(Editor’s note: Some of you doubtless noticed the “rainbow” trout pictured with Capt. Rex’s last column was, in fact, a brown trout. That’s what happens when the publisher tries to identify freshwater trout, which he frankly has no business doing. WaterLine apologizes for the error.)
We are a strange bunch here in Southwest Florida. By the end of March, we (mostly fisherfolk, of course) are trying (by the power of suggestion and sheer will) to bring on summer and summer temps. Of course, at that time we’ve all gone a bit crazy waiting for tarpon season and we want them here ASAP.
Now, after five months of heat and humidity, I hear everybody saying, “It’s fall; doesn’t it feel great?” And I just think to myself, ‘Here we go again, telling Mother Nature what we want and when we want it.’
Yes, it’s October, and all of the stores have had both Halloween and Christmas decorations since early September (save yourselves some work, just leave them up all year!). But the thermometer in my yard read 96 degrees yesterday, and the water in temp in the Gulf is still a tarpon-friendly 83 degrees. I know it’s fall, though, because I’m seeing very few tarpon cruising the beach and the grass in my yard is already crunching as I walk across it from the lack of rain.
So, what does all of this important data tell us? Nothing, really, except that we are once again trying to “will in” the weather and season that we want. Be patient — it will happen. It always does.
School is back in session, so there aren’t as many vacationers. The snowbirds have yet to show up in full force, although I’m hearing more sirens and seeing more accidents on our roadways as the number of out-of-state license plates sightings starts to climb. Again, what does this data tell us? It tells me that the beaches are a little less crowded, and it’s a great time to take a barefoot stroll on the beach and fish.
When I don’t have a guide trip, it’s fun to grab a 6 or 8 weight rod and go call on the snook that are still cruising the clear water of our beaches. I haven’t seen it myself, but I’ve heard reports and seen pictures of some nice redfish being caught on the beach as well — another sign of the coming fall season. Other species you may encounter while on your walk will be jacks, ladyfish, lizardfish, flounder, mackerel, pompano, bluefish and more.
Don’t get me wrong, I love guiding and enjoy having people on my boat, but when I stick a couple of flies in my pocket, grab a rod and start walking a beach, I get a wonderful feeling of simplicity. No ice, no gas, no greasing the hubs, no sandwiches, no fighting for a spot at the ramp, no pushpoling, no questions to be answered (except for that age-old question from passersby, “You can’t catch anything on a fly rod here can you?”… ugh). For the most part, I just walk, watch, listen and cast.
Like I said earlier, 6 or 8 weights are what you’ll need on the beach. If you have a choice, take your 8 weight. Although I fish my 6 weight a lot and have landed some large fish in local surf, an 8 weight will give you a little bit more edge. If the wind comes up a bit more than what you expected, you’ll have the advantage of line weight going for you as you cast. Another reason is you never know what you might run into in salt water, or how big it might be. You may hook into a monster snook or red, large jack or even a tarpon. You never want to be too undergunned.
A floating line will normally do the trick. If that is all you have, you’ll be fine. If you have an intermediate on another spool, you may want to throw it in the car just in case there is a lot of wave action or the tide is a little higher than you expected. The intermediate will help keep your fly down in the strike zone a little better if these conditions exist. If you don’t have an intermediate don’t worry. Your floater will still work. Remember, simplicity: Don’t take anything you don’t need and don’t want to carry.
In the beautiful clear water that we have right now, a 25-pound tippet may be too heavy. Carry a little bit of 20-pound with you just in case they show a little leader shyness. Unless I’m throwing poppers, my leaders are made up totally of fluorocarbon. That’s just how I roll. My leaders are simply built, with about 6 feet of 40-pound, about 3 feet of 30-pound down to about 2 feet feet of 25 pound. This leader seems to turn over just fine in most situations.
If the water is mucked up and the visibility is poor cut the 25-pound tippet off and you’ll have a 9-foot leader down to a 30-pound tippet. That should handle all takers, even a fly-by mack attack.
You don’t need to go crazy on flies. I suggest carrying eight flies: Two each of Gibby’s DT Specials or variants, Norm’s Crystal Schminnow, Laser Minnows, and of course a couple of Clousers. The baitfish you are imitating are small, so flies tied on a No. 1 or No. 2 hook will work fine. When you buy or tie them, keep the flies 1.5 to 3 inches long and you are in the game. Colors that seem to work the best are solid white, white with light tan, white with light green or maybe white with gray (silver). Put them in a zipper bag or small fly box that will easily fit in your shirt pocket.
Besides your hat and polarized sunglasses that I’m sure that you already have and wear, I would suggest two more items that will make your life much easier: A stripping basket and a pair of pliers with built-in cutters. The combo tool means you can retrieve a barbless fly from a fish’s mouth while it remains in the water, or cut and trim leaders and flies with the same tool. The stripping basket is a must to help keep line from being tumbled in the surf and tangling around your feet to the point of absolute frustration.
That reminds me: If you are ankle-deep in water, you may be wading too deep. Stay up on the beach away from the fish and the water. Locate the fish and cast from there, keeping your rod low. A sidearm cast is best not to spook close shallow-swimming fish. Remember to cast parallel to the beach in front of the fish if possible, not straight out (unless you have no other shot).
Fall is at hand. The fishing has been great in our area, and a simple walk on the beach is an easy and accessible way to enjoy it.
Capt. Rex Gudgel is a fly fishing guide in the Boca Grande area and an International Federation of Fly Fishers Master Certified casting instructor. If you’d like to get casting lessons, book a trip or just need more fly fishing info, contact him at 706-254-3504 or visit BocaGrandeSlamFlyFishing.com or CastWithRex.com.