redfish fly

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Southwest Florida offers fly fishing opportunities in every season.

Have you ever been fishing and had just crazy little things go wrong? If you fish enough, you have. I’m not talking about forgetting to put the plugs in your boat, running out of fuel, engine tilt or the jackplate not working or dropping your cellphone in the water — although those things happen too. I’m talking about while you are actually fishing.

For example: Yesterday, I decided to fish the afternoon tide during a warmer sunny period and look for a new spot to take clients. It was lovely. The wind had calmed down and was coming out of the southwest, so I got in the lee of an easterly shoreline that had good light on it and I had great visibility. Oh man, I love to sight fish! The breeze was helping the tide drift me right along a shoreline that I have been wanting to explore. It was perfect. All I had to do was spot a fish.

That didn’t take long. A pair of 20-inch snook moved off a dark patch across the light sand and I had my first target. A 60-foot cast that landed three feet in front of the pair, a twitch of the fly and whack! Wow — just like they are supposed to do. A minute later, I had a pretty little snook in hand! We exchanged pleasantries and he was released without leaving the water.

Now I’m not a superstitious person, but you know what they say (whoever “they” is) about catching a fish on the first cast. I myself think it is a great sign, so I drifted on with great expectations.

It wasn’t five minutes later that I spotted a decent redfish moving down the shoreline towards me. I wait to close the gap a little and have a good angle to make a cast. The cast lay down softly four feet in front of him. I waited just a moment before I bumped the fly and as soon as I did, the fish started tracking it.

Just at that moment a cloud covered the sun and cast a dark shadow over my fish. It was on a darker bottom, so I lost the visual on it, but I kept stripping expecting the line to come tight. I waited and waited as I kept moving the fly and thought I could see the fish. Then the sun popped out just in time for me to see the red 25 feet from the boat shaking its head and then I actually watched the fish spit out the fly and slowly swim off.

That redfish never changed direction. It ate the fly and just kept coming straight at me swimming at the same speed. I didn’t feel the take, I didn’t see the line jump or move to make me want to set the hook. The fish didn’t act spooked. It just spit the fly and calmly swam away. So, of course, after it moved a little further from the boat I made another cast. It stopped and came to look at the fly, seeming to say, “I just spit you out, I’m not eating you again!” The red continued on slowly and so did I.

I was excited about all the fish I was seeing along these mangroves. Next up was a bigger snook, 25 yards on up the shoreline. This black-backed beauty was about 30 inches long and ready for a treat. It was laying on a dark patch just outside a mangrove sunning itself and I laid another cast out in front of the fish.

It was classic. I could see the fish’s attitude change as he watched the fly sink all the way to the bottom (in about a foot of water). He tipped up a little with his pec fins spread out wide. I bumped the fly (a small baitfish pattern) and the fish moved toward the fly, looking to kill.

At that very moment, I heard the prehistoric squawk of a great blue heron as he left his perch in the mangrove above our heads and took flight — of course, right over my snook. Not only did it scare the snook, but it scared the heck out of me too!

I gathered myself back together as I adjusted the boat’s drift and thought out loud, “What else is going to happen?” Well, the sun hid behind clouds again, so I just started to blind cast to the mangroves and up the shoreline for 15 minutes or so, then the sun came back out just in time to see a little rat red. This time only a 30-foot cast was necessary and a minute or two later the little 18-incher was released alongside the boat. The fish all seemed happy and ready to eat. I was having a great time, but I knew there were bigger fish to catch.

Up ahead of the boat was a deeper hole in front of the mangroves. I made a couple of long casts to the hole, maybe 70 feet away. After six or seven casts, the fish count had gone up. Two more little snook in the 15-inch range and another rat red about the same size had come to the boat.

But I could see the clouds moving in, so I knew my light wasn’t going to last much longer. This cloud cover and rain wasn’t supposed to happen for several more hours. I figured I’d keep going till I couldn’t sight cast anymore, happy to know what this shoreline holds and that I can certainly bring clients back here and find fish.

About that time, a big red came into sight only 50 feet away. It was a beautiful fish, maybe 30 inches long. It was a great set up. The red was swimming slowly with its head down, looking for a snack. The water was still only 10 inches or so deep, so I put the fly five feet in front of the fish and let him come to it. I bumped the fly and the fish lit up and moved toward it. I had great light on a light sandy bottom, I could see well, the red was coming hard — but so was a crazy sheepshead.

I didn’t see the sheepshead. Why would I? I was looking at a great big redfish about to eat my fly! I don’t know if the sheepshead had thoughts of eating the fly, but the two fish met nose to nose and absolute pandemonium struck. All that was left of a possible great situation was a giant cloud of mud around my fly and two mud trails leading off in opposite directions.

As I was still overlooking the aftermath, the heavy clouds rolled in (only three hours early). The wind picked up too, so I headed back toward the ramp thinking about what a weird couple of hours I’d had. But hey, I got to sight fish, caught a few, and witnessed some “very interesting happenings” — all with a fly rod in my hand. It doesn’t get any better.

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 get casting lessons, book a trip or just need more fly fishing info, contact him at 706-254-3504 or visit or

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 or


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