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Florida Fly Fishing Trip

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Paul Arden
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Re: Florida Fly Fishing Trip


Post by Paul Arden » Fri Oct 08, 2021 1:25 am

Have a great trip Tommy!
It's an exploration; bring a flyrod.

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Re: Florida Fly Fishing Trip


Post by Tommy » Fri Oct 22, 2021 1:11 pm

I just got back from my trip this week. I ended up landing 0 fish (other than some small Jacks and Snapper) and seeing very few over the 6 guided days I had. The guides were puzzled and guessed maybe the lack of opportunities was due to higher tides or a high pressure front that moved bone fish off the flats into deeper water. The fish we did see were usually single bonefish and often times were already running away from us by the time we saw them. I did have trouble actually seeing the fish in time, especially the first two days, which made everything harder. I did get enough shots that I think I (or at least a competent angler) should have caught at least one fish so I have some things to practice before my next trip. I'll summarize the shots I had and a few questions and observations below.

Shot 1 - This was a single bonefish at about 50 feet. I did not see the fish but I cast where the guide told me to. I got the fish to follow the fly (I saw it starting about 40 feet away from the boat) to about 30 feet away from the boat, before it turned and spooked. I didn't feel any grab so I don't think I missed it but the guide suggested I might have.

Shot 2 - This was to three redfish moving towards mangroves we saw about 100 yards away. When we got into range they were about 40 feet away and I put the fly between them and the mangroves that were about 3 feet in front of them. As I stripped the fly in, they hesitated and turned to follow it for a few inches before they continued into the mangroves.

Shot 3 - This was to a group permit running away from the boat very quickly at about 60-70 feet. I cast about 3-4 feet short and behind the fish and they kept going.

Shot 4 - This was to mudding permit about 50 feet. I did not see the mud (at that point I didn't really know what it looked like) and cast to where the guide told. The guide said my cast was about 5 feet to the right of the fish. They didn't follow and I didn't get a second shot at them. I never saw them.

Shot 5 - This was to a bonefish about 30 feet moving away from the boat quickly. I had a back hand shot into a moderate wind. I got excited and applied the power too early in the stroke resulting in the leader landing in a heap. I didn't get a second shot at the fish. This one killed me because I clearly saw the fish and it was an easy shot I would make every time on my lawn.

Shot 6 - This was a shot at a group of jacks circling around a shark. I made 5 or 6 casts into them between 30 and 60 feet. None of the fish acknowledged my fly was there on any of the shots.

Shot 7 - Lots of blind casting up a rocky bank the guide said usually holds baby tarpon and snook. Casts were between 40 and 60 feet. This was similar to fishing I had done before and I got into a rythm hitting within a foot to a few inches of the rocks down the whole bank. I caught a few small snapper and maybe got a flash from one snook.

Shot 8 - We saw a group of permit moving quickly towards the boat at about 200 yards out. I cast about 60 feet to where I thought I would intercept them as they passed by the boat. The fish turned at a right angle and swam under us as they approached our boat and the fly. The guide said I was too far out in front.

Shot 9 - Off the flats in deeper water we saw a big circle of mud the guide said was a school of bonefish. I made many casts into the mud and caught a few small jacks. I hooked one bigger fish that broke me off. The guide said I was pulling too hard on it. I just kept stripping in thinking I would feel the start of a run. I do not think it was bonefish because it didn't make any quick runs like what I have heard they do. It was more like a heavier fish that just swims down and uses it's weight.

Shot 10 - I put a few casts into a channel between two islands and hooked something larger. I lifted my rod and gave line to the fish because of my coaching from before and it shook off the fly.

Shot 11 - I had a shot at Permit that were mudding about 50 feet away. I landed the fly close to them and they followed it in to about 20 feet from the boat before they spooked. I didn't feel any grab here either. This was the best shot I had of the trip where I could clearly see the fish and I had enough time to get the fly to them.

Shot 12 - Multiple shots at rolling tarpon. I put the fly in front of multiple tarpon between 30 and 60 feet away. None of them moved to the fly. I made a really nice cast to a tarpon about 70 feet away and landed the fly just in front of him but my line got tangled on the shoot and I couldn't untangle it quick enough to start stripping. I was using one of those stripping cans at the time so I am not sure how that happened.

Shot 13 - While we were making those shots at the tarpon which were rolling somewhat infrequently we kept hearing bait crash on the other side of the point. Thinking is was more active tarpon we moved around to that position. Starting at the far end of the island we saw large groups of bait jump out of the water in sequence all the way up the island and around the point. We didn't know what it was but I put a cast into where they would be jumping and timed it about right but they continued past my fly and around the point. On the other side of the point we saw a large barracuda come about 6 feet out of the water chasing the bait and then we could hear it continue down the rest of that side of the island. It was one of the cooler things I saw. Right after that the guide spotted two tarpon about 30 feet behind the boat. I made a cast in front of them and stripped the fly back in along the side of the boat. They didn't seem to react to it at all and when my line got almost into the guides I started picking up my fly in preparation to make a cast in front of them as they swam away from us. I think the fly rising in the water triggered the fish because just as the fly left the water one of the tarpon shot up and grabbed it right next to the boat. The eat was pretty spectacular but my rod was high and I didn't get any kind of hook set. I think the fish hooked itself on the way back down because I was tight to it and fought it for about 10 minutes. It made a couple long runs and jumps. I got the leader into the guides twice but each time the fish made another long run. It seemed to be tiring because it was spending more time on the surface but it made one last long run and cut me off on its tail. This was the hardest fighting fish I ever hooked on a fly rod. The guide estimated it to be about 40-50 lbs. I can only imagine what the 120 lbers fight like.

Shot 14 - We had various shots are bonefish most of which were moving away at 60 feet or more. I had a couple good casts but nothing followed the fly.

Shot 15 - We saw two bone fish about 20 feet from the boat. I flicked a cast, similar to the reach casts Paul talks about in his video on snakehead shots, just in front of them but they did not follow.

Shot 16 - Because of my lack of success with the guides I decided to try something else on my off days and chased peacock bass in the Everglades. I didn't end up catching any peackcok bass but did hook a couple largemouth on bonefish flies.

Overall it didn't go exactly how I pictured it in my head but I had a good time. I think given better conditions I can definitely catch fish on the flats but I still have things I can work on. I will definitely go back at least once more because I can't live with not having caught a bonefish. The most difficult thing for me was seeing fish especially the first couple days. I am not really sure how to practice this outside of actually being on the flats. I might spend a couple weeks next spring and summer in lake Michigan and lake Huron sight fishing for Carp and Smallmouth. That might help me with seeing fish in general but I think another part of it is being familiar with the bottom you will be fishing over and being able to pick out from a distance what colors and shapes don't belong. The next most difficult thing was accurately casting to quickly moving fish. Generally in fishing I do I am casting to a specific spot, either a rising fish or some structure on a bank or in stream or a piece of current I want my flies to drift through, so I don't have to think about leading my target or how long it takes for the cast to travel there. I am not sure if there is a good way to train for this since I think it is largely feel based on the spped and distance of the fish. I am open to suggestions though. I also could get more used to making quick shots without false casting. I did practice this some before I left but not enough that I didn't make a mistake in a fishing situation. When I was casting at banks I was dialed in pretty well but making a quick shot at a fish after standing, looking and not casting for an hour or more is a different skill. When practicing in the yard you are making the shots over and over again so you are ready and in a calm mind set when the shot begins. When I trout fish the rest of this year and the begining of next I will try to make every cast like a quick saltwater cast to get in the habit of making quick shots from a stripped in line (as long as it doesn't screw up my trout fishing success). On the days I was there I think wind was mostly a non issue. It was blowing some but with 8 and 10 wt rods it really didn't affect the cast that much. I have dealt with much worse wind trout fishing in eastern Washington. I still tried to cast over the correct shoulder but I think the bigger cause for changing the rod plane / shoulder you cast off / cast you use is the positioning of the guide relative to you and the fish and your back cast. I had one cast where the wind was blowing directly into the front of the boat and the fish was 90 degrees to the wind off the side of the boat. Normally to deal with this wind you would cast off your down wind shoulder but in this case it would put the loop and fly in between me and guide with the wind pushing it towards him. I wasn't sure exactly the right way to deal with this wind. In this specific case it wasn't blowing that hard and I just cast side arm out in the direction the wind was coming from but I can imagine a situation where that would get you hooked. Most of the shots I took were between 40 and 60 feet but there were a few further than that and a few I probably could have taken that were 80 to 100 feet. When we arrived to a flat I would strip off about a 60 to 65 foot cast and then strip it into the bucket to get ready for the shot. I tried to stay disciplined the entire trip and not make longer casts than that. The guides also preferred me to wait for them to try and pole closer to the fish. I think the reasoning is to not take low percentage shots that may spook fish or get you out of position to make high percentage shots. That is probably good reasoning but by the end of the trip I kind of wanted to strip all the line into the bucket and just shoot a cast at anything I saw. There were a few fish we first saw at 60 to 80 feet moving away from us quickly that I didn't take a shot at or if I did I would hit the reel and the fly would land short (I didn't list these above but there were 4 or 5). I am not sure how more experienced guys approach shots like that. Is it just a waste of time making them? The last thing I noticed was that there were a few bonefish only 20 to 30 feet from the boat hidden by glare that we didn't see until they were already spooked. These were all within easy casting distance but we just didn't see them. I feel like if I was just constantly making blind casts into the glare I might have hooked one or two of them.

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Paul Arden
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Re: Florida Fly Fishing Trip


Post by Paul Arden » Fri Oct 22, 2021 2:36 pm

Seeing fish is really difficult Tom. I really don’t like taking a shot to something someone else can see but not me. And the problem is it takes quite a long time to really get your eye in. When I used to fish NZ it would take many weeks on the water, daily, to reach a point where I was comfortable. And this after many summers there. It takes time. And it’s different everywhere. It’s very frustrating.

Going away shots don’t work too well. Hopefully I have a video next week which in part explains that. Otherwise the week after for sure. There are some options however.

I agree making a quick shot after an hour of waiting is difficult - far more difficult than when practising many times. But you can alter your training to accommodate this. It’s the same thing in competition casting too. As far as leading the fish goes I think key is not to watch the fish, but instead look where you want to place the fly. That’s paramount. It also takes a while to learn but can also be trained.

Sounds to me like a fun and interesting trip! I’ve always found trips to be hard. Limited time, new circumstances, can’t see the dammed fish as you would want. My way of dealing with that is to just go and live there!! Everything else is a bonus.

Great going hooking the Tarpon!! What a great moment :) :) :)

Cheers, Paul
It's an exploration; bring a flyrod.

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Mangrove Cuckoo
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Re: Florida Fly Fishing Trip


Post by Mangrove Cuckoo » Fri Oct 22, 2021 3:07 pm


Yep... that sounds about right for a first trip into this area. You may want to give it more than one more try. As you have seen, it can be a bit challenging.

You did hit on some tough conditions. Brighter moons do seem to have a negative effect, but you also hit some of the highest tides of the year, due to a coincidence of angles and distances of the moon, earth and sun. You might want to research a recently popular concept of "King tides". It was not something I ever heard of until a few years ago, but it has become quite topical in relation to global warming, sea level rise, and flooding along coasts. I would suggest you plan your next trip to *not* happen around a King tide.

As to seeing the fish... I assume your guides commented upon your choice of sunglasses? There are some brands / models that are far superior to the more common ones. Color, polarization, and shape all play a part. The better ones can be pricey, but can be game changers. They may be the most important piece of equipment for this type of fishing.

BTW... to coach your eyes next time... take a walk. As in, go walk the bridges around mid day. As you now know there are many quite long bridges that have no traffic but are open to anglers and other pedestrians. Just walk and look down into the water, but don't stop and stare, just keep moving. There will be many fish to see, eventually, but you are trying to teach you mind to see them, not just your eyes. Its funny but after a while you will be walking along and suddenly stop, turn around, go back a few paces, and only then "see" the fish that didn't register right away. Your brain saw it but you didn't. Its tough to explain... but great practice!

Just curious... who were the guides you chose?
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Re: Florida Fly Fishing Trip


Post by Nick » Fri Oct 22, 2021 4:50 pm

That is an impressively detailed fishing report! It does sound like about par for the course for your first flats trip. Most people miss most of their first few dozen shots. I think the keys are not the easiest place to start flats fishing. You don’t get as many short at fish, and the fish are rather pressured. I advise people starting out with bonefish to go to Belize or Mexico, where there are many more fish, albeit smaller ones.

You mentioned fishing in the Puget sound. Are you in this area? There are very few sight fishing opportunities around here, but there are some.

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