If you are a part-time beach dweller enjoying Southwest Florida for a few months a year, or a vacationer just trying to make a quick escape from the chills of the northlands, you need not be afraid of the ocean or the creatures that dwell within. I am particularly speaking to those of you who like to fly fish — and those of you who have always wanted to try it.
Charlotte Harbor is a paradise for any fly angler. With a few considerations you can step in, paddle through, pole across, or motor over the great water we have here and enjoy some amazing fishing opportunities. Let’s review them one by one.
If you have your own gear and want to use it, that’s great. Well, maybe. What do you have? If it’s a 5 weight or smaller, it was designed for targeting trout in a small river, or maybe bluegill and small bass in a pond. Leave that one at home. Although it’s a blast landing fish on light gear (and we all like to do it), that 5 is just a little too light to cast most of the flies we will use, especially if you have to cast into the wind you’ll probably face here on the coast.
For most of what you would fish for here (redfish, snook, baby tarpon, speckled seatrout, pompano, jacks, ladyfish etc.), a 6 or 8 weight is the norm. Most trout, bass and bream fisherman probably have a 6 in their collections. Many of the flies you will use are castable on the 6 because they aren’t that much bigger or different than the fresh water streamers you use.
However, that 8 weight is probably better. It’s good to have some extra muscle just in case you happen to hook a big snook that will drag you and your boat into the mangroves, or a redfish that will bulldog you down in the grass and mud, or a baby tarpon that hits like a truck and then soars in the blue winter sky. If you get one of those on your 6 weight, you may be wishing you had stepped up.
An 8 weight is the ideal all-around rod weight for fishing here. It’s strong enough to cast any fly we will use, fight our powerful gamefish and deal with the wind that will blow.
One caveat: If you want to try for giant tarpon — the 100-pounders and up — 11 and 12 weights will be required. Of course, we don’t have many of those to cast at right now anyway. That comes a little later in the year.
You’ll need a reel that matches the rod weight so it will hold enough of the proper fly line and backing to fight and land larger, stronger fish. It also needs to be anodized for protection against the corrosive properties of salt water. Don’t bring your Orvis CFO or your dad’s old Pflueger Medalist — at least, not if you expect them to ever work again!
If you are going to be with us during our so-called winter months, you’ll be able to use your freshwater fly line. The outdoor temps and the water temps aren’t up to the point of turning a fly line into wet linguine yet. I won’t go into all the differences between salt and fresh water lines, line-core materials, coating materials, densities, tapers etc. Just bring a line to match your rod. If you do happen to come and fish in our hot, hot summer, you will need a tropical line.
A fish is a fish. (Brilliant deduction!) And all fish have the same basic needs: They want to feel safe, they want to eat and they want to work as little as possible. It’s how they survive! So, you are fishing the same types of areas that you do at home. Look for structure in the water (in our case, mangroves and grasses), depth changes or edges, flowing water and current lines. Cast a baitfish, shrimp, or crab pattern along these areas and see what happens! Remember, our water doesn’t run one direction all the time like your creeks, streams and rivers do. Check out a tide chart.
Bring your fish eyes
Much of the fishing that we do year-round is sight fishing. But this time year, when we have super clear water and negative tides (very low water), we are definitely looking for, spotting and casting to visible fish. However, it’s not always as easy as it sounds. If you haven’t done a lot of sight fishing before, it can be a little difficult to find the fish even in clear water until you get the knack.
Practice before your trip. All the mechanics and essentials for creating a loop are exactly the same with the smallest or largest fly rod. But it sure won’t feel like it if you are used to that 5 weight on the trout stream! Give yourself the chance to succeed by spending some time casting before you come for your visit. The more comfortable you are with the rod, the better.
Do you need a guide?
All of this can be done successfully as a do-it-yourself trip if you want to give it a go. Of course, without local knowledge, you will have a learning curve and you’ll make some mistakes (call them “learning opportunities” if it makes you feel better).
Or you come and fish with a guide. Then you don’t have to worry about what gear to bring, which fly to use, where to throw it or who will take that picture when it’s time. You will get a lot of personal attention toward saltwater fly fishing techniques, tips from someone who knows where to go and how to fish it, and of course the all-important casting tips if needed. Come and see me.
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.