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Baby Tarpon Flies

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My recent article on small Tarpon elicited several questions about not only what flies to use, but how to use them effectively. Tarpon of any size seem to have their own agenda about what they like to eat at any given time.

According to Donald Larmouth and Rob Fordyce, authors of, ‘Tarpon On Fly,” “Baby Tarpon will eat almost anything you would throw at a Snook, size 2 or size 1/0 Lefty’s Deceivers, Glass Minnows, Sea-Ducers, Bend Backs, Clouser Deep Minnows, popping bugs, gurglers, divers, and the like. Downsized standard Tarpon patterns will also work.”

Tarpon in some of the remote locations where they are pursued infrequently may never have seen an artificial lure, let alone a fly. Their willingness to take your offering can’t be compared to some of our fish that are challenged every day with not only lures, but live baits of every description. I know of several pods of small Tarpon that live in canals or harbors that seem impossible to catch with artificials. Most juvenile tarpon success seems to coincide with their being in a place that is a little distance from their usual haunts. Their reason for being there is the same as most species, the opportunity for an easy meal. Once you identify their food source, duplication will improve your chance for a hookup. I firmly believe that time spent in observation is never wasted, and in fact will shorten the time before you yell, “fish on!”

Remember to match the hatch. Size, color, shape, and action, when duplicated are essential whenever any fish is selective. A recent experience with small Tarpon had them chasing a school of baitfish in shallow water adjacent to their deeper home. A quick cast into the melee with a suitable presentation resulted in instant success.

Small Tarpon are usually not sight fished like their bigger relatives. In the Keys, I have been able to stay with large schools of these fish because certain islands had a resident group that was nearby.

Once spotted rolling on the surface, a stealthy approach with judicious polling put us within casting range. Since water depth was four feet or less, and very clear, their presence was not difficult to track.

Tarpon rolling on the surface allow you to pinpoint their location. Being there at the appearance of first light will be to your advantage. Most baby Tarpon I see rolling are in depths of fifteen feet or more. This rolling activity is usually not associated with feeding, but rather with their air gulping movements. In this situation, I feel their feeding activity is closer

to the bottom rather than the top part of the water column. Tossing flies that are near the surface usually results in frustration. Using a sinking tip fly line with a sinking pattern will occasionally work, but finding fish in shallower water will insure your chances for success. At higher tides, areas that hold Snook will frequently attract these fish. Mangrove shorelines, docks, points, bridge abutments, and any structure that will attract baitfish will put these fish in a more fly friendly mood. My success locally has always improved when I fished structure that was relatively shallow.

A “strip, strip, strip, pause” retrieve; similar to that used for large tarpon, will be a good starting place. Vary this if you get refusals or short strikes. Keep hooks sharp and use a shock tippet of thirty pound test Mason or fluorocarbon. Remember to bow with each jump to prevent a straight line to the gyrating fish that usually results in hooks coming out.

The acrobatics of smaller Tarpon will put a big grin on any fly fisher’s face. I have had them land in the boat as well as in mangroves or branches of trees lying in the water. Once your efforts are rewarded, you will put this smaller Silver King at the top of your “Fun Fish” list.

Capt. Pat Damico
St. Pete Beach
Email: flyguy@captpat.com
Web Site:
http://captpat.com/

Fly Fishing Ideas – Time to fly

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Capt. Fred Everson is a well known and talented fishing guide who operates out of the productive Lower Tampa Bay Area. He’s also a well know outdoor write and author of many books. In this article, Capt Fred talks about Fly-casting, an artistic form of fishing. In the hands of an expert, a well made cast is a thing of beauty and grace.

Fly-fishing is ancient sport, with the first written record of it appearing around 300 a.d. Bamboo fly rods made of split cane are still manufactured and enjoyed by a dedicated group of traditionalists, but today’s technology provides superior fly rods made with graphite fibers. It took a over a hundred years to replace bamboo as the ideas fly rod medium, but it’s a done deal. Anything cane rods can do, graphite rods will do better. Modern fiberglass fly rods never matched the stiffness of bamboo, but graphite rods could, and at a fraction of the weight. Cane rods were suddenly obsolete; graphite revolutionized fly-fishing. The lighter fly rod made the transition from freshwater to saltwater more practical and sturdy machined aluminum reels made fly-fishing for giant pelagics such as marlin possible.

Saltwater flyfishing is currently the fastest growing area in recreational sport fishing. Anglers are ever looking for new challenges, and many fish found on the flats are perfect targets for the fly fisher. Salt water fly fishing is a natural direction for an angler to take after he has graduated from live bait to artificials, and mastered the latter on spinning or baitcasting tackle. But most fly fishermen will concede the fly rod is not an everyday tool on saltwater. It’s something to use when the fish are really biting, or something to fish with on hand picked days when the weather is perfect, and tides and moon phase make good fishing likely.

Fly-casting is an artistic form of fishing, as anyone who saw the film “A River Runs Through It” would attest. In the hands of an expert, a well made cast is a thing of beauty and grace.

The angler is casting a fly line that is matched to the rod, and novices find keeping the line airborne difficult. Learning to flycast is easier with a coach who can see what you are doing wrong and tell you how to fix it. Attending seminars is helpful, and so are videos, but there is nothing quite like a coach to learn the intricacies of throwing a fly.

Fish suited to fly-fishing for novices would include ladyfish and jack crevalle. These fish try to eat anything small that moves, and are not deterred by clunky, misplaced casts. Keep the fly moving, and these fish will hit it.

With a handle on casting basics, knot tying, and leaders, you can move onto the flats for bigger and badder fish – redfish, snook and speckled trout. Ever aggressive trout are easiest to catch with a fly.

handling a weight forward line and at least a hundred yards of backing is a good place to start. You can probably buy everything you need for less than two hundred dollars new. Like exercise equipment, there is lots of used fly fishing tackle out there belonging to anglers who found fly casting to be a lot like work.

Capt. Fred Everson
P O Box 3261
Apollo Beach FL 33572
(813) 645-9424

Why Don’t More People Fly Fish?

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One of the comments frequently heard when discussing fly fishing with either a group or an individual is represented by the title of this article. “Why don’t more people fly fish?” And to me it comes as a genuine surprise that when out fishing our Florida waters, seeing someone using a fly rod is a rarity. Conversely, in the Keys, it is very common sight.
Even members of our local fly fishing clubs reveal that many primarily use more conventional tackle, and infrequently go to the long rod. There are exceptions of course, but frankly this phenomenon is difficult for me to understand.

In spite of these conclusions, saltwater fly fishing has become the fastest growing segment of our sport. Why? Because frankly — it’s fun!

Living in coastal Florida, where most have access to great shallow water estuaries, why do so few taking advantage of this resource? They spend Saturday mornings in front of a TV, loving every minute –watching someone else do what is in reality, just minutes away from their door.

Unlike the many other sports that we love to watch, but can’t participate in, saltwater fly fishing is available to anyone who can hold a spinning rod.

So, if location is not a factor, what else contributes to this dilemma?

“I tried it but wasn’t successful.” What does this mean?

Is this person a not a successful inshore fisherman with conventional tackle, taking up fly fishing will definitely not improve their success. That’s why most experts will tell you that fly fishing without previous successful fishing experience is destined to fail. The only possible exception would be if every trip was with an experienced guide.

Thus, you can conclude that knowing how to catch fish conventionally is a prerequisite to fly fishing success.

Knowledge of fish habits, location, tides, and stealth on the water should be the established basis for successful fly fishing. Whether you wade fish, paddle fish or use a skiff is really irrelevant if you are satisfied with your degree of fishing success. The fact of the matter is that many beginning fly fishers really enjoy the challenge of a new approach. And somehow, this ancient angling art is very compatible with nature, solitude, scenery, fellowship, and relaxation.

Age is not a deterrent. Some of our very best fly casters are in their early teens or senior citizens. Knowledge made you a good conventional fisherman. Now you can take that experience to the next level.

Where can one learn to start fly fishing? Just head to your local fly shop — preferably a place that specializes in this pursuit. They should have the knowledge and equipment available to get you on the right track and accelerate your learning curve.

Find an instructor who is a good listener and will not talk down to you. I have seen inept fly fishing teacher act like a cold shower to someone who was enthusiastic about getting started Explain your concerns, and be certain they are addressed.

By the way, if their conversation begins with a 650.00 fly rod, head for the door! Improvements in technology have made some entry-level rods, reels and fly lines that are really great and quite affordable.

I began at a young age with hand-me-down equipment, but a few patient adults were willing to share their experience with me and create an atmosphere of understanding that helped me get started. Here you will find equipment in your price range, free fly casting clinics, as well as books and videos that you can take home to continue your learning experience.

Our area has two great fly fishing clubs that meet monthly, Suncoast Fly Fishers, and Tampa Bay Fly Fishing Club. An hour before their formal meeting, which usually includes a speaker, qualified casting instructors will help you with anything you want to know about fly fishing, using the club’s equipment. A lending library of books and videos, discounts on equipment, and monthly fly fishing trips to area waters are just a few other benefits of membership. Someone will usually be tying flies and willing to suggest patterns for your particular needs. Many members would likely invite you to be their fishing partner. Their reason for joining was to learn, just like yours. To find a club in your area, go to www.fedflyfishers.org, or check this website.

Use your back yard to practice casting. Every evening after dinner, take out your fly rod for a twenty-minute session. Frequent practice will allow your muscles to develop memory and you should feel more comfortable after a while. And remember — a good caster seems to perform with minimal effort. You will eventually.

Once your casting ability improves, leave that conventional tackle at home. Devote all your time and energy to this new pursuit. Your first fish with a fly rod will be a memorable experience. I can assure you that, once you begin to reap the benefits of this sport, you will understand a wonderful dimension of fishing you never knew was there.

Capt. Pat Damico
St. Pete Beach
727-360-6466
www.captpat.com

Get Flies Deep For Big Fish

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As the water cools and fishing activity on the flats heats up, are there times when you would like your fly to go deeper? We all love to see fish come up to the surface and slam a top water fly or popper, but sometime larger fish are more interested in having their dinner put closer to their nose as they lie with their belly against the sand.

Deeper usually means a slower presentation is needed to entice a lunker to open wide. Can this be accomplished with a long rod that is best suited to casting small light flies on a calm day? Fortunately, a few old tricks and the advent of modern technology make this easy.

If you are just starting saltwater fly fishing, a floating, weight forward line may be all you have available, with your one fly rod and reel. This is certainly the best equipment for the beginner. Can we work with this combination to fish deeper? Yes, in a limited way. Adding weight to the fly is the simplest approach. If you tie your own flies, wrapping the hook shank with thin lead, or non-toxic wire would be the first step in construction. Vary the amount of weight so that you will have a variety for different depths.

How will you know which flies are weighted, and to what degree when they are in your box mixed with others that look the same? If you have three different weights, small, intermediate and heavy, wrap a small amount of colored thread close to the wing material when the head is finished. Blue for small, green for intermediate, and red for heavy would work. Your weighted creations will now stand out from the same unweighted patterns.

Weight near, or on the fly’s head is another option. Bead chain, lead, or non-toxic eyes have been used on Crazy Charlie and Clouser patterns for years. At least five weights are available from extra-small to large. These are attached with thread, using a figure eight configuration and some crazy glue to secure them to the hook shank. Painting eyes on these will make them more attractive. Recently, cone head and bead head flies have become popular. One of these is slid on the hook and secured against the hook eye, as the fly is finished. The cone head has the additional advantage, because of its narrow front and wider rear of helping the fly be more weedless or snag free.

The addition of weight to the forward section of flies will make them act more like a jig when the retrieve is stopped. As they drop, a strike is often triggered. Shorten your leader when using weighted flies. A heavier leader, especially in the butt section will assist in casting so you won’t have to “Chuck and Duck” to prevent from getting hit in the back of your head. Picking the line off the water on a more horizontal plane and then casting forward at a vertical plane will not only help your casting, but also prevent your weighted fly from hitting your fly rod tip. Clipping the tip with a weighted fly will weaken or break the tip section. This is one of the major causes of rod breakage.

The best approach for getting flies deep is to use a fly line designed for that purpose. Rather than a full sinking line, which is a casting nightmare, one with a sinking tip will satisfy all of your inshore needs. Older lines of this design seemed to have a hinge where the regular floating line joined the weighted tip section. This was very noticeable when casting.

Modern technology has produced some great lines. I have been using saltwater lines by Cortland and Rio that are a pleasure to cast, don’t have that hinge feeling and have a clear sinking tip. Cortland’s 444 Tropic Plus Ghost Tip Taper has a nine foot clear sinking section to which the butt portion of your leader is attached. The Powerflex Core QuickShooter line from Rio has a twelve foot clear forward section while the Powerflex Core Tarpon line has a fifteen foot clear section. When short leaders are used with these lines, the clear section will not spook fish. More importantly, a short leader allows the fly to more easily stay at the same level as the line. Using four feet of fluorocarbon of the proper strength may be all that is needed.

A little experimenting with leader lengths will be needed at first. Use the countdown method after you cast to get the desired depth. If you want to fish a little above a submerged grass flat and a count of twelve picks up some weeds, count to ten before the same retrieve is used to accomplish your goal. These lines are also much better to cast in our constant wind than their floating counterparts. When fishing where a school of fish is present, the smaller more aggressive ones are always closer to the surface. Your chances of getting a deep prowling lunker to take your fly will improve as your offering sinks.

Fishing a floating popper with a sinking tip line will give an effect that often is irresistible to finicky feeders. Your retrieve allows the popper to sink and when stopped will allow it to return to the surface much the same as a wounded baitfish. Ed, from Edgewater Products suggested this method to me some years ago, when discussing the versatility of some of their cell foam popper heads. This technique works!

Ideally, a second rod should be rigged with one of the above combinations allowing you to be able to have an instant choice to suite your needs. Give this method a try and stick with it. I know it will soon become an important part of your fly fishing armamentarium.

Capt. Pat Damico
St. Pete Beach
727-360-6466
pat4jaws@hotmail.com

Take Your Fly Rod Out After Dark

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Snook action is hot around lighted docks and bridges. At night, the forage that is most readily responsible for the “pop” made by Snook as they slam the surface is a small shrimp. A fly fishing friend, Brad Lowman, was night fishing along the sea wall at one of our passes during a strong outgoing tide and could see small shrimp being devoured by large Snook.

Using a shrimp pattern, Brad was able to connect with some Snook by having his fly duplicate the free floating natural baits. Cast your fly across or up tide and mend your line to avoid “drag.” Mending can be accomplished by making an aerial mend with a reach cast. Do this by making your conventional cast, and as the line straightens, slip line with the line hand as you move the rod up current before the fly hits the water.

Conventional mending, using the rod tip in a slow roll, as used in stream fishing for trout or smallmouth bass, also works. A simple alternative is to shake your rod tip and release line with your line hand after the cast, as your offering drifts in the current. Some strikes are very subtle, others will be explosive. Pulling your shrimp fly against the current will get constant refusals.

Always spend a few minutes observing the water and conditions before your first cast. Keen observations will tell you what pattern to use, size they are taking, location of most fish, and if their take is deep or shallow.

A nine weight rod, with a weight forward line should work. Spend the extra money for fluorocarbon leader material. I usually use a thirty pound tippet, which you should check carefully for damage after each fish. If there is any structure around, Snook will head for cover. When this happens, if you can’t turn the fish with rod pressure, ease up on the tension and the fish will occasionally swim out to deeper water.

Shrimp patterns can be simple or complex. I’m including a simple pattern that works.

Additional Information for Simple Fly Pattern

This fly pattern is very versatile because the size of the fly can be modified by increasing the length of the hook shank. Using a longer hook, such as a Mustad 34007 or Tiemko 9394 will increase the length of the body and result in a longer overall size. Walking along the beach this morning I saw newly hatched threadfins that were an inch and a half to two inches in length. The Snook were keying in on this size forage. As the season progresses, a longer profile will be more effective.

Captain Rick Grasset of Sarasota uses a shorter version as his Grass Minnow; Florida outdoor writer Norm Zeigler’s Schminnow has a longer body length, and usually uses Maribou material for the tail. The name implies a shrimp/minnow resemblance. White is the color that is most popular. I have used this pattern years ago on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania for smallmouth bass in chartreuse, white and black. The black version, when tied with a longer tail represents a hellgrammite or clipper which is deadly bass bait.

I couldn’t think of a simpler pattern which is so effective. A few minutes with a little instruction will have you turning out beautiful flies. Grab a handful and go fishing.

Capt. Pat Damico
Email: flyguy@captpat.com
Web Site: http://captpat.com/

Snook on a Fly

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Without a doubt, the biggest bang for your buck right now is Snook. Although the season is closed, your chance of taming a big Snook with a fly rod will never be better. They will be found in two locations. Along the beach large females usually pursued by several males will be in the trough that is adjacent to the sand.

The second hot spot is lighted areas at night where shrimp and baitfish are attracted to photo plankton that is in the water adjacent to well lit areas. Both beaches and dock lights that are close to passes will be especially productive.

A recent early morning trip with Capt. Mel had us both busy with top water action inches from the beach. Although we were in my flats boat, this is the best wading or walking opportunity you will ever have for mister Snook. It will be more walking than wading because you will want to stay out of the water and walk the beach close to the edge. As the sun rises, the fish will be visible chasing baitfish inches from the sand. Cast parallel to the beach, not perpendicular to it. Topwater action will be explosive at first light. White seems to be the best color for both topwater and sub surface offerings. Any popper or slider style will work. My favorites are made by Edgewater Fishing Products, Clearfield, Utah. Several fly shops in my area have the foam heads or finished flies available. Use at least a thirty pound shock tippet. For sinking flies I use fluorocarbon, but for anything that floats, I prefer Mason hard mono available in small spools at most bait and tackle stores. Because fluorocarbon leader sinks, it will affect the action of your popper, causing the head to submerge instead of float. With any floating presentation, use a loop knot. Check Mel’s section on knots for a good one. An eight or nine weight nine foot fly rod with a floating weight forward line will be perfect.

Sub surface presentations will work better with a clear sinking tip weight forward line. If you only have a floating line, use it. The sinking tip reacts better to the wave action that may be present. When using a clear sink tip, a four foot thirty pound fluorocarbon leader will be adequate. Clousers, deceivers and any baitfish imitation in white or chartreuse over white in sizes 1 or 1/0 should work.

A stripping basket will make life easy for you and allow you to efficiently manage line as you walk and cast. A plastic waste receptacle with a bungie cord around your waste is an inexpensive arrangement that will keep you from talking to yourself over line management.

Don’t wait another day because this opportunity will not last forever.

The next article will deal with fishing for Snook around lighted docks and bridges.

By Capt. Pat “Fly Guy” Damico

Fall Bite Is Here

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The summer doldrums are definitely over. Although we haven’t had any long periods of cold weather lately, the cool evenings have managed to gradually drop local water temperatures to below the seventy degree mark. Larger baitfish are becoming scarcer, and inshore species are keying in on small hatchlings, gorging themselves in preparation for the winter.

Recent trips to the flats have become increasingly more productive, not only in numbers of fish caught, but also in size of local shallow water favorites. Several key signs of this phenomenon are presently happening.

Snook are staging at the mouth of most rivers. Large numbers of linesiders are present wherever small baitfish dimple the surface. Higher tides, accompanied by moving water, have placed these fish close to mangrove shorelines, residential docks, oyster bars, and other structures that are closest to deeper water. Night Snook fishing around lighted docks close to passes has been very productive. Fish will be close to shore when water is high, but as the water becomes shallow, longer docks that extend indo deeper water will still continue to produce. Baitfish patterns, such as Deceivers, Clousers, and Bendbacks in white and chartreuse and white, in smaller sizes, will work. When fishing tannin stained water, around the mouth of some rivers, some brown and gold used as a toping match the natural baits more effectively.

Trout have been increasing in size every year. Several guides in St. Joseph sound area have told me that three pounders are common and most trips have been rewarded with some five pound fish. Flats adjacent to the many spoil islands have been the place to be. Further south, along the Intercoastal Waterway, grass flats, especially those with irregularities and potholes hold schools of nice Trout. Most of these fish will be close to the bottom. A clear sinking tip fly line with a weighted fly will be more productive when the water is deep. Some of the largest trout will be found very shallow as the afternoon sun warms the water. A floating line with a baitfish imitation will not get the numbers, but will get the lunkers that are loners.

Reds are schooling and I have seen some increasing numbers tailing in the shallows. Several times these Redfish turned out to be nice Sheepshead that act exactly like Reds, except you will find them even more challenging in shallow water. Crab imitations are preferred in very shallow water where accuracy and short strips will be rewarded. If you catch a Sheepshead on a cmall crab or shrimp pattern, give yourself a big pat on the back, you have accomplished a very difficult task.

Fishing yesterday with fellow guides from Tampa Bay Fly Fishing Club, Frank Rhodes, and Bryon Chamberlin we saw several schools of Jack’s in the ten pound range. Throwing Poppers and Clouser minnow’s we had one point when all three of us had on large Jacks. We broke one hook and straightened another during the melee.

You can’t use hot summer conditions as an excuse for not getting out on the water. The best fishing of the year has already begun.
Get out and enjoy it!

Capt. Pat Damico
St. Pete Beach
Email: flyguy@captpat.com
Web Site: http://captpat.com/

Saltwater Fly Fishing with a Guide

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There is no doubt that many an angler has accepted the challenges of fly fishing in the saltwater environment. And many have chosen to hire guides who specialize in fly fishing. These gifted skippers are at once mentors, instructors and expert fishers. But is there anything one can do to assure success?
Capt. Pat Damico has some answers.

You’ve read all the magazines; tied a bunch of flies that would make any predator throw caution to the wind. There you are, dreaming of constant action from the bow of a flats boat; watching the backing on your smoking reel vanish. And now you simply can’t wait to extend those skills you’ve worked so hard to acquire into the most rapidly expanding area of the long rod. In preparation for your guided trip, are your expectations going to be fulfilled? Will this be like Saturday morning ESPN?

Well, maybe! All of the variables that you’ve experienced fly fishing in the past will still be there. Weather, most notably wind, clouds that will hamper visibility, clear or cloudy water, fish with lockjaw, absence of fish that were “all over the place yesterday,” Jet ski’s and other boaters who like to run in shallow water where you’re fishing, less than ideal tide day, an impatient guide who was up too late last night, etc.

As with most sports, mental conditioning, or being prepared, is extremely important. Fly fishing is no exception. Wanting everything to go right may be too optimistic. Let’s look at some of the things that will make success more attainable.

Make your arrangements as far in advance as possible. This is very important. Once you’ve made your selection of a guide, call, and if possible give him several days that you will be available. You can discuss what species you will pursue during that time frame. Expecting to catch tarpon in our area in January will never happen. He may already be booked, or the tides may not be suitable, and it may at this point be easier for you to change your dates. License requirements, clothing, foot wear, you may do some wading, sun protection, and good polarized glasses, are a few of the items that will be discussed. How many of you will be fishing? What is your experience level? What are his rates?

If you want to bring your own equipment, this should be known. Picking up a client at daybreak who looks like he just stepped out of a fishing catalog with all the wrong gear does happen. A simple question of, “What will you provide?” and “What should I bring?” will cover all bases. When you leave the dock, you should be ready to fish.

Most times, even when a client brings his own gear, he ends up using mine. Having four of my fly rods ready to go is not unusual. As with professional bass fisherman, it is easier to change rods than to modify equipment. An eight weight fly line that served you well for stripped bass in fall in New Jersey will not be effective when July temperatures here are in the nineties. If you’ve never used a leader longer than seven feet and now must use one twelve feet long in skinny water, there is going to be a problem. Wind conditions, size of the fly, presence or absence of structure, casting ability, water clarity, and weight of the fish, are just a few variables that will dictate a change in gear. Some rods will have a floating line and others a sinking tip. A shock leader will be needed for snook or tarpon, but not for trout. Space is limited on a flats boat; everything should be stowed so that it doesn’t interfere with casting, or make noise rattling on the deck or in a hatch.

Your ability to cast with the necessary equipment is the one variable, which if controlled, will insure success. If you’ve never cast more than twenty feet with a seven foot, three weight rod while sneaking up on spooky brook trout in a mountain stream, head for your nearest fly shop where they can let you try rods similar to what you will be using in the salt. A good casting instructor will help you, if necessary, so that you and your muscles become accustomed to heavier equipment. Practice as much as necessary to feel confident. There are saltwater situations where much time is spent looking for fish and when found requiring a quick, accurate presentation. Others will have you casting frequently to a lot of structure. The shallower the water, the further you will have to cast, otherwise the fish will be spooked.

The primary reason you’re doing this should be to have fun. The thrills, challenges, and excitement that can and do happen in saltwater will easily convince you that you have been missing a great extension of an already wonderful pastime. A new convert to this great sport will be born!

Capt. Pat Damico
St. Pete Beach
727-360-6466
pat4jaws@hotmail.com

Fly Fishing Transition from Fresh to Saltwater

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How does one become a saltwater fly fisher? Usually, most are freshwater converts. But these days there are many that have actually started in saltwater. Northern visitors that come to Florida to enjoy our weather can be frequently seen in our airports carrying rod cases.
All fly rod companies make 2, 3, 4 and even 5 and 6 piece outfits that easily conform to on-board baggage requirements. However, I have one word of caution: Checking fly rods in with luggage could be a disaster. Your “hard” case can end up like a pretzel!

Most of my northern clients have spent their fly fishing past with nothing heavier than a 5 wt. rod fishing freshwater trout streams. The most frequently asked question I’m asked is, “How far must I cast to fish saltwater?” Saturday morning TV fishing programs have intimidated them because of the frequent emphasis on distance. If their best previous cast has been 30 feet, they are not going to cast 60 feet with a 10 wt. rod no mater how well balanced the outfit is.

When fishing for freshwater trout on a stream, you have current, structure, feeding stations, wind, water clarity, air and water temperature variations, casting obstacles, drag, and the sun causing shadows, but increasing visibility. Depending on the species, you can have most or all of the same in the salt.

Variations in current that create drag are the most significant problems when trying to tempt a freshwater trout to take your tiny dry fly. Tide can be substituted for current, a dock, piling, or oyster bar would be structure.

On small freshwater streams casting obstacles can be a real problem, but I fished small creeks entering Tampa Bay either wading or in my canoe that were just as challenging. Overhanging mangroves, boats on lifts, docks, and bridges are certainly obstacles to casting.

I’ve caught a lot of saltwater species on small flies and many freshwater fish on bigger offerings. Are there more similarities than you thought? When the wind is flat, I’ve used 6 wt. rods for bonefish and reds in shallow water to allow a stealthy presentation. Other circumstances may require a 10 wt.

Most saltwater species roam looking for forage. If you’ve ever fished a big brown trout river at night you know that they do the same. During the day, these lunkers are under a bank or behind a rock in a deep hole and not actively feeding.

Watch snook under a lighted dock face into the tide waiting for supper. As the tide changes they will reverse position. I fish a lot at night, and the position of a light on a dock will have fish under the dock with an incoming tide and out in open water away from the dock on the outgoing tide. Is this the reason some docks produce better on certain tides, or is the accessibility to the fish the problem?

Trout will generally hold in a “feeding lane” and rise as the fly drifts into their vision. I’ve fished over stubborn brown trout for hours as I tried to imitate the specific mayfly they were engulfing and the horizontal position of the fish never changed. Herein may lie one of the major differences for the aspiring saltwater fly fisher.

Time to cast is a bigger factor in most saltwater applications. Most notable is when a guide is poling you across a shallow flat and seeing a redfish, he calls out the position. Provided you see the fish, and know his direction, you have a set of unique circumstances to overcome. Get the fly in his zone of vision quickly, quietly, naturally and accurately at his depth, with a minimum of false casting…preferably using only one, from a moving boat, at a moving fish, in the wind, without hooking the guide. This will be the defining moment and where failure is most frequently assured.

After attempting this drill a number of times, frustration will set in and trying harder will only make matters worse. The guide isn’t doing too well either! He has worked very hard to position you properly only to have his efforts wasted.

If I’m taking someone out for the first time, we meet at least an hour before I expect the fish to be active. We then go to a quiet area and I show them how to cast, retrieve, clear line, strip strike, and get line on the reel with the outfit they will be using.

I realize books have been written on each of these topics. However, in a short period of time an experienced fly fisher will get it together enough to be able to up the odds for success considerably. On my chazrters, we usually use my equipment because it is better balanced and will work for the specific task. I will hand the rod to my client and ask them to show me how well they can cast.

With this intial evaluation, I’ve seen everything from a cast of 10 feet with a loop the size of the moon to someone who was very proficient. In either case case, these clients had told me during our pre trip phone conversations stories about catching salmon in Alaska, giant rainbows in Colorado, and sailfish in Mexico — on flies, naturally. The ten foot caster could be much more descriptive and vocal. Now he is in trouble! And yes, I’ve had trips where I had to make every cast for clients, they did the retrieve, and we caught fish! Who thinks guiding is easy?

Frequently, a good portion of our trip has been devoted to casting instructions. Some inexperienced anglers have actually doubled the distance from their first attempt. Certainly, this could very well have been done in a back yard on the grass, or in a snow covered parking lot up north. When you do practice, use the heaviest outfit you have. Get some good instruction. Most good fly shops, even 200 miles from saltwater have heavier outfits than you can use. Become familiar with 8 and 9 wt. rods and you will have an enjoyable trip.

Saltwater fly fishing is a blast! This article is really intended to help you put your expectations in perspective and encourage you to join the ranks of many who are discovering this new dimension to our sport.

Information is available by contacting me at:

pat4jaws@hotmail.com
or 727-360-6466.
Click here for my web site

Capt. Pat Damico
St. Pete Beach, Fl

What “Flies” in Saltwater?

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It’s a growing passion with many a Florida angler — fly fishing in saltwater. Most are northern transplants who migrated to the Sunshine State bringing boxes filled with freshwater patterns. And the question on the minds of these fly flinging enthusiasts is “can I use my old favorites in this new saltwater environment?” For the answer, we turn to our own “Fly Guy.”

While giving a saltwater fly fishing seminar at a fly shop in northeastern Pennsylvania this summer, I was asked this question. It is one of the most frequently asked questions I hear. Dave Keck, the store’s owner, who I fished with for Smallmouth Bass on the Susquehanna River, five minutes from where we were in Berwick, Penna., was close to me and I asked him to get out his fly box. Some flies did not have stainless steel hooks, but the flies we selected were all effective patterns to use in the Tampa Bay area where I do most of my fishing. This applies to most areas of Florida as well.  Minnow imitations were most prevalent with hook size appropriate for Snook, Redfish and Speckled Trout, which are the most predominant quarry most of the year. Colors were also consistent with patterns that either “match the hatch” of local baitfish, or even imitate shrimp or small crabs.If you believe, as I do, that presentation is more important than color and size, his fly box would give you a good start if you ventured south for a few days of R&R with your fly rod.

Using a combination of natural and synthetic materials, as well as size and weight variations, little else was needed. His predominant patterns were Clouser varieties, which Lefty Kreh has used to catch over 30 different saltwater species.

Not everyone uses stainless steel hooks, but a strong hook with the proper length and gap is very important. Few freshwater species will straighten or break a 1/0 hook. Lighter tippets in freshwater usually break before the fish has the opportunity to pull that hard. One of my first thumb busting saltwater experiences was to get into a bait terrorizing school of large Jack Crevalle. Fifty years of sweetwater fishing never prepared me for that experience.When structure is available, they or large Snook, will head for it and it is necessary to put on the pressure. Hook straightening or breaking can be the result.

Clouser Deep Minnows with different weight eyes, I tie some with plastic eyes, some half and half Clousers, Deceiver imitations and a few streamer patterns will give you a good start. Chartruse and white, and brown and orange, are my favorite combinations, but all white, and gray and white are also very good. Always have some black flies for poor visibility situations. Weedguards can be a good addition where grass or mangroves add another dimension of difficulty.

Don’t be in a big hurry to make your first cast. Look in the shallows to see what size and color baitfish are available and choose your fly accordingly. Watch how they move and you have a key as to how to retrieve. A slow moving fly will loose the interest of Jacks, Mackerel and Barracuda, but most other species will turn on.

Always visit a local fly shop and ask questions. In addition to how to rig, and places to go, ask what patterns are most productive this time of year? If they are different than what you have, take at least one of each home with you to use as a guide for your next trip south.

Booking a guide, who is experienced in fly fishing, is always your best bet and investment for first timers. His experience will shorten your learning curve considerably and insure that you will have a life time inoculation of saltwater fever.

Capt. Pat Damico
St. Pete Beach, Fl.
727-360-6466
pat4jaws@hotmail.com