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Florida's Gulf Coast

By Tom Broderidge

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to call the Gulf of Mexico a true fly fisher's paradise. Against a backdrop of salt marshes, mangroves and tidal creeks, and amid frolicking dolphins and languorous manatees, anglers take fly rod in hand and regularly prowl shallow coastal waters in search of game fish from seatrout to tarpon.

Saltwater fly-fishing is like freshwater fly-fishing only more so. If your fly-fishing experience has been on the sheltered pools of freshwater trout streams or in the quiet coves of small bass ponds, then the scale of saltwater fly-fishing in the Gulf will come as a pleasant surprise.

Fish in these waters can be big, strong, and aggressive. A six-pound redfish will test your skills and your tackle. A 30-pound cobia will test your mental and physical toughness as well. Hooking and landing a 100+ pound tarpon on a fly rod can be the angling test of a lifetime.

Casting a fly rod for saltwater fish is a dynamic activity, and often quite an athletic one. You fish out where wind is almost always a factor, often blowing from a direction that makes casting a true challenge. You typically stand balanced on a raised casting deck, your legs alternately bracing and relaxing as the boat rocks rhythmically back and forth. You can stand for hours in mercilessly shining sun and then fish a nervous afternoon calm glancing frequently behind you at a building storm that threatens at any minute to race you back to port. Through all of it you cast your fly rod. You catch fish. And you love it.

Before heading out to fish in the Gulf, you should have already had some experience with fly casting instruction, the kind that generally starts with 10 o'clock to 1 o'clock diagrams and repeated admonitions against breaking your wrist. You should know the double haul as well as how to shoot line on both the back and forward cast. In short, you should pretty well know how to cast.

Less May Be More With Saltwater Flies

Anglers who have fished for finicky freshwater fish often find the omnivorous appetite of saltwater fish difficult to accept. In mountain streams, for example, there are many times when freshwater trout will feed on just one insect or on one type of bait fish, and anglers must imitate it precisely or not catch fish. The need for the perfect fly or lure drives those anglers to use Latin names to identify their baits down to the genus and species and to make their lure as perfect as they possibly can. The concept of "matching the hatch" is so integral to freshwater trout fishing that fly fishers sometimes think that precise imitation is the key to all fish.

That is a mistake.

Saltwater fish invariably key in on just a few simple characteristics of a fly to determine if the fly looks like something to eat. If a fly that is presented to a saltwater fish is approximately the correct size and shape, and the fly moves like it is alive, that fish will usually strike it.

In fact, color may only be important in a fly because fish see some colors better than others, not because a certain color makes your fly look more realistic. What bait do we think we are imitating when we use a white fly with a red head? Or an orange fly with a green tail? Highly visible fluorescent chartreuse has always been one of the best colors for flies along the Gulf Coast, but try to find a saltwater creature even close to that color. ~ Thomas Broderidge (December 22nd, 1997)

About Tom:
Author of Fly-Fishing The Gulf Coast, Tom Broderidge has been fly-fishing since 1961 and writing about it since 1983. As a boy in New York, Tom fished for trout in the famous Catskill Mountain trout streams and for saltwater fish along the Mid-Atlantic coast. Now living in Gadsden County, Florida, he regularly fly-fishes the Gulf of Mexico.

Tom teaches year-round fly-tying classes for the City of Tallahassee and fly-fishing classes for the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. He lectures on fly-fishing and fly-casting and demonstrates fly-tying around the country at regional conclaves of the Federation of Fly Fishers.

As a free-lance writer, Tom's work has appeared in many outdoor publications, including Florida Wildlife and Outdoor Guides News. Since 1989 he was written regular outdoor columns and feature stories for the Tallahassee Democrat. ~ DLB

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