Captain Sarah Gardner is a fly fishing guide off the coastal waters of North Carolina. In addition to guiding, Gardner is a pro for companies including Sage, RIO Products, Patagonia, and Jones Brothers Marine. Gardner recently sat down to take on some questions for the Venturing Angler:
Why do you guide where you do?
I guide along coastal North Carolina, and I love being there. Coastal NC is home to a variety of saltwater fish species, diverse habitats and a moderate climate that allows for long season. These factors let me make a full time living doing what I love and keep life challenging!
What is your favorite fish species?
I honestly don’t have a favorite species. There are so many places and fish on earth that I have not explored yet, so I’m still looking. I am more inclined to have favorite places to fish. I love Baja, Mexico. I cant think of another spot on the planet where one can catch yellowfin tuna, dorado and rooster fish on consecutive casts while ravens watch from cactus in the surrounding mountains. The guides, view, food, people and culture are also world class.
What is your favorite thing about guiding?
I love showing clients my little piece of the universe, putting them on big fish and helping them become better anglers. (That’s probably a universal guide answer.) If you guide long enough, repeat clients and fellow guides become dear friends with some even becoming family. We travel with these people, get sick with them, endure natural disasters together, morn family losses and celebrate milestones together.
What is the most memorable trip you’ve guided and why?
Every year I have a couple of epic, unforgettable trips. It’s never just because of how many fish we catch. Mother Nature also throws some crazy curve ball at us like freak weather, rare whales, blitzing bluefins or stooping peregrine falcons. Such days are made more memorable by clients who love and appreciate these special non fishing experiences as much as I do.
This summer Brian and I got to do a long range bluewater fly fishing adventure to Costa Rica’s FADs (fish attracting devices) located 100 plus miles off shore. In two days I caught 8 blue marlin, one striped marlin and a sailfish. Brian caught three blue marlin. Not only was this an epic catching adventure, but we got to do it with a captain/mate team that we have fished with for many years. It was like fishing with family, except we were the clients!
What is the funniest thing you’ve experienced while guiding?
I find humor in everything! (An important guide trait.) The funniest printable instances would be having clients and fellow guides show up in costume on Halloween!
What makes your guide service great?
We have a super fishery, especially the fall, but I think what makes us great is a love of teaching. (My husband Brian Horsley also runs a charter boat.) People really appreciate adding distance to their cast, learning to deal with wind and mastering the double haul, especially if the fishing is slower or weather conditions are challenging. Taking someone from struggling to catching is pretty cool! We are able to provide the best fly tackle and the best boats ever designed for our fishery. All these factors enhance the experience.
If you had only one day off all year, where would you fish and what fish would you target?
I would bow hunt elk in the morning. Seriously. If I tagged an elk in the morning, then I would drive into Meeker Co. and fish brown trout on the beautiful White River. Every year I hunt Colorado, I bring my fly tackle, but I haven’t fished yet. I dearly miss the smells, sounds and scenery of western rivers especially in the early fall. But, I love elk hunting for the same reasons.
What are your three favorite three flies?
That’s easy! Anything tied by Bob Clouser or Bob Popovics! Clouser Minnows are #1 saltwater workhorse. They are ridiculously easy to tie and customize, so they have become the inspiration for many other effective patterns. Popovic’s Surf Candies and Hollow Fleyes are also super customizable to different situations in the Mid Atlantic and beyond. I cant remember when I traveled outside the country without bringing a few of these three.
What is the one piece of gear you couldn’t bear to leave home?
Sunglasses are a universal must, but I have a beloved 20 year old pair of Van Staal pliers that rarely leave my hip.
Do you have any other passions?
I have several passions. I love videography, hunting and fitness. All these endeavors take me away from fishing in a good way, while making me a better angler and keeping me from mentally burning out. As I get older, staying fit allows me to do my job, which is physically challenging. My IRONMAN days are probably over, but gym time still helps me to exercise my mental demons and test my physical limitations. Flats fishing and hunting are very similar. The targets are different, but the mindset is the same. I’m shocked by what I discover about fish, casting and hook setting through editing the video I shoot. It’s instant replay for anglers! Recording crisp and perfectly exposed sailfish jumps on camera is more challenging for me than catching one.
To check out more from Captain Sarah Gardner, please click here.