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TARPON

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Megalops Atlanticus (Silver King, Poon)

SIZE

Average: 40-80 pounds
Trophy: 100 pounds or more

FAVORITE DESTINATIONS

Florida (Keys; Homosassa; Everglades); Cuba; Mexico (Yucatan Peninsula); Belize

DIFFICULTY RATING

Baby tarpon: 3/10
Adults (over 60 pounds): 8/10

KNOWN FOR

Incredible surface clearing leaps when hooked; the visceral thrill of its clapping gill plates when leaping (like banging two aluminum garbage can lids together); at times finicky eating habits, despite their hulk; and incredible fighting stamina.

Pat Ford

Tarpon are immediately recognizable by their large silver scales that flash in the sun—not to mention their immense size—giving all but the most stoic anglers a start in the process. In many places, tarpon are seasonal visitors; in some places (like the northern Yucatan and river mouths spilling into the Atlantic throughout Central America), they are present year-round. Odds are good that if tarpon are present, fly anglers will forget other species and focus on them. Anglers primarily find tarpon in shallow coastal waters and estuaries and in proximity to coral reefs, but they may also be encountered in open marine waters while migrating. . . .and occasionally in fresh or brackish water lakes and rivers. “Baby” tarpon (fish 5 to 40 pounds) can be fairly easy to come by, especially in the northern Yucatan, where extensive mangroves serve as a nursery ground; adults are often seen while fishing, but can be tougher to coax to the fly…and certainly more difficult to land.

Permit might be more persnickety. Bonefish might be faster. But for shear brute strength, size and thrilling aerial displays, there’s no more alluring flats species than tarpon. What other fish are you going to encounter in shallow water that’s willing to take a well-presented fly and could very well exceed your proportions in length and weight and jumping ability? (There’s a reason a small, obsessed [and perhaps slightly warped] cadre of anglers spend tens of thousands of dollars each spring in places like Homosassa, Florida to retain guides for a month at a time in hopes of wresting a world-record fish to hand—a mark that right now hovers north of 202.5 pounds for 20-pound test tippet.) Sometimes conditions demand that anglers blind cast heavy sinking lines into deep cuts where fish may be passing through or laying up out of sight. But in ideal conditions you’ll sight fish for them much as you would for bonefish or permit, either poling along a flat or staking up at the edge of a beach where the fish will—Mother Nature willing—pass by. Where water is less clear—say the Everglades—anglers may cast to “blurping” or rolling fish, and even to bubbles that suggest a tarpon’s presence. In an ideal flats situation, you (or more likely, your guide) will spot fish approaching. Ideally you’ll drop the fly in front of approaching fish in enough time for it to sink to the fish’s level in the water column. Some fish will respond better to a long slow strip, others to shorter more frequent “pops.” Either way, it’s important to keep the fly moving right to the boat; takes can come with the leader inside your rod tip.

Things often go south for fly anglers when a fish decides to take. If you’re watching a tarpon take on the flat, don’t strike too soon; it’s not uncommon to pull the fly out of the fish’s mouth. When you feel the line come tight—and you will feel it—sweep the rod back hard (don’t lift up). It doesn’t hurt to make a few hard strip-sets too. Next, you’ll need to take special care to clear the line as the fish takes off. Many a hook-up has ended with line wrapped around a fighting butt, a dangling pair of plyers or even a shirt button, tippet waving impotently in the breeze. If you make it this far with the fish still on, prepare for the first big jump—and bow the rod when this happens (and for each subsequent jump). This gives the tarpon a little slack so the fish is less likely to land on taut line, thus snapping your tippet.

The most skilled tarpon anglers apply lots of pressure early in an effort to wear the fish out quickly. Less seasoned anglers might find themselves fighting the fish for hours. Don’t feel too bad if you come unbuttoned on your first few fish; they say that fly anglers will land roughly one in 10 of the adult tarpon they hook.

Tarpon are found in the warmer waters of the Atlantic, from Virginia to Brazil in the western Atlantic, along the coast of Africa in the eastern Atlantic, and throughout the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. Some locales within their range host year-round “resident” populations, like the Florida Keys and parts of the Everglades; others see fish most regularly during migration periods, with tarpon passing north past Tampa Bay to Homosassa in May, further up toward the Florida Panhandle in June, and then along the Gulf Coast as far as Texas later in the summer before the fish begin heading south again. Some anglers target tarpon that are on the move; others look for “laid up” fish that are either resting or waiting to ambush forage. Low light periods—particularly the morning—tend to yield the most consistent results.

Tarpon have hard, bony mouths that resist all but the most sharply struck hooks; lacking teeth, tarpon swallow their prey whole. They are catholic feeders, focusing on sardines, shrimp, crabs and mullet, among other species. Tarpon are unique among sportfish in that they have a swim bladder, which allows them to breathe air as we do…though they can also breathe through their gills. (A tendency for tarpon to breathe on the surface, especially in less oxygenated water, gives anglers a heads-up as to their location.)

No one understands for sure where tarpon spawn, but the best available data suggests that it occurs in the summer months, roughly 100 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Milt and eggs mix in the open water (a phenomenon known as broadcast spawning). Once eggs hatch, the larvae are swept by currents into estuarine habitats where they find shelter in mangroves and slowly grow into miniature versions of adult fish. Tarpon generally reach maturity around age 10. Females are bigger than males, and can reach weights of 300 pounds. They may live upwards of 60 years.

For adult fish: A 12-weight rod with the best saltwater reel you can afford outfitted with floating and intermediate lines, 300 yards of backing, and 80 pound shock tippet (with 16 to 20 pound bite tippet). Some guides use straight 80-pound mono. Popular flies include Deceivers, Toads, Cockroaches and Black Deaths, though odds are your guide will have flies that they favor…and will likely replace your leader too. (Some anglers go with a 9- or 10-weight rod if smaller adults are around; however, the sturdier the rod, the quicker you can get the fish in…and the better their chance for survival.

For “baby” tarpon: An 8-weight rod with floating and intermediate lines and 100 yards of backing should suffice. Straight 40-pound mono will do for leader, though you can make it as involved as you wish. Smaller versions of the flies above will work, as well as Gurglers and on occasion, even poppers.

If you’re in the market for a truly remote flats-fishing experience, Andros, Bahamas is a solid choice. This trio of islands, which oftentimes is called, simply, Andros Island, includes North Andros, Mangrove Cay, and South Andros. A series of channels or bights—including North Bight, Middle Bight, and South Bight—separate the three islands in that order from north to south. As a singular region, Andros stretches over 100 miles north to south and encompasses over 2,300 square miles, which means these three islands would be the fifth largest island in the Caribbean by landmass if measured as one. North Andros occupies the number six spot on that list, while South Andros comes in at number nine.

While North and South Andros are the two largest islands in the Bahamas, they are scarcely populated. With less than 7,500 inhabitants spread throughout. Andros has a population density equivalent to Alaska. For reference, Montana is almost seven times more densely populated than Andros. These numbers are relevant, not for boring a reader with statistics, but in order to paint a picture of true Caribbean wilderness. A trip to Andros is a trip to the Bahamian outback, a journey in time that reveals what the northern Caribbean region looked like before development and population growth through the 19th and 20th centuries. If you’re curious about the Florida Keys and Everglades and what they may have looked like over 100 years ago, your best bet is to book a trip to one of these islands. The fishery is so vast that a guide and angler can run a boat over 40 miles in a day without seeing another soul on the water. This level of extreme underdevelopment is a boon to the fishery and is responsible for Andros’ reputation as being one of the best bonefish destinations on earth.

It’s no surprise that this distinction made Andros a popular destination for several generations of traveling saltwater anglers. Despite the fishery’s reputation and vast network of creeks, flats, and backcountry there is a serious lack of written history on Andros. The pursuit of bonefish has been a staple of the Androsian economy since the 1950s when traveling anglers first began visiting the region. The first fly-fishing lodge in the area was built by “Crazy” Charlie Smith in 1968 at Behring Point on the North Bight. “Bonefish Charlie” is sometimes called the “godfather of the flats.” For good reason—he established the first dedicated fly-fishing lodge on Andros, and his progeny continue to carry his torch, still guiding in Andros today. One cannot tell the story of fishing on Andros without mentioning Charlie, the man behind perhaps the most productive bonefish fly in history, the Charlie.

Each island has its relatively unique modus operandi: North is the “busiest”; Mangrove Cay is the chilled-out island town; South is the “country.” One thing remains consistent—abundant angling opportunity, and chances at the bonefish of a lifetime, throughout.

North Andros

North Andros is the most developed district in Andros. The community is growing, vibrant, and rich in fishing culture. The area boasts an accredited network of independent guides and world-class lodges offering all the amenities needed for a memorable destination trip. With so many different options, knowing the key players in the area takes your trip from memorable to truly unforgettable. North Andros waters are more consistently within proximity of deeper waters, which sets the stage for a rewarding, but sometimes difficult opportunity. Trophy-sized bonefish prefer this access, so fishing flats near them increases your odds of landing a giant. With this opportunity comes a need for tidal tact. If you hit the flats on the wrong tide, your dream bonefish will be staged in waters far too deep for fly access.

Mangrove Cay

Mangrove Cay is calm, quaint, and intimately natural. This district is very underdeveloped and offers a great, family friendly environment to get in touch with the pulse of Andros culture. A day on Mangrove Cay can be spent fishing without another angler in sight, and wrap up with the possibility of running into Jimmy Buffet at the local Wharf bar. The naive bonefish on this Cay give up-and-coming anglers a little more room for error. While the area offers lots of fish in the three-to five-pound class, there have been some giants landed at local hot spots, like Big Wood Cay and Moxey Creek. Which locally sourced, fresh seafood meal is waiting for you when you get off the water is dependent on the season you visit. A plate of fresh conch or spiny lobster, and a cold Gully Wash, Sands Light, or Kalik, is a perfect way to celebrate a successful day on the flats.

South Andros

South Andros has been steadily gaining attention. These waters have no shortage of bonefish and great flats to fish. The pristine beaches and skinny waters offer an abundance of walk-and-wade opportunity for anglers seeking to test their primal pursuit skills. This fishery is home to a ton of large schools that can be effectively targeted if approached on the right tides. These waters are also a preferred location for pre-spawn aggregations, which build before transitioning into the spawn during full moons. These schools, with anywhere from 500 to over 2,000 fish, shift to protected, deep water points to procreate before settling out and dispersing back onto the flats in the days and weeks following this activity.

Each island offers anglers a truly unique cultural vibe and abundant opportunity to chase flats species, ranging from bonefish, tarpon, permit, and barracuda, to various jacks and snapper. Fly fishing Andros is best done between the months of September and June, as the mid-summer water temperatures on the flats is too hot to hold much life.

            Fall is the storm season, which brings its own set of pros and cons. Anglers get plenty of shots at bonefish, and resident tarpon are more commonly caught this time of year, but the weather can be iffy. Fall is the one time of year that anglers must truly consider the chance that they may have multiple days of fishing canceled due to hurricanes and tropical storms. Admittedly there is not much to do on these islands on days like this, but the local watering holes are always worth checking out. Chances are, even if they appear to be closed, a phone call can get the doors open for your group—just ask your host. Bonefish can be found in large schools this time of year, and the fish are generally happy with the post-summer cool down.

The end of the storm season brings Bahamian “winter.” Winter lasts from December to mid-February and is the best time to target trophy-sized bones. For whatever reason, larger mature bones tend to travel together in ones, twos, and threes during these months. What this season offers in the way of large fish, it lacks in pleasant weather and “numbers” days. Temperatures can drop to the mid-50s in the evenings and mornings, and there are days when sunlight is scarce, making sight fishing near impossible. Doom and gloom notwithstanding, if you’re after a 10-pound bonefish and aren’t afraid of failure, this is the time to travel to Andros.

            Ahh, spring in the Bahamas. Does bonefishing get any better? Ample sunshine, happy, plentiful bonefish, and the occasional shot at a big one. The days are longer, the lodges are fully into the swing of things, the guides have a season’s worth of knowledge under their belts. In addition, this is one of the best times to look for permit. If you expect to catch one you’re on a cursed journey, but this timeframe gives you a decent shot at seeing some of those wily “dinner plates.”

Getting to the islands and getting around once you’ve arrived can be daunting. The simplest way to get to Andros is booking a flight to Nassau on an international carrier and then flying on the Bahamian airline Western Air from Nassau to San Andros airport on North Andros; Clarence A. Bain Airport in Mangrove Cay; or Congotown Airport on South Andros. Travelers also book charters or island-hopping shuttle flights from various private airports on the Florida coast.

            Once you’re on the islands, getting around and finding good fishing is all a question of approach. If you stay at one of the many lodges, your travel to and from the local airport is coordinated, and you’ll be fishing from their skiffs every day.

Ultimately, beginning and hard-core bonefishers can’t go wrong visiting Andros. There’s truly no flats fishing equally as remote on this side of the planet. If you plan things right, you could make 10 trips and never fish the same flat. Know that real adventure waits, no matter which island you choose to fish.

Photography by

Ken Hardwick

Kyle Schaefer

James Hamilton

The comically named "Grandpa's Eggs Fly" is an interesting "double take" on the ever-popular Nuke Fly. I use this fly primarily when fishing southern Ontario's Saugeen River. This river tends to get coloured in the spring, making larger flies easier for the fish to find. I find this fly particularly useful when surrounded by center-pin anglers drifting beads—Grandpa’s Eggs tends to stand out from the crowd a little more than your standard yarn pattern. It is simple to tie, but make sure that the two eggs are lined up so the fly doesn't helicopter during casts. When you’re having a slow day, this is a good fly to try.

MATERIALS:

Hook: Daiichi 1150 size 8
Thread: Veevus GSP 100d
Body: McFlyfoam Fl. Peach
Blood Dot: UV red Egg Yarn
Body Extension: 10lb fluorocarbon
Veil: Wapsi white Antron Sparkle Dubbing

Step 1: Cut a 1.5” length of McFlyfoam about .5” in diameter and another 1.5” length of egg yarn about half a pencil width in diameter. Lay the egg yarn on top of the McFlyfoam as shown.

Step 2: Loop a piece of 10 lb fluorocarbon around the middle of the materials.

Step 3: Tie a knot around the material—the same way you would tie on a hook- and pull tight.

Step 4: Pull the material away from the knot tightly.

Step 5: Trim off the excess material about 5mm from the knot.

Step 6: Finish trimming off any leftover material and gently massage it to form the egg shape.

Step 7: Start a small thread base about halfway down the hook shank and tie in the fluorocarbon with tight wraps.

Step 8: To prevent the fluorocarbon from slipping, use a small dab of fast drying super glue over your thread wraps.

Step 9: Make sure the glue has dried before continuing.

Step 10: Cut another length of McFlyfoam and egg yarn the same size or slightly larger than the first.

Step 11: Lay the materials over the hook shank and make three loose wraps around it before pulling it as tight as possible—this is where the GSP thread is important.

Step 12: Without losing tension on the thread, make one or two parachute style wraps around the base of the material. At this point, make a whip finish to secure your thread.

Step 13: Pull the material upwards and cut off the excess to make a second egg roughly the same size as the first.

Step 14: Massage the material around the hook shank.

Step 15: Trim off leftover material to make the egg as round as possible. But remember, it doesn’t need to be perfect.

Step 16: Take a small batch of white antron dubbing and gently spread the fibres apart in your fingers.

Step 17: Lay the dubbing over the hook eye and tie it in with about ¾ of the dubbing in front of the eye.

Step 18: Fan out the dubbing so that it surrounds the whole hook shank.

Step 19: Fold the dubbing back over the fly and make a few wraps in front of the dubbing to hold it back.

Step 20: GSP thread can be slippery so double the whip finish before trimming off the thread.

Photography by

Christian Bilodeau

Forget those copper colored apparitions you may have stalked over flooded spartina grass or sandy flats in balmy weather—fish that squirt away like scalded cats if your double-haul and heavy breathing so much as rock the boat.

The blood-boiler redfish of fall and winter are something else in attitude and size, a far cry from the 16-to 18-inch youngsters so loved by fair-weather and cooler-focused anglers eyeing their next redfish on the grill. What I want to tell you about are those other fish, reds in the high 20s to 30s—pounds, that is. They’re called bulls, for good reason.

Fly fishers focus on bull redfish along a golden crescent of coast encompassing Florida’s Pensacola Bay, the Alabama Gulf beaches and islands, the mouth of the Mississippi River at Venice, Louisiana, and westward to that state’s Biloxi Marsh.

It works like this: Sometime in early autumn great numbers of mature redfish move to deeper Gulf water to spawn, often near barrier island passes. The males exercise a muscle alongside their swim bladders producing a vibrating, drumming sound (that’s why they’re officially called drum) to attract the ladies. When the females show up a nighttime orgy occurs, during which eggs are spewed and fertilized. Invariably the spawn occurs on a big incoming tide, the fertilized eggs then drifting toward and into bays and estuaries where the larva will morph into juveniles.

Sex satiated, the adults are now hungry. Gradually they move inshore where massive schools of menhaden (pogies) are shifting and weaving from one bay to another where mullet also gather. The hapless forage is greeted by legions of giant redfish that in my mind are grinning like evil cheshire cats before they pounce on their prey. This is what we’ve waited for.

The timing of this event in each of the areas along the crescent of Gulf coast varies slightly with weather. Schools of big reds may show as early as late October. November and December are prime in all areas. And, if you can handle and cherry-pick the weather, January works, too. Wind can influence your success. Around Pensacola and along the Alabama beaches a north wind is fine—you can work the inshore and the inside barrier beaches. Not so in Louisiana where marshes reach out to the weather. Here, a north and northwest wind is bad.

Come spring—March and April—the giant aggregations of mature reds are generally fractured, and anglers focus on small groups or individuals that work grass or sand flats, inner sandbars, and marsh shorelines. In these situations, you can sometimes see them coming; with enough water clarity, cruisers at a distance and “crawlers” in extreme shallows with their backs exposed. They’ll be bright, lit up, and wanting to eat. Just for variety, you could glom onto a cousin to the red, the black drum. No confusing the fight of those brutes. Unlike the reds, black drum bulldog toward bottom and hammer it out, using their girth and weight, which can easily top 30 pounds. I think they’re also pretty ugly. But to each their own. This is good sport, hunting these fish in mostly shallow water, but it’s not what people really look for in the fall/winter bull redfish run. It’s those early winter schools off the beaches, and even in the deeper bays, that get anglers so worked up.

In Pensacola Bay—with apologies to Pamplona—they call this style of fishing “the running of the bulls.” Indeed it is, with aggregates of fish surfacing, thrashing and eating, while adrenalin-crazed anglers run and gun in their boats, hooking up, then putting fish down, then doing it all over again.

Along the Redneck Riviera of Alabama beaches, like Perdido, Orange, and Gulf Shores, to the mouth of Mobile Bay, often close in but also out to two miles offshore, in 15-to 60 feet of water, especially when the wind lays and the sun is out, the big redfish come up. Clusters of aerobic pelicans give them away.

When I fished with guide Dan Kolenich, he would point, slicing his arm around in a near 360 degree circle—birds ahead, birds to the side and behind—and slow motor toward the nearest flock. Then the surface would rip, clear water glowing with a copper color, then turning belly-white as an entire school of reds broke the surface, humping down on menhaden. All we had to do was throw into the mess; in those situations it’s near impossible not to hook up. We’d fight and land a fish, then look ahead. As far as you could see, beneath other circles of wheeling and diving pelicans, we saw dozens of schools, meaning hundreds, possibly thousands of bull reds ripping the surface in a swath of water the size of a football field. This is no exaggeration.

While all of this is happening, possibly while you are releasing a fish or hooking up again, the sky could crack with a roar you literally can feel in your chest. On certain days the Blue Angel jets from Pensacola Naval Air Station perform their incredible aerobatics, sometimes triggering paraffin-oil vaporized smoke trails looking like spermatozoa squiggles on a microscope slide. One time, the pilots were amusing themselves, I’m sure, using our boat as a pivot point before thundering surface-skimming passes that turned the water to froth from terrified, fleeing redfish. We soon took exception to those Angel antics.

Fast-moving flies in a variety of patterns, and in colors ranging from bright gold to purple-black, are good choices when targeting running schools. Big fish that are hunting in a slightly more sedate manner are prime targets for large poppers—often the largest you can throw. There’s a funny popper story from Moe (Monique) Newman, co-owner with her husband Eric of Journey South Outfitters in Venice, Louisiana. The go-to “meat” technique for non-fly anglers targeting slot redfish and trout wherever the fish swim is this: A popping cork with a leader-strung jig below. On a day that she set up some novice clients with such rigs, larger reds began noshing on the floats. Instinctively, Moe rummaged for a lure to emulate the corks. What she had was a big Shimano Pop Orca plug meant for tuna. The bull reds crushed it. The rest is history as they say. It ushered in the increasing use of truly large poppers where traditionally streamer-style bait patterns were the flies of choice.

Those massive schools of redfish eventually break up, but winter bull reds are still to be targeted—individually, or in small groups. Protected slick surfaces, tight along marsh shorelines near deeper water, are prime target areas. So are small ponds and larger lakes back in the marshes. These pockets are connected by channels and bayous, and at times the fish hunt those constricted places. With any kind of decent visibility you’ll be rewarded with the excitement of true sight fishing for these thick-shouldered creatures. You could see nervous water or breaks from feeding fish at some distance, or you might lock in on the slow approach of a cruiser or two, closing in time with your heart beat. Or your sighted fish may appear from nowhere, reddish-copper apparitions suddenly materializing in the brownish-olive water. When that happens there’s no time for refined casting. It’s a situation of throw-it-out-now, fast and hard, sometimes slapping your subsurface fly or popper so close ahead of the traveling fish you’ll be sure you’ve spooked them. But these are redfish—more times than not, they’ll eat.

Close-range or distance spotting, sight fishing doesn’t always work. Clouded water and/or a choppy surface switches the game to one of blind casting to key ambush areas.Think of those constricted areas between ponds and lakes. Think of points with circling currents, small pockets or larger cuts in shorelines. You may also need to wear yourself out hammering shorelines where wind pushes forage that’s on the bulls’ menu. That wind varies from manageable to the point where, in tandem with big tides, it pushes water from back marsh ponds and lakes and makes access basically impossible.

I’ve hit this winter bull red fishing when air temps were near 70, the sun was strong and the breeze like a soft kiss. And then, sometimes overnight, things can turn ugly: The sun goes, the sky spits freezing rain or sleet and gives rise to thoughts of fetal-like curling around a jug of something stronger than herbal tea.

Masks and snowmobile suits over multiple insulating layers become the dress code. But if you can get to the right places, even for the shorter fishing sessions your body can stand, the big reds are likely there and prone to eat. And what if it’s just too bad, too brutal, just impossible to fish? Believe it, there’s other stuff you can do.

This crescent of the Southeast U.S. coast is a dream of succulent eating—oysters, shrimp, crabs, gumbos, boudin sausages, smokey ribs . . . . Even in the smaller villages there’ll be an assortment of watering holes that are sure to please, many with the kind of live music—blues, zydeco, rock, jazz—that’ll put bad weather out of mind. Even with weather that passes as bad in this part of the Deep South, it’s going to turn good again. And even if it takes a while to do so, fishing in the cold is a darned sight better than digging out from another multiple-feet-deep winter snowstorm in the North.

Rods and Lines

A 9-weight rod is the workhorse of choice, though 8 and 10-weights have their places. Floating lines handle most situations, but don’t be without an intermediate taper. A fast-sink configuration for off-shore windy conditions might also find use.

Flies

Large saltwater streamer patterns (in light, dark and flash-heavy ties), along with big poppers, work well on bull redfish. Remember, these fish are primarily eating good-size menhaden or mullet, thus patterns with heads of water-pushing bucktail, wool, or synthetic material (think giant muddlers) are good.

A Few Favorite Patterns:

Capt. Dan Kolenich’s simple go-to streamer is a more subtle pattern. It’s tied on a 1/0 hook. It has a yellow chenille collar and wing of multiple layers of gold Flashabou that flare like confetti between strips. Depending on water depth, these flies will be rigged with either bead chain or even heavier eyes.

A local Alabama favorite is the Geaumeau (pronounced go-mo) named for a folklore creature that gives kids nightmares, a swamp horror with heads at front and tail reducing it to chronic constipation. The fly is a meaty streamer of chartreuse flash, Estaz head, white rabbit-strip tail. A commercial version should be available from Deep South Outfitters in Birmingham, Alabama https://www.fishdso.com

A black/purple Redfish Destroyer Shrimp Fly—weighted—with a weed guard is popular for subsurface Louisiana marsh fishing. One version is sold by Steelie Brothers Fly Co., steeliebrosflyco.com, and you should definitely check their selection of big poppers—Big Head Gray/White; Swamp Monster; Purple Ice Mega Double Barrel Popper—all tied on 6/0 or 7/0 hooks.

Eateries and Watering Holes

Pensacola, Florida

Gulf Coast Brewery (has cigar lounge)

The Fish House (nightly live music)

 

Fairhope, Alabama

McSharry’s Irish Pub (serves the best Guinness pour in the Southeast. Weekend Fiddle & Flute Sessions)

Master Joes

Dragon Fly

Buck’s Diner

 

Venice, Louisiana

The Den—has music

Bayous Club

Hartt’s Old Cypress Bar

 

New Orleans, Louisiana

Just throw a blind cast and you’ll find something good

 

Houma, Louisiana (for those fishing out of Cocodrie and Dulac)

1921—for great seafood

Boxer & The Barrell (good tunes with the Duke restaurant next door)

Big Mike’s BBQ Smokehouse

A-Bear’s Cafe

Bayou Delight Restaurant

Photography by

Jerry Gibbs

Carmen Causey

Daniel Favato

Gil Greenberg

This modern and extremely effective casting and fishing method should not intimidate.

Skagit lines were originally designed to deliver heavy payloads very long distances often with little or no room for a backcast. So, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, dedicated angler Ed Ward and his metalhead cronies customized a unique system of compact shooting heads that worked with a complimentary tip system and allowed ideal drifts while swinging Washington state’s Skagit River with large Intruder flies. The benefits of their Skagit systems were soon realized by anglers facing similar casting scenarios in other places, on all variety of waters.

As line manufacturers developed Skagit systems for the masses, rod manufacturers made shorter and more efficient two-handed “switch” rods, allowing anglers to vary tactics between single-hand techniques, like indicator nymphing, and two-handed spey style casts. Many salmon and steelhead anglers realized that 13-foot-plus long spey rods were no longer needed to make lengthy, accurate casts when using heavier tips and/or weighted flies. The Skagit phenomenon soon spread into lighter weight line systems and are now made to work with rods as light as 3-weight trout “spey” rods. These can be an absolute blast to fish, even when throwing light flies, including soft-hackles off of floating lines, to feeding trout.

Modern Skagit lines are easily adapted to almost every rod style, including those that all trout anglers have—a 9-foot-long 4, 5 or 6-weight. When anglers try a Skagit head system to punch out small-to medium size streamers and double nymph rigs in a single stroke, they are often amazed by how much power they find in their old, reliable 5-weights. With head weights as low as 125 grains, you can even load up a 3-weight to effortlessly swing your favorite streamers and other rigs. These can turn a standard 10-foot or 11-foot nymphing rod into a totally different beast for trout fishing. With these configurations, anglers can adjust the sink rate and depth of the fly by changing the tip and leader that connects the shooting head to the fly. That’s a simple process made easier by modern loop-to-loop connections.

This casting style is pretty simple. A short, compact head and tip are water-loaded using current and a sustained anchor point. With practice, this casting stroke requires very little effort when compared to overhead casting. And once mastered, it allows anglers to access parts of a river that they may not have reached with a single-hander.

Where to start with Skagit casting? You can get as complex as you want with your system, or keep it simple. Skagit lines come in just about every configuration. You can find standard heads or compact heads with integrated running lines, integrated sinking heads, and all in a variety of densities. Each rod manufacturer has its own recommendation for tips, heads/grain weights, and running lines, depending on which rod and reel you might load up.

Fishing Skagit isn’t overwhelming, but getting your rig set up right, so that a line system effectively bends a rod and allows you to throw a lot of line, is crucial. And the best place to get some direction is at your local fly shop or through a certified casting instructor. Pay that extra fee upfront; reap major reward the first time you hit the water with a trout-spey outfit. I highly recommend that everyone gives a Skagit casting system a chance. It may create a fishing experience you never expected . . . with a lot of the equipment you already own.

Tidal redfish flats are like the road of life—success can be measured in how you handle the highs and lows.

In the case of tides, not all are equal. On a spring tide, which occurs twice each month and has nothing to do with the spring season, the moon and sun are on opposite sides of the planet. When this occurs the swings between high and low tides can be great. Typical tide range on the redfish flats is four-to five feet. But on a spring tide, that range could push to seven feet, meaning higher highs and lower lows.

When coupled with a storm off the Atlantic coast, and a consistent west wind blowing 10-to 12-plus knots—pushing water off the flats—a tide may rate far below the “lowest low-water mark” on your depth chart . . . what we call, “the negative low.”

The negative low presents a timely opportunity to experience a captivating redfish phenomena—crawling fish on the bank. During a negative low, big, bold redfish can access prey in a way they couldn’t before—pinning shrimp, crabs and small baitfish in super shallow water with no escape. These fish slowly prowl down a muddy bank, providing anglers ample opportunity to lay a crustacean fly in the path of a freight train, its eyes just barely below water level.

Recognizing when your area is experiencing a severe negative low tide could provide you with a whole new redfish experience. Watching a crawling redfish pounce on a fly and pin it to the mud is exhilarating and might challenge an angler to keep his or her composure. Similar to bonefishing in skinny water, these fish don’t have the luxury to swim down, so they commit to horizontal movement with significant haste. The cast-to-catch experience for crawling reds, and the screaming runs they take when hooked, makes it well worth keeping your eyes on a variety of weather conditions.

However, with a negative low tide comes the issue of access. The small island cut-throughs that once provided travel lanes between flats, suddenly consist of two inches of water above a soft layer of mud. If you don’t have enough water to maneuver in, you might spend a long session in the mud, possibly in sweltering heat, waiting for the tide to rise. For that reason, having a shallow draft vessel is paramount. Flats skiffs may work, but people also pole their kayaks into untouched areas. And, if a hard bottom is present, anglers can use their “boat” to get within striking range and then chase these fish on foot.

When redfish are rummaging through murky water, they rely heavily on motion and sound to find their prey. Redfish have an otolith that picks up sound from a substantial distance. In addition, their lateral lines sense motion and sound and offer the fish directional guidance. Using a fly that pushes water and creates some sound is important. However, all of those senses working in shallow water also means you’ve got to be stealthy—beware the splashing push-poles, cumbersome footsteps on deck, and Yeti bottles banging against a cooler or sidewall. These fish can be extremely skittish.

When it all comes together, and you get within range of a big red feeding in shallow water, it’s all good. But, remember, you’ll be pushing the limit in low water conditions. You’ll have to do whatever it takes to reach these fish, even if that means you might need a little mud makeover and a few new items in your boat. Is that risk and some extra cost worth it?

You make the call.

Nonskid cleaner? $11.99

Tide Detergent? $14.99

Casting to a hungry, crawling redfish with its back out of the water? Priceless.

Photography by

Cody Rubner

Ironically, Covid may have been just what the doctor ordered.

About a decade after “The Movie” premiered, some fly-shop owners and gear manufacturers were already shouting, “What we need is another movie.” They feared an aging population of traditional anglers, which represented their key customers and core revenue base, was phasing out, meaning, literally, dying. They desired fresh meat, another influx of newcomers to the sport, people who would buy at all levels, from beginner to advanced, and push the industry to its highest goals.

Unfortunately, by that time Norman McClane was dead—i.e., A River Runs Through It II was out of the question—and 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis were soon to arrive.

Still, there was lots of creative energy coming into fly fishing, all trying to appeal to that fresh demographic, such as youth, hipsters, spey junkies, women, tenkara posers and, more recently, Euro-nymphers. Bro brah speak and shaggy beards were in abundance.

There were other efforts, too. Fly fishing DVD’s turned into the Fly Fishing Film Tour, and subsequent iterations, which appealed to that younger demographic and offered considerably wild and, admittedly, fun pre-screening parties (minus the hangover); advertisers and their marketing agencies pulled dollars from traditional media, such as magazines, and shifted it to in-house content creation and online advertising, where they could better reach a youthful/i phone addicted audience and track their efforts; beginner fly-fishing kits morphed from pathetically slow clunkers to something a beginner could throw well, and a sage angler might cast and then say, “This ‘aint bad”; online 101 tutorials offered all the questions newbies needed to have answered, minus the trepidation they may have felt if stepping into a shop; big box gained access to key brands’ products, bringing the seemingly nonsensical $900 dollar fly rod and the improbable $700 wader in front of curious general market eyes.

It all added up, made smart sense. The industry seemed to be doing ok, and in some cases great. But if you listened to conversations and grasped the general vibe at fly-fishing trade shows (IFTD and ICast) you knew the key players wanted more. More anglers. More voices for water and habitat conservation. More support for native fish. More support for independent fly shops and guides, domestic and abroad. More rod-toting worldly travelers and their affiliated gear sales.

But still, the question: Where would that uptick come from?

Enter Covid-19.

In March and April it was doom and gloom with the industry fearing a massive fallout, if any of us even survived the pandemic. By May and June some pencil-pushers reported reasons to be optimistic. In July and August it was absolutely clear that something phenomenal occurred and the issue wasn’t whether any of us would make it through the pandemic, but how supply chains could keep up with demand, all fueled by new people coming into the sport. Accounting books had gone from blurry to black in a blink of an eye. Boom! A new movie in the form of a pandemic. Who knew?

Ben Bulis is president and CEO of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, which acts as the de facto voice for fly fishing in the United States. He, too, sees a comparison to the post-A River Runs Through It timeframe.

“If you go back to March, people were worried,” Bulis said. “What would the market look like for fishing? Governors were closing down fishing in their states. You could easily fear the worst was coming.

“But the governors soon realized that closing fishing wasn’t a good idea, that people wanted to be outside and recreating. So where we are now is totally different than where we were in March. We saw a wave of new people coming into fly fishing and people who hadn’t fished in a while got back into it. It’s been a good year for retailers and manufacturers. And I would say this is only the second time we’ve seen something like this. I don’t know if this is a bigger shift than after A River Runs Through It came out, but it’s similar. Right now we have to make sure we reach out to the new people, keep them engaged and accept their participation.”

Kirk Deeter is the editor-in-chief of Trout magazine and the owner of Angling Trade, an industry-focussed digital publication. Deeter has as solid a pulse on the industry and was quick to realize we are in the middle of a fundamental shift.

“The rivers and lakes have blown up,” Deeter said from his home in Colorado. “Fishing license sales way up. Product sales way up in certain categories—personal watercraft, flies, tippet, rods. In fact, the rod companies that inventoried raw materials before the pandemic, or shortly after it began, are crushing it now. Those who seized up or were super dependent on a China supply chain ate it. You can’t buy a rod on some of the pro sites now if you wanted to. Demand is that strong.”

Justin Karnopp is a jack-of-all-trades. Writer. Photographer. Guide. Distributor. He lives in Missoula, Montana and is a principal, with North American distribution rights, in CD Fishing USA, a rod manufacturer that has a solid history in New Zealand and is now branching out. When I recently spoke with Karnopp he said the issue is keeping up with demand, something that he had a better line on than some brands.

“From a guiding standpoint, the pandemic didn’t effect me much,” he said. “I got as many days as I wanted. People had to cancel their bigger ticket trips and were able to drive to Montana to fish. A lot of Washington people were here. And we saw an influx from California, Texas, Colorado and Utah, too.

“From a rod sales standpoint, it was good for me,” he said. “I definitely saw the urgency in having entry-level product because we saw an influx of beginners. I spent a lot of time sourcing out a reel and a line to make an affordable entry-level kit. That is a reflection of how many people are entering the sport right now. People decided to spend money on being outdoors.”

“I was lucky, too,” Karnopp said. “I had a lot of 5-weight rods shipped over from our New Zealand warehouse, right when many companies were sold out of them, and either delayed in manufacturing or simply backed up. There was serious demand for those rods.”

Jack Reis is director of marketing for fishpond, which is based in Colorado and sells a variety of high end and highly functional fly-fishing gear, ranging from straw hats, to submersible duffels, to tippet holders, to backpacks and hip packs, all as sustainably sourced as humanly possible. Reis saw the same shift as Deeter and Karnopp.

“From a business standpoint, I can confirm that we were pretty concerned when the pandemic began,” Reis said. “There was a lot of confusion over what effect it would have on participation and manufacturing. But early on we saw people taking refuge and finding distraction in the outdoors. We saw a massive bump in new participants this spring and summer.

“The problem with this growth is keeping up with demand,” Reis noted. “It’s hard to get your hands on some products now, like 4X tippet and 5-weight rods. It was, at once, a demand and manufacturing issue. There were shutdowns that effected suit’s just that so many people want these products right now.

“The 5-weight rod thing is wild,” Reis said. “There are more people wanting to fly fish this year than ever before. The demand completely exceeded the 5-weight inventory. And we have seen that for some of our products, too—packs and bags, slings, Thunderhead submersibles, Nomad nets, Tacky fly boxes . . . .

“I have high hopes for 2021,” Reis said. “We see demand still being there. We just want to be consistent with our manufacturing road. For us, materials have been critical to our mission, which is to be good to the environment as well as good to the sport. For us, it’s going to be business as usual in our use of recycled materials. And I’m excited about what we will bring to market. We may not have as many new items as we normally would, but we will offer some really great stuff, things we’ve had our eyes on for a long time.”

Simms Fishing, based in Bozeman, Montana, also has seen a spike in sales, noted by John Frazier, who heads that company’s PR, content and digital marketing strategies.

“Being outdoors is a safe thing that people can do right now, and there are more people fishing than we’ve ever seen,” he said. “That’s helped us position ourselves for a healthy post-coronavirus arena. An increase in outdoor activities, across the board, is what’s getting outdoor brands through this. I see it as a good thing—more people getting outdoors means more consumers and a louder collective voice for conservation. We need that right now.”

Unfortunately, all segments of the fly-fishing industry can’t report such rosy numbers. To point, fly-fishing travel has taken it on the chin, with many borders still closed and no promise of when certain target-rich environments might reopen. In addition, many guides and lodges struggled in 2020, in particular in Alaska and Florida.

“Definitely travel has been hit hard,” Bulis said. “And depending on where you are located, guiding and outfitting has been hit, too. The southeastern guides lost their whole tarpon season. And some lodges in Alaska didn’t even open. Obviously, with the Canadian border closed, the British Columbia steelhead season was a big miss, too. Atlantic salmon in eastern Canada—same thing.

“Fortunately,” Bulis added, “I haven’t heard of any lodges shutting down for good. Regarding travel, we’ll only know how severe the hit will be when we finally have a vaccine ready for everyone in the world, not just the U.S, and people are comfortable getting back on airplanes. If it takes a long time for travel to rebound, we’ll see a trickle down effect on the entire industry. Travel is a segment our industry relies on, whether you’re a manufacturer or a shop . . . it will impact everybody.”

Reiss, at fishpond, echoed that concern. “Domestic demand made up for a loss in our travel gear sales,” he said. “The things you have to have to be on the water, like packs and accessories sold very well. Our travel items didn’t see the growth they normally would. That is a direct result of people not getting on planes. Those sales are reliant on people’s willingness to get on planes and fly across the world and spend money. That all plays into the mix for our bottom line.”

Karnopp, at CD Fishing USA, said, “The fly-fishing travel scene makes me anxious. We’ve developed rods for specific travel and I’m concerned that the travel trend may continue indefinitely. (Covid) cases are up. They’re not going down. If people aren’t traveling for two or three years it is going to effect the entire industry. I look at bonefish guides in particular. I don’t know if they will ever recover. A lot of those guys probably move on and do other things. Damn, like everyone, I cancelled a redfish trip this fall. I have a wife and two kids, ages six and three . . . couldn’t take the chance.”

One of the biggest questions being asked by the industry is whether the International Fly Tackle Dealer Show (IFTD) will take place in 2021. The 2020 show, scheduled for October at the Denver Convention Center was cancelled. Bulis can’t say for sure whether a 2021 show will take place, but he’s planning as if it’s a go.

“We are still moving forward on an October show next year,” Bulis said. “But, we will continue to evaluate that potential as we learn about the number of (Covid) cases and any shutdowns. I would say we’ll have to let the manufactures know, one way or the other, by the first of July. If we couldn’t do the show we would probably reach out and see if people want a virtual show. But the virtual shows I’ve seen are not very good. We’ll just have to see as we move into 2021.”

It’s almost impossible to believe that a virus likely spreading from a bat to a human in an open-air market in Wuhan, China could promote fly-fishing gear sales in North America. But, that is exactly how tied in and strange our world is these days, with nothing—not even those $900 dollar rods and $700 waders—seeming completely improbable anymore.

GOT FISH?

For some anglers, winter is the time to swap out their fly rods for skis and take to the slopes. However, many of us just bundle up and brave the elements. Fortunately, there are plenty of winter fly-fishing opportunities in the United States, options that place some big fish on the end of your line and take the chill out of winter.

These five U.S. winter fly-fishing options get you out of the office and onto the water with the chance to land a variety of impressive fish.

Redfish in South Carolina

Already hear the collective groan emanating from the Florida Coast? We do! Florida has incredible redfishing, and it’s proud of it, too. Actually, these brutes can be found up and down the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, ranging from Virginia to Texas. Which state has it best? That is a question of preference, and my pick is the great state of South Carolina. During winter, redfish seek shallow waters where they take advantage of warm water and abundant food sources. Anglers often observe reds “tailing” amongst tidal grasses in shallow water that lines much of the South Carolina coast. This makes for exciting sight-fishing opportunity. There’s nothing quite like watching the wake from a bull red charging a fly. It’s an exhilarating experience that any angler would wholeheartedly enjoy. Popular fly patterns include the Kung Fu Crab, Everglades Special, and Crafty Shrimp.

Pacific Steelhead in Oregon

The angling hoards love steelhead, and that’s for good reason—these sea-run trout are not your average “bows.” Steelhead, which are an anadromous rainbow trout, routinely exceed 30 inches in length and can easily weigh more than 10 pounds. Fish growing past 40 inches are possible; they may weigh 20 pounds or more. When spawning time arrives, mature steelhead make their way into the Pacific Northwest’s freshwater river systems. Some may spend the entire winter in freshwater while others—especially along the Oregon Coast—make a dash upstream to spawn and then quickly exit. When most people think of Oregon’s steelhead rivers they visualize the famous Deschutes. But other rivers, such as the Umpqua, Rogue and Siletz, among many others, provide the quintessential coastal winter steelhead experience. Fly fishers can spend lots of time and effort trying to catch one of these skittish beasts, but the reward is enormous. Fighting steelhead on a brawling coastal river often takes an angler well into their backing. Anglers may use single-hand rods for steelhead, but in the PNW most fly fishers throw spey and switch rods and drop down deep with Skagit heads, sink tips and heavy flies. Come well armed—swinging flies near bottom, on super bouldery rivers, means you’ll likely lose some gear. Solid fly choices include Egg Sucking Leeches, Pick Yer Pockets, Deceivers, mini tube flies, and Fish Tacos.

Bonefish in Key West, Florida

How can such a small fish pack a big punch? The simple answer is this—because it’s a bonefish, man, and they just fight. Bonefish can be fished almost year-round, but many anglers choose dates that coincide with a much-needed break from cold weather climes. Why wouldn’t they—anglers can escape the weather and sight fish to glistening beauties on shallow water flats. Bonefish are receptive to flies and are incredibly powerful for their size, given, on average, they are barely larger than a trout. But don’t think this is easy fishing. Florida Keys bones are known for two things; they are large, up to 10 pounds or more, and they are extremely wary. Bring your A-game while walking the flats. Do so, and a keen observer might see scores of these blazing-fast fish prowling the flats. Equipped with a 7, 8 or 9-weight fly rod, some small baitfish and shrimp imitations, and proper sun protection, you might ditch your freshwater roots after catching a few of these dynamos. Try Mantis Shrimp, Gotchas, and McKnight’s Crimp . . . and throw accurately.

Brown Trout in the White River, Arkansas

Big, wild brown trout on large shad patterns? Sign us up. For brown trout, cold weather months mean spawning time. Before the fish are on their redds they are active and looking to eat. When most anglers consider prime winter brown trout fishing they don’t visualize Arkansas. If you’re in that boat, you’ll be sorely punished for ignoring this fishery—there are few other wild brown trout rivers in America as productive as the White. This tailwater system provides brown trout with a perfect habitat filled with ample food sources. Most notably, these big White River browns pursue shad that are flushed under dams. These protein-packed and disoriented (if not dead or injured) baitfish make for easy prey. As a result, White River browns reach incredible sizes. It’s routine to catch browns over 20 inches here, and these fish may stretch to 10 pounds or more. Preferred fly patterns include Zonkers, Game-Changers, Red Foxes and Copper Johns.

Wild Trout in the Northern Rockies

With the Snake, South Fork Snake and Henry’s Fork rivers all located in the immediate area, Jackson Hole is one of the epicenters of American trout fishing. These rivers can be productive year-round, but they can be crowded during prime times; anglers willing to fight through bitter cold may be treated to solitude and some prime fishing. Dead of winter may not produce many fish, but the shoulder seasons in late fall and early spring can be lights-out good, especially if you are willing to travel outside the immediate area when conditions merit. With an extended drive from Jackson, anglers could also fish the Madison, Gallatin and Yellowstone rivers. What really makes the fishing so special is an abundance of trout. Box Canyon on the Henry’s Fork, for example, has approximately 5,000 rainbow trout per mile. Those fish take nymphs and streamers in fall, winter and spring, and those who venture out on warmer days, when air temperatures rise above freezing, may encounter excellent midge hatches and great dry-fly opportunity. In spring, beginning in March and early April, blue-winged olives may be present. These are some of the most storied river systems in the world and are a surefire bucket list trip for any angler. Be sure to bring tried and true Jackson-area flies, like Head-Banger Sculpins, Heisenbergs, Pheasant-Tails, Hare’s Ears, Parachute Adams’, and Griffith’s Gnats.

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Huchen, (Hucho hucho), also known as hucho, Danube salmon, sulec glavatka, mladica

SIZE

Average: 30-to 35 inches
Trophy: 40-plus inches
IGFA All Tackle Record: 76 pounds 11 ounces, Austria

 

FAVOURITE DESTINATIONS

Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia

DIFFICULTY RATING

9/10

KNOWN FOR

– Aggressive strikes
– Difficult to catch
– Found in the most beautiful of places
– Size

OVERVIEW

Huchen is a European taimen species, closely related to the famed Mongolian taimen (H. hucho taimen), and the Japanese taimen (H. perryi). Unlike its anadromous North American cousins, these fish spend their entire lives in freshwater, mostly in the rivers where they were born. Hucho require clean, well-oxygenated water and an ample forage fish base to thrive.

The huchen’s population dwindled in the 20th century due to the construction of dams on European rivers, and loss of habitat, and overharvest. In recent years, huchen populations have started to recover, thanks to the rearing of huchen fry in hatcheries, and protective measures—including limited bag limits and seasonal quotas—implemented by local governments. Stocking programs are in use throughout much of the huchen’s native range with a relatively high success rate. Populations in several Slovenian rivers have rebounded and are now managed under a put-and-take system. Most fly fishers, however, practice catch-and-release.

Huchen are ferocious ambush predators, behaving more like a musky than a salmon or trout. They rest behind boulders and other debris, and at the bottom of pools, waiting for prey to venture within range. They are the apex predator in the rivers they inhabit and feed on anything that fits in their mouths, including trout, grayling, carp, barbell, and even smaller huchen.

WHY TARGET HUCHEN

The huchen is an extremely difficult fish to catch. Landing a large huchen, known locally as “Defeating the King,” is a significant milestone for Balkan anglers . . . for good reason; these fish seem to have a sixth sense and are notorious for shutting down when anglers are working their pools. Huchen are extremely finicky, only eating under the right conditions, and they are able to go without food for an extended time. To make matters more difficult, huchen fishing is generally open only during winter, from October to February, which means anglers need to be prepared for some cold days on the river. It is said, the nastier the weather the better the bite.

To catch huchen on large rivers, anglers often swing big, weighted streamers down and across and close to bottom. When fishing smaller rivers, anglers get away with 9-to 10-weight single-hand rods matched with shooting heads, sink-tips, and nothing lighter than 16-pound tippet. In these rivers, anglers throw flies in the 3-to 5-inch range. Huchen are often found in deep pools and tailouts. Repetitively covering that type of water is how most of these fish are caught. This is not a numbers game—on a good day, a competent angler might get a few eats.

On larger rivers, big, two-handed rods are most efficient as anglers need to turn over heavy sinking tips while covering as much water as possible. Weighted flies in the 5-to 8-inch range are required. Fish congregate around seams, inflows, waterfalls, rapids, and tailouts. Locating and catching huchen in larger waters can prove difficult, but your efforts could be rewarded with a four-foot-long, 50-pound monster. In our minds, and likely yours too, that’s more than enough incentive to take on a major fly-fishing challenge.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Huchen are endemic to the Danube River Basin. The Danube is Europe’s second-largest river and passes through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine before draining into the Black Sea in Romania. Additionally, huchen are found in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Poland, and Slovenia. Japan also has populations.

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

When young, huchen are extremely fast-growing, capable of putting on six inches in length a year for their first five years of existence. They reach sexual maturity at seven years old. From March to April, mature adults migrate upstream into small tributaries seeking shallow gravel beds for spawning. Larger females dig nests, or redds, and lay eggs in them. Attentive males fertilize those eggs. Eggs hatch approximately one month later. Larvae stay protected in the gravel for approximately 10 days while they absorb their yolk sacks. Young huchen feed on insect larva and plankton until they are large enough to prey on small fish. Unlike Pacific salmon, huchen do not die after spawning. Instead, they return to their resident waters post-spawn and bulk up on forage fish.

GEAR

In large rivers two-handed, 8-to 12-weight rods in the 11-to 14-foot range, matched with 400-to 700-grain Skagit heads are the ticket. Sinking tips are preferred as they make turning over big, 5-to 8-inch long flies more manageable. On smaller rivers 9-foot long single-hand rods, and 10-to 11-foot long switch rods, are ideal for casting in tight spaces. For tippet, 16-to 20-pound fluorocarbon is standard, whether fishing smaller waters or large rivers.

Photography by

Rok Lustrik

TARPON

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Megalops Atlanticus (Silver King, Poon)

SIZE

Average: 40-80 pounds
Trophy: 100 pounds or more

FAVORITE DESTINATIONS

Florida (Keys; Homosassa; Everglades); Cuba; Mexico (Yucatan Peninsula); Belize

DIFFICULTY RATING

Baby tarpon: 3/10
Adults (over 60 pounds): 8/10

KNOWN FOR

Incredible surface clearing leaps when hooked; the visceral thrill of its clapping gill plates when leaping (like banging two aluminum garbage can lids together); at times finicky eating habits, despite their hulk; and incredible fighting stamina.

Pat Ford

Tarpon are immediately recognizable by their large silver scales that flash in the sun—not to mention their immense size—giving all but the most stoic anglers a start in the process. In many places, tarpon are seasonal visitors; in some places (like the northern Yucatan and river mouths spilling into the Atlantic throughout Central America), they are present year-round. Odds are good that if tarpon are present, fly anglers will forget other species and focus on them. Anglers primarily find tarpon in shallow coastal waters and estuaries and in proximity to coral reefs, but they may also be encountered in open marine waters while migrating. . . .and occasionally in fresh or brackish water lakes and rivers. “Baby” tarpon (fish 5 to 40 pounds) can be fairly easy to come by, especially in the northern Yucatan, where extensive mangroves serve as a nursery ground; adults are often seen while fishing, but can be tougher to coax to the fly…and certainly more difficult to land.

Permit might be more persnickety. Bonefish might be faster. But for shear brute strength, size and thrilling aerial displays, there’s no more alluring flats species than tarpon. What other fish are you going to encounter in shallow water that’s willing to take a well-presented fly and could very well exceed your proportions in length and weight and jumping ability? (There’s a reason a small, obsessed [and perhaps slightly warped] cadre of anglers spend tens of thousands of dollars each spring in places like Homosassa, Florida to retain guides for a month at a time in hopes of wresting a world-record fish to hand—a mark that right now hovers north of 202.5 pounds for 20-pound test tippet.) Sometimes conditions demand that anglers blind cast heavy sinking lines into deep cuts where fish may be passing through or laying up out of sight. But in ideal conditions you’ll sight fish for them much as you would for bonefish or permit, either poling along a flat or staking up at the edge of a beach where the fish will—Mother Nature willing—pass by. Where water is less clear—say the Everglades—anglers may cast to “blurping” or rolling fish, and even to bubbles that suggest a tarpon’s presence. In an ideal flats situation, you (or more likely, your guide) will spot fish approaching. Ideally you’ll drop the fly in front of approaching fish in enough time for it to sink to the fish’s level in the water column. Some fish will respond better to a long slow strip, others to shorter more frequent “pops.” Either way, it’s important to keep the fly moving right to the boat; takes can come with the leader inside your rod tip.

Things often go south for fly anglers when a fish decides to take. If you’re watching a tarpon take on the flat, don’t strike too soon; it’s not uncommon to pull the fly out of the fish’s mouth. When you feel the line come tight—and you will feel it—sweep the rod back hard (don’t lift up). It doesn’t hurt to make a few hard strip-sets too. Next, you’ll need to take special care to clear the line as the fish takes off. Many a hook-up has ended with line wrapped around a fighting butt, a dangling pair of plyers or even a shirt button, tippet waving impotently in the breeze. If you make it this far with the fish still on, prepare for the first big jump—and bow the rod when this happens (and for each subsequent jump). This gives the tarpon a little slack so the fish is less likely to land on taut line, thus snapping your tippet.

The most skilled tarpon anglers apply lots of pressure early in an effort to wear the fish out quickly. Less seasoned anglers might find themselves fighting the fish for hours. Don’t feel too bad if you come unbuttoned on your first few fish; they say that fly anglers will land roughly one in 10 of the adult tarpon they hook.

Tarpon are found in the warmer waters of the Atlantic, from Virginia to Brazil in the western Atlantic, along the coast of Africa in the eastern Atlantic, and throughout the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. Some locales within their range host year-round “resident” populations, like the Florida Keys and parts of the Everglades; others see fish most regularly during migration periods, with tarpon passing north past Tampa Bay to Homosassa in May, further up toward the Florida Panhandle in June, and then along the Gulf Coast as far as Texas later in the summer before the fish begin heading south again. Some anglers target tarpon that are on the move; others look for “laid up” fish that are either resting or waiting to ambush forage. Low light periods—particularly the morning—tend to yield the most consistent results.

Tarpon have hard, bony mouths that resist all but the most sharply struck hooks; lacking teeth, tarpon swallow their prey whole. They are catholic feeders, focusing on sardines, shrimp, crabs and mullet, among other species. Tarpon are unique among sportfish in that they have a swim bladder, which allows them to breathe air as we do…though they can also breathe through their gills. (A tendency for tarpon to breathe on the surface, especially in less oxygenated water, gives anglers a heads-up as to their location.)

No one understands for sure where tarpon spawn, but the best available data suggests that it occurs in the summer months, roughly 100 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Milt and eggs mix in the open water (a phenomenon known as broadcast spawning). Once eggs hatch, the larvae are swept by currents into estuarine habitats where they find shelter in mangroves and slowly grow into miniature versions of adult fish. Tarpon generally reach maturity around age 10. Females are bigger than males, and can reach weights of 300 pounds. They may live upwards of 60 years.

For adult fish: A 12-weight rod with the best saltwater reel you can afford outfitted with floating and intermediate lines, 300 yards of backing, and 80 pound shock tippet (with 16 to 20 pound bite tippet). Some guides use straight 80-pound mono. Popular flies include Deceivers, Toads, Cockroaches and Black Deaths, though odds are your guide will have flies that they favor…and will likely replace your leader too. (Some anglers go with a 9- or 10-weight rod if smaller adults are around; however, the sturdier the rod, the quicker you can get the fish in…and the better their chance for survival.

For “baby” tarpon: An 8-weight rod with floating and intermediate lines and 100 yards of backing should suffice. Straight 40-pound mono will do for leader, though you can make it as involved as you wish. Smaller versions of the flies above will work, as well as Gurglers and on occasion, even poppers.

If you’re in the market for a truly remote flats-fishing experience, Andros, Bahamas is a solid choice. This trio of islands, which oftentimes is called, simply, Andros Island, includes North Andros, Mangrove Cay, and South Andros. A series of channels or bights—including North Bight, Middle Bight, and South Bight—separate the three islands in that order from north to south. As a singular region, Andros stretches over 100 miles north to south and encompasses over 2,300 square miles, which means these three islands would be the fifth largest island in the Caribbean by landmass if measured as one. North Andros occupies the number six spot on that list, while South Andros comes in at number nine.

While North and South Andros are the two largest islands in the Bahamas, they are scarcely populated. With less than 7,500 inhabitants spread throughout. Andros has a population density equivalent to Alaska. For reference, Montana is almost seven times more densely populated than Andros. These numbers are relevant, not for boring a reader with statistics, but in order to paint a picture of true Caribbean wilderness. A trip to Andros is a trip to the Bahamian outback, a journey in time that reveals what the northern Caribbean region looked like before development and population growth through the 19th and 20th centuries. If you’re curious about the Florida Keys and Everglades and what they may have looked like over 100 years ago, your best bet is to book a trip to one of these islands. The fishery is so vast that a guide and angler can run a boat over 40 miles in a day without seeing another soul on the water. This level of extreme underdevelopment is a boon to the fishery and is responsible for Andros’ reputation as being one of the best bonefish destinations on earth.

It’s no surprise that this distinction made Andros a popular destination for several generations of traveling saltwater anglers. Despite the fishery’s reputation and vast network of creeks, flats, and backcountry there is a serious lack of written history on Andros. The pursuit of bonefish has been a staple of the Androsian economy since the 1950s when traveling anglers first began visiting the region. The first fly-fishing lodge in the area was built by “Crazy” Charlie Smith in 1968 at Behring Point on the North Bight. “Bonefish Charlie” is sometimes called the “godfather of the flats.” For good reason—he established the first dedicated fly-fishing lodge on Andros, and his progeny continue to carry his torch, still guiding in Andros today. One cannot tell the story of fishing on Andros without mentioning Charlie, the man behind perhaps the most productive bonefish fly in history, the Charlie.

Each island has its relatively unique modus operandi: North is the “busiest”; Mangrove Cay is the chilled-out island town; South is the “country.” One thing remains consistent—abundant angling opportunity, and chances at the bonefish of a lifetime, throughout.

North Andros

North Andros is the most developed district in Andros. The community is growing, vibrant, and rich in fishing culture. The area boasts an accredited network of independent guides and world-class lodges offering all the amenities needed for a memorable destination trip. With so many different options, knowing the key players in the area takes your trip from memorable to truly unforgettable. North Andros waters are more consistently within proximity of deeper waters, which sets the stage for a rewarding, but sometimes difficult opportunity. Trophy-sized bonefish prefer this access, so fishing flats near them increases your odds of landing a giant. With this opportunity comes a need for tidal tact. If you hit the flats on the wrong tide, your dream bonefish will be staged in waters far too deep for fly access.

Mangrove Cay

Mangrove Cay is calm, quaint, and intimately natural. This district is very underdeveloped and offers a great, family friendly environment to get in touch with the pulse of Andros culture. A day on Mangrove Cay can be spent fishing without another angler in sight, and wrap up with the possibility of running into Jimmy Buffet at the local Wharf bar. The naive bonefish on this Cay give up-and-coming anglers a little more room for error. While the area offers lots of fish in the three-to five-pound class, there have been some giants landed at local hot spots, like Big Wood Cay and Moxey Creek. Which locally sourced, fresh seafood meal is waiting for you when you get off the water is dependent on the season you visit. A plate of fresh conch or spiny lobster, and a cold Gully Wash, Sands Light, or Kalik, is a perfect way to celebrate a successful day on the flats.

South Andros

South Andros has been steadily gaining attention. These waters have no shortage of bonefish and great flats to fish. The pristine beaches and skinny waters offer an abundance of walk-and-wade opportunity for anglers seeking to test their primal pursuit skills. This fishery is home to a ton of large schools that can be effectively targeted if approached on the right tides. These waters are also a preferred location for pre-spawn aggregations, which build before transitioning into the spawn during full moons. These schools, with anywhere from 500 to over 2,000 fish, shift to protected, deep water points to procreate before settling out and dispersing back onto the flats in the days and weeks following this activity.

Each island offers anglers a truly unique cultural vibe and abundant opportunity to chase flats species, ranging from bonefish, tarpon, permit, and barracuda, to various jacks and snapper. Fly fishing Andros is best done between the months of September and June, as the mid-summer water temperatures on the flats is too hot to hold much life.

            Fall is the storm season, which brings its own set of pros and cons. Anglers get plenty of shots at bonefish, and resident tarpon are more commonly caught this time of year, but the weather can be iffy. Fall is the one time of year that anglers must truly consider the chance that they may have multiple days of fishing canceled due to hurricanes and tropical storms. Admittedly there is not much to do on these islands on days like this, but the local watering holes are always worth checking out. Chances are, even if they appear to be closed, a phone call can get the doors open for your group—just ask your host. Bonefish can be found in large schools this time of year, and the fish are generally happy with the post-summer cool down.

The end of the storm season brings Bahamian “winter.” Winter lasts from December to mid-February and is the best time to target trophy-sized bones. For whatever reason, larger mature bones tend to travel together in ones, twos, and threes during these months. What this season offers in the way of large fish, it lacks in pleasant weather and “numbers” days. Temperatures can drop to the mid-50s in the evenings and mornings, and there are days when sunlight is scarce, making sight fishing near impossible. Doom and gloom notwithstanding, if you’re after a 10-pound bonefish and aren’t afraid of failure, this is the time to travel to Andros.

            Ahh, spring in the Bahamas. Does bonefishing get any better? Ample sunshine, happy, plentiful bonefish, and the occasional shot at a big one. The days are longer, the lodges are fully into the swing of things, the guides have a season’s worth of knowledge under their belts. In addition, this is one of the best times to look for permit. If you expect to catch one you’re on a cursed journey, but this timeframe gives you a decent shot at seeing some of those wily “dinner plates.”

Getting to the islands and getting around once you’ve arrived can be daunting. The simplest way to get to Andros is booking a flight to Nassau on an international carrier and then flying on the Bahamian airline Western Air from Nassau to San Andros airport on North Andros; Clarence A. Bain Airport in Mangrove Cay; or Congotown Airport on South Andros. Travelers also book charters or island-hopping shuttle flights from various private airports on the Florida coast.

            Once you’re on the islands, getting around and finding good fishing is all a question of approach. If you stay at one of the many lodges, your travel to and from the local airport is coordinated, and you’ll be fishing from their skiffs every day.

Ultimately, beginning and hard-core bonefishers can’t go wrong visiting Andros. There’s truly no flats fishing equally as remote on this side of the planet. If you plan things right, you could make 10 trips and never fish the same flat. Know that real adventure waits, no matter which island you choose to fish.

Photography by

Ken Hardwick

Kyle Schaefer

James Hamilton

The comically named "Grandpa's Eggs Fly" is an interesting "double take" on the ever-popular Nuke Fly. I use this fly primarily when fishing southern Ontario's Saugeen River. This river tends to get coloured in the spring, making larger flies easier for the fish to find. I find this fly particularly useful when surrounded by center-pin anglers drifting beads—Grandpa’s Eggs tends to stand out from the crowd a little more than your standard yarn pattern. It is simple to tie, but make sure that the two eggs are lined up so the fly doesn't helicopter during casts. When you’re having a slow day, this is a good fly to try.

MATERIALS:

Hook: Daiichi 1150 size 8
Thread: Veevus GSP 100d
Body: McFlyfoam Fl. Peach
Blood Dot: UV red Egg Yarn
Body Extension: 10lb fluorocarbon
Veil: Wapsi white Antron Sparkle Dubbing

Step 1: Cut a 1.5” length of McFlyfoam about .5” in diameter and another 1.5” length of egg yarn about half a pencil width in diameter. Lay the egg yarn on top of the McFlyfoam as shown.

Step 2: Loop a piece of 10 lb fluorocarbon around the middle of the materials.

Step 3: Tie a knot around the material—the same way you would tie on a hook- and pull tight.

Step 4: Pull the material away from the knot tightly.

Step 5: Trim off the excess material about 5mm from the knot.

Step 6: Finish trimming off any leftover material and gently massage it to form the egg shape.

Step 7: Start a small thread base about halfway down the hook shank and tie in the fluorocarbon with tight wraps.

Step 8: To prevent the fluorocarbon from slipping, use a small dab of fast drying super glue over your thread wraps.

Step 9: Make sure the glue has dried before continuing.

Step 10: Cut another length of McFlyfoam and egg yarn the same size or slightly larger than the first.

Step 11: Lay the materials over the hook shank and make three loose wraps around it before pulling it as tight as possible—this is where the GSP thread is important.

Step 12: Without losing tension on the thread, make one or two parachute style wraps around the base of the material. At this point, make a whip finish to secure your thread.

Step 13: Pull the material upwards and cut off the excess to make a second egg roughly the same size as the first.

Step 14: Massage the material around the hook shank.

Step 15: Trim off leftover material to make the egg as round as possible. But remember, it doesn’t need to be perfect.

Step 16: Take a small batch of white antron dubbing and gently spread the fibres apart in your fingers.

Step 17: Lay the dubbing over the hook eye and tie it in with about ¾ of the dubbing in front of the eye.

Step 18: Fan out the dubbing so that it surrounds the whole hook shank.

Step 19: Fold the dubbing back over the fly and make a few wraps in front of the dubbing to hold it back.

Step 20: GSP thread can be slippery so double the whip finish before trimming off the thread.

Photography by

Christian Bilodeau

Forget those copper colored apparitions you may have stalked over flooded spartina grass or sandy flats in balmy weather—fish that squirt away like scalded cats if your double-haul and heavy breathing so much as rock the boat.

The blood-boiler redfish of fall and winter are something else in attitude and size, a far cry from the 16-to 18-inch youngsters so loved by fair-weather and cooler-focused anglers eyeing their next redfish on the grill. What I want to tell you about are those other fish, reds in the high 20s to 30s—pounds, that is. They’re called bulls, for good reason.

Fly fishers focus on bull redfish along a golden crescent of coast encompassing Florida’s Pensacola Bay, the Alabama Gulf beaches and islands, the mouth of the Mississippi River at Venice, Louisiana, and westward to that state’s Biloxi Marsh.

It works like this: Sometime in early autumn great numbers of mature redfish move to deeper Gulf water to spawn, often near barrier island passes. The males exercise a muscle alongside their swim bladders producing a vibrating, drumming sound (that’s why they’re officially called drum) to attract the ladies. When the females show up a nighttime orgy occurs, during which eggs are spewed and fertilized. Invariably the spawn occurs on a big incoming tide, the fertilized eggs then drifting toward and into bays and estuaries where the larva will morph into juveniles.

Sex satiated, the adults are now hungry. Gradually they move inshore where massive schools of menhaden (pogies) are shifting and weaving from one bay to another where mullet also gather. The hapless forage is greeted by legions of giant redfish that in my mind are grinning like evil cheshire cats before they pounce on their prey. This is what we’ve waited for.

The timing of this event in each of the areas along the crescent of Gulf coast varies slightly with weather. Schools of big reds may show as early as late October. November and December are prime in all areas. And, if you can handle and cherry-pick the weather, January works, too. Wind can influence your success. Around Pensacola and along the Alabama beaches a north wind is fine—you can work the inshore and the inside barrier beaches. Not so in Louisiana where marshes reach out to the weather. Here, a north and northwest wind is bad.

Come spring—March and April—the giant aggregations of mature reds are generally fractured, and anglers focus on small groups or individuals that work grass or sand flats, inner sandbars, and marsh shorelines. In these situations, you can sometimes see them coming; with enough water clarity, cruisers at a distance and “crawlers” in extreme shallows with their backs exposed. They’ll be bright, lit up, and wanting to eat. Just for variety, you could glom onto a cousin to the red, the black drum. No confusing the fight of those brutes. Unlike the reds, black drum bulldog toward bottom and hammer it out, using their girth and weight, which can easily top 30 pounds. I think they’re also pretty ugly. But to each their own. This is good sport, hunting these fish in mostly shallow water, but it’s not what people really look for in the fall/winter bull redfish run. It’s those early winter schools off the beaches, and even in the deeper bays, that get anglers so worked up.

In Pensacola Bay—with apologies to Pamplona—they call this style of fishing “the running of the bulls.” Indeed it is, with aggregates of fish surfacing, thrashing and eating, while adrenalin-crazed anglers run and gun in their boats, hooking up, then putting fish down, then doing it all over again.

Along the Redneck Riviera of Alabama beaches, like Perdido, Orange, and Gulf Shores, to the mouth of Mobile Bay, often close in but also out to two miles offshore, in 15-to 60 feet of water, especially when the wind lays and the sun is out, the big redfish come up. Clusters of aerobic pelicans give them away.

When I fished with guide Dan Kolenich, he would point, slicing his arm around in a near 360 degree circle—birds ahead, birds to the side and behind—and slow motor toward the nearest flock. Then the surface would rip, clear water glowing with a copper color, then turning belly-white as an entire school of reds broke the surface, humping down on menhaden. All we had to do was throw into the mess; in those situations it’s near impossible not to hook up. We’d fight and land a fish, then look ahead. As far as you could see, beneath other circles of wheeling and diving pelicans, we saw dozens of schools, meaning hundreds, possibly thousands of bull reds ripping the surface in a swath of water the size of a football field. This is no exaggeration.

While all of this is happening, possibly while you are releasing a fish or hooking up again, the sky could crack with a roar you literally can feel in your chest. On certain days the Blue Angel jets from Pensacola Naval Air Station perform their incredible aerobatics, sometimes triggering paraffin-oil vaporized smoke trails looking like spermatozoa squiggles on a microscope slide. One time, the pilots were amusing themselves, I’m sure, using our boat as a pivot point before thundering surface-skimming passes that turned the water to froth from terrified, fleeing redfish. We soon took exception to those Angel antics.

Fast-moving flies in a variety of patterns, and in colors ranging from bright gold to purple-black, are good choices when targeting running schools. Big fish that are hunting in a slightly more sedate manner are prime targets for large poppers—often the largest you can throw. There’s a funny popper story from Moe (Monique) Newman, co-owner with her husband Eric of Journey South Outfitters in Venice, Louisiana. The go-to “meat” technique for non-fly anglers targeting slot redfish and trout wherever the fish swim is this: A popping cork with a leader-strung jig below. On a day that she set up some novice clients with such rigs, larger reds began noshing on the floats. Instinctively, Moe rummaged for a lure to emulate the corks. What she had was a big Shimano Pop Orca plug meant for tuna. The bull reds crushed it. The rest is history as they say. It ushered in the increasing use of truly large poppers where traditionally streamer-style bait patterns were the flies of choice.

Those massive schools of redfish eventually break up, but winter bull reds are still to be targeted—individually, or in small groups. Protected slick surfaces, tight along marsh shorelines near deeper water, are prime target areas. So are small ponds and larger lakes back in the marshes. These pockets are connected by channels and bayous, and at times the fish hunt those constricted places. With any kind of decent visibility you’ll be rewarded with the excitement of true sight fishing for these thick-shouldered creatures. You could see nervous water or breaks from feeding fish at some distance, or you might lock in on the slow approach of a cruiser or two, closing in time with your heart beat. Or your sighted fish may appear from nowhere, reddish-copper apparitions suddenly materializing in the brownish-olive water. When that happens there’s no time for refined casting. It’s a situation of throw-it-out-now, fast and hard, sometimes slapping your subsurface fly or popper so close ahead of the traveling fish you’ll be sure you’ve spooked them. But these are redfish—more times than not, they’ll eat.

Close-range or distance spotting, sight fishing doesn’t always work. Clouded water and/or a choppy surface switches the game to one of blind casting to key ambush areas.Think of those constricted areas between ponds and lakes. Think of points with circling currents, small pockets or larger cuts in shorelines. You may also need to wear yourself out hammering shorelines where wind pushes forage that’s on the bulls’ menu. That wind varies from manageable to the point where, in tandem with big tides, it pushes water from back marsh ponds and lakes and makes access basically impossible.

I’ve hit this winter bull red fishing when air temps were near 70, the sun was strong and the breeze like a soft kiss. And then, sometimes overnight, things can turn ugly: The sun goes, the sky spits freezing rain or sleet and gives rise to thoughts of fetal-like curling around a jug of something stronger than herbal tea.

Masks and snowmobile suits over multiple insulating layers become the dress code. But if you can get to the right places, even for the shorter fishing sessions your body can stand, the big reds are likely there and prone to eat. And what if it’s just too bad, too brutal, just impossible to fish? Believe it, there’s other stuff you can do.

This crescent of the Southeast U.S. coast is a dream of succulent eating—oysters, shrimp, crabs, gumbos, boudin sausages, smokey ribs . . . . Even in the smaller villages there’ll be an assortment of watering holes that are sure to please, many with the kind of live music—blues, zydeco, rock, jazz—that’ll put bad weather out of mind. Even with weather that passes as bad in this part of the Deep South, it’s going to turn good again. And even if it takes a while to do so, fishing in the cold is a darned sight better than digging out from another multiple-feet-deep winter snowstorm in the North.

Rods and Lines

A 9-weight rod is the workhorse of choice, though 8 and 10-weights have their places. Floating lines handle most situations, but don’t be without an intermediate taper. A fast-sink configuration for off-shore windy conditions might also find use.

Flies

Large saltwater streamer patterns (in light, dark and flash-heavy ties), along with big poppers, work well on bull redfish. Remember, these fish are primarily eating good-size menhaden or mullet, thus patterns with heads of water-pushing bucktail, wool, or synthetic material (think giant muddlers) are good.

A Few Favorite Patterns:

Capt. Dan Kolenich’s simple go-to streamer is a more subtle pattern. It’s tied on a 1/0 hook. It has a yellow chenille collar and wing of multiple layers of gold Flashabou that flare like confetti between strips. Depending on water depth, these flies will be rigged with either bead chain or even heavier eyes.

A local Alabama favorite is the Geaumeau (pronounced go-mo) named for a folklore creature that gives kids nightmares, a swamp horror with heads at front and tail reducing it to chronic constipation. The fly is a meaty streamer of chartreuse flash, Estaz head, white rabbit-strip tail. A commercial version should be available from Deep South Outfitters in Birmingham, Alabama https://www.fishdso.com

A black/purple Redfish Destroyer Shrimp Fly—weighted—with a weed guard is popular for subsurface Louisiana marsh fishing. One version is sold by Steelie Brothers Fly Co., steeliebrosflyco.com, and you should definitely check their selection of big poppers—Big Head Gray/White; Swamp Monster; Purple Ice Mega Double Barrel Popper—all tied on 6/0 or 7/0 hooks.

Eateries and Watering Holes

Pensacola, Florida

Gulf Coast Brewery (has cigar lounge)

The Fish House (nightly live music)

 

Fairhope, Alabama

McSharry’s Irish Pub (serves the best Guinness pour in the Southeast. Weekend Fiddle & Flute Sessions)

Master Joes

Dragon Fly

Buck’s Diner

 

Venice, Louisiana

The Den—has music

Bayous Club

Hartt’s Old Cypress Bar

 

New Orleans, Louisiana

Just throw a blind cast and you’ll find something good

 

Houma, Louisiana (for those fishing out of Cocodrie and Dulac)

1921—for great seafood

Boxer & The Barrell (good tunes with the Duke restaurant next door)

Big Mike’s BBQ Smokehouse

A-Bear’s Cafe

Bayou Delight Restaurant

Photography by

Jerry Gibbs

Carmen Causey

Daniel Favato

Gil Greenberg

This modern and extremely effective casting and fishing method should not intimidate.

Skagit lines were originally designed to deliver heavy payloads very long distances often with little or no room for a backcast. So, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, dedicated angler Ed Ward and his metalhead cronies customized a unique system of compact shooting heads that worked with a complimentary tip system and allowed ideal drifts while swinging Washington state’s Skagit River with large Intruder flies. The benefits of their Skagit systems were soon realized by anglers facing similar casting scenarios in other places, on all variety of waters.

As line manufacturers developed Skagit systems for the masses, rod manufacturers made shorter and more efficient two-handed “switch” rods, allowing anglers to vary tactics between single-hand techniques, like indicator nymphing, and two-handed spey style casts. Many salmon and steelhead anglers realized that 13-foot-plus long spey rods were no longer needed to make lengthy, accurate casts when using heavier tips and/or weighted flies. The Skagit phenomenon soon spread into lighter weight line systems and are now made to work with rods as light as 3-weight trout “spey” rods. These can be an absolute blast to fish, even when throwing light flies, including soft-hackles off of floating lines, to feeding trout.

Modern Skagit lines are easily adapted to almost every rod style, including those that all trout anglers have—a 9-foot-long 4, 5 or 6-weight. When anglers try a Skagit head system to punch out small-to medium size streamers and double nymph rigs in a single stroke, they are often amazed by how much power they find in their old, reliable 5-weights. With head weights as low as 125 grains, you can even load up a 3-weight to effortlessly swing your favorite streamers and other rigs. These can turn a standard 10-foot or 11-foot nymphing rod into a totally different beast for trout fishing. With these configurations, anglers can adjust the sink rate and depth of the fly by changing the tip and leader that connects the shooting head to the fly. That’s a simple process made easier by modern loop-to-loop connections.

This casting style is pretty simple. A short, compact head and tip are water-loaded using current and a sustained anchor point. With practice, this casting stroke requires very little effort when compared to overhead casting. And once mastered, it allows anglers to access parts of a river that they may not have reached with a single-hander.

Where to start with Skagit casting? You can get as complex as you want with your system, or keep it simple. Skagit lines come in just about every configuration. You can find standard heads or compact heads with integrated running lines, integrated sinking heads, and all in a variety of densities. Each rod manufacturer has its own recommendation for tips, heads/grain weights, and running lines, depending on which rod and reel you might load up.

Fishing Skagit isn’t overwhelming, but getting your rig set up right, so that a line system effectively bends a rod and allows you to throw a lot of line, is crucial. And the best place to get some direction is at your local fly shop or through a certified casting instructor. Pay that extra fee upfront; reap major reward the first time you hit the water with a trout-spey outfit. I highly recommend that everyone gives a Skagit casting system a chance. It may create a fishing experience you never expected . . . with a lot of the equipment you already own.

Tidal redfish flats are like the road of life—success can be measured in how you handle the highs and lows.

In the case of tides, not all are equal. On a spring tide, which occurs twice each month and has nothing to do with the spring season, the moon and sun are on opposite sides of the planet. When this occurs the swings between high and low tides can be great. Typical tide range on the redfish flats is four-to five feet. But on a spring tide, that range could push to seven feet, meaning higher highs and lower lows.

When coupled with a storm off the Atlantic coast, and a consistent west wind blowing 10-to 12-plus knots—pushing water off the flats—a tide may rate far below the “lowest low-water mark” on your depth chart . . . what we call, “the negative low.”

The negative low presents a timely opportunity to experience a captivating redfish phenomena—crawling fish on the bank. During a negative low, big, bold redfish can access prey in a way they couldn’t before—pinning shrimp, crabs and small baitfish in super shallow water with no escape. These fish slowly prowl down a muddy bank, providing anglers ample opportunity to lay a crustacean fly in the path of a freight train, its eyes just barely below water level.

Recognizing when your area is experiencing a severe negative low tide could provide you with a whole new redfish experience. Watching a crawling redfish pounce on a fly and pin it to the mud is exhilarating and might challenge an angler to keep his or her composure. Similar to bonefishing in skinny water, these fish don’t have the luxury to swim down, so they commit to horizontal movement with significant haste. The cast-to-catch experience for crawling reds, and the screaming runs they take when hooked, makes it well worth keeping your eyes on a variety of weather conditions.

However, with a negative low tide comes the issue of access. The small island cut-throughs that once provided travel lanes between flats, suddenly consist of two inches of water above a soft layer of mud. If you don’t have enough water to maneuver in, you might spend a long session in the mud, possibly in sweltering heat, waiting for the tide to rise. For that reason, having a shallow draft vessel is paramount. Flats skiffs may work, but people also pole their kayaks into untouched areas. And, if a hard bottom is present, anglers can use their “boat” to get within striking range and then chase these fish on foot.

When redfish are rummaging through murky water, they rely heavily on motion and sound to find their prey. Redfish have an otolith that picks up sound from a substantial distance. In addition, their lateral lines sense motion and sound and offer the fish directional guidance. Using a fly that pushes water and creates some sound is important. However, all of those senses working in shallow water also means you’ve got to be stealthy—beware the splashing push-poles, cumbersome footsteps on deck, and Yeti bottles banging against a cooler or sidewall. These fish can be extremely skittish.

When it all comes together, and you get within range of a big red feeding in shallow water, it’s all good. But, remember, you’ll be pushing the limit in low water conditions. You’ll have to do whatever it takes to reach these fish, even if that means you might need a little mud makeover and a few new items in your boat. Is that risk and some extra cost worth it?

You make the call.

Nonskid cleaner? $11.99

Tide Detergent? $14.99

Casting to a hungry, crawling redfish with its back out of the water? Priceless.

Photography by

Cody Rubner

Ironically, Covid may have been just what the doctor ordered.

About a decade after “The Movie” premiered, some fly-shop owners and gear manufacturers were already shouting, “What we need is another movie.” They feared an aging population of traditional anglers, which represented their key customers and core revenue base, was phasing out, meaning, literally, dying. They desired fresh meat, another influx of newcomers to the sport, people who would buy at all levels, from beginner to advanced, and push the industry to its highest goals.

Unfortunately, by that time Norman McClane was dead—i.e., A River Runs Through It II was out of the question—and 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis were soon to arrive.

Still, there was lots of creative energy coming into fly fishing, all trying to appeal to that fresh demographic, such as youth, hipsters, spey junkies, women, tenkara posers and, more recently, Euro-nymphers. Bro brah speak and shaggy beards were in abundance.

There were other efforts, too. Fly fishing DVD’s turned into the Fly Fishing Film Tour, and subsequent iterations, which appealed to that younger demographic and offered considerably wild and, admittedly, fun pre-screening parties (minus the hangover); advertisers and their marketing agencies pulled dollars from traditional media, such as magazines, and shifted it to in-house content creation and online advertising, where they could better reach a youthful/i phone addicted audience and track their efforts; beginner fly-fishing kits morphed from pathetically slow clunkers to something a beginner could throw well, and a sage angler might cast and then say, “This ‘aint bad”; online 101 tutorials offered all the questions newbies needed to have answered, minus the trepidation they may have felt if stepping into a shop; big box gained access to key brands’ products, bringing the seemingly nonsensical $900 dollar fly rod and the improbable $700 wader in front of curious general market eyes.

It all added up, made smart sense. The industry seemed to be doing ok, and in some cases great. But if you listened to conversations and grasped the general vibe at fly-fishing trade shows (IFTD and ICast) you knew the key players wanted more. More anglers. More voices for water and habitat conservation. More support for native fish. More support for independent fly shops and guides, domestic and abroad. More rod-toting worldly travelers and their affiliated gear sales.

But still, the question: Where would that uptick come from?

Enter Covid-19.

In March and April it was doom and gloom with the industry fearing a massive fallout, if any of us even survived the pandemic. By May and June some pencil-pushers reported reasons to be optimistic. In July and August it was absolutely clear that something phenomenal occurred and the issue wasn’t whether any of us would make it through the pandemic, but how supply chains could keep up with demand, all fueled by new people coming into the sport. Accounting books had gone from blurry to black in a blink of an eye. Boom! A new movie in the form of a pandemic. Who knew?

Ben Bulis is president and CEO of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, which acts as the de facto voice for fly fishing in the United States. He, too, sees a comparison to the post-A River Runs Through It timeframe.

“If you go back to March, people were worried,” Bulis said. “What would the market look like for fishing? Governors were closing down fishing in their states. You could easily fear the worst was coming.

“But the governors soon realized that closing fishing wasn’t a good idea, that people wanted to be outside and recreating. So where we are now is totally different than where we were in March. We saw a wave of new people coming into fly fishing and people who hadn’t fished in a while got back into it. It’s been a good year for retailers and manufacturers. And I would say this is only the second time we’ve seen something like this. I don’t know if this is a bigger shift than after A River Runs Through It came out, but it’s similar. Right now we have to make sure we reach out to the new people, keep them engaged and accept their participation.”

Kirk Deeter is the editor-in-chief of Trout magazine and the owner of Angling Trade, an industry-focussed digital publication. Deeter has as solid a pulse on the industry and was quick to realize we are in the middle of a fundamental shift.

“The rivers and lakes have blown up,” Deeter said from his home in Colorado. “Fishing license sales way up. Product sales way up in certain categories—personal watercraft, flies, tippet, rods. In fact, the rod companies that inventoried raw materials before the pandemic, or shortly after it began, are crushing it now. Those who seized up or were super dependent on a China supply chain ate it. You can’t buy a rod on some of the pro sites now if you wanted to. Demand is that strong.”

Justin Karnopp is a jack-of-all-trades. Writer. Photographer. Guide. Distributor. He lives in Missoula, Montana and is a principal, with North American distribution rights, in CD Fishing USA, a rod manufacturer that has a solid history in New Zealand and is now branching out. When I recently spoke with Karnopp he said the issue is keeping up with demand, something that he had a better line on than some brands.

“From a guiding standpoint, the pandemic didn’t effect me much,” he said. “I got as many days as I wanted. People had to cancel their bigger ticket trips and were able to drive to Montana to fish. A lot of Washington people were here. And we saw an influx from California, Texas, Colorado and Utah, too.

“From a rod sales standpoint, it was good for me,” he said. “I definitely saw the urgency in having entry-level product because we saw an influx of beginners. I spent a lot of time sourcing out a reel and a line to make an affordable entry-level kit. That is a reflection of how many people are entering the sport right now. People decided to spend money on being outdoors.”

“I was lucky, too,” Karnopp said. “I had a lot of 5-weight rods shipped over from our New Zealand warehouse, right when many companies were sold out of them, and either delayed in manufacturing or simply backed up. There was serious demand for those rods.”

Jack Reis is director of marketing for fishpond, which is based in Colorado and sells a variety of high end and highly functional fly-fishing gear, ranging from straw hats, to submersible duffels, to tippet holders, to backpacks and hip packs, all as sustainably sourced as humanly possible. Reis saw the same shift as Deeter and Karnopp.

“From a business standpoint, I can confirm that we were pretty concerned when the pandemic began,” Reis said. “There was a lot of confusion over what effect it would have on participation and manufacturing. But early on we saw people taking refuge and finding distraction in the outdoors. We saw a massive bump in new participants this spring and summer.

“The problem with this growth is keeping up with demand,” Reis noted. “It’s hard to get your hands on some products now, like 4X tippet and 5-weight rods. It was, at once, a demand and manufacturing issue. There were shutdowns that effected suit’s just that so many people want these products right now.

“The 5-weight rod thing is wild,” Reis said. “There are more people wanting to fly fish this year than ever before. The demand completely exceeded the 5-weight inventory. And we have seen that for some of our products, too—packs and bags, slings, Thunderhead submersibles, Nomad nets, Tacky fly boxes . . . .

“I have high hopes for 2021,” Reis said. “We see demand still being there. We just want to be consistent with our manufacturing road. For us, materials have been critical to our mission, which is to be good to the environment as well as good to the sport. For us, it’s going to be business as usual in our use of recycled materials. And I’m excited about what we will bring to market. We may not have as many new items as we normally would, but we will offer some really great stuff, things we’ve had our eyes on for a long time.”

Simms Fishing, based in Bozeman, Montana, also has seen a spike in sales, noted by John Frazier, who heads that company’s PR, content and digital marketing strategies.

“Being outdoors is a safe thing that people can do right now, and there are more people fishing than we’ve ever seen,” he said. “That’s helped us position ourselves for a healthy post-coronavirus arena. An increase in outdoor activities, across the board, is what’s getting outdoor brands through this. I see it as a good thing—more people getting outdoors means more consumers and a louder collective voice for conservation. We need that right now.”

Unfortunately, all segments of the fly-fishing industry can’t report such rosy numbers. To point, fly-fishing travel has taken it on the chin, with many borders still closed and no promise of when certain target-rich environments might reopen. In addition, many guides and lodges struggled in 2020, in particular in Alaska and Florida.

“Definitely travel has been hit hard,” Bulis said. “And depending on where you are located, guiding and outfitting has been hit, too. The southeastern guides lost their whole tarpon season. And some lodges in Alaska didn’t even open. Obviously, with the Canadian border closed, the British Columbia steelhead season was a big miss, too. Atlantic salmon in eastern Canada—same thing.

“Fortunately,” Bulis added, “I haven’t heard of any lodges shutting down for good. Regarding travel, we’ll only know how severe the hit will be when we finally have a vaccine ready for everyone in the world, not just the U.S, and people are comfortable getting back on airplanes. If it takes a long time for travel to rebound, we’ll see a trickle down effect on the entire industry. Travel is a segment our industry relies on, whether you’re a manufacturer or a shop . . . it will impact everybody.”

Reiss, at fishpond, echoed that concern. “Domestic demand made up for a loss in our travel gear sales,” he said. “The things you have to have to be on the water, like packs and accessories sold very well. Our travel items didn’t see the growth they normally would. That is a direct result of people not getting on planes. Those sales are reliant on people’s willingness to get on planes and fly across the world and spend money. That all plays into the mix for our bottom line.”

Karnopp, at CD Fishing USA, said, “The fly-fishing travel scene makes me anxious. We’ve developed rods for specific travel and I’m concerned that the travel trend may continue indefinitely. (Covid) cases are up. They’re not going down. If people aren’t traveling for two or three years it is going to effect the entire industry. I look at bonefish guides in particular. I don’t know if they will ever recover. A lot of those guys probably move on and do other things. Damn, like everyone, I cancelled a redfish trip this fall. I have a wife and two kids, ages six and three . . . couldn’t take the chance.”

One of the biggest questions being asked by the industry is whether the International Fly Tackle Dealer Show (IFTD) will take place in 2021. The 2020 show, scheduled for October at the Denver Convention Center was cancelled. Bulis can’t say for sure whether a 2021 show will take place, but he’s planning as if it’s a go.

“We are still moving forward on an October show next year,” Bulis said. “But, we will continue to evaluate that potential as we learn about the number of (Covid) cases and any shutdowns. I would say we’ll have to let the manufactures know, one way or the other, by the first of July. If we couldn’t do the show we would probably reach out and see if people want a virtual show. But the virtual shows I’ve seen are not very good. We’ll just have to see as we move into 2021.”

It’s almost impossible to believe that a virus likely spreading from a bat to a human in an open-air market in Wuhan, China could promote fly-fishing gear sales in North America. But, that is exactly how tied in and strange our world is these days, with nothing—not even those $900 dollar rods and $700 waders—seeming completely improbable anymore.

GOT FISH?

For some anglers, winter is the time to swap out their fly rods for skis and take to the slopes. However, many of us just bundle up and brave the elements. Fortunately, there are plenty of winter fly-fishing opportunities in the United States, options that place some big fish on the end of your line and take the chill out of winter.

These five U.S. winter fly-fishing options get you out of the office and onto the water with the chance to land a variety of impressive fish.

Redfish in South Carolina

Already hear the collective groan emanating from the Florida Coast? We do! Florida has incredible redfishing, and it’s proud of it, too. Actually, these brutes can be found up and down the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, ranging from Virginia to Texas. Which state has it best? That is a question of preference, and my pick is the great state of South Carolina. During winter, redfish seek shallow waters where they take advantage of warm water and abundant food sources. Anglers often observe reds “tailing” amongst tidal grasses in shallow water that lines much of the South Carolina coast. This makes for exciting sight-fishing opportunity. There’s nothing quite like watching the wake from a bull red charging a fly. It’s an exhilarating experience that any angler would wholeheartedly enjoy. Popular fly patterns include the Kung Fu Crab, Everglades Special, and Crafty Shrimp.

Pacific Steelhead in Oregon

The angling hoards love steelhead, and that’s for good reason—these sea-run trout are not your average “bows.” Steelhead, which are an anadromous rainbow trout, routinely exceed 30 inches in length and can easily weigh more than 10 pounds. Fish growing past 40 inches are possible; they may weigh 20 pounds or more. When spawning time arrives, mature steelhead make their way into the Pacific Northwest’s freshwater river systems. Some may spend the entire winter in freshwater while others—especially along the Oregon Coast—make a dash upstream to spawn and then quickly exit. When most people think of Oregon’s steelhead rivers they visualize the famous Deschutes. But other rivers, such as the Umpqua, Rogue and Siletz, among many others, provide the quintessential coastal winter steelhead experience. Fly fishers can spend lots of time and effort trying to catch one of these skittish beasts, but the reward is enormous. Fighting steelhead on a brawling coastal river often takes an angler well into their backing. Anglers may use single-hand rods for steelhead, but in the PNW most fly fishers throw spey and switch rods and drop down deep with Skagit heads, sink tips and heavy flies. Come well armed—swinging flies near bottom, on super bouldery rivers, means you’ll likely lose some gear. Solid fly choices include Egg Sucking Leeches, Pick Yer Pockets, Deceivers, mini tube flies, and Fish Tacos.

Bonefish in Key West, Florida

How can such a small fish pack a big punch? The simple answer is this—because it’s a bonefish, man, and they just fight. Bonefish can be fished almost year-round, but many anglers choose dates that coincide with a much-needed break from cold weather climes. Why wouldn’t they—anglers can escape the weather and sight fish to glistening beauties on shallow water flats. Bonefish are receptive to flies and are incredibly powerful for their size, given, on average, they are barely larger than a trout. But don’t think this is easy fishing. Florida Keys bones are known for two things; they are large, up to 10 pounds or more, and they are extremely wary. Bring your A-game while walking the flats. Do so, and a keen observer might see scores of these blazing-fast fish prowling the flats. Equipped with a 7, 8 or 9-weight fly rod, some small baitfish and shrimp imitations, and proper sun protection, you might ditch your freshwater roots after catching a few of these dynamos. Try Mantis Shrimp, Gotchas, and McKnight’s Crimp . . . and throw accurately.

Brown Trout in the White River, Arkansas

Big, wild brown trout on large shad patterns? Sign us up. For brown trout, cold weather months mean spawning time. Before the fish are on their redds they are active and looking to eat. When most anglers consider prime winter brown trout fishing they don’t visualize Arkansas. If you’re in that boat, you’ll be sorely punished for ignoring this fishery—there are few other wild brown trout rivers in America as productive as the White. This tailwater system provides brown trout with a perfect habitat filled with ample food sources. Most notably, these big White River browns pursue shad that are flushed under dams. These protein-packed and disoriented (if not dead or injured) baitfish make for easy prey. As a result, White River browns reach incredible sizes. It’s routine to catch browns over 20 inches here, and these fish may stretch to 10 pounds or more. Preferred fly patterns include Zonkers, Game-Changers, Red Foxes and Copper Johns.

Wild Trout in the Northern Rockies

With the Snake, South Fork Snake and Henry’s Fork rivers all located in the immediate area, Jackson Hole is one of the epicenters of American trout fishing. These rivers can be productive year-round, but they can be crowded during prime times; anglers willing to fight through bitter cold may be treated to solitude and some prime fishing. Dead of winter may not produce many fish, but the shoulder seasons in late fall and early spring can be lights-out good, especially if you are willing to travel outside the immediate area when conditions merit. With an extended drive from Jackson, anglers could also fish the Madison, Gallatin and Yellowstone rivers. What really makes the fishing so special is an abundance of trout. Box Canyon on the Henry’s Fork, for example, has approximately 5,000 rainbow trout per mile. Those fish take nymphs and streamers in fall, winter and spring, and those who venture out on warmer days, when air temperatures rise above freezing, may encounter excellent midge hatches and great dry-fly opportunity. In spring, beginning in March and early April, blue-winged olives may be present. These are some of the most storied river systems in the world and are a surefire bucket list trip for any angler. Be sure to bring tried and true Jackson-area flies, like Head-Banger Sculpins, Heisenbergs, Pheasant-Tails, Hare’s Ears, Parachute Adams’, and Griffith’s Gnats.

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Huchen, (Hucho hucho), also known as hucho, Danube salmon, sulec glavatka, mladica

SIZE

Average: 30-to 35 inches
Trophy: 40-plus inches
IGFA All Tackle Record: 76 pounds 11 ounces, Austria

 

FAVOURITE DESTINATIONS

Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia

DIFFICULTY RATING

9/10

KNOWN FOR

– Aggressive strikes
– Difficult to catch
– Found in the most beautiful of places
– Size

OVERVIEW

Huchen is a European taimen species, closely related to the famed Mongolian taimen (H. hucho taimen), and the Japanese taimen (H. perryi). Unlike its anadromous North American cousins, these fish spend their entire lives in freshwater, mostly in the rivers where they were born. Hucho require clean, well-oxygenated water and an ample forage fish base to thrive.

The huchen’s population dwindled in the 20th century due to the construction of dams on European rivers, and loss of habitat, and overharvest. In recent years, huchen populations have started to recover, thanks to the rearing of huchen fry in hatcheries, and protective measures—including limited bag limits and seasonal quotas—implemented by local governments. Stocking programs are in use throughout much of the huchen’s native range with a relatively high success rate. Populations in several Slovenian rivers have rebounded and are now managed under a put-and-take system. Most fly fishers, however, practice catch-and-release.

Huchen are ferocious ambush predators, behaving more like a musky than a salmon or trout. They rest behind boulders and other debris, and at the bottom of pools, waiting for prey to venture within range. They are the apex predator in the rivers they inhabit and feed on anything that fits in their mouths, including trout, grayling, carp, barbell, and even smaller huchen.

WHY TARGET HUCHEN

The huchen is an extremely difficult fish to catch. Landing a large huchen, known locally as “Defeating the King,” is a significant milestone for Balkan anglers . . . for good reason; these fish seem to have a sixth sense and are notorious for shutting down when anglers are working their pools. Huchen are extremely finicky, only eating under the right conditions, and they are able to go without food for an extended time. To make matters more difficult, huchen fishing is generally open only during winter, from October to February, which means anglers need to be prepared for some cold days on the river. It is said, the nastier the weather the better the bite.

To catch huchen on large rivers, anglers often swing big, weighted streamers down and across and close to bottom. When fishing smaller rivers, anglers get away with 9-to 10-weight single-hand rods matched with shooting heads, sink-tips, and nothing lighter than 16-pound tippet. In these rivers, anglers throw flies in the 3-to 5-inch range. Huchen are often found in deep pools and tailouts. Repetitively covering that type of water is how most of these fish are caught. This is not a numbers game—on a good day, a competent angler might get a few eats.

On larger rivers, big, two-handed rods are most efficient as anglers need to turn over heavy sinking tips while covering as much water as possible. Weighted flies in the 5-to 8-inch range are required. Fish congregate around seams, inflows, waterfalls, rapids, and tailouts. Locating and catching huchen in larger waters can prove difficult, but your efforts could be rewarded with a four-foot-long, 50-pound monster. In our minds, and likely yours too, that’s more than enough incentive to take on a major fly-fishing challenge.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Huchen are endemic to the Danube River Basin. The Danube is Europe’s second-largest river and passes through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine before draining into the Black Sea in Romania. Additionally, huchen are found in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Poland, and Slovenia. Japan also has populations.

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

When young, huchen are extremely fast-growing, capable of putting on six inches in length a year for their first five years of existence. They reach sexual maturity at seven years old. From March to April, mature adults migrate upstream into small tributaries seeking shallow gravel beds for spawning. Larger females dig nests, or redds, and lay eggs in them. Attentive males fertilize those eggs. Eggs hatch approximately one month later. Larvae stay protected in the gravel for approximately 10 days while they absorb their yolk sacks. Young huchen feed on insect larva and plankton until they are large enough to prey on small fish. Unlike Pacific salmon, huchen do not die after spawning. Instead, they return to their resident waters post-spawn and bulk up on forage fish.

GEAR

In large rivers two-handed, 8-to 12-weight rods in the 11-to 14-foot range, matched with 400-to 700-grain Skagit heads are the ticket. Sinking tips are preferred as they make turning over big, 5-to 8-inch long flies more manageable. On smaller rivers 9-foot long single-hand rods, and 10-to 11-foot long switch rods, are ideal for casting in tight spaces. For tippet, 16-to 20-pound fluorocarbon is standard, whether fishing smaller waters or large rivers.

Photography by

Rok Lustrik

TARPON

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Megalops Atlanticus (Silver King, Poon)

SIZE

Average: 40-80 pounds
Trophy: 100 pounds or more

FAVORITE DESTINATIONS

Florida (Keys; Homosassa; Everglades); Cuba; Mexico (Yucatan Peninsula); Belize

DIFFICULTY RATING

Baby tarpon: 3/10
Adults (over 60 pounds): 8/10

KNOWN FOR

Incredible surface clearing leaps when hooked; the visceral thrill of its clapping gill plates when leaping (like banging two aluminum garbage can lids together); at times finicky eating habits, despite their hulk; and incredible fighting stamina.

Pat Ford

Tarpon are immediately recognizable by their large silver scales that flash in the sun—not to mention their immense size—giving all but the most stoic anglers a start in the process. In many places, tarpon are seasonal visitors; in some places (like the northern Yucatan and river mouths spilling into the Atlantic throughout Central America), they are present year-round. Odds are good that if tarpon are present, fly anglers will forget other species and focus on them. Anglers primarily find tarpon in shallow coastal waters and estuaries and in proximity to coral reefs, but they may also be encountered in open marine waters while migrating. . . .and occasionally in fresh or brackish water lakes and rivers. “Baby” tarpon (fish 5 to 40 pounds) can be fairly easy to come by, especially in the northern Yucatan, where extensive mangroves serve as a nursery ground; adults are often seen while fishing, but can be tougher to coax to the fly…and certainly more difficult to land.

Permit might be more persnickety. Bonefish might be faster. But for shear brute strength, size and thrilling aerial displays, there’s no more alluring flats species than tarpon. What other fish are you going to encounter in shallow water that’s willing to take a well-presented fly and could very well exceed your proportions in length and weight and jumping ability? (There’s a reason a small, obsessed [and perhaps slightly warped] cadre of anglers spend tens of thousands of dollars each spring in places like Homosassa, Florida to retain guides for a month at a time in hopes of wresting a world-record fish to hand—a mark that right now hovers north of 202.5 pounds for 20-pound test tippet.) Sometimes conditions demand that anglers blind cast heavy sinking lines into deep cuts where fish may be passing through or laying up out of sight. But in ideal conditions you’ll sight fish for them much as you would for bonefish or permit, either poling along a flat or staking up at the edge of a beach where the fish will—Mother Nature willing—pass by. Where water is less clear—say the Everglades—anglers may cast to “blurping” or rolling fish, and even to bubbles that suggest a tarpon’s presence. In an ideal flats situation, you (or more likely, your guide) will spot fish approaching. Ideally you’ll drop the fly in front of approaching fish in enough time for it to sink to the fish’s level in the water column. Some fish will respond better to a long slow strip, others to shorter more frequent “pops.” Either way, it’s important to keep the fly moving right to the boat; takes can come with the leader inside your rod tip.

Things often go south for fly anglers when a fish decides to take. If you’re watching a tarpon take on the flat, don’t strike too soon; it’s not uncommon to pull the fly out of the fish’s mouth. When you feel the line come tight—and you will feel it—sweep the rod back hard (don’t lift up). It doesn’t hurt to make a few hard strip-sets too. Next, you’ll need to take special care to clear the line as the fish takes off. Many a hook-up has ended with line wrapped around a fighting butt, a dangling pair of plyers or even a shirt button, tippet waving impotently in the breeze. If you make it this far with the fish still on, prepare for the first big jump—and bow the rod when this happens (and for each subsequent jump). This gives the tarpon a little slack so the fish is less likely to land on taut line, thus snapping your tippet.

The most skilled tarpon anglers apply lots of pressure early in an effort to wear the fish out quickly. Less seasoned anglers might find themselves fighting the fish for hours. Don’t feel too bad if you come unbuttoned on your first few fish; they say that fly anglers will land roughly one in 10 of the adult tarpon they hook.

Tarpon are found in the warmer waters of the Atlantic, from Virginia to Brazil in the western Atlantic, along the coast of Africa in the eastern Atlantic, and throughout the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. Some locales within their range host year-round “resident” populations, like the Florida Keys and parts of the Everglades; others see fish most regularly during migration periods, with tarpon passing north past Tampa Bay to Homosassa in May, further up toward the Florida Panhandle in June, and then along the Gulf Coast as far as Texas later in the summer before the fish begin heading south again. Some anglers target tarpon that are on the move; others look for “laid up” fish that are either resting or waiting to ambush forage. Low light periods—particularly the morning—tend to yield the most consistent results.

Tarpon have hard, bony mouths that resist all but the most sharply struck hooks; lacking teeth, tarpon swallow their prey whole. They are catholic feeders, focusing on sardines, shrimp, crabs and mullet, among other species. Tarpon are unique among sportfish in that they have a swim bladder, which allows them to breathe air as we do…though they can also breathe through their gills. (A tendency for tarpon to breathe on the surface, especially in less oxygenated water, gives anglers a heads-up as to their location.)

No one understands for sure where tarpon spawn, but the best available data suggests that it occurs in the summer months, roughly 100 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Milt and eggs mix in the open water (a phenomenon known as broadcast spawning). Once eggs hatch, the larvae are swept by currents into estuarine habitats where they find shelter in mangroves and slowly grow into miniature versions of adult fish. Tarpon generally reach maturity around age 10. Females are bigger than males, and can reach weights of 300 pounds. They may live upwards of 60 years.

For adult fish: A 12-weight rod with the best saltwater reel you can afford outfitted with floating and intermediate lines, 300 yards of backing, and 80 pound shock tippet (with 16 to 20 pound bite tippet). Some guides use straight 80-pound mono. Popular flies include Deceivers, Toads, Cockroaches and Black Deaths, though odds are your guide will have flies that they favor…and will likely replace your leader too. (Some anglers go with a 9- or 10-weight rod if smaller adults are around; however, the sturdier the rod, the quicker you can get the fish in…and the better their chance for survival.

For “baby” tarpon: An 8-weight rod with floating and intermediate lines and 100 yards of backing should suffice. Straight 40-pound mono will do for leader, though you can make it as involved as you wish. Smaller versions of the flies above will work, as well as Gurglers and on occasion, even poppers.

If you’re in the market for a truly remote flats-fishing experience, Andros, Bahamas is a solid choice. This trio of islands, which oftentimes is called, simply, Andros Island, includes North Andros, Mangrove Cay, and South Andros. A series of channels or bights—including North Bight, Middle Bight, and South Bight—separate the three islands in that order from north to south. As a singular region, Andros stretches over 100 miles north to south and encompasses over 2,300 square miles, which means these three islands would be the fifth largest island in the Caribbean by landmass if measured as one. North Andros occupies the number six spot on that list, while South Andros comes in at number nine.

While North and South Andros are the two largest islands in the Bahamas, they are scarcely populated. With less than 7,500 inhabitants spread throughout. Andros has a population density equivalent to Alaska. For reference, Montana is almost seven times more densely populated than Andros. These numbers are relevant, not for boring a reader with statistics, but in order to paint a picture of true Caribbean wilderness. A trip to Andros is a trip to the Bahamian outback, a journey in time that reveals what the northern Caribbean region looked like before development and population growth through the 19th and 20th centuries. If you’re curious about the Florida Keys and Everglades and what they may have looked like over 100 years ago, your best bet is to book a trip to one of these islands. The fishery is so vast that a guide and angler can run a boat over 40 miles in a day without seeing another soul on the water. This level of extreme underdevelopment is a boon to the fishery and is responsible for Andros’ reputation as being one of the best bonefish destinations on earth.

It’s no surprise that this distinction made Andros a popular destination for several generations of traveling saltwater anglers. Despite the fishery’s reputation and vast network of creeks, flats, and backcountry there is a serious lack of written history on Andros. The pursuit of bonefish has been a staple of the Androsian economy since the 1950s when traveling anglers first began visiting the region. The first fly-fishing lodge in the area was built by “Crazy” Charlie Smith in 1968 at Behring Point on the North Bight. “Bonefish Charlie” is sometimes called the “godfather of the flats.” For good reason—he established the first dedicated fly-fishing lodge on Andros, and his progeny continue to carry his torch, still guiding in Andros today. One cannot tell the story of fishing on Andros without mentioning Charlie, the man behind perhaps the most productive bonefish fly in history, the Charlie.

Each island has its relatively unique modus operandi: North is the “busiest”; Mangrove Cay is the chilled-out island town; South is the “country.” One thing remains consistent—abundant angling opportunity, and chances at the bonefish of a lifetime, throughout.

North Andros

North Andros is the most developed district in Andros. The community is growing, vibrant, and rich in fishing culture. The area boasts an accredited network of independent guides and world-class lodges offering all the amenities needed for a memorable destination trip. With so many different options, knowing the key players in the area takes your trip from memorable to truly unforgettable. North Andros waters are more consistently within proximity of deeper waters, which sets the stage for a rewarding, but sometimes difficult opportunity. Trophy-sized bonefish prefer this access, so fishing flats near them increases your odds of landing a giant. With this opportunity comes a need for tidal tact. If you hit the flats on the wrong tide, your dream bonefish will be staged in waters far too deep for fly access.

Mangrove Cay

Mangrove Cay is calm, quaint, and intimately natural. This district is very underdeveloped and offers a great, family friendly environment to get in touch with the pulse of Andros culture. A day on Mangrove Cay can be spent fishing without another angler in sight, and wrap up with the possibility of running into Jimmy Buffet at the local Wharf bar. The naive bonefish on this Cay give up-and-coming anglers a little more room for error. While the area offers lots of fish in the three-to five-pound class, there have been some giants landed at local hot spots, like Big Wood Cay and Moxey Creek. Which locally sourced, fresh seafood meal is waiting for you when you get off the water is dependent on the season you visit. A plate of fresh conch or spiny lobster, and a cold Gully Wash, Sands Light, or Kalik, is a perfect way to celebrate a successful day on the flats.

South Andros

South Andros has been steadily gaining attention. These waters have no shortage of bonefish and great flats to fish. The pristine beaches and skinny waters offer an abundance of walk-and-wade opportunity for anglers seeking to test their primal pursuit skills. This fishery is home to a ton of large schools that can be effectively targeted if approached on the right tides. These waters are also a preferred location for pre-spawn aggregations, which build before transitioning into the spawn during full moons. These schools, with anywhere from 500 to over 2,000 fish, shift to protected, deep water points to procreate before settling out and dispersing back onto the flats in the days and weeks following this activity.

Each island offers anglers a truly unique cultural vibe and abundant opportunity to chase flats species, ranging from bonefish, tarpon, permit, and barracuda, to various jacks and snapper. Fly fishing Andros is best done between the months of September and June, as the mid-summer water temperatures on the flats is too hot to hold much life.

            Fall is the storm season, which brings its own set of pros and cons. Anglers get plenty of shots at bonefish, and resident tarpon are more commonly caught this time of year, but the weather can be iffy. Fall is the one time of year that anglers must truly consider the chance that they may have multiple days of fishing canceled due to hurricanes and tropical storms. Admittedly there is not much to do on these islands on days like this, but the local watering holes are always worth checking out. Chances are, even if they appear to be closed, a phone call can get the doors open for your group—just ask your host. Bonefish can be found in large schools this time of year, and the fish are generally happy with the post-summer cool down.

The end of the storm season brings Bahamian “winter.” Winter lasts from December to mid-February and is the best time to target trophy-sized bones. For whatever reason, larger mature bones tend to travel together in ones, twos, and threes during these months. What this season offers in the way of large fish, it lacks in pleasant weather and “numbers” days. Temperatures can drop to the mid-50s in the evenings and mornings, and there are days when sunlight is scarce, making sight fishing near impossible. Doom and gloom notwithstanding, if you’re after a 10-pound bonefish and aren’t afraid of failure, this is the time to travel to Andros.

            Ahh, spring in the Bahamas. Does bonefishing get any better? Ample sunshine, happy, plentiful bonefish, and the occasional shot at a big one. The days are longer, the lodges are fully into the swing of things, the guides have a season’s worth of knowledge under their belts. In addition, this is one of the best times to look for permit. If you expect to catch one you’re on a cursed journey, but this timeframe gives you a decent shot at seeing some of those wily “dinner plates.”

Getting to the islands and getting around once you’ve arrived can be daunting. The simplest way to get to Andros is booking a flight to Nassau on an international carrier and then flying on the Bahamian airline Western Air from Nassau to San Andros airport on North Andros; Clarence A. Bain Airport in Mangrove Cay; or Congotown Airport on South Andros. Travelers also book charters or island-hopping shuttle flights from various private airports on the Florida coast.

            Once you’re on the islands, getting around and finding good fishing is all a question of approach. If you stay at one of the many lodges, your travel to and from the local airport is coordinated, and you’ll be fishing from their skiffs every day.

Ultimately, beginning and hard-core bonefishers can’t go wrong visiting Andros. There’s truly no flats fishing equally as remote on this side of the planet. If you plan things right, you could make 10 trips and never fish the same flat. Know that real adventure waits, no matter which island you choose to fish.

Photography by

Ken Hardwick

Kyle Schaefer

James Hamilton

The comically named "Grandpa's Eggs Fly" is an interesting "double take" on the ever-popular Nuke Fly. I use this fly primarily when fishing southern Ontario's Saugeen River. This river tends to get coloured in the spring, making larger flies easier for the fish to find. I find this fly particularly useful when surrounded by center-pin anglers drifting beads—Grandpa’s Eggs tends to stand out from the crowd a little more than your standard yarn pattern. It is simple to tie, but make sure that the two eggs are lined up so the fly doesn't helicopter during casts. When you’re having a slow day, this is a good fly to try.

MATERIALS:

Hook: Daiichi 1150 size 8
Thread: Veevus GSP 100d
Body: McFlyfoam Fl. Peach
Blood Dot: UV red Egg Yarn
Body Extension: 10lb fluorocarbon
Veil: Wapsi white Antron Sparkle Dubbing

Step 1: Cut a 1.5” length of McFlyfoam about .5” in diameter and another 1.5” length of egg yarn about half a pencil width in diameter. Lay the egg yarn on top of the McFlyfoam as shown.

Step 2: Loop a piece of 10 lb fluorocarbon around the middle of the materials.

Step 3: Tie a knot around the material—the same way you would tie on a hook- and pull tight.

Step 4: Pull the material away from the knot tightly.

Step 5: Trim off the excess material about 5mm from the knot.

Step 6: Finish trimming off any leftover material and gently massage it to form the egg shape.

Step 7: Start a small thread base about halfway down the hook shank and tie in the fluorocarbon with tight wraps.

Step 8: To prevent the fluorocarbon from slipping, use a small dab of fast drying super glue over your thread wraps.

Step 9: Make sure the glue has dried before continuing.

Step 10: Cut another length of McFlyfoam and egg yarn the same size or slightly larger than the first.

Step 11: Lay the materials over the hook shank and make three loose wraps around it before pulling it as tight as possible—this is where the GSP thread is important.

Step 12: Without losing tension on the thread, make one or two parachute style wraps around the base of the material. At this point, make a whip finish to secure your thread.

Step 13: Pull the material upwards and cut off the excess to make a second egg roughly the same size as the first.

Step 14: Massage the material around the hook shank.

Step 15: Trim off leftover material to make the egg as round as possible. But remember, it doesn’t need to be perfect.

Step 16: Take a small batch of white antron dubbing and gently spread the fibres apart in your fingers.

Step 17: Lay the dubbing over the hook eye and tie it in with about ¾ of the dubbing in front of the eye.

Step 18: Fan out the dubbing so that it surrounds the whole hook shank.

Step 19: Fold the dubbing back over the fly and make a few wraps in front of the dubbing to hold it back.

Step 20: GSP thread can be slippery so double the whip finish before trimming off the thread.

Photography by

Christian Bilodeau

Forget those copper colored apparitions you may have stalked over flooded spartina grass or sandy flats in balmy weather—fish that squirt away like scalded cats if your double-haul and heavy breathing so much as rock the boat.

The blood-boiler redfish of fall and winter are something else in attitude and size, a far cry from the 16-to 18-inch youngsters so loved by fair-weather and cooler-focused anglers eyeing their next redfish on the grill. What I want to tell you about are those other fish, reds in the high 20s to 30s—pounds, that is. They’re called bulls, for good reason.

Fly fishers focus on bull redfish along a golden crescent of coast encompassing Florida’s Pensacola Bay, the Alabama Gulf beaches and islands, the mouth of the Mississippi River at Venice, Louisiana, and westward to that state’s Biloxi Marsh.

It works like this: Sometime in early autumn great numbers of mature redfish move to deeper Gulf water to spawn, often near barrier island passes. The males exercise a muscle alongside their swim bladders producing a vibrating, drumming sound (that’s why they’re officially called drum) to attract the ladies. When the females show up a nighttime orgy occurs, during which eggs are spewed and fertilized. Invariably the spawn occurs on a big incoming tide, the fertilized eggs then drifting toward and into bays and estuaries where the larva will morph into juveniles.

Sex satiated, the adults are now hungry. Gradually they move inshore where massive schools of menhaden (pogies) are shifting and weaving from one bay to another where mullet also gather. The hapless forage is greeted by legions of giant redfish that in my mind are grinning like evil cheshire cats before they pounce on their prey. This is what we’ve waited for.

The timing of this event in each of the areas along the crescent of Gulf coast varies slightly with weather. Schools of big reds may show as early as late October. November and December are prime in all areas. And, if you can handle and cherry-pick the weather, January works, too. Wind can influence your success. Around Pensacola and along the Alabama beaches a north wind is fine—you can work the inshore and the inside barrier beaches. Not so in Louisiana where marshes reach out to the weather. Here, a north and northwest wind is bad.

Come spring—March and April—the giant aggregations of mature reds are generally fractured, and anglers focus on small groups or individuals that work grass or sand flats, inner sandbars, and marsh shorelines. In these situations, you can sometimes see them coming; with enough water clarity, cruisers at a distance and “crawlers” in extreme shallows with their backs exposed. They’ll be bright, lit up, and wanting to eat. Just for variety, you could glom onto a cousin to the red, the black drum. No confusing the fight of those brutes. Unlike the reds, black drum bulldog toward bottom and hammer it out, using their girth and weight, which can easily top 30 pounds. I think they’re also pretty ugly. But to each their own. This is good sport, hunting these fish in mostly shallow water, but it’s not what people really look for in the fall/winter bull redfish run. It’s those early winter schools off the beaches, and even in the deeper bays, that get anglers so worked up.

In Pensacola Bay—with apologies to Pamplona—they call this style of fishing “the running of the bulls.” Indeed it is, with aggregates of fish surfacing, thrashing and eating, while adrenalin-crazed anglers run and gun in their boats, hooking up, then putting fish down, then doing it all over again.

Along the Redneck Riviera of Alabama beaches, like Perdido, Orange, and Gulf Shores, to the mouth of Mobile Bay, often close in but also out to two miles offshore, in 15-to 60 feet of water, especially when the wind lays and the sun is out, the big redfish come up. Clusters of aerobic pelicans give them away.

When I fished with guide Dan Kolenich, he would point, slicing his arm around in a near 360 degree circle—birds ahead, birds to the side and behind—and slow motor toward the nearest flock. Then the surface would rip, clear water glowing with a copper color, then turning belly-white as an entire school of reds broke the surface, humping down on menhaden. All we had to do was throw into the mess; in those situations it’s near impossible not to hook up. We’d fight and land a fish, then look ahead. As far as you could see, beneath other circles of wheeling and diving pelicans, we saw dozens of schools, meaning hundreds, possibly thousands of bull reds ripping the surface in a swath of water the size of a football field. This is no exaggeration.

While all of this is happening, possibly while you are releasing a fish or hooking up again, the sky could crack with a roar you literally can feel in your chest. On certain days the Blue Angel jets from Pensacola Naval Air Station perform their incredible aerobatics, sometimes triggering paraffin-oil vaporized smoke trails looking like spermatozoa squiggles on a microscope slide. One time, the pilots were amusing themselves, I’m sure, using our boat as a pivot point before thundering surface-skimming passes that turned the water to froth from terrified, fleeing redfish. We soon took exception to those Angel antics.

Fast-moving flies in a variety of patterns, and in colors ranging from bright gold to purple-black, are good choices when targeting running schools. Big fish that are hunting in a slightly more sedate manner are prime targets for large poppers—often the largest you can throw. There’s a funny popper story from Moe (Monique) Newman, co-owner with her husband Eric of Journey South Outfitters in Venice, Louisiana. The go-to “meat” technique for non-fly anglers targeting slot redfish and trout wherever the fish swim is this: A popping cork with a leader-strung jig below. On a day that she set up some novice clients with such rigs, larger reds began noshing on the floats. Instinctively, Moe rummaged for a lure to emulate the corks. What she had was a big Shimano Pop Orca plug meant for tuna. The bull reds crushed it. The rest is history as they say. It ushered in the increasing use of truly large poppers where traditionally streamer-style bait patterns were the flies of choice.

Those massive schools of redfish eventually break up, but winter bull reds are still to be targeted—individually, or in small groups. Protected slick surfaces, tight along marsh shorelines near deeper water, are prime target areas. So are small ponds and larger lakes back in the marshes. These pockets are connected by channels and bayous, and at times the fish hunt those constricted places. With any kind of decent visibility you’ll be rewarded with the excitement of true sight fishing for these thick-shouldered creatures. You could see nervous water or breaks from feeding fish at some distance, or you might lock in on the slow approach of a cruiser or two, closing in time with your heart beat. Or your sighted fish may appear from nowhere, reddish-copper apparitions suddenly materializing in the brownish-olive water. When that happens there’s no time for refined casting. It’s a situation of throw-it-out-now, fast and hard, sometimes slapping your subsurface fly or popper so close ahead of the traveling fish you’ll be sure you’ve spooked them. But these are redfish—more times than not, they’ll eat.

Close-range or distance spotting, sight fishing doesn’t always work. Clouded water and/or a choppy surface switches the game to one of blind casting to key ambush areas.Think of those constricted areas between ponds and lakes. Think of points with circling currents, small pockets or larger cuts in shorelines. You may also need to wear yourself out hammering shorelines where wind pushes forage that’s on the bulls’ menu. That wind varies from manageable to the point where, in tandem with big tides, it pushes water from back marsh ponds and lakes and makes access basically impossible.

I’ve hit this winter bull red fishing when air temps were near 70, the sun was strong and the breeze like a soft kiss. And then, sometimes overnight, things can turn ugly: The sun goes, the sky spits freezing rain or sleet and gives rise to thoughts of fetal-like curling around a jug of something stronger than herbal tea.

Masks and snowmobile suits over multiple insulating layers become the dress code. But if you can get to the right places, even for the shorter fishing sessions your body can stand, the big reds are likely there and prone to eat. And what if it’s just too bad, too brutal, just impossible to fish? Believe it, there’s other stuff you can do.

This crescent of the Southeast U.S. coast is a dream of succulent eating—oysters, shrimp, crabs, gumbos, boudin sausages, smokey ribs . . . . Even in the smaller villages there’ll be an assortment of watering holes that are sure to please, many with the kind of live music—blues, zydeco, rock, jazz—that’ll put bad weather out of mind. Even with weather that passes as bad in this part of the Deep South, it’s going to turn good again. And even if it takes a while to do so, fishing in the cold is a darned sight better than digging out from another multiple-feet-deep winter snowstorm in the North.

Rods and Lines

A 9-weight rod is the workhorse of choice, though 8 and 10-weights have their places. Floating lines handle most situations, but don’t be without an intermediate taper. A fast-sink configuration for off-shore windy conditions might also find use.

Flies

Large saltwater streamer patterns (in light, dark and flash-heavy ties), along with big poppers, work well on bull redfish. Remember, these fish are primarily eating good-size menhaden or mullet, thus patterns with heads of water-pushing bucktail, wool, or synthetic material (think giant muddlers) are good.

A Few Favorite Patterns:

Capt. Dan Kolenich’s simple go-to streamer is a more subtle pattern. It’s tied on a 1/0 hook. It has a yellow chenille collar and wing of multiple layers of gold Flashabou that flare like confetti between strips. Depending on water depth, these flies will be rigged with either bead chain or even heavier eyes.

A local Alabama favorite is the Geaumeau (pronounced go-mo) named for a folklore creature that gives kids nightmares, a swamp horror with heads at front and tail reducing it to chronic constipation. The fly is a meaty streamer of chartreuse flash, Estaz head, white rabbit-strip tail. A commercial version should be available from Deep South Outfitters in Birmingham, Alabama https://www.fishdso.com

A black/purple Redfish Destroyer Shrimp Fly—weighted—with a weed guard is popular for subsurface Louisiana marsh fishing. One version is sold by Steelie Brothers Fly Co., steeliebrosflyco.com, and you should definitely check their selection of big poppers—Big Head Gray/White; Swamp Monster; Purple Ice Mega Double Barrel Popper—all tied on 6/0 or 7/0 hooks.

Eateries and Watering Holes

Pensacola, Florida

Gulf Coast Brewery (has cigar lounge)

The Fish House (nightly live music)

 

Fairhope, Alabama

McSharry’s Irish Pub (serves the best Guinness pour in the Southeast. Weekend Fiddle & Flute Sessions)

Master Joes

Dragon Fly

Buck’s Diner

 

Venice, Louisiana

The Den—has music

Bayous Club

Hartt’s Old Cypress Bar

 

New Orleans, Louisiana

Just throw a blind cast and you’ll find something good

 

Houma, Louisiana (for those fishing out of Cocodrie and Dulac)

1921—for great seafood

Boxer & The Barrell (good tunes with the Duke restaurant next door)

Big Mike’s BBQ Smokehouse

A-Bear’s Cafe

Bayou Delight Restaurant

Photography by

Jerry Gibbs

Carmen Causey

Daniel Favato

Gil Greenberg

This modern and extremely effective casting and fishing method should not intimidate.

Skagit lines were originally designed to deliver heavy payloads very long distances often with little or no room for a backcast. So, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, dedicated angler Ed Ward and his metalhead cronies customized a unique system of compact shooting heads that worked with a complimentary tip system and allowed ideal drifts while swinging Washington state’s Skagit River with large Intruder flies. The benefits of their Skagit systems were soon realized by anglers facing similar casting scenarios in other places, on all variety of waters.

As line manufacturers developed Skagit systems for the masses, rod manufacturers made shorter and more efficient two-handed “switch” rods, allowing anglers to vary tactics between single-hand techniques, like indicator nymphing, and two-handed spey style casts. Many salmon and steelhead anglers realized that 13-foot-plus long spey rods were no longer needed to make lengthy, accurate casts when using heavier tips and/or weighted flies. The Skagit phenomenon soon spread into lighter weight line systems and are now made to work with rods as light as 3-weight trout “spey” rods. These can be an absolute blast to fish, even when throwing light flies, including soft-hackles off of floating lines, to feeding trout.

Modern Skagit lines are easily adapted to almost every rod style, including those that all trout anglers have—a 9-foot-long 4, 5 or 6-weight. When anglers try a Skagit head system to punch out small-to medium size streamers and double nymph rigs in a single stroke, they are often amazed by how much power they find in their old, reliable 5-weights. With head weights as low as 125 grains, you can even load up a 3-weight to effortlessly swing your favorite streamers and other rigs. These can turn a standard 10-foot or 11-foot nymphing rod into a totally different beast for trout fishing. With these configurations, anglers can adjust the sink rate and depth of the fly by changing the tip and leader that connects the shooting head to the fly. That’s a simple process made easier by modern loop-to-loop connections.

This casting style is pretty simple. A short, compact head and tip are water-loaded using current and a sustained anchor point. With practice, this casting stroke requires very little effort when compared to overhead casting. And once mastered, it allows anglers to access parts of a river that they may not have reached with a single-hander.

Where to start with Skagit casting? You can get as complex as you want with your system, or keep it simple. Skagit lines come in just about every configuration. You can find standard heads or compact heads with integrated running lines, integrated sinking heads, and all in a variety of densities. Each rod manufacturer has its own recommendation for tips, heads/grain weights, and running lines, depending on which rod and reel you might load up.

Fishing Skagit isn’t overwhelming, but getting your rig set up right, so that a line system effectively bends a rod and allows you to throw a lot of line, is crucial. And the best place to get some direction is at your local fly shop or through a certified casting instructor. Pay that extra fee upfront; reap major reward the first time you hit the water with a trout-spey outfit. I highly recommend that everyone gives a Skagit casting system a chance. It may create a fishing experience you never expected . . . with a lot of the equipment you already own.

Tidal redfish flats are like the road of life—success can be measured in how you handle the highs and lows.

In the case of tides, not all are equal. On a spring tide, which occurs twice each month and has nothing to do with the spring season, the moon and sun are on opposite sides of the planet. When this occurs the swings between high and low tides can be great. Typical tide range on the redfish flats is four-to five feet. But on a spring tide, that range could push to seven feet, meaning higher highs and lower lows.

When coupled with a storm off the Atlantic coast, and a consistent west wind blowing 10-to 12-plus knots—pushing water off the flats—a tide may rate far below the “lowest low-water mark” on your depth chart . . . what we call, “the negative low.”

The negative low presents a timely opportunity to experience a captivating redfish phenomena—crawling fish on the bank. During a negative low, big, bold redfish can access prey in a way they couldn’t before—pinning shrimp, crabs and small baitfish in super shallow water with no escape. These fish slowly prowl down a muddy bank, providing anglers ample opportunity to lay a crustacean fly in the path of a freight train, its eyes just barely below water level.

Recognizing when your area is experiencing a severe negative low tide could provide you with a whole new redfish experience. Watching a crawling redfish pounce on a fly and pin it to the mud is exhilarating and might challenge an angler to keep his or her composure. Similar to bonefishing in skinny water, these fish don’t have the luxury to swim down, so they commit to horizontal movement with significant haste. The cast-to-catch experience for crawling reds, and the screaming runs they take when hooked, makes it well worth keeping your eyes on a variety of weather conditions.

However, with a negative low tide comes the issue of access. The small island cut-throughs that once provided travel lanes between flats, suddenly consist of two inches of water above a soft layer of mud. If you don’t have enough water to maneuver in, you might spend a long session in the mud, possibly in sweltering heat, waiting for the tide to rise. For that reason, having a shallow draft vessel is paramount. Flats skiffs may work, but people also pole their kayaks into untouched areas. And, if a hard bottom is present, anglers can use their “boat” to get within striking range and then chase these fish on foot.

When redfish are rummaging through murky water, they rely heavily on motion and sound to find their prey. Redfish have an otolith that picks up sound from a substantial distance. In addition, their lateral lines sense motion and sound and offer the fish directional guidance. Using a fly that pushes water and creates some sound is important. However, all of those senses working in shallow water also means you’ve got to be stealthy—beware the splashing push-poles, cumbersome footsteps on deck, and Yeti bottles banging against a cooler or sidewall. These fish can be extremely skittish.

When it all comes together, and you get within range of a big red feeding in shallow water, it’s all good. But, remember, you’ll be pushing the limit in low water conditions. You’ll have to do whatever it takes to reach these fish, even if that means you might need a little mud makeover and a few new items in your boat. Is that risk and some extra cost worth it?

You make the call.

Nonskid cleaner? $11.99

Tide Detergent? $14.99

Casting to a hungry, crawling redfish with its back out of the water? Priceless.

Photography by

Cody Rubner

Ironically, Covid may have been just what the doctor ordered.

About a decade after “The Movie” premiered, some fly-shop owners and gear manufacturers were already shouting, “What we need is another movie.” They feared an aging population of traditional anglers, which represented their key customers and core revenue base, was phasing out, meaning, literally, dying. They desired fresh meat, another influx of newcomers to the sport, people who would buy at all levels, from beginner to advanced, and push the industry to its highest goals.

Unfortunately, by that time Norman McClane was dead—i.e., A River Runs Through It II was out of the question—and 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis were soon to arrive.

Still, there was lots of creative energy coming into fly fishing, all trying to appeal to that fresh demographic, such as youth, hipsters, spey junkies, women, tenkara posers and, more recently, Euro-nymphers. Bro brah speak and shaggy beards were in abundance.

There were other efforts, too. Fly fishing DVD’s turned into the Fly Fishing Film Tour, and subsequent iterations, which appealed to that younger demographic and offered considerably wild and, admittedly, fun pre-screening parties (minus the hangover); advertisers and their marketing agencies pulled dollars from traditional media, such as magazines, and shifted it to in-house content creation and online advertising, where they could better reach a youthful/i phone addicted audience and track their efforts; beginner fly-fishing kits morphed from pathetically slow clunkers to something a beginner could throw well, and a sage angler might cast and then say, “This ‘aint bad”; online 101 tutorials offered all the questions newbies needed to have answered, minus the trepidation they may have felt if stepping into a shop; big box gained access to key brands’ products, bringing the seemingly nonsensical $900 dollar fly rod and the improbable $700 wader in front of curious general market eyes.

It all added up, made smart sense. The industry seemed to be doing ok, and in some cases great. But if you listened to conversations and grasped the general vibe at fly-fishing trade shows (IFTD and ICast) you knew the key players wanted more. More anglers. More voices for water and habitat conservation. More support for native fish. More support for independent fly shops and guides, domestic and abroad. More rod-toting worldly travelers and their affiliated gear sales.

But still, the question: Where would that uptick come from?

Enter Covid-19.

In March and April it was doom and gloom with the industry fearing a massive fallout, if any of us even survived the pandemic. By May and June some pencil-pushers reported reasons to be optimistic. In July and August it was absolutely clear that something phenomenal occurred and the issue wasn’t whether any of us would make it through the pandemic, but how supply chains could keep up with demand, all fueled by new people coming into the sport. Accounting books had gone from blurry to black in a blink of an eye. Boom! A new movie in the form of a pandemic. Who knew?

Ben Bulis is president and CEO of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, which acts as the de facto voice for fly fishing in the United States. He, too, sees a comparison to the post-A River Runs Through It timeframe.

“If you go back to March, people were worried,” Bulis said. “What would the market look like for fishing? Governors were closing down fishing in their states. You could easily fear the worst was coming.

“But the governors soon realized that closing fishing wasn’t a good idea, that people wanted to be outside and recreating. So where we are now is totally different than where we were in March. We saw a wave of new people coming into fly fishing and people who hadn’t fished in a while got back into it. It’s been a good year for retailers and manufacturers. And I would say this is only the second time we’ve seen something like this. I don’t know if this is a bigger shift than after A River Runs Through It came out, but it’s similar. Right now we have to make sure we reach out to the new people, keep them engaged and accept their participation.”

Kirk Deeter is the editor-in-chief of Trout magazine and the owner of Angling Trade, an industry-focussed digital publication. Deeter has as solid a pulse on the industry and was quick to realize we are in the middle of a fundamental shift.

“The rivers and lakes have blown up,” Deeter said from his home in Colorado. “Fishing license sales way up. Product sales way up in certain categories—personal watercraft, flies, tippet, rods. In fact, the rod companies that inventoried raw materials before the pandemic, or shortly after it began, are crushing it now. Those who seized up or were super dependent on a China supply chain ate it. You can’t buy a rod on some of the pro sites now if you wanted to. Demand is that strong.”

Justin Karnopp is a jack-of-all-trades. Writer. Photographer. Guide. Distributor. He lives in Missoula, Montana and is a principal, with North American distribution rights, in CD Fishing USA, a rod manufacturer that has a solid history in New Zealand and is now branching out. When I recently spoke with Karnopp he said the issue is keeping up with demand, something that he had a better line on than some brands.

“From a guiding standpoint, the pandemic didn’t effect me much,” he said. “I got as many days as I wanted. People had to cancel their bigger ticket trips and were able to drive to Montana to fish. A lot of Washington people were here. And we saw an influx from California, Texas, Colorado and Utah, too.

“From a rod sales standpoint, it was good for me,” he said. “I definitely saw the urgency in having entry-level product because we saw an influx of beginners. I spent a lot of time sourcing out a reel and a line to make an affordable entry-level kit. That is a reflection of how many people are entering the sport right now. People decided to spend money on being outdoors.”

“I was lucky, too,” Karnopp said. “I had a lot of 5-weight rods shipped over from our New Zealand warehouse, right when many companies were sold out of them, and either delayed in manufacturing or simply backed up. There was serious demand for those rods.”

Jack Reis is director of marketing for fishpond, which is based in Colorado and sells a variety of high end and highly functional fly-fishing gear, ranging from straw hats, to submersible duffels, to tippet holders, to backpacks and hip packs, all as sustainably sourced as humanly possible. Reis saw the same shift as Deeter and Karnopp.

“From a business standpoint, I can confirm that we were pretty concerned when the pandemic began,” Reis said. “There was a lot of confusion over what effect it would have on participation and manufacturing. But early on we saw people taking refuge and finding distraction in the outdoors. We saw a massive bump in new participants this spring and summer.

“The problem with this growth is keeping up with demand,” Reis noted. “It’s hard to get your hands on some products now, like 4X tippet and 5-weight rods. It was, at once, a demand and manufacturing issue. There were shutdowns that effected suit’s just that so many people want these products right now.

“The 5-weight rod thing is wild,” Reis said. “There are more people wanting to fly fish this year than ever before. The demand completely exceeded the 5-weight inventory. And we have seen that for some of our products, too—packs and bags, slings, Thunderhead submersibles, Nomad nets, Tacky fly boxes . . . .

“I have high hopes for 2021,” Reis said. “We see demand still being there. We just want to be consistent with our manufacturing road. For us, materials have been critical to our mission, which is to be good to the environment as well as good to the sport. For us, it’s going to be business as usual in our use of recycled materials. And I’m excited about what we will bring to market. We may not have as many new items as we normally would, but we will offer some really great stuff, things we’ve had our eyes on for a long time.”

Simms Fishing, based in Bozeman, Montana, also has seen a spike in sales, noted by John Frazier, who heads that company’s PR, content and digital marketing strategies.

“Being outdoors is a safe thing that people can do right now, and there are more people fishing than we’ve ever seen,” he said. “That’s helped us position ourselves for a healthy post-coronavirus arena. An increase in outdoor activities, across the board, is what’s getting outdoor brands through this. I see it as a good thing—more people getting outdoors means more consumers and a louder collective voice for conservation. We need that right now.”

Unfortunately, all segments of the fly-fishing industry can’t report such rosy numbers. To point, fly-fishing travel has taken it on the chin, with many borders still closed and no promise of when certain target-rich environments might reopen. In addition, many guides and lodges struggled in 2020, in particular in Alaska and Florida.

“Definitely travel has been hit hard,” Bulis said. “And depending on where you are located, guiding and outfitting has been hit, too. The southeastern guides lost their whole tarpon season. And some lodges in Alaska didn’t even open. Obviously, with the Canadian border closed, the British Columbia steelhead season was a big miss, too. Atlantic salmon in eastern Canada—same thing.

“Fortunately,” Bulis added, “I haven’t heard of any lodges shutting down for good. Regarding travel, we’ll only know how severe the hit will be when we finally have a vaccine ready for everyone in the world, not just the U.S, and people are comfortable getting back on airplanes. If it takes a long time for travel to rebound, we’ll see a trickle down effect on the entire industry. Travel is a segment our industry relies on, whether you’re a manufacturer or a shop . . . it will impact everybody.”

Reiss, at fishpond, echoed that concern. “Domestic demand made up for a loss in our travel gear sales,” he said. “The things you have to have to be on the water, like packs and accessories sold very well. Our travel items didn’t see the growth they normally would. That is a direct result of people not getting on planes. Those sales are reliant on people’s willingness to get on planes and fly across the world and spend money. That all plays into the mix for our bottom line.”

Karnopp, at CD Fishing USA, said, “The fly-fishing travel scene makes me anxious. We’ve developed rods for specific travel and I’m concerned that the travel trend may continue indefinitely. (Covid) cases are up. They’re not going down. If people aren’t traveling for two or three years it is going to effect the entire industry. I look at bonefish guides in particular. I don’t know if they will ever recover. A lot of those guys probably move on and do other things. Damn, like everyone, I cancelled a redfish trip this fall. I have a wife and two kids, ages six and three . . . couldn’t take the chance.”

One of the biggest questions being asked by the industry is whether the International Fly Tackle Dealer Show (IFTD) will take place in 2021. The 2020 show, scheduled for October at the Denver Convention Center was cancelled. Bulis can’t say for sure whether a 2021 show will take place, but he’s planning as if it’s a go.

“We are still moving forward on an October show next year,” Bulis said. “But, we will continue to evaluate that potential as we learn about the number of (Covid) cases and any shutdowns. I would say we’ll have to let the manufactures know, one way or the other, by the first of July. If we couldn’t do the show we would probably reach out and see if people want a virtual show. But the virtual shows I’ve seen are not very good. We’ll just have to see as we move into 2021.”

It’s almost impossible to believe that a virus likely spreading from a bat to a human in an open-air market in Wuhan, China could promote fly-fishing gear sales in North America. But, that is exactly how tied in and strange our world is these days, with nothing—not even those $900 dollar rods and $700 waders—seeming completely improbable anymore.

GOT FISH?

For some anglers, winter is the time to swap out their fly rods for skis and take to the slopes. However, many of us just bundle up and brave the elements. Fortunately, there are plenty of winter fly-fishing opportunities in the United States, options that place some big fish on the end of your line and take the chill out of winter.

These five U.S. winter fly-fishing options get you out of the office and onto the water with the chance to land a variety of impressive fish.

Redfish in South Carolina

Already hear the collective groan emanating from the Florida Coast? We do! Florida has incredible redfishing, and it’s proud of it, too. Actually, these brutes can be found up and down the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, ranging from Virginia to Texas. Which state has it best? That is a question of preference, and my pick is the great state of South Carolina. During winter, redfish seek shallow waters where they take advantage of warm water and abundant food sources. Anglers often observe reds “tailing” amongst tidal grasses in shallow water that lines much of the South Carolina coast. This makes for exciting sight-fishing opportunity. There’s nothing quite like watching the wake from a bull red charging a fly. It’s an exhilarating experience that any angler would wholeheartedly enjoy. Popular fly patterns include the Kung Fu Crab, Everglades Special, and Crafty Shrimp.

Pacific Steelhead in Oregon

The angling hoards love steelhead, and that’s for good reason—these sea-run trout are not your average “bows.” Steelhead, which are an anadromous rainbow trout, routinely exceed 30 inches in length and can easily weigh more than 10 pounds. Fish growing past 40 inches are possible; they may weigh 20 pounds or more. When spawning time arrives, mature steelhead make their way into the Pacific Northwest’s freshwater river systems. Some may spend the entire winter in freshwater while others—especially along the Oregon Coast—make a dash upstream to spawn and then quickly exit. When most people think of Oregon’s steelhead rivers they visualize the famous Deschutes. But other rivers, such as the Umpqua, Rogue and Siletz, among many others, provide the quintessential coastal winter steelhead experience. Fly fishers can spend lots of time and effort trying to catch one of these skittish beasts, but the reward is enormous. Fighting steelhead on a brawling coastal river often takes an angler well into their backing. Anglers may use single-hand rods for steelhead, but in the PNW most fly fishers throw spey and switch rods and drop down deep with Skagit heads, sink tips and heavy flies. Come well armed—swinging flies near bottom, on super bouldery rivers, means you’ll likely lose some gear. Solid fly choices include Egg Sucking Leeches, Pick Yer Pockets, Deceivers, mini tube flies, and Fish Tacos.

Bonefish in Key West, Florida

How can such a small fish pack a big punch? The simple answer is this—because it’s a bonefish, man, and they just fight. Bonefish can be fished almost year-round, but many anglers choose dates that coincide with a much-needed break from cold weather climes. Why wouldn’t they—anglers can escape the weather and sight fish to glistening beauties on shallow water flats. Bonefish are receptive to flies and are incredibly powerful for their size, given, on average, they are barely larger than a trout. But don’t think this is easy fishing. Florida Keys bones are known for two things; they are large, up to 10 pounds or more, and they are extremely wary. Bring your A-game while walking the flats. Do so, and a keen observer might see scores of these blazing-fast fish prowling the flats. Equipped with a 7, 8 or 9-weight fly rod, some small baitfish and shrimp imitations, and proper sun protection, you might ditch your freshwater roots after catching a few of these dynamos. Try Mantis Shrimp, Gotchas, and McKnight’s Crimp . . . and throw accurately.

Brown Trout in the White River, Arkansas

Big, wild brown trout on large shad patterns? Sign us up. For brown trout, cold weather months mean spawning time. Before the fish are on their redds they are active and looking to eat. When most anglers consider prime winter brown trout fishing they don’t visualize Arkansas. If you’re in that boat, you’ll be sorely punished for ignoring this fishery—there are few other wild brown trout rivers in America as productive as the White. This tailwater system provides brown trout with a perfect habitat filled with ample food sources. Most notably, these big White River browns pursue shad that are flushed under dams. These protein-packed and disoriented (if not dead or injured) baitfish make for easy prey. As a result, White River browns reach incredible sizes. It’s routine to catch browns over 20 inches here, and these fish may stretch to 10 pounds or more. Preferred fly patterns include Zonkers, Game-Changers, Red Foxes and Copper Johns.

Wild Trout in the Northern Rockies

With the Snake, South Fork Snake and Henry’s Fork rivers all located in the immediate area, Jackson Hole is one of the epicenters of American trout fishing. These rivers can be productive year-round, but they can be crowded during prime times; anglers willing to fight through bitter cold may be treated to solitude and some prime fishing. Dead of winter may not produce many fish, but the shoulder seasons in late fall and early spring can be lights-out good, especially if you are willing to travel outside the immediate area when conditions merit. With an extended drive from Jackson, anglers could also fish the Madison, Gallatin and Yellowstone rivers. What really makes the fishing so special is an abundance of trout. Box Canyon on the Henry’s Fork, for example, has approximately 5,000 rainbow trout per mile. Those fish take nymphs and streamers in fall, winter and spring, and those who venture out on warmer days, when air temperatures rise above freezing, may encounter excellent midge hatches and great dry-fly opportunity. In spring, beginning in March and early April, blue-winged olives may be present. These are some of the most storied river systems in the world and are a surefire bucket list trip for any angler. Be sure to bring tried and true Jackson-area flies, like Head-Banger Sculpins, Heisenbergs, Pheasant-Tails, Hare’s Ears, Parachute Adams’, and Griffith’s Gnats.

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Huchen, (Hucho hucho), also known as hucho, Danube salmon, sulec glavatka, mladica

SIZE

Average: 30-to 35 inches
Trophy: 40-plus inches
IGFA All Tackle Record: 76 pounds 11 ounces, Austria

 

FAVOURITE DESTINATIONS

Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia

DIFFICULTY RATING

9/10

KNOWN FOR

– Aggressive strikes
– Difficult to catch
– Found in the most beautiful of places
– Size

OVERVIEW

Huchen is a European taimen species, closely related to the famed Mongolian taimen (H. hucho taimen), and the Japanese taimen (H. perryi). Unlike its anadromous North American cousins, these fish spend their entire lives in freshwater, mostly in the rivers where they were born. Hucho require clean, well-oxygenated water and an ample forage fish base to thrive.

The huchen’s population dwindled in the 20th century due to the construction of dams on European rivers, and loss of habitat, and overharvest. In recent years, huchen populations have started to recover, thanks to the rearing of huchen fry in hatcheries, and protective measures—including limited bag limits and seasonal quotas—implemented by local governments. Stocking programs are in use throughout much of the huchen’s native range with a relatively high success rate. Populations in several Slovenian rivers have rebounded and are now managed under a put-and-take system. Most fly fishers, however, practice catch-and-release.

Huchen are ferocious ambush predators, behaving more like a musky than a salmon or trout. They rest behind boulders and other debris, and at the bottom of pools, waiting for prey to venture within range. They are the apex predator in the rivers they inhabit and feed on anything that fits in their mouths, including trout, grayling, carp, barbell, and even smaller huchen.

WHY TARGET HUCHEN

The huchen is an extremely difficult fish to catch. Landing a large huchen, known locally as “Defeating the King,” is a significant milestone for Balkan anglers . . . for good reason; these fish seem to have a sixth sense and are notorious for shutting down when anglers are working their pools. Huchen are extremely finicky, only eating under the right conditions, and they are able to go without food for an extended time. To make matters more difficult, huchen fishing is generally open only during winter, from October to February, which means anglers need to be prepared for some cold days on the river. It is said, the nastier the weather the better the bite.

To catch huchen on large rivers, anglers often swing big, weighted streamers down and across and close to bottom. When fishing smaller rivers, anglers get away with 9-to 10-weight single-hand rods matched with shooting heads, sink-tips, and nothing lighter than 16-pound tippet. In these rivers, anglers throw flies in the 3-to 5-inch range. Huchen are often found in deep pools and tailouts. Repetitively covering that type of water is how most of these fish are caught. This is not a numbers game—on a good day, a competent angler might get a few eats.

On larger rivers, big, two-handed rods are most efficient as anglers need to turn over heavy sinking tips while covering as much water as possible. Weighted flies in the 5-to 8-inch range are required. Fish congregate around seams, inflows, waterfalls, rapids, and tailouts. Locating and catching huchen in larger waters can prove difficult, but your efforts could be rewarded with a four-foot-long, 50-pound monster. In our minds, and likely yours too, that’s more than enough incentive to take on a major fly-fishing challenge.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Huchen are endemic to the Danube River Basin. The Danube is Europe’s second-largest river and passes through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine before draining into the Black Sea in Romania. Additionally, huchen are found in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Poland, and Slovenia. Japan also has populations.

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

When young, huchen are extremely fast-growing, capable of putting on six inches in length a year for their first five years of existence. They reach sexual maturity at seven years old. From March to April, mature adults migrate upstream into small tributaries seeking shallow gravel beds for spawning. Larger females dig nests, or redds, and lay eggs in them. Attentive males fertilize those eggs. Eggs hatch approximately one month later. Larvae stay protected in the gravel for approximately 10 days while they absorb their yolk sacks. Young huchen feed on insect larva and plankton until they are large enough to prey on small fish. Unlike Pacific salmon, huchen do not die after spawning. Instead, they return to their resident waters post-spawn and bulk up on forage fish.

GEAR

In large rivers two-handed, 8-to 12-weight rods in the 11-to 14-foot range, matched with 400-to 700-grain Skagit heads are the ticket. Sinking tips are preferred as they make turning over big, 5-to 8-inch long flies more manageable. On smaller rivers 9-foot long single-hand rods, and 10-to 11-foot long switch rods, are ideal for casting in tight spaces. For tippet, 16-to 20-pound fluorocarbon is standard, whether fishing smaller waters or large rivers.

Photography by

Rok Lustrik

TARPON

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Megalops Atlanticus (Silver King, Poon)

SIZE

Average: 40-80 pounds
Trophy: 100 pounds or more

FAVORITE DESTINATIONS

Florida (Keys; Homosassa; Everglades); Cuba; Mexico (Yucatan Peninsula); Belize

DIFFICULTY RATING

Baby tarpon: 3/10
Adults (over 60 pounds): 8/10

KNOWN FOR

Incredible surface clearing leaps when hooked; the visceral thrill of its clapping gill plates when leaping (like banging two aluminum garbage can lids together); at times finicky eating habits, despite their hulk; and incredible fighting stamina.

Pat Ford

Tarpon are immediately recognizable by their large silver scales that flash in the sun—not to mention their immense size—giving all but the most stoic anglers a start in the process. In many places, tarpon are seasonal visitors; in some places (like the northern Yucatan and river mouths spilling into the Atlantic throughout Central America), they are present year-round. Odds are good that if tarpon are present, fly anglers will forget other species and focus on them. Anglers primarily find tarpon in shallow coastal waters and estuaries and in proximity to coral reefs, but they may also be encountered in open marine waters while migrating. . . .and occasionally in fresh or brackish water lakes and rivers. “Baby” tarpon (fish 5 to 40 pounds) can be fairly easy to come by, especially in the northern Yucatan, where extensive mangroves serve as a nursery ground; adults are often seen while fishing, but can be tougher to coax to the fly…and certainly more difficult to land.

Permit might be more persnickety. Bonefish might be faster. But for shear brute strength, size and thrilling aerial displays, there’s no more alluring flats species than tarpon. What other fish are you going to encounter in shallow water that’s willing to take a well-presented fly and could very well exceed your proportions in length and weight and jumping ability? (There’s a reason a small, obsessed [and perhaps slightly warped] cadre of anglers spend tens of thousands of dollars each spring in places like Homosassa, Florida to retain guides for a month at a time in hopes of wresting a world-record fish to hand—a mark that right now hovers north of 202.5 pounds for 20-pound test tippet.) Sometimes conditions demand that anglers blind cast heavy sinking lines into deep cuts where fish may be passing through or laying up out of sight. But in ideal conditions you’ll sight fish for them much as you would for bonefish or permit, either poling along a flat or staking up at the edge of a beach where the fish will—Mother Nature willing—pass by. Where water is less clear—say the Everglades—anglers may cast to “blurping” or rolling fish, and even to bubbles that suggest a tarpon’s presence. In an ideal flats situation, you (or more likely, your guide) will spot fish approaching. Ideally you’ll drop the fly in front of approaching fish in enough time for it to sink to the fish’s level in the water column. Some fish will respond better to a long slow strip, others to shorter more frequent “pops.” Either way, it’s important to keep the fly moving right to the boat; takes can come with the leader inside your rod tip.

Things often go south for fly anglers when a fish decides to take. If you’re watching a tarpon take on the flat, don’t strike too soon; it’s not uncommon to pull the fly out of the fish’s mouth. When you feel the line come tight—and you will feel it—sweep the rod back hard (don’t lift up). It doesn’t hurt to make a few hard strip-sets too. Next, you’ll need to take special care to clear the line as the fish takes off. Many a hook-up has ended with line wrapped around a fighting butt, a dangling pair of plyers or even a shirt button, tippet waving impotently in the breeze. If you make it this far with the fish still on, prepare for the first big jump—and bow the rod when this happens (and for each subsequent jump). This gives the tarpon a little slack so the fish is less likely to land on taut line, thus snapping your tippet.

The most skilled tarpon anglers apply lots of pressure early in an effort to wear the fish out quickly. Less seasoned anglers might find themselves fighting the fish for hours. Don’t feel too bad if you come unbuttoned on your first few fish; they say that fly anglers will land roughly one in 10 of the adult tarpon they hook.

Tarpon are found in the warmer waters of the Atlantic, from Virginia to Brazil in the western Atlantic, along the coast of Africa in the eastern Atlantic, and throughout the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. Some locales within their range host year-round “resident” populations, like the Florida Keys and parts of the Everglades; others see fish most regularly during migration periods, with tarpon passing north past Tampa Bay to Homosassa in May, further up toward the Florida Panhandle in June, and then along the Gulf Coast as far as Texas later in the summer before the fish begin heading south again. Some anglers target tarpon that are on the move; others look for “laid up” fish that are either resting or waiting to ambush forage. Low light periods—particularly the morning—tend to yield the most consistent results.

Tarpon have hard, bony mouths that resist all but the most sharply struck hooks; lacking teeth, tarpon swallow their prey whole. They are catholic feeders, focusing on sardines, shrimp, crabs and mullet, among other species. Tarpon are unique among sportfish in that they have a swim bladder, which allows them to breathe air as we do…though they can also breathe through their gills. (A tendency for tarpon to breathe on the surface, especially in less oxygenated water, gives anglers a heads-up as to their location.)

No one understands for sure where tarpon spawn, but the best available data suggests that it occurs in the summer months, roughly 100 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Milt and eggs mix in the open water (a phenomenon known as broadcast spawning). Once eggs hatch, the larvae are swept by currents into estuarine habitats where they find shelter in mangroves and slowly grow into miniature versions of adult fish. Tarpon generally reach maturity around age 10. Females are bigger than males, and can reach weights of 300 pounds. They may live upwards of 60 years.

For adult fish: A 12-weight rod with the best saltwater reel you can afford outfitted with floating and intermediate lines, 300 yards of backing, and 80 pound shock tippet (with 16 to 20 pound bite tippet). Some guides use straight 80-pound mono. Popular flies include Deceivers, Toads, Cockroaches and Black Deaths, though odds are your guide will have flies that they favor…and will likely replace your leader too. (Some anglers go with a 9- or 10-weight rod if smaller adults are around; however, the sturdier the rod, the quicker you can get the fish in…and the better their chance for survival.

For “baby” tarpon: An 8-weight rod with floating and intermediate lines and 100 yards of backing should suffice. Straight 40-pound mono will do for leader, though you can make it as involved as you wish. Smaller versions of the flies above will work, as well as Gurglers and on occasion, even poppers.

If you’re in the market for a truly remote flats-fishing experience, Andros, Bahamas is a solid choice. This trio of islands, which oftentimes is called, simply, Andros Island, includes North Andros, Mangrove Cay, and South Andros. A series of channels or bights—including North Bight, Middle Bight, and South Bight—separate the three islands in that order from north to south. As a singular region, Andros stretches over 100 miles north to south and encompasses over 2,300 square miles, which means these three islands would be the fifth largest island in the Caribbean by landmass if measured as one. North Andros occupies the number six spot on that list, while South Andros comes in at number nine.

While North and South Andros are the two largest islands in the Bahamas, they are scarcely populated. With less than 7,500 inhabitants spread throughout. Andros has a population density equivalent to Alaska. For reference, Montana is almost seven times more densely populated than Andros. These numbers are relevant, not for boring a reader with statistics, but in order to paint a picture of true Caribbean wilderness. A trip to Andros is a trip to the Bahamian outback, a journey in time that reveals what the northern Caribbean region looked like before development and population growth through the 19th and 20th centuries. If you’re curious about the Florida Keys and Everglades and what they may have looked like over 100 years ago, your best bet is to book a trip to one of these islands. The fishery is so vast that a guide and angler can run a boat over 40 miles in a day without seeing another soul on the water. This level of extreme underdevelopment is a boon to the fishery and is responsible for Andros’ reputation as being one of the best bonefish destinations on earth.

It’s no surprise that this distinction made Andros a popular destination for several generations of traveling saltwater anglers. Despite the fishery’s reputation and vast network of creeks, flats, and backcountry there is a serious lack of written history on Andros. The pursuit of bonefish has been a staple of the Androsian economy since the 1950s when traveling anglers first began visiting the region. The first fly-fishing lodge in the area was built by “Crazy” Charlie Smith in 1968 at Behring Point on the North Bight. “Bonefish Charlie” is sometimes called the “godfather of the flats.” For good reason—he established the first dedicated fly-fishing lodge on Andros, and his progeny continue to carry his torch, still guiding in Andros today. One cannot tell the story of fishing on Andros without mentioning Charlie, the man behind perhaps the most productive bonefish fly in history, the Charlie.

Each island has its relatively unique modus operandi: North is the “busiest”; Mangrove Cay is the chilled-out island town; South is the “country.” One thing remains consistent—abundant angling opportunity, and chances at the bonefish of a lifetime, throughout.

North Andros

North Andros is the most developed district in Andros. The community is growing, vibrant, and rich in fishing culture. The area boasts an accredited network of independent guides and world-class lodges offering all the amenities needed for a memorable destination trip. With so many different options, knowing the key players in the area takes your trip from memorable to truly unforgettable. North Andros waters are more consistently within proximity of deeper waters, which sets the stage for a rewarding, but sometimes difficult opportunity. Trophy-sized bonefish prefer this access, so fishing flats near them increases your odds of landing a giant. With this opportunity comes a need for tidal tact. If you hit the flats on the wrong tide, your dream bonefish will be staged in waters far too deep for fly access.

Mangrove Cay

Mangrove Cay is calm, quaint, and intimately natural. This district is very underdeveloped and offers a great, family friendly environment to get in touch with the pulse of Andros culture. A day on Mangrove Cay can be spent fishing without another angler in sight, and wrap up with the possibility of running into Jimmy Buffet at the local Wharf bar. The naive bonefish on this Cay give up-and-coming anglers a little more room for error. While the area offers lots of fish in the three-to five-pound class, there have been some giants landed at local hot spots, like Big Wood Cay and Moxey Creek. Which locally sourced, fresh seafood meal is waiting for you when you get off the water is dependent on the season you visit. A plate of fresh conch or spiny lobster, and a cold Gully Wash, Sands Light, or Kalik, is a perfect way to celebrate a successful day on the flats.

South Andros

South Andros has been steadily gaining attention. These waters have no shortage of bonefish and great flats to fish. The pristine beaches and skinny waters offer an abundance of walk-and-wade opportunity for anglers seeking to test their primal pursuit skills. This fishery is home to a ton of large schools that can be effectively targeted if approached on the right tides. These waters are also a preferred location for pre-spawn aggregations, which build before transitioning into the spawn during full moons. These schools, with anywhere from 500 to over 2,000 fish, shift to protected, deep water points to procreate before settling out and dispersing back onto the flats in the days and weeks following this activity.

Each island offers anglers a truly unique cultural vibe and abundant opportunity to chase flats species, ranging from bonefish, tarpon, permit, and barracuda, to various jacks and snapper. Fly fishing Andros is best done between the months of September and June, as the mid-summer water temperatures on the flats is too hot to hold much life.

            Fall is the storm season, which brings its own set of pros and cons. Anglers get plenty of shots at bonefish, and resident tarpon are more commonly caught this time of year, but the weather can be iffy. Fall is the one time of year that anglers must truly consider the chance that they may have multiple days of fishing canceled due to hurricanes and tropical storms. Admittedly there is not much to do on these islands on days like this, but the local watering holes are always worth checking out. Chances are, even if they appear to be closed, a phone call can get the doors open for your group—just ask your host. Bonefish can be found in large schools this time of year, and the fish are generally happy with the post-summer cool down.

The end of the storm season brings Bahamian “winter.” Winter lasts from December to mid-February and is the best time to target trophy-sized bones. For whatever reason, larger mature bones tend to travel together in ones, twos, and threes during these months. What this season offers in the way of large fish, it lacks in pleasant weather and “numbers” days. Temperatures can drop to the mid-50s in the evenings and mornings, and there are days when sunlight is scarce, making sight fishing near impossible. Doom and gloom notwithstanding, if you’re after a 10-pound bonefish and aren’t afraid of failure, this is the time to travel to Andros.

            Ahh, spring in the Bahamas. Does bonefishing get any better? Ample sunshine, happy, plentiful bonefish, and the occasional shot at a big one. The days are longer, the lodges are fully into the swing of things, the guides have a season’s worth of knowledge under their belts. In addition, this is one of the best times to look for permit. If you expect to catch one you’re on a cursed journey, but this timeframe gives you a decent shot at seeing some of those wily “dinner plates.”

Getting to the islands and getting around once you’ve arrived can be daunting. The simplest way to get to Andros is booking a flight to Nassau on an international carrier and then flying on the Bahamian airline Western Air from Nassau to San Andros airport on North Andros; Clarence A. Bain Airport in Mangrove Cay; or Congotown Airport on South Andros. Travelers also book charters or island-hopping shuttle flights from various private airports on the Florida coast.

            Once you’re on the islands, getting around and finding good fishing is all a question of approach. If you stay at one of the many lodges, your travel to and from the local airport is coordinated, and you’ll be fishing from their skiffs every day.

Ultimately, beginning and hard-core bonefishers can’t go wrong visiting Andros. There’s truly no flats fishing equally as remote on this side of the planet. If you plan things right, you could make 10 trips and never fish the same flat. Know that real adventure waits, no matter which island you choose to fish.

Photography by

Ken Hardwick

Kyle Schaefer

James Hamilton

The comically named "Grandpa's Eggs Fly" is an interesting "double take" on the ever-popular Nuke Fly. I use this fly primarily when fishing southern Ontario's Saugeen River. This river tends to get coloured in the spring, making larger flies easier for the fish to find. I find this fly particularly useful when surrounded by center-pin anglers drifting beads—Grandpa’s Eggs tends to stand out from the crowd a little more than your standard yarn pattern. It is simple to tie, but make sure that the two eggs are lined up so the fly doesn't helicopter during casts. When you’re having a slow day, this is a good fly to try.

MATERIALS:

Hook: Daiichi 1150 size 8
Thread: Veevus GSP 100d
Body: McFlyfoam Fl. Peach
Blood Dot: UV red Egg Yarn
Body Extension: 10lb fluorocarbon
Veil: Wapsi white Antron Sparkle Dubbing

Step 1: Cut a 1.5” length of McFlyfoam about .5” in diameter and another 1.5” length of egg yarn about half a pencil width in diameter. Lay the egg yarn on top of the McFlyfoam as shown.

Step 2: Loop a piece of 10 lb fluorocarbon around the middle of the materials.

Step 3: Tie a knot around the material—the same way you would tie on a hook- and pull tight.