Archives

Species Profile Archives - FFI Magazine

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.

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Brown Trout (Salmo Trutta)

SIZE

Average: 10 to 16 inches.
Trophy: 20 inches in North America; 10 pounds in New Zealand and South America; 20 pounds in northern Europe, including Russia.

FAVOURITE DESTINATION

Patagonia, Rocky Mountains, New Zealand.

DIFFICULTY RATING

5/10 in most locales.

KNOWN FOR

– Most challenging of the trout.
– Wide distribution and availability.
– Vibrant coloration.

OVERVIEW

Brown trout are an absolutely gorgeous fish. Coloration varies depending on location. These fish generally display a vibrant gold and silver scale pattern with brown and gold spotting on the sides, and a dark back serving as camouflage. The belly is cream or yellow colored, leading to the “Yellow Belly” nickname. During the fall spawn, these colors are amplified with bright yellows and oranges. Fish fresh out of the ocean may appear very silver in color, resembling a salmon.

Native to Europe, brown trout were introduced throughout the British empire in the 19th century. Their ability to live comfortably in small streams, as well as large, nutrient-rich rivers and lakes, has allowed them to establish self-sustaining populations on nearly every major landmass. Few fish demand anglers to learn such a diversity of skills to land them.

WHY TARGET BROWN TROUT

Watching a wheat field colored trout, with sunrise/sunset speckles and golden-hues, slowly rise and delicately sip in a size-16 dry fly is—and has been—the pinnacle of fly fishing. To catch these fish on a regular basis requires a deep understanding of its habits and habitats. Often only the most subtle and delicate patterns draw responses from these fish, especially when they are keyed in to a specific stage of a particular hatch, more pronounced if fishing over a glassy surface. But, as predators, they also have a mean streak—offer disruptive streamers during fall and other times of the year and the biggest browns may tear out from under a cutbank and hammer a fly.

The experienced, well-rounded angler takes a variety of flies and techniques to the water for brown trout, and modifies them on the go. On any given day they might match big Hexegenia mayflies, or dead-drift Mysis shrimp, or skitter a mouse pattern on the surface. Whatever it takes should be every angler’s motto when trying to bring a trophy brown trout to the net.

Fly fishing is not all about catching a fish—brown trout live in some of the most beautiful places on earth. Whether you are fishing the crystal-clear rivers in Patagonia or New Zealand, the freestone steams in the Rocky Mountains, or the magnificent untouched lakes of Iceland, you’ll be treated to great landscapes whether you get that once-in-a-lifetime brown or not.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Brown trout are found across the globe occupying a large variety of freshwater ecosystems and a few saltwater environments. They thrive in cold water, but have a higher heat tolerance than other trout, making it possible for them to live in warmer waters often associated with other species, such as smallmouth bass. Brown trout are distributed throughout the United States with populations in the Driftless area of the upper Midwest, the Catskills and eastern cold-water rivers, the Great Lakes, and large populations throughout much of the western United States, extending north in the Canadian Rockies. Native to Europe, brown trout are also found in Ireland, Scotland, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Tasmania, Spain, France, England and Wales. They are also prominent in Iceland with sea-run and inland populations. A population exists on Russia’s Kola Peninsula as well.

New Zealand brown trout grow to large sizes in lakes and rivers, as do populations in Australia and Tasmania. Patagonia offers brown trout in rivers and lakes with strong sea-run populations entering the southernmost rivers in Tierra del Fuego. South Africa and parts of Asia also have brown trout.

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

Brown trout are salmonids and consist of three significantly different morphs. While morphs may appear identical, they are in fact very different, both behaviorally and genetically. The most common, Salmo trutta morpha fario occupies freshwater river systems, while Salmo trutta morpha lacustrine inhabits freshwater lakes, venturing into rivers only to spawn. Salmo, trutta morpha trutta, is the sea-run, or anadromous morph of brown trout which, similar to steelhead, spend their lives in the ocean and migrate into freshwater rivers to spawn.

Brown trout are opportunistic feeders with a diverse diet, ranging from aquatic and terrestrial insects to small mammals, birds and other fish. The trout is shaped to face into currents, filtering water through its gills while absorbing dissolved oxygen. Fin size varies based on environment, but a mature specimen has a large tail fin, and distinct adipose, pectoral and ventral fins for balance and power. Large males develop a pronounced kype. Brown trout spawn during fall, when they pair off and dig large nests (redds) in the streambed. Females use this area to deposit eggs, which are fertilized by males. Males become especially aggressive and combative during this period as they compete for reproductive rights.

GEAR

Similar to rainbow trout, brown trout can be caught using four main techniques; floating dry flies, swinging wet flies, drifting nymphs, and stripping streamers. While many anglers have dedicated setups for each of these techniques, a 9-foot, 5-weight, medium-action fly rod, with an appropriately sized reel and floating line suffices in most situations. A 9-foot leader is standard in most locations. When nymphing, a 4X fluorocarbon tippet is a solid starting point. When swinging streamers, feel free to move up to 3X. When fishing dry flies, use mono tippet in the 5X range—mono floats better than fluorocarbon.

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

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Striped Bass, (Morone Saxitilis). Also known as: Striper, Linesider, Bass.

SIZE

Average: 20 – 35 inches.
Trophy: 35+ inches.

FAVOURITE DESTINATION

Long Island, Nantucket, Maine.

DIFFICULTY RATING

6/10

KNOWN FOR

– Dynamic feeding habits.
– Large migratory schools.
– Variety of ecosystems/environments in which they can be targeted.

OVERVIEW

Striped Bass are one of North America’s most unique, alluring, and targeted gamefish. The fish has a cult-like following along the inshore waters of the North Atlantic. Crazed Striper anglers can be found in coastal communities from North Carolina to Nova Scotia. At the same time, targeting these fish with fur and feathers, is considered a niche tactic in the majority of these communities and the species has not been one to draw the attention of destination anglers.

Perhaps this is due to the more developed region of the world that these fish inhabit; fly anglers seeking a wilderness experience might not exactly have Cape Cod, Nantucket, or The Hamptons in mind when considering their next destination (although their families and significant others might not mind). That being said, the multitude of tactics and strategies that can be employed to trick these fish and the sheer beauty and diversity of environments in which they can be found should put the Morone Saxitilis on the shortlist for any angler interested in a dynamic saltwater fly fishing experience.

WHY TARGET STRIPED BASS

Any striped bass angler who’s spent a full season chasing these fish will tell you that the magic of the striper comes from the variety of ways in which they can be targeted. From fishing deep offshore rips, ledges, and reefs, to chasing blitzes and poling sand flats, stripers can be caught in nearly any environment. Not only is there a great deal of variability in how these fish can be pursued, but because their season is so short and dynamic, it is safe to say that when Striper fishing, no two days are the same.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Striped bass are a very hearty species, and can be found beyond the waters of the northeast of North America in both ecosystems where the fish is endemic but less common, such as Florida, and ones where the fish has been introduced, such as Northern California. Due to the durability of the species and its natural annual transition from brackish to saltwater, the fish has also been successfully introduced to freshwater ecosystems and bred with White bass to create “hybrids” or “Wipers.” 

Striped Bass are an anadromous fish, spawning and wintering in the brackish bays and estuaries of the northeast. In Spring they migrate out into the ocean and follow warmer water temperatures and bait up the coast. A major part of the striper’s allure is this fleeting seasonal presence. Major brackish systems such as the Hudson river in New York and the Mid-Atlantic’s Chesapeake Bay represent crucial wintering grounds for a significant portion of the striped bass population. 

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

The Striped Bass can weigh as much as 100 pounds, but it is very rare to find a fish that has grown over 50 pounds. Females are generally much larger than males, and the majority of fish over 30 pounds are female. Stripers are known to live up to 40 years. 

An average breeding-size female, weighing about 12 pounds, can produce about 850,000 eggs. As the females increase in size their productivity increases – a 55 pound female can produce over 4,000,000 eggs. Spawning occurs in the spring and early summer, when water in brackish rivers and estuaries warms to about 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

GEAR

Much like the environments in which they can be chased, there is a wide variety of set-ups that can be used to target striped bass. From a 7wt for early season fish and “schoolies” to a 10wt for chasing big fish in off-shore rips, there is truly a set up for every situation. That being said, the most versatile rig that an angler chasing stripers could have is an 8wt with a large-arbor reel and two spools: 1 with a weight forward floating line, and another with an intermediate line. This will cover a variety of scenarios, from flats to rips, and poppers to big baitfish patterns. A 7’ to 10’ leader is standard, with tippet ranging from 12lb to 20lb.

Fly selection varies greatly on the situation, which is one of the most entertaining aspects of pursuing these fish. That being said, the most popular pattern of all time is of course, Bob Clouser’s Clouser Minnow.

Photography by

Captain Kyle Schaefer

Captain Zak Robinson

Captain Matt Zimmerman

Alec Griswold

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Bonefish, (Albula Vulpes).

Also called, the gray ghost, ghost of the flats, bones.

SIZE

Average: 2-4 pounds

Trophy: 10-12 pounds or more

FAVOURITE DESTINATION

Bahamas, Christmas Island.

DIFFICULTY RATING

5/10

KNOWN FOR

– Lightening fast runs.
– Willingness to take a fly.
– Disappearing in plain sight.
– The “perfect” flats species.
– Great fish for first-time salt anglers.

OVERVIEW

Bonefish are, without a doubt, the most commonly targeted species by saltwater fly-fishers. They are a torpedo-shaped, silvery fish, blessed with a large, deeply forked tail, and built for speed. A bonefish’s pointed nose is covered with sensory glands embedded in a layer of thick cartilage, with its mouth positioned on the underside of the head.

Bonefish live on the flats and dig into sandy bottoms to root up prey, which is crushed in the fish’s powerful pharyngeal teeth, located in the back of their mouths. Some bonefish develop black bars across their backs depending on the environment they inhabit. These bars break up the fish’s profile making them difficult to spot from above. That is why they are often called, “ghost of the flats.” While a nice sized bonefish in most locations may weigh between five and 10 pounds, records show they are capable of growing to over 20 pounds and nearly a meter long.

WHY TARGET BONEFISH

Why not is the question—bonefish are perfect quarry for a saltwater fly-fisher. They are found in some of the most beautiful places on the planet. They are an aggressive, yet wary predator. And, a calm bonefish rarely turns down a well presented fly. Once hooked, however, even small bonefish are capable of putting you a hundred yards into your backing within seconds. Bonefish are targeted on shallow flats where they are often seen with tails sticking out of the water. Bonefishing is a sight-fishing game, where the angler and guide work as a team. Excellent communication is essential for success. The angler stands at the bow of the boat as the guide scans the water from an elevated poling platform, while poling the boat across a flat. Once a fish is spotted, the guide helps the angler find the fish and directs the angler’s cast, using the hours of a clock as a direction tool. The fly must land close to the fish, so they can see it, yet far enough away that the landing doesn’t spook the fish. If the bonefish doesn’t see the fly right away, a couple short strips often garners its attention. If all goes well, an angler watches the bonefish hunt down the fly and pin it to the bottom. When the bonefish is right on the fly, a long, slow strip eliminates slack and allows an angler to feel an “eat.” Once an angler senses weight at the end of the line, a firm strip-set buries the hook in the bonefish’s mouth, causing it to take off across the flat in an exhilarating and powerful run—the bonefish’s signature trait.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Bonefish are found throughout the warm, shallow waters surrounding the equator. They are ubiquitous in Florida, the Bahamas, Cuba, Kiribati, Hawaii, the Cook Islands, Mauritius and the Seychelles, among other locales.

Bonefish hunt the intertidal flats, mangroves, and creeks. They may congregate in schools consisting of hundreds of fish, though larger bonefish tend to travel in twos and threes. Giant bones, ranging between 10 and 15 pounds or more, often hunt solo.

Finding a productive bonefish flat is not difficult, but tidal movement is key in determining when and where the bonefish will be. Creatures of habit, bonefish generally venture onto a flat as the tide rises to a level that is high enough to cover their backs. On a falling tide, bonefish do the opposite, appearing on the flats as the tide drops to around knee-deep. They exit the flats just before they run out of water. The best bonefishing tides really depend on where in the world you fish: Most Caribbean guides prefer the start of the rising tide, while many South Pacific guides prefer the last quarter of a falling tide.

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

Bonefish tolerate oxygen-depleted water by inhaling air into a lung-like bladder. They are a bottom dwelling fish that mainly feeds by gulping sand and sifting through it for polychaete worms, mollusks, and small invertebrates. Mature bones hunt down shrimp, gobies and small crabs, using their pointed noses to dislodge prey from burrows and coral heads. Instead of conventional teeth, bonefish have a calcified, solid pallet. They use it, in conjunction with their tongues, to crush hard-shelled prey.

While little is known about the spawning habits of bonefish, scientists believe spawning occurs in deep water during full moons. Like many saltwater fish, once hatched, larval bonefish drift with the ocean currents until they settle in shallow water. Here, they morph from planktonic larvae into miniature versions of adult bonefish. We know little of what happens after this. However, biologists expect that bonefish spend their juvenile years in deep water. Once juvenile bonefish reach about 12 inches long they transition into the sub-adult phase. Sub-adult bonefish generally inhabit protected waters in estuaries, and deeper channels near the flats. As they grow, they become emboldened, feeding in increasingly shallow water.

GEAR

The standard bonefishing outfit consists of an 8-weight rod matched with a large arbor reel. That reel offers a smooth drag, holds 150 yards or more of backing and an 8 or 9-weight floating line. Most anglers prefer full floating lines when fishing bones. However, more aggressive tapers are advantageous in windy conditions. Leader length should be adjusted to conditions, but a 10-foot leader with a butt section of 40-60-pound test, tapered down to 10-20-pound test, is a solid choice. Tippet choice varies based on water clarity, fishing pressure, and size of the fish. Ten-to 12-pound test is common when targeting average sized fish. Don’t be afraid to use 15-20-pound tippet when targeting the big boys. Fluorocarbon is not necessary, but it’s a wise choice—it gets the fly down to the fish faster than standard mono, and is recommended for leader and tippet.

Fly selection is based on location. The most important factor when choosing a fly is weight and sink rate. You must select a fly based on the depth of the water. If fishing shallow water you’ll need a fly that lands softly, or the fish may spook. On the other hand, if a fly doesn’t sink fast enough, a bonefish may swim by without seeing it. Ideally, a fly should hit the bottom in three to four seconds. Popular bonefish flies include the Gotcha Clouser in sizes 4-2; Gotchas in sizes 6-4; Squimps in sizes 6-2; CXI Specials in sizes 8-4; the EP Spawning Shrimp in sizes 8-4; and Bonefish Bitters in sizes 8-4.

Photography by

Gil Greenberg

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.

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Brown Trout (Salmo Trutta)

SIZE

Average: 10 to 16 inches.
Trophy: 20 inches in North America; 10 pounds in New Zealand and South America; 20 pounds in northern Europe, including Russia.

FAVOURITE DESTINATION

Patagonia, Rocky Mountains, New Zealand.

DIFFICULTY RATING

5/10 in most locales.

KNOWN FOR

– Most challenging of the trout.
– Wide distribution and availability.
– Vibrant coloration.

OVERVIEW

Brown trout are an absolutely gorgeous fish. Coloration varies depending on location. These fish generally display a vibrant gold and silver scale pattern with brown and gold spotting on the sides, and a dark back serving as camouflage. The belly is cream or yellow colored, leading to the “Yellow Belly” nickname. During the fall spawn, these colors are amplified with bright yellows and oranges. Fish fresh out of the ocean may appear very silver in color, resembling a salmon.

Native to Europe, brown trout were introduced throughout the British empire in the 19th century. Their ability to live comfortably in small streams, as well as large, nutrient-rich rivers and lakes, has allowed them to establish self-sustaining populations on nearly every major landmass. Few fish demand anglers to learn such a diversity of skills to land them.

WHY TARGET BROWN TROUT

Watching a wheat field colored trout, with sunrise/sunset speckles and golden-hues, slowly rise and delicately sip in a size-16 dry fly is—and has been—the pinnacle of fly fishing. To catch these fish on a regular basis requires a deep understanding of its habits and habitats. Often only the most subtle and delicate patterns draw responses from these fish, especially when they are keyed in to a specific stage of a particular hatch, more pronounced if fishing over a glassy surface. But, as predators, they also have a mean streak—offer disruptive streamers during fall and other times of the year and the biggest browns may tear out from under a cutbank and hammer a fly.

The experienced, well-rounded angler takes a variety of flies and techniques to the water for brown trout, and modifies them on the go. On any given day they might match big Hexegenia mayflies, or dead-drift Mysis shrimp, or skitter a mouse pattern on the surface. Whatever it takes should be every angler’s motto when trying to bring a trophy brown trout to the net.

Fly fishing is not all about catching a fish—brown trout live in some of the most beautiful places on earth. Whether you are fishing the crystal-clear rivers in Patagonia or New Zealand, the freestone steams in the Rocky Mountains, or the magnificent untouched lakes of Iceland, you’ll be treated to great landscapes whether you get that once-in-a-lifetime brown or not.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Brown trout are found across the globe occupying a large variety of freshwater ecosystems and a few saltwater environments. They thrive in cold water, but have a higher heat tolerance than other trout, making it possible for them to live in warmer waters often associated with other species, such as smallmouth bass. Brown trout are distributed throughout the United States with populations in the Driftless area of the upper Midwest, the Catskills and eastern cold-water rivers, the Great Lakes, and large populations throughout much of the western United States, extending north in the Canadian Rockies. Native to Europe, brown trout are also found in Ireland, Scotland, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Tasmania, Spain, France, England and Wales. They are also prominent in Iceland with sea-run and inland populations. A population exists on Russia’s Kola Peninsula as well.

New Zealand brown trout grow to large sizes in lakes and rivers, as do populations in Australia and Tasmania. Patagonia offers brown trout in rivers and lakes with strong sea-run populations entering the southernmost rivers in Tierra del Fuego. South Africa and parts of Asia also have brown trout.

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

Brown trout are salmonids and consist of three significantly different morphs. While morphs may appear identical, they are in fact very different, both behaviorally and genetically. The most common, Salmo trutta morpha fario occupies freshwater river systems, while Salmo trutta morpha lacustrine inhabits freshwater lakes, venturing into rivers only to spawn. Salmo, trutta morpha trutta, is the sea-run, or anadromous morph of brown trout which, similar to steelhead, spend their lives in the ocean and migrate into freshwater rivers to spawn.

Brown trout are opportunistic feeders with a diverse diet, ranging from aquatic and terrestrial insects to small mammals, birds and other fish. The trout is shaped to face into currents, filtering water through its gills while absorbing dissolved oxygen. Fin size varies based on environment, but a mature specimen has a large tail fin, and distinct adipose, pectoral and ventral fins for balance and power. Large males develop a pronounced kype. Brown trout spawn during fall, when they pair off and dig large nests (redds) in the streambed. Females use this area to deposit eggs, which are fertilized by males. Males become especially aggressive and combative during this period as they compete for reproductive rights.

GEAR

Similar to rainbow trout, brown trout can be caught using four main techniques; floating dry flies, swinging wet flies, drifting nymphs, and stripping streamers. While many anglers have dedicated setups for each of these techniques, a 9-foot, 5-weight, medium-action fly rod, with an appropriately sized reel and floating line suffices in most situations. A 9-foot leader is standard in most locations. When nymphing, a 4X fluorocarbon tippet is a solid starting point. When swinging streamers, feel free to move up to 3X. When fishing dry flies, use mono tippet in the 5X range—mono floats better than fluorocarbon.

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

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Striped Bass, (Morone Saxitilis). Also known as: Striper, Linesider, Bass.

SIZE

Average: 20 – 35 inches.
Trophy: 35+ inches.

FAVOURITE DESTINATION

Long Island, Nantucket, Maine.

DIFFICULTY RATING

6/10

KNOWN FOR

– Dynamic feeding habits.
– Large migratory schools.
– Variety of ecosystems/environments in which they can be targeted.

OVERVIEW

Striped Bass are one of North America’s most unique, alluring, and targeted gamefish. The fish has a cult-like following along the inshore waters of the North Atlantic. Crazed Striper anglers can be found in coastal communities from North Carolina to Nova Scotia. At the same time, targeting these fish with fur and feathers, is considered a niche tactic in the majority of these communities and the species has not been one to draw the attention of destination anglers.

Perhaps this is due to the more developed region of the world that these fish inhabit; fly anglers seeking a wilderness experience might not exactly have Cape Cod, Nantucket, or The Hamptons in mind when considering their next destination (although their families and significant others might not mind). That being said, the multitude of tactics and strategies that can be employed to trick these fish and the sheer beauty and diversity of environments in which they can be found should put the Morone Saxitilis on the shortlist for any angler interested in a dynamic saltwater fly fishing experience.

WHY TARGET STRIPED BASS

Any striped bass angler who’s spent a full season chasing these fish will tell you that the magic of the striper comes from the variety of ways in which they can be targeted. From fishing deep offshore rips, ledges, and reefs, to chasing blitzes and poling sand flats, stripers can be caught in nearly any environment. Not only is there a great deal of variability in how these fish can be pursued, but because their season is so short and dynamic, it is safe to say that when Striper fishing, no two days are the same.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Striped bass are a very hearty species, and can be found beyond the waters of the northeast of North America in both ecosystems where the fish is endemic but less common, such as Florida, and ones where the fish has been introduced, such as Northern California. Due to the durability of the species and its natural annual transition from brackish to saltwater, the fish has also been successfully introduced to freshwater ecosystems and bred with White bass to create “hybrids” or “Wipers.” 

Striped Bass are an anadromous fish, spawning and wintering in the brackish bays and estuaries of the northeast. In Spring they migrate out into the ocean and follow warmer water temperatures and bait up the coast. A major part of the striper’s allure is this fleeting seasonal presence. Major brackish systems such as the Hudson river in New York and the Mid-Atlantic’s Chesapeake Bay represent crucial wintering grounds for a significant portion of the striped bass population. 

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

The Striped Bass can weigh as much as 100 pounds, but it is very rare to find a fish that has grown over 50 pounds. Females are generally much larger than males, and the majority of fish over 30 pounds are female. Stripers are known to live up to 40 years. 

An average breeding-size female, weighing about 12 pounds, can produce about 850,000 eggs. As the females increase in size their productivity increases – a 55 pound female can produce over 4,000,000 eggs. Spawning occurs in the spring and early summer, when water in brackish rivers and estuaries warms to about 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

GEAR

Much like the environments in which they can be chased, there is a wide variety of set-ups that can be used to target striped bass. From a 7wt for early season fish and “schoolies” to a 10wt for chasing big fish in off-shore rips, there is truly a set up for every situation. That being said, the most versatile rig that an angler chasing stripers could have is an 8wt with a large-arbor reel and two spools: 1 with a weight forward floating line, and another with an intermediate line. This will cover a variety of scenarios, from flats to rips, and poppers to big baitfish patterns. A 7’ to 10’ leader is standard, with tippet ranging from 12lb to 20lb.

Fly selection varies greatly on the situation, which is one of the most entertaining aspects of pursuing these fish. That being said, the most popular pattern of all time is of course, Bob Clouser’s Clouser Minnow.

Photography by

Captain Kyle Schaefer

Captain Zak Robinson

Captain Matt Zimmerman

Alec Griswold

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Bonefish, (Albula Vulpes).

Also called, the gray ghost, ghost of the flats, bones.

SIZE

Average: 2-4 pounds

Trophy: 10-12 pounds or more

FAVOURITE DESTINATION

Bahamas, Christmas Island.

DIFFICULTY RATING

5/10

KNOWN FOR

– Lightening fast runs.
– Willingness to take a fly.
– Disappearing in plain sight.
– The “perfect” flats species.
– Great fish for first-time salt anglers.

OVERVIEW

Bonefish are, without a doubt, the most commonly targeted species by saltwater fly-fishers. They are a torpedo-shaped, silvery fish, blessed with a large, deeply forked tail, and built for speed. A bonefish’s pointed nose is covered with sensory glands embedded in a layer of thick cartilage, with its mouth positioned on the underside of the head.

Bonefish live on the flats and dig into sandy bottoms to root up prey, which is crushed in the fish’s powerful pharyngeal teeth, located in the back of their mouths. Some bonefish develop black bars across their backs depending on the environment they inhabit. These bars break up the fish’s profile making them difficult to spot from above. That is why they are often called, “ghost of the flats.” While a nice sized bonefish in most locations may weigh between five and 10 pounds, records show they are capable of growing to over 20 pounds and nearly a meter long.

WHY TARGET BONEFISH

Why not is the question—bonefish are perfect quarry for a saltwater fly-fisher. They are found in some of the most beautiful places on the planet. They are an aggressive, yet wary predator. And, a calm bonefish rarely turns down a well presented fly. Once hooked, however, even small bonefish are capable of putting you a hundred yards into your backing within seconds. Bonefish are targeted on shallow flats where they are often seen with tails sticking out of the water. Bonefishing is a sight-fishing game, where the angler and guide work as a team. Excellent communication is essential for success. The angler stands at the bow of the boat as the guide scans the water from an elevated poling platform, while poling the boat across a flat. Once a fish is spotted, the guide helps the angler find the fish and directs the angler’s cast, using the hours of a clock as a direction tool. The fly must land close to the fish, so they can see it, yet far enough away that the landing doesn’t spook the fish. If the bonefish doesn’t see the fly right away, a couple short strips often garners its attention. If all goes well, an angler watches the bonefish hunt down the fly and pin it to the bottom. When the bonefish is right on the fly, a long, slow strip eliminates slack and allows an angler to feel an “eat.” Once an angler senses weight at the end of the line, a firm strip-set buries the hook in the bonefish’s mouth, causing it to take off across the flat in an exhilarating and powerful run—the bonefish’s signature trait.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Bonefish are found throughout the warm, shallow waters surrounding the equator. They are ubiquitous in Florida, the Bahamas, Cuba, Kiribati, Hawaii, the Cook Islands, Mauritius and the Seychelles, among other locales.

Bonefish hunt the intertidal flats, mangroves, and creeks. They may congregate in schools consisting of hundreds of fish, though larger bonefish tend to travel in twos and threes. Giant bones, ranging between 10 and 15 pounds or more, often hunt solo.

Finding a productive bonefish flat is not difficult, but tidal movement is key in determining when and where the bonefish will be. Creatures of habit, bonefish generally venture onto a flat as the tide rises to a level that is high enough to cover their backs. On a falling tide, bonefish do the opposite, appearing on the flats as the tide drops to around knee-deep. They exit the flats just before they run out of water. The best bonefishing tides really depend on where in the world you fish: Most Caribbean guides prefer the start of the rising tide, while many South Pacific guides prefer the last quarter of a falling tide.

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

Bonefish tolerate oxygen-depleted water by inhaling air into a lung-like bladder. They are a bottom dwelling fish that mainly feeds by gulping sand and sifting through it for polychaete worms, mollusks, and small invertebrates. Mature bones hunt down shrimp, gobies and small crabs, using their pointed noses to dislodge prey from burrows and coral heads. Instead of conventional teeth, bonefish have a calcified, solid pallet. They use it, in conjunction with their tongues, to crush hard-shelled prey.

While little is known about the spawning habits of bonefish, scientists believe spawning occurs in deep water during full moons. Like many saltwater fish, once hatched, larval bonefish drift with the ocean currents until they settle in shallow water. Here, they morph from planktonic larvae into miniature versions of adult bonefish. We know little of what happens after this. However, biologists expect that bonefish spend their juvenile years in deep water. Once juvenile bonefish reach about 12 inches long they transition into the sub-adult phase. Sub-adult bonefish generally inhabit protected waters in estuaries, and deeper channels near the flats. As they grow, they become emboldened, feeding in increasingly shallow water.

GEAR

The standard bonefishing outfit consists of an 8-weight rod matched with a large arbor reel. That reel offers a smooth drag, holds 150 yards or more of backing and an 8 or 9-weight floating line. Most anglers prefer full floating lines when fishing bones. However, more aggressive tapers are advantageous in windy conditions. Leader length should be adjusted to conditions, but a 10-foot leader with a butt section of 40-60-pound test, tapered down to 10-20-pound test, is a solid choice. Tippet choice varies based on water clarity, fishing pressure, and size of the fish. Ten-to 12-pound test is common when targeting average sized fish. Don’t be afraid to use 15-20-pound tippet when targeting the big boys. Fluorocarbon is not necessary, but it’s a wise choice—it gets the fly down to the fish faster than standard mono, and is recommended for leader and tippet.

Fly selection is based on location. The most important factor when choosing a fly is weight and sink rate. You must select a fly based on the depth of the water. If fishing shallow water you’ll need a fly that lands softly, or the fish may spook. On the other hand, if a fly doesn’t sink fast enough, a bonefish may swim by without seeing it. Ideally, a fly should hit the bottom in three to four seconds. Popular bonefish flies include the Gotcha Clouser in sizes 4-2; Gotchas in sizes 6-4; Squimps in sizes 6-2; CXI Specials in sizes 8-4; the EP Spawning Shrimp in sizes 8-4; and Bonefish Bitters in sizes 8-4.

Photography by

Gil Greenberg

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.

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Brown Trout (Salmo Trutta)

SIZE

Average: 10 to 16 inches.
Trophy: 20 inches in North America; 10 pounds in New Zealand and South America; 20 pounds in northern Europe, including Russia.

FAVOURITE DESTINATION

Patagonia, Rocky Mountains, New Zealand.

DIFFICULTY RATING

5/10 in most locales.

KNOWN FOR

– Most challenging of the trout.
– Wide distribution and availability.
– Vibrant coloration.

OVERVIEW

Brown trout are an absolutely gorgeous fish. Coloration varies depending on location. These fish generally display a vibrant gold and silver scale pattern with brown and gold spotting on the sides, and a dark back serving as camouflage. The belly is cream or yellow colored, leading to the “Yellow Belly” nickname. During the fall spawn, these colors are amplified with bright yellows and oranges. Fish fresh out of the ocean may appear very silver in color, resembling a salmon.

Native to Europe, brown trout were introduced throughout the British empire in the 19th century. Their ability to live comfortably in small streams, as well as large, nutrient-rich rivers and lakes, has allowed them to establish self-sustaining populations on nearly every major landmass. Few fish demand anglers to learn such a diversity of skills to land them.

WHY TARGET BROWN TROUT

Watching a wheat field colored trout, with sunrise/sunset speckles and golden-hues, slowly rise and delicately sip in a size-16 dry fly is—and has been—the pinnacle of fly fishing. To catch these fish on a regular basis requires a deep understanding of its habits and habitats. Often only the most subtle and delicate patterns draw responses from these fish, especially when they are keyed in to a specific stage of a particular hatch, more pronounced if fishing over a glassy surface. But, as predators, they also have a mean streak—offer disruptive streamers during fall and other times of the year and the biggest browns may tear out from under a cutbank and hammer a fly.

The experienced, well-rounded angler takes a variety of flies and techniques to the water for brown trout, and modifies them on the go. On any given day they might match big Hexegenia mayflies, or dead-drift Mysis shrimp, or skitter a mouse pattern on the surface. Whatever it takes should be every angler’s motto when trying to bring a trophy brown trout to the net.

Fly fishing is not all about catching a fish—brown trout live in some of the most beautiful places on earth. Whether you are fishing the crystal-clear rivers in Patagonia or New Zealand, the freestone steams in the Rocky Mountains, or the magnificent untouched lakes of Iceland, you’ll be treated to great landscapes whether you get that once-in-a-lifetime brown or not.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Brown trout are found across the globe occupying a large variety of freshwater ecosystems and a few saltwater environments. They thrive in cold water, but have a higher heat tolerance than other trout, making it possible for them to live in warmer waters often associated with other species, such as smallmouth bass. Brown trout are distributed throughout the United States with populations in the Driftless area of the upper Midwest, the Catskills and eastern cold-water rivers, the Great Lakes, and large populations throughout much of the western United States, extending north in the Canadian Rockies. Native to Europe, brown trout are also found in Ireland, Scotland, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Tasmania, Spain, France, England and Wales. They are also prominent in Iceland with sea-run and inland populations. A population exists on Russia’s Kola Peninsula as well.

New Zealand brown trout grow to large sizes in lakes and rivers, as do populations in Australia and Tasmania. Patagonia offers brown trout in rivers and lakes with strong sea-run populations entering the southernmost rivers in Tierra del Fuego. South Africa and parts of Asia also have brown trout.

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

Brown trout are salmonids and consist of three significantly different morphs. While morphs may appear identical, they are in fact very different, both behaviorally and genetically. The most common, Salmo trutta morpha fario occupies freshwater river systems, while Salmo trutta morpha lacustrine inhabits freshwater lakes, venturing into rivers only to spawn. Salmo, trutta morpha trutta, is the sea-run, or anadromous morph of brown trout which, similar to steelhead, spend their lives in the ocean and migrate into freshwater rivers to spawn.

Brown trout are opportunistic feeders with a diverse diet, ranging from aquatic and terrestrial insects to small mammals, birds and other fish. The trout is shaped to face into currents, filtering water through its gills while absorbing dissolved oxygen. Fin size varies based on environment, but a mature specimen has a large tail fin, and distinct adipose, pectoral and ventral fins for balance and power. Large males develop a pronounced kype. Brown trout spawn during fall, when they pair off and dig large nests (redds) in the streambed. Females use this area to deposit eggs, which are fertilized by males. Males become especially aggressive and combative during this period as they compete for reproductive rights.

GEAR

Similar to rainbow trout, brown trout can be caught using four main techniques; floating dry flies, swinging wet flies, drifting nymphs, and stripping streamers. While many anglers have dedicated setups for each of these techniques, a 9-foot, 5-weight, medium-action fly rod, with an appropriately sized reel and floating line suffices in most situations. A 9-foot leader is standard in most locations. When nymphing, a 4X fluorocarbon tippet is a solid starting point. When swinging streamers, feel free to move up to 3X. When fishing dry flies, use mono tippet in the 5X range—mono floats better than fluorocarbon.

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

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Striped Bass, (Morone Saxitilis). Also known as: Striper, Linesider, Bass.

SIZE

Average: 20 – 35 inches.
Trophy: 35+ inches.

FAVOURITE DESTINATION

Long Island, Nantucket, Maine.

DIFFICULTY RATING

6/10

KNOWN FOR

– Dynamic feeding habits.
– Large migratory schools.
– Variety of ecosystems/environments in which they can be targeted.

OVERVIEW

Striped Bass are one of North America’s most unique, alluring, and targeted gamefish. The fish has a cult-like following along the inshore waters of the North Atlantic. Crazed Striper anglers can be found in coastal communities from North Carolina to Nova Scotia. At the same time, targeting these fish with fur and feathers, is considered a niche tactic in the majority of these communities and the species has not been one to draw the attention of destination anglers.

Perhaps this is due to the more developed region of the world that these fish inhabit; fly anglers seeking a wilderness experience might not exactly have Cape Cod, Nantucket, or The Hamptons in mind when considering their next destination (although their families and significant others might not mind). That being said, the multitude of tactics and strategies that can be employed to trick these fish and the sheer beauty and diversity of environments in which they can be found should put the Morone Saxitilis on the shortlist for any angler interested in a dynamic saltwater fly fishing experience.

WHY TARGET STRIPED BASS

Any striped bass angler who’s spent a full season chasing these fish will tell you that the magic of the striper comes from the variety of ways in which they can be targeted. From fishing deep offshore rips, ledges, and reefs, to chasing blitzes and poling sand flats, stripers can be caught in nearly any environment. Not only is there a great deal of variability in how these fish can be pursued, but because their season is so short and dynamic, it is safe to say that when Striper fishing, no two days are the same.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Striped bass are a very hearty species, and can be found beyond the waters of the northeast of North America in both ecosystems where the fish is endemic but less common, such as Florida, and ones where the fish has been introduced, such as Northern California. Due to the durability of the species and its natural annual transition from brackish to saltwater, the fish has also been successfully introduced to freshwater ecosystems and bred with White bass to create “hybrids” or “Wipers.” 

Striped Bass are an anadromous fish, spawning and wintering in the brackish bays and estuaries of the northeast. In Spring they migrate out into the ocean and follow warmer water temperatures and bait up the coast. A major part of the striper’s allure is this fleeting seasonal presence. Major brackish systems such as the Hudson river in New York and the Mid-Atlantic’s Chesapeake Bay represent crucial wintering grounds for a significant portion of the striped bass population. 

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

The Striped Bass can weigh as much as 100 pounds, but it is very rare to find a fish that has grown over 50 pounds. Females are generally much larger than males, and the majority of fish over 30 pounds are female. Stripers are known to live up to 40 years. 

An average breeding-size female, weighing about 12 pounds, can produce about 850,000 eggs. As the females increase in size their productivity increases – a 55 pound female can produce over 4,000,000 eggs. Spawning occurs in the spring and early summer, when water in brackish rivers and estuaries warms to about 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

GEAR

Much like the environments in which they can be chased, there is a wide variety of set-ups that can be used to target striped bass. From a 7wt for early season fish and “schoolies” to a 10wt for chasing big fish in off-shore rips, there is truly a set up for every situation. That being said, the most versatile rig that an angler chasing stripers could have is an 8wt with a large-arbor reel and two spools: 1 with a weight forward floating line, and another with an intermediate line. This will cover a variety of scenarios, from flats to rips, and poppers to big baitfish patterns. A 7’ to 10’ leader is standard, with tippet ranging from 12lb to 20lb.

Fly selection varies greatly on the situation, which is one of the most entertaining aspects of pursuing these fish. That being said, the most popular pattern of all time is of course, Bob Clouser’s Clouser Minnow.

Photography by

Captain Kyle Schaefer

Captain Zak Robinson

Captain Matt Zimmerman

Alec Griswold

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Bonefish, (Albula Vulpes).

Also called, the gray ghost, ghost of the flats, bones.

SIZE

Average: 2-4 pounds

Trophy: 10-12 pounds or more

FAVOURITE DESTINATION

Bahamas, Christmas Island.

DIFFICULTY RATING

5/10

KNOWN FOR

– Lightening fast runs.
– Willingness to take a fly.
– Disappearing in plain sight.
– The “perfect” flats species.
– Great fish for first-time salt anglers.

OVERVIEW

Bonefish are, without a doubt, the most commonly targeted species by saltwater fly-fishers. They are a torpedo-shaped, silvery fish, blessed with a large, deeply forked tail, and built for speed. A bonefish’s pointed nose is covered with sensory glands embedded in a layer of thick cartilage, with its mouth positioned on the underside of the head.

Bonefish live on the flats and dig into sandy bottoms to root up prey, which is crushed in the fish’s powerful pharyngeal teeth, located in the back of their mouths. Some bonefish develop black bars across their backs depending on the environment they inhabit. These bars break up the fish’s profile making them difficult to spot from above. That is why they are often called, “ghost of the flats.” While a nice sized bonefish in most locations may weigh between five and 10 pounds, records show they are capable of growing to over 20 pounds and nearly a meter long.

WHY TARGET BONEFISH

Why not is the question—bonefish are perfect quarry for a saltwater fly-fisher. They are found in some of the most beautiful places on the planet. They are an aggressive, yet wary predator. And, a calm bonefish rarely turns down a well presented fly. Once hooked, however, even small bonefish are capable of putting you a hundred yards into your backing within seconds. Bonefish are targeted on shallow flats where they are often seen with tails sticking out of the water. Bonefishing is a sight-fishing game, where the angler and guide work as a team. Excellent communication is essential for success. The angler stands at the bow of the boat as the guide scans the water from an elevated poling platform, while poling the boat across a flat. Once a fish is spotted, the guide helps the angler find the fish and directs the angler’s cast, using the hours of a clock as a direction tool. The fly must land close to the fish, so they can see it, yet far enough away that the landing doesn’t spook the fish. If the bonefish doesn’t see the fly right away, a couple short strips often garners its attention. If all goes well, an angler watches the bonefish hunt down the fly and pin it to the bottom. When the bonefish is right on the fly, a long, slow strip eliminates slack and allows an angler to feel an “eat.” Once an angler senses weight at the end of the line, a firm strip-set buries the hook in the bonefish’s mouth, causing it to take off across the flat in an exhilarating and powerful run—the bonefish’s signature trait.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Bonefish are found throughout the warm, shallow waters surrounding the equator. They are ubiquitous in Florida, the Bahamas, Cuba, Kiribati, Hawaii, the Cook Islands, Mauritius and the Seychelles, among other locales.

Bonefish hunt the intertidal flats, mangroves, and creeks. They may congregate in schools consisting of hundreds of fish, though larger bonefish tend to travel in twos and threes. Giant bones, ranging between 10 and 15 pounds or more, often hunt solo.

Finding a productive bonefish flat is not difficult, but tidal movement is key in determining when and where the bonefish will be. Creatures of habit, bonefish generally venture onto a flat as the tide rises to a level that is high enough to cover their backs. On a falling tide, bonefish do the opposite, appearing on the flats as the tide drops to around knee-deep. They exit the flats just before they run out of water. The best bonefishing tides really depend on where in the world you fish: Most Caribbean guides prefer the start of the rising tide, while many South Pacific guides prefer the last quarter of a falling tide.

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

Bonefish tolerate oxygen-depleted water by inhaling air into a lung-like bladder. They are a bottom dwelling fish that mainly feeds by gulping sand and sifting through it for polychaete worms, mollusks, and small invertebrates. Mature bones hunt down shrimp, gobies and small crabs, using their pointed noses to dislodge prey from burrows and coral heads. Instead of conventional teeth, bonefish have a calcified, solid pallet. They use it, in conjunction with their tongues, to crush hard-shelled prey.

While little is known about the spawning habits of bonefish, scientists believe spawning occurs in deep water during full moons. Like many saltwater fish, once hatched, larval bonefish drift with the ocean currents until they settle in shallow water. Here, they morph from planktonic larvae into miniature versions of adult bonefish. We know little of what happens after this. However, biologists expect that bonefish spend their juvenile years in deep water. Once juvenile bonefish reach about 12 inches long they transition into the sub-adult phase. Sub-adult bonefish generally inhabit protected waters in estuaries, and deeper channels near the flats. As they grow, they become emboldened, feeding in increasingly shallow water.

GEAR

The standard bonefishing outfit consists of an 8-weight rod matched with a large arbor reel. That reel offers a smooth drag, holds 150 yards or more of backing and an 8 or 9-weight floating line. Most anglers prefer full floating lines when fishing bones. However, more aggressive tapers are advantageous in windy conditions. Leader length should be adjusted to conditions, but a 10-foot leader with a butt section of 40-60-pound test, tapered down to 10-20-pound test, is a solid choice. Tippet choice varies based on water clarity, fishing pressure, and size of the fish. Ten-to 12-pound test is common when targeting average sized fish. Don’t be afraid to use 15-20-pound tippet when targeting the big boys. Fluorocarbon is not necessary, but it’s a wise choice—it gets the fly down to the fish faster than standard mono, and is recommended for leader and tippet.

Fly selection is based on location. The most important factor when choosing a fly is weight and sink rate. You must select a fly based on the depth of the water. If fishing shallow water you’ll need a fly that lands softly, or the fish may spook. On the other hand, if a fly doesn’t sink fast enough, a bonefish may swim by without seeing it. Ideally, a fly should hit the bottom in three to four seconds. Popular bonefish flies include the Gotcha Clouser in sizes 4-2; Gotchas in sizes 6-4; Squimps in sizes 6-2; CXI Specials in sizes 8-4; the EP Spawning Shrimp in sizes 8-4; and Bonefish Bitters in sizes 8-4.

Photography by

Gil Greenberg

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.

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Brown Trout (Salmo Trutta)

SIZE

Average: 10 to 16 inches.
Trophy: 20 inches in North America; 10 pounds in New Zealand and South America; 20 pounds in northern Europe, including Russia.

FAVOURITE DESTINATION

Patagonia, Rocky Mountains, New Zealand.

DIFFICULTY RATING

5/10 in most locales.

KNOWN FOR

– Most challenging of the trout.
– Wide distribution and availability.
– Vibrant coloration.

OVERVIEW

Brown trout are an absolutely gorgeous fish. Coloration varies depending on location. These fish generally display a vibrant gold and silver scale pattern with brown and gold spotting on the sides, and a dark back serving as camouflage. The belly is cream or yellow colored, leading to the “Yellow Belly” nickname. During the fall spawn, these colors are amplified with bright yellows and oranges. Fish fresh out of the ocean may appear very silver in color, resembling a salmon.

Native to Europe, brown trout were introduced throughout the British empire in the 19th century. Their ability to live comfortably in small streams, as well as large, nutrient-rich rivers and lakes, has allowed them to establish self-sustaining populations on nearly every major landmass. Few fish demand anglers to learn such a diversity of skills to land them.

WHY TARGET BROWN TROUT

Watching a wheat field colored trout, with sunrise/sunset speckles and golden-hues, slowly rise and delicately sip in a size-16 dry fly is—and has been—the pinnacle of fly fishing. To catch these fish on a regular basis requires a deep understanding of its habits and habitats. Often only the most subtle and delicate patterns draw responses from these fish, especially when they are keyed in to a specific stage of a particular hatch, more pronounced if fishing over a glassy surface. But, as predators, they also have a mean streak—offer disruptive streamers during fall and other times of the year and the biggest browns may tear out from under a cutbank and hammer a fly.

The experienced, well-rounded angler takes a variety of flies and techniques to the water for brown trout, and modifies them on the go. On any given day they might match big Hexegenia mayflies, or dead-drift Mysis shrimp, or skitter a mouse pattern on the surface. Whatever it takes should be every angler’s motto when trying to bring a trophy brown trout to the net.

Fly fishing is not all about catching a fish—brown trout live in some of the most beautiful places on earth. Whether you are fishing the crystal-clear rivers in Patagonia or New Zealand, the freestone steams in the Rocky Mountains, or the magnificent untouched lakes of Iceland, you’ll be treated to great landscapes whether you get that once-in-a-lifetime brown or not.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Brown trout are found across the globe occupying a large variety of freshwater ecosystems and a few saltwater environments. They thrive in cold water, but have a higher heat tolerance than other trout, making it possible for them to live in warmer waters often associated with other species, such as smallmouth bass. Brown trout are distributed throughout the United States with populations in the Driftless area of the upper Midwest, the Catskills and eastern cold-water rivers, the Great Lakes, and large populations throughout much of the western United States, extending north in the Canadian Rockies. Native to Europe, brown trout are also found in Ireland, Scotland, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Tasmania, Spain, France, England and Wales. They are also prominent in Iceland with sea-run and inland populations. A population exists on Russia’s Kola Peninsula as well.

New Zealand brown trout grow to large sizes in lakes and rivers, as do populations in Australia and Tasmania. Patagonia offers brown trout in rivers and lakes with strong sea-run populations entering the southernmost rivers in Tierra del Fuego. South Africa and parts of Asia also have brown trout.

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

Brown trout are salmonids and consist of three significantly different morphs. While morphs may appear identical, they are in fact very different, both behaviorally and genetically. The most common, Salmo trutta morpha fario occupies freshwater river systems, while Salmo trutta morpha lacustrine inhabits freshwater lakes, venturing into rivers only to spawn. Salmo, trutta morpha trutta, is the sea-run, or anadromous morph of brown trout which, similar to steelhead, spend their lives in the ocean and migrate into freshwater rivers to spawn.

Brown trout are opportunistic feeders with a diverse diet, ranging from aquatic and terrestrial insects to small mammals, birds and other fish. The trout is shaped to face into currents, filtering water through its gills while absorbing dissolved oxygen. Fin size varies based on environment, but a mature specimen has a large tail fin, and distinct adipose, pectoral and ventral fins for balance and power. Large males develop a pronounced kype. Brown trout spawn during fall, when they pair off and dig large nests (redds) in the streambed. Females use this area to deposit eggs, which are fertilized by males. Males become especially aggressive and combative during this period as they compete for reproductive rights.

GEAR

Similar to rainbow trout, brown trout can be caught using four main techniques; floating dry flies, swinging wet flies, drifting nymphs, and stripping streamers. While many anglers have dedicated setups for each of these techniques, a 9-foot, 5-weight, medium-action fly rod, with an appropriately sized reel and floating line suffices in most situations. A 9-foot leader is standard in most locations. When nymphing, a 4X fluorocarbon tippet is a solid starting point. When swinging streamers, feel free to move up to 3X. When fishing dry flies, use mono tippet in the 5X range—mono floats better than fluorocarbon.

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

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Striped Bass, (Morone Saxitilis). Also known as: Striper, Linesider, Bass.

SIZE

Average: 20 – 35 inches.
Trophy: 35+ inches.

FAVOURITE DESTINATION

Long Island, Nantucket, Maine.

DIFFICULTY RATING

6/10

KNOWN FOR

– Dynamic feeding habits.
– Large migratory schools.
– Variety of ecosystems/environments in which they can be targeted.

OVERVIEW

Striped Bass are one of North America’s most unique, alluring, and targeted gamefish. The fish has a cult-like following along the inshore waters of the North Atlantic. Crazed Striper anglers can be found in coastal communities from North Carolina to Nova Scotia. At the same time, targeting these fish with fur and feathers, is considered a niche tactic in the majority of these communities and the species has not been one to draw the attention of destination anglers.

Perhaps this is due to the more developed region of the world that these fish inhabit; fly anglers seeking a wilderness experience might not exactly have Cape Cod, Nantucket, or The Hamptons in mind when considering their next destination (although their families and significant others might not mind). That being said, the multitude of tactics and strategies that can be employed to trick these fish and the sheer beauty and diversity of environments in which they can be found should put the Morone Saxitilis on the shortlist for any angler interested in a dynamic saltwater fly fishing experience.

WHY TARGET STRIPED BASS

Any striped bass angler who’s spent a full season chasing these fish will tell you that the magic of the striper comes from the variety of ways in which they can be targeted. From fishing deep offshore rips, ledges, and reefs, to chasing blitzes and poling sand flats, stripers can be caught in nearly any environment. Not only is there a great deal of variability in how these fish can be pursued, but because their season is so short and dynamic, it is safe to say that when Striper fishing, no two days are the same.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Striped bass are a very hearty species, and can be found beyond the waters of the northeast of North America in both ecosystems where the fish is endemic but less common, such as Florida, and ones where the fish has been introduced, such as Northern California. Due to the durability of the species and its natural annual transition from brackish to saltwater, the fish has also been successfully introduced to freshwater ecosystems and bred with White bass to create “hybrids” or “Wipers.” 

Striped Bass are an anadromous fish, spawning and wintering in the brackish bays and estuaries of the northeast. In Spring they migrate out into the ocean and follow warmer water temperatures and bait up the coast. A major part of the striper’s allure is this fleeting seasonal presence. Major brackish systems such as the Hudson river in New York and the Mid-Atlantic’s Chesapeake Bay represent crucial wintering grounds for a significant portion of the striped bass population. 

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

The Striped Bass can weigh as much as 100 pounds, but it is very rare to find a fish that has grown over 50 pounds. Females are generally much larger than males, and the majority of fish over 30 pounds are female. Stripers are known to live up to 40 years. 

An average breeding-size female, weighing about 12 pounds, can produce about 850,000 eggs. As the females increase in size their productivity increases – a 55 pound female can produce over 4,000,000 eggs. Spawning occurs in the spring and early summer, when water in brackish rivers and estuaries warms to about 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

GEAR

Much like the environments in which they can be chased, there is a wide variety of set-ups that can be used to target striped bass. From a 7wt for early season fish and “schoolies” to a 10wt for chasing big fish in off-shore rips, there is truly a set up for every situation. That being said, the most versatile rig that an angler chasing stripers could have is an 8wt with a large-arbor reel and two spools: 1 with a weight forward floating line, and another with an intermediate line. This will cover a variety of scenarios, from flats to rips, and poppers to big baitfish patterns. A 7’ to 10’ leader is standard, with tippet ranging from 12lb to 20lb.

Fly selection varies greatly on the situation, which is one of the most entertaining aspects of pursuing these fish. That being said, the most popular pattern of all time is of course, Bob Clouser’s Clouser Minnow.

Photography by

Captain Kyle Schaefer

Captain Zak Robinson

Captain Matt Zimmerman

Alec Griswold

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Bonefish, (Albula Vulpes).

Also called, the gray ghost, ghost of the flats, bones.

SIZE

Average: 2-4 pounds

Trophy: 10-12 pounds or more

FAVOURITE DESTINATION

Bahamas, Christmas Island.

DIFFICULTY RATING

5/10

KNOWN FOR

– Lightening fast runs.
– Willingness to take a fly.
– Disappearing in plain sight.
– The “perfect” flats species.
– Great fish for first-time salt anglers.

OVERVIEW

Bonefish are, without a doubt, the most commonly targeted species by saltwater fly-fishers. They are a torpedo-shaped, silvery fish, blessed with a large, deeply forked tail, and built for speed. A bonefish’s pointed nose is covered with sensory glands embedded in a layer of thick cartilage, with its mouth positioned on the underside of the head.

Bonefish live on the flats and dig into sandy bottoms to root up prey, which is crushed in the fish’s powerful pharyngeal teeth, located in the back of their mouths. Some bonefish develop black bars across their backs depending on the environment they inhabit. These bars break up the fish’s profile making them difficult to spot from above. That is why they are often called, “ghost of the flats.” While a nice sized bonefish in most locations may weigh between five and 10 pounds, records show they are capable of growing to over 20 pounds and nearly a meter long.

WHY TARGET BONEFISH

Why not is the question—bonefish are perfect quarry for a saltwater fly-fisher. They are found in some of the most beautiful places on the planet. They are an aggressive, yet wary predator. And, a calm bonefish rarely turns down a well presented fly. Once hooked, however, even small bonefish are capable of putting you a hundred yards into your backing within seconds. Bonefish are targeted on shallow flats where they are often seen with tails sticking out of the water. Bonefishing is a sight-fishing game, where the angler and guide work as a team. Excellent communication is essential for success. The angler stands at the bow of the boat as the guide scans the water from an elevated poling platform, while poling the boat across a flat. Once a fish is spotted, the guide helps the angler find the fish and directs the angler’s cast, using the hours of a clock as a direction tool. The fly must land close to the fish, so they can see it, yet far enough away that the landing doesn’t spook the fish. If the bonefish doesn’t see the fly right away, a couple short strips often garners its attention. If all goes well, an angler watches the bonefish hunt down the fly and pin it to the bottom. When the bonefish is right on the fly, a long, slow strip eliminates slack and allows an angler to feel an “eat.” Once an angler senses weight at the end of the line, a firm strip-set buries the hook in the bonefish’s mouth, causing it to take off across the flat in an exhilarating and powerful run—the bonefish’s signature trait.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Bonefish are found throughout the warm, shallow waters surrounding the equator. They are ubiquitous in Florida, the Bahamas, Cuba, Kiribati, Hawaii, the Cook Islands, Mauritius and the Seychelles, among other locales.

Bonefish hunt the intertidal flats, mangroves, and creeks. They may congregate in schools consisting of hundreds of fish, though larger bonefish tend to travel in twos and threes. Giant bones, ranging between 10 and 15 pounds or more, often hunt solo.

Finding a productive bonefish flat is not difficult, but tidal movement is key in determining when and where the bonefish will be. Creatures of habit, bonefish generally venture onto a flat as the tide rises to a level that is high enough to cover their backs. On a falling tide, bonefish do the opposite, appearing on the flats as the tide drops to around knee-deep. They exit the flats just before they run out of water. The best bonefishing tides really depend on where in the world you fish: Most Caribbean guides prefer the start of the rising tide, while many South Pacific guides prefer the last quarter of a falling tide.

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

Bonefish tolerate oxygen-depleted water by inhaling air into a lung-like bladder. They are a bottom dwelling fish that mainly feeds by gulping sand and sifting through it for polychaete worms, mollusks, and small invertebrates. Mature bones hunt down shrimp, gobies and small crabs, using their pointed noses to dislodge prey from burrows and coral heads. Instead of conventional teeth, bonefish have a calcified, solid pallet. They use it, in conjunction with their tongues, to crush hard-shelled prey.

While little is known about the spawning habits of bonefish, scientists believe spawning occurs in deep water during full moons. Like many saltwater fish, once hatched, larval bonefish drift with the ocean currents until they settle in shallow water. Here, they morph from planktonic larvae into miniature versions of adult bonefish. We know little of what happens after this. However, biologists expect that bonefish spend their juvenile years in deep water. Once juvenile bonefish reach about 12 inches long they transition into the sub-adult phase. Sub-adult bonefish generally inhabit protected waters in estuaries, and deeper channels near the flats. As they grow, they become emboldened, feeding in increasingly shallow water.

GEAR

The standard bonefishing outfit consists of an 8-weight rod matched with a large arbor reel. That reel offers a smooth drag, holds 150 yards or more of backing and an 8 or 9-weight floating line. Most anglers prefer full floating lines when fishing bones. However, more aggressive tapers are advantageous in windy conditions. Leader length should be adjusted to conditions, but a 10-foot leader with a butt section of 40-60-pound test, tapered down to 10-20-pound test, is a solid choice. Tippet choice varies based on water clarity, fishing pressure, and size of the fish. Ten-to 12-pound test is common when targeting average sized fish. Don’t be afraid to use 15-20-pound tippet when targeting the big boys. Fluorocarbon is not necessary, but it’s a wise choice—it gets the fly down to the fish faster than standard mono, and is recommended for leader and tippet.

Fly selection is based on location. The most important factor when choosing a fly is weight and sink rate. You must select a fly based on the depth of the water. If fishing shallow water you’ll need a fly that lands softly, or the fish may spook. On the other hand, if a fly doesn’t sink fast enough, a bonefish may swim by without seeing it. Ideally, a fly should hit the bottom in three to four seconds. Popular bonefish flies include the Gotcha Clouser in sizes 4-2; Gotchas in sizes 6-4; Squimps in sizes 6-2; CXI Specials in sizes 8-4; the EP Spawning Shrimp in sizes 8-4; and Bonefish Bitters in sizes 8-4.

Photography by

Gil Greenberg

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.

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Brown Trout (Salmo Trutta)

SIZE

Average: 10 to 16 inches.
Trophy: 20 inches in North America; 10 pounds in New Zealand and South America; 20 pounds in northern Europe, including Russia.

FAVOURITE DESTINATION

Patagonia, Rocky Mountains, New Zealand.

DIFFICULTY RATING

5/10 in most locales.

KNOWN FOR

– Most challenging of the trout.
– Wide distribution and availability.
– Vibrant coloration.

OVERVIEW

Brown trout are an absolutely gorgeous fish. Coloration varies depending on location. These fish generally display a vibrant gold and silver scale pattern with brown and gold spotting on the sides, and a dark back serving as camouflage. The belly is cream or yellow colored, leading to the “Yellow Belly” nickname. During the fall spawn, these colors are amplified with bright yellows and oranges. Fish fresh out of the ocean may appear very silver in color, resembling a salmon.

Native to Europe, brown trout were introduced throughout the British empire in the 19th century. Their ability to live comfortably in small streams, as well as large, nutrient-rich rivers and lakes, has allowed them to establish self-sustaining populations on nearly every major landmass. Few fish demand anglers to learn such a diversity of skills to land them.

WHY TARGET BROWN TROUT

Watching a wheat field colored trout, with sunrise/sunset speckles and golden-hues, slowly rise and delicately sip in a size-16 dry fly is—and has been—the pinnacle of fly fishing. To catch these fish on a regular basis requires a deep understanding of its habits and habitats. Often only the most subtle and delicate patterns draw responses from these fish, especially when they are keyed in to a specific stage of a particular hatch, more pronounced if fishing over a glassy surface. But, as predators, they also have a mean streak—offer disruptive streamers during fall and other times of the year and the biggest browns may tear out from under a cutbank and hammer a fly.

The experienced, well-rounded angler takes a variety of flies and techniques to the water for brown trout, and modifies them on the go. On any given day they might match big Hexegenia mayflies, or dead-drift Mysis shrimp, or skitter a mouse pattern on the surface. Whatever it takes should be every angler’s motto when trying to bring a trophy brown trout to the net.

Fly fishing is not all about catching a fish—brown trout live in some of the most beautiful places on earth. Whether you are fishing the crystal-clear rivers in Patagonia or New Zealand, the freestone steams in the Rocky Mountains, or the magnificent untouched lakes of Iceland, you’ll be treated to great landscapes whether you get that once-in-a-lifetime brown or not.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Brown trout are found across the globe occupying a large variety of freshwater ecosystems and a few saltwater environments. They thrive in cold water, but have a higher heat tolerance than other trout, making it possible for them to live in warmer waters often associated with other species, such as smallmouth bass. Brown trout are distributed throughout the United States with populations in the Driftless area of the upper Midwest, the Catskills and eastern cold-water rivers, the Great Lakes, and large populations throughout much of the western United States, extending north in the Canadian Rockies. Native to Europe, brown trout are also found in Ireland, Scotland, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Tasmania, Spain, France, England and Wales. They are also prominent in Iceland with sea-run and inland populations. A population exists on Russia’s Kola Peninsula as well.

New Zealand brown trout grow to large sizes in lakes and rivers, as do populations in Australia and Tasmania. Patagonia offers brown trout in rivers and lakes with strong sea-run populations entering the southernmost rivers in Tierra del Fuego. South Africa and parts of Asia also have brown trout.

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

Brown trout are salmonids and consist of three significantly different morphs. While morphs may appear identical, they are in fact very different, both behaviorally and genetically. The most common, Salmo trutta morpha fario occupies freshwater river systems, while Salmo trutta morpha lacustrine inhabits freshwater lakes, venturing into rivers only to spawn. Salmo, trutta morpha trutta, is the sea-run, or anadromous morph of brown trout which, similar to steelhead, spend their lives in the ocean and migrate into freshwater rivers to spawn.

Brown trout are opportunistic feeders with a diverse diet, ranging from aquatic and terrestrial insects to small mammals, birds and other fish. The trout is shaped to face into currents, filtering water through its gills while absorbing dissolved oxygen. Fin size varies based on environment, but a mature specimen has a large tail fin, and distinct adipose, pectoral and ventral fins for balance and power. Large males develop a pronounced kype. Brown trout spawn during fall, when they pair off and dig large nests (redds) in the streambed. Females use this area to deposit eggs, which are fertilized by males. Males become especially aggressive and combative during this period as they compete for reproductive rights.

GEAR

Similar to rainbow trout, brown trout can be caught using four main techniques; floating dry flies, swinging wet flies, drifting nymphs, and stripping streamers. While many anglers have dedicated setups for each of these techniques, a 9-foot, 5-weight, medium-action fly rod, with an appropriately sized reel and floating line suffices in most situations. A 9-foot leader is standard in most locations. When nymphing, a 4X fluorocarbon tippet is a solid starting point. When swinging streamers, feel free to move up to 3X. When fishing dry flies, use mono tippet in the 5X range—mono floats better than fluorocarbon.

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

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Striped Bass, (Morone Saxitilis). Also known as: Striper, Linesider, Bass.

SIZE

Average: 20 – 35 inches.
Trophy: 35+ inches.

FAVOURITE DESTINATION

Long Island, Nantucket, Maine.

DIFFICULTY RATING

6/10

KNOWN FOR

– Dynamic feeding habits.
– Large migratory schools.
– Variety of ecosystems/environments in which they can be targeted.

OVERVIEW

Striped Bass are one of North America’s most unique, alluring, and targeted gamefish. The fish has a cult-like following along the inshore waters of the North Atlantic. Crazed Striper anglers can be found in coastal communities from North Carolina to Nova Scotia. At the same time, targeting these fish with fur and feathers, is considered a niche tactic in the majority of these communities and the species has not been one to draw the attention of destination anglers.

Perhaps this is due to the more developed region of the world that these fish inhabit; fly anglers seeking a wilderness experience might not exactly have Cape Cod, Nantucket, or The Hamptons in mind when considering their next destination (although their families and significant others might not mind). That being said, the multitude of tactics and strategies that can be employed to trick these fish and the sheer beauty and diversity of environments in which they can be found should put the Morone Saxitilis on the shortlist for any angler interested in a dynamic saltwater fly fishing experience.

WHY TARGET STRIPED BASS

Any striped bass angler who’s spent a full season chasing these fish will tell you that the magic of the striper comes from the variety of ways in which they can be targeted. From fishing deep offshore rips, ledges, and reefs, to chasing blitzes and poling sand flats, stripers can be caught in nearly any environment. Not only is there a great deal of variability in how these fish can be pursued, but because their season is so short and dynamic, it is safe to say that when Striper fishing, no two days are the same.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Striped bass are a very hearty species, and can be found beyond the waters of the northeast of North America in both ecosystems where the fish is endemic but less common, such as Florida, and ones where the fish has been introduced, such as Northern California. Due to the durability of the species and its natural annual transition from brackish to saltwater, the fish has also been successfully introduced to freshwater ecosystems and bred with White bass to create “hybrids” or “Wipers.” 

Striped Bass are an anadromous fish, spawning and wintering in the brackish bays and estuaries of the northeast. In Spring they migrate out into the ocean and follow warmer water temperatures and bait up the coast. A major part of the striper’s allure is this fleeting seasonal presence. Major brackish systems such as the Hudson river in New York and the Mid-Atlantic’s Chesapeake Bay represent crucial wintering grounds for a significant portion of the striped bass population. 

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

The Striped Bass can weigh as much as 100 pounds, but it is very rare to find a fish that has grown over 50 pounds. Females are generally much larger than males, and the majority of fish over 30 pounds are female. Stripers are known to live up to 40 years. 

An average breeding-size female, weighing about 12 pounds, can produce about 850,000 eggs. As the females increase in size their productivity increases – a 55 pound female can produce over 4,000,000 eggs. Spawning occurs in the spring and early summer, when water in brackish rivers and estuaries warms to about 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

GEAR

Much like the environments in which they can be chased, there is a wide variety of set-ups that can be used to target striped bass. From a 7wt for early season fish and “schoolies” to a 10wt for chasing big fish in off-shore rips, there is truly a set up for every situation. That being said, the most versatile rig that an angler chasing stripers could have is an 8wt with a large-arbor reel and two spools: 1 with a weight forward floating line, and another with an intermediate line. This will cover a variety of scenarios, from flats to rips, and poppers to big baitfish patterns. A 7’ to 10’ leader is standard, with tippet ranging from 12lb to 20lb.

Fly selection varies greatly on the situation, which is one of the most entertaining aspects of pursuing these fish. That being said, the most popular pattern of all time is of course, Bob Clouser’s Clouser Minnow.

Photography by

Captain Kyle Schaefer

Captain Zak Robinson

Captain Matt Zimmerman

Alec Griswold

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Bonefish, (Albula Vulpes).

Also called, the gray ghost, ghost of the flats, bones.

SIZE

Average: 2-4 pounds

Trophy: 10-12 pounds or more

FAVOURITE DESTINATION

Bahamas, Christmas Island.

DIFFICULTY RATING

5/10

KNOWN FOR

– Lightening fast runs.
– Willingness to take a fly.
– Disappearing in plain sight.
– The “perfect” flats species.
– Great fish for first-time salt anglers.

OVERVIEW

Bonefish are, without a doubt, the most commonly targeted species by saltwater fly-fishers. They are a torpedo-shaped, silvery fish, blessed with a large, deeply forked tail, and built for speed. A bonefish’s pointed nose is covered with sensory glands embedded in a layer of thick cartilage, with its mouth positioned on the underside of the head.

Bonefish live on the flats and dig into sandy bottoms to root up prey, which is crushed in the fish’s powerful pharyngeal teeth, located in the back of their mouths. Some bonefish develop black bars across their backs depending on the environment they inhabit. These bars break up the fish’s profile making them difficult to spot from above. That is why they are often called, “ghost of the flats.” While a nice sized bonefish in most locations may weigh between five and 10 pounds, records show they are capable of growing to over 20 pounds and nearly a meter long.

WHY TARGET BONEFISH

Why not is the question—bonefish are perfect quarry for a saltwater fly-fisher. They are found in some of the most beautiful places on the planet. They are an aggressive, yet wary predator. And, a calm bonefish rarely turns down a well presented fly. Once hooked, however, even small bonefish are capable of putting you a hundred yards into your backing within seconds. Bonefish are targeted on shallow flats where they are often seen with tails sticking out of the water. Bonefishing is a sight-fishing game, where the angler and guide work as a team. Excellent communication is essential for success. The angler stands at the bow of the boat as the guide scans the water from an elevated poling platform, while poling the boat across a flat. Once a fish is spotted, the guide helps the angler find the fish and directs the angler’s cast, using the hours of a clock as a direction tool. The fly must land close to the fish, so they can see it, yet far enough away that the landing doesn’t spook the fish. If the bonefish doesn’t see the fly right away, a couple short strips often garners its attention. If all goes well, an angler watches the bonefish hunt down the fly and pin it to the bottom. When the bonefish is right on the fly, a long, slow strip eliminates slack and allows an angler to feel an “eat.” Once an angler senses weight at the end of the line, a firm strip-set buries the hook in the bonefish’s mouth, causing it to take off across the flat in an exhilarating and powerful run—the bonefish’s signature trait.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Bonefish are found throughout the warm, shallow waters surrounding the equator. They are ubiquitous in Florida, the Bahamas, Cuba, Kiribati, Hawaii, the Cook Islands, Mauritius and the Seychelles, among other locales.

Bonefish hunt the intertidal flats, mangroves, and creeks. They may congregate in schools consisting of hundreds of fish, though larger bonefish tend to travel in twos and threes. Giant bones, ranging between 10 and 15 pounds or more, often hunt solo.

Finding a productive bonefish flat is not difficult, but tidal movement is key in determining when and where the bonefish will be. Creatures of habit, bonefish generally venture onto a flat as the tide rises to a level that is high enough to cover their backs. On a falling tide, bonefish do the opposite, appearing on the flats as the tide drops to around knee-deep. They exit the flats just before they run out of water. The best bonefishing tides really depend on where in the world you fish: Most Caribbean guides prefer the start of the rising tide, while many South Pacific guides prefer the last quarter of a falling tide.

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

Bonefish tolerate oxygen-depleted water by inhaling air into a lung-like bladder. They are a bottom dwelling fish that mainly feeds by gulping sand and sifting through it for polychaete worms, mollusks, and small invertebrates. Mature bones hunt down shrimp, gobies and small crabs, using their pointed noses to dislodge prey from burrows and coral heads. Instead of conventional teeth, bonefish have a calcified, solid pallet. They use it, in conjunction with their tongues, to crush hard-shelled prey.

While little is known about the spawning habits of bonefish, scientists believe spawning occurs in deep water during full moons. Like many saltwater fish, once hatched, larval bonefish drift with the ocean currents until they settle in shallow water. Here, they morph from planktonic larvae into miniature versions of adult bonefish. We know little of what happens after this. However, biologists expect that bonefish spend their juvenile years in deep water. Once juvenile bonefish reach about 12 inches long they transition into the sub-adult phase. Sub-adult bonefish generally inhabit protected waters in estuaries, and deeper channels near the flats. As they grow, they become emboldened, feeding in increasingly shallow water.

GEAR

The standard bonefishing outfit consists of an 8-weight rod matched with a large arbor reel. That reel offers a smooth drag, holds 150 yards or more of backing and an 8 or 9-weight floating line. Most anglers prefer full floating lines when fishing bones. However, more aggressive tapers are advantageous in windy conditions. Leader length should be adjusted to conditions, but a 10-foot leader with a butt section of 40-60-pound test, tapered down to 10-20-pound test, is a solid choice. Tippet choice varies based on water clarity, fishing pressure, and size of the fish. Ten-to 12-pound test is common when targeting average sized fish. Don’t be afraid to use 15-20-pound tippet when targeting the big boys. Fluorocarbon is not necessary, but it’s a wise choice—it gets the fly down to the fish faster than standard mono, and is recommended for leader and tippet.

Fly selection is based on location. The most important factor when choosing a fly is weight and sink rate. You must select a fly based on the depth of the water. If fishing shallow water you’ll need a fly that lands softly, or the fish may spook. On the other hand, if a fly doesn’t sink fast enough, a bonefish may swim by without seeing it. Ideally, a fly should hit the bottom in three to four seconds. Popular bonefish flies include the Gotcha Clouser in sizes 4-2; Gotchas in sizes 6-4; Squimps in sizes 6-2; CXI Specials in sizes 8-4; the EP Spawning Shrimp in sizes 8-4; and Bonefish Bitters in sizes 8-4.

Photography by

Gil Greenberg

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.

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Brown Trout (Salmo Trutta)

SIZE

Average: 10 to 16 inches.
Trophy: 20 inches in North America; 10 pounds in New Zealand and South America; 20 pounds in northern Europe, including Russia.

FAVOURITE DESTINATION

Patagonia, Rocky Mountains, New Zealand.

DIFFICULTY RATING

5/10 in most locales.

KNOWN FOR

– Most challenging of the trout.
– Wide distribution and availability.
– Vibrant coloration.

OVERVIEW

Brown trout are an absolutely gorgeous fish. Coloration varies depending on location. These fish generally display a vibrant gold and silver scale pattern with brown and gold spotting on the sides, and a dark back serving as camouflage. The belly is cream or yellow colored, leading to the “Yellow Belly” nickname. During the fall spawn, these colors are amplified with bright yellows and oranges. Fish fresh out of the ocean may appear very silver in color, resembling a salmon.

Native to Europe, brown trout were introduced throughout the British empire in the 19th century. Their ability to live comfortably in small streams, as well as large, nutrient-rich rivers and lakes, has allowed them to establish self-sustaining populations on nearly every major landmass. Few fish demand anglers to learn such a diversity of skills to land them.

WHY TARGET BROWN TROUT

Watching a wheat field colored trout, with sunrise/sunset speckles and golden-hues, slowly rise and delicately sip in a size-16 dry fly is—and has been—the pinnacle of fly fishing. To catch these fish on a regular basis requires a deep understanding of its habits and habitats. Often only the most subtle and delicate patterns draw responses from these fish, especially when they are keyed in to a specific stage of a particular hatch, more pronounced if fishing over a glassy surface. But, as predators, they also have a mean streak—offer disruptive streamers during fall and other times of the year and the biggest browns may tear out from under a cutbank and hammer a fly.

The experienced, well-rounded angler takes a variety of flies and techniques to the water for brown trout, and modifies them on the go. On any given day they might match big Hexegenia mayflies, or dead-drift Mysis shrimp, or skitter a mouse pattern on the surface. Whatever it takes should be every angler’s motto when trying to bring a trophy brown trout to the net.

Fly fishing is not all about catching a fish—brown trout live in some of the most beautiful places on earth. Whether you are fishing the crystal-clear rivers in Patagonia or New Zealand, the freestone steams in the Rocky Mountains, or the magnificent untouched lakes of Iceland, you’ll be treated to great landscapes whether you get that once-in-a-lifetime brown or not.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Brown trout are found across the globe occupying a large variety of freshwater ecosystems and a few saltwater environments. They thrive in cold water, but have a higher heat tolerance than other trout, making it possible for them to live in warmer waters often associated with other species, such as smallmouth bass. Brown trout are distributed throughout the United States with populations in the Driftless area of the upper Midwest, the Catskills and eastern cold-water rivers, the Great Lakes, and large populations throughout much of the western United States, extending north in the Canadian Rockies. Native to Europe, brown trout are also found in Ireland, Scotland, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Tasmania, Spain, France, England and Wales. They are also prominent in Iceland with sea-run and inland populations. A population exists on Russia’s Kola Peninsula as well.

New Zealand brown trout grow to large sizes in lakes and rivers, as do populations in Australia and Tasmania. Patagonia offers brown trout in rivers and lakes with strong sea-run populations entering the southernmost rivers in Tierra del Fuego. South Africa and parts of Asia also have brown trout.

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

Brown trout are salmonids and consist of three significantly different morphs. While morphs may appear identical, they are in fact very different, both behaviorally and genetically. The most common, Salmo trutta morpha fario occupies freshwater river systems, while Salmo trutta morpha lacustrine inhabits freshwater lakes, venturing into rivers only to spawn. Salmo, trutta morpha trutta, is the sea-run, or anadromous morph of brown trout which, similar to steelhead, spend their lives in the ocean and migrate into freshwater rivers to spawn.

Brown trout are opportunistic feeders with a diverse diet, ranging from aquatic and terrestrial insects to small mammals, birds and other fish. The trout is shaped to face into currents, filtering water through its gills while absorbing dissolved oxygen. Fin size varies based on environment, but a mature specimen has a large tail fin, and distinct adipose, pectoral and ventral fins for balance and power. Large males develop a pronounced kype. Brown trout spawn during fall, when they pair off and dig large nests (redds) in the streambed. Females use this area to deposit eggs, which are fertilized by males. Males become especially aggressive and combative during this period as they compete for reproductive rights.

GEAR

Similar to rainbow trout, brown trout can be caught using four main techniques; floating dry flies, swinging wet flies, drifting nymphs, and stripping streamers. While many anglers have dedicated setups for each of these techniques, a 9-foot, 5-weight, medium-action fly rod, with an appropriately sized reel and floating line suffices in most situations. A 9-foot leader is standard in most locations. When nymphing, a 4X fluorocarbon tippet is a solid starting point. When swinging streamers, feel free to move up to 3X. When fishing dry flies, use mono tippet in the 5X range—mono floats better than fluorocarbon.

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

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Striped Bass, (Morone Saxitilis). Also known as: Striper, Linesider, Bass.

SIZE

Average: 20 – 35 inches.
Trophy: 35+ inches.

FAVOURITE DESTINATION

Long Island, Nantucket, Maine.

DIFFICULTY RATING

6/10

KNOWN FOR

– Dynamic feeding habits.
– Large migratory schools.
– Variety of ecosystems/environments in which they can be targeted.

OVERVIEW

Striped Bass are one of North America’s most unique, alluring, and targeted gamefish. The fish has a cult-like following along the inshore waters of the North Atlantic. Crazed Striper anglers can be found in coastal communities from North Carolina to Nova Scotia. At the same time, targeting these fish with fur and feathers, is considered a niche tactic in the majority of these communities and the species has not been one to draw the attention of destination anglers.

Perhaps this is due to the more developed region of the world that these fish inhabit; fly anglers seeking a wilderness experience might not exactly have Cape Cod, Nantucket, or The Hamptons in mind when considering their next destination (although their families and significant others might not mind). That being said, the multitude of tactics and strategies that can be employed to trick these fish and the sheer beauty and diversity of environments in which they can be found should put the Morone Saxitilis on the shortlist for any angler interested in a dynamic saltwater fly fishing experience.

WHY TARGET STRIPED BASS

Any striped bass angler who’s spent a full season chasing these fish will tell you that the magic of the striper comes from the variety of ways in which they can be targeted. From fishing deep offshore rips, ledges, and reefs, to chasing blitzes and poling sand flats, stripers can be caught in nearly any environment. Not only is there a great deal of variability in how these fish can be pursued, but because their season is so short and dynamic, it is safe to say that when Striper fishing, no two days are the same.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Striped bass are a very hearty species, and can be found beyond the waters of the northeast of North America in both ecosystems where the fish is endemic but less common, such as Florida, and ones where the fish has been introduced, such as Northern California. Due to the durability of the species and its natural annual transition from brackish to saltwater, the fish has also been successfully introduced to freshwater ecosystems and bred with White bass to create “hybrids” or “Wipers.” 

Striped Bass are an anadromous fish, spawning and wintering in the brackish bays and estuaries of the northeast. In Spring they migrate out into the ocean and follow warmer water temperatures and bait up the coast. A major part of the striper’s allure is this fleeting seasonal presence. Major brackish systems such as the Hudson river in New York and the Mid-Atlantic’s Chesapeake Bay represent crucial wintering grounds for a significant portion of the striped bass population. 

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

The Striped Bass can weigh as much as 100 pounds, but it is very rare to find a fish that has grown over 50 pounds. Females are generally much larger than males, and the majority of fish over 30 pounds are female. Stripers are known to live up to 40 years. 

An average breeding-size female, weighing about 12 pounds, can produce about 850,000 eggs. As the females increase in size their productivity increases – a 55 pound female can produce over 4,000,000 eggs. Spawning occurs in the spring and early summer, when water in brackish rivers and estuaries warms to about 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

GEAR

Much like the environments in which they can be chased, there is a wide variety of set-ups that can be used to target striped bass. From a 7wt for early season fish and “schoolies” to a 10wt for chasing big fish in off-shore rips, there is truly a set up for every situation. That being said, the most versatile rig that an angler chasing stripers could have is an 8wt with a large-arbor reel and two spools: 1 with a weight forward floating line, and another with an intermediate line. This will cover a variety of scenarios, from flats to rips, and poppers to big baitfish patterns. A 7’ to 10’ leader is standard, with tippet ranging from 12lb to 20lb.

Fly selection varies greatly on the situation, which is one of the most entertaining aspects of pursuing these fish. That being said, the most popular pattern of all time is of course, Bob Clouser’s Clouser Minnow.

Photography by

Captain Kyle Schaefer

Captain Zak Robinson

Captain Matt Zimmerman

Alec Griswold

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Bonefish, (Albula Vulpes).

Also called, the gray ghost, ghost of the flats, bones.

SIZE

Average: 2-4 pounds

Trophy: 10-12 pounds or more

FAVOURITE DESTINATION

Bahamas, Christmas Island.

DIFFICULTY RATING

5/10

KNOWN FOR

– Lightening fast runs.
– Willingness to take a fly.
– Disappearing in plain sight.
– The “perfect” flats species.
– Great fish for first-time salt anglers.

OVERVIEW

Bonefish are, without a doubt, the most commonly targeted species by saltwater fly-fishers. They are a torpedo-shaped, silvery fish, blessed with a large, deeply forked tail, and built for speed. A bonefish’s pointed nose is covered with sensory glands embedded in a layer of thick cartilage, with its mouth positioned on the underside of the head.

Bonefish live on the flats and dig into sandy bottoms to root up prey, which is crushed in the fish’s powerful pharyngeal teeth, located in the back of their mouths. Some bonefish develop black bars across their backs depending on the environment they inhabit. These bars break up the fish’s profile making them difficult to spot from above. That is why they are often called, “ghost of the flats.” While a nice sized bonefish in most locations may weigh between five and 10 pounds, records show they are capable of growing to over 20 pounds and nearly a meter long.

WHY TARGET BONEFISH

Why not is the question—bonefish are perfect quarry for a saltwater fly-fisher. They are found in some of the most beautiful places on the planet. They are an aggressive, yet wary predator. And, a calm bonefish rarely turns down a well presented fly. Once hooked, however, even small bonefish are capable of putting you a hundred yards into your backing within seconds. Bonefish are targeted on shallow flats where they are often seen with tails sticking out of the water. Bonefishing is a sight-fishing game, where the angler and guide work as a team. Excellent communication is essential for success. The angler stands at the bow of the boat as the guide scans the water from an elevated poling platform, while poling the boat across a flat. Once a fish is spotted, the guide helps the angler find the fish and directs the angler’s cast, using the hours of a clock as a direction tool. The fly must land close to the fish, so they can see it, yet far enough away that the landing doesn’t spook the fish. If the bonefish doesn’t see the fly right away, a couple short strips often garners its attention. If all goes well, an angler watches the bonefish hunt down the fly and pin it to the bottom. When the bonefish is right on the fly, a long, slow strip eliminates slack and allows an angler to feel an “eat.” Once an angler senses weight at the end of the line, a firm strip-set buries the hook in the bonefish’s mouth, causing it to take off across the flat in an exhilarating and powerful run—the bonefish’s signature trait.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Bonefish are found throughout the warm, shallow waters surrounding the equator. They are ubiquitous in Florida, the Bahamas, Cuba, Kiribati, Hawaii, the Cook Islands, Mauritius and the Seychelles, among other locales.

Bonefish hunt the intertidal flats, mangroves, and creeks. They may congregate in schools consisting of hundreds of fish, though larger bonefish tend to travel in twos and threes. Giant bones, ranging between 10 and 15 pounds or more, often hunt solo.

Finding a productive bonefish flat is not difficult, but tidal movement is key in determining when and where the bonefish will be. Creatures of habit, bonefish generally venture onto a flat as the tide rises to a level that is high enough to cover their backs. On a falling tide, bonefish do the opposite, appearing on the flats as the tide drops to around knee-deep. They exit the flats just before they run out of water. The best bonefishing tides really depend on where in the world you fish: Most Caribbean guides prefer the start of the rising tide, while many South Pacific guides prefer the last quarter of a falling tide.

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

Bonefish tolerate oxygen-depleted water by inhaling air into a lung-like bladder. They are a bottom dwelling fish that mainly feeds by gulping sand and sifting through it for polychaete worms, mollusks, and small invertebrates. Mature bones hunt down shrimp, gobies and small crabs, using their pointed noses to dislodge prey from burrows and coral heads. Instead of conventional teeth, bonefish have a calcified, solid pallet. They use it, in conjunction with their tongues, to crush hard-shelled prey.

While little is known about the spawning habits of bonefish, scientists believe spawning occurs in deep water during full moons. Like many saltwater fish, once hatched, larval bonefish drift with the ocean currents until they settle in shallow water. Here, they morph from planktonic larvae into miniature versions of adult bonefish. We know little of what happens after this. However, biologists expect that bonefish spend their juvenile years in deep water. Once juvenile bonefish reach about 12 inches long they transition into the sub-adult phase. Sub-adult bonefish generally inhabit protected waters in estuaries, and deeper channels near the flats. As they grow, they become emboldened, feeding in increasingly shallow water.

GEAR

The standard bonefishing outfit consists of an 8-weight rod matched with a large arbor reel. That reel offers a smooth drag, holds 150 yards or more of backing and an 8 or 9-weight floating line. Most anglers prefer full floating lines when fishing bones. However, more aggressive tapers are advantageous in windy conditions. Leader length should be adjusted to conditions, but a 10-foot leader with a butt section of 40-60-pound test, tapered down to 10-20-pound test, is a solid choice. Tippet choice varies based on water clarity, fishing pressure, and size of the fish. Ten-to 12-pound test is common when targeting average sized fish. Don’t be afraid to use 15-20-pound tippet when targeting the big boys. Fluorocarbon is not necessary, but it’s a wise choice—it gets the fly down to the fish faster than standard mono, and is recommended for leader and tippet.

Fly selection is based on location. The most important factor when choosing a fly is weight and sink rate. You must select a fly based on the depth of the water. If fishing shallow water you’ll need a fly that lands softly, or the fish may spook. On the other hand, if a fly doesn’t sink fast enough, a bonefish may swim by without seeing it. Ideally, a fly should hit the bottom in three to four seconds. Popular bonefish flies include the Gotcha Clouser in sizes 4-2; Gotchas in sizes 6-4; Squimps in sizes 6-2; CXI Specials in sizes 8-4; the EP Spawning Shrimp in sizes 8-4; and Bonefish Bitters in sizes 8-4.

Photography by

Gil Greenberg

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.

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Brown Trout (Salmo Trutta)

SIZE

Average: 10 to 16 inches.
Trophy: 20 inches in North America; 10 pounds in New Zealand and South America; 20 pounds in northern Europe, including Russia.

FAVOURITE DESTINATION

Patagonia, Rocky Mountains, New Zealand.

DIFFICULTY RATING

5/10 in most locales.

KNOWN FOR

– Most challenging of the trout.
– Wide distribution and availability.
– Vibrant coloration.

OVERVIEW

Brown trout are an absolutely gorgeous fish. Coloration varies depending on location. These fish generally display a vibrant gold and silver scale pattern with brown and gold spotting on the sides, and a dark back serving as camouflage. The belly is cream or yellow colored, leading to the “Yellow Belly” nickname. During the fall spawn, these colors are amplified with bright yellows and oranges. Fish fresh out of the ocean may appear very silver in color, resembling a salmon.

Native to Europe, brown trout were introduced throughout the British empire in the 19th century. Their ability to live comfortably in small streams, as well as large, nutrient-rich rivers and lakes, has allowed them to establish self-sustaining populations on nearly every major landmass. Few fish demand anglers to learn such a diversity of skills to land them.

WHY TARGET BROWN TROUT

Watching a wheat field colored trout, with sunrise/sunset speckles and golden-hues, slowly rise and delicately sip in a size-16 dry fly is—and has been—the pinnacle of fly fishing. To catch these fish on a regular basis requires a deep understanding of its habits and habitats. Often only the most subtle and delicate patterns draw responses from these fish, especially when they are keyed in to a specific stage of a particular hatch, more pronounced if fishing over a glassy surface. But, as predators, they also have a mean streak—offer disruptive streamers during fall and other times of the year and the biggest browns may tear out from under a cutbank and hammer a fly.

The experienced, well-rounded angler takes a variety of flies and techniques to the water for brown trout, and modifies them on the go. On any given day they might match big Hexegenia mayflies, or dead-drift Mysis shrimp, or skitter a mouse pattern on the surface. Whatever it takes should be every angler’s motto when trying to bring a trophy brown trout to the net.

Fly fishing is not all about catching a fish—brown trout live in some of the most beautiful places on earth. Whether you are fishing the crystal-clear rivers in Patagonia or New Zealand, the freestone steams in the Rocky Mountains, or the magnificent untouched lakes of Iceland, you’ll be treated to great landscapes whether you get that once-in-a-lifetime brown or not.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Brown trout are found across the globe occupying a large variety of freshwater ecosystems and a few saltwater environments. They thrive in cold water, but have a higher heat tolerance than other trout, making it possible for them to live in warmer waters often associated with other species, such as smallmouth bass. Brown trout are distributed throughout the United States with populations in the Driftless area of the upper Midwest, the Catskills and eastern cold-water rivers, the Great Lakes, and large populations throughout much of the western United States, extending north in the Canadian Rockies. Native to Europe, brown trout are also found in Ireland, Scotland, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Tasmania, Spain, France, England and Wales. They are also prominent in Iceland with sea-run and inland populations. A population exists on Russia’s Kola Peninsula as well.

New Zealand brown trout grow to large sizes in lakes and rivers, as do populations in Australia and Tasmania. Patagonia offers brown trout in rivers and lakes with strong sea-run populations entering the southernmost rivers in Tierra del Fuego. South Africa and parts of Asia also have brown trout.

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

Brown trout are salmonids and consist of three significantly different morphs. While morphs may appear identical, they are in fact very different, both behaviorally and genetically. The most common, Salmo trutta morpha fario occupies freshwater river systems, while Salmo trutta morpha lacustrine inhabits freshwater lakes, venturing into rivers only to spawn. Salmo, trutta morpha trutta, is the sea-run, or anadromous morph of brown trout which, similar to steelhead, spend their lives in the ocean and migrate into freshwater rivers to spawn.

Brown trout are opportunistic feeders with a diverse diet, ranging from aquatic and terrestrial insects to small mammals, birds and other fish. The trout is shaped to face into currents, filtering water through its gills while absorbing dissolved oxygen. Fin size varies based on environment, but a mature specimen has a large tail fin, and distinct adipose, pectoral and ventral fins for balance and power. Large males develop a pronounced kype. Brown trout spawn during fall, when they pair off and dig large nests (redds) in the streambed. Females use this area to deposit eggs, which are fertilized by males. Males become especially aggressive and combative during this period as they compete for reproductive rights.

GEAR

Similar to rainbow trout, brown trout can be caught using four main techniques; floating dry flies, swinging wet flies, drifting nymphs, and stripping streamers. While many anglers have dedicated setups for each of these techniques, a 9-foot, 5-weight, medium-action fly rod, with an appropriately sized reel and floating line suffices in most situations. A 9-foot leader is standard in most locations. When nymphing, a 4X fluorocarbon tippet is a solid starting point. When swinging streamers, feel free to move up to 3X. When fishing dry flies, use mono tippet in the 5X range—mono floats better than fluorocarbon.

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

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Striped Bass, (Morone Saxitilis). Also known as: Striper, Linesider, Bass.

SIZE

Average: 20 – 35 inches.
Trophy: 35+ inches.

FAVOURITE DESTINATION

Long Island, Nantucket, Maine.

DIFFICULTY RATING

6/10

KNOWN FOR

– Dynamic feeding habits.
– Large migratory schools.
– Variety of ecosystems/environments in which they can be targeted.

OVERVIEW

Striped Bass are one of North America’s most unique, alluring, and targeted gamefish. The fish has a cult-like following along the inshore waters of the North Atlantic. Crazed Striper anglers can be found in coastal communities from North Carolina to Nova Scotia. At the same time, targeting these fish with fur and feathers, is considered a niche tactic in the majority of these communities and the species has not been one to draw the attention of destination anglers.

Perhaps this is due to the more developed region of the world that these fish inhabit; fly anglers seeking a wilderness experience might not exactly have Cape Cod, Nantucket, or The Hamptons in mind when considering their next destination (although their families and significant others might not mind). That being said, the multitude of tactics and strategies that can be employed to trick these fish and the sheer beauty and diversity of environments in which they can be found should put the Morone Saxitilis on the shortlist for any angler interested in a dynamic saltwater fly fishing experience.

WHY TARGET STRIPED BASS

Any striped bass angler who’s spent a full season chasing these fish will tell you that the magic of the striper comes from the variety of ways in which they can be targeted. From fishing deep offshore rips, ledges, and reefs, to chasing blitzes and poling sand flats, stripers can be caught in nearly any environment. Not only is there a great deal of variability in how these fish can be pursued, but because their season is so short and dynamic, it is safe to say that when Striper fishing, no two days are the same.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Striped bass are a very hearty species, and can be found beyond the waters of the northeast of North America in both ecosystems where the fish is endemic but less common, such as Florida, and ones where the fish has been introduced, such as Northern California. Due to the durability of the species and its natural annual transition from brackish to saltwater, the fish has also been successfully introduced to freshwater ecosystems and bred with White bass to create “hybrids” or “Wipers.” 

Striped Bass are an anadromous fish, spawning and wintering in the brackish bays and estuaries of the northeast. In Spring they migrate out into the ocean and follow warmer water temperatures and bait up the coast. A major part of the striper’s allure is this fleeting seasonal presence. Major brackish systems such as the Hudson river in New York and the Mid-Atlantic’s Chesapeake Bay represent crucial wintering grounds for a significant portion of the striped bass population. 

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

The Striped Bass can weigh as much as 100 pounds, but it is very rare to find a fish that has grown over 50 pounds. Females are generally much larger than males, and the majority of fish over 30 pounds are female. Stripers are known to live up to 40 years. 

An average breeding-size female, weighing about 12 pounds, can produce about 850,000 eggs. As the females increase in size their productivity increases – a 55 pound female can produce over 4,000,000 eggs. Spawning occurs in the spring and early summer, when water in brackish rivers and estuaries warms to about 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

GEAR

Much like the environments in which they can be chased, there is a wide variety of set-ups that can be used to target striped bass. From a 7wt for early season fish and “schoolies” to a 10wt for chasing big fish in off-shore rips, there is truly a set up for every situation. That being said, the most versatile rig that an angler chasing stripers could have is an 8wt with a large-arbor reel and two spools: 1 with a weight forward floating line, and another with an intermediate line. This will cover a variety of scenarios, from flats to rips, and poppers to big baitfish patterns. A 7’ to 10’ leader is standard, with tippet ranging from 12lb to 20lb.

Fly selection varies greatly on the situation, which is one of the most entertaining aspects of pursuing these fish. That being said, the most popular pattern of all time is of course, Bob Clouser’s Clouser Minnow.

Photography by

Captain Kyle Schaefer

Captain Zak Robinson

Captain Matt Zimmerman

Alec Griswold

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Bonefish, (Albula Vulpes).

Also called, the gray ghost, ghost of the flats, bones.

SIZE

Average: 2-4 pounds

Trophy: 10-12 pounds or more

FAVOURITE DESTINATION

Bahamas, Christmas Island.

DIFFICULTY RATING

5/10

KNOWN FOR

– Lightening fast runs.
– Willingness to take a fly.
– Disappearing in plain sight.
– The “perfect” flats species.
– Great fish for first-time salt anglers.

OVERVIEW

Bonefish are, without a doubt, the most commonly targeted species by saltwater fly-fishers. They are a torpedo-shaped, silvery fish, blessed with a large, deeply forked tail, and built for speed. A bonefish’s pointed nose is covered with sensory glands embedded in a layer of thick cartilage, with its mouth positioned on the underside of the head.

Bonefish live on the flats and dig into sandy bottoms to root up prey, which is crushed in the fish’s powerful pharyngeal teeth, located in the back of their mouths. Some bonefish develop black bars across their backs depending on the environment they inhabit. These bars break up the fish’s profile making them difficult to spot from above. That is why they are often called, “ghost of the flats.” While a nice sized bonefish in most locations may weigh between five and 10 pounds, records show they are capable of growing to over 20 pounds and nearly a meter long.

WHY TARGET BONEFISH

Why not is the question—bonefish are perfect quarry for a saltwater fly-fisher. They are found in some of the most beautiful places on the planet. They are an aggressive, yet wary predator. And, a calm bonefish rarely turns down a well presented fly. Once hooked, however, even small bonefish are capable of putting you a hundred yards into your backing within seconds. Bonefish are targeted on shallow flats where they are often seen with tails sticking out of the water. Bonefishing is a sight-fishing game, where the angler and guide work as a team. Excellent communication is essential for success. The angler stands at the bow of the boat as the guide scans the water from an elevated poling platform, while poling the boat across a flat. Once a fish is spotted, the guide helps the angler find the fish and directs the angler’s cast, using the hours of a clock as a direction tool. The fly must land close to the fish, so they can see it, yet far enough away that the landing doesn’t spook the fish. If the bonefish doesn’t see the fly right away, a couple short strips often garners its attention. If all goes well, an angler watches the bonefish hunt down the fly and pin it to the bottom. When the bonefish is right on the fly, a long, slow strip eliminates slack and allows an angler to feel an “eat.” Once an angler senses weight at the end of the line, a firm strip-set buries the hook in the bonefish’s mouth, causing it to take off across the flat in an exhilarating and powerful run—the bonefish’s signature trait.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Bonefish are found throughout the warm, shallow waters surrounding the equator. They are ubiquitous in Florida, the Bahamas, Cuba, Kiribati, Hawaii, the Cook Islands, Mauritius and the Seychelles, among other locales.

Bonefish hunt the intertidal flats, mangroves, and creeks. They may congregate in schools consisting of hundreds of fish, though larger bonefish tend to travel in twos and threes. Giant bones, ranging between 10 and 15 pounds or more, often hunt solo.

Finding a productive bonefish flat is not difficult, but tidal movement is key in determining when and where the bonefish will be. Creatures of habit, bonefish generally venture onto a flat as the tide rises to a level that is high enough to cover their backs. On a falling tide, bonefish do the opposite, appearing on the flats as the tide drops to around knee-deep. They exit the flats just before they run out of water. The best bonefishing tides really depend on where in the world you fish: Most Caribbean guides prefer the start of the rising tide, while many South Pacific guides prefer the last quarter of a falling tide.

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

Bonefish tolerate oxygen-depleted water by inhaling air into a lung-like bladder. They are a bottom dwelling fish that mainly feeds by gulping sand and sifting through it for polychaete worms, mollusks, and small invertebrates. Mature bones hunt down shrimp, gobies and small crabs, using their pointed noses to dislodge prey from burrows and coral heads. Instead of conventional teeth, bonefish have a calcified, solid pallet. They use it, in conjunction with their tongues, to crush hard-shelled prey.

While little is known about the spawning habits of bonefish, scientists believe spawning occurs in deep water during full moons. Like many saltwater fish, once hatched, larval bonefish drift with the ocean currents until they settle in shallow water. Here, they morph from planktonic larvae into miniature versions of adult bonefish. We know little of what happens after this. However, biologists expect that bonefish spend their juvenile years in deep water. Once juvenile bonefish reach about 12 inches long they transition into the sub-adult phase. Sub-adult bonefish generally inhabit protected waters in estuaries, and deeper channels near the flats. As they grow, they become emboldened, feeding in increasingly shallow water.

GEAR

The standard bonefishing outfit consists of an 8-weight rod matched with a large arbor reel. That reel offers a smooth drag, holds 150 yards or more of backing and an 8 or 9-weight floating line. Most anglers prefer full floating lines when fishing bones. However, more aggressive tapers are advantageous in windy conditions. Leader length should be adjusted to conditions, but a 10-foot leader with a butt section of 40-60-pound test, tapered down to 10-20-pound test, is a solid choice. Tippet choice varies based on water clarity, fishing pressure, and size of the fish. Ten-to 12-pound test is common when targeting average sized fish. Don’t be afraid to use 15-20-pound tippet when targeting the big boys. Fluorocarbon is not necessary, but it’s a wise choice—it gets the fly down to the fish faster than standard mono, and is recommended for leader and tippet.

Fly selection is based on location. The most important factor when choosing a fly is weight and sink rate. You must select a fly based on the depth of the water. If fishing shallow water you’ll need a fly that lands softly, or the fish may spook. On the other hand, if a fly doesn’t sink fast enough, a bonefish may swim by without seeing it. Ideally, a fly should hit the bottom in three to four seconds. Popular bonefish flies include the Gotcha Clouser in sizes 4-2; Gotchas in sizes 6-4; Squimps in sizes 6-2; CXI Specials in sizes 8-4; the EP Spawning Shrimp in sizes 8-4; and Bonefish Bitters in sizes 8-4.

Photography by

Gil Greenberg

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.

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Brown Trout (Salmo Trutta)

SIZE

Average: 10 to 16 inches.
Trophy: 20 inches in North America; 10 pounds in New Zealand and South America; 20 pounds in northern Europe, including Russia.

FAVOURITE DESTINATION

Patagonia, Rocky Mountains, New Zealand.

DIFFICULTY RATING

5/10 in most locales.

KNOWN FOR

– Most challenging of the trout.
– Wide distribution and availability.
– Vibrant coloration.

OVERVIEW

Brown trout are an absolutely gorgeous fish. Coloration varies depending on location. These fish generally display a vibrant gold and silver scale pattern with brown and gold spotting on the sides, and a dark back serving as camouflage. The belly is cream or yellow colored, leading to the “Yellow Belly” nickname. During the fall spawn, these colors are amplified with bright yellows and oranges. Fish fresh out of the ocean may appear very silver in color, resembling a salmon.

Native to Europe, brown trout were introduced throughout the British empire in the 19th century. Their ability to live comfortably in small streams, as well as large, nutrient-rich rivers and lakes, has allowed them to establish self-sustaining populations on nearly every major landmass. Few fish demand anglers to learn such a diversity of skills to land them.

WHY TARGET BROWN TROUT

Watching a wheat field colored trout, with sunrise/sunset speckles and golden-hues, slowly rise and delicately sip in a size-16 dry fly is—and has been—the pinnacle of fly fishing. To catch these fish on a regular basis requires a deep understanding of its habits and habitats. Often only the most subtle and delicate patterns draw responses from these fish, especially when they are keyed in to a specific stage of a particular hatch, more pronounced if fishing over a glassy surface. But, as predators, they also have a mean streak—offer disruptive streamers during fall and other times of the year and the biggest browns may tear out from under a cutbank and hammer a fly.

The experienced, well-rounded angler takes a variety of flies and techniques to the water for brown trout, and modifies them on the go. On any given day they might match big Hexegenia mayflies, or dead-drift Mysis shrimp, or skitter a mouse pattern on the surface. Whatever it takes should be every angler’s motto when trying to bring a trophy brown trout to the net.

Fly fishing is not all about catching a fish—brown trout live in some of the most beautiful places on earth. Whether you are fishing the crystal-clear rivers in Patagonia or New Zealand, the freestone steams in the Rocky Mountains, or the magnificent untouched lakes of Iceland, you’ll be treated to great landscapes whether you get that once-in-a-lifetime brown or not.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Brown trout are found across the globe occupying a large variety of freshwater ecosystems and a few saltwater environments. They thrive in cold water, but have a higher heat tolerance than other trout, making it possible for them to live in warmer waters often associated with other species, such as smallmouth bass. Brown trout are distributed throughout the United States with populations in the Driftless area of the upper Midwest, the Catskills and eastern cold-water rivers, the Great Lakes, and large populations throughout much of the western United States, extending north in the Canadian Rockies. Native to Europe, brown trout are also found in Ireland, Scotland, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Tasmania, Spain, France, England and Wales. They are also prominent in Iceland with sea-run and inland populations. A population exists on Russia’s Kola Peninsula as well.

New Zealand brown trout grow to large sizes in lakes and rivers, as do populations in Australia and Tasmania. Patagonia offers brown trout in rivers and lakes with strong sea-run populations entering the southernmost rivers in Tierra del Fuego. South Africa and parts of Asia also have brown trout.

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

Brown trout are salmonids and consist of three significantly different morphs. While morphs may appear identical, they are in fact very different, both behaviorally and genetically. The most common, Salmo trutta morpha fario occupies freshwater river systems, while Salmo trutta morpha lacustrine inhabits freshwater lakes, venturing into rivers only to spawn. Salmo, trutta morpha trutta, is the sea-run, or anadromous morph of brown trout which, similar to steelhead, spend their lives in the ocean and migrate into freshwater rivers to spawn.

Brown trout are opportunistic feeders with a diverse diet, ranging from aquatic and terrestrial insects to small mammals, birds and other fish. The trout is shaped to face into currents, filtering water through its gills while absorbing dissolved oxygen. Fin size varies based on environment, but a mature specimen has a large tail fin, and distinct adipose, pectoral and ventral fins for balance and power. Large males develop a pronounced kype. Brown trout spawn during fall, when they pair off and dig large nests (redds) in the streambed. Females use this area to deposit eggs, which are fertilized by males. Males become especially aggressive and combative during this period as they compete for reproductive rights.

GEAR

Similar to rainbow trout, brown trout can be caught using four main techniques; floating dry flies, swinging wet flies, drifting nymphs, and stripping streamers. While many anglers have dedicated setups for each of these techniques, a 9-foot, 5-weight, medium-action fly rod, with an appropriately sized reel and floating line suffices in most situations. A 9-foot leader is standard in most locations. When nymphing, a 4X fluorocarbon tippet is a solid starting point. When swinging streamers, feel free to move up to 3X. When fishing dry flies, use mono tippet in the 5X range—mono floats better than fluorocarbon.

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

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Striped Bass, (Morone Saxitilis). Also known as: Striper, Linesider, Bass.

SIZE

Average: 20 – 35 inches.
Trophy: 35+ inches.

FAVOURITE DESTINATION

Long Island, Nantucket, Maine.

DIFFICULTY RATING

6/10

KNOWN FOR

– Dynamic feeding habits.
– Large migratory schools.
– Variety of ecosystems/environments in which they can be targeted.

OVERVIEW

Striped Bass are one of North America’s most unique, alluring, and targeted gamefish. The fish has a cult-like following along the inshore waters of the North Atlantic. Crazed Striper anglers can be found in coastal communities from North Carolina to Nova Scotia. At the same time, targeting these fish with fur and feathers, is considered a niche tactic in the majority of these communities and the species has not been one to draw the attention of destination anglers.

Perhaps this is due to the more developed region of the world that these fish inhabit; fly anglers seeking a wilderness experience might not exactly have Cape Cod, Nantucket, or The Hamptons in mind when considering their next destination (although their families and significant others might not mind). That being said, the multitude of tactics and strategies that can be employed to trick these fish and the sheer beauty and diversity of environments in which they can be found should put the Morone Saxitilis on the shortlist for any angler interested in a dynamic saltwater fly fishing experience.

WHY TARGET STRIPED BASS

Any striped bass angler who’s spent a full season chasing these fish will tell you that the magic of the striper comes from the variety of ways in which they can be targeted. From fishing deep offshore rips, ledges, and reefs, to chasing blitzes and poling sand flats, stripers can be caught in nearly any environment. Not only is there a great deal of variability in how these fish can be pursued, but because their season is so short and dynamic, it is safe to say that when Striper fishing, no two days are the same.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Striped bass are a very hearty species, and can be found beyond the waters of the northeast of North America in both ecosystems where the fish is endemic but less common, such as Florida, and ones where the fish has been introduced, such as Northern California. Due to the durability of the species and its natural annual transition from brackish to saltwater, the fish has also been successfully introduced to freshwater ecosystems and bred with White bass to create “hybrids” or “Wipers.” 

Striped Bass are an anadromous fish, spawning and wintering in the brackish bays and estuaries of the northeast. In Spring they migrate out into the ocean and follow warmer water temperatures and bait up the coast. A major part of the striper’s allure is this fleeting seasonal presence. Major brackish systems such as the Hudson river in New York and the Mid-Atlantic’s Chesapeake Bay represent crucial wintering grounds for a significant portion of the striped bass population. 

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

The Striped Bass can weigh as much as 100 pounds, but it is very rare to find a fish that has grown over 50 pounds. Females are generally much larger than males, and the majority of fish over 30 pounds are female. Stripers are known to live up to 40 years. 

An average breeding-size female, weighing about 12 pounds, can produce about 850,000 eggs. As the females increase in size their productivity increases – a 55 pound female can produce over 4,000,000 eggs. Spawning occurs in the spring and early summer, when water in brackish rivers and estuaries warms to about 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

GEAR

Much like the environments in which they can be chased, there is a wide variety of set-ups that can be used to target striped bass. From a 7wt for early season fish and “schoolies” to a 10wt for chasing big fish in off-shore rips, there is truly a set up for every situation. That being said, the most versatile rig that an angler chasing stripers could have is an 8wt with a large-arbor reel and two spools: 1 with a weight forward floating line, and another with an intermediate line. This will cover a variety of scenarios, from flats to rips, and poppers to big baitfish patterns. A 7’ to 10’ leader is standard, with tippet ranging from 12lb to 20lb.

Fly selection varies greatly on the situation, which is one of the most entertaining aspects of pursuing these fish. That being said, the most popular pattern of all time is of course, Bob Clouser’s Clouser Minnow.

Photography by

Captain Kyle Schaefer

Captain Zak Robinson

Captain Matt Zimmerman

Alec Griswold

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Bonefish, (Albula Vulpes).

Also called, the gray ghost, ghost of the flats, bones.

SIZE

Average: 2-4 pounds

Trophy: 10-12 pounds or more

FAVOURITE DESTINATION

Bahamas, Christmas Island.

DIFFICULTY RATING

5/10

KNOWN FOR

– Lightening fast runs.
– Willingness to take a fly.
– Disappearing in plain sight.
– The “perfect” flats species.
– Great fish for first-time salt anglers.

OVERVIEW

Bonefish are, without a doubt, the most commonly targeted species by saltwater fly-fishers. They are a torpedo-shaped, silvery fish, blessed with a large, deeply forked tail, and built for speed. A bonefish’s pointed nose is covered with sensory glands embedded in a layer of thick cartilage, with its mouth positioned on the underside of the head.

Bonefish live on the flats and dig into sandy bottoms to root up prey, which is crushed in the fish’s powerful pharyngeal teeth, located in the back of their mouths. Some bonefish develop black bars across their backs depending on the environment they inhabit. These bars break up the fish’s profile making them difficult to spot from above. That is why they are often called, “ghost of the flats.” While a nice sized bonefish in most locations may weigh between five and 10 pounds, records show they are capable of growing to over 20 pounds and nearly a meter long.

WHY TARGET BONEFISH

Why not is the question—bonefish are perfect quarry for a saltwater fly-fisher. They are found in some of the most beautiful places on the planet. They are an aggressive, yet wary predator. And, a calm bonefish rarely turns down a well presented fly. Once hooked, however, even small bonefish are capable of putting you a hundred yards into your backing within seconds. Bonefish are targeted on shallow flats where they are often seen with tails sticking out of the water. Bonefishing is a sight-fishing game, where the angler and guide work as a team. Excellent communication is essential for success. The angler stands at the bow of the boat as the guide scans the water from an elevated poling platform, while poling the boat across a flat. Once a fish is spotted, the guide helps the angler find the fish and directs the angler’s cast, using the hours of a clock as a direction tool. The fly must land close to the fish, so they can see it, yet far enough away that the landing doesn’t spook the fish. If the bonefish doesn’t see the fly right away, a couple short strips often garners its attention. If all goes well, an angler watches the bonefish hunt down the fly and pin it to the bottom. When the bonefish is right on the fly, a long, slow strip eliminates slack and allows an angler to feel an “eat.” Once an angler senses weight at the end of the line, a firm strip-set buries the hook in the bonefish’s mouth, causing it to take off across the flat in an exhilarating and powerful run—the bonefish’s signature trait.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Bonefish are found throughout the warm, shallow waters surrounding the equator. They are ubiquitous in Florida, the Bahamas, Cuba, Kiribati, Hawaii, the Cook Islands, Mauritius and the Seychelles, among other locales.

Bonefish hunt the intertidal flats, mangroves, and creeks. They may congregate in schools consisting of hundreds of fish, though larger bonefish tend to travel in twos and threes. Giant bones, ranging between 10 and 15 pounds or more, often hunt solo.

Finding a productive bonefish flat is not difficult, but tidal movement is key in determining when and where the bonefish will be. Creatures of habit, bonefish generally venture onto a flat as the tide rises to a level that is high enough to cover their backs. On a falling tide, bonefish do the opposite, appearing on the flats as the tide drops to around knee-deep. They exit the flats just before they run out of water. The best bonefishing tides really depend on where in the world you fish: Most Caribbean guides prefer the start of the rising tide, while many South Pacific guides prefer the last quarter of a falling tide.

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

Bonefish tolerate oxygen-depleted water by inhaling air into a lung-like bladder. They are a bottom dwelling fish that mainly feeds by gulping sand and sifting through it for polychaete worms, mollusks, and small invertebrates. Mature bones hunt down shrimp, gobies and small crabs, using their pointed noses to dislodge prey from burrows and coral heads. Instead of conventional teeth, bonefish have a calcified, solid pallet. They use it, in conjunction with their tongues, to crush hard-shelled prey.

While little is known about the spawning habits of bonefish, scientists believe spawning occurs in deep water during full moons. Like many saltwater fish, once hatched, larval bonefish drift with the ocean currents until they settle in shallow water. Here, they morph from planktonic larvae into miniature versions of adult bonefish. We know little of what happens after this. However, biologists expect that bonefish spend their juvenile years in deep water. Once juvenile bonefish reach about 12 inches long they transition into the sub-adult phase. Sub-adult bonefish generally inhabit protected waters in estuaries, and deeper channels near the flats. As they grow, they become emboldened, feeding in increasingly shallow water.

GEAR

The standard bonefishing outfit consists of an 8-weight rod matched with a large arbor reel. That reel offers a smooth drag, holds 150 yards or more of backing and an 8 or 9-weight floating line. Most anglers prefer full floating lines when fishing bones. However, more aggressive tapers are advantageous in windy conditions. Leader length should be adjusted to conditions, but a 10-foot leader with a butt section of 40-60-pound test, tapered down to 10-20-pound test, is a solid choice. Tippet choice varies based on water clarity, fishing pressure, and size of the fish. Ten-to 12-pound test is common when targeting average sized fish. Don’t be afraid to use 15-20-pound tippet when targeting the big boys. Fluorocarbon is not necessary, but it’s a wise choice—it gets the fly down to the fish faster than standard mono, and is recommended for leader and tippet.

Fly selection is based on location. The most important factor when choosing a fly is weight and sink rate. You must select a fly based on the depth of the water. If fishing shallow water you’ll need a fly that lands softly, or the fish may spook. On the other hand, if a fly doesn’t sink fast enough, a bonefish may swim by without seeing it. Ideally, a fly should hit the bottom in three to four seconds. Popular bonefish flies include the Gotcha Clouser in sizes 4-2; Gotchas in sizes 6-4; Squimps in sizes 6-2; CXI Specials in sizes 8-4; the EP Spawning Shrimp in sizes 8-4; and Bonefish Bitters in sizes 8-4.

Photography by

Gil Greenberg

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.

Quick Facts

SPECIES NAME

Brown Trout (Salmo Trutta)

SIZE

Average: 10 to 16 inches.
Trophy: 20 inches in North America; 10 pounds in New Zealand and South America; 20 pounds in northern Europe, including Russia.

FAVOURITE DESTINATION

Patagonia, Rocky Mountains, New Zealand.

DIFFICULTY RATING

5/10 in most locales.

KNOWN FOR

– Most challenging of the trout.
– Wide distribution and availability.
– Vibrant coloration.

OVERVIEW

Brown trout are an absolutely gorgeous fish. Coloration varies depending on location. These fish generally display a vibrant gold and silver scale pattern with brown and gold spotting on the sides, and a dark back serving as camouflage. The belly is cream or yellow colored, leading to the “Yellow Belly” nickname. During the fall spawn, these colors are amplified with bright yellows and oranges. Fish fresh out of the ocean may appear very silver in color, resembling a salmon.

Native to Europe, brown trout were introduced throughout the British empire in the 19th century. Their ability to live comfortably in small streams, as well as large, nutrient-rich rivers and lakes, has allowed them to establish self-sustaining populations on nearly every major landmass. Few fish demand anglers to learn such a diversity of skills to land them.

WHY TARGET BROWN TROUT

Watching a wheat field colored trout, with sunrise/sunset speckles and golden-hues, slowly rise and delicately sip in a size-16 dry fly is—and has been—the pinnacle of fly fishing. To catch these fish on a regular basis requires a deep understanding of its habits and habitats. Often only the most subtle and delicate patterns draw responses from these fish, especially when they are keyed in to a specific stage of a particular hatch, more pronounced if fishing over a glassy surface. But, as predators, they also have a mean streak—offer disruptive streamers during fall and other times of the year and the biggest browns may tear out from under a cutbank and hammer a fly.

The experienced, well-rounded angler takes a variety of flies and techniques to the water for brown trout, and modifies them on the go. On any given day they might match big Hexegenia mayflies, or dead-drift Mysis shrimp, or skitter a mouse pattern on the surface. Whatever it takes should be every angler’s motto when trying to bring a trophy brown trout to the net.

Fly fishing is not all about catching a fish—brown trout live in some of the most beautiful places on earth. Whether you are fishing the crystal-clear rivers in Patagonia or New Zealand, the freestone steams in the Rocky Mountains, or the magnificent untouched lakes of Iceland, you’ll be treated to great landscapes whether you get that once-in-a-lifetime brown or not.

RANGE AND LOCATIONS

Brown trout are found across the globe occupying a large variety of freshwater ecosystems and a few saltwater environments. They thrive in cold water, but have a higher heat tolerance than other trout, making it possible for them to live in warmer waters often associated with other species, such as smallmouth bass. Brown trout are distributed throughout the United States with populations in the Driftless area of the upper Midwest, the Catskills and eastern cold-water rivers, the Great Lakes, and large populations throughout much of the western United States, extending north in the Canadian Rockies. Native to Europe, brown trout are also found in Ireland, Scotland, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Tasmania, Spain, France, England and Wales. They are also prominent in Iceland with sea-run and inland populations. A population exists on Russia’s Kola Peninsula as well.

New Zealand brown trout grow to large sizes in lakes and rivers, as do populations in Australia and Tasmania. Patagonia offers brown trout in rivers and lakes with strong sea-run populations entering the southernmost rivers in Tierra del Fuego. South Africa and parts of Asia also have brown trout.

BIOLOGY AND LIFE CYCLE

Brown trout are salmonids and consist of three significantly different morphs. While morphs may appear identical, they are in fact very different, both behaviorally and genetically. The most common, Salmo trutta morpha fario occupies freshwater river systems, while Salmo trutta morpha lacustrine inhabits freshwater lakes, venturing into rivers only to spawn. Salmo, trutta morpha trutta, is the sea-run, or anadromous morph of brown trout which, similar to steelhead, spend their lives in the ocean and migrate into freshwater rivers to spawn.

Brown trout are opportunistic feeders with a diverse diet, ranging from aquatic and terrestrial insects to small mammals, birds and other fish. The trout is shaped to face into currents, filtering water through its gills while absorbing dissolved oxygen. Fin size varies based on environment, but a mature specimen has a large tail fin, and distinct adipose, pectoral and ventral fins for balance and power. Large males develop a pronounced kype. Brown trout spawn during fall, when they pair off and dig large nests (redds) in the streambed. Females use this area to deposit eggs, which are fertilized by males. Males become especially aggressive and combative during this period as they compete for reproductive rights.

GEAR

Similar to rainbow trout, brown trout can be caught using four main techniques; floating dry flies, swinging wet flies, drifting nymphs, and stripping streamers. While many anglers have dedicated setups for each of these techniques, a 9-foot, 5-weight, medium-action fly rod, with an appropriately sized reel and floating line suffices in most situations. A 9-foot leader is standard in most locations. When nymphing, a 4X fluorocarbon tippet is a solid starting point. When swinging streamers, feel free to move up to 3X. When fishing dry flies, use mono tippet in the 5X range—mono floats better than fluorocarbon.