Have you heard? Spring is here. A friend of mine told me this yesterday. That’s a nice thought, but I’m not going to put my jacket in mothballs just yet. We still have several cold fronts to go before we get immersed into our full-on spring patterns.
But the laurel oak in my side yard thinks it’s spring. It’s already blooming and spreading yellow pollen all over my boat, car, grill, pool cage — well, everything, actually. The water temperatures have come up a little in the last few days too, and that’s the important thing. Unless we have some drastically cold weather come back for an extended period of time, water temps will stay in the mid 60s and move on toward the magical 70-degree mark before long.
Are we moving into an early spring? Heck, who knows. As I’m writing this and looking a week ahead on the forecast, I see that forecast lows for Feb. 19 are back in the 40s, with highs in the low to mid 60s for a couple days. That will probably drop the water temps a little. And there’s supposed to be wind. Oh, what a surprise. I love whining about the wind as much as anybody, but I still fish in it.
Casting tip: If you always stay off the water or inside your house on windy days, you will never get comfortable casting in the wind. If you decide not to go fishing on a windy day, that’s fine — but spend 20 minutes practicing at home in the yard. Cast with the wind behind you, dead into your face and blowing in from your casting side. Dealing with the wind can be learned with a little work, and that abilitywill make your time on the water much more pleasant.
The winter bite has been good this year. Lots of fish are coming to the boat in the backcountry and on the outer bars, including several slams. Sure, the snook get lockjaw anytime the water temps drop much, but they always decide to eat again when it warms a little.
When there is enough water with all of these negative tides and low water we’ve been having, I like finding snook and reds up along the mangroves. As the water and temps come up, these fish will move up out of the grass and out of the holes to look for food, making them easier to spot for a cast. The water has been super clear, making fish easy to see. But, if you can easily see the fish, they can easily see you.
I know you’ve heard this over and over. But remember that longer casts may be required to these “hi-vis” fish. You standing on the bow of the boat waving a 9-foot stick around will spook everything on the flat with this low clear water we have. Presentation tip: Try keeping your rodtip as low as possible while casting. Sidearm and even underhand casts may be required to avoid spooking the fish. A properly executed underhand cast will drop the fly very gently and quietly, with the added advantage of being able to place the fly up under mangroves and docks.
If you can’t find the fish along the mangroves, look for a muddy bottom. Most of the tailers that I have found have been on these muddy bottoms and not the shallow grass. As we all know, muddy bottoms warm up quicker and hold warmth a little longer. These makes our targets feel better, and feeling better makes them want to eat feel better. The baitfish, crabs, shrimp, etc. also move around more as they warm up.
When you’ve caught all the reds and snook you can handle, then you need a trout for the slam. Find yourself 4 to 5 feet of water on a grass flat. Grab your 6 weight with a 6- to 10-foot intermediate head, tie on a 1.5- to 2-inch Clouser with medium dumbbell eyes on a No. 1 hook, and start casting. Just drift with the wind or tide. When you catch a trout, anchor up and fan cast the area. Where there’s one there are more.
I was drifting one of my spots two days ago. Ten minutes into the drift, I caught a fish. I anchored up and proceeded to hook nine more on nine casts. Moved to another spot; nothing but pinfish. Another spot; lizardfish and pins. I moved to my final trout spot for the day. I drifted again for about 10 minutes, caught a fish and then anchored. I made nine more casts, caught nine more fish and left.
Fishing tip: Be patient. The fish are here and catchable, cold or not. This applies to snook, reds, trout and all the rest. Work slowly and methodically. With the trout, when you find a school it’s nonstop. The fish in a school are usually pretty consistent in size. In the first school I found, all of the fish were 10 to 13 inches long. In the second school, they were 15 to 18 inches.
Spring will get here when it gets here. We have no choice in that fact. Whether it stays warm or cools off again, enjoy what we have right now …
And stay fly.
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 take 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.