Fly fishing our flats is extremely challenging, but satisfying. Most of our flies represent the forage of our predator species--crabs, shrimp and small fish. I find that small, dark patterns tend to work most consistently, and presentation is much more important than the pattern. Here are some of my favorite flies for this area.
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Captain Keith's Favorite Flies
(Click on any picture to make it larger, the quarter is used to show you size since a quarter is about one inch long)
Clouser Minnow--This versatile pattern is a staple in the saltwater fly-fishing community. Designed by Bob Clouser, it can be made in different colors and sizes. These two pictures show my favorite colors, the first one with a white bucktail underside, some pearl krystal flash, and a chartreuse bucktail wing. The second one uses the same white underside, but rainbow/pearl flash and a green bucktail wing. Due to the amount of sea grass in our area nearly all of my flies have weedguards.
Chico's River Shrimp--Chico Fernandez designed this great shallow-water shrimp imitation that is a mainstay with area fly fishermen. The way I tie it, with a slight bend-back configuration, no weedguard is needed due to the stiff brown bucktail used in the wing. I also tie this fly with some copper-colored flashabou to help the fish spot it. This fly especially excels in shallow water that is slightly muddy or stained.
Another mainstay with the locals is a Bend-Back Minnow. This pattern is easy to tie, and rides hook upright, allowing it to hop over grass and obstructions. I tie mine with a copper body and a wing made of copper flashabou, brown bucktail, grizzly hackle feathers and peacock herl.
Keith's Indian River Shrimp--This is my own creation that is based loosely on Dave Whitlock's Dave's Salt Shrimp. The two colors shown here are my favorites--one in brown and one in tan and green. I make them by first tying in some stripped hackles, burnt mono eyes, and a tuft of squirrel hair. Then I make the body with yarn (leave a little at the end to serve as a tail), wrap a colored hackle near the bend of the hook (to look like legs), top the body with a strip of plastic from a clear plastic bag and then finish with a strip of squirrel skin tied on the belly. The weedguard is then tied into the front and about an inch of wire wrap is closely spiraled around the weedguard and slid to the front of the fly (rear of the shrimp). The wire wrap gives this fly great action in the water. The squirrel is then trimmed to give the fly the proper look.
Keith's Crab--This is based upon the myriad of yarn-hair crabs out there, but I certainly tie it in a different manner. The "claws" are strips of squirrel skin that have been clipped except for a tuft at the end. These wiggle enticingly when the fly is stripped through the water. The body is tied in typical yarn-crab fashion, but is then coated with flexament and formed to proper shape and allowed to dry. When dry, I trim the body to its final shape. I don't go too big--the fly acts better when not too large. The lead eyes near the eye of the hook gives it a "claws up" attitude in the water, looking much like a real crab. I prefer realistic colors in brown, green, and gray.
Captain Keith's Crustacean--This is my favorite fly in our area. I don't know what else to call this creation but ugly; however, it looks beautiful in the corner of a redfish's mouth! I think it does a good job in imitating either a shrimp or a crab. I usually tie it in green with a chartreuse accent as shown, but sometimes tie it in brown also. The tail is trimmed squirrel strip, body is chenille (brown or green either flash or regular) with a squirrel strip tied to the belly, then burnt mono eyes are tied in along with lead or brass eyes. I add a chartreuse or orange accent by tying in a bit of chartreuse or orange chenille or using colored thread. See how to tie Captain Keith's Crustacean on the Articles Page!
The final flies that I find effective are streamers that imitate mullet or killifish. Basically, any streamer that is 2-5 inches long, with a light belly and dark wing can be effective. Here is one that I tie and like. Note the flash and large eye--both designed to get the fish's attention and trigger a strike.
If you want to try your own flies, feel free to contact Captain Keith to discuss what the fish are currently feeding on and tips for tying. For example, you will want weedguards on all the flies you fish in our area due to the large amounts of grass on our flats.
One of the most difficult situations Captain Keith faces when doing a fly-fishing charter is when clients are not really proficient at fly casting in a saltwater environment. In order to be successful at flyfishing on the flats, you need to be able to cast at least 60-70 feet (pace off 20 long steps and practice) and place your fly in a six-foot circle. If you can master the double-haul, achieving a tight loop, you will find achieving the distance is easier. To make it even more challenging, you may very well face a 10-15 knot wind or more--so practice under these difficult conditions so that you will be prepared.
Why the needed distance? The fish on our flats have survived feeding in under two feet of water while being constantly pursued by Ospreys (fish eagles) and other birds, porpoises, and fishermen in one of the most famous fisheries of the world--they are incredibly wary. If you cannot reach out to where they cannot see you, then you will not catch them.
Also remember that you will not have the luxury of false-casting a number of times, since you usually must get your cast presented in a few seconds before the fish is alerted. Work on getting your cast off to your target with no more than two false casts.
On the more positive side, The MTC is equipped to make fly casting easier with a stripping basket and a quiet hull to help in creeping up on those wary gamesters. Also, fly fishing can be more effective in some situations since you can often present your lure quietly and more often, plus flies often imitate their real food items more closely than many lures.
When you catch a saltwater gamefish on a fly it is a wonderfully exciting event, and one any angler can be proud of. Be prepared for the challenge and your chances are greatly increased!