As I write this, there are four days left in February. The thermometer says 88°F at my house, and water temperatures are up to 78 in some of the backcountry spots that I frequent. Makes tourists happy, but it’s not normal. The average daytime temp this time of year is 67 to 69. The average water temp is a broader range, 60 to 71.
Right now the fish want to go into spring and summer patterns because of the temps, but the days are still too short and the sun too low in the sky. They’re confused, and so am I.
Then add red tide on top of that. The fish have got to be thinking “What the heck am I supposed to do now?” Hold your breath and swim baby; just keep swimming. It’s kind of like my clients and I have been doing. We hold our breath while leaving the ramp and running until we find cleaner air and clearer water.
Harry and I did just that the other day. We took a deep breath and ran for breathable air and clear water. The boat stayed on plane until I thought we were well out of the hacking, burning eyes, and floating dead fish zone. It’s damn sad that it has come to this again!
I got up on the poling platform and started to push. Harry has a decent cast, so we started sight fishing the mangroves. A snook came out of its cover to take a closer look, but quickly returned to the shadows. Three casts later, a little redfish did the same. Harry asked if he was doing something wrong. I didn’t think that was the problem, so I changed the fly and we continued.
“How am I supposed to move the fly?” he asked. That’s a question that we must think about and answer every time we go fish anywhere. Fresh or salt, warm or cold, pond or creek, lake or river — the way the fly should move can and most likely will be different for all of them.
If you’re using a fly that imitates a baitfish, then the movements must imitate that of a baitfish. Wow, what a revelation. Baitfish act differently in different situations. The main thing you must remember is to never move the fly toward the fish, because 96.5 percent of the time the fish will spook.
Some days you just have to wait for the fish to tell you what they want. Long and slow, short and fast, consistently moving smoothly, strip then let fall. Just keep changing it up. Also remember if you happen to be in a good current that baitfish don’t usually swim against it, they swim with it. When possible, cast upcurrent and retrieve with the flow.
When you are fishing a shrimp, your retrieve changes a little. Shrimp hover and move slowly (yeah, that’s a little hard to imitate) until threatened. Then they snap and swim abruptly. So, the same sort of jerky, jumpy retrieves work for them as well.
Crab flies are popular, but I have found that most people don’t have a clue how to move a crab fly. A crab usually moves or crawls along the bottom. They don’t bounce and snap like a shrimp nor do they swim like a baitfish, but that’s how most people fish them.
Instead, drag those puppies along the bottom, kicking up a little silt. That looks good to a crab-eater. Just like a bonefish, when a red sees a crab crawling along the bottom kicking up a little mud, it will most often ring his dinner bell.
Well, the winning combo for this particular day turned out to be strip, strip, drop. The snook smacked it on the fall. Harry ended up doing well, catching several snook, and was amazed that this was the only way they would eat the fly. Some days it doesn’t seem to matter how you move it. Other days, it makes all the difference.
After poling a few cays and catching several snook up to 19 inches, we went and drifted a grassflat for trout. It didn’t take long for Harry to learn that the same technique was working for them also. Strip, strip, drop, whack. Fish on.
They weren’t hitting it hard. You just felt a tick as the fly was sinking. By the way, I saw the biggest trout that I’ve seen for a long time. We didn’t catch it, but that’s OK. I’m happy it’s out there.
After a few more trout landed, the day was done. We took a big breath of good air and headed back to the ramp, running past the floating bodies of dead fish. Heartbreaking, but at least red tides aren’t forever.
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.
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