Friday, August 12, 2011

Top Ten List: My Favorite Fly Rod Species

Top Ten Lists are always entertaining and here’s my contribution:

My Top Ten Favorite Inshore Fly Fishing Species:

#10:  Ladyfish
 That’s right; a trash fish starts this list. Most anglers hate this species but have you ever caught a six pound ladyfish on a fly? I have, a few years ago in Puerto Rico, and it was insane. That was a near record ladyfish from the Caribbean but the two pounders that we routinely find in Charlotte Harbor are still a blast on light fly rod. They’ll hit anything and are great practice for beginners.

#9:  Barracuda
 If I was writing a list about spin fishing targets this fish would be #1. A barracuda will kill anything that it sees moving and can swallow in one bite. They run, jump, pull harder and faster than anything on the flats and look awesomely dangerous in photos. Basically, a full grown barracuda is like a Japanese movie monster with fins. Unfortunately, these fish are a real pain to hook on a fly because their eyesight is amazing and they’re very smart. They require 70 foot casts with long streamer flies tied to wire leaders. Throw in the fact that the Keys are the only place in Florida for big cudas on the flats and you’ve got a wonderful but aggravating species to chase with a fly rod.

#8:  Spotted Sea Trout
These fish are hard hitters on a wide variety of flies but not too much of a fight after that. A 7-weight is all the rod needed for this species and even the big gator trout that they catch on the east coast of Florida rarely run into the backing. But what they lack in fight, they more than make up for in looks and taste. The spotted sea trout is a beautifully marked fish and just as beautiful on the grill.

#7:  Snook
7. Snook. Why is the Godfather of inshore species not higher on my list? Because fly fishing for snook often requires a lot of very precise casting and they can be very particular when it comes to fly patterns. While you’re busy untangling your 20th cast from the mangroves, the guy chumming with pilchards in the bay boat next to you is getting tired of hooking them. A snook’s strike is amazingly violent and they pull harder than anything trying to get back under the bushes, so they’re a worthy fight. They’re also fantastic to eat but you can’t keep them until next year on the west coast of Florida. Bummer.

#6:  Bonnethead Shark
This little hammerhead has always been one of my favorites on any tackle, and they love to hit flies as long as they’re dark orange. Down in the Keys we called them the “Poor Man’s Bonefish” because they gave the same long runs as that more glamorous species but were easier to find and more difficult to spook. They’re also somewhat safe to handle and look really cool in photos.

#5:  Permit
The Holy Grail of Saltwater Fly Fishing is only number five on this list? That’s because going after permit with a fly rod is like scoring a date with a supermodel; it’ll cost you a lot of money and you still probably won’t get them to eat anything. Permit are actually very easy to catch with a spinning rod. Drop a live blue crab within six feet of one and they’ll grab it 90% of the time. But drop a perfectly tied Merkin fly on their nose and 90% of the time they’ll ignore it. So just like supermodels they’re snobby and one dimensional, but they’re also the most beautiful thing on the flats and all your friends will be jealous if you hook up with one.

#4:  Jack Crevalle
I love everything about them. For starters, they’re psychotic. If you cast a Barbie doll into a school of these fish, they’d all try to kill it. Jacks are the most indiscriminate eaters on the flats and, like barracuda, will basically hit any moving object that will fit down their mouths. They’re easy to find and they love crashing surface baits so that automatically puts them at the top half of this list. The crevalles don’t jump but they pull like a cross between a pit bull and a dump truck with failed brakes. If they were only good to eat they would rank a couple numbers higher.

#3:  Bonefish
This is a fish so perfect for the fly rod that I’ve never even attempted to catch one on spinning gear, and I never will. Bonefish are stunningly fast, subtlety beautiful and a lot more willing to eat a fly than most anglers and guides would lead you to believe. Unfortunately their range is rather limited in Florida. From Biscayne Bay and south to the Keys is the only place you’ll regularly find them in the Continental U.S. although Hawaii has a decent population, too. No matter where you go to chase this species, it’ll be worth it. An eight pound bonefish will empty your reel faster than you’ll think possible and will do it in some of the prettiest water on Earth.

#2:  Redfish
This species has it all. The fly rod record redfish weighed over 40 pounds but you probably won’t see one that size around Pine Island. But you will see the most beautiful looking redfish ever around this part of Florida. Our dark tannic water draws out the deep copper color in these fish and makes them one of the most photogenic species to hook on a fly. Reds will hit most of the patterns in your fly box if the placement is right, even topwaters, and they pull like freight trains. They’re a lot more user friendly than bonefish so they’re a good target for beginners, too. Top it all off with the fact that redfish are fantastic to eat and you’ve got a near perfect species.

#1:  Tarpon
This fish invented saltwater fly fishing. The first one ever caught on a rod and reel happened right here in Southwest Florida almost 150 years ago. The tarpon has long been called “The Silver King” and for good reason. Everything about them is majestic on any tackle but they really shine when hooked on a fly rod. No two tarpon are ever the same. You can chase the small ones almost year round on the flats, in the mangroves, and even the canals throughout Florida and the twenty pounders are the most acrobatic fish that will hit a fly. Springtime brings the annual migration of full grown tarpon starting in the Keys and working their way up the coast. A 100 pound tarpon on a fly rod is a very real possibility here around Pine Island and will easily be the crowning achievement of almost any angler’s career. They’re a catch and release species only but that doesn’t matter. If I had one day on Earth left to fish, I’d go after a tarpon.