Fly Fishing for Coastal Gamefish
This section presents a collection of articles that appeared as a series in the now defunct magazine Saltwater Fly Fishing. The articles formed the core of my books Fisherman's Coast, and the revised, expanded edition Orvis Guide to Fly Fishing for Coastal Gamefish. The articles translate the science of fish ecology into angler's terms so that anglers have a better understanding of the gamefish they pursue with a fly rod. Although written for the fly angler, any recreational angler can glean useful information from these articles and from the books.
The Importance of Sound to Your Fishing
Many anglers make assumptions about what fish hear, and many of these assumptions are wrong. Since fish don’t have external ears, many people think they can’t hear. This is also not true. Water is 850 times denser than air, so sound travels very well in water. Sensing that sound is very important for fishes, both to find prey and to avoid predators, as well as for social behavioral reasons like finding and communicating for reproduction. Dropping items in a boat, splashing while wading, a splashy presentation of a fly are all actions that send sound waves propagating rapidly through the water, alerting fish to your presence. But designing flies that put out vibrations as they are stripped through the water (vibrations are essentially low frequency sound waves) can be deadly in bringing in fish. Understanding how fish detect sound, and how sound travels through water can be useful in creation and selection of flies, as well as for strategizing how flies are fished under different conditions. More>
Fly anglers who pursue redfish are simultaneously blessed and cursed because the redfish's diet is so varied (scientific studies recorded more than 60 species of prey in redfish stomachs). We are blessed because we can choose any number of flies that, with the correct presentation and a hungry fish, will pique the interest of a redfish. But we are cursed because redfish can sometimes focus on one prey type exclusively, and with such a large variety of potential prey, we can go home frustrated and fishless. More>
This is the first in a series of articles about the ecology of coastal habitats in tropical and warm-temperate climates with a focus on the habitats that support many of the gamefish we pursue with a fly rod. By warm-temperate I mean the coastal areas of the Gulf of Mexico and the southeast coast from Florida to the Carolinas. As most of us know, coastal habitats are essential to the survival of many gamefish and the species they depend on for food. What many don’t realize is just how intricately intertwined our favorite gamefish are with coastal habitats – in more ways than you might imagine. The food, shelter, salinity, and overall water quality of coastal habitats are some of the characteristics that make these areas so important to so many gamefish. In this series I will discuss the importance of various coastal habitats to the numerous life stages of coastal gamefish, and in doing so provide an overview of why coastal habitats are so essential to gamefish survival. In the process, I will discuss information that should help you become a more efficient and responsible angler. As you might guess, the challenges confronting fish in coastal habitats are complex, and vary depending on the size and age of the fish. More>
In the previous article I briefly outlined the complex life histories of most marine fish, including those we pursue with a fly rod, and summarized the importance of coastal environments to these fish – especially juveniles and young adults. (Note that a similar life cycle is followed by many of the species consumed as prey by recreational fish.) In this article I will address tropical seagrass beds that are not associated with mangroves (seagrass beds associated with mangroves will be the focus of the next article), and will consider bonefish, permit, tarpon, snappers, barracuda, and jacks to be the primary recreational fish species. Sub-tropical and warm-temperate seagrass habitats, which host some of the species listed above as well as red drum and speckled seatrout, will be the focus of a future article. More>
Just like seagrasses, mangroves serve several important ecological roles in the coastal environment. Mangroves provide habitat for juvenile fish (including gamefish) and invertebrates (like spiny lobster) that use the mangrove habitats seasonally, as well as a whole community of fish and invertebrates that spend almost their entire life cycle within the mangrove ecosystem. Mangroves also filter sediments from land that would otherwise smother seagrasses and corals, they stabilize shorelines against erosion, and they are important players in the nutrient cycle in the coastal environment (for example, mangroves remove nitrogen from land-based runoff that might otherwise contribute to algal blooms). In short, mangroves are an essential part of a healthy coastal ecosystem. More>
While living in the Caribbean, I did some wade-guiding on weekends. Most of the anglers who hired me were from the northeastern region of the United States, and most of their saltwater fishing experience had been along the ocean beaches from New England to North Carolina. I quickly learned that my first task was to teach these anglers that shoreline fishing on most Caribbean islands would be unlike fishing the beaches of their home fishing grounds, and that fishing the habitats found along tropical shorelines would require an understanding of these habitats and a different approach than they were used to. More>
In the previous articles in this series I provided an overview of some of the habitats anglers will encounter in the tropics B primarily the Caribbean and surrounding locations (Florida Keys, Bahamas, Turks and Caicos). In later articles I may revisit some of these habitats, and the game fish you will likely find there, in more detail. But with this article, the focus of the series will begin moving northward, into subtropical environments. In North America, the subtropics occur in south Florida and in Mexico. More>
The tide was so low I had to get out of my small aluminum skiff and push it over the sandbar. As the boat slid off the sandbar into slightly deeper water, I jumped back on and slowly poled across the mirror-like water surface. Tips of turtle grass blades poked into the air in scattered bunches. The tide had just turned and was starting to flood, and I was hoping to find red drum feeding in the grassbed between the sandbar and the mangrove shoreline some 200 yards away. With the morning sun at my back, I was able to make out the network of seagrass and open bottom. Some areas were covered by large sections of dense turtle grass, and I could picture the flurry of activity among those grass blades as grass shrimp, snapping shrimp, gobies, brittle stars, mud crabs, and many other species moved about in search of food. Other areas were expanses of open sandy bottom, and although a suite of animals also live in this habitat, many live within the sediment, making it appear less active above-ground than the seagrass. More>
The Fisherman's Coast approach focuses on how coastal gamefish interact with their habitats and prey. The more you know about the gamefish you pursue with a fly rod, the more often you'll be in the right place at the right time with the right fly making the right presentation. It's about catching more fish.
Our sister site Tribal Bonefish is all about conservation through responsible fishing. Tribal Bonefish shows you how to become a better steward of our coasts to protect our fisheries today, and ensure future generations get a chance to experience these fisheries.