It’s rhythmic — the casting of the line, back and forth, back and forth, the delicate, yet tantalizing fly dancing across the water, almost begging the fish below to have a bite.
For Sarah Gardner, captain of the Fly Girl, a 23-foot Jones Brothers center console, this is her arena, and she loves it.
“I love to fish, but fly fishing is special,” Gardner says, as she and her husband Brian Horsley guide their boat back from Harkers Island, North Carolina, one of many charters booked through their businesses, Fly Girl Charters and Flat Out Charters. “I love making my own flies, and tricking the fish into eating something I’ve made. You are constantly fishing, always thinking and in tune with Mother Nature.”
As a consultant and ambassador for companies such as Rio Fly Lines, Sage Fly Rods and Patagonia — and a member of the nonprofit group Outer Banks Fly Casters — Gardner chooses to share her passion and has been leading charters for the past 20 years. “I absolutely love turning people on to fly fishing, but you have to be willing to roll with the punches.”
With weather constantly on the brink of adversity, sometimes you just have to be willing to jump in the boat and go when you can, she says.
“The wind is always a factor in our area. The key is to learn how to make it work for you and learn to not let it defeat you. To hone your skills, your simply must muscle through all the bad days.”
For all those new to the game, honing your skills means learning how to cast. “It really is the most important aspect,” she says of mastering the art of casting. “You need a guide to teach you so that you don’t acquire bad habits. Going with someone that is willing to share their knowledge will truly help take your fishing to the next level.”
Gardner and her husband both accommodate by giving folks lessons on land and also allow them to practice from the boat where wind and alternate distractions demand focus. “If you’re coming from an urban area, taking a class or lesson before you come down is also a great way to get started.”
Once you hit the water, it’s time for the action.
“Just make sure you know what kind of fishing you are doing before you use your tackle,” Gardner says. “In our area, 90 percent of the time you are using your fly to imitate baitfish.”
The types of lines vary greatly as do the flies and can make or break you experience, and the entire experience itself — the bait, the prey, the thrill of the chase — is quite primal, she says.
“It’s exhilarating; you get to see all the predatory action right at your feet.”
When species such as Dorado — or mahi-mahi, as many refer to the species — are involved, there is never a dull moment, Gardner says.
“When they are really excited, they are so colorful, aggressive and love to jump. Plus, they love flies. They really are my favorite fish to catch.”
Some days, Gardner and her crew are out in the Atlantic, and other days they are in the Sound or down in the southern part of North Carolina. “Everything about what we do means being flexible,” Gardner says. “We fish anywhere from 1 foot in the water column to 60 feet down, and we will adjust, according to what the fish are doing.”
What she and her husband practice is as skillful as it is artistic, and it’s clearly catching on, just as kayak fly fishing is taking off, as well. “Every year and season is different,” she says, “But no matter what there are some really amazing days to be had.”
All you have to do is head to Oregon Inlet and look for Gardner and her husband, and they’ll show just how amazing OBX waters can be.