Barracuda often swim where there’s unique scenery, whether that’s a beautiful coral head, a remote sand flat, or an interested bystander.
You can catch and eat barracuda but you better be careful if you do so. Some barracuda carry heavy toxins. Most anglers choose to release these unique predators.
Barracuda are both scavenger and predator. While the biggest are often found around reef edges in deeper water, these same fish venture onto the flats to hunt, particularly on big tides and full moons. When a large barracuda is spotted on a bonefish flat, utilize the element of surprise by landing the fly ahead of and to the side of the fish. Once your fly hits the water, give it a hard yank to garner the fish’s attention. That’s when the game of cat-and-mouse begins. Strip fast to imitate fleeing prey, set with a hard strip, and do your best to clear the line ahead of a reel-screaming run.
Easier said than done, as I learned on a recent foray to Exuma, Bahamas, when I stumbled upon pay dirt in the form of an inland lagoon. That crystalline pond belonged to a shadowy figure patrolling in a figure-eight pattern. Under a high sun, the skinny water warranted a cautious approach. I slinked into position behind the fish and fired a cast. That ‘cuda immediately took interest and carefully stalked the fly. I stripped frantically and it was like a switch flipped in that fish—all but my leader was in a heap near my feet when the speeding ‘cuda grabbed the fly. That fishes’ speed outpaced my attempt to clear the line and I knew I was doomed. A loop of line wrapped around my reel and with a loud “snap” the fish went skipping across the lagoon with my entire shooting head in tow, leaving me despondent, and a fly line poorer.
To fish barracuda, you don’t need elaborate gear or flies. Yak-hair streamers, four-to eight-inches long and armed with a trailer hook, are my go-to flies. An 8, 9 or 10-weight rod and a floating line or intermediate sinking line cover the bases while fishing the flats and cuts. For a leader, I use a loop-to-loop connection with 40 or 50-pound fluorocarbon and an 18-inch piece of the heaviest wire I can get away with. I’ve had a big barracuda gnaw through 30-pound, so 40-pound is a safer bet. In areas where fish have not been pressured, I think single-strand stainless steel, like shark anglers rely on, might be the way to go.
Big ‘cuda stalk the flats, looking for needlefish and bones. Take the author’s advice and the next time you see one of these beasts, give it a throw—you’ll be amazed at how fast these fish travel over a flat, and you’ll be equally impressed by that backing tearing off your reel.
Barracuda are unpredictable and a chance to cast at one can occur anytime, anywhere. The biggest barracuda I’ve ever hooked was on that trip to Exuma. We were en route to a flat one afternoon when the sight of terns bombing into the water interrupted our commute. Upon investigation, the feeding frenzy was composed of small jacks. When the mayhem subsided, a scavenging beast arrived to clean up the scraps.
Fortunately, I had a 9-weight rod, pre-rigged with wire. To mimic a floundering sardina, I plucked a five-inch long, red and white articulated fly from the box and threw at the fish. Without hesitation, that ‘cuda ate. I held on for a couple blistering runs. Unfortunately, when I tried to swing that fish to the stern the wire broke and the fish swam away to the depths.
I took solace in having hooked a big barracuda and enjoyed a wild ride. Barracuda are always on my brain and one day, I’m hoping the pendulum swings my way.