Thursday, September 16, 2021

Getting Salty: How I Transitioned From
Competitive Angler to Saltwater Guide
By Will Robins

My name is Capt. Will Robins.

I was born in East Yorkshire, England. I have fished competitively both domestically and representing my country. I have also worked within the industry in roles including lodge manager, fishery manager, riverkeeper, fly and light tackle guide and fly shop consultant. More recently, I have shifted roles to be the owner of a fly shop and outfitter service based in southern Quintana Roo, Mexico, where I also guide. The following article is a brief outline of my journey to date and how I made the transition from the trout rivers of home to a life in the salt.

Growing up in the UK is

a unique experience for a fly angler.

We have a range of different fishing here from rivers to lakes and reservoirs to sea. The majority of our fishing consists of day ticket style lakes and reservoirs due to most of our rivers systems being privately owned. In addition, landowner permissions or club memberships are challenging to come across.

As a result, we have a large proportion of anglers that tend to fish lakes and nothing else. This result has led to a healthy competition angling scene, especially on the large reservoirs and lakes towards the centre of the country. English “loch style” angling is something that has become very popular.

The competitive side is an essential part of both maintaining a high level of angling ability, while also driving innovation within our sport. Similar to how Formula 1 has improved the domestic car market. Anglers and teams are continually innovating with different types of lines, fly designs and changes in presentation. This is something that grabbed my attention early on and a big part of my willingness to compete.

I am a big believer in constant innovation in an angling sense, and anyone who has ever stepped foot on my skiff, or waded a flat with me can attest to this. Just because something works, It doesn’t mean that it can’t be changed or adapted to work better.

Trout masters

I began my competition angling ‘career’ at a small level, competing in a national competition called “Troutmasters”, an annual event that hosts a grand final at the end of the season. Having competed for a few years with steadily growing success, I set my sights on a higher prize, representing my country at an international level.

Competitive angling at an international level is something that demands a high level of skill but an even higher level of commitment. International “loch style” or lake fishing teams consist of 10 anglers per country. As such, there is a wide field of anglers and a high level of competition.

There is a big difference between a day spent pleasure fishing and a competition day. As teams, we would spend months preparing for an international competition, pre-fishing, working on techniques, rigging and fly tying and several other things to ensure success. You have to analyse every part of your angling process and remove the parts which are unnecessary or unbeneficial. To perform consistently at the highest level demands that you are as effective and consistent as possible at all times. It could be throwing a full sink line in two false casts all day, or retrieving a team of flies at the same tempo and cadence as that is the most effective method that you as a team have deduced.

Once you can remove yourself from the equation as an individual and perform as a team, then you find success. Ideas flow and angling brilliance shine through. This type of angling is not for everyone and is one of the most challenging arms of the sport, both mentally and physically. Personally, it was a big eye-opener for me, and I loved every minute. I enjoyed the competitive side but what intrigued me was the ability to perform at a high level consistently. There aren’t many things more difficult than competition fishing; however, I had managed to find the highest peak, saltwater flats fishing.

The Fishing Industry

At this point in my life, I had worked many roles in the UK fly fishing industry. I had competed internationally three times, including captaining my country in my final season, alongside working as a trout guide, fishing lodge manager and spending a few years working at the well known Farlows of Pall Mall fly store in London. I was ready for the challenge and hungry to chase a dream.

During my years working in the fishing industry, I had travelled to many different saltwater locations. It had been a long time ambition to swap from teaching clients to Euro nymph to poling clients towards a school of tailing Bonefish.

This change isn’t the easiest of things being a European, with so many of the great flats destinations being difficult places to gain visas and the appropriate documentation. I was very fortunate that an off the cuff conversation one day with a lodge owner down in Belize eventually grew into a job offer and all the motivation I needed to make a move. Papers were acquired, the processes completed, and there I was, running a lodge and managing a team of guides.

From this experience, I then started to move across into a guiding role. I earned a position working with different companies as a guide/instructor. That allowed me to get my first taste of true saltwater guiding and to explore the intricacies of the flats fishery. I managed this while at the same time keeping those same values I had learned from the freshwater, in both innovating and dedication. I eventually bought a flats skiff and shipped it down to Belize. I spent many hours poling the flats on my off time, taking in everything I possibly could from current, wind direction, tides and fish body language. I approached the ecosystem in a similar way to that of how we would prepare as a team to compete at a new venue. Unfortunately for me, the more dedicated I was, the less time I got to spend with a rod in hand. However, most guides will agree that this is a natural process.

Heading North

After spending a few years in Belize, I made the short move across the border to Chetumal, Mexico, to set up my own guiding business. This fishery is just north of the Belize Cayes that I had become so accustomed to. Up here, we have a vast fishery that stretches from Xcalak, north and spans hundreds of square miles. It is a unique and untouched place with an abundance of life both on and off the flats. There is no angling pressure here, and the fishing is some of the best I have experienced. We also have a great fishery just north around the town of Mahahual, on the eastern tip of the Yucatan peninsula. This is an area that I have come to spend a lot of time fishing and more recently guiding. This fishery is different but equally challenging, and the fishing remains excellent.

There are many differences between the fresh and saltwater angling fraternities. The most notable being the difference in gear to chase a much larger and more powerful quarry, although a great deal of the skills I have learned are very transferable. Whereas with a typical trout setup I may fish a 10ft #7 fly rod as my heavy sunk line rod, out here I am rarely picking up anything less than an #8, and in tarpon season, I am reaching for a #10 or #11. This change in kit and rigging is a factor, yet my approach remains similar. When coming to a new flat or beach, I will be considering current speed, bottom depth, and bottom colour/makeup to assess what fly to choose for the desired presentation. In trout fishing, this is the same, only with drift speed, fish depth or water temperature and as such the appropriate line or fly choice. The environments may be different, but the skill set remains similar. If you can take your trout fishing skills, combine that with a good cast and double haul and the right mental attitude, then you are heading in the direction of success out in the salt.

There are many reasons to consider a saltwater destination as your next fishing trip.

Aside from the chance to visit a new country and broaden your mind, the experiences on the flats are unique and continually changing. You get a rare opportunity to interact with nature in its wildest form and be a part of the ecosystem. Forming new friendships and lasting bonds with the people and places you visit along the way only serves to add to your adventure. The fishing is the icing on the cake. The minute you feel your first run from a bonefish or see your first tarpon sail through the air, you will understand why the flats are so coveted. These places definitely live up to the hype!

Photography by

Will Robins

Noah Thompson

Lisa Chioffi

Cam Chioffi