Flats Fishing

Flats Fishing

Tracy&James | Thursday, 11 August 2016

I believe that, as a flats-fishing target species, the barracuda doesn’t often receive the same kudos as other fish e.g. bonefish, permit, tarpon etc. Sure, baby cudas can be a pain in the arse if you’re after something else, whipping in and nipping off your fly as you attempt to reposition it, but the bigger ones, double figures plus, are smart fish that won’t be caught on a fly easily and are just as much a trophy as the more ‘glamourous’ species.

My first encounter with a big cuda was on my very first day’s bonefishing.  I was wading near the Boca Paila bridge in the Sian Ka’an biosphere in Mexico looking for a school of small bonefish that was cruising up and down the flat.  I noticed what on first impression looked like a large log in the water, which on second inspection had an eye and a tail.  Its behaviour was quite unnerving as it was definitely watching and following me down the flat, albeit staying a constant 30 metres away.  I later learnt that this kind of behaviour is not that unusual and if I’d of hooked a bonefish I’d of found out why.  As it was, it eventually skulked away with a disdainful look and a few tuts – it had clearly figured me out to be a novice.

My second encounter was a bit more dramatic.  On my second trip, this time to the Bahamas, I’d learnt a little bit about bonefishing and was starting to catch them regularly.  Playing a small bonefish in a beautiful secluded bay a movement caught the corner of my eye.  Before I’d registered what was happening a large barracuda had cleaved the bonefish on the end of my line into two halves, turning sharply immediately after the attack to mop up the tail half from the expanding pool of blood.  I was in a slight state of shock at the speed at which this happened, even more so when the cuda finished its meal with the other end of the fish, which I of course I was still attached to.  By some fluke the fly transferred to the outside of the maxillary and I managed to land the barracuda on my bonefish outfit (I still think this is my biggest fly fishing fluke, nb. I’m not counting the Californian sea-lion as that was on bottom fishing tackle!).  I’m not sure whether that counts as catching one on the fly, but at that point I was determined to get one ‘properly’.

I quickly learnt that juvenile fish, up to about 6lbs or so, are easy to catch.  Just put on a toothy critters leader with a large Clouser and concentrate on fishing areas where cudas can ambush their prey e.g. the edge of flats or where the bottom changes from sand to grass etc.  These sorts of fish are great fun on a typical #7 outfit with very fast runs and spectacular jumps.  The bigger fish are different though.  A big fish is very conspicuous on the flats, to the extent that they all must have seen a lot of flies (maybe they’ve been caught as juveniles also).  The indifference that such fish can show to a well presented fly is frustrating at the best of times, other times they just simply swim away.  There are two ‘tactics’ I’ve found that can increase the chances of a hook-up though.  The first one is to find an actively feeding fish, one that is tearing around the flat after a target.  This is just about being in the right place at the right time, and because cuda attacks are so fast, this doesn’t happen very often.  In total I think I’ve hooked three cudas in this manner, all have smashed the fly the moment it hit the water however.  The second tactic is to annoy a fish that is milling about showing some interest in the bones or mullet on the flat.  This involves doing a series of PULD casts in front of the cuda, lifting the fly so it is drawn though and out of the water at speed so it creates a large disturbance.  It’s sometimes hard to lift off when you’ve made a perfectly good presentation but this works (sometimes) by eventually triggering an aggressive response from the fish, either to one of the PULD casts or to one that you’ve decided to strip conventionally.  I’d estimate that I get a take from maybe one in ten fish targeted this way.  That still leaves 90% uncaught though – swimming off sighing and tutting!

If anyone has any other cuda tactics I’d like to hear about them.

BFCC casting this weekend, there’s a pint resting on the winner of the #7 event.