Redfish Flies (Don’t Overthink It!)

Redfish Flies (Don’t Overthink It!)
The tarpon toad is a good choice when addressing “floater” redfish.

Most fly fisherman by nature tend to be critical overthinkers. We simply can’t help ourselves more times than not. This is ever so evident when watching one of us trying to pick which fly will be fastened to the end of our bite tippet; busy eyes working a fly box left to right top to bottom, as if reading a novel, all the while trying to decipher which flavor of chicken will best match the hatch. Luckily for Texas saltwater fly anglers, our main targeted species is redfish, and they tend to be rather gluttonous most of the time, like little pigs at an all you can eat buffet. Sometimes however, redfish seem to be closer related to a Key West permit on day three of the March Merkin. Because of this you may want more than a Redfish Crack in your fly box! Yes, I said it. While that fly is probably responsible for the majority of fly-caught Texas reds in the last decade, it doesn’t always fit the bill. Just don’t tell Packmore I said that.

I keep several fly boxes at home loaded and at the ready, and try to organize them for vastly different zones that I often fish. You see, I may fish one area for a few days where the bottom consists of black mud, mixed with scattered shell, covered by extremely turbid water, and the next week fish crystal-clear grass flats with scattered potholes. To complicate things further, on calm summer days when a small skiff can travel long distances across a given bay system, I may encounter these two vastly different types of zones in the same outing. So, the best way I’ve been able to combat this the last couple of years is to keep two fly boxes on my boat, one for clean water, the other for dirty. The dirty water box tends to have lots of color such as purple, black, white, and even hot pink. The clear water box mostly consists of tan, different shades of green, and again white. The types of patterns in the two boxes almost mirror each other, with a small difference being a few more weedless patterns in the clean water box.

How I choose a pattern is mostly dictated by how the fish are swimming at that particular moment. For example, one way a redfish will be presented to an angler is often called a floater. This can usually be related to a balmy summer day when your glasses are constantly fogging up. These fish may be in one foot of water, or even four feet, but what’s common between them is they are floating relatively close to the surface. They might be floating still, like a koi fish in a backyard pond, or strung together like tarpon, steadily swimming. The theme here is the fly needs to be super sexy in the water and have tons of movement, and since we’re not worrying about bottom contact, the hook can ride point down. Also, this type of fly needs to suspend in the water as much as possible. To do so I tend to stick with flies consisting of natural fibers as much as possible – marabou, hackle feathers, rabbit strip, and even ostrich hurl. The most important thing in choosing a fly for floating fish is to stay away from those that have lead eyes. Remember you need something that suspends high in the water column and has erratic motion at the slightest twitch of fly line. A prime example of a pattern well-suited for this situation is the tarpon toad.

Another common way redfish will present themselves is tailing. This could be a single fish or one hundred, possibly even more. Either way it’s one of the most beautiful sights you’ll see on the flats here in Texas. Fly choice under these circumstances typically doesn’t require much critical thinking and that trusty Redfish Crack or your favorite variation of said pattern will often do the job. Other times the fish seem to be so distracted in their search for forage that they seem to simply ignore the fly. Multiple presentations to various sides of the school will sometimes gain their attention but other times lead to spooking them. This is when changing the fly might be the best choice. The most exciting option here is to go with a topwater of sorts, such as a gurgler pattern. I’ve had some unforgettable days on the water watching redfish break from a tailing pod to inhale one of these flies. Another pattern for this situation would be a spoon fly. This “fly” if you dare call it that among Texas fly fishing purists, can produce astounding results with tailing fish, especially when seagrass seems to foul everything else in your box.

On a low tide morning you can often find redfish crawling down shorelines, exposing the top half of their bodies to the sky above. This is often referred to as a belly crawler or backer. Fly choice here can be critical. Choose wrong and that willing fish will be spooked and smoke off to the nearest drop-off looking like a glowing amber torpedo. The hook shape of the fly here is of highest importance. I prefer a jig hook, but an older tried and true method is to find a hook you can bend from the eye and roll it slightly toward the point. Either way, the important thing is this fly needs to ride “hook up” so it doesn’t foul the bottom. Also, the weight of this fly needs to be kept to a minimum and I will often use a bead chain eye for this application. It seems to be just enough weight to keep the fly riding hook up, but not so much that it will make a large splash in the water. Exact pattern here isn’t extremely important. I tend to stick with something shrimpy and often fall back to the Crack pattern but tied on a small jig hook with a bead chain eye.

The last form of redfish behavior we will cover today is often the type that frustrates the hell out of most fly anglers, leaving their mind drifting toward thoughts of selling all their ridiculously expensive gear and taking up a different hobby such as golf. These fish are usually found on the bottom in a couple feet of water and often referred to as negative fish. What puts them in this mood now and again is somewhat of a mystery. Whether it’s the backside of a full moon or a higher-than-normal barometer, the world may never know for sure. With these fish being near the bottom you need to deploy a fly that will quickly get down to their line of sight. The answer here is a fly with lead eyes. Yet again you can absolutely use a Crack pattern here, especially if its smaller, and sometimes going to dark colors in this instance can help as well. When that doesn’t work, falling back to your favorite permit crab can often yield good results.

I hope this article gave you some insight on fly selection for various forms of redfishing scenarios. If you still need some help deciding what to put in your box, I urge you to visit one of many fly shops we have here on the Texas coast nowadays, and preferably the one closet to the area you plan to fish.  Chances are the staff will have some insider knowledge to what flies you need for that particular zone.

Until next time - Choose your fly wisely, but don’t overthink it!