Fly Fishing for Coastal Gamefish
I began working my way across the flat as the light of the dawn sky slowly overtook the glow of the full moon. There was just enough wind to put a ripple on the water surface. A small surf rolled gently across the reef and spread onto the flat. As I stripped out the usual 50 feet of fly line, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. Glancing to my left, I saw the wake from a permit slowly cruising across the flat. I checked the knot connecting my urchin fly pattern to my tippet and false cast to get fly line out of the rod tip. The permit tailed 40 feet away.
I made a false cast and then dropped the fly four feet in front of the fish. The unweighted fly dropped slowly to the bottom, but the fish moved off to the left without seeing the fly. I made another cast and placed the fly a little closer in front of the slowly moving fish. As the fly dropped the fish surged quickly forward, I saw the end of the fly line jump and set the hook with a strip strike.
The fish gave a small head shake, then rubbed its nose in the bottom, then bulled 50 feet, rubbed its nose again, and moved another 50 feet. I followed after the fish the best I could, getting closer to the reef and all of its sharp coral with each step. Then suddenly, the fish had enough of the shallow water and bolted right through the reef. The rod captured the vibration of the fly line scraping across the coral as it passed through the reef B fraying the leader, shredding the fly line, and testing the durability of the backing. I reduced the reel's drag and followed the path of the line as quickly as I could, carefully picking my way through the maze of mostly dead coral, freeing the line from the labyrinth of the fish's pass through the reef. All the time the fish was still heading seaward, by now into the deeper water outside the shallow reef. Then suddenly the line was free, the curve in the backing quickly straightened B the fish was still on!
I was able to apply some pressure, and the fish slowed and finally stopped taking out line, and swam back and forth in the deeper water. As the fish began to tire, its dorsal and tail fins broke the surface. I was gaining the edge in the battle for backing, and finally the fly line. I began to walk back to the flat and the fish followed, tired now and finning at the surface.
As I guided the fish over the reef, the sight of shallow water gave it new energy. Rather than continue over the reef onto the flat the fish tried to rub its nose on every coral head it passed, and then surged seaward. I worked the fish back onto the flat many times, only to have it rush back into the reef.
Suddenly the situation worsened - after bulling its way from the flat to the reef once again, the fish refused my pressure, and began to swim back and forth in the reef. I waded out to the reef, an followed the best I could, weaving my way through the coral. Then it happened. I lost track of my footing, tripped on a piece of broken coral, and went down. Full body. Flat on my face. Rod, still in hand, fully submerged, an extension of my sprawled right arm. I was completely soaked. I regained my footing and brought the rod back into the upright position. Water gushed off my wide-brimmed hat and flooded from my soaked shirt. I couldn't believe it, the fish was still on! Then I felt a stinging pain in my legs. A quick glance down revealed a little blood, but it didn't look bad. My attention returned to the fish with even greater focus than before.
The fish continued to move back and forth across the reef, but this time I stayed put. I didn't dare try navigating the reef maze again. And I was starting to feel the pain of the coral cuts on my legs. I eventually gained enough line to so there was only 20 feet of fly line and leader between us. I could see clearly the irridescent glow of its silvery sides, and the yellow hue to its belly brightened by the battle. Even from the side I could see it's shoulders were broad. I began walking the fish back onto the flat.
With only another 30 feet or so to a safe spot to land the fish, the line went slack. The leader had finally failed, not with a snap, but with a muted sigh. It took both me and the fish by surprise. I stared at the leader in disbelief, the permit continued to swim in the direction I had been leading it. Then the fish realized its renewed freedom, veered off and slowly swam away. I stood and watched, the remnants of the frayed leader dangling from the rod tip and spikes of plastic protruding like cactus spines from the fly line wound tightly on the reel told the story.
The pain suddenly reminded me of my fall. I realized the water around my legs was discolored. I looked down to see that most of my left leg and my right thigh were solid brush-burn, scraped, raw, and bruised, but no blood. The blood was from a cut on my right kneecap in the distinct pattern of brain coral. I checked for urchin spines, but fortunately found none. Defeated, I walked back to shore, sat on the beach and rested, and let the gash in my knee dry closed in the early morning sun. After a few minutes I made my way back to my truck, past the cows, and home.
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.