Fly Fishing for Coastal Gamefish
The Stock Photos section has been revamped and updated. Photos are now organized in 9 categories: bonefish, tarpon, snook, redfish, miscellaneous gamefish, scenic fishing, habitats, gamefish prey, and Cuba. More than 1,000 photos are posted in the galleries.
Dawn Patrol, Tailing Bonefish, and Silence.
As part of my job as Director of Operations for Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, I did a quick interview with CNN about the video of a guy pulling a tarpon from the water at Robbie's in the Florida Keys. Not good for the tarpon, not good to praise on TV.
Also as part of my job at BTT, helping to set up a juvenile tarpon tagging program in Campeche, Mexico. Here is a video of Rafael Chacon, BTT's scientist collaborator in Mexico, giving a lecture to a fishing club about why and how of the tagging program. You have to understand Spanish, of course. A great example of working locally to address fisheries conservation issues.
I like it when other people do the hard work and I can post it. In this update, two links to the fine work of others:
- A review of Orvis Guide to Fly Fishing for Coastal Gamefish from Fly Life Magazine, a nice online publication. And I call it a nice publication as an honest evaluation. Good stuff.
- As part of a recent trip to the Bahamas, tagging bonefish of course, as part of my duties for Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, I spent some time with Tom Rosenbauer of Orvis. As many of you know, Tom does a regular podcast that focuses on fly fishing. Tom took advantage of the two of us being sequestered in a beachside cottage at night, waiting for the sun to rise so we could fish again. He brought a handheld digital recorder on the trip and recorded a podcast. This podcast is about evaluating flats habitats to find the best spots for bonefish. Fast-forward to time 00:44:40 to get to the part of the podcast that covers our conversation of bonefish habitat evaluation. Notice that around time 01:30:00 we talk about how successful the Legless Merkin fly was during the week. This fly is available exclusively from Orvis.
Sometimes I have to the work, as will be the case in February:
I am scheduled to give two presentations as part of the Ding Darling Wildlife Reserve on February 8. One presentation will be at 10am, the other at 1pm. The title of the presentation will be "Fish and their habitats: essential information for fishing and conservation", and will use a lot of information from Orvis Guide to Fly Fishing for Coastal Gamefish.
I am also scheduled to be the speaker at the annual banquet of the First Coast Fly Fishers of Jacksonville, FL., on February 16. I'll do some fly tying during the afternoon before the banquet, and then a presentation as speaker at the banquet. I'm looking forward to the event. It should be fun.
A Bonefish Encounter
The water that had drained off the mangrove flat with the ebb had left the uneven, algae-covered bottom exposed to air. Even as the tide turned to flood, small rivulets continued to drain the depths of the mangrove-covered, limestone flat. The soft light of early morning combined with an overcast sky to cast a cloak of grey. The strong winds that had been rising with the sun each day were light enough in the early morning that the short mangroves cast a wind shadow over the leeward shoreline. Read more>
The first thing that struck me as the panga coasted to a stop was the clarity of the water and the health of the seagrass. It was a new-moon low tide, and a seagrass flat along the mangrove shoreline was exposed. But a slightly deeper channel cut through the flat, and connected the mangrove creek to the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Mangrove lined creeks represent ideal juvenile tarpon habitat
Often in areas where mangrove-lined creeks deliver freshwater to coastal areas, the water is not only tannin-stained, as it was here, but is also murky. And in coastal areas where the creeks contain extra nutrients from runoff, as occurs in my home waters in Florida, the seagrass has a coating of algae. The water here was tannin but clean, and the seagrass was as clean and green as a football field. We hadn’t even begun to fish and I was impressed.
As Juan poled the panga up the creek, I stepped up on the bow and pulled fly line of the reel. The creek was a tunnel of mangroves – thick mangrove forest on each side, and a canopy of large trees overhead. The thick mangroves blocked out the blazing sun. I had to take off my sunglasses to see in the dark shadows. A tarpon rolled, then another, but Juan kept poling. I soon saw why. As we rounded the next bend, a large pool between two downed trees looked like boiling water as tarpon after tarpon rolled. A roll cast into the mix resulted in an immediate hookup, jump, and fish gone, as did the next cast. On the third cast the hook found its mark and we soon had the first tarpon boatside. For the next three days we repeated this scenario over and over.
But this wasn’t just a fishing trip. This was the beginning of the first Juvenile Tarpon Tagging Project in Mexico. A project that is a collaboration between the guides and recreational anglers of Campeche (who raised their own funds to purchase the tags used in this study) and Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, a USA-based non-profit organization that is dedicated to protection and conservation of tarpon fisheries (as well as bonefish and permit).
BTT member Doug Jeffries, and Tarpon Town Anglers guides Juan and Fernando tag and release a juvenile tarpon
The goal of the project is to learn about the movements of these one- three-year old juvenile tarpon. Do individual tarpon stay in a single home creek, or do they move among creeks? How far offshore do they venture? Are juvenile tarpon caught and released more than once, and if so how many times? Since the fishery is comprised almost entirely of one to three year old fish, where do they go once they reach four years of age? How important is this area to the fishery for adults in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean?
Despite the protections to the lands that border this pristine coast, the protections given to the lands do not extend to the ocean and there are threats from the sea that are of concern to the guides and anglers who call this area home.
We found this blind tarpon in one of the creeks. The eyes were bluging and opaque white, there was some damage to the head and body. My guess is that this tarpon had a run-in with a gill net.
The project kicked off in November 2012, when guides and anglers were instructed on how to measure and tag juvenile tarpon, and the first 25 tarpon of the project were tagged. The event was graciously hosted by Tarpon Town Anglers, Ocean View hotel, and local anglers. During the kickoff event, additional projects were discussed and planned, providing a positive outlook for this important location for the region’s tarpon fishery. Everyone involved hopes that this is the first step in a long-term project to protect the juvenile tarpon of Campeche. Since the project was initiated by the anglers and guides of Campeche, it is clear that they are dedicated to conservation of the fishery and habitats. The outlook for the future is good.
Juan and Fernando measure a tarpon prior to tagging.
If you’ve been following the blog, you know that in an earlier post I wrote about what colors fish can see. It depends on the species - each species is most adept at seeing colors that reflect its behavior and habitats. The last post was about redfish, which generally live near the bottom in shallow coastal waters that can be a bit murky. The importance of color in redfish flies is somewhat dependent on water conditions - the more clear the water, the more important color will be.
In contrast to redfish, striped bass tend to live in coastal waters that are a bit less murky than where redfish are often found. And they frequently feed on quick-moving prey like silversides, sand eels, and menhaden. Striped bass eyes are sensitive to a wide range of the light spectrum - from blue through red - and seem especially sensitive to light in the red portion of the spectrum. Maybe that’s why the old standard red and white color combination has been so successful, or why interesting mixes of colors in some of the recent striped bass flies do so well.
I’m not sure that color makes a ton of difference to bluefish, one of the more voracious predators along the coast of the eastern US, but there are times when those toothy monsters get picky. In those situations, knowing what colors they can see might make the difference between catching and getting skunked. Unlike striped bass, bluefish probably can’t see red, and aren’t very sensitive to orange and yellow. Instead, the seem most sensitive to a narrow portion of the light spectrum - blues and greens. In hindsight, this may have been why a blue-over-green deceiver did so well for me in my pursuit of bluefish on Cape Cod many years ago.
I’m not sure how many of you have fly fished for cobia, but if you haven’t you need to give it a try. Cobia can be as voracious as a bluefish or as picky as a trout in heavily fished water. They typically aren’t shy, which can make the days when they are picky especially frustrating - imagine having a 30 pound fish circling your boat but refusing to eat anything you throw at it.
My best luck on cobia has always come on long, dark flies. I’ve always thought the flies made a decent imitation of small eels, which cobia seem to love to eat, but color might have something to do with it too. Similar to bluefish, cobia are sensitive to just a narrow portion of visible light - mostly blues and greens.
Learn more about this topic in the book Orvis Guide to Fly Fishing for Coastal Gamefish, available on the Books Section of the web site or your favorite bookseller.
The Price of Fly Fishing Gear
On the one hand, it’s great to see the continuing innovation in the fly fishing industry, and even in the recreational fishing industry as a whole. As is the case in any industry or business environment, pushing the edge of the envelope is what keeps things moving. And what is cutting edge this year is closer to middle of the road at some point in the future.
But there comes a time when the industry must look inward and ask itself - is it really innovative to create a fly rod that retails for $1,200? Is there really $900 worth of difference from a lower end rod? If an angler pays $1,200 for a single fly rod, is he or she going to catch more fish, cast significantly farther, or so much more accurately than they would with a less expensive stick? Does the fly fishing industry risk becoming a caricature of itself? Is the stereotype true?
I think it’s a tough line to walk. On the one hand, if a company doesn’t innovate, according to standard business models, it risks becoming obsolete and losing business.
WIthout a new product to show, a company will never get coverage on the blogs, web sites, or in the magazines. It’s easy to tell when the annual trade shows have occurred, even without looking at a calendar - the online publications will be saturated with their versions of ‘best new gear.’
But a quick look around shows some solid standards holding their own, at least if what I see on the water is any indication of what sells. I stlll use, and see plenty on the water, Lamson Litespeed reels - a product essentially unchanged for many years. And most anglers find a rod model that they like, one that fits their casting style, and stick with it.
Again, I think innovation is good and necessary. But the industry can easily become, and has perhaps already become, its own worst enemy as it struggles to bring new people into the sport. Imagine helping an angler interested in learning to fly fish with his or her casting. And imagine the look on the angler’s face when, in response to a question about how much the rod you’ve been casting costs, you say “$1,200.” Well,there goes another one.
I’d like to see a different sort of product review. Maybe something like “Solid old standards” or “Good gear you can afford” or “Fly gear for the beginning but serious angler.”
Permit Fishing at the Palometa Club, Mexico
The Palometa Club, in Ascension Bay, Mexico, is hosting a week of permit fishing and fish tagging to benefit Bonefish & Tarpon Trust. The dates are May 24-31. I am scheduled to be there, as is BTT Board member Jon Ain, Permit Guru. The idea is to expose guests and guides to the science behind BTT's Project Permit in the Yucatan, and efforts fo flats fisheries conservation. The trip has limited space, so if you are interested let me know and I will put you in contact with the outfitter organizing the trip. The cost is the same as a regular trip to the Palometa Club, the benefits arae supporting conservation and, learning about conservation and about permit biology.
I'm not sure why I get requests for 'personal profiles', I don't find myself that interesting. But the here's another one, this time in the Boca Beacon newspaper in Boca Grande, Florida.
On a recent vacation to Hawaii, I was able to squeeze in a day with Coach Duff chasing bonefish on the flats of Oahu. We didn't get that elusive double-digit bone, but we came pretty close. Before I could even get home to write it up, Duff had posted about the trip on his blog.
This may be the most quirky review of my book that I've read, but I like it. From the web site of Mat Trevors::
"As a self-confessed nerd, this book seems as though it was written for "fishing nerd me.' There's a lot of science in it. I think it's awesome.
I picked it up this summer when we were visiting Asheville, NC. I read it in a tent, on the hostel's balcony, on the beach at Sullivan's Island, in the hotel in Massachusetts, on the plane to Nunavut and on a boat in Belize. I read it just about anywhere a person could read a book.
If you're an angler heading for any inshore fishing anywhere south of the Carolinas (& north of Venezuela) and want to understand the various habitats, fish and prey, this book is definitely for you.
Is it for everybody? Definitely not, especially if the most literary or scientific thing you read each week is my rambling bullshit.
Whether you're a nerd or not, it's worth having on your bookshelf for reference."
Wow. Reading it in all of those places, he must've read it many times over!
I'm generally not one to take part in fishing tournaments. Fishing for me is just not about conservation. In fact, I've only been part of one tournament, and that was last year. It was a charity event to raise money for fish habitat conservation. That, I think, is a worthy cause, and one that means a lot to me. That same tournament has asked me to be the Honorary Chair of the event this year, and I accepted. The more money that can be raised to support fish habitat conservation, the better will be the outlook for our fisheries. This is the RedSnook Charity Fishing Tournament, which will be held in southwest Florida (Naples to Everglades City) November 2-4 (the only event on the 2nd is the opening dinner, fishing days are the 3rd and 4th). There are still a few spots left, so if you are looking for a great excuse to go fishing please check out the web site for details.
Learn from the Birds II
When fishing saltwater, you will come across birds on a relatively regular basis. Gulls, terns, egrets, herons, and pelicans are common occurrences in coastal waters. Learning how to read the behavior of these fish eaters can help you get into more fish.
Just about everyone knows that brown pelicans catch batifish by spotting them from the air, diving into the water headfirst, and and trapping them in their large bill-mounted pouch. But the style of attack by pelicans can give you clues on the depth the bait is holding, the size of the bait, and how much bait is present.
The height from which the pelican dives indicates how close the bait are to the surface. A dive from high altitude means the baitfish are holding deep. The pelican needs the extra speed from a higher dive to get deep enough to reach the bait. In contrast, a pelican that is making dives from just a foot or two above the water is feeding on baitfish that are right at the surface. If you take a minute to watch the diving pelicans, you can determine wether to use an unweighted fly that stays near the surface or a clouser or other weighted fly to get down to the action.
The height from which a pelican begins its dive indicates how deep the baitfish are holding
Once a pelican dives and pops back to the surface, it has to drain the water from its pouch before tipping its head and swallowing the baitfish it has captured. It opens its bill to let water drain out, but has to keep the space between upper and lower bill closed enough to keep baitfish from slipping out. The larger the baitfish, the wider the gap between the bills can be. So by watching how long a pelican takes to drain water before tipping its head to swallow the baitfish, you can determine the size of the batitfish and choose the appropriate fly.
The time it takes a pelican to drain the water from its pouch before tipping its
head and swallowing the batfish indicates the size of the baitfish
If pelicans are diving repeatedly in a relatively small area, that usually means there is a good amount of bait present. If, on the other hand, they are diving, then flying for a distance before diving again, this usually means there are few baitfish around or they are so scattered that it will be tough to target any particular location for fishing.
Sometimes, there are so many baitfish and they are pushed so close to the surface that the pelicans don’t even bother flying and diving. Instead, the paddle around and stab their bills into the water, grabbing pouch-fulls of baitfish with minimal effort. When you see this happening, stick around for a while - the gamefish will soon start busting bait at the surface, or blind casting with a sinking fly to get under the bait should bring some fish to hand.
There is some very cool fish art posted over at Sportfishing Magazine's web site. And this is very different stuff - it's on fish larvae. Now how's that for a twist? Click on the image below to see more.
On Wednesday, October 3, at 9pm, I will be interviewed on Ask About Fly Fishing. You can catch the interview live or listen later at your convenience via podcast.
Fish and Weather
With the change in seasons, it's time to start paying attention to cold fronts because of the effect they have on fishing. The general rule is that a drop in barometric pressure that accompanies an approaching cold front makes for good fishing, while the increasing pressure that occurs when high pressure builds in behind the passing front makes for poor fishing. But how fish are able to detect cold fronts is still a mystery.
Colleagues who study fish sensory biology tell me that fish don’t have an organ or system that would allow them to detect the changes in barometric pressure that accompany weather changes. Fish can feel changes in pressure - they sense sound and motion as pressure waves (which is how sound and motion are transmitted through the water) - via their lateral line and inner ear. But the argument is that the changes in pressure that coincide with waves or tide would mask any changes in barometric pressure.
(Barometric pressure, also referred to as atmospheric pressure, is a measure of the weight of a 1 square inch column of air on a surface. If we assume that the atmospheric pressure on the surface of the ocean equals 1, the pressure doubles at a depth of about 33 feet, and then increases by the same amount (1 atmoshpere) for each additional 33 feet of depth. The amount that the barometric pressure changes between high and low pressure systems is small relative to the changes that occur because of things like waves - a 10 foot wave can change the barometric pressure considerably, whereas the atmospheric pressure change from a cold front is relatively minor.)
Interestingly, two studies of sharks in southwest Florida have documented sharks moving out of an estuary the day prior to a tropical storm and hurricane, and returning a few days later. These observations suggest that fish can indeed detect these pressure changes. My thought is that we just haven’t figured out how they do it. It wasn’t so long ago that we had no idea that sharks could detect mere molecules of blood in the water, and use it to track prey.
I’ve had enough success fishing just prior to the arrival of tropical storms and hurricanes, and as cold fronts approach, that as an angler I am convinced that fish can detect changes in barometric pressure. In fact, I've had enough great days of fishing for bonefish on the leading edges of tropical storms and cold fronts that I sometimes find myself secretly wishing for bad weather.
As a scientist, I’m not sure how the fish do it, but that is just a challenge to my colleagues who study these things. In any case, the next time a low pressure system is headed your way, get out on the water before it arrives and enjoy some good fishing. Sometimes it pays to not ask why, just do it.
It's Albie time in southwest Florida. Known as False Albacore, Albies, Fat Albert, Little Tunny, and even Bonito in Florida, these speedsters make for some adrenalin-infused action. Properly called Little Tunny (Euthynnus alletteratus) - not to be confused with Atlantic Bonito (Sarda sarda) (I'm not sure where that misnomer 'Bonito' used in Florida comes from) - these coastal pelagic tunas are tough to beat in pound-for-pound speed.
The fishery for Albies is well known off the New England coast in the early fall, and action moves southward as waters cool. The late fall - early winter fishery off North Carolina has been the focus of numerous magazine articles. Strangely, the Albie fishery off of southwest Florida has never really received much coverage. This is fine with me - on most days, there are no other boats on the water, no other anglers fishing for them. Granted, the fishery here is more sporadic, and Albies are typically not as abundant as off southern New England or North Carolina, but the action can be pretty good.
I know there are some guides in southwest Florida who target Albies during the season (fall, and again in spring), but they are at the mercy of the weather: When a cold front comes through, and brings with it northwest and then north winds, the Albies and their preferred prey (anchovies) move offshore. Once the front passes through, offshore winds from the east smooth nearshore seas and the Albies tend to move back inshore. One of the nice things about southwest Florida is that when the weather nixes Albie fishing, anglers just move into the backcountry and fish for redfish and snook. Not a bad alternative.
The Albies come close enough to shore that a flats boat works just fine. There is no need for an offshore boat. The farthest offshore I'll have to go in pursuit of Albies is about 1.5 miles, but they are usually closer to shore, and sometimes even come into the Passes that connect the estuaries to the Gulf of Mexico.
Depending on how the Albies are behaving, and how many Albies are around, we might employ a couple of different strategies to get flies in front of the fish. When the Albies are scattered, or in small schools, the classic run-and-gun strategy works well: this requires running the boat on plane to a school of Albies blitzing bait on the surface, then running to another school when the first school moves on. (The run-and-gun strategy is not appropriate when there are ohter boats around because there is too much chance of distrupting other anglers' fishing.) When the Albies are staying in a relatively small area, we can shut down the engine and blind cast or wait for the school of bait to re-form and the Albies to blitz then once again.
Every year is different. Some years there seem to be Albies everywhere, they are abundant, there are tons of anchovies, and the fishing is easy. In these years, days of 10 or more Albies to the boat are common. In other years, the Albies are sparse, the anchovies are few and far between, and fishing can be tough - an empty gas tank and one fish to the boat is a day's result.
So far, this year has been one of the good years - the Albies are abundant, schools of anchovies turn the water brown, gas consumption is low, and catches are high. I've posted some photos from recent outings. Enjoy.
Packing for a Bonefish Trip
Although I have a lot of great fishing at my back door – snook and redfish year-round, tarpon during summer – I occasionally need to get my bonefish fix. I sometimes head to the Keys, but like to get to the Bahamas when I can. Like many, I tend to take DIY trips (don’t bother asking, I’m not going to tell you where – I don’t tell locations), so packing the right stuff is key to having a good trip.
I always pack two 8-weight rods, sometimes three. If one rod breaks, it’s essential to have a backup. And that’s a long way to go to get stuck rodless. I tend to take one rod with me on the water, leave the other in the truck near the walk-in spot, but if the day is going to involve a long hike I’ve been known to tie a 4-piece in its sleeve to my backpack just in case. The third rod is just in case the trip turns into one of those catastrophes that sometimes happen. Adding a third rod is no big deal – it doesn’t really make any more trouble for that carry-on piece of luggage. I know some folks who have the multiple-rod tube luggage, but so far I haven’t gone down that road. I’m still just duct-taping three rod tubes together, and carrying them on the plane as one piece of luggage.
One reel is typically sufficient, but I tend to take two. I’m not sure why. In all my years of fly fishing I’ve only had one reel cease working all of a sudden. Usually, I can see trouble coming and repair the reel before it fails. It makes more sense to take one reel and a backup fly line (floating line, of course) in case the fly line gets scraped up from being wrapped around coral or a rock.
I’m still not sure what to do about packing my fly reels. I’ve been able to take them in my carry-on bag, but have also been prohibited from boarding the plane with them (something about the fly line being used to tie up the crew). So I generally pack my reels in my check-in bag. This is a real pain for those trips on which I could really get by with just carry-on.
A couple boxes of flies is essential, of course – typically one for on the water, another with backup flies in case I have one of those days where flies break off way too frequently. I leave the backup box in the room, and use it to restock the primary box at the end of each day. Of course, there are trips where I use just a single fly for days, and never have to open even the primary box more than once.
Make sure you have a mix of flies – heavily weighted, lightly weighted, unweighted, and multiple sizes. From what I’ve been told, the official TSA rule is that a passenger can take a box of flies on the plane as carry-on, but I’ve not yet tested that policy. I’ve known people who’ve been turned around at the security checkpoint and have had to check the bag that contained the flies. That’s nothing more than a pain in the butt as long as you have enough time before your flight, but it would be a shame to miss a flight because of this.
Make sure you have a few extra leaders tied, and spools of mono – both to use as tippet and to re-tie a leader if need be. The Mason mini spools that are used for mill ends are perfect for this.
Take a couple pairs of clippers, just in case you drop one set and can’t find it.
Flats boots are essential, and something that shouldn’t be scrimped on. Get some decent ones and make space in the bag for them. Pack some socks too, to wear under the boots to keep sand that gets into the shoes from rubbing your feet raw.
Also essential – a wide-brimmed hat, and I take sun gloves, a sun mask, and sunscreen as well.
Take multiple pairs of sunglasses. Make sure you take a backup pair, just in case your primary pair breaks or is lost. Leaving sunglasses on the roof of the truck and driving off is a great way to lose a pair of glasses. In addition to my standard amber or copper lenses, I also take a pair of sunglasses with yellow lenses – perfect for heavily overcast days, when fishing can be great if you can see the fish.
Don’t worry about taking a bunch of shorts and shirts for fishing. The fish can’t smell you and you’ll likely be far enough away from your fishing buddies for them to notice. Plus, a rinse in the evening and hanging outside to dry usually keeps things in reasonable shape. Although light-weight pants are great for keeping the sun off your legs, they create a lot of drag in the water when you are wading. This is bad for two reasons: 1) they push a lot of water, so create a pressure wave that bonefish can feel. It can be tough to sneak up on fish in skinny water when wearing pants; 2) the drag means more work for you, which makes you tired at the end of the day.
Take enough dry clothing to get your through the few evenings and nights after fishing, but you’re not going to be doing much in those clothes except lying around drinking beer, so you can pack light on those as well.
If you don’t desire to have an extra-light wading pack, you might want to consider taking a small pair of binoculars. If you’re searching for tailing fish, binoculars make it easy to scan large sections of water for tails, allowing you to be a helluva lot more efficient. And it can save you some long walks as well.
Carry a small microfiber cloth or towel of some sort for cleaning your glasses, and keep it in a sealed plastic bag to keep it dry. There’s nothing like having a bonefish splash water on your glasses while you’re trying to land it, and you’re stuck with spotted lenses all day.
Make sure you take a pack that you can wear comfortably all day. There’s nothing quite like a pack that doesn’t sit right, and becomes a distraction during a day of fishing.
I make sure I take a rain jacket with me on the trip, just in case the weather is poor, but when heading off on a day of wading I typically leave the rain jacket in the car unless it’s already raining or soon will. It’s just too much of a pain to carry. I’ve had some great days of fishing for bonefish in the rain, so that won’t stop me from venturing out, but on those days a rain jacket makes for a much more pleasant day.
Always remember to take your camera. Even if you’re not generally the picture-taking type, you never know when something will happen that you really wish was captured in a photo. I carry a digital SLR 35mm, which has allowed me to take some good pics. But you can get by with one of the many small, waterproof handhelds now on the market.
Take a small first aid kit - bandaids, antibiotic ointment, ibuprofin, etc - for any necessary body repairs in the evening.I’m sure that everyone who travels to chase bonefish has their own twist on gear to pack, so take from this what is helpful. You’ll note that I don’t include food in my list of things to pack. At one point, I took freeze-dried as a way to be entirely self-sufficient, but now I stop at a local store once at my destination and pick up food and drinks. I think it’s important to contribute to the local economy, not just show up, go fishing, and go home.
Learn from the Birds I
When fishing saltwater, you will come across birds on a relatively regular basis. Gulls, terns, egrets, herons, and pelicans are common occurrences in coastal waters. Learning how to read the behavior of these fish eaters can help you get into more fish.
When fishing on a flat - whether for bonefish or redfish - keep an eye on any birds flying over, especially if they are flying low to the water. As they fly low across the water, they often spook fish that you might not otherwise see. Typically, the fish bolt from the shadow but then settle down quickly. You can use this to find and target fish that aren’t otherwise revealing their presence by tailing or waking. It will take some practice, but you’ll need to learn the difference between spooked mullet and gamefish like redfish and bonefish. This works well in the backcountry too - snook and tarpon laid up in the shallows will spook when a bird flies over their resting spot. And I’ve seen large, laid-up tarpon resting near the surface in deep lagoons spook as birds fly over. So even if they aren’t obviously feeding, keep an eye on the birds.
I'm going to try to get back to more frequent blog posts, planning on 2 or 3 per week. That will include pulling some good content from the archives, as I stated in a previous blog posting. But this will also include new content, such as this:
Fish and Vision I
A number of years ago I was in a local fishing shop buying some fly tying materials. The shop space was 90% dedicated to spin and bait fishing, but they had a small corner set aside for fly fishing. After finding what I needed, I walked up to the counter, plopped the purple marabou on the countertop, and pulled out my wallet.
The guy manning the cash register had started to process my purchase when his buddy riding the bench said “I don’t know what it is with you fly guys and all the colors you put on the flies. Fish can’t see color.”
I looked at him with a puzzled expression on my face and said “Actually, most fish can see color, though not always the colors that we can see. Some fish can see in parts of the light spectrum that our eyes can’t pick up. So I buy materials for my flies to match the colors that the fish I’m fishing for can see.”
Second string “They can’t see color, that’s just rumor.”
“Well, you believe what you want to believe, I’ll believe the research.”
The truth is, there has been a decent amount of research on fish vision. And although the research can’t really know what fish see, it can show what portions of the light spectrum a fish’s eye can detect. That’s a pretty good approximation for determining what colors fish can see. And if you pay attention to color in your flies, you’ll find that some colors work better than others. And, of course, the properties of the water where you are fishing has an influence as well.
Rather than guess, or learn by trial and error, why not let the science of fish vision shorten the learning curve? So what colors can your favorite fish see? The answers are available for some gamefish (like redfish) but not for others (vision work has never been done on bonefish). Redfish are most sensitive to light in the purple, blue, and green portions of the spectrum, with moderate sensitivity to yellow. They don’t have much sensitivity to light in the red portion of the spectrum. I hope this gives you ideas for your next hot redfish fly.
But there is more to it, of course. The clarity and color of the water changes what colors are visible. If the water is relatively clear, I like brown and green flies with gold flash. If the water is murky, light is not being transmitted very far, so profile and contrast are a lot more important than color.
What about other gamefish? You’ll have to stay tuned for future posts.
Learn more about this topic in the book Orvis Guide to Fly Fishing for Coastal Gamefish, available here or from your favorite bookseller.
Thanks again to Cameron Mortenson, publisher of The Fiberglass Manifesto web site, for loaning me an 8'6" glass rod to use on the flats for redfish. In addition to being the perfect rod for backcountry sight-fishing for redfish, I think this rod came with a bit of good vibe mojo. I fished with the rod four times, and had fantastic fishing each time. That rod can now add redfish, snook, and spotted seatrout to its life list. Fishing with this Lilly Pond Rod reminded me of my first fly rod - a starter from Cortland that was probably a fiberglass-graphite composite. I didn't know it then, but that softer rod was the perfect stick for getting started. I plan to buy a blank for a slightly shorter rod (8') this fall, which I'll use for fishing in the backcountry and casting along the mangrove edges.
Like many who publish a web site, I track which pages are visited most. As the patterns of web site visitation change, I see fewer visitors digging more than a page or two into this site. Much of this has to do with the transition to a blog-focused approach, in which most web sursfers don't venture more than a click or two past a blog post. So I'm going to try something new - dig into the archives and pull out some of the web site articles from the depths of the site and from months and years in the past. Since we are now coming into our peak redfish fishing season here in southwest Florida, I'll start with The Redfish Menu:
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. Read the full article.
I met Cameron Mortenson (Fiberglass Manifesto)at the Midwest Fly Fishing Show in Detroit in March 2012. I was at the show manning a BTT booth, Cameron was handling the traffic at the Fiberglass Manifesto booth. We chatted a bit about glass rods, how they are better than so many of the modern rods (many of which are too stiff and fast) for soft presentations that are so often needed for tailing fish (whether redfish, bonefish, stripers...). A week or so ago I arrived home from work and found an 8wt fiberglass rod waiting for me - an 8'6" 8wt from Lilly Pond Rod Company - a loaner from Cameron to test on the redfish of southwest Florida.
Going old-school. Fiberglass rod loaded on the kayak at dusk.
This was a real blast from the past - glass rods have a completely different feel from graphite rods. Whereas graphite rods are slick and modern, glass rods have a different feel to them, a feel that I can only describe as homespun.
This past weekend the tides and weather cooperated - strong low tides near dusk, thunderstorms that stayed well inland, and calm winds.
I paddlded the kayak into a network of backcountry ponds, and immediately found redfish pushing bait on the edge of a seagrass bed. And then a couple of tailing fish farther on the grass flat, and then the sound of a fish exploding on bait around the corner. All of this before I could strip enough line off the reel to make a cast. I'm not sure what the history of this rod is, but if it can attract fish like this, I don't know that I'm going to send it back to Cameron.
Fiberglass rod helps to fool a nice redfish.
The first challenge was slowing my casting stroke enough to wait for the glass rod to load. The fast rods of today require a faster, stronger stroke - although timing is critical, it's possible to use muscle to make up for not-so-great timing. In contrast, in my opinion, it's all about timing when casting glass rods. And because of the longer stroke and softer rod, I think that it's eaasier to make soft presentations of the fly in the shallow conditions found when fishing for tailing fish and in the backcountry. Once I slowed my casting stroke, things went very well.
Granted, there were a lot of redfish in the backcountry this past weekend, but these fish aren't very forgiving. It's not like the stories I hear of Louisiana redfish who will tolerate two or three poor casts, and even hit a fly on a poor cast. The skinny-water backcountry redfish here will give you one chance - a bad cast, they spook and are gone; a cast off the mark, and they don't see it or ignore it. A good and accurate presentation is critical. This glass rod was perfect for this situation.
In the last two hours of light on the first evening I think the tally was 8 redfish to hand, some casts blown, and a couple of fish the spit the hook. All sight-fishing. Not bad.
The next evening, the glass rod managed a backcountry slam - redfish, snook, and spotted seatrout. Not bad at all.
I'm sure Cameron would like the rod back soon, but we have another good backcountry tide coming up in 10 days. Hmmm.
Another fly tying video - Bastard Crab. This has proven to be a great fly for bonefish, and permit seem to like it too. See this and other fly tying videos on the Simple Flies Video page.
Yet another revision of a Simple Flies video - the Simple Baitfish.
The revisions to the Simple Flies series just keep coming. The latest to be revised in the Candy Corn, a productive tarpon fly. This color combination is great for the tannin-stained backcountry. This and other fly tying videos are all available on the Simple Flies page.
Yet another update to the Simple Flies video series. Simple Anchovy has been re-edited to include commentary on prey and tying tips. Simple Anchovy Redux is also available on the Simple Flies video page.
More photos have been added to the Stock Photos gallery. Click on the photo below to access the newly posted photos.