Fly fishing is about to bloom big time on all fronts in March (Gulf, bay, and fresh water). In addition to the still present Bonito in the surf we are seeing good numbers of Pompano reported with lots of stories of limit catches from the two-hook fishers (even some of the clueless snow birds, bless them)! Flies tipped with fishbites, pieces of shrimp, or sand fleas are producing well. Also Clousers double rigged with gummy minnows, Pompers (poppers with bunches of crystal flash or flashabou, or neer hair), and little crab patterns weighted and fished on intermediate lines to keep the surf from animating the flies uncontrollably. Short strips are best to mimic the sand fleas and coquinas as they bounce off the sand and fall or return to the safety afforded by their burrowing efforts.
Elsewhere in the Gulf the bluefish are storming the jetties and are destroying the gotcha plugs and white jugs. Catch and release reports of up to forty fish per angler are not uncommon. The casty fly guy should have similar results with clousers, deceivers, gummies, and hot flash flies. By the way . . . by popular demand we have brought in the coveted sili skin for tying all your gummy minnows. We at Destin Bass Pro Shops have a good supply of pre-tied gummies for a quick stop on the way to the venue of choice. But don't forget the 30-pound shock (or wire trace, which may discourage some strikes) or be prepared to donate lots of flies to the "Pirhanas of the Gulf". Do not let these guys get their faces anywhere near any body parts you might need in the future . . . they are aggressive and agile at the landing and their razor-sharp teeth have shortened many a fisherman's day.
Some Spanish Macks have already shown up but the onslaught of ravaging hoards will soon decorate many fly lines of those who can bionically retrieve. More teeth to ravage your tippit require a short trace of wire or some heavy fluorocarbon to preserve your flies. Sometimes it is best to tuck the rod under an armpit and strip with both hands to have a chance at these boys. Some of these have been reported as huge; approaching small King sizes of three feet and twelve pounds, Zing, what a pull on a six-weight. Once again, "Beware the aids of March". Band Aids that is. Apologies to the Bard.
There is still some time for the abundant Sheepshead to be taken on small crab patterns like the rubber-legged flats critter or the several Merkins and small natural colored toads offered in the White River Fly Shop. But get onto these pretty soon or you'll miss out on some great battles and excellent table fare (as long as you have a chain saw to clean them)! The most successful techniques involve short casts along the edges of rock formations or pilings with oyster and barnacle encrustations; let the fly sink (sort of a drag-free drift approach in stream fishing), animate with slow tugs, not strips. The dainty nature of these fish when stealing live shrimp or fiddlers is not experienced with the fly. They slam it like seven hammers; hook setting is not an option, just hold on for a great ride! Many times the run is AWAY from the structure rather than some retreat into the rocks and pilings as one might expect.
The flats will begin to repopulate with the reds and specks whose winter preferences are the creeks and shallow reed areas and bayous. The warmer water and migration of the food sources from these areas to the grassy beds brings the predators along for the banquet. Use topwaters in the early morning and you'll find some true Gator Trout lurking in the dusky dawn. Later switch to your clousers and suspending Crafty Shrimp, deceivers, etc. You might want to rig a dropper two-fly rig with a clouser and a small streamer. Remember, you'll have to sacrifice your tightest loop casts and widen a little to avoid tangling this configuration, but the results can be astounding. This is the time when you'll find thick schools of both reds and specks. When the action starts it will last a while and strike will follow strike before you have to move around very much. This is one of the most special seasons for fly fishing.
In the fresh water arena things are already warming up in exciting ways. Local lake and pond fishers are reporting good numbers of panfish and crappie, and the bass have turned on big-time. The crappie bite should last into April and everyone knows what the April full Moon does for bluegills. The early start already portends an outstanding season to come, and when the salt water conditions get testy, it's time to turn around and pull out the poppers, sliders, bugs, nymphs, spiders, and other leggy critters and frog patterns and plan a kayak or trolling motor trip to the pond, lake, or river.
Don't forget, the Destin Bass Pro Shops still hosts the Panhandle Fly Tying Club every second Saturday of each month, so come on by and see some true talent and wizardry in action as these artists create their magic.
Remember, catch and release preserves our resources. Please don't over harvest.
To the Peach of Fly Fishing,
Charles (Buddy) Leach, Fly Guy