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Five that thrive
A quintet of fly patterns will handle most fish on the North Suncoast.
By DAVID A. BROWN, Times Correspondent
Published November 17, 2007
Die-hard fly fishing purists will tell you that theirs is the only angling method of any repute. Those unfamiliar with the skinny sticks often chuckle at what seems like a lot of esoteric nonsense. Somewhere between these divergent thoughts lies this slice of angling strategy: Notwithstanding the challenge-and-achievement factor, fly fishing offers an undeniable advantage in the stealth department. With the exception of poppers designed to draw reaction strikes much the same way as you would by jerking a cork rig on spinning tackle, fly presentations are typically silent and nonintrusive.
For those enamored with this graceful angling form, every aspect of tackle and technique demands intense analysis. At fly-tying benches throughout the area, tendrils of skill and passion interlace with dedication.
Fans of this game are driven by inherent perfectionism and guided by the proverbial match-the-hatch wisdom - an idiom traced to mountain trout streams where fly patterns mimic every stage of insect development. Presenting patterns that match the current hatch state proves imperative for fooling savvy fish.
That's for folks who are really serious about their game. Do homemade patterns produce? They surely do - but don't count yourself out if tying flies requires more time, effort and/or interest than you possess. Fly shops and online retailers carry vast selections.
Now, the North Suncoast's briny shallows are far less demanding than those trout streams of upper latitudes. Nevertheless, locally applicable patterns have to look like something a coastal predator would want to eat.
Productive patterns are many, and various fly tiers will have several color and structure options. But a handful of basic selections will cover your bases with the shallow water gamefish found in area waters.
We've intentionally omitted big game flies such as those used for tarpon, sharks and other large fish because that's a different game.
For now, we'll focus on an assortment of fly patterns that'll work on the same fish you'd catch on medium-action spinning rods with 8- to 12-pound test.
Fish these flies on 7- to 9-weight rods and sink-tip fly lines.
Line it up
Whatever pattern you throw, remember proper line management. When loose loops lay at your feet, tangling with shoes, toes and cleats, that becomes a surefire way to lose a fish. Collapsible line keepers, which expand to about waist height, offer a simple method for corralling fly line as you strip it toward the reel.
Wading anglers might opt to simply let the line lay atop the water, but even that has its hazards. If any mangrove shoots, oyster bars or other obstructions poke above the surface, Murphy's Law will invariably lead your slack line right across that problematic point when a hooked fish makes its run.
Tackle retailers sell commercially produced wading belts with line keepers, but fashioning a homemade version with a plastic storage bin offers an inexpensive option.
Pattern Good for Application Shrimp Redfish, black drum, sheepshead, snook, trout Although most flies are tied to resemble a creature facing forward, most shrimp patterns face away from the hook's eye. That's because shrimp scoot backward with quick downward tail flips.
Let your shrimp fly settle and move it with short strips separated by pauses of varying duration. Stripping cadence is often determined by depth - the deeper the water, the longer you can let the shrimp drop.
Unlike jigs and soft plastic jerk baits, you don't want to let a shrimp fly actually settle into the grass. Rather, a scooting action that replicates a crustacean running for cover. To avoid snagging, most shrimp patterns include a weed guard made of thin metal or heavy monofilament.
Clouser Trout, ladyfish, snook When stripped through the water, a Clouser's fibers spread out to resemble the profile of baitfish like threadfin herring and scaled sardines. Chartreuse and white is a popular color scheme, but a few flashy fibers really dress up the appeal with an authentic baitfish shimmer. Crab Redfish, black drum, sheepshead, pompano Typically a round or oval body sprouts fibers past the hook bend - as much for visual prominence as for claw resemblance. Fished similar to a shrimp pattern, crab flies work well around oyster beds, rocks and anywhere crustacean forage abounds.
When bottom-grazing predators are on the feed, drop a crab fly in front of their path and strip it in short hops as the fish approach. Impersonate a fleeing meal and it's game on.
Glassminnow Snook, trout, ladyfish, mackerel, bluefish Stripped under dock lights for snook or blind-cast over grass flats for trout and ladyfish, these diminutive patterns are irresistible to predators with a taste for anchovies. Toothy predators love this pattern, so rig a few inches of heavy monofilament or wire-bite leader or you'll donate your flies. Attractor Redfish, snook, trout, ladyfish, mackerel, bluefish Patterns vary considerably because attractors usually are not intended to imitate specific forage. Rather, these flies rely on a predator's instinct to attack something that looks out of the ordinary.
A general baitfish profile may be accented with a thicker body wrapped around the hook shank, or bold colors may appear so foreign to local ecosystems that a hungry fish just can't resist a test bite.