Fly Fishing in Florida, Gulf Coast Tips!
The intention of this post, fly fishing in Florida; the Gulf Coast, is to simplify the tackle and techniques used in fly fishing to encourage anglers to give the “long rod” a chance. Fly fishing can be confusing and overwhelming, but it does not have to be. In spin fishing the lure or bait provides the weight for casting and the line just follows behind.
With fly fishing, the line provides the weight; flies weigh practically nothing and would be difficult to cast any distance by themselves. Heavy, bulky flies are actually MORE difficult to cast. This is the fundamental difference. Fly casting will not be covered, there are great resources on YouTube and such that are better than print. Of course, this means that the tackle is different, too.
Fly fishing equipment and tackle
As in all hobbies, fly fishing requires an investment in equipment. Anglers need not spend thousands of dollars to get started. Entry level outfits can be purchased for less than $400. Here is an excellent starter kit for $300, click on the image to shop.
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Fly rods are designated by “weight”. The smaller the number the lighter the rod. This delineation is located on the rod near the handle and written as such: “7wt” for example. Fly rods also come in different lengths and actions. The most versatile combo for a novice fly angler fishing the inshore salt waters would be a 9 foot 8wt mid-flex outfit.
Fly lines also come in “weights” and need to be matched to the rod. Lines come in different varieties; floating, sink tip, and full sinking. The best all-round line is an intermediate sink tip line. This will get the fly down on the deeper grass flats but can still be worked quickly, keeping the fly near the surface.
One mistake many freshwater anglers make is using a floating fly line for all applications. Floating lines are easier to pick up and cast, but the fly will not get deep enough when fishing in deeper water. Fly lines also are not straight, they taper with the forward section being heavier.
These are designated “weight forward” or “saltwater taper” and greatly assist the fly angler when casting heavy or bulky flies. Fly lines are generally around 100 feet long. 200 yards of “backing” is spooled under the fly line. This adds diameter to the spool and is crucial when fishing for larger fish that make long runs. Fly lines usually have a loop at both the casting end and backing end to facilitate leader connections.
Fly fishing reels
A quality saltwater fly reel will have a smooth drag and corrosion resistant parts. Most are “single action” which means that there is no multiplication when reeling; one turn of the crank equates to one revolution on the spool. Also, the handle is fixed which means when a fish makes a run against the drag the handle will spin backwards. Keep the knuckles out of the way!
Fly fishing leaders
Fly line is thick and easily seen, therefore a leader is used between the end of the fly line and the fly. Leaders are “tapered” meaning the butt section (the end of the leader that attaches to the fly line) is thicker than the fly end. This helps the leader extend out, allowing the fly to “turn over”, making for a good presentation.
A “bite tippet” is required in most saltwater applications. This is a short piece of florocarbon, usually 20lb to 30lb test and 24” or so long. Leaders can be purchased or made individually in sections. Most commercially made leaders have a loop at the butt end, which makes it very easy to attach to the fly line.
Flies for saltwater fishing
Flies come in a wide variety of styles, colors, and sizes. Most flies are tied to imitate either baitfish or crustaceans, which is the primary forage of our game fish. As with all fishing, fly patterns should resemble the available prey. The Clouser Deep Minnow is a very popular and effective fly pattern that will mimic shrimp, crabs, and baitfish. It is a simple fly with weighted dumbbell eyes and some dressing of natural or synthetic hair.
Weighted flies sink and dance seductively when stripped in. Another versatile weighted fly is the Crystal Minnow. Tied primarily to entice snook, these patterns will produce in a variety of angling situations. The D.T. Special is a terrific unweighted fly. It works very well when cast to breaking fish as well as in the surf. The venerable Lefty’s Deceiver is a great unweighted fly as well and has been producing fish for both freshwater and saltwater anglers for decades.
This may sound like heresy, but the fly pattern is often over-emphasized by anglers. Fly selection does matter, but it is not nearly as important as location and especially presentation. Along those same lines, anglers that tie their own flies often use too much material and “over tie” the flies. “Less is more” can be a good approach.
Best fly fishing outfit
A 9 foot 8wt medium action fly rod, matching reel with backing, an intermediate sink tip line, several saltwater leaders, and a couple dozen flies ( a mix of #1 Clouser Minnows, #1 D.T Specials, and #4 Crystal Minnows in white, chartreuse, and pink ) along with a fly box will provide a novice saltwater with the basic outfit needed to get out and catch some fish.
Local fly shops are the best resource as they will usually spend the extra time with customers and even let them cast a rod or two before the purchase. As in all fishing, purchasing the best equipment that one can afford will make for a more enjoyable experience.
Florida Fly fishing techniques!
Finally, time to go fishing! There are different techniques and target species, but in each instance, from bluegill to giant tarpon, the general procedure is the same. The fly is cast out and allowed to settle or sink. With the rod tip low and pointed at the fly, the fly line is held with the index finger of the casting hand and with the free hand the fly line is retrieved in using short “strips” behind the finger holding the line. If no fish takes, the line is lifted out a cast again.
When a fish takes, the line is pulled hard with the free hand, removing any slack and setting the hook. The rod is then lifted up. This is called a “strip set” and is the best technique for saltwater fly fishing. With smaller fish, the line is simply stripped in. Larger fish will make a run, taking up all of the slack and then “getting on the reel”. The fish is then reeled in as with spinning tackle. Remember that fly reels are single action and to keep the knuckles clear.
Line management is very important when fly fishing as there is always a pile of slack line at an anglers feet after the fly is stripped back in. This line can catch on anything that protrudes out from the boat, angler, or shore if on land. Wind only makes this problem worse. When fishing out of a boat, anglers will stand on the forward deck and find a place to stack the line.
Using a stripping basket when fly fishing
A great solution is a “stripping basket”. This can be anything that will contain the line. Laundry baskets, recycling bins, and collapsing lawn refuse containers all work well. Anglers may also purchase a commercial stripping basket as well.
There are a few other incidentals and pieces of equipment that will help anglers enjoy fly fishing. Quality polarized sunglasses are very important, allowing anglers to see grass beds, bait, and even fish at times. A hat with a long bill will cut the glare and one with a flap will add protection for the ears and neck from the Florida sun.
On that note, sunscreen is very important, especially on the neck and face. While the water is warm for much of the year, wading boots and insulated waders will keep fly anglers who like to wade warm and safe.
Fly fishing on the deep grass flats
Grass flats are the primary cover on the West Coast of Florida. Many thousands of acres of submerged vegetation hold just about every fish species. In most of these areas, there is very little other structure. Bait fish and crustaceans seek sanctuary in the submerge grass flats. This in turn attracts game fish.
Submerged vegetation can be found in water from very shallow up to 10 feet deep. In most instances, sunlight will not penetrate water deeper than 10 feet. Most anglers consider “deep grass” to be submerge grass beds in water between 4 feet deep and 10 feet deep. These deeper flats attract a wide variety of fish species and offer anglers an excellent opportunity for both action and variety.
Speckled trout are abundant and found year-round. Spanish mackerel, bluefish, pompano, jack crevelle, flounder, mangrove snapper, gag grouper, sharks, cobia, and other species will be encountered during certain times of year. Ladyfish are plentiful are provide great sport on fly.
Best fly tackle for fishing the deep grass
A 7wt or 8wt outfit is the best choice when fishing the deep grass flats. An intermediate sink tip line or full sinking line will get the fly down in this deeper water. A common mistake many novice fly anglers make is trying to fish this water with a floating fly line. Even with a weighted fly, a floating line will usually not allow the fly to get deep enough to be productive.
An 8′ tapered leader with a 20 lb to 30 lb bite tippet work well and cover most applications. Species such as big mackerel and bluefish that have sharp teeth may require a heavier bite tippet, upto 50 lb test.
The number one fly pattern when fishing the deep grass flats is the Clouser Deep Minnow. This is a very effective and well-known saltwater fishing fly. It is very similar to a buck tail jig. A Clouser consists of weighted dumbbell eyes along with some bucktail or synthetic dressing on the hook. They can be tied to imitate both bait fish and crustaceans. Other weighted patterns such as a Crystal minnow are also productive.
Non-weighted flies such as the lefty’s Deceiver, D.T. Special, and Puglisi flies can be extremely effective, especially with a sinking line. White is a great all-round choice, but just about any color will produce. Light colors work well in clear water and dark colors produce in stained water.
Tactics for fly fishing on the deep grass flats
Submerged grass flats are easy to spot in clear water, especially when the sun is high. Polarized glasses are a necessity. Amber isn’t excellent color choice for glasses when searching for submerged grass. Obviously, these flats are more difficult to spot when the water is stained or under low light conditions. Depth finders will also aid in locating submerged grass flats.
Tide is less of a factor when fishing the deep grass flats and it is when fishing very shallow water. In the deeper flats, there is always enough water for the fish to be comfortable. However, fishing is usually more productive during periods of strong current flow. Many anglers consider two hours before and after the high tide to be the prime time to fish. A light breeze is usually better than slack calm conditions.
Drifting is normally the most effective technique to use when searching for fish on the deep grass flats. These are usually large, expansive areas and it takes time to eliminate unproductive water. The best approach is to set up a drift where the wind and tide will move the boat in the same direction. This results in the easiest drift to both cast and manage the fly line.
It is best to begin the drift on the upwind and up tide side of the flat. The current and wind will then move the boat across the area that is to be searched and fished. It is best to have the wind over the anglers casting shoulder.
Working the fly on the deep grass
The fly is cast out, allowed to sink, and then retrieved back in. Anglers should vary the sink time and stripping technique until a productive pattern emerges. When a fish takes the fly, the “strip set” method is used to hook it. The rod should be low to the water as the fly is retrieved. When the fish takes, pull hard on the fly line with the stripping hand, removing all of the slack, then gently raise the rod tip.
Fish may like it very fast and aggressive while at times a more subtle and deliberate approach will work better. Don’t get preoccupied with the fly pattern; presentation is the most important aspect. Also, different species will respond better to different retrieves. Trout and pompano like it a bit closer to the bottom while mackerel, bluefish, and ladyfish will take a fly stripped very quickly.
Ideally, anglers will be drifting with the light when a five or six knots. However, ideal conditions are not always the reality. Often times, the wind will be blowing much stronger than that. There are techniques that will help anglers deal with this extra wind. Anglers should cast their fly at a 45° angle from the boat as opposed to straight out. This results in the fly swinging on a tight line is the boat drifts. Casting straight out in front of the boat results in the angler having to strip the line in very fast just to account for the drift of the boat.
Slowing the drift
Drift socks and anchors are other tools that anglers can use to slow down or even stop the drift. Drift anchors are like parachutes that are tied off behind the boat. They are excellent tools to slow down the boat and also adjust the angle at which it drifts. Anchors obviously work the same and can even be used to stop the boat in a location and allow anglers to thoroughly work a productive area.
Too many anglers overlooked fishing the deep grass flats, instead pursuing more glamorous species on the shallow flats. The deep grass flats are excellent spots to fly fish, particularly for novice anglers. Fun fish such as ladyfish, jacks, bluefish, trout, and mackerel may not be as challenging, but success is much more of a guarantee. This is also an excellent opportunity to introduce kids to the sport of fly fishing. Many anglers prefer action and variety over catching one or two larger fish!
Fly fishing on the shallow flats
It sounds like a contradiction, but often times the largest fish are found in the shallowest of water. While the deeper grass flats hold schools of fish and is a better option for action and numbers, fly anglers seeking a trophy will do well focusing on shallow grass flats, oyster bars, and mangrove shorelines. Redfish and jack crevelle school up in shallow water, the largest trout are loners and will set up in potholes in shallow flats, and snook will feed on bait in the skinny water as well.
This type of fishing has exploded in popularity in recent years. Flats and bay boats abound and kayak fishing is very popular. The result is that these fish receive a LOT of pressure, especially in the popular Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor areas. Fish in these shallow areas are spooky and require different tactics in order to be successful.
Tackle requirements are similar to other inshore fishing applications, a 7wt or 8wt outfit is fine. Floating lines are used as the water fished is seldom more that 3 feet deep and longer leaders with a 20lb bite tippet will increase the chances of fooling fish. But, the biggest change in tactics is the need for patience and stealth. Fish in water this shallow are extremely spooky and the slightest noise or shadow can send them running for cover. The most popular fly patterns are Puglisi and Clouser Minnows, shrimp imitations.
The approach when attacking a flat or shoreline is similar to that of the deep flats in that the wind and tide are factors that need to be taken into account when fishing from a boat. Whenever possible, choose an area where the wind and tide will move the boat in the same direction. Obviously, a shallow draft boat will be required to access these areas.
The classic situation is a flats skiff with the angler positioned on the bow and the guide or other angler poling the boat from the stern or poling platform. Kayaks are also great platforms to use to fish areas larger boats can’t launch or access.
Tides are crucial when fishing the flats
Many anglers prefer the low, incoming tide when working the shallows. Fish will stage on the edges where the flat drops off, waiting for the water to come up where they will get up on the flat, scatter out, and search for food. Along the same lines, fish will gang up in “potholes” on low tide stages.
These are depressions in the flats that can range in size from a foot to to over 20 feet and larger in diameter. In both instances, the low water concentrates the fish, making them easier to locate. The more water that there is on a flat the more places the fish can be.
Tide strength and heights are crucial elements when fly fishing in the shallows. Anglers need to study the tide charts, it is much more complex than just the times of the high and low tides. The tide height and speed at which it is moving are very important to know so that anglers can understand fish movements. Wind is also a factor; on the west coast of Florida, a northeast wind will empty a flat of water while a south wind will flood the flat.
Anglers can choose to either blind cast likely looking areas or sight cast to specific fish or small bunches of fish. As the boat eases down the shoreline or across the flat, the fly is cast towards the shoreline or potholes and grass edges, allowed to sink a moment, and retrieved back in. Unlike the deep grass flats, the fish will normally be found in small areas and bunched up, it will take time, effort, and patience to eliminate unproductive water.
Blind casting strategies
Blind casting will normally produce more fish, but sight casting is very exciting! This is exactly what it sounds like, an angler either readies on the bow while boat fishing or stealthily wades a flat, visually searching for fish. Once sighted, the fly is cast out in front of the fish and the optimum presentation is to strip the fly away from the fish, and hopefully a take ensues.
It can be a bit overwhelming at first, but there are some things that anglers should key on to help locate fish. Edges are always worth investigating, whether it is a weed bed, oyster bar, or drop off. Current edges can also be used as ambush points by predators. Mangrove shorelines are very enticing, but there are miles and miles of them and fish will only be in short sections.
The key is to find something different such as cuts, oyster bars, and especially holes and deeper water, fish will definitely hold there. Also, anglers will want to see signs of life; there is nothing worse than a “dead” flat. Areas that show glass minnows and other baitfish, mullet schools, birds, and best of all fish tailing, waking, or working bait are prime spots.
Anglers that are serious about mastering this technique will need to put in their time. Choosing a small area and learning it well is a good investment and will serve the angler well. It is amazing how different these types of spots are with just a little change in tide height. Learning the tides, bottom composition, and local fish migrations in one small area will help them catch fish in other locations.
Wading can be an extremely effective strategy when targeting fish in shallow water and allows anglers without a boat to enjoy this type of fishing. Some experienced guides will pole an area and not even fish, just look for signs and fish. Once a likely area is identified, they get out of the boat and walk. With the pressure that fish get these days, being able to eliminate boat noises will allow fly casters to get much closer to their quarry and allow more time for a good presentation.
Fishing the inshore Gulf of Mexico
Anglers can experience some world-class fly fishing action in the inshore Gulf of Mexico when conditions are right. The inshore waters offer some outstanding site fishing to schools of breaking Spanish mackerel, false albacore, and other species. The key to this fishing are the hordes of bait fish that migrate along the beach in the spring and the fall.
False albacore and Spanish mackerel are the primary species being pursued by anglers fly fishing in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. However, king mackerel, sharks, bluefish, ladyfish, cobia, and triple tail will also be encountered. Ideal water temperature is between 68° and 75°. Easter and Thanksgiving are generally the peak times in the spring and again in the fall.
These fish species are nomads and there are not really any specific spots. Game fish can be encountered feeding on the surface just about anywhere. However, areas of hard bottom and artificial reefs are places that will naturally attract bait fish and are good places to look. The mouse of passes are also excellent spots on an outgoing tide. This is not a situation that requires anglers to get up at the crack of dawn as often times a little sunlight is required to get the fish feeding.
Fly fishing tackle for the inshore Gulf of Mexico
Anglers primarily pursuing Spanish mackerel will do fine with a 7wt outfit. False albacore are larger and put up a stronger fight, requiring slightly heavier tackle. In most instances, a 9wt is the best choice to subdue a larger fish. Floating lines work best as a are easier to manage and the fish are feeding on the surface. 20 lb fluorocarbon tippets work well for the false albacore while Spanish mackerel will usually require a bit stouter leader.
Patience is definitely a requirement for this type of fishing, especially with the false albacore. Seeing fish feeding ferociously on the surface is exciting and many anglers race around from school to school. This is usually the least effective technique as it will put the fish down. The best approach is to stick with one school of fish, taking the time to get in position for a good fly casting opportunity. Positioning the boat upwind of the fish and allowing the breeze to ease it closer to the fish while having the wind behind the caster is the best technique.
Anglers often believe that with fish in such a feeding mood, that they can be easy to catch. This can be true with the Spanish mackerel, which will generally take any fly that remotely resembles a small bait fish. However, false albacore are notoriously fussy. The fish are often feeding on small glass minnows. Anglers who match the fly size to the available forage will usually enjoy more success.
Techniques for fly fishing the inshore Gulf of Mexico
A very fast, erratic retrieve generally works best when fish are feeding on the surface. However, as in with all fishing, if that retrieve does not produce anglers should very it until a productive stripping technique emerges. The same goes with flies, if fish refuse a certain fly after multiple presentations, it is time for a change.
Tripletail are another species that fly anglers can catch when fly fishing in Florida. This is a unique sight fishing opportunity. The technique is pretty simple, anglers run the boat along strings of crab pot buoys, looking for tripletail. These fish will lie on their side behind buoys, markers, and floating structure, seeming to “pretend” to be grass, waiting for prey to use them for cover.
The same set up that anglers use for mackerel and bonita will be fine for tripletail, so no need to re-rig. The best approach is to run along the crap pot buoys until a fish is sighted, driving past the buoy for a bit, then slowing and idling back around. In most instances, the tripletail will position itself on the down wind or down tide side of the buoy, so the best approach is from behind. The fly is cast out past the fish, retrieved back to the buoy, then allowed to fall in front of the fish. Tripletail are quite aggressive and will often take the fly. Shrimp and baitfish patterns are very productive.
Fly fishing for tarpon on the west coast of Florida
Tarpon are caught along the beaches, in the passes, and on the flats near the passes all summer long on the West Coast of Florida. The further south and angler fishes, the earlier the migration generally begins. In the 10,000 islands area, tarpon fishing begins in April. By June, fish can be found along the entire Suncoast.
Early in the season, tarpon are generally found in very large schools is a prepared to move offshore to spawn. By mid summer, these larger schools have broken up and fish are more often found as loners or in very small bunches. These fish found later in the year do not show as well, but they often times bite better as there spawning ritual is over.
Anglers also sight fish for giant tarpon on the shallow bars at the entrances to all of the passes. This fishing is often best in July and August, when many of the other tarpon anglers have quit for the season.
A 12wt outfit is best when pursuing giant tarpon on the West Coast of Florida. These fish average 75 pounds and fish over 150 pounds are hooked regularly. An intermediate sink tip line, commercially tied leader with a 60 lb bite tippet and a selection of Puglisi patterns, Cockroach, Black Death, and bunny flies in light and dark colors will be fine.
Beach tarpon fly fishing techniques
The technique for tarpon fishing on the beaches is actually pretty simple. Anglers get out on the beach just before or at first light and sit a few hundred yards from shore. Once set up, they scanned the water for schools of fish. Once a school is sighted, the boat is eased into position, ideally placing the angler upwind of the school. Electric trolling motors can be used in deeper water will push polls are used in shallow water.
It is important for anglers to recognize the best fish to try to catch. Only experience will teach anglers the skill. Often times fast-moving or Greyhound in schools are encountered. While there exciting to see swimming on the surface, they rarely will take a fly or even a live bait.
Fly anglers will also encounter larger schools in deeper water that are not moving fast but do not stay on the surface very long. These can also be difficult to place a fly in front of. However, if a school is located that Mills about in the same area for any length of time, a sinking line can be used to get the fly down to the fish.
The ideal situation is to run across a school of “happy tarpon”. These are fish that are moving very slowly and milling about just below the surface. Often times, anglers will see their tails and fins protruding from the glassy calm water. These are the perfect fish to try to catch on a fly!
Unfortunately, fish behaving this way are becoming more difficult to find. Fishing pressure has become quite heavy, especially early in the season. Courtesy and patience can be lacking from anglers at times. The proper etiquette is to defer to a fly angler working a school as it is a given that it is more difficult to hook a tarpon on fly. Some anglers adhere to this policy, some do not.
Fly fishing for tarpon in deep water
Fly anglers will oftentimes have to sit on a school of daisy chaining tarpon. These are fish that mill about while occasionally surfacing. They swim around in a tight circle, thus the name. These tarpon will usually surface periodically, between a couple minutes and up to 30 minutes apart.
Anchoring the boat from the stern can help keep the angler in position while waiting for the tarpon to surface again. Once they do, get the fly in there quickly, before they head back to the bottom. It is very important not to cast over rolling tarpon! This is called “lining” the fish and will almost always send them off in a panic.
Tarpon can also be caught by anglers fly fishing in shallow water. This happens on shallow bars and flats which normally occur at the mouth of the passes. This is one situation where the fly angler actually has an advantage over anglers casting live bait. Tarpon in the shallow water are spooky and a soft lead landing fly will not send them scurrying for deeper water.
These fish will often be seen in a long string of single file fish swimming nose to tail. Anglers will also see small pods of fish averaging a half dozen or so as well as large schools. When the sun is up these fish are very easy to spot in the shallow water. The most productive technique is to anchor the boat on the flat and wait for fish to come to them. A push poll can be used to re-position the boat, but angler should refrain from using the trolling motor in the shallow water
Patience is required when tarpon fishing. It is very easy to get excited and overly aggressive. The angler who takes the time to get into perfect position will score more often than the impatient one who runs around. A couple words regarding etiquette; do NOT run an outboard near a school of tarpon! It is better to let them go, motor around and re-position than to fire up the “big motor” in a school of fish. Also, if another boat is working a school, leave them to it unless they wave you in.
Tarpon fly fishing tips
Practice and patience is the key to a successful tarpon-fishing trip, especially with a fly rod.
Get yourself in shape. Tarpon are truly big game fish and it does take strength and stamina to land one. Now is the time to tune up your body and casting skills not when you’re standing on a boat in a 2-foot chop with a 10-knot wind blowing in your face and the tarpon daisy chaining 60 feet from the boat.
Tarpon will not come to the fly you have to get the fly to them.
With the proper equipment it’s not difficult to cast but it does take a little practice. Casting a 12 wt is quite different than casting a 5-8wt. A fly rod is a fly rod and if you know the proper technique all that’s needed is getting the feel.
Tackle must be in tip-top condition. Tarpon will test any gear to the limit and if there is a weak link they will find it.
Reels: lubed and drags clean
Lines: Check backing, make sure it isn’t snarled and is still strong. Clean fly line and check for abrasions and cracks. Use new leaders
Sharpen hooks, best to use new flies unless you take very good care of them, saltwater isn’t kind to hooks and fly materials.
Line management is very important. Know the line is clear and not underfoot or tangled. I use a stripping basket to lessen the chances of the line being out of control. The line is most always ready to cast. If anything can go wrong it will but taking precautions will lessen the mistakes. Condition your mind as to what you need to do when a tarpon is in your sights.
First you have to make the cast. Don’t think about the fish, think about the cast. One good cast is better than a 1000 bad ones. Lead the fish so the fly will be there when the fish comes.
Think about the hook set. You’ll basically never hook a tarpon with the rod. A tarpons’ mouth is rock hard. Think strip down and when you get the take pull long for the hook set. Now you have this monster on the end of your line and all hell is about to break loose!What it is going to do is anybody’s guess. The perfect scenario would be for it to take the fly and go away from the boat. But it can just as easily and come straight towards you. This isn’t the time to figure out what needs to happen. Work different scenarios out in your mind, then you might have a chance. If possible set the hook with the rod by pulling sideways and low with the butt of the rod after the take. Never have more line off the reel than necessary.
Clear the line as it comes thru the rod. It’s probably going to be moving hard and fast. Don’t make the mistake of letting it loop around your hand or rod butt. Hopefully you stripped the line in a neat pile so it doesn’t knot up on the way out of the rod, breaking the guides.
The more pressure you put on the fish at the start of the battle the faster you’ll land it. Every fish is different. So, it’s difficult to predict what tactics it will use to beat you.
Many anglers are so thrilled when a tarpon jumps they just freeze. Remember to bow to the king. Not really bow but point the rod straight to it. If the line is tight when it jumps the chances are very good you and your trophy will part company. Play the fish with the butt of the rod low to the water using a short sweeping motion. Be ready for the jump.
Many tarpon are lost at the side of the boat while trying to land it. Play the fish out, not to the point of total exhaustion, but to where you can turn it over. Don’t pull the leader into the fly rod and don’t try to lift the fish with the rod tip high. This is where most fly rods get broken. Have your fishing partner leader the fish and lip it. Take photos with the fish in the water, revive it and release it to make more babies and give another angler the thrill of a lifetime!
All this sounds simple enough but I’d bet most of you will forget it all when you see the silver flash. I’ve seen very experienced anglers turn to rubber but that’s part of the fun. You may be hard on yourself at the time but it’s an experience you’ll relive many times with friends.
Fly fishing for beach snook
Most fly anglers find the idea of spotting a 28” fish in foot deep gin-clear water, quietly stalking it, presenting a fly and watching the take to be the pinnacle of fishing. Does it really get any better than that? That opportunity does exist from Tampa Bay all the way south to Marco Island. Best of all, very little gear is required and a boat is actually a hindrance!
Sight fishing for snook along area beaches is not a secret among local anglers, but it is not widespread knowledge throughout the country. But, the fact is that anyone with a little stamina to walk, a fly rod, the ability to cast 40 feet and a bit of patience can enjoy this experience. As in all fishing, there are nuances that will help fly caster be more successful.
Snook begin migrating out of the back bays and onto the beaches in April, especially in the southern region, and are usually thick by June. They are out there to spawn, but will certainly take a well presented fly. In fact, fly fishing is probably the most effective approach as these fly lands so softly and the fish are in quite shallow water.
The general weather pattern in the summer is for the wind to lay down around midnight, and blow lightly out of the ease or southeast in the morning. The beach should be calm with relatively little surf. Too much chop will stir the water up, making it very difficult to spot snook. By noon the sea breeze will kick up and it will continue to pick up throughout the afternoon.
Beach fly fishing techniques
The technique is relatively simple. Get out on the beach around 7:30 a.m., no need to get there too early as it will be too dark to see any fish. Choose a section of beach that has few swimmers, though that usually isn’t an issue that early. The best fishing will be walking north, with the wind and sun at the anglers back.
Armed with a 7wt to 9wt outfit, a long leader with a 25lb-30lb tippet and a #2 white D.T. Special, Crystal Minnow, or any small pattern, the angler heads out, walking 15 feet or so away from the water, with 40 feet or so of line coiled in his hand, ready to make a quick cast. This will give a good vantage point to spot fish.
Most snook will be seen right in the surf line, withing a few feet of shore. There is very little structure on most beaches, therefore any rocks, pilings, or other structure can be very good spots. The same goes for beaches near passes, they can be fantastic places to fish.
Snook will range from loners to quite large schools, but mostly commonly will be seen in groups of several fish. The angler needs to determine which way they are heading. If the fish are moving towards the angler, he needs only stop, wait for the fish, and present the fly ahead of them. Subtle strips work best. If the fish are heading away, most of the time they are moving slow enough that the angler can walk around and get ahead of them, then present the fly.
As in all fly fishing, there will be refusals, but plenty of takes as well. Many of the fish are “schoolies” but there will be some trophy snook fish as well! Anglers may occasionally encounter redfish, jacks, mackerel, and other species as well.
More tips for beach fly fishing success and comfort
While the equipment requirements are minimal, there are a few things required to be comfortable and achieve success. A hat, good polarized sunglasses, sunscreen, and water are a few essentials. Comfortable shoes that are still comfortable when wet are important as well. A fanny pack is practical for toting water, sunscreen, leader material, and some flies. Some anglers find a stripping basket to be an invaluable tool, keeping fly line out of the surf and not under foot. While the walk back may be into the sun and wind, keep a sharp eye out. It is amazing how fish will suddenly appear!
While sight casting to snook is the most glamorous opportunity, fly anglers do have options during other times of year, particularly in the spring and fall. A couple days of east wind will result in calm, clear water along the beach and this will bring in the bait and of course the gamefish. Spanish mackerel, bluefish, jacks, ladyfish, and other species will come within range of a decent caster. Clouser Minnow and D.T. Special patterns are solid producers. Look for bait and surface activity.
Fly fishing in Florida, wading tips and tactics
Anglers spend a ton of money on fancy boats in Florida and other places, but the reality is that wading does have an advantage over boat-bound fly casters in some situations, particularly when fishing shallow. Fish get a lot of pressure these days, especially in popular spots such as Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor. No matter how quiet an angler in a boat is, a wader will be much quieter and will be able to get much closer to fish without spooking them.
Of course, it is possible to combine the two, boats and wading. Many anglers use a boat, whether it is a poling skiff or a kayak, to get to a productive area, then anchor the boat and get out and stalk their quarry on foot.
One advantage wading anglers have is that they can access some spots quickly and easily by car or a short walk. There are many parks all along the west coast of Florida where fly casters can park their vehicle and in minutes be fishing.
A key component when choosing a spot to wade is bottom composition. Wading in soft, mucky bottom is not only no fun, it can be dangerous, with twisted knees and ankles a very real possibility. Sand bars and areas of hard bottom are not only safer, but they are generally more productive as well.
The “closing distance” is also an advantage when wading. On a breezy day the boat will drift down on fish rather quickly, forcing the angler to take a quick, perhaps hurried shot, at the fish. Wading eliminates that as the angler can take his or her time to make a good cast and presentation. It just makes a lot of it easier; shorter casts, more time, and much less noise.
Even though it is Florida and the water can be fairly warm, insulated waders are often times a good option. Wading in shorts and sneakers or wading boots is fine in the heat of summer, but some of the best wading opportunities occur in winter, when low tides will congregate fish. Also, oysters and other debris can cut through water shoes and other footwear, good boots along with waders work very well. Some anglers prefer a stripping basket to help with line management and some will opt for a wading staff to help with balance.
While tides that move a lot of water are usually preferred, that can sometimes be an issue when wading, as the “window” when the conditions are prime can be very short. A low, incoming tide is usually best, concentrating fish in holes and along edges as they wait for the tide to come up enough for them to feed. A flood tide makes it difficult to see fish, move around, and catch them. Focusing more on low tides with a nice steady incoming tide will extend fishing time and opportunities
Fly fishing at night
If I told you that there is a fishing opportunity where snook congregate in good numbers, a fly angler need only make 40 foot casts and could catch a couple dozen snook in several hours, would you sign up for that? The only concession would be that you might lose a little sleep, still in? Well, that does exist all over Florida; fishing lighted docks and bridges at night. Lights attract baitfish and shrimp, which in turn attract snook and other gamefish.
Question: Are tides important and if so, which do you prefer?
Answer: Tides are very important! Outgoing tides are probably best, but as long as water is moving through, fish will actively feed on bait caught in the current. Conversely, fishing is usually very slow on a slack tide.
Question: Are evenings or early mornings preferred?
Answer: Both can be equally productive, but I prefer mornings because I am usually the only boat out there. It also gives me the the opportunity to combine a little night fishing with a morning bay or tarpon charter.
Question: What is your go-to night snook fly?
Answer: My favorite fly is a Puglisi bait fish pattern in gray and white. I tie them on #4, #2, and #1 hooks, that way I can match the fly to the available forage; small, medium, and large. However, any of the popular snook flies will produce, especially in white.
Question: What line and leader do you find most productive?
Answer: I prefer a floating line or a clear sink tip line. The clear sink tip is more versatile in that you can work the surface or a bit deeper. A 9′, 16 lb leader with a 20” piece of 30 lb bite tippet works well. Using too light a leader will result in a lot of lost fish on pilings.
Question: How do you position the boat?
Answer: Positioning the boat is very important. If you are too close you will spook the fish, too far away and accurate casting becomes more difficult. Keeping the boat about 30 feet away 90 degrees from the dock works well.
Question: Do you anchor or use the trolling motor?
Answer: I use both, depending on the fish. I use the trolling motor while prospecting as it allows working the light from various angles. If the fish are active, I like to anchor. Modern GPS trolling motors give you both options.
Question: What other species do you also catch under the lights at night?
Answer: While snook are the most commonly caught species, speckled trout and ladyfish can be plentiful at times; bluefish, redfish, jack crevelle, and the occasional juvenile tarpon will also take your fly.
Question: Do you ever fish the open water and not the lights?
Answer: Some evenings you will hear snook and other gamefish feeding on prey that they have trapped against the seawalls. You won’t usually see them, but a fly cast in where the noise is heard will usually draw a strike.
Fly fishing in Florida rivers
Florida’s West Coast is blessed with many tidal rivers and creeks that offer fly anglers the unique opportunity to target large snook on fly in an attractive environment. These waters range from very remote-feeling with fantastic natural scenery to quite developed, but all can offer very good fly fishing when conditions are favorable.
Cooler months are generally the best time to target snook and other species in Florida rivers. Severe cold fronts will drive these fish species off of the shallow flats and into the sanctuary of this warmer deeper water. Forage species such as finger mullet and glass minnows react the same way. However, there are some resident fish there year-round.
While snook are the primary species being pursued in these rivers by anglers fly fishing in Florida, other species are available as well. Jack crevalle, juvenile tarpon, redfish, ladyfish, and other saltwater species may be encountered. Brackish rivers will give anglers the opportunity to catch largemouth bass, gar, catfish, and other freshwater species.
Rivers offer anglers fly fishing several advantages. The primary one is that fish are concentrated into smaller areas, making them easier to locate. Also, many of these rivers are no wake zones which results in a more peaceful and relaxing fishing experience. Canoes kayaks in Jon boats are the primary vessels of choice. These rivers are also protected, making them excellent spots on windy days.
Best tackle for fly fishing Florida rivers
A 9wt outfit with an intermediate sink tip line is the best all round choice for anglers fly fishing and rivers. Larger fish may be encountered and cover is usually present. This requires stouter tackle in order to keep the fish away from the structure and breaking off. Shorter leaders are fine in the darker water. 4 feet of 40 pound butt section along with a 3 foot piece of 30 pound bite tippet will work fine.
Bright, multiple colored flies that imitate bream and tilapia have been proven to be productive, as are gold/black and all white. Deceiver and Puglisi patterns are also effective and should have a monofilament weed guard to reduce snagging on the abundant structure.
As mentioned earlier, one of the advantages of fishing rivers is that game fish are generally easier to locate. The number one spots when fishing rivers are outside bends in the river. The spots are almost always deeper and have some type of cover and structure, particularly fallen trees.
The fly is cast out towards the cover, allowed to sink several seconds, then retrieved back in using fairly aggressive strips. When a strike occurs, the angler must strip set and put good pressure on the fish to get it away from the cover. While outside bends are primary spots, angler should not ignore any good-looking fallen tree or other piece of cover.
Current is important when fishing Florida rivers
One important aspect when fly fishing in Florida rivers is to drift along with the current as opposed to against. Fly fishing while going against the current will usually result in an immediate bow in the line. This makes for a presentation that is not natural and put slack in the line making it difficult to come tight on a fish. It is much more natural for the fly and the fly line to sink with the current as the boat drifts along.
While not common, anglers will occasionally run across schools of fish feeding on the surface. This primarily happens with jacks, and other species such as snook and even sunshine bass will be found feeding on the surface and rivers. In this situation, just about any fly cast into the melee will draw a strike.
River fly fishing can be fantastic in the summer when certain conditions exist. Once the daily rains start here on the Suncoast, rivers and creeks will fill up fast, creating a lot of current. Anglers need to be VERY careful when fishing during these high water times! Snook, tarpon, and other species will stage at intersections where tributaries enter the river and ambush baitfish. Many rivers have weirs or dams, water flowing over the top of these can cause fish to stack up below the dam and fishing can be incredible!
Fly anglers that enjoy solitude and fantastic natural beauty should give this style of fishing a chance. Florida rivers and creeks offer both novice and experienced fly anglers a great change of pace in a relaxed and attractive environment, along with the opportunity to land the snook of a lifetime! The combination of exotic scenery, peaceful fishing, the variety of species that are available along with the opportunity to land a trophy snook on fly make this a unique experience.
Capt Jim Klopfer was born in Washington D.C. And cut his teeth fishing the Potomac River for bass and catfish and Chesapeake Bay for blues and stripers. Jim moved to Sarasota in 1986 and earned his U.S.C.G. License in 1991 and has been guiding in Sarasota ever since. Capt Jim really enjoys fly fishing, running his saltwater charters with a focus on action and variety on the deep grass flats and in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. His vessel is a 22′ Stott Craft Bay boat, very stable and comfortable with decks fore and aft and room for two fly anglers to fish at the same time.
Capt Jim also offers clients a very unique fly fishing experience; drifting local rivers such as the Myakka River, Manatee River and Braden River for snook, largemouth bass, and other species. These trips are run using a 14′ Alumacraft boat and clients will enjoy some enjoyable fishing in a serene environment with great scenery! (941)371-1390 email@example.com
In conclusion, this detailed post on fly fishing in Florida, Gulf Coast Tips will help anglers learn to catch more fish with the fly rod! Anglers can find Florida fishing regulations on the FXC site.