Fly Fishing for Coastal Gamefish
When you fish with a guide or a lodge, you are fishing their schedule. It might be just a standard schedule – most lodges, for example, tend to fish a standard day, usually 8am to 4 or 5pm. When I fish on my own, I tend to fish according to tide and visibility. Visibility for sight fishing is best during mid-day hours, of course, but tide can cause some of the best fishing times to be near dawn and dusk. I'll never pass up an opportunity for a quality day of sight-fishing on the flats, but I will often add hours to the fishing day to fish a low tide that occurs near dawn or dusk.
Low tides that occur near dawn and dusk are probably my favorite times to fish. Many gamefish put on the feedbag under these conditions, taking advantage of the low light and the abundance of prey. Plus, dawn and dusk usually bring light winds and few anglers. Dawn and dusk are great times to find bonefish and redfish tailing in water so shallow their backs are often exposed. These conditions also bring tarpon to the surface, where their rolling gives them away. And there's not much more excitement than a snook exploding on a popper scooting across a glass-calm surface.
Even when I head to a fishing lodge as part of my research, I usually try to grab some time on my own to explore. If I’m lucky, this means I am able to rent a car. Or maybe I’m on one of the do-it-yourself trips I take with friends. In either case, a rental car and some driving are often involved. On one such trip I was staying at a hotel that was about an hour from the flat I wanted to fish. This was a bonefish trip – I was starting the trip on my own, and would be joined by friends a couple days into the trip.
As luck would have it, the tides were perfect for dawn patrol – low tide just before dawn, progressing to just after dawn during the week. This gave me a chance to fish one of my favorite times on the flat, but it also meant I had to get up early to allow for the hour drive time from the hotel. So I was out the door and on the road at 5:30am each morning that week.
Once I navigated my way out of town, the roads in this location were mostly empty, especially in the pre-dawn hours. I would occasionally pass a car heading the other way, probably to a job in town, but saw no other traffic. The roads were mostly empty, and cut through undeveloped forest and fields, and only occasionally passed through small towns. ‘Towns’ is a bit much, since they were just a handful of houses in a small area. Most of the open road had speed limit signs, but they seemed to more of a guideline than a rule, and with no other traffic and a mostly straight road, I drove at a good clip. As each small town approached, a sign would state a reduced speed, and for the most part I complied.
On the second pre-dawn drive, I must’ve blown right through one still-asleep town without slowing down. As the lone street light of the town disappeared in the distance, something in the rearview got my attention. A quick glance revealed bright headlights under a bank of flashing red about a mile back. Crap. I had a dawn patrol for tailing bonefish in my future, but instead I was going to be pulled over for speeding in a foreign country. I slowed down to the speed limit, and waited to see how quickly I would be pursued. I calculated how far it was to my turnoff to the flat, an old dirt road through overgown brush, and thought about my next move. I had a decision to make: should I pull over and await my fate; stay at the speed limit and hope he turned off when he saw I was now driving more responsibly; or speed up and try to beat him to the turnoff, a road I was certain he would not follow?. What are the ramifications of flight in this country? The bonefish will be tailing in 30 minutes. How fast are the police cars here? The turnoff isn’t very far away. Maybe he got a call for something else. The fishing was good yesterday morning, and the weather is better this morning. Maybe it was just an early morning ambulance run, heading to nowhere.
I cruised along just over the speed limit for what seemed like forever, but I'm sure it was only a few moments. It didn’t look like the car was gaining. I was on a mission. I stepped on the gas, rounded a few curves that put the flashing lights out of sight, and made the turn onto the dirt road. As I wound along the dirt road, I kept an eye out for lights on the highway and never saw any. Crisis averted.
Was it worth it? The fishing that morning was fantastic.
Later that week over drinks I related the story to a couple locals. They said there was a small government building, including a police office, in that town. And on subsequent drives through that town – at the speed limit – during daylight hours I did see the government building tucked back off the road. I never did see a police car parked there. But that still didn’t explain the ‘non-pursuit’. Then one evening, returning to the hotel at the end of a long day of fishing, I saw a plilce car and busted out laughing. No wonder there was no pursuit, I told my fishing partner, look at that car. The police car was barely big enough to hold the two officers in it, and definitely had no capacity for speeds over 50 mph. So I got lucky that time, bit don’t think I’ll push my luck there again.
The Fisherman's Coast approach focuses on how coastal gamefish interact with their habitats and prey. The more you know about the gamefish you pursue with a fly rod, the more often you'll be in the right place at the right time with the right fly making the right presentation. It's about catching more fish.
Our sister site Tribal Bonefish is all about conservation through responsible fishing. Tribal Bonefish shows you how to become a better steward of our coasts to protect our fisheries today, and ensure future generations get a chance to experience these fisheries.