I have the privilege of fishing with a wide spectrum of fishermen. A few are experienced tournament fishermen while many are just tourists looking to learn about saltwater fishing.

In fact, I have even fished with a few people who had never even seen the ocean before. Clearly every fisherman who boards the boat has his own unique skill level and experience. So the first thing I do is try to determine where they are on the continuum so I can ensure they enjoy their fishing experience. It is for this reason, no matter what they tell me about their fishing abilities at the beginning of the charter, I always go over the proper way to make an effective cast with spinning gear.

I start this brief lesson by making sure the reel is firmly mounted on the rod and I check the drag to make sure it is properly set for the species we are targeting. I then demonstrate how to maximize their casting distance and accuracy. If the fishermen are brave enough to admit their lack of experience (usually women are a lot more honest than men), I will assist them until they are at least proficient at the basics of using spinning gear.

Next I make sure to inform my fishermen my reels are loaded with braided line and explain the benefits of using it: Abrasion resistance, smaller diameter, and improved casting abilities. I also introduce them to the potential hazards of braided line and stress that it is very important not to not get the line wrapped around their fingers as a big fish can pull hard enough to create a painfully deep cut when the braided line slices into the skin. I also discuss how to avoid creating “wind knots” which often occur when inexperienced fishermen attempt to cast into the wind.

If my fishermen are from the mainland, or only fish inland lakes, I will also provide them with a quick presentation on the types of fish we might catch and some of the hazards they may encounter if the fish is improperly handled once on-board. This always includes how to avoid extremely sharp teeth, pointy scuts, and potentially dangerous and painful dorsal fins.

It is easy for inexperienced flats fishermen to become frustrated when a fish decides to dart away or completely ignores a well placed cast. In these cases I simply encourage them to “keep casting.” Eventually fishermen start to get the hang of sight fishing and hopefully it isn't too long before the rod is bent over and the braided line is screaming as it disappears off the reel.

However, there are some fishermen who don't have a lick of casting skills, but somehow end up catching a dandy fish. Many guides try to take credit for this type of success, while I chalk it up to nothing more than “dumb luck.”

I recall one fisherman who could barely cast the length of the boat. I was sure we were never going to catch a fish, so I decided to set up in the channel and drop back crabs for tarpon. To my amazement, he soon had a big tarpon trying to pull him off the deck. I admit we must have looked like clowns as the tarpon almost spooled us when he took off trying to escape from a big bull shark on his tail. Somehow we eventually did bring the tarpon along side for a photo. We had drifted so far while fighting the fish that I can only assume the shark finally just gave up and went off searching for an easier meal.

On the next trip, this same guy decided he was ready to catch a permit. I poled us across my favorite flats and it didn't take long before I spotted a school of black sickle tails heading our way. His casting skills had not improved and the bait landed nowhere near the fish. In spite of his poor cast, the fish decided to change course and then wandered directly towards his crab. I don't know who was more surprised when the rod bent over as a big permit took off in pursuit of deeper water at MACH-1. Once again... pure luck.

On his third charter he informed me he had heard bonefish were really fun to catch and asked if we could catch one so he could complete his “flats grand slam.” We staked out as the tide started to come in and, after a while, we spotted a few bones working into the shallow water. He reared back and made another wimpy cast. His shrimp plopped down noisily and way too close to our boat. In spite of his poor cast, the scent of the shrimp revealed a nearby crustacean morsel and the bones rushed in to find it. Unfortunately, I accidentally let his first ever bonefish slip out of my hands as I was taking out the hook and the fish flopped into the water and disappeared! My fisherman laughed and then told me we would have to get him another one, and preferably bigger. I never did see the fish that ate his next shrimp offering, but it was indeed bigger and we were able to get a picture before I made another oops release.

While an angler with keen fishing skills will undoubtedly catch more and bigger fish over time, a little luck can go a long way in assisting new fishermen with the opportunity to experience some spectacular fishing success.

Capt. Pete Peterson welcomes comments and suggestions sent to petersonventures@aol.com.

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