FLORIDA KEYS — Sometimes being around one of the experienced charter captains or backcountry guides of the Florida Keys can be spooky.
Twenty-five miles from shore, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, the captain will call from the bridge, "Get those lines in."
Before long, a dolphin leaps or a wahoo starts its high-speed run.
Deep in the backcountry, on a shallow flat, the guide says, "Relax, the bones won't be here for another 10 or 15 minutes."
Ten or 15 minutes later, three schools of bonefish cruise by.
After shaking their heads in wonder, wise anglers realize that much can be learned from the offshore captains and backcountry guides of the Keys.
A primary subject of discussion is fish behavior, and the lessons come in one- or two-sentence factoids.
For example, dolphin congregate under schools of bait fish. Bait fish seek cover, so they school up under floating weed or debris. The bigger dolphin will be below the smaller "schoolies" near the surface.
Troll fast for tuna — faster for big tuna. Drop down for wahoo and kingfish (king mackerel).
Cast in front of the bonefish and be very, very quiet about it. Bow to a tarpon. Hang on for dear life when a permit runs.
Work the bottom for speckled trout. Or, work the surface for speckled trout. Sometimes the information seems contradictory, but that's just because conditions change.
The captain's job is to give anglers shots at catching fish. But the teaching goes on all day, even when the captain isn't thinking about teaching.
Conversations during rides to fishing sites are good times to get questions answered. At the site, a "what's that?" or "why stop here?" elicits an answer that encapsulates years of hard-learned experience.
Some backcountry guides specialize in teaching casting technique, especially with beginning fly anglers. But it's important for the angler and guide to agree on the day's objective.
Top tournament captains win tournaments because (a) they know where to find fish, (b) they work very hard, and (c) their anglers know how to cast. So novices or anglers who fish just a few times per year might be better served by finding a guide who welcomes the inexperienced caster.
Still, for Keys offshore captains and backcountry guides, teaching — or better, "coaching" — is an almost unconscious act.
Set the hook as hard as you can. Be gentle. Reel now. Reel as fast as you can. Slow down. Keep the rod tip up. Lean to your side. Let the fish run. Wait. Hurry. Cup it.
Advanced anglers will find support in their captains' calls. The novice or vacation angler will find comfort in a steady stream of advice.
The problem for the angler is trying to remember all the information that's been imparted.
Or worse, hearing that most feared of all comments on casting: "No, your other left."
Sandy Moret developed a fly fishing school in Islamorada to share his passion and wealth of fishing knowledge with would-be and wanna-be anglers from around the country.
Heeding your guide's advice can help you land bigger dolphin, when you know where to look and understand their behavior.
Loren Rea, an accomplished and talented angler as well as tournament director, releases a permit off the Lower Keys.