearing from Joe Walker, who is a new guide for the 2022 event but a friendly and familiar face in the Saltwater Fly Fishing Festival community.
1. How did you come to be involved in the Orvis Beginners Saltwater Weekend?
I was invited to join the team guiding at this year’s Orvis BSW event after being recommended by 'mullet on the fly’ impresario and long-term Orvis guide, Colin Macleod. As a competitor at last year’s Orvis Saltwater Fly Fishing Festival, and having fished the area for many years, I had volunteered to guide anyone who might be interested for a full day the day before the event started, purely for the sake of helping fellow anglers unfamiliar with the area or saltwater environment. In the end, I was able to assist 8 extremely keen anglers with a heads-up on venues, marks, species and tactics… and I thoroughly enjoyed the day! I mentioned it to Colin, who I’ve had the pleasure of fishing with for many years, and I was later delighted and flattered when he then put me forward to help again in an official capacity at this year’s BSW event.
2. What are you hoping the attendees will take away / learn from this year's event?
A budding and enduring passion for the limitless, wild, saltwater environment! It’s pretty daunting stepping onto the shore with a fly rod for the first time. Accruing enough knowledge and experience to succeed can take an awfully long time if you don’t find some willing souls to help you take a few shortcuts. That’s what I hope I can do - help anglers who are new to saltwater fly fishing, to experience the thrill and beauty of it a lot sooner that they might otherwise have done!
3. What would be your top tip for a saltwater beginner?
Understand the principals of what features will attract and concentrate fish; our coastline is a vast place, so you really do need to understand what places are likely to increase your chances of success. Thereafter? Spend some time just watching - your eyes are the most valuable asset you have in saltwater fly fishing!
4. What are you personally hoping to bring to the event? (a little about your experience)
I’ve been saltwater fly fishing for 15 years, fitting it in around a demanding, busy job and a hectic family life. Not everyone can have the luxury of getting onto the water every week, or jetting off on exotic, specialist fishing trips around the world. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the thrill of success… it just means you’ve got to be efficient at it to make the most of the time you’ve got, whether it’s DIY fishing on a family holiday in the Med, or fitting in a few overcast hours on your local muddy estuary before going home to decorate the bathroom! My enthusiasm and optimism has always been a natural fit for angling of any kind, and my deep appreciation for those who’ve shared their hard-gained knowledge with me over the years is heartfelt. I’ve therefore always felt the desire to repay that kindness wherever possible and to share that knowledge and experience myself, so that other anglers can get as much pleasure and excitement out of saltwater fly fishing as I do. I’ve written extensively on the subject over the years in angling publications like Sea Angler and Fly Fishing & Fly Tying, as well as more recently on a blog site too, and there’s nothing I find more gratifying that talking to a novice saltwater fly angler who’s fizzing with excitement, having caught their first bass or mullet based on that information. What am I hoping I can to bring to the event? Confidence.
5. What would be your go to kit list for bass and mullet
When I first started saltwater fly fishing it was in fact my first attempt at ANY type of fly fishing, having exhausted bait and lure methods for most UK shore species. At that time there was little coverage of saltwater fly fishing in the UK, so I needed a lot of advice. I found it at the Orvis store in Stockbridge, just half an hour from home, and shortly afterwards I became the excited owner of an Orvis Clearwater 9ft 8wt rod, Battenkill Large Arbour reel, and Clearwater jacket, waders and wading boots… bit of a one-stop-shop!
These days the tackle offering has evolved and advanced no-end with the increasing popularity of the saltwater scene. Now, my go-to set-up (being something of a mullet enthusiast) is either an Orvis 9ft 6wt Recon rod or more lately the 9ft 6wt Helios 3D, either one paired with a matching Hydros reel and the WF6 or WF7 Floating Pro Textured Saltwater line. For anyone wanting to focus more on bass, I’d recommend stepping up to an 8wt set-up, which is versatile enough for most species and conditions. Really good polarising sunglasses and a hat are crucial, as is a line tray/stripping basket to keep loose fly line from wrapping around your legs or getting caught on pesky weed. Orvis waders and boots are tough enough to stand-up to anything the robust shoreline environment can throw at them, and my newest acquisition is their waterproof sling-pack to keep my cameras, drone and spare kit dry if the wading gets a little deep! Finally a good net to safely guide your next personal best fish into would be a must!
Budgets and experience may vary, but Orvis’ comprehensive range, superb service and fantastic quality will absolutely be able to cater to your coastal fly fishing aspirations. Combine that with the invaluable knowledge and assistance available at this year’s BSW event, and your road to saltwater success is assured!