Thursday, September 16, 2021

Getting Salty: How I Transitioned From
Competitive Angler to Saltwater Guide
How one competitive freshwater angler turned to the salt and never looked back.
By Will Robins

I was born in East Yorkshire, England. I have fished competitively, domestically and abroad while representing my country. I’ve also held many roles in the fly-fishing industry, including lodge manager, fisheries manager, river-keeper, fly and light-tackle guide, and fly shop consultant. Recently, I bought 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 offers some insight on how I transitioned from the trout rivers of home to a life in the salt.

Growing up in the United Kingdom is a unique experience for a fly angler. We have a range of different fishing here, from rivers to lakes and reservoirs to the sea. The majority of our fishing consists of day-ticket style lakes and reservoirs, due to most of our rivers being privately owned. In addition, landowner permissions and club memberships are challenging to come by.

As a result, we have a large proportion of anglers who tend to fish lakes and nothing else. This led to a healthy competition angling scene, especially on the large reservoirs and lakes towards the center of the country—English “loch style” fishing. The competitive side is an essential part of maintaining a high level of angling ability, while also driving innovation in our sport, similar to Formula 1 improving the domestic car market. Anglers and teams are continually innovating with different types of lines, fly designs and changes in presentation. This grabbed my attention and is a big part of why I chose to compete.

I am a big believer in constant innovation, and anyone who has ever stepped foot on my skiff, or waded a flat with me, can attest to that. Just because something works, doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.

My competitive angling career started in a national competition called, Troutmasters, an annual event that hosts a grand finale at the end of the season. I had some success, but set my sights on a higher prize—representing my country at the international level, something that demands a high level of skill, and an equal level of commitment. International “loch style” or lake fishing teams consist of 10 anglers per country. There is a big difference between a day spent pleasure fishing and a competition day. Our team spent months preparing for international competitions by pre-fishing, working on techniques, tweaking our rigging, and tying specific flies. We wanted to be as effective and consistent as possible, whether throwing a full sink line in only two false casts, all day long, or maybe retrieving a team of flies at the most effective pace, with every cast.

This type of fishing isn’t for everyone. It’s mentally and physically challenging. 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. But then I turned to the salt.

During my years working in the fishing industry, I travelled to many different saltwater locations. I always wanted to swap from teaching clients to Euro-nymph, to poling clients towards a school of tailing bonefish. I was very fortunate that an off-the-cuff conversation with a Belizean lodge owner turned into a job offer. That was all the motivation I needed. Soon, I was running a lodge and managing a team of guides.

Not long after that experience, I started guiding for several lodges. That allowed me to get my first taste of true saltwater guiding and to explore the intricacies of the flats fisheries. Eventually I bought a flats skiff and shipped it to Belize. I spent many hours poling the flats on my off time, learning the nuances of current, wind direction, tides and a fish’s body language. Unfortunately, the more dedicated I became to guiding, the less time I got to spend with a rod in hand, a natural progression for guides.

After spending a few years in Belize, I made a short move across the border to Chetumal, Mexico, and set up my own guiding business. This fishery is located just north of the Belize Cayes. Up here, we have a vast fishery that stretches hundreds of square miles north from Xcalak. It is a unique and untouched place with an abundance of life, 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 of Xcalak, around the town of Mahahual, on the eastern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula.

There are many differences between fresh and saltwater angling, the most notable being gear choices for larger and more powerful species. For instance, I might fish a 10-foot 7-weight as my heavy sunk line rod for trout. But, out here I am rarely picking up anything less than an 8-weight, and in tarpon season I’m reaching for a 10 or 11-weight. When fishing a new flat or beach, I consider current speed, depth, and bottom color/makeup, and then choose which fly to cast for the desired presentation. It’s similar to trout fishing, where drift speed, fish depth and water temperature determine your choices.

There are many reasons for a freshwater angler to fish the salt. Aside from an opportunity to visit a new country and broaden your mind, you get a rare opportunity to interact with nature in what I consider to be its wildest form. You get to be part of a unique ecosystem while forming new friendships and lasting bonds with the people and places you visit. The second you feel your first run from a bonefish, or see your first tarpon sailing through the air, you’ll understand why the flats are so coveted.

Will Robins
Will Robins started his adventure into the world of fly fishing on the chalk streams and freestone spate rivers of his home county of Yorkshire in England. He quickly progressed to the large reservoirs and lakes, competing regularly in the competition circuit. Will hit his peak in the competitive world, being promoted to team captain for England fly fishing. Here, Will led the team to a gold medal at the international level. Following his competition success, Will started guiding on his home rivers for trout and grayling. As well as working at the world-renowned Farlows of Pall Mall fly store in London. Will eventually made the switch to the salt and has not looked back. He started his first saltwater operation, Precision Fly Charters, out of Ambergris Caye, Belize in 2018. Currently, Will owns and operates Fly Fishing Costa Maya, a fly shop and guiding service based in Quintana Roo, Mexico.