Eye of the Guide

Saltwater Chronicles (part 4)

Tom Travis - June 16, 2014

Sysadmin Note
Part 3 can be found here



In part two of Baits we will be discussing Crabs, Worms, Eels and Sand Fleas all of these are essential saltwater baits that the fly tyer/angler must understand and contend with during certain times of the year. Remember in the saltwater everything is basically a prey and predator relationship and oftentimes a creature is both.


Crabs are readily available in marshes, tidal flats, mangroves, grass flats and oyster reefs *(Rakes) and many species of saltwater fish feed on the various crabs that are found in the saltwater. There are two species of crabs that are popular with both the saltwater fish and the saltwater anglers as table fare and they are the Blue Crabs [Callinectes sapious] and Stone Crabs [Menippe mercenaria]. Crab patterns have long earned a place in my saltwater fly box. However I am surprised by how few anglers use crab imitations unless they are fishing for Permit.

I remember one experience where Ryan and I had been catching Sailcats in March and how one of the landed Sailcats disgorged a crab that was six and half inches across the shell and how we joked about having to cast the hubcap crab imitation.

Sand Fleas is another of those baits that saltwater anglers use, now before you start reaching for the insect repellent, relax the Sand Fleas that I am speaking of are actually a crab without claws they are often referred to as Mole Crab or Sand Crab and I do know that both Pompano, Whiting and Redfish feed on these small crabs.

They belong to the Family Pocellanidae and the Genus Emerita. Sand Flea lives in the wet liquid sand at the edge of the beach and down to 20 feet in depth, they range in size from a half inch to an inch and half in length and they live for two to three years. The wave action will dislodge the Sand Fleas making them available for the fish cruising the surf line and along the beaches.


They are known by many names and are found along the coast line of the gulf coast and the eastern seaboard. They are sought after by many as table fare and many of the fish that inhabit the saltwater. My grandfather ran an Eel Weir on a tributary of the West Delaware River so I was familiar with Eels however my first contact with Eels in Florida was several year ago during a Southeast Conclave of the FFF at Pensacola.

I had arrived a couple of days early to do some fishing and I notice the old bridge which had been converted to a fishing pier and I wandered out to see what was going on, it was there that I watch anglers use old spark plugs as weight and hook live Eel of 12 to 15 inches and cast them over to the water. I wondered how in the heck were they were going to land a hooked fish from the pier and I wondered what they were fishing for, that question was soon answered when I was told they were fishing for Cobia. This had all gone on during early evening hours and soon an angler was hooked up with a Cobia and I watched the fished being reeled up out of the water and when the fish was within six feet of the rod tip.

Then the rod was leaned up against rail and then the fish was hand lined up to the angler, this turned out to be a 22 pound Cobia, during the course of the next couple of hours I watch this several times and learned that this was an annual event. Later I was able to hook some OF  hard charging Cobia on Eel patterns that one of the local anglers had given me. One evening he took me out on his boat and we started at 7 P.M. and we fished till 3 A.M. in the morning. Wow, that was one fishing trip which I will never forget. Since then I have caught several different saltwater species on Eel imitations.

The American Eel [Anguilla prostrate] is Dark Gray to Olive on top and Yellowish or White on the belly. During the spring and summer large colonies of eels of various sizes will hold in rivers, bays and estuaries. Eels swim with a side to side undulating motion and do most of the moving during the hours late evening and darkness.

The beaches of Destin, Florida is another place where the Eels and the Cobia converge but there are many locations where Eels and saltwater fish meet, Bluefish, Stripers and Flounder also feed on the Eels.

There are several species of Eels but most of my contact has been with the American Eel however there is a species of Conger Eel the will occasionally be found in shallow water and then there are several species of the Snake Eel Family of Ophichidae which live in shallow water like the Sooty Eel and Whip Eel plus many others species which are found in south Florida and in the warmer waters of the Caribbean. I believe that due to these various species is why I sometimes do well with Eel Patterns while trolling at night.


I was amused years ago with the introduction of the San Juan Worm into trout fishing, I remember stocking several colors and sizes in my fly shop and how some customers would slide in making sure that no one but the staff was in the shop and purchase their San Juan Worms and quickly sliding the box into a pocket before anyone could see what they were obtaining.

I have some very funny stories that deal with the San Juan Worms and the fly anglers, but I fear I am off the subject and those stories must wait for another time.

I remember several years ago I was walking along the beach with my wife just south of Coco Beach when we bumped into an angler who was fishing the surf and he showed me a worm that had become wrapped around his line. That darn worm was almost twenty inches long and I never did find out what it was but I did take a photo of it, now I just have to find it. As far back in angling literature as you can go you will find the worms and angling have been intertwined.

However, there are several worms found in the salt and brackish waters that many different species of saltwater fish will feed on.
In the Florida Keys there is the famous Palola Worm which is reddish in color and varies in size from 2 to 7 inches. Most of the time you wouldn't know that the worms were about until spring or early summer when they swarm to mate; this action goes on during the afternoon and lasts into the evenings during low tides and full moons. Generally this happens in the Keys during late May and early June.

The Keys are the only place which I have had any experience with these worms therefore the dates of the swarming may vary in other areas. Now Tarpon are most often coupled with the swarming worms but many other species like Jacks, Permit, Bonefish, Grunt, Ladyfish and Snapper will all move to feed on this bounty.

There are also Burrowing Scale Worms that don't burrow but live under stones and among the roots of Mangroves and are found in shallow saltwater, tidal pools and brackish water, they range in size from 3 to 6 inches.

There are Blood Worms which range in size from 3 to 15 inches and these worms are commonly sold in Bait Shops and are heavily used by bait anglers.

Clam Worms vary in length from 3 to 7 inches these worms emerge in breeding swarms during the dark of the moon at night from June to September. These are just a few mentions of the many species of Marine Worms and when found by the fish they are eaten.

Therefore various worm patterns share my saltwater fly box with the imitations of shrimp, crabs, sand fleas, eels and minnows.

Now I will share a couple of my favorite patterns with you that represent these baits that we have covered in this column.

Tan Rabbit Spoon Crab

I also tie this in an Olive variation.

Tan Bass Worm

I tie this in several different color variations and this is the same wiggle worm pattern that I use for Bass and Panfish.

Cobia Eel

These are only three of the patterns that you might use to imitate the food forms covered in this column. There a many fine and effective patterns that you can use all you have to do is to go and find them.

Enjoy & Good Fishin'

Sysadmin Note
Part 5 can be found here


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