Hurray, it’s St. Paddy’s Day. Lift a Guinness to the sky my friend. Unfortunately here in Connecticut the coronavirus has all the watering holes shuttered. What a damn shame. Still St. Paddy’s Day has me thinking about the Emerald Isle. I haven’t been there in some time.
Clouds Maam Cross
It’s a magical place with magical people. You can find several related posts on this site. During my last visit I hiked 70 miles, solo, over some of the most enchanting landscapes. No way I’ll ever forget it. Éire lives in my soul.
Will sheepshead take a fly? Absolutely. Now I’m not telling you it’s easy. But a properly presented crab fly on the bottom can do the trick. I’ve only done it once, but my friend Dave in Florida has done it several times. And the above photo is all the proof you need.
Sheepshead, Archosargus probatocephalus, are a common in Southwest Florida, especially in the cooler months. Typically they are found in the brackish inland canals, but they also roam the reefs and sandbars in more open water. There sheepshead are often seen in schools. Spotting them is snap, as their dark bars are a dead giveaway.
In this case Dave was casting to a school of redfish. A nearby sheepshead saw the fly, however, and zipped over to grab it. Bingo hookup. Way cool. And believe me they fight well, and taste great. Now you may hear people say that sheepshead have a prize in their head. Yes, you heard me right. Folks call them “stones”because they are white pearl-like objects that some people even use as jewelry. The stones are actually otoliths, and found in many fish. They are a source of sensory input helping fish navigate complex surroundings.
My buddy Phil has been doing some trouting. Hey why not? The weather has been great. And his Fish & Game Club, in eastern Connecticut, has a well stocked pond loaded with rainbows and will get a second stocking of larger fish soon. Hence that is where he is wetting a line.
Phil reports the usual early season flies, such as woolly buggers and streamers, haven’t been very effective in the club pond. The trout are sitting low and can only be tempted with a small nymph creeping along. Once he got that figured out the fishing has been very good.
His rig is a sweet little Sage 2wt with a floating line and a sinking leader. Fine tippets are required, however. Yesterday he told me some trout are beginning to cruise the surface for midges. So he may switch to a dry/dropper setup. That should be a blast.
Fly anglers are well accustomed to “Matching the Hatch”, or as I say in the salt “Matching the Marine”. And its typically a very good tactic. Works. We pick a fly that resembles the prevalent forage in size, shape and color and then retrieve it at the right speed. Bingo baby, bend in the rod. But when the forage is exceptionally thick, it’s time to change tactics.
In the above photo you see an extremely thick school of sand eels. This school extended out fifty feet from the water’s edge and ran down the beach for over a mile. Striped bass were having a field day gobbling them down. Yum, yum. Obviously the bass had zero incentive to chase a fast movingly fly. Your only hope was to slow down the retrieve to nearly a stand still. I mean it. Barely enough speed to keep the line taut. And even then you it was best to fish the fly on the outside edge of the sand eel school.
Bay anchovy are another forage bait that can school in thick groups. When they exit the Rhode Island salt ponds in the fall, the schools are so thick as to color the water reddish brown. Amazing. Here again a change in tactics is required. (I wrote at length about this back in a 1996 article entitled “The Anchovy Season”, for Saltwater Fly Fishing.) The trick is to cut off your 1″ anchovy fly and replace it with a something bigger. Much bigger.
Need a suggestion? I recommend a big 3/0 Deceiver. And here again you creep it slowly through the bait. Striped bass will suck it in. Why? Well perhaps they are just greed. Going for the larger meal like you and I picking the bigger slice of pie. Or they might see it as squid feeding on the anchovies, and decide to remove the competition. All I know is it works when nothing else will. But don’t expect the bass to hammer it. They will pick it up softly, so stay in touch.