At this point in time, we are very blessed to still have ramps open to launch our boats. There is no better cure for the corona cabin fever than to be able to isolate ourselves on the water for a few hours. My other options for getting out are taking a bike ride, walking a trail somewhere or working on the backyard projects I’ve started. But the water is my first choice.
For those able to get out on the water, the fishing has been good. The re are quite a few rod-benders around — Spanish mackerel, for example. For the macks, I use my 6 weight with a sink-tip line. I usually choose an intermediate, but there are times that you may need a bit more depth for these little rockets. You can have a heavier sinking line available or just use heavier weighted flies to help keep it down.
Heavier leaders are required for mackerel because they are very toothy critters. In fact, you may want to use a wire leader by the same name (Toothy Critter) as your bite tippet. Macks will hit the fly on the fall sometimes, but more often they seem to like it stripped quickly and erratically.
If you happen to hook into some of the larger fish like the ones I’ve found lately, they will dump your fly line from your reel in a hurry. That 6 weight starts to feel a little light. Just hang on, keep your knuckles out of the way of the reel, and smile. They’ll slow down in a minute and you can go to work. They will make a couple of great runs, so be ready to turn the handle loose when they go.
If you want to keep a couple for dinner, bleed them and then throw them in a good icy cooler. If you didn’t bring ice, then forget about it — they die immediately in a livewell and un-iced mackerel goes bad very quickly.
Some of the other rod benders easy to catch lately have included jacks, ladyfish and trout. And the puffers have been on fire! They have been quite a nuisance, but it’s hard to get mad at that little cartoon character as it pumps up with his own compressor to the size of a party balloon. I’ve been tempted lately to serve one like volleyball, but deferred to just dropping them on the water and watching the quick “deflate and escape.” (Kind of like Tom Brady.)
I have finally been able to make some of the snook eat. For weeks, I’ve been poling around and finding plenty of linesiders to cast to, but not getting many strikes. Suddenly they’ve decided they like me again, at least a little. I had tried every fly in the box to no avail. Now I’m back to my basics and they’re working fine.
My basic snook flies are just baitfish patterns tied on No. 1 or No. 2 hooks. It’s not a bad idea to have a couple flies tied on 1/0 or 2/0 hooks in the snook section of your box. Sometimes they want a big bite. They are starting to eat topwater too. Nothing is more fun than a good topwater snook take. Gurgler, popper, whatever … just cast it and make some noise; they’ll blow it up!
Redfish are still cooperating as well. You will find them in their usual haunts, cruising along the mangroves or out on the grass flats looking for a meal. Use your pushpole or set up a drift if possible to make a stealthy entrance into their territory, because they are sure spooky.
If you can make longer casts in the 60- to 70-foot range, you’ll be more successful on most of these fish (reds, snook and tarpon especially). Also, remember make as few false casts as you can, and keep your rod as low as possible. These fish won’t stick around if they see that 9-foot stick waving around. This would be a good time to work on your sidearm or even underhand cast.
Baitfish and shrimpy-crabby patterns have both been working for me. I’ve been tying both from an inch to 2.5 inches long. Hint: When you fish a crab pattern, don’t strip like normal. Crustaceans don’t swim like a baitfish. Instead, drag the fly across sand and grass.
Topwater flies have been starting to work on them too. The poppers and gurglers I mentiones with snook will do the trick. Redfish aren’t deadly accurate upward feeders like snook and tarpon. Their topwater method is more, “I really want that, I think I can get it.”
When a redfish strikes on top, just keep popping and stripping the fly. Never set the hook until you feel the weight of the fish. Don’t react to all of their commotion by setting the hook too early, and remember, never lift the rod to set any saltwater hook unless absolutely necessary. Trout-setting will lose you fish.
A redfish has an inferior (slightly underslung) mouth made for feeding down along the bottom. When a snook, tarpon, trout and other suction-feeding fish come up from beneath the fly, they suck a hole in the water (the big “pop” sound we love so much). But a red has to rise up over its prey to get that underslung mouth on top of it.
Watching a redfish eat on top is like teaching a youngster to catch and throw a ball. You toss the ball to them, and it bounces off their hands, hits them in the chest and drops to the ground. As they bend over to pick the ball up, they kick it with their foot and have to chase it down. Then, they kick it a couple more times before they just fall on all fours to surround the ball. Sometimes, that’s a red trying to eat a topwater popper.
Resident tarpon are around, and catchable too. Soon the big migratory fish will be here to join them. We’ll talk more about them later. For now, stay away from me, but …
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.