This guide will introduce you to the basics of fly fishing from a boat. If there is any piece of fishing equipment that is a total game-changer, it’s a boat. It allows you to get to areas where you usually won’t even dream of fishing.

Throughout all my years of fishing, I’ve been fortunate enough to fish from boats in both freshwater and saltwater scenarios. I’ve also guided in many of these places and have seen what works and what doesn’t.

So, without further ado, let’s get the show on the road.

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What Makes Fly Fishing From A Boat Different?

For the purpose of this guide, we’ll assume a boat is a substantial floating craft that can accommodate two or more persons. A floating vessel suited for a single person, such as a float tube, is slightly different. 

A fisherwoman fly fishing from a boat

Here are the most significant differences between fishing from a boat and from afoot.

Accessibility

Whether you’re fishing in fresh or saltwater, a boat makes it possible to fish in areas where it would otherwise be impossible. In freshwater scenarios, you’re able to cover much more water when drifting down a river. Also, you’ll be able to work structures and banks that might be impossible to reach on foot, like a cliff face, for example.

In many saltwater scenarios having a boat is crucial. You can fish for species such as Mahi Mahi, Tuna, and Sailfish many miles into the sea. A boat also gives you the ability to work in surf zones from a different angle if you have a skipper who knows their stuff.

Wading on foot in a pristine flats area is one of my favorite ways to target saltwater fish. But, even here, having access to a boat is crucial. When fishing these areas in fast spring tides, it could be dangerous when the current comes in. Popping onto a boat and moving to another spot is safe and saves a lot of time.

Instability

One of the things I see most anglers, which are not used to fly fishing off a boat, struggle with is stability. As you can imagine, casting a conventional rod off a boat is one thing, but casting a 12wt to a target 80ft away is something else.

Being stable before you even make a fly cast is critical. Don’t feel ashamed leaning against a lean bar or trampling around a little. Guides are used to it and know you need to find your sea feet.

Fighting a Fish

This point has to do with fighting a substantial fish. A boat will help nothing when fighting a 3lb brown trout unless it has wrapped you around a tree, and the boat can help you untangle the line.

No, what I mean here is that a boat helps to fight big fish. Hook into a proper (1m+) giant trevally, and you’ll need to chase it down with a boat to free the line from coral snags.

Recently, on a tarpon trip to Costa Rica, I learned how much a boat could reduce fighting time. The first couple of days, the anglers were very much and wanted to haul in the 160lb+ fish by themselves, sometimes taking up to 2 hours.

Eventually, after tiring out, we used the boat to help bring the fish up. You see, a tarpon hooked in deep water sits right under the boat for a significant part of the fight. Even with a 13wt rod, lifting fish of this magnitude is almost impossible.

What we did was simply lock the reel with your palm and put the boat into reverse. This pulled the tarpon up to the surface. This technique significantly reduced the fighting time, which leads to less fatigue of both the fish and the angler.

Cooler box

This, to me, is a total game-changer. A boat allows you to have your cooler-box at hand wherever you fish.

Fly Fishing from a Boat – Tips & Tricks

In this section, we’ll look at some tips and tricks that will make your boat fishing experience more enjoyable. Some of these will make you fish better, some will keep you safe, and some will cause you less embarrassment.

Seasickness

Seasickness is a form of motion sickness that originates from a disturbance to the inner ear. The weird thing about it is that you’ll be fine 99 days out at sea, then it catches you on number 100. If you know that you suffer from motion sickness and planning a long day out at sea, I recommend taking medication to prevent it.

Obviously, for calm freshwater situations, this doesn’t count.

Stability

You need to be stable to make a good fly cast. Ensure that you’re comfortable where you’re standing on the boat and that you’re not falling around. Being unstable can even lead to you falling overboard and/or hurting yourself.

A fisherman fly fishing from a boat

Find something on the boat to support yourself with. Prop your legs against the boat’s gunnels, lean against a lean bar with your butt, or even ask a fellow angler to hold your shoulders. Do whatever you can to make yourself stable.

Watch the Line

A fish you’ve been looking for the entire day is approaching the skiff, and you need to present the fly three rod-lengths in front of it at 80 feet. As you push out the last haul, the fly is sent in the intended direction but comes to an abrupt halt mid-air.  You’ve stepped on the line.

To both guide and angler, this is super frustrating. One of the most significant pieces of advice that I can give you, and I’ve mentioned this in my guide on Surf Fly Fishing, is to manage the line. Make it part of your routine to ensure that the line is lying in the right place and you’re not stepping on it.

One tip that I can give anglers who fish off a boat and actually don’t need wading boots at all is to fish barefoot. You’ll feel the line immediately if you step on it.

Learn How To Read an Analog Watch

Most guides you’ll fish with on a drift boat or flats skiff will use the analog watch system to indicate the direction where you must cast. Standing on the front platform, the bow, or forward-facing point indicates 12 o’clock. To the right of that is 1, 2, and 3 o’clock. To the left of 12 is 11, 10, and 9 o’clock.

This system is used by guides worldwide to quickly and effectively communicate the intended direction of a cast. If you’re right-handed, you’ll find that the guide mostly positions the boat so that you cast between 9 and 12 o’clock. If you’re left-handed, you make most casts between 12 and 3 o’clock.

The primary purpose of this is that you don’t hook the guide, or your fellow angler, standing on the stern side of the craft.

Hold On To Your Cap

When running to and from home or to your next fishing spot, remember to hold on to your hat. Hold it in your hand, turn it around, or secure it with a buff. It will get blown off, especially when making the run in on a boat with powerful motors.

It will save you time to circle around and grab your cap.

Keep The Deck Clean

It is always good to practice good housekeeping. This statement holds very true for fly fishing from a boat. Too many loose items on the deck will cause an issue sometime during the day. It will either make your trip and/or hurt yourself. A fly line also has a mind of its own, so it will find a way to tangle around these items, especially when the bite is on.

Keep everything in its place from the get-go, and you won’t have any issues.

Shot for Shot

As a guide, I’ve seen my fair share of arguments between anglers on who should get the next shot at fish. This argument only arises on tough days when fish are few and far between.

I recommend that your boat partner, yourself, and your guide discuss how to divide the shots at fish before even heading out. In this way, there will be no doubt about who’s turn it is, and it just makes for a more pleasant day out.

Saguaro Lake Arizona Fly Fishing in a Boat

In general, there are two systems. The first is switching over after a specific, predetermined time has elapsed. For instance, on my skiff, I always suggest 15 minutes. It gives the angler who’s not fishing enough time to rest and have something to drink.

The other system is on a per-shot basis. If an angler presents to a fish, that’s one shot – even if it eats or not. Then it’s the other angler’s turn.

Whatever system you decide on – make sure to do it before any fishing occurs.

Time To Go Fly Fishing From A Boat!

I hope that you found this guide on how to fly fish from a boat useful. My aim is to share with you valuable information and tips that I’ve seen in real life, not just another list of boat gear and items that you can purchase.

Please share it with any of your fellow anglers and friends. There’s information in there that any angler, fly or conventional, will find useful.

Until next time.