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What is a Permit
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The Permit Puzzle

by J. M. Chico Fernández

photos by Chico Fernández

Don't be too cautious when presenting a fly to permit. Hook 'em or spook 'em.
Fly Fishing for Permit - Chico Fernandez
Mature permit usually require a slow-to-stagnant retrieve. However, permit under about 10 pounds behave more jacklike and will aggressively pursue a moving baitfish imitation.

THE LIGHT WAS PERFECT as I aimed my telephoto lens at a skiff working across the flats. The bow angler made some beautiful practice casts, and I was sure the photos were going to be nice.

All of a sudden, the poler pointed to the right, and the angler started to cast again. But this time, there was no loop. His backcasts were hitting the water, and finally, his leader caught and wrapped around the rod, ending any possibility of a shot. Even at a distance, the angler looked four inches shorter in his humiliation.

I turned around to my friend, who was smiling broadly. "A permit," he said. "They saw a permit." And sure enough, a few seconds later, the angler started to practice his cast, which was once again beautiful.

A little late, but lovely.

I cast my first fly to a permit in the mid-to-late 50s, and today, with quite a few permit to my name, they still make me nervous when I am getting ready to cast. There is something about permit fishing that just makes an angler uneasy. Maybe it's the fact that you could face a fish well over 40 pounds, and that same large fish can often be hard to see in the flats. Or perhaps it's the fact that they can be incredibly spooky even on a windy day; forget a calm day. Even after a great presentation, they might come to the fly as it drops, carefully inspect your offering long after it has reached the bottom, and then reject it and go about their business of looking for real food. It can leave you with the shakes.

As hard as it can be to find permit, and as tough as they can be during a fight, I find the presentation and the retrieve the most critical. The toughest thing about landing a big permit is hooking a big permit.

The Presentation

Given a good breeze — which is ideal for permit because it helps conceal your profile — you are going to have to talk yourself into being fairly aggressive in your presentation. You must cast close enough that the permit sees or hears your fly when it plops and, more important, sees it sink to the bottom. Remember that the only defense a crustacean has when confronting such a swift predator is to dive to the bottom and dig in. To a permit, this looks like a crab or a shrimp (depending on your fly pattern) trying to skip out on dinner.

So don't lead him by too much, just a couple of body lengths or so is enough. And while you will occasionally spook a few fish by being aggressive and getting too close, you will also hook more fish than by being too cautious. There is nothing worse than an angler casting all day to a few permit that never knew he was there. Spook them or hook them.

If the cast did not land exactly where you want it to, yet is still too close to pick up and cast again, then retrieve it slowly. A long pull might put it were you want it. Or you can just retrieve until you see the fish react, and then let it drop.

One exception occurs when you are chasing a permit or a school of permit feeding into a strong current, which will be waiting for crustaceans to drift their way. Here it may be wise to lead the fish a little more than usual and let the fly drift into them.

The Retrieve

Once you have made a good cast, you must interact with the fish. That is, watch his reaction to the fly from the moment it plops on the water to the take. Try to read the fish's body language during all of this, because every fish reacts differently, although this is certainly an area where experience is the ultimate teacher.

Fly Fishing for Permit
The author (above) prefers the longest leader possible for the prevailing wind and a butt section measuring up to half the length of the leader to help turn over the heavy crab flies normally used for permit fishing.

If he sees the fly dropping and comes over for a look, lay it on the bottom as he investigates. If you feel you must move it, or you can't stand it any longer, move the fly very slowly and such that it is off the bottom. Dragging a fly across the sand will spook them.

Other anglers may fish the crab a little faster by swimming it with a long, slow pull.
Then, if this does not work, they will go back to the drop-and-wait. But whatever you try, do not use sharp or abrupt strips. This appears very unnatural to a permit and more often than not will spook them.

As you make your retrieve — even while you are letting the crab fly sit on the bottom — make sure that you have no slack in the line. This way, the moment the permit picks it up, you will feel the take and are ready to strip-strike. If you don't maintain line contact, a permit will pick up the fly for a few seconds and then spit it out without you knowing. Happens all the time, to the frustration of the guide who is begging for the angler to strike.

On that point, any permit angler should have a constant line of communication with the guide or poling partner. Remember that he or she is much higher than you on that poling platform and, if it is a guide, has seen many more permit than you.

One exception to the slow retrieve is a school of small permit in the flats, and by small I mean fish under 10 pounds or so. These younger fish act more like jacks than mature permit, so it is almost always better to use a faster retrieve and even a fishier fly, such as a Clouser.

Cast in front of the moving school (like teenagers, small permit always seem to be moving) and let the fish approach the fly. Then, without any sharp strips that may scare them, strip, stop, and strip. If you get no hits, mix it up with a few strips, a long strip, and so on. By then, the spirit of competition among small permit will usually trigger a strike. And remember to strip-strike before you lift the rod, and to look at your line and not at the fish while clearing your fly line.

In the way of leaders, I like the longest I can handle in the prevailing wind condition. And half of that is butt section to help turn over the typically heavily weighted permit flies.

Most of my permit leaders range from about 9 feet for very windy days to almost 14 feet for fairly calm days. If it's super calm, I do some other type of fishing (or head back to shore for a big lunch).

The single best tippet size for me is around 12-pound test. I say "around" because some manufacturers' tippets are heavier than others for the same test strength. Too heavy a tippet, and the crab will not dive as fast and does not act as natural. But I do see anglers using 16-pound tippet, and that's okay if the diameter is not too big. Others even go to 20-pound tippet, but not me.

Permit Flies

Everyone has their own killer permit fly, but in most areas, the basic crab designs seem to do the best, followed by some shrimp patterns. Rather than show you any of the crab flies I use, I think it is more important to point out that you should have your crab flies in two weight sizes. One should be lightly weighted with brass eyes or bead-chain eyes, and you should have another group tied with lead eyes. So, for example, you would have a light-colored Merkin in a light weight and heavy; a dark color in a light weight and heavy, and so on. This way, if the tide is high when you get to the flats, you go heavy. If the tide is low and the fish are tailing in fairly shallow water, then you pull out the lighter flies so you can land softly and still get to the bottom.

Tackle for Permit

Permit require one of the warmwater fly lines specifically designed to put up with very hot weather and high humidity. Most of these lines have a hard core (either braided monofilament or a single mono core) to keep the fly line fairly stiff in permit weather. Unlike for bonefish, it doesn't get too hot for Mr. Permit. So in that high heat, ordinary fly line will hang on the guides like wet linguini and refuse to shoot. They also tangle often, making any line manipulation a nightmare.

A 9- or a 10-weight is the best line for delicately presenting heavy crab and shrimp flies in shallow water. Any heavier and you are pushing it; besides, what fun would it be to fight a permit with a tarpon rod?

Use a 9-foot saltwater taper rod to match your fly line. Unfortunately, some manufacturers have rods that are, at least in my opinion, too stiff for the recommended fly line. So you may have to use one line size larger on some rods. But try to stay with the 9- and 10-weights, if you can.

Despite the fact that permit grow several times larger than bonefish, they tend not to run as far as fast. Even if you hook a 40-pound permit, you should be fine with a fly reel that holds around 200 yards of 20-pound backing. And of course, a smooth drag is a great help and a pleasure to use. However, I have landed lots of permit while using reels with light drags or clicker drags, just for fun.

Either way, the fight may be long not so much for the blistering runs but for the permit's stubborn, jacklike fight. Before you can experience that, however, you have to learn the necessary patience to entice them to eat, and that can come only from fishing for them as much as possible.

Chico Fernández is a renowned fly fishing instructor, lecturer, and author who developed or helped develop many of the modern saltwater flyfishing techniques and fly patterns in use today. Chico's most recent book is Fly-Fishing for Bonefish (Stackpole Press, 192 pages, August 2004). This article was first published in Saltwater Fly Fishing Magazine.

~ Ref: By Chico Fernandez, http://www.midcurrent.com, Aug 2010
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Sage Xi2 Saltwater Fly Rod Review
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Sage Xi2 Big Game Saltwater Fly Fishing Rods Review


• Line Sizes: 6 to 16 weight
• Rod Lengths: 8' to 9.5' 
• Sections: all 4 piece models 
• Handles: Portuguese cork - Full-wells saltwater grip
• Reel Seats: Black anodized aluminum uplock w/ cork fighting butt 
• Actions: Fast

What’s the word...?

Saltwater fly rods have a difficult set of
criteria to live up to. They need to be powerful, and have a relatively
fast action to throw tighter loops when distance is required, and to
battle wind with large flies. Yet, just as often, these rods are called
upon to load quickly for very short casts, with just one backcast, when
jumping fish from the deck of a boat, or in poor visibility conditions.
Hmmmm... that sounds like a difficult design parameter to me. In a
similar vein, we’re battling some pretty big, muscular fish here,
sometimes longer than we would want to, so the fly rod has to be built
strong enough to take that punishment, plus the added abuse of getting
knocked around in a boat. But on the other hand, we may have to cast
this beast of a rod for hours at a time, so if it’s overly heavy, or
unresponsive, it could wipe us out of the game when if we’re unable to
raise our arms any more. Such are the dilemmas of the Saltwater fly

Awhile back, the Sage Rod Company started
experimenting with a graphite fly rod construction process which they
thought would lead them to the next level in overall fly rod
performance. In a nutshell, they were right on. After three years of
extensive testing, Sage’s new Generation 5 Graphite Technology process
was unveiled for the 2004 season in the form of an impressive new series
of high performance saltwater fly fishing rods, the Xi2. This
construction process has proven so successful, Sage has incorporated the
same G5 Technology into the moderate action/light line ZXL Series, the
all-around fast action Z-Axis Series, and most recently, for 2008, the
featherweight TXL ultra-light series.


All of these new Sage rod Series are impressive performers in their own right, but let’s get back to the Sage Xi2s. The Xi2 rod
has a fast action, yet is extremely smooth, and can readily generate
high line speeds for longer saltwater casts, even though it has a finer
tip and weighs about a half an ounce less than its popular predecessor,
the Sage RPLXi. When I recently used the Xi2 12 weight on a Tarpon trip
to the Keys, we ran into a lot of overcast conditions. Sometimes we
didn’t see these monsters until they were just about on top of us. Then
the guide was yelling, “Get it out there, NOW!” The Xi2 responded fairly
quickly and accurately in these short line situations. Sage says that
their Modulus Positioning System (MPS) in the Xi2 allows a precise
lay-up of longitudinal fibers not only to create the smoothest action
possible, but also “to provide a startling level of "line feel"
throughout the casting stroke. This enhanced ability to feel the rod
load allows you to apply power more efficiently.” I’d agree with that,
considering that the Xi2 is a fast action rod. “Fast” in saltwater
lexicon usually means “really stiff”. The Xi2 seemed to give me more
feedback than the heavier saltwater sticks I’d used in the past. Long
casts or short casts, the Xi2 seemed to make my casting easier. I should
note that my casting style is suited, and my preferences are biased,
toward faster action rods. But G5 Technology looks to make even fast
rods more “castable” for everyone, so I would even recommend these rods
to beginning casters, some of who may benefit by starting out with a fly
line one size heavier than the rod weight.

Features. . .

There are thirteen of these dark blue-colored,
four-piece bad boys, and they cover all the line weights, ranging from a
9’ six weight for spooky bones, specks, and reds, all the way up to an 8
foot long, sixteen (yes, 16) weight rod for landing god-knows-what
kinda huge fish. The Sage Xi2 9 foot 8 weight, 10 weight, and 12 weight
rods remain the salt water workhorses for flats, reefs and offshore and
are the most popular sizes for all-around saltwater fly fishing.

Materials. . . Reliability and Durability. . .

Sage replaced a very successful saltwater rod series,
the RPLXi with the Xi2. The Xi2 weighs significantly less, easily
generates more power, but most importantly, has a more responsive,
lively feel when compared to previous saltwater rods.

The significance lies in the differing technologies used
in building the rod blanks themselves. Instead of a typical fiberglass
“scrim” or mesh that is rolled around the steel mandrel and binds the
longitudinal graphite fibers together, the Z-Axis utilizes what Sage
calls their Generation 5 technology. In this process, the scrim is
replaced by a lighter layer of graphite cloth that is rolled at a 90º
angle to the separate layer of longitudinal graphite rolled over it. The
result is a rod with greater “hoop” strength with less weight. When a
fly fishing rod bends, its circular cross section becomes an oval, with
the greatest stress occurring in the compression element at the inside
of the bend. This phenomenon is typically what causes graphite rods to
shatter when they’re overstressed (aside from car doors, dog teeth, and
nicks from weighted flies). These graphite “hoops” offer far greater
stability than their heavier fiberglass counterparts used
in past generations of graphite fly rods. In addition, when the G5
layers are compressed with tape and baked in an oven, as all synthetic
rods are, the epoxy resin fuses the layers together more effectively
than it would with scrim, and uses less resin in the process. G5 tech
has been proven with the Xi2 Salt Water rods, and has lead to the
production of new, higher performance freshwater Sage fly rods, as
well.  Not only that, but in the four plus years since their
introduction, the Sage Xi2s have proven their extreme ruggedness in
tough saltwater situations. So; lighter, stronger, faster, more
versatile, and more durable, to boot? If you took a poll of veteran
Saltwater fly anglers, it would be no surprise that they would rate the
Sage Xi2 as the top saltwater rods available today.

Fit and Finish. .

The sanded surface blank of the Xi2 is painted a blue
color with blue thread wraps over English Hopkins and Holloway
heavy-duty oversized snake guides, oversized round tip top, and two
stripping guides, with three stripping guides on 11 weight rods, and
heavier. The grips are turned smoothly from the finest individual
Portuguese cork rings and are complimented with a black, salt-safe,
heavy duty anodized aluminum uplocking reel seat with a cork fighting
butt. Due to several layers of inspection during the manufacturing
process, the fit and finish of the Xi2 is nearly flawless and what one
would, and should, expect on a top of the line rod. The rod comes in a
cloth sock with fold over tie down and a substantial, blue colored
aluminum tube with a solid screw cap.

• Sage G5 technology graphite construction

• Very light in hand (for salt water fly rods)

• Fast and crisp, yet smooth, rod tapers for high line speed, accuracy, and comfortable casting, near or far

• Oversized, low profile English Hopkins and Holloway guides and round tip top

• Hand-turned Full Wells cork grip

• Black uplocking salt-safe big game reel seat with cork fighting butt

• Cloth sack and aluminum rod case

• Limited lifetime warranty

Customer Support. . . . Company profile.

Sage was founded in 1979 by Don Green, an
experienced rod blank builder and one of the architects of the modern
fishing rod, as owner of the Grizzly Fiberglass Company, which later
partnered with Fenwick. It was originally called Winslow Manufacturing
(after the city of Winslow on Bainbridge Island, Washington)
but within a year had changed its name to Sage. Emphasizing high
quality fly rods sold only through specialty stores, Sage rode the crest
of the fly-fishing boom in the post “A River Runs Through It” years.
Today, although there is no industry repository for exact numbers, Sage
is probably the world’s largest producer of premium fly rods and employs
over 100 workers in their manufacturing facility.

So, has being
the 800-pound gorilla affected the quality of their product as it has
with so many other companies in the outdoor industry? Although
challenged by industry wide flat sales, the growth of the Internet, and
increasingly higher quality Asian imports, my impression is no, for
several reasons. Sage has continued to retain talented people and spend
money on research and development. The proximity of Bainbridge to the
Boeing Aircraft manufacturing plants near Seattle and Toray Composites
in Tacoma provides access to a wealth of knowledge from the aerospace
industry, the primary end users of graphite fiber. More importantly,
aside from a few casting and spinning rod models over the years, Sage
has pretty much stuck to their original intention, building very good
fly rods.

The Xi2 has a limited lifetime warranty for the
original owner. If you damage or break your rod, you are responsible
for the shipping charges and insurance to send ALL of the pieces to Sage
in the original tube, or a PVC tube, plus a $50 handling fee, to cover
return shipping and insurance within the U. S. or Canada. International
owners are charged the actual shipping and insurance fees. Not a bad
deal for an expensive, relatively fragile tool. The other five or six
top US makers offer similar rod warranties, but not all provide the same
level of service. I’ve seen some customers wait 3 or 4 months, or
longer, to get their rods back. Sort of puts the damper on the fishing
season. Sage’s lead time for repairs is usually about 2 to 3 weeks
during their busy summer, and shortens to about 1 ½ to 2 weeks in the

Overall Rating - 4 ½ STARS

The Sage Xi2, from many standpoints, deserves its
reputation as the best all around salt water rod series, and would be my
first choice in all line weights that I would most often use in
saltwater. If I could suggest one ‘dream’ change, however, it would be
for Sage to adopt some new, innovative technology that’s recently become
available; Recoil nickel/titanium guides and stripping guides. These
amazing, lightweight guides are nearly crush-proof, usually snapping
back to their original shape after being deformed. Recoils, as I’ve
heard from some saltwater pros, have superior corrosion resistance over
traditional plated steel wire guides, particularly when exposed to a
constant marine environment. I don’t live on the ocean and I’m an
occasional salt water fly angler, so I clean and rinse my gear (as I’ve
been told to do over the years), after every salt exposure, and I clean
it again, more thoroughly, when I get home from a trip. So, for me, as
well as most anglers, both types of guides will work fine and most
likely will give me long years of service. Sage competitor,
G. Loomis has had good success with the Recoil guides on their GLX
CrossCurrent saltwater fly rods. The CrossCurrents also cast very, very
well and I would rate them a close second to the Xi2 and, perhaps, a
first choice for someone who keeps their rods onboard most of the time.


Generation 5 Technology all-graphite layup from
Sage builds noticeably lighter, stronger and faster line speed saltwater
fly rods that can still load readily over a wide range of casting
distances for ultimate versatility. Thirteen rod models from 6 to 16
weights to cover everything from small reds to giant billfish.
Heavy-duty reel seats. Limited lifetime warranty.


$670 to $745 price tag is a little steep for
some, but in line with other top saltwater fly rod makers. Traditional
chromed steel guides, while sturdy, sometimes do not hold up as well to
constant, or unmaintained salt water corrosion as the newer
nickel/titanium Recoil guides.

Bottom Line

A combination of recent technological advances and
superb tapers, the Sage Xi2 has established a higher casting and fish
fighting standard in saltwater fly fishing rods. Fast, smooth, ‘lively’
and powerful with proven strength and durability from the world’s most
successful premier fly rod manufacturer.

Check out the best fly rod models.

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What is a Redfish
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Try Topside for Redfish

by Dr. Aaron Adams

photos by Aaron Adams

Floating Flies for Redfish

Gurgler Fly

AS THE TIDE TURNED and began to flood, I poled the boat across a shallow grass flat, just inside the sandbar that separated the flat from the Intracoastal Waterway. Many of the large boats that blasted past reminded me of Rodney Dangerfield’s short, destructive, ill-fated yacht voyage in the movie Caddyshack. So when I muttered ‘what a couple of Rodneys’ when two boats passing in opposite directions neglected to slow down, and slammed loudly into each other’s massive wakes, my fishing buddy Doug Hedges knew exactly what I was talking about. It was amazing — we were close enough to the chaos of the ICW that we could read the registration numbers on the sides of passing boat hulls, and we were stalking tailing redfish. Except for us, these redfish were unmolested.

You have to give Doug credit, he seems ready to try something new at least once. And on the bow, he stood ready to cast to the next tailer that came into range — with, of all things, a gurgler tied to his tippet. Some folks know this is a good technique, but when I suggest they try a surface fly for tough tailing redfish, most anglers show a look of disbelief, even suspicion. But not Doug, he was all for a new approach.

Why a Gurgler?

A topwater fly is farthest from many angler’s minds when they are casting to tailing redfish. The fish are, after all, digging their noses in the bottom for shrimp, crabs, worms, or small bottom-dwelling fish like gobies and blennies. Why on earth would an angler in their right mind choose a surface pattern? After all, redfish don’t eat with their tails. A topwater fly can be a good choice for three reasons.

Redfish in Grass

First, a redfish intent on digging out prey buried in the bottom is often so focused that it doesn’t see it’s surroundings. This is one reason it is possible to pole a boat right up to a tailing redfish without being noticed until the boat almost overtakes the feeding fish. On numerous occasions I’ve been able to wade close enough to a tailing redfish to touch it with my rod tip. Actively tailing redfish can also stir up enough bottom that visibility in their immediate surroundings drops to zero, obscuring any fly in the murk. In either case, even the most perfectly placed fly might not be noticed.

Second, even tailing redfish pick their heads up out of the bottom every once in a while as they move on in search of more prey. There is a good chance that a redfish moving in search of more food will see the motion at the surface and investigate. And it’s not uncommon for a bottom grubbing redfish to scare up small prey that make a break for it. So that same redfish that was so engrossed in digging for a mud crab that it never saw the perfectly presented fly might see the surface commotion of a gurgler, and mistake the fly for an escaping prey. Many times I’ve watched small shrimp and fish squirt from the water as they try to avoid a feeding redfish. And I’ve seen redfish that were lackadaisically tailing suddenly erupt at the surface to grab these would-be escapees.

Third, in many of the flats where anglers fish for tailing redfish, the seagrass is thick and tall. The densely packed seagrass blades can act as a barrier, preventing a tailing fish from seeing a fly only inches away. And at a very low tide, the upper portions of the grass blades lay across the surface, and the tips reach to the surface at a medium tide, making it tough to get a sinking fly to the bottom. A weedless gurgler helps get around both of these challenges and puts the fly in an area where it can be seen by a redfish.

A gurgler is my surface fly of choice because it is light, so is easy to cast long distances and lands on the water lightly. Both characteristics are necessary when fishing to tailing redfish on shallow flats. The gurgler is also versatile in how it can be fished — loudly, so it makes a lot of commotion, or softly, so it barely ripples the surface. So it’s easy to imitate different prey — soft and slow for shrimp and loud and fast for the finger mullet that can be abundant in fall — and the changing moods of redfish.


I first started using gurglers for tailing redfish, in part, out of frustration. My favorite flats for tailing redfish are covered with lush turtle grass and shoal grass. It can be wearing to make good cast after good cast to a tailing fish and get no response because it never saw the fly among the many grass blades. My strategy when fishing for tailing reds is pretty simple — get the fly into the fish’s sight zone and make sure the fish sees it. I know the fish has seen the fly when it changes it’s behavior — it either reacts positively, by following or taking the fly, or negatively, by avoiding the fly or suddenly swimming in the other direction. Often, redfish feeding in thick seagrass don’t react at all, so likely never see the fly.

Redfish with Gurgler

An unweighted fly that sinks very slowly is a good choice in these situations because the fly spends more time in mid-water, where it is more visible, while a weighted fly that sinks straight to the bottom is quickly lost. However, even an unweighted fly that hovers mid-water can remain unseen by a redfish feeding in thick grass. If I can get the gurgler in front of the redfish, it’s a good bet the fish will see the fly.

Another good situation for using a gurgler is when there are a lot of redfish around, but they aren’t staying put long enough to stalk and cast to any particular fish. The first time I tried a gurgler in frustration was on a day when the flat was full of tailing fish. Well, fish were tailing everywhere but where I was. Fish weren’t feeding very long in a spot, but instead would tail for a few seconds and then move on. There was really no point in stalking, so I drifted across the flat blind-casting a gurgler. This can be an especially successful strategy in late summer and fall when juvenile mullet (aka finger mullet) are often common on the flats, and a favorite food of the larger redfish that invade the flats in fall.

My favorite situation for using a gurgler is casting to redfish that are pushing a bow-wake as they slowly cruise from one eating spot to the next. I’ll often see these fish tail some distance away, then right themselves and slowly head off in search of more prey. Sometimes, the dorsal and upper tail fins of these fish will be out of the water. These fish move slowly and deliberately enough that I can guess their course and put myself in the best location to make a good cast. I like to lead these fish by a healthy enough distance that they can’t see the fly or fly line in the air, and let the fly sit until they are within a few feet before beginning my retrieve.


When casting a gurgler to a tailing or cruising redfish, I use a leader of 10 - 12 feet or more, with 12 lb. fluorocarbon tippet. For tailers I use a long leader because I try to cast past the fish, to the side the head is pointing. I then bring the fly back over the fish. If the fish continues to tail, I’ll make the fly pop to get the fish’s attention. If the fish is not tailing, I continue retrieving the fly in short strips. Using this strategy, a shorter leader would cause the fly line to land over the fish, likely spooking the fish and ruining my chances for a hookup.

For blind-casting, a longer leader means I have less chance of accidentally lining a fish with the fly line during a cast. The longer leader also provides better separation between the fly line and fly, so there is less chance a redfish coming to check out the fly’s commotion will intersect the fly line.

Cruisers are swimming near the surface, with their cone of vision pointing forward and upward. A longer leader helps me keep the fly line out of this cone of vision during the cast. I use 12 lb rather than 20 lb leader because heavier leader tends to pull the gurgler down. And I find that fluorocarbon tippets make a difference because the waters I fish tend to be clear.

Long casts are usually best, because even redfish that attack the gurgler aggressively tend to miss the fly a few times before they get it in their mouth. With their mouth on the underside of their snout, redfish have to either raise their head out of the water so they come down on the fly, or turn sideways to get a better angle on the fly from below. When a redfish brings its head out of the water to get over the fly, its eyes come above the water surface, so they can spot an angler that is close by. And less aggressive redfish will often follow a gurgler for an excruciatingly long distance, so a long cast gives the fish more time to decide to take the fly.

When a redfish strikes a gurgler, it is usually an exciting show — often an explosion on the fly. The temptation is to rear back and set the hook. In most circumstances, this will result in a fish circling in confusion as it searches for the fly that you just launched past your ear. Remember, they’ll often miss the fly the first time. It takes some control, but keep stripping the fly in the same manner that induced the redfish into attacking it, and strip strike when you feel tension on the line. Don’t lift the rod until you’re sure the fish is hooked. Easier said than done.


Back to the fishing.

Getting in range of a tailing redfish was the biggest challenge. For a while, it seemed that every fish we saw would tail aggressively until we were just into casting range, and then suddenly disappear, only to reappear a few minutes later just a little farther away: a frustrating pattern that redfish seem to follow frequently.

Doug got decent casts to a couple fish, one of which ignored the fly as it moved off to another spot, and a second that looked at the fly and suddenly bolted when Doug stripped the fly ever so slightly. The eruption caused by the second fish was entertainment in itself.

Doug made a couple casts that had been ignored by a third tailer, as the fish alternately tailed and moved, tailed and moved. When the fish had not shown itself for a minute or so, I began to scan the flat for more action. Then Doug let out a "WHOOP." I turned to see his rod doubled over and fly line jumping off the deck and through the guides in pursuit of a surprised redfish. A few minutes later, we had the fish boatside, and Doug had his first redfish on a gurgler. We were able to get one more fish before the tailing action died down, the sun dipped low, and we made the run back to the boat ramp.

Would a standard fly pattern for tailing redfish have worked? Perhaps, but it wouldn’t have been as exciting or visual a take. And we didn’t have to worry about making the perfect cast and keeping the fly snag-free.

Tying the Gurgler

The gurgler is an easy fly to tie, and is surprisingly durable for being made mostly of soft foam.

I use pliable closed cell foam in either tan or white. Tan is good for imitating shrimp and some of the small fish that live on the flats. White is good for imitating finger mullet and is easier to see at dusk, one of my favorite times for fishing for tailing redfish. I use a long shank hook — either for tying a longer, shrimp-like body, or to tie a keel-hook style weedless version. For the standard, long-bodied pattern, I tie in a mono weedguard just behind the hook eye. For the keel-hook style fly, I use pliers to bend the hook backwards, the bend at approximately 2/3 the length of the shank behind the hook eye. The foam body is then tied on the same side of the hook as the hook bend. This fly will ride with the hook point up, making it weedless. I originally began tying the keel-style fly because so many redfish were striking the fly without getting hooked. The theory is that since redfish so often come down on the fly from above, an upward pointing hook should have a better hookup ratio. The jury is still out on this, but the hookup rate is certainly no less than the standard pattern. This clearly means that more research is needed.


Hook: Mustad 34011, size 4

Tail: bucktail, color to match foam body

Body: closed cell foam, double the length of the hook shank – half tied to the shank, half folded over (from hook bend to eye) as the back

Legs: hackle colored to match the foam body, attached at the rear of the hook bend and palmered to the hook eye

Thread: Danville flat waxed nylon, color to match the foam body

Weedguard: 40 lb mono

Aaron Adams is the author of Fisherman's Coast: An Angler's Guide to Marine Warm-Water Gamefish and Their Habitats (Stackpole Books, January 2004) and the co-author, with Chico Fernandez, of Fly-Fishing for Bonefish (Stackpole Books, October 2004). Dr. Adams is program manager of the Fisheries Habitat Ecology Program, Center for Fisheries Enhancement, for Mote Marine Laboratory in Charlotte Harbor, Florida. Copyright © 2004 Aaron J. Adams and Stackpole Books.

~Ref: Aaron Adams, http://www.midcurrent.com, Aug 2010
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