Keys ‘Cuda on Fly

Keys ‘Cuda on Fly

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.

Flats Missile

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. 

‘Cuda Snacks

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. 

Tight Lines,


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.

Capt. Nicholas Calabro
Exmouth, Western Australia Trip Report

Exmouth, Western Australia Trip Report

Exmouth, Western Australia:  The final stop on the adventure that my good friend Dan Vogel and I shared this winter.

The two incredible weeks fishing with Jono Shales of Exmouth Fly Fishing, not only taught us a lot about saltwater fly fishing, but also left Dan and I wanting more. We were super excited to make it to Western Australia because of the stories that Matt shared with us about his time there. I told Jono early in our trip that Dan and I both had limited saltwater experience and that my own personal goal for the trip was to become a more complete angler. Like any type of fishing there are subtleties that one can only learn by spending lots of time on the water. It also helps to fish with people like Jono who have dedicated thousands of hours to learning these little difference makers.  

The fishery surrounding Exmouth is so diverse that it is nearly indescribable.  One day we would fish the flats and target permit, golden trevally, GTs, and bonefish.   The next day we would be offshore on the Indian Ocean chasing marlin and sailfish.  Occasionally, on our way to a flat or the blue water we would see birds busting bait fish and we would race over and cast into slashing schools of tuna, mackerel, and trevally. The diversity in Exmouth is very unique and allows us anglers to play so many different and interesting games!  Even after two weeks, Dan and I felt like we were barely scratching the surface of the fishery.

Like any top-notch guide, Jono is a great teacher and a very passionate angler. His life is built around fishing and sharing his experiences with others, and he is an absolutely gracious host and a true ambassador for Australian fly fishing. Dan and I learned more about saltwater fly fishing than we ever expected thanks to Jono.  My own expectations were exceeded as I left with a better understanding of tides and how they influence fish behavior, different types of retrieves, strong saltwater knots, how to make quick, long, accurate casts, and most importantly, how to keep calm during the chaos. I highly recommend Jono as a guide and Exmouth as a fishery. I can’t wait to make it back!