Sure it’s hot, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get in on some excellent wing-shooting.
Some see a glass with water at the halfway point as half-full. Others see it as half-empty. Still others see the glass and ask “Where’s the ice?”Late summer on the Louisiana coast often finds surf fishing at an ebb. For the lurechunkers who specialize in chasing speckled trout along the barrier islands, the glass is half-empty. The hot water is not ideal for speck activity, and in addition, there’s a host of undesirable species to have to deal with.
For the marsh enthusiasts, the glass is half-full. As we head toward the fall equinox, decreasing photoperiods are triggering the trout’s instinct to move inland. Within weeks, they reason, primetime fishing will be theirs. Why not wait out the heat?
We flyrodders are the ones asking for the ice. We’re taking on the heat and going after what’s out there. Because flyfishing is the ultimate light-tackle sport, we get a kick out of anything that bends our rods. Even if it falls under everyone else’s “trash fish” category.
During the late days of summer, there’s plenty of pelagic species lurking off the beaches for us to hook up with.
Top of the list is the ladyfish. If you like topwater action, or spectacular leaps once you hook up, this is your fish. Schools are most common in August and September.
A glance at the state records shows the largest ones are taken in these months as well. The state fly record, by Dave Coignet in 2002, is 3.5 pounds, while the overall tackle record is 4.64 pounds.
Looking to beat those records? Check out Venice and Lake Ponchartrain in August.
Hooking and fighting a ladyfish on 6-weight fly rod is such a thrill that one Midwest fly shop once offered an on-the-water saltwater workshop with these species being the prime target. Fortunately in Louisiana, no workshop is needed for you to tackle these fish.
The first fly in your arsenal should be a pencil popper. Your strike-to-hookup ratio is only 4:1, which is OK because that means you enjoy more action and waste less time having to take them off your hook.
Despite being first cousins to the tarpon, ladies suffer a repugnance among anglers for the gooky slime they throw off their bodies. For this reason, I strongly suggest use of a gripper and pliers when unhooking. If you grab one with your hands, it’ll take two minutes of washing before you can cleanly grab your rod or line again.
Clouser minnows and surf candies also work great on ladyfish. I’d suggest using a Clouser tied with ultrahair or superhair, as these materials tend to withstand their bites.
Ladyfish have small, sharp teeth that not only tear up flies, but can cut through light tippet. For this reason, I use a bite tippet made of a double line of 25-pound fluorocarbon, about 12 inches long. After several fish, it may need to be trimmed near the fly and re-tied. This gets repeated until the bite tippet is about 5 inches long.
Spanish mackeral, a.k.a. “El Diablo” to us combat flyfishers, is one of my favorite species on the long rod. Built for speed, when a big one hits your fly, it’s an off-to-the-races thrill ride. Master Jake landed one in Destin that was over 6 pounds and took 100 yards of backing off his reel.
Oh, how I’d love to do combat with a big El Diablo like that. They’re swimming in our waters. The state top-10 overall records range from an 8-pounder taken in August 1973 to the No. 1 listing of 10.56 pounds taken by Mike LeBlanc in August 1972. The state fly record is 7.40 pounds taken by Dave Coignet in October 2000.
Again, a superhair Clouser minnow reigns supreme. Use a bite tippet of light wire. I find American Brand 20-pound wire is limber enough to tie knots.
Sometimes El Diablo gets real finicky, and won’t hit wire tippet. I then turn to my double-line fluoro tippet as mentioned earlier.
I’ve done a lot of flyfishing for Spanish from bridges and piers, and watched how they strike. It’s a side-to-side slashing motion. If you keep your Clouser moving fast near the surface, you can avoid most of the bites that damage the tippet. This requires a hand-over-hand retrieve. Put the rod under your arm and use both hands to strip the line in big chunks and at constant speed. Make sure to keep the line free from entanglements, because once El Diablo hits, he’s off and running.
Everything I’ve said about Spanish applies to bluefish — except that they’re slower. You won’t need a fast strip. And when you get them in, they can be really nasty. I once had one bite down on my pliers so hard he broke off his teeth!
Jacks also haunt the late-summer surf. Because there are so many different species of different sizes, your tackle requirements can range from light 6-weights to 12-weights. On one trip in early September, I was solid into hardtails until a 25-pound crevalle found my fly.
Here’s a lesson folks: If you’re surf fishing and you don’t want to lose your fly line and backing to a big fish, always make sure to have your tippet (not bite tippet) fairly weak. I like 12 pounds; when you crank that drag down, it breaks.
I’ve seen some folks with 50-pound tippet going after crevalle when their backing is only 20-pound-test. Those folks help keep fly shops in business.
Surf fishing isn’t just limited to the barrier islands. Some of the best late-summer action is along the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain. Here you’ll find ladyfish and jacks, including giant crevalle, as well as sundry species such as specks, reds and flounder.
Ponchartrain is also where you’ll find the “Texas bonefish.” Years ago, Texas flyrodders discovered the joy of catching big mullet in shallow water using small flies. Yes, occasionally they will eat a fly. In shallow water, they make good runs. And as we all know, mullet do jump.
For whatever reason, the mullet along the north shore of the lake seem to be more fly-friendly than anywhere else in the state. I’ve hooked and landed several dozen on a fly made of small crystal chenille wrapped on a size 6 Mustad 34007 hook. That’s it. The Texas folks tell me they use that same pattern but with plain chenille in either green or brown.
So next time you’re wading the salt in August and September, and can’t find specks, reds, drum, flounder, sand trout, Spanish, bluefish, jacks or even ladyfish — just mullet, then give them a try. You might like it so much you’ll have to fish incognito!
The Red Stick Fly Fishers will be holding their third-annual “Fly Fishing 101” clinic on Saturday, Aug. 11, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., at the Wildlife and Fisheries Waddill Center at 4142 Flannery in Baton Rouge. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required as space is limited.
The clinic teaches fundamentals of the sport of fly fishing, including equipment, casting, leaders, knots,and presentation. There will be handouts, refreshments and door prizes, and lunch is provided. Equipment will be available for instruction.
For more details, contact Larry Offner at (225)665-3396 or visit the RSFF website at www.rsff.org.
The Southern Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers will hold their 27th-annual conclave in Mountain Home, Ark., Oct. 4-6. This year, the South’s largest fly fishing and fly tying show will feature Bruce Richards of 3M/Scientific Anglers, renown outdoor photographer Ken Iwamasa and many great names of our sport like Dave and Emily Whitlock, Davy Wotten, Mark Sedotti, Terry and Roxanne Wilson.
Early registration ends Sept. 15, but register now if you want to sign up for a workshop, as these fill up fast. For complete details, schedules and registration form, check out www.southerncouncilfff.org.
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