Spring forward, fall back. “To change, or not to change; that is the question: Whether ‘tis nobler…” Let’s not get into that argument now. But, we have fallen back. This means it gets light earlier and darker sooner, if you are watching the clock.
If the time changed, then it must be fall, so we should be looking for fall patterns. The water temps are dropping a little, and the days are starting to get a little shorter. However, it was 87 degrees and humid yesterday. To me, that’s still summer. By the time this column comes out next week we are supposed to be in the middle of frontal conditions — cooler and windy. Maybe this will help the fish decide for sure to do their “fall stuff” and start preparations for winter.
You know what I’m talking about: Fish moving more inland to the backcountry, creeks, canals, ponds and grassflats. They, just like us, also like to eat a bit more this time of year. They eat in preparation for the oncoming winter months and slower metabolisms, while we eat because of the onslaught holidays and the availability of enormous amounts of food.
Something else happens this time of year that you have to watch for — less water. We had our first negative tide of the season the other day. It always amazes me to see oyster beds, mangrove roots and abandoned crab traps poking above the surface. Until now, they’ve been hidden by the murky higher water of summer.
Twenty yards from one of those exposed crab traps was a boat bellied up on the bar with two guys looking over the gunwale in total disbelief. D’oh! C’mon, man! If you’re new to the area, look at your charts and keep your eyes open when you are out. Stay safe, save the bills on boat repair and help save what’s left of our grass.
One of the good things about lower water is that it tends to concentrate the fish a little bit. When the water is down, you’ll find fish in holes and depressions. Stay back from the holes and make long casts to them. Start by working the outer edges, then into the hole itself. As the water comes up, the fish will disperse, coming up onto the grass flats and toward the mangroves to feed.
You may get lucky like I did the other day and find some tailers. Redfish roaming around with their tails out of the water looking for a meal are a much-sought target this time of year. Small baitfish, crabs and shrimp patterns will do the trick. Sometimes the redfish have their heads buried in the mud or grass, intent on their business, and it’s hard for them to see the fly. In that case, try throwing a gurgler or some sort of popper. Often they will look up to see what’s causing the commotion and decide to make a meal of it. Trout, snook, jacks and others will smash it too.
This is a good time of year to cross over from the dark side (using spinning tackle) a little bit. I had a fun trip with Andy a couple of days ago. It was supposed to be a father-son trip with one of his boys. When Andy showed up by himself, I of course asked where his son was. He just smiled and said that when it came time to get out of bed, he couldn’t get either one of them to budge. I just laughed. “No problem; more fish for you.”
As we idled out of the marina, I told him what I was thinking for the day’s plan. I thought we would take a run out in the Gulf to look for Spanish mackerel and or bonito, then head into the backcountry to see what we could find. I happened to mention that sometime during the day I was going to put the fly rod in his hand to try out. I wasn’t sure if the look he gave me was one of dismissal, disdain or hidden horror, but onward we went.
Sadly, we found nothing outside. No bait, no birds, no fish, no nothing. At least we weren’t coughing and hacking due to red tide — just nothing going on. I put the boat on plane and headed for the backcountry.
I handed Andy a spinning rod and we went to work catching some snook, redfish and catfish on plastic baits. I moved the boat to another spot and started drifting a grassflat where he started catching trout and ladyfish … a bunch of trout and ladyfish. After a half-hour of nonstop catching, I took his rod and handed him a bottle of water. As he was sitting down drinking and shaking his arm out, he laughed and said “This is great! The family comes out with me every once in a while on our boat to fish, but we usually don’t catch anything.” I just smiled.
When he was through with his water and ready to fish again, I handed him a fly rod. There was that look again. I explained a little about casting and how to retrieve line through his hand. Just give it a try. The spinning rod isn’t far away. I’s OK. After a few attempts, he was able to get the fly out far enough to able to retrieve it a little. Bam, ladyfish. Bam, trout. Bam, ladyfish. His outlook on fly fishing began to change quickly.
After losing the fly to a fish, I handed him the spinning rod to use as I tied a new Clouser on the leader. While he was fishing with the spinning rod, Andy was asking questions about casting, catching different species, different flies and casting lessons. Then he said, “The boys would really like this if I could just get them out of bed!” Hey — their loss.
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.