May 24, 2019
Sometimes it's not how you move your fly, it's how you don't.
While working my popper in an opening in a hydrilla mat, I kicked over an open beverage at my feet, spilling it on the deck. I set my rod down to clean up the mess, leaving the bug in the water. As I reached for the can, I heard “NOKKK!” and looked back to see a swirl. I grabbed the rod, stripped in line and was surprised that the fish still had it. After a spunky, circling fight, the biggest bluegill of the day popped to the surface.
Fittingly, that wise old bream crushed the bug after a long pause. The others I had hooked were smaller, and took my bug on the move. I slowed my retrieve after that fish, and it paid off with a few more bronze, purple-headed slabs. One clobbered my bug after a rest of more than 30 seconds! I know the tactic works, but like most fly fishers, I slip into the bad habit of fishing flies too fast.
Spotted seatrout are another great example. Like big bluegills, they will eyeball and follow a popper, foam Gurgler or deerhair divers. Snook, tarpon and jacks typically lose interest in topwater flies if you stop moving them. Trout do not. In fact, the biggest seatrout seem to relish attacking a “dead bait,” especially if it is bobbing on a choppy surface. My biggest trout on fly tackle were caught in Florida Bay and the Indian River Lagoon on windy spring days. Dahlberg Divers bobbing in place on the surface between strips were their undoing.
Same thing applies with subsurface flies, particularly where tidal current is strong. When I fish streamers for bridge snook, I cast across or downcurrent of my skiff. The streamer swims parallel to my position on a tight line. I strip very little, or not at all. I keep it in the shadowline, the strike zone, that way. Try this, and hold onto your rod!
STOP AND DROP
Some flats species will track a fly just fine, but sometimes you draw them into view of your boat and it's game over. Bonefish, redfish and permit expect a crab, shrimp or small baitfish to skedaddle right into the grass or mud to escape certain death.
Make your fly do that! Once you have a fish's attention, stop and let it drop. Often the fish will take it on the dead fall, or pin it to the bottom while it rests. Permit are known for this, and I have watched in fascination at big Biscayne Bay bonefish that hovered over my resting fly before jamming on it. Reds will do likewise, and even snook in the surf eat this way. During the last two summers, I had great success with an oversized (No. 1) Gotcha “bonefish” pattern. Snook up in the wash would pursue the fly, and when I'd stop stripping, they'd pin it to the sand as a bonefish does.
DON'T CAST AGAIN
Here's a tip for those who fancy big, smart Florida bonefish, or our redfish that are quickly adopting the same attitude: STICK WITH YOUR FIRST CAST. Once you present the fly, even if you feel the fish won't see it, don't pick up when the fish are close to the line or fly. The line pickup, especially if it's not cat-silent, will send 'em packing. Instead, move the fly. Jump it off the bottom. Sometimes the fish will detect the movement, or hear the fly move, and change course. If it does, don't strip it again. Watch for the fish to pluck it off the bottom. The tipoff is the fish dips, and its dorsal fin sticks straight up. FS
First published Florida Sportsman June 2018