Redfish taken on a versatile attractor fly with dumbell eyes and a loop knot for maximum action. Shrimp? Crab? Minnow? Vary the retrieve style to fit the situation.

The bonefish spotted the crab as it darted away. As the fish approached, the crab froze, trying to blend in with its surroundings. The bonefish inhaled the crab, then realized the error as it felt the hook. For the fisherman, a well executed retrieve was the key to convincing this fish to eat. With materials these days you can tie flies that look incredibly realistic; but even the best imitation is not effective without the right movement imparted to it. The angler must become the bait!

For the most part, we can break down forage around Florida into three categories: shrimp, crabs and baitfish.

Shrimp tend to stay hidden during the day unless disturbed. If chased, they dart rapidly in reverse. This motion is best imitated with your typical one-foot-long, fast strips with a short pause in between. At night, shrimp will come to the surface and slowly swim or drift in the current. Swinging a shrimp fly under a bridge or in front of a dock light at night is a great way to imitate this behavior, and if there is enough current, you need only to cast out across the current, take a couple strips to straighten out the line, and then hang on.

Crabs tend to be fairly active during their search for food, walking around the bottom while they hunt. When they are spooked, they will rapidly dart away from the danger, and then attempt to quickly bury themselves in the sand or mud. If blind casting a crab fly, I will imitate this by slowly crawling it along the bottom, occasionally pausing for a few seconds. I’ve had fish pick up flies retrieved like this both while crawling along and while the fly sits still. If you’re sight casting a crab fly to a fish, I’d suggest a slightly different retrieve. Cast in front of a sighted fish and allow the fly to sink to the bottom. When the fish is two or three feet from the fly, give one rapid strip about 2 feet in length. Then stop, and do nothing. This mimics the crab trying to become invisible on the bottom after fleeing. A lot of times, the fish you’re casting at will dart right after the fly and pick it up as it sits still.

Baitfish are a little easier. If casting a baitfish fly, I’ll usually speed up my retrieve progressively as the fly gets closer to me—to a point. I can’t think of a baitfish out there that can out-swim a large predator fish in a straight line. If your counterfeit baitfish is being chased and it sets a new pilchard speed record, the pursuing gamefish will know something is up. But, if you start your retrieve very slowly, you’ll have time to make the gradual increase in speed that imitates a baitfish trying to get out of danger as it notices a trailing predator. This can result in some explosive takes right off your rodtip. FS

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