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Gold on the Beach

By Ed Mashburn

Dreaming of huge redfish on fly? The Florida Panhandle delivers.

Fly fishing for massive bull redfish is a different and challenging game, but the rewards of hooking and catching bull reds on a fly rod make the extra work involved with the long rod well worth it. Captain Baz Yelverton of Gulf Breeze Guide Service in Gulf Breeze, Florida (850-261-9035; gbgsfishing@aol.com), has fished the annual bull redfish runs for many years, and he offers some great suggestions for fly rod anglers who want to get their rods bent and strings stretched.

The Key to Bull Redfish on the Fly

“The most important thing is finding the fish,” said Yelverton. “It’s all about sight-fishing. In winter and spring we fish outside the Gulf’s inner sandbar in four to eight feet of water. The fish will be near the bottom. We pole or drift with the motor off. When we see fish, we drop anchor and wait for one to move into range. The key to fishing along the beach is to get the fly down fast to the fish.

“During the running of the bulls—from say October to December—we look for pelicans diving on feeding fish and bait schools. Binoculars are crucial equipment for this search so we can see from horizon to horizon to find the birds over the feeding fish,” he added.

Gearing Up for the Bull Reds

Yelverton prefers 10-weight, 9-foot rods. “The reel doesn’t have to be an incredibly expensive unit,” he said. “Redfish will run strong, but their runs are slow and steady pulls—not scorching fast runs like some other big gamefish.”

Leaders for floating lines are standard 50-pound butt sections connected to 30-pound middle sections with a final three feet of 20-pound fluorocarbon tippet. Floating line leaders will be nine feet in total. For intermediate and sinking fly lines, the leaders will be shortened to six feet long. The fly angler in pursuit of bull reds needs to be ready to switch tactics and presentation at a moment’s notice.

“I always have three rigs—all 10 weights—ready to go,” said Yelverton. “I’ll have one rod with standard floating line and popper or crease fly, another rod with intermediate sink line with a sinking fly, and I’ll have another 10 weight with full sinking line—300 grain or so—and a heavier, faster sinking fly.”

Fly selection for these inshore bull reds is really pretty simple. These big reds are hungry and will usually eat whatever crosses their path.

For fish at the surface, poppers work; deeper, use big baitfish flies( such as Go-meaux, bottom right) on sinking lines.

Big poppers—size 2/0 or 3/0—work very well when the reds are crushing bait on top, and sometimes, a loud “pop” from a big popper will pull reds to the surface from deeper water. Redfish have trouble getting poppers in their mouths and will often push the fly away from their mouths when they try to feed on the surface. Yelverton recommends that big Crease flies are easier for the bull reds to get into their mouths.

For sub-surface work, Yelverton likes fairly large Clouser minnows or other streamers. His favorite sub-surface fly is the Go-meaux tied by Deep South Outfitters in Birmingham, Alabama. This fly features
rabbit strip, and it sinks slowly. “I like solid white and white with a green head for this fly,” said Yelverton.

During the Feeding Frenzy

Fly rodders need to keep in mind that the big reds are not always on top. “When the fish are on the surface, you’ll see them and run over,” said Yelverton. “When you get there, the bulls may go down and seem to disappear—especially if other boats are already there.”

From the beach, stripping baskets hold line to make pickup easier and faster.

This is when he goes to the full-sink, 300-grain line rig and Go-meaux fly. “You may have to let the fly sink down 25 feet or more. Make your cast in the area where the reds were feeding and let the fly sink and sink and sink. Then slow-strip the fly. You’ll be amazed at how many bull reds you’ll catch doing this.”

Don’t Forget the Beach

Although most bull red fly anglers fish from boats, it is entirely possible to find and catch these golden bruisers off the sand. When the reds are in the Gulf, they’ll often chase bait inside the first bar, and this puts them in range of fly anglers. The same flies that catch them in the big bays and passes will work on beach reds. FS

First Published Florida Sportsman November 2013