Saltwater fly fishing is not just a game for the shallow water crowd. It’s true that the sport is mainly embraced by anglers with flats skiffs and kayaks here in SW Florida, but folks running the larger bay boats and center consoles should also give it a closer look, especially this time of year.
December is usually the last month we have before the cold fronts and their northern winds start churning up Charlotte Harbor. Our water temps are currently still in the lower 70’s and plenty of species are happily feeding in the 3 to 10’ range. That makes this the perfect time to throw flies into the deeper drop offs from Burnt Store to Boca Grande. This is where some of the most aggressive fish can be found right now and they’ll usually eat anything that swims.
Right before Thanksgiving, my anglers had several terrific late morning fly fishing trips in the Harbor just by following the birds. Diving terns and gulls are a sure sign of hungry predators and this time of year that can mean big schools of Spanish mackerel, jacks, and bluefish. We came across lots of feeding frenzies just north of Bokeelia and got effortless hookups with any pattern from my fly box. This was usually happening in about 6’ of water and we often had one or more bay boats tossing live bait with much heavier rods while floating next to my 18’ Beavertail flats skiff.
If you’re one of the numerous owners of a 24 Pathfinder or similar hull and don’t have at least one fly rod under your gunnel, now is the time to fix that. When a half acre of ladyfish are blitzing glass minnows in the middle of Charlotte Harbor, nothing will make you smile more than sticking a few of these insane jumpers with a 7 or 8-weight outfit. Trust me, you’ll instantly discover a whole new appreciation for these “trash fish” when they’re ripping off a bunch of fly line from the deck and pulling your reel into the backing. Think of this as the ultimate way to catch cut bait.
You really don’t need to spend that much money for a solid fly outfit to use in the deeper water. There are plenty of great rods out there in the $99 range that are more than capable of landing anything that swims inshore around here. You can pair that with an equally inexpensive, bar-stock aluminum reel that will easily stand up to the salt and you’re ready to fish. Just look for something with a lifetime warranty and you can’t go wrong.
Flies are obviously an important part of your deeper water arsenal and this is the really easy part. Your entire fly box can be filled with nothing more than Clouser Minnows of different colors and sizes, and you’ll be in great shape. The standard green and white pattern tied on a #2 hook will be eaten by just about every predator in Florida. They’re not too expensive to buy, either locally or online, and they’re very easy to tie on your own.
So the next time you’re out on the 24’ bay boat, toss a weighted Clouser Minnow into 6’ of water anywhere in Charlotte Harbor and chances are you’ll pull something off the bottom. It might be an unwanted catfish or underrated ladyfish, but you also might bring in a hard pulling jack crevalle or a great tasting pompano from the same spot. Best of all, you’ll get some experience with a proven type of tackle that will be invaluable to your saltwater skills. Good luck out there.