Feb 13

Interview with Capt. Joel Dickey

Another interview from readers suggestions. This time it is Capt. Joel Dickey, another Keys guide. Joel has been out with the Gink & Gasoline guys and knows one or two dozen good thing to know about fishing in the Keys.

How much of an off-season do you get down there in Florida and what do you do when
you aren’t guiding?

Well in my honest opinion there are great opportunities for fishing year round in the Keys. I would put it in that there is a “softer” season as opposed to an off season. The Keys is famous for tarpon season which runs from March until mid July. However some of the best opportunities for the “grand slam” is from late June till September. From September to mid November is spectacular bone fishing and permit fishing.. And yes there are still some tarpon around then too. as for the ” soft season ” I would say mid-November to the end of January. Don’t get me wrong though the big three can still be caught during these months the weather just has to be right. As far as what I do in the off season? Fish of course! What else is a guide to do? I also tie flies, come up with new patterns for the upcoming season. I also like to take photos during my trips and this is a time I can really edit photos. However this year I plan on hosting some trips to the Bahamas and other places for my clients. In the Keys you have shots at all of the Big 3.

Where do bonefish rank there for you and what do you like about them?

I don’t think I can really answer that one because there are aspects about all three that Ilove. That wouldn’t be very fair to the fish now would it lol. The sheer power of atarpon, the unbelievable speed of the bonefish and the stubbornness and craftiness ofthe permit are things that I highly respect of each and these traits give each auniqueness that everyone should experience. As far as bones though speed says it all.Pound for pound I don’t think there is a more explosive fish swimming. Just look at theway they are built.. The engineering from the Big Guy above is nothing less thanperfect. I also like their eagerness to eat a properly placed and fished fly. If your adecent angler the refusals are cut to a minimum. Lets not forget a lot of this happens inless than 10 in. of water so you can wade for these fish very easily which is a treat initself. But let’s be honest tarpon is what brought me down here as is with most everyone else!

Photo by Joel Dickey, and a nice photo it is.

Photo by Joel Dickey, and a nice photo it is.

Often times there are people who play a big part in our evolution as anglers. Is there someone that helped you become the angler or guide you are now?

To be fair, as you know “it takes a village” and I have been very fortunate to know some really respected guides and anglers in the industry. The people who have inspired me the most would first and foremost be my late brother Brett and my late grandfather who introduced Brett and I to fly fishing. Some of my favorite memories are when Brett would come home for college every weekend and as soon as he got home we would hit the river no matter the conditions. Even in the dead of winter in of which back then we didn’t have waders and wet waded a lot of times in 30-40 deg. temps. The fishing was so good on the Toccoa back then we hardly noticed the cold. It was his dream to become a guide and back then in North Georgia that was just unheard of especially a fly fishing guide. Of course I can’t forget to mention Lee Howard who gave me my first guide gig for a legit fly shop and who taught me a lot about all aspects of fishing. Last but not least Capt. Bruce Chard for pushing me daily to be the best guide I can be and helped get me established here in the Keys and in the fly fishing industry itself.

Guiding is not fishing. What do you think it takes to be a good guide that is different from
being a good angler?

First and foremost to be a good guide I feel as though one needs to be a superior angler and I do mean far superior than most. I think you need to have an understanding that is almost like ESP of what the fish are doing. Not only that you have to be able to teach this to your client. Now that sounds easy but really it’s not. You have to be able to convey the information not only as so your client can understand it but be able to perform what you explained when asked. A lot of guides can regurgitate information to clients but you also need the understanding of why you make a cast this way or fish a fly that way and teach the client why also. I cannot tell you how many times a client has thanked me for explaining why a particular flat is productive instead of just going to a flat and saying ok there are fish here. Why are the fish here? Where and what direction are they coming from? Why? These are simple questions a guide should explain. A lot don’t. To do this properly you need to read people and focus on the aspects of fly fishing they are good at and set up your fishing to enhance what they are good at and while doing that teach and work on the aspects they are lacking in. Let’s not forget to do all this in a way so they will enjoy it!( that was a mouthful). I also think that the better guides in the industry are the ones who can evolve to changes. Evolve in the changes of the fishery, flies, and techniques.

Joel bonefish

Photo by Joel Dickey.

What is your go-to rod/reel for bonefishing? For tarpon?

Well my favorite bone fish set up is the Thomas and Thomas TNT 7wt with a Hatch 7+ reel.
My fav tarpon set up is Thomas and Thomas TNT 11wt with a Hatch 11+ reel.

Everyone tells me there will come a time when I embrace permit. That hasn’t happened yet. The pace just is too slow for me. What’s your take on permit?

Well permit for sure is a different animal and not for the faint of heart. I like most have a     love hate relationship with permit. Love seeing them, love hooking and landing them but absolutely hate getting denied time after time by them. However, I personally think that most people fish for the wrong fish.. To elaborate more on what I mean I think there are a few types of permit that come onto the flats and which type a guide targets has a determining factor to how successful the angler is. There are tons of flats that you can take a client where there are plenty of permit “cruising” but not really eating. The chances of hooking these fish are extremely low no matter how good the cast is. Then there are flats where fish are actually there to eat. They move slowly and methodically looking for the opportunity to pounce. I think the shallower the flat the more likely to hook one. Then there are tailing and mudding fish who are in the process of eating in of which your chances go way up with a properly placed cast. The point of this is the permit most anglers see are the “cruising” type and they get frustrated when they don’t eat. Thing is they might not have eating on their mind when they are in the “cruising” state of mind so we tend to be too hard on ourselves. What you have to do is find the last two types with of course the tailing and mudding being the best shot at getting one to take a fly.

Permit and photo by Joel Dickey.

Permit and photo by Joel Dickey.

I’ve heard stories about incredible fishing that can take place after a hurricane. Have you had any post-hurricane fishing experiences and if so, how did they compare?

I have and yes it can be off the chart.. The reason being is when a hurricane comes through an area it is obviously the strongest system in the region and acts like a vacuum cleaner and sucks every other cloud and pollution in the air up and takes it along with it in which ever direction it goes. So that means the next few days are the absolute most clear and beautiful days for visibility you will ever have and in sight  fishing when you can see it further away the better the chances are to catch it. Not only that, but think about being hunkered down in a channel for a few days with nothing to eat. You would be hungry too! So now you have the best of both worlds it’s as if the planets align, you have great visibility, weather and really hungry fish.


Feb 13

Interview with Captain Paul Fisicaro

I recently asked for some advice on who I should interview for the blog. The interviews have brought some really great stories and insights to the blog and I run out of ideas every once in a while. I’m not tied into any one scene, so I often don’t know the local players or personalities. Paul Fisicaro’s name came up and it turns out he’s a friend of my friend Derek. I got the low-down and the introduction and it made me excited to hear Paul was up for the interview. So, here it is.

Captain Paul Fisicaro:
Fly Fishing Guide, Fly Tier
16 years experience
Thomas and Thomas Fly Rods – Pro Staff.

Paul F tarpon

My friend Derek says you are one hell of a tarpon guide. For me, I feel like my IQ drops by about half when I’m casting to a tarpon. As a guide, seeing people come unglued, what are some of the funny things you’ve seen?

Why thank you, Derek.

I’ve seen a lot of stuff over the past 16 years but nothing too much over the top. I have seen A LOT of rod tossing. I’ve seen anglers throw fly rods distances Joe Montana would be jealous of.  I hear cursing. Lots of cursing. I can tell you, with certainty, I have the most linguistically creative clients ever to step on a flats skiff.

Tarpon fishing can do strange things to people. This past year, one of my clients John Lance, was having trouble casting to Tarpon. For the next four days, after each blown shot (and there were a lot), he decided to yell at each Tarpon in Japanese. A little background on John.  He is from the Midwest. He doesn’t know Japanese, which made this extremely funny. After a while, I started calling out fish in a Japanese accent. It got out of hand very, very quickly. I still chuckle just thinking about it.

But anyway, I personally think that Tarpon are one of the easier species to catch but certainly bring on buck fever the most. I have anglers that cast 80 feet with no fish around and the minute I call out directions to a fish,  they  turn into a poster child for a horse whipping clinic.  

I do see a lot of disappointment but I do my best to rally the troops and keep them in the game. I try to instill confidence when morale is low and try to correct some of the issues they are having. No yelling, no screaming.

Most of them are very good anglers and casters but cannot keep their feelings in check and that is half the battle.

I do, although, have a few clients than I’ve been fishing for a long time and I find it hysterical watching them come unglued. I razz them a bit, well, a tad more than a bit. Let’s just say I’ve had sleepless nights thinking of things to say but, of course, it’s all in fun.

I can understand the pull of tarpon, but tell me what is it about bonefish that you enjoy.

With Bonefish, I think just stalking those fish in shallow water is what makes them fun and they are always willing to eat a well placed fly. And of course, nothing beats the first few runs of a decent sized Bonefish.

Sharks… you likely see a lot of them out there. How do you feel about them?

On most occasions I love sharks. Just add it to the list of species that you target with a fly. If anyone reading this has ever caught a Blacktip Shark on fly, they know how much fun they can be and you would be hard pressed to find a fish that fights harder. Another great thing about sharks is that when you find lots of them in an area, you tend to find lots of fish. I love pulling up to a flat and seeing sharks everywhere. Most of the time, it means something good has happened or something good is going to happened. Hopefully the latter.

The bad about sharks – The only situation I can say that I despise sharks in when that 400 lb bull shark or that 12 foot Hammerhead looking to score a quick meal during a tarpon fight. But you really can’t blame the shark, can you? They have to eat too.

When the fishing is tough… like, really tough, do you stick with it, or do you turn to other species maybe a little lower on the pecking order?

Generally, I will leave this up to the client. I usually give the options and let them decide. I have a lot of hardcore fly anglers that just want to catch the “Big 3” so the majority of the time, we stick with what we set out to catch. But on the contrary, the greatest thing about the Florida Keys is its versatility and diversity of species. There are so many different types of fish that you can target. You really can’t say that for too many places.

A FL Permit

A FL Permit

What’s your go-to rod/reel for bonefish? How about for tarpon?

My go to Bonefish set up is a Thomas and Thomas TNT 8 weight with a Tibor Everglades. For Tarpon, I use a Thomas and Thomas TNT 11 weight with a Tibor Gulfstream for big tarpon and a Thomas and Thomas Horizon 9 weight with a Tibor Everglades for smaller Tarpon. Yes. I love T & T. Who doesn’t?

People seem to have strong feelings about class tippet vs. straight leaders. Where do you come down on that?

I’ve never used straight leaders. I actually have my own formula for making them, although it has evolved over the years. Until recently, I used the familiar 3-2-1 formula with Bimini twist and the whole ball of wax. For those who don’t know, the 3-2-1 is 3 feet of 50lb, 2 feet of 40lb and 1 foot of 30lb, 2 to 3 feet of class tippet and finish it off with 16inches of 60lb. shock. This would be the formula for targeting large tarpon or a leader for an 11 weight.  I never used IGFA standards unless someone specifically asks for it. Over the last few years, I’ve simplified my leaders. I now tie a 6 foot piece of 50lb for the butt section, 3 foot piece of 20lb Hard Mason mono for class tippet and a 2 foot section of 50 or 60lb shock.

I’m not concerned about breaking world records, I just want my clients to land fish.  With this template, there is less knots to worry about and with only a few blood knot connections I can tie leaders much faster and on the fly, customizing them quickly for changing wind conditions.

What is one thing about the Keys that people might find surprising?

Surprising? I think people envision drunk people walking around the Keys in flip flops and tank tops singing Jimmy Buffett songs, sort of like “The Walking Dead” Not so.

When you look back on your saltwater fly fishing, is there someone that stands out as being particularly helpful, someone who showed you the ropes and made it click for you?

I learned how to fly cast by myself when I was 16 years old. It took me a long time to learn to cast correctly. I did have help from a now very good friend, John Knight when I was first starting out. Lou Tabory was another, although I never met him, helped me through the reading of his books. And of course, Lefty Kreh, who has inspired fly fisherman and woman all over the globe.  Just an amazing caster, angler and human being.

People can have really high expectations when they get a guide. How do you try to set expectations for your clients?

I’ve always handled this aspect by just telling the truth. I always tell my clients what the best options are and most of the time they are all for it. If someone wants to catch a bonefish and bonefishing hasn’t been very good, I’ll tell them. If they still want to try, I’m game. I will do my very best to find fish for them.

 In some cases, we would only spend a few hours looking for bonefish and if it didn’t work out we head for the Permit grounds or hit the mangroves for some baby tarpon action. (Who doesn’t like baby poons?) Every situation is different. Every angler is different. I’ve been blessed with some of the most amazing clients. No fuss, “Yes, Cap. Whatever you think is best” kind of guys. These kind of anglers are the norm, at least for me they are.



Thanks Paul. Great read and appreciate you sharing some stories and thoughts.

Oct 12

Gear from Belize – The TNT from T&T

t and t

I knew this wasn’t going to be a fish-till-you-drop kind of trip. It was my honeymoon and the fishing would be largely incidental. It might not have been the ideal trip for a gear review. That said, I was excited to get my hands on a new rod from Thomas & Thomas for the trip. T&T, as a company, kind of dropped off my radar for a few years.  My go-to #5 is actually a T&T I picked up at a retail show about a decade ago, so I actually own a T&T rod. I hadn’t heard much from that camp in ages, so hearing that they were coming out with a new saltwater rod, the TNT, and that folks were pretty excited about it, well, I was intrigued.

I got the rod a bit early for the trip… like, July, for a September trip. It gave me some time to admire the thing. It is clearly a well made rod.  The components appear to be high end and it screams “made with care.”

I finally couldn’t wait any longer and took it out on the grass. I liked what I saw.

In Belize, I think this is pretty much an ideal bonefish rod. I got to cast it a bit both on my one day of bonefish hunting and a few times off the dock. It is a sweet stick, responsive and easy to cast.

I don’t know if I’m the guy to break down exactly what made the rod cast well. I know what I like and I liked it. It was smooth and light and it did all I asked of it. The presentations were light, the casts accurate, but then, I’d bet Joan Wulff could make a good presentation with a broomstick (I still think the caster makes the lion’s share of the difference).

It is at a tough price point, about $800, making it one of the most expensive rods out there for bones ($50 more than the NRX from G. Loomis, $70 more than the Sage One, $25 less than an Orvis Helios, $75 less than the Scott S4S, $35 less than the R.L. Winston Boron III-SX). That would probably put it out of range for me, since I’m a cheap bastard, but it’s a nice rod and if you are looking at the top end of the market, I’d include the TNT in the test pool.

Yup. That’s it.



Apr 10

Rods, Rods and More Rods

When getting ready to move I had to try and reign in the chaos that had spread from from one or two bins in the garage to several bins of fly fishing gear, each exploding and overflowing all over a large shelf.   Something clearly had to be done.

In those bins I found… a surprising number of my daughter’s socks, a few beer bottle caps, twigs/sand/dirt, lots of bits of tippet, a few salvageable flies,  a couple of lines I forgot I had (a surplus 5 wt. clear intermediate sink and a 9 wt. sink tip), a few of the indicators I like to put on my line (off the water) when tight-line nymphing for trout, a couple of broken reels and mismatched heavy socks and fingerless gloves.

Order is restored.  My wife will be happy.  I’ll be able to find the gear I’m looking for again and the movers didn’t break anything.

It is clear from a rod perspective, I am well covered from most anything from #2 to #9… included here… a #2, #3/4, #4, #4, #5, #5, #5, #7, #7, #8, #8/9, #9.   Yes… that’s 12 rods (although, technically, the #2 is my three year old daughter’s.  Cheap is clearly the theme… 5 of these rods are TFO’s.  One is an Elkhorn.  One is a T&T (my favorite 5 wt.). One is a custom rod  raffled off for the Shasta Fly Fishers.  One is an Albright. On the pricey side, one is an R.L. Winston and two are Sage.

It is fun to look at all those rods and think back to the special memories I’ve had with each. The future seems somehow brighter when you know you have the right tools for the work ahead.