The April issue of Florida Sportsman, now on newsstands, has an article highlighting some of the key similarities and differences between Florida and Alabama.
For FS.com this week, we spoke with a veteran fly fisherman from Mobile, Alabama, who’s spent years traveling back and forth across the state line in his quest for light-tackle record certifications by the International Game Fish Association.
Robert T. Cunningham recently authored Chasing Records: An Angler’s Quest, in which the Mobile attorney recounts stories formed of his ongoing passion for racking up IGFA marks, many in the fly divisions. As in any good fishing book, there’s humor, drama, enlightenment, triumph.
Cunningham’s pursuit of record fish began in the Chandeleur Islands of Louisiana, where he nabbed several one-time redfish records, accessing this remote region in his own seaplane.
To date, he has caught 57 world-record fish, many of them right outside Mobile Bay, where the Gulf of Mexico provides a window on the trans-state migrations of cobia (among his existing records: 41 lbs. 8 oz. on 6 lb tippet) and Spanish mackerel (6 lb. 8 oz. on 4 lb tippet).
A fly tippet tarpon record is Cunningham’s remaining fishing obsession. The big silver kings travel the same beachfront as cobia and mackerel, but it’s only in Florida, says Cunningham, where fly fishing records are feasible.
FS: So you’ve written the book, made these records; where are you going in your daydreams?
RC: Right now they’re drifting to Homosassa, where I’m going on my next trip, in May, for big tarpon.
FS: What of the tarpon fishing closer to home, in Alabama?
RC: Bait fishing guys catch them in Mobile Bay, and along the Gulf beaches during the migration. But I’ve been fishing around Mobile Bay for a long time, and I’ve caught one tarpon on fly here in 15 years. It’s just not a good fly fishing destination. That one time we got lucky, with drought conditions in the Bay, high salinity, good visibility.
FS: We know Homosassa is famous for clear water, and sight-fishing opportunities, but what else makes the area so good for big tarpon?
RC: The theory among local guides, is that this is near where the spawning occurs, where really big females go to stay, whereas the smaller fish, the migratory ones, come to breed there.
FS: You’ve traveled a lot. Do you think there are other spots like Homossassa, yet to be found?
RC: If you’ve flown the coast, in the curve between the Florida Panhandle and the main peninsula, you know it’s very remote—untapped in terms of any kind of consistent fishery. If you could spend a lot of time there, I think you could find bars where the migrating fish funnel through, like they do in Carabelle, for instance. But I don’t know about the really big fish. I think you have to have what Homosassa has, the confluence of a number of rivers onto the flats there. It’s like how the Mississippi River attracts tarpon to the rivermouth, but of course the fishing in Louisiana [deep, open water] is a different ball game.
FS: Tell me about your flyfishing gear, for tarpon. What flies, what about the new clear floating flylines?
RC: I prefer a clear floating flyline. I let my guide pick the flies—the preference changes from year to year. The guides are doing it every day, and they know what they think the fish are interested in.
FS: Any new trends you’re seeing?
RC: IGFA now has a length record category, which I think is a neat deal. It’s all catch and release. The categories are limited now, but I suspect they will be expanded over time. If I was a new record-seeker, that would be the direction I’d look in.
To learn more about the IGFA, click here.
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