Although bonefish, permit, and tarpon fishing can be good throughout the winter in the Lower Florida Keys, some weeks can be plagued by cold fronts and cooler water temperatures resulting in slower fishing for the classic Slam species. By no means should that stop you from coming to fish the Keys in winter though, as we have one of the best Plan B species on earth patrolling our flats. Barracudas are an exciting alternative and they thrive in the cooler temperatures and rougher conditions on the flats. If the weather forecast for your saltwater trip is looking scuzzy, get pumped about ‘cuda fishing!
I would go as far as to argue that ‘cudas should be regarded as a Plan A species, right up there with the Big 3. Fishing for barracuda on fly is flat out exciting. ‘cudas have all the characteristics of a great sport fish. They are a large, and wary predator, proven to be tough feed with a fly. Sight fishing is the game, just as it is with bonefish, tarpon, and permit. When hooked, ‘cuda are often acrobatic, adding huge, arching leaps to their standard blistering runs. They are more than capable of putting a fierce bend in an 11wt fly rod.
Barracuda are ambush predators, more like northern pike than trout. They sit stationary on the flat in ambush position, waiting for a baitfish to make a mistake and get too close. It is then that the ‘cuda bursts into action. Watching a barracuda go from motionless log to cat-like hunter, and then into full throttle in a split second is one of the coolest experiences in all of fly fishing.
I typically play the game armed with a clear fly line and a long leader. The angler throws a needlefish style fly as far past and in front of a targeted fish without spooking it as possible. The fly is then slowly two-hand striped past the fish trying to provoke its attention. Watching the fish, a shift in body language or a slow creep into ambush position reveals that it sees the fly. Recognizing this the angler increases the speed of retrieve seducing the fish to chase. When the barracuda commits, the angler two-hand strips the fly into full speed locking the fish into pursuit. Speed is the key, and if the fly is moved fast enough, the bite that results is heart stopping.
For those interested in bringing their own tackle to use, ten or eleven weight rods are a must not only to handle large forty-to-fifty inch barracudas, but also to cast large flies on windy days. Clear fly lines and long leaders seem to convert more shots because casts are often thrown ten to twenty feet past the targeted fish, resulting in a length of fly line being retrieved through the fishes field of sight. I prefer a twelve or thirteen foot mono leader tapered to twenty pound test which I connect via Albright knot to a six inch strand of forty pound wire to the fly. Of course, I’ve got all of this gear on board my skiff for anyone who comes down to fish with me.
Thanks for reading about one of my all time favorite fly-rod gamefish – the barracuda. If this game sounds like fun to you, feel free to get in touch with me any time.
About the Author: Nicholas Calabro is a guide here at Big Sky Anglers who spends his late fall through early spring guiding for bonefish, tarpon, permit, barracuda, and more in the beautiful Florida Keys. His professionalism, fishyness, and positive energy are rivaled only by his legendary hair.