Tie up a long leader, soften up your casts, and enjoy some of the year’s most perfect conditions.
In Panama City waters, July means variety–both inshore and offshore. Capt. Mike Ware becomes a jack-of-all-trades this month. Depending on the whims of his customers, he’ll pole the flats of St. Andrews Bay for reds and trout, chum up blues and Spanish mackerel, stake out the beach for tarpon, or run offshore to toss flies at cobia, school dolphin and bonito. Although tailing reds are dependable on the St. Andrews Bay flats, big seatrout are turning up in impressive numbers. For the biggest fish, many flyfishers are wading and serving up big flies.
White Deceivers and Sea-Ducers on No. 3/0 hooks satisfy a big trout’s appetite, although poppers are preferred by anglers who live for the surface strike. The Flash Fly, a No. 2 bendback with a gold-dubbed body and gold Flashabou wing, is a local redfish favorite. Big jack crevalle–commonly in the 20- to 30-pound range–occasionally storm the St. Andrews flats. Experienced locals have learned to keep an eye peeled and a rod rigged for them. According to Capt. Ware, when a pack of Buicks come bearing down a flat, it’s a sight to behold.
Although July isn’t considered a mackerel and bluefish month in Florida, St. Andrews Bay is an exception. Fishable numbers can be chummed off the points and shoals wherever good current is present. Clouser minnows (surprise!) fished on intermediate or sinking lines will take the macks while bluefish prefer to blast poppers on top.
Summertime fly fishing is in high gear around Apalachicola. Capt. Tommy Robinson of Robinson and Sons Outfitters says that anglers can target tarpon, redfish, big seatrout, and bruiser jack crevalle. Rather than jockeying with migrating beach tarpon, local anglers enjoy a non-traditional strain of tarpon fishing.
Early-morning feeding schools will bust baitfish at the surface in the bay inside the barrier islands. As is the case all summer, reds are on the flats, as are big seatrout. Sight casting for trout has really come on in the area. Midday heat and hot water doesn’t faze these fish and they’ll go so shallow that their fins are exposed. You need the sun overhead to see them, and long casts are a must. They’re extremely wary, but will take big, 4-inch flies if presented quietly. Local tiers have devised what Robinson calls a “marshmallow,” a buoyant, roughly trimmed deer-hair muddler for sight casting huge trout.
Dropping down in rod/line size is recommended on calm days, but this makes it tough to cast hefty flies long distances. Lengthening your leader allows you some additional stealth, but makes it unnecessary to cast quite so far.
Anglers working the region from Sebastian to Mosquito Lagoon will find tailing reds on the flats early in the morning, although by midday most of the fish will head for the comfort of deeper water. When this occurs, Capt. John Royall of Merritt Island relies on Plan B. He works the channels adjacent to productive flats by blind casting to the edges and retrieving his fly down the dropoff. Depending on the depth, Royall uses intermediate or full-sinking lines, or a shooting-head setup. For big seatrout, deer-hair sliders become the choice over poppers at first light when calm conditions prevail. Sliders produce the desirable V-wake that turns on trout. Blasting a popper will frighten a big speck in the skinniest water. Area anglers prefer brown or chartreuse flies in general, and a No. 1/0 Chico’s River Shrimp has taken inshore slams.
For the most part, July bonefishing is a half-day proposition unless you fish an overcast day or afternoon thunderstorms abate early and give you a couple of golden hours before sunset. It’s amazing how quickly bonefish will flood the shallows and feed after the rain stops. On typically sunny days, you’ll find fish from dawn until midmorning on the low end of a falling or rising tide on both the bayside and oceanside flats of Biscayne Bay. When it’s overcast and the wind blows a bit, you’ll find fish on the flats at midday, although they’ll be tough to tempt since water temps will remain above 85 degrees. Should there be a string of rainy, cloudy days, don’t despair–cooling waters will put the bones in the eating mood, and you’ll enjoy bonefish action reminiscent of spring.
To shorten your search, avoid large, dark-bottomed grassflats far removed from the channels. Light-colored flats with good current will be a tad cooler, and should hold more fish. Again, keep a thermometer handy to avoid water exceeding 88 degrees.
The long, skinny, toothpick flats from Cape Florida to the Ragged Keys in Biscayne Bay and adjacent to the bridge channels from Key Largo south will hold tailing fish early and schools of mudding fish in three to four feet of water in the heat of the day. When the flats are mirror smooth, 6- or 7-weight rods, 12- to 14-foot leaders, and No. 6 flies will bolster your chances when dorsalling bones are swimming in dew.
For cruisers and mudding fish on the edges, an 8-weight rod, 10-foot leaders, and heavily-weighted No. 4 or No. 2 patterns such as chartreuse or tan/white Clouser minnows, Borski Critters or bonefish sliders, lead-eyed Crazy Charlies, and epoxy shrimp flies, will round out your arsenal.
Baby tarpon, God’s gift to light-tackle fly casters, will provide plenty of fireworks out front of Flamingo anywhere from Snake Bight to the river and creek mouths of the southwest coast. At first light until midmorning, specimens from five to 50 pounds and larger will roll at the surface and jump on practically anything you lay in their path. With a low tide at sunrise, start your search in the basins, the channel edges and moats of the islands nearest deep water. Around high tide, schools of little poons will swarm the flats and push wakes, roll nonstop, and feed in water barely covering their backs. Treat these fish like bonefish, especially on slick mornings–they can be spooky. As long as you don’t line them, they will pounce on anything that looks alive. If they become choosy, try rabbit-strip Muddlers, Bendbacks, and Sea-Ducers in black, brown, or purple tied on No. 2, 1 and 1/0 Tiemco 800S or similar hooks.
Depending on the size of your fly, 7-, 8- and 9-weight rods are perfect and 40- to 60-pound bite tippets will keep you fast to your fish.
To be successful in July, learn to deal with the extremes–adjustments in tackle and tactics will keep you in the game. There will be plenty of fish, and plenty of anglers giving chase. Give the fish a little extra space and do the same for the guy in the next boat, too. After all, we share an interest in a great sport, so let’s share the territory as well.