Thursday, September 16, 2021
Thursday, September 16, 2021
I live for this time of year. Fall weather ends the summer doldrums with a quick drop in temperature and a sharp increase in trout activity as those rainbows, browns and cutthroats bulk up for winter. At my fly-tying bench, I look forward to building some unconventional color combinations that look more like a Mardi Gras float than a traditional nymphing box. I do just that because those bead heads, fluorescent hotspots, tinsel braids and UV synthetic dubbings can make a big difference in your fall nymphing success. But why all the added flare for fall nymph rigs?
Skagit lines were originally designed to deliver heavy payloads very long distances often with little or no room for a backcast. So, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, dedicated angler Ed Ward and his metalhead cronies customized a unique system of compact shooting heads that worked with a complimentary tip system and allowed ideal drifts while swinging Washington state’s Skagit River with large Intruder flies. The benefits of their Skagit systems were soon realized by anglers facing similar casting scenarios in other places, on all variety of waters.
Tidal redfish flats are like the road of life—success can be measured in how you handle the highs and lows. In the case of tides, not all are equal. On a spring tide, which occurs twice each month and has nothing to do with the spring season, the moon and sun are on opposite sides of the planet. When this occurs the swings between high and low tides can be great. Typical tide range on the redfish flats is four-to five feet. But on a spring tide, that range could push to seven feet, meaning higher highs and lower lows. When coupled with a storm off the Atlantic coast, and a consistent west wind blowing 10-to 12-plus knots—pushing water off the flats—a tide may rate far below the “lowest low-water mark” on your depth chart . . . what we call, “the negative low.” The negative low presents a timely opportunity to experience a captivating redfish phenomena—crawling fish on the bank. During a negative low, big, bold redfish can access prey in a way they couldn’t before—pinning shrimp, crabs and small baitfish in super shallow water with no escape. These fish slowly prowl down a muddy bank, providing anglers ample opportunity to lay a crustacean fly in the path of a freight train, its eyes just barely below water level.
Evening light fades, filtering through a thick forest on the far shore. I should have been home an hour ago. But after looking around the next bend, I couldn’t leave. Now I’m stepping toward a nice tailout. Each cast brings me closer to the end of another day, the end of swirling currents lulling my mind to somewhere between focus and hypnosis. As my fly swings toward shore, the running line snaps tight and I bury the hook. Right away it's clear that this fish is much bigger than the 8-to 12-pound bull trout I released earlier in the day . . . and it's getting increasingly upset with every head-shake.
For some anglers, winter is the time to swap out their fly rods for skis and take to the slopes. However, many of us just bundle up and brave the elements. Fortunately, there are plenty of winter fly-fishing opportunities in the United States, options that place some big fish on the end of your line and take the chill out of winter.
Forget those copper colored apparitions you may have stalked over flooded spartina grass or sandy flats in balmy weather—fish that squirt away like scalded cats if your double-haul and heavy breathing so much as rock the boat. The blood-boiler redfish of fall and winter are something else in attitude and size, a far cry from the 16-to 18-inch youngsters so loved by fair-weather and cooler-focused anglers eyeing their next redfish on the grill. What I want to tell you about are those other fish, reds in the high 20s to 30s—pounds, that is. They’re called bulls, for good reason. Fly fishers focus on bull redfish along a golden crescent of coast encompassing Florida’s Pensacola Bay, the Alabama Gulf beaches and islands, the mouth of the Mississippi River at Venice, Louisiana, and westward to that state’s Biloxi Marsh. It works like this: Sometime in early autumn great numbers of mature redfish move to deeper Gulf water to spawn, often near barrier island passes. The males exercise a muscle alongside their swim bladders producing a vibrating, drumming sound (that’s why they’re officially called drum) to attract the ladies. When the females show up a nighttime orgy occurs, during which eggs are spewed and fertilized. Invariably the spawn occurs on a big incoming tide, the fertilized eggs then drifting toward and into bays and estuaries where the larva will morph into juveniles.
Many saltwater anglers start their journeys in freshwater, fishing close to home, maybe learning to cast on a nearby creek, and possibly catching their first fish on a river just down the road—it’s where their passion for the sport begins. As their interest in fishing grows, they may look toward distant locales and new challenges—places they’ve read about, waters with big, hungry fish. And I’m no exception. For me, and many others, that progression meant getting my feet wet in the salt. I first fished salt in 2010 when my family decided on a summer holiday in Croatia. Of course I had to bring along my gear. I grabbed a 7-weight rod, a floating line, and some baitfish imitations, and headed out hoping to catch a bonito or grouper hanging around the shoreside rocks. I had no idea that fishing Croatia would afford shots at mahi-mahi and start a new and exciting chapter in my fly-fishing journey. Fortunately, many of the tactics and tricks I learned while fishing my homewaters helped ease that transition to salt.
The traveling angler looks for fishing opportunities anywhere there’s water. Whispers and rumors come from social-media posts, and light research on Google sometimes leads us to a leap of faith. When we choose to roll the dice, we always have to wonder if things may pan out or not.
If you're in the market for a truly remote flats-fishing experience, Andros, Bahamas is a solid choice. This trio of islands, which oftentimes is called, simply, Andros Island, includes North Andros, Mangrove Cay, and South Andros. A series of channels or bights—including North Bight, Middle Bight, and South Bight—separate the three islands in that order from north to south. As a singular region, Andros stretches over 100 miles north to south and encompasses over 2,300 square miles, which means these three islands would be the fifth largest island in the Caribbean by landmass if measured as one. North Andros occupies the number six spot on that list, while South Andros comes in at number nine.