It doesn’t matter where you live in the state of Florida, if you are an angler, summer into early fall equals one thing: BAITFISH, and lot of them. It starts in the summer time with the appearance of a multitude of small baitfish. It starts going off with anchovies, silversides, and small pilchards, all of which we generically refer to as “glass minnows”, and progresses with the appearance of threadfins on the west coast and Pogies on the east. All the while the ever present Pinfish get bigger and more plentiful as the heat of summer continues. The “Baitfish season” as I like to call it, finally culminates in the mass migration of Mullet during the mullet run where a seemingly endless river of mullet flows from the deepest recesses of the back water into the inter-coastal, then rips through the inlets and onto the beaches.
If you like Snook fishing as much as I do, you probably look forward to early summer the same way a small child looks forward to Christmas day. It is a time in which the Snook of southwest Florida begin to move onto the beaches in anticipation of the arrival of swarms of “glass minnows”. Glass minnows are a generic term that we use to describe a multitude of small baitfish, and fry of larger fish. The most common glass minnows that we see are silversides, anchovies, and small pilchards. A true pilchard for those that don’t know is a scaled sardine or “greenie/whitebait”. These are not to be confused with threadfins, which are often even more prevalent depending on your area. You can ask any live bait fisherman and they’ll tell you that they are no comparison as far as usefulness goes, mostly because threadfins are next to impossible to keep alive in a bait well. Do not be mistaken, predators like them just as much as they do pilchards. The easiest way to tell the difference is that the threadfin, as its name suggests, has a long “thread” coming off of its dorsal fin, whereas the pilchard does not.
The pinfish is a rather underappreciated baitfish, and depending on who you ask can be referred to as a nuisance. While it may not be at the top of most predators list of meals it does serve a purpose as situational use bait. Pinfish, along with pigfish, croakers, and Mojarra, serve as fantastic bait for fishing deeper water. The reason being is that they naturally prefer to be on or near the bottom, and when fishing deeper water, this can be a blessing as the bait will naturally swim down to the bottom where large predators like redfish and Snook like to live. They do this without the addition of weights which can distract from the natural presentation of a bait and potentially repel a strike. Love them or hate them, pinfish are a welcomed addition to many anglers bait wells, and when used properly they can be deadly.
Mullet, the fish that is, not the haircut, are possibly the quintessential Florida baitfish. Everything that eats little fish will eat a mullet. They have very few spines by comparison to a pinfish, and are much meatier than pilchards and glass minnows. They are elongated which means they are conveniently “throat shaped” making them easy to swallow, and a very worthwhile target for predators. Anglers all over the state await the annual mullet run with rabid anticipation. Large schools of mullet can be seen staging in the river systems as early as August in South Florida, but the true “Mullet Run” happens in late September into October and early November. I have a love/ hate relationship with the mullet run, because I hate it when it’s happening and love when it’s done. Why, you ask? During the mullet run there is such a tremendous volume of bait flowing out of the inlets and onto the beach. This makes fishing become almost futile to an artificial and fly angler. It’s not nice to have a predator select your lure or fly out of all the other bait swimming by, it’s like a needle in a haystack effect. However, once the mullet run ends, all the fish that have been gorging themselves for the last month find themselves with an empty stomach and will proceed to eat anything that crosses their path in an attempt to pack on a little more weight before the winter hits.
Now you may be asking yourself, “Stizzlack, I thought you were a fly fisherman?” while that is not entirely false, I don’t like to contain myself to one method of fishing. In fact, fly fishing is more of a recent trend for me. While I've been fly fishing since I was a wee child of 10yrs old, I have logged way more hours with a spinning rod in my hand, and when I first started saltwater fishing 17 years ago I spent most of my time with a cast net in my hands searching out good baits. It is from my experience in various forms of the fishing arts that I draw my inspiration for my flies. The saying goes “Match the Hatch” and freshwater trout fisherman preaches this. What it means is this: Whatever flies, or bugs are hatching at that time, is going to be the thing that the trout are most keyed in on, and therefore a fly that matches said hatch is the most effective fly to use, the same holds true for saltwater game fish. If the fish are going nuts on glass minnows then a lure or fly that imitates a 6 inch mullet is not necessarily going to be a very effective lure to use, not because those fish don’t like mullet, but because that’s not what they’ve been seeing, and as a result is not what they are wanting to eat. Think of it like this, you love tacos, everybody does, but if you’re in the mood for Chinese food, you’ll drive past 5 taco stands in search of Mr. Ho’s fried rice emporium, and the fish are no different. Having a well-rounded and diverse tackle or fly box can be the difference between fishing and catching.
When it comes to baitfish flies, my favorite materials to work with are synthetics. Whether it’s Ep Fibers, Congo Hair, Neer Hair, supreme hair, or Flash blend, the durability and versatility of synthetic baitfish flies is tough to beat. Purists will argue that the movement and action of natural materials like feathers, and fur is unmatched by its faux counter parts, however I will argue this. While feathers do have a fantastic action in the water they lack in durability, and are often shredded by a single fish. Considering the tremendous volume of “trash fish” inhabiting the same areas and eating the same things as game fish, it can be rather frustrating to blow through a dozen “deceivers” or “clousers” on jacks and ladyfish, only to run out of effective baitfish flies. An Ep baitfish fly in place of a deceiver can survive multiple fish before it gets so wrecked its unusable, and a supreme hair “surf candy” is nearly indestructible compared to one tied with buck tail or a Clouser minnow.