Advancements in the production of fishing equipment will allow for new fishing experiences in the future. The new equipment will change the way fisher approach their sport and introduce them to new types of fish capable of being caught.
welcome to the future fishing
IF YOU’VE NEVER FACED OFF WITH A BARRACUDA ON A FLYROD, tangled with an “Eskimo tarpon” or wrestled with a sturgeon that would dwarf a kayak, now is the time to make your move. We’ve entered a new era in fishing, one that stretches the boundaries of how we fish and what we fish for.
How did we get here? Flyfishing and select changes in the environment have led the way. Flyfishing’s modern-day disciples are motivated by the rush of taking new and bigger fish on a fly. Once you break out from 12-inch trout to battle your first big `cuda on a 9-weight, you’re in another dimension. And lighter, stronger graphite rods let you throw a streamer the size of a small squirrel all day long and lean on your opponent with all you’ve got. At the same time, environmental factors are influencing the fish themselves. Warmer ocean temperatures are drawing diminutive tuna impostors within reach of a fly. Snook populations are peaking in South Florida with heightened conservation measures. And while salmon are swooning in much of the Pacific Northwest, sturgeon are coming up big.
But be careful. You’re bound to become a junkie when the first fish catapults across the flats or races away in a river as if off on a journey into tomorrow.
Sometimes in winter, it seems nothing’s doing in the shallows of the Florida Keys. Hell, what’s even around when bonefish and permit skate away with a cold snap? Enter the barracuda, which floods the flats by the thousands, skulking on patches of sand and turtlegrass, gulping needlefish and ballyhoo.
Lay a brilliant nine-inch streamer in front of one, and if you’ve got the touch, a silver streak wheels and chomps, bolting off and flying through the air. “Often when it’s cold, windy and rainy, they’re the only game in town, but they’re a great game,” says Keys guide Bryan Yates. “They’ve got everything you want in a fish–great speed, savage strikes, acrobatics.” Which is precisely why flyrodders–yes, flyrodders who up until the past five or 10 years were more concerned with barracuda attacking whatever else they had hooked–are breaking out the big wands to confront them on purpose.
Barracuda are plentiful during the unpredictable weather of winter, when massive schools seep in from offshore. They sun themselves in packs, with individuals up to 40 pounds. You pole along, stalking them like bonefish. If you get one’s interest, keep the streamer smoking. Barracuda almost never strike when you slow down, which says a whole lot about fishing for four-foot-long predators with a fly: It’s all about attitude.
Tackle & Tactics: Go with a nine-foot 9-weight (you might need a 10-weight in the wind) and always rig up a wire leader. A top fly is a ballyhoo imitation called the Cuda Clouser, which is white, chartreuse and green with strips of Krystal Flash. Know that schooling barracuda face the same direction, with most of them in a similar mood. Drop a fly within a couple of feet, let sink, twitch twice, pause. Repeat, experimenting with speed to gauge their disposition.
Sites & Seasons: Between November and March, barracuda bask in the shallows throughout the Florida Keys. Fish of 10 to 15 pounds are common at most times; the largest specimens, up to 45 pounds, infiltrate in January and February.
Contact: Guides Bryan Yates at the Saltwater Angler, Key West, Florida (305/294-3248); Al Ponzoa, Marathon, Florida (305/743-4074); Simon Becker, from Marathon to the Marquesas (305/745-3565).
Faster than a speeding steelhead, more powerful than a bluefish twice its size, a false albacore will jounce a fly and rip for the horizon, zooming off with 200 yards of backing. Reel meltdowns are the price you pay.
The long, turbocharged sprints stem from the false albacore’s hydrodynamics–a sleek, muscular body and grooves where pectoral fins tuck in for searing speed. (False albacore, which are in fact mackerel, are inedible because of bloody, protein-packed flesh. A gift from the gods of catch and release?) Their emergence corresponds with the rise of saltwater flyfishing and a one-degree warning in ocean temperatures within the last decade, which has brought the eight- to 18-pound thunderbolts closer to shore than ever.
False albacore follow the spiraling summer flows of the Gulf Stream, sifting down the East Coast from Martha’s Vineyard and Montauk to the Outer Banks of the Carolinas from late summer into early winter That’s where and when the “fat Alberts” or “little tunies” scarf anchovies and silverside shiners in the harbors and shallow rips. And that’s where you’ll want to be throwing a baitfish pattern. Just be sure to hang tight for the ride.
Tackle & Tactics: To rein in false albacore, you’ll need a nine-foot 9-weight and a high-quality reel with 200 yards of backing. (A 10-weight is preferred in the Carolinas, where the fish run larger.) When albies are pursuing bay anchovies, try two to three-inch Deceivers, Clousers and Mikkleson’s Epoxy Baitfish. Bump up to four-inchers when the fish are after small bunker (menhaden). Fish any fly with a nice, slow, steady retrieve wherever the fish are hunting bait–current breaks, wrecks and harbor mouths among the typical locations.
Sites & Seasons: In the northern end of their range, in the triangle between Montauk, Block Island and Watch Hill, Rhode Island, the third week in August through October is prime time. The fish progress down to the Carolinas and stick around from October through early December
Contact: Johnny Glenn, Watch Hill, Rhode Island (401/348-8716); Dan Wood, Niantic, Connecticut (860/442-6343); Jamie Boyle, Martha’s Vineyard (608/693-1995); Dave Dietzler, Atlantic Beach, North Carolina (252/240-2850).
At ice-out, landlocked salmon cruise the creekmouths of Maine’s North Woods lakes, hot after smelt. When the two collide, what you get is the freshwater equivalent of a bluefish blitz: predators thrashing prey, tails slapping, baitfish skipping like stones across the surface.
Sneak up on the disturbance in a float tube. Shoot out a streamer. Watch one of North America’s most regal fish flash on it and spring through the air
The landlocked is an Atlantic salmon that ran in from the ocean centuries ago and never left. Through stocking, its range has been extended to additional waters, the most notable of them a flourishing fishery of late on Lake Champlain. In keeping with flyrodding’s disciplines of challenge and elusiveness, anglers are targeting the two- to four-pound fish (seldom do they reach six or seven pounds) on the surface in limited windows in spring and again in fall–the rest of the year landlockeds go deep and flies are out. A separate population spends the year in many of the adjoining tributaries and outlets.
Still another fishery exists in the Midwest each summer on the St. Marys River, between Ontario and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Planted Atlantics, a 10-year-old phenomenon in the Great Lakes, surge out of Lake Huron into the brawling current of the St. Marys. It’s arguable whether the transplants are true landlockeds, but when a fish of eight to 20 pounds spirits off through the bouldered rapids, you’ll soon forget any purist notions.
Tackle & Tactics: The top priority on the Maine lakes is to paddle a canoe or kick around in a float tube until you find landlockeds busting smelt. Appropriate flies on a nine-foot 5- or 6-weight are the Grey Ghost, Joe’s Smelt and an attractor pattern called the Montreal Whore. Keep the fly near the surface with sharp twitches. From spring into summer, river landlockeds offer loop-throwing action on Hendricksons, caddis and nymphs. You’ll want an 8 1/2-foot 5-weight or nine-foot 6-weight. In the St. Marys, Atlantics take large muddler minnows and Hex patterns.
Sites & Seasons: Ice-out comes in mid-May in Maine on Moosehead, East and West Grand, Sebago and the Rangeley Lakes, with surface action returning in late September. A few Maine river picks: the Clyde, the Roach, the West Branch of the Penobscot, the east outlet of the Kennebec. On Lake Champlain, the peak timing is mid-May on Shelburne, Converse and Keeler Bays. On the St. Mary-s, it’s June and July in the rapids beneath the International Bridge.
Contact: The King and Bartlett Fish and Game Club, Eustis, Maine (207/243-2956); Maine Guide Fly Shop (207/695-266); Maine Fisheries (207/287-5261); Classic Outfitters, Lake Champlain (802/860-7375); St. Marys River (800/MI-SAULT).
In Alaska, enormous king salmon and six-foot halibut you subdue with a .357 Magnum are the state’s indisputable glamour fish. Then there’s the sheefish, the world’s largest whitefish, which French-Canadian fur traders named l’inconnu (“the unknown”).
So it would seem today, except that a devoted group of flyanglers is journeying to the Arctic to cast smeltlike streamers for “Eskimo tarpon,” an uncanny freshwater look-alike with incredible leaping abilities. “Not that many people have discovered them,” says Ed Collatin, who tangled with sheefish last August on the Kobuk River. “Even some experienced fishermen have never heard of them or fished them.”
Behind a heightening awareness in some circles is the nascent trend away from subsistence fishing, a tradition among nomadic peoples of the Arctic, and toward sport. In many cases, native families themselves are influencing the movement, running trips on rivers where they long salted and smoked sheefish for a winter staple.
It turns out sheefish are spectacular gamefish in a stunning setting. The rivers they run are admirably fast and deep, the fish aggressive when slashing flies worked in the current. And then the battle begins, the light-blue athletes of 15 to 30 pounds vaulting off like a gamefish of the flats.
Since most action takes place out of tent camps in remote Alaska, you can understand why it requires the cult of the flyrod to make the pilgrimage–the distance from Anchorage to the Kobuk is the same as Colorado to California.
Tackle & Tactics: A nine-foot 8- to 10-weight is the ticket. For streamers, Mickey Finns and silver salmon flies. Other choices to replicate the local baitfish are white rabbit Zonkers and white Deceivers. Sling them out on a sinking line into the heavy current of deep holes, manipulating with short twitches. Above all else, be sure to get your fly down deep, adding weight if necessary.
Sites & Seasons: The season of the sheefish occurs on the cusp of the cold season, during July and especially August migrations on the Kobuk, Yukon and Koyukuk rivers.
Contact: Guide/outfitter Ray Woods (907/348-0108 or Dept. SA, 13101 Hillside Drive, Anchorage, AK 99516). Alaska Tolovana Adventures (907/832-5258).
When you’re disoriented by all the mangroves in the Florida Everglades, damn near broken and confused, the best way to know if you’ve already fished a backcountry corridor can be to keep casting. If you’re in new water, you’ll keep calling up snook when they’re on the prowl.
It’s a lot like going after largemouth of a higher order. Drop a deer-hair bug or a topwater chugger beside a log. Twitch, splash, gurgle–kaboom! Ten or 15 pounds of silver-yellow projectile is out of the water and then back in, running for cover. “I call them nuclear-powered bass,” says Naples-based guide Doug Hanks. “The same structure, the same everything–they just fight a lot harder.”
Populations in Florida are at a 20-year high with the advent of closed seasons and more restrictive bag and length limits. Accordingly, snook are reaching the elevated status of trout, a gamefish to catch and release rather than perfunctorily bring home for the table.
The species’ well-being depends on warmth as well. (The hotter, the better–minimum water temperatures must be in the 70s.) Snook range from about halfway up Florida on down through the Caribbean. Wherever they go, snook follow the all-important tides. A case in point is in the mangrove zone. Be there on the edge when the water starts to fall–you can hear snook feeding back in the swamp–and the fish will slip into the open. You won’t want to miss it.
Tackle & Tactics: Whatever it takes to throw the fly–a nine-foot 7- to 9-weight–is suitable, though a 10-weight is sometimes needed for heft in the thickness of mangroves. Try Clouser Minnows, Deceivers to imitate pilchards, and saltwater poppers. With all the tangles, monofilament or light-wire weedguards make life easier. Also, tie up 40-pound shock tippets for strength when snook dive into the mangroves or rake your line across oyster bars. Almost any accurate cast worked aggressively is effective when the fish are active.
Sites & Seasons: Florida snook move according to a predictable schedule: big bruisers up to 40 inches in the surf in June and July, consistent numbers on the oyster bars through most of the year, backcountry mangrove-touring in December and January.
Contact: Naples, Florida, guides Doug Hanks (941/263-7478) and Robert Collins (941/262-1970). For more information and additional guides from Pine Island Sound south to Estero Bay, the Ten Thousand Islands and Everglades National Park, call the Everglades Angler (941/262-8228) in Naples.
For fresh water, the scenario sounds surreal: live bait weighing two pounds, a sinker weighing three, the fish you catch weighing several hundred and coming clear out of the water five or six times like a rainbow trout in a stream. But that’s the story when you chase white sturgeon on the Columbia River.
With historic runs of salmon depleted, fishing on the venerable western river has shifted to the sturgeon. Opportunity knocks when spring chinook seasons are open but a day or two a week, or dosed altogether; and sturgeon fill the void on movements from the rivermouth to Bonneville Dam. Fish up to 12 feet mass in the current to spawn and to feast on runs of shad. Sturgeon are also upstream between Bonneville and the Dallas Dam, and from the Dalles to the John Day Dam.
The Columbia’s season stays open year-round below Bonneville (with a few exceptions above), with a slot limit of one fish between 42 and 60 inches. The biggest creatures of all–90-year-olds the size of ungulates–bite below Bonneville on whole shad. “I’m six-foot-six, 240 pounds, and I couldn’t get my arms around him,” says Columbia River fishing guide John Garrett of an 11 1/2-footer estimated at 700 pounds. “He actually made me look small.”
Tackle & Tactics: Think heavy–6 1/2- to 7-foot light-saltwater casting rods and reels loaded with 80-pound-test and rigged with 125-pound Dacron leaders and 8/0 to 11/0 hooks. Bait depends on the time of year and ranges from smelt and squid to eels, night crawlers and sand shrimp. In summer, shad take the fish over 10 feet. Despite their size, sturgeon will sometimes nibble a bait like a panfish and you’ll have to play cat-and-mouse for up to 25 minutes before striking. Other times they’ll slam it and hook themselves. Again it depends on the mood du jour:
Sites & Seasons: On the Columbia, be prepared for the monsters in June and July. Sturgeon also are taken in the Snake River in Idaho (where sockeye salmon returns are said to be 60 or 75 fish, the highest numbers in recent memory) in spring and summer and in the Umpqua River in Oregon throughout the year.
Contact: Guides John Garrett, Lyle, Washington (509/365-5523), and Dan Ponciano, Vancouver, Washington (360/573-7211 or www.columbiariverfishing.com), on the Columbia. Guide Terry Jarmaine for white and green sturgeon on the Umpqua (800/635-5583). River Quest Excursions for white sturgeon on the Hells Canyon stretch of the Snake River (800/589-1129).
Associate editor Dave Scroppo, a recovering walleye addict, can fish and write at the same time.