Memorable fish - 2

Memorable fish - 2

Tracy&James | Thursday, 9 April 2020

I thought I’d continue with the recent theme of ‘memorable’ fish this week because, as you can guess I haven’t been out fishing or casting this week, unless flicking a MPR about in the back garden counts. Today I’m remembering two saltwater fish; although only one was caught by me, I did still learn a lot from seeing what happened with the other one, a barracuda, which I’ll start with.

I’ve written FP’s about cuda a number of times in the past. Small ones are very naive and easy to catch, to the point of being a bit of a pest if you happen to be fishing for bonefish and one snips of your fly without you feeling a thing. The bigger ones, maybe 5 or 6lb upwards, are a lot more challenging – these have seen lots of flies and are more focussed on fairly large prey, mostly mullet and bonefish, for a meal.

The turning point for me with larger barracuda came on one of my rare guided trips to the Bahamas. If truth be told, the one particular guide (a well-known one) who is the subject of this story put Tracy and me off guided fishing for many years. He’s the one who broke the boat one day whilst dicking about, sat anchored-up for over 4 hours waiting for a replacement boat and then, because it was so late, took us to a flat that he could have poled to in 20 minutes from our anchorage. He still happily accepted his (compulsory) tip at the end of the day!  Anyway, I digress. On an earlier day we’d stopped for a lunch break, another aspect of guided fishing that I don’t particularly like, but I guess everyone deserves a break during a day’s work, especially when the job is so physical. Whilst we were tucking into our sandwiches the guide hopped down from his poling platform and grabbed my bonefish rod – without asking I might add. He excitedly pointed at a large, hovering barracuda and proceeded to perform a series of pick-up, lay-down casts in front of it. This eventually got an aggressive response from the fish which charged the fly and then took to the air as it felt the resistance from the line/rod.

As you’d expect the fight was extremely short lived, the razor sharp teeth parting the tippet in a matter of seconds. The guide passed my rod back to me smiling – no “sorry – I’ve lost your fly” just a smug ‘I’m better than you’ type of look - tie another fly on and we’ll get back fishing. I wasn’t that impressed with getting the cuda to take a fly that wasn’t on a wire, however I was impressed with how he seemed to flick the switches in the cuda’s behaviour, turning it from a sedate hoverer to an aggressive attacker. I’ve built my own technique for this fish from this incident and it’s been pretty successful over the years.

The next memorable fish is the shark. I know guides don’t like fishing for them, and I can fully understand that as from a boat I wouldn’t fish for them either. However, as a target for the DiY wade angler I think they’re great. When Tracy and I first started flats fishing we were somewhat wary of sharks, especially big ones. In fact I remember leaving one particular airport* flat because we were surrounded by maybe ten big lemons – probably a number of them over 100lbs in weight.

*It seems to me that many islands have ‘airport flats’ – I wonder if this is on purpose? E.g. if you have to ditch after take-off or before landing you can just wade out to the terminal. Probably not, but there does seem to be a lot of them.

During our first couple of trips we started to study sharks and other predatory species, and it wasn’t too long before we both started carrying a second rod with us, a #10 armed with a wire tippet, to target them. In these early trips it became very apparent that sharks feed sporadically and there’s a marked difference in ‘body language’ between a feeder and a cruiser (I think I’ve also written an FP on this subject). I think that’s one of the things I most enjoy about shark fly fishing now – reading the fish’s mood and picking out the opportunities to present a baitfish pattern to the right fish.

At this point I should mention that I was never interested in chumming sharks into a feeding frenzy and then just lobbing a big streamer in with them. I wanted to get a free swimming fish on a fly that I’d presented in a natural manner. After some research I turned up information that suggested lemon sharks ate relatively small prey – snappers and the like. A fit bonefish can obviously outrun a lemon shark, so it made sense to me that they wouldn’t waste a lot of time and effort trying to chase them down, unless of course they’re tethered to a fly fisherman to slow them down. This was perfect as far as I was concerned as I started tying relatively small flies, maybe 5-6 inches on a 4/0 or 6/0, that would actually cast pretty well – I think I could easily make 90 feet with one of these combined with a wire on my #10 outfit.

With this tackle I started getting my flies in front of fish, mainly resulting in being totally ignored or occasionally a follow. This is where I really started to pay particular attention to their body language as mentioned above.  Eventually I began to pick out the fish that were more likely to accelerate, roll their eyes back, and open their mouths to bite the fly. Learning not to pull the fly out of the shark’s way at this point took a few attempts – I’ve found it best not to accelerate the retrieve at all in these crucial moments. This all dropped into place perfectly one day in Abaco, when fishing no more than a few hundred metres from our accommodation I hooked my first sizeable shark. I’ll forever have etched in my memory the moment when the shark felt the hook and the ‘S-shaped’ pulse of movement that rippled through its body as it accelerated at the start of a 100 metre plus run. Great fun, which subsequently sparked the hunt for a 100lb’er to be landed whilst wading. I just wish I knew what I know now whilst back on that airport flat, retreating in fear.

Stay safe, James.