South to salt

After spending countless hours fly fishing in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin and Minnesota, I decided I wanted to broaden my fishing horizons and head south–approximately 1,500 miles south.Tampa, Florida was my destination.

fly fishing in tampa bay florida flats

Fortunately for me, I have extended family in Tampa including a cousin who is as crazy about fishing as I am and has access to boats. We had the trip planned for a few months: three days of nothing but fishing in the bay, targeting redfish, snook or whatever salty creature we could trick.

fishing boat in florida sun

The departure day had arrived and per the usual, my plane was delayed. I didn’t have anyone with me, so naturally I sat on my phone, people watching (airports are good for that). It’s amazing what type of reactions you get carrying a fly rod through an airport. You either are at the receiving end of confused looks, or there are the few people that know exactly what it is in that tube you’re carrying and want to talk about it. Fortunately I ran into a handful of those people, including a couple from Montana that owns a drift boat and land on the Big Horn…. after a 30 minute conversation and sharing photos, I received a personal invite to Montana (I would say that delayed plane was well worth it!). It really is amazing how quickly people with similar passions can connect and become friends. That is one of the many things I love about the sport of fly fishing.

Like most planned fishing trips, the weather in Tampa was less than ideal. Cold fronts and 20mph winds made for some tough fishing. Poor weather, mixed with no previous saltwater fly fishing experience made for a very poor first day of fishing. Day two wasn’t much different: high winds, rough water, and no fish… I was enjoying my time, but really needed to feel a tug at the end of my line.

After two days of striking out on the fly rod, my cousin set us up with a few of his buddies who target black drum. Using blue crabs that these guys trap as bait and GIANT rods, we headed out at and spent a few hours anchored under a bridge. As a fly fishing addict, it isn’t easy for me to use conventional gear, but the when I have the chance to catch a fish like the one below, I will take that opportunity any time!

giant florida black drum fish

The morning of my last day in Tampa, I was determined to catch a fish on my fly rod. The winds had died down and we were fishing an area my cousin knew well; my confidence was higher than it had been the previous two days. A few hours into the morning I did it: I caught my first salt water fish on the fly. It wasn’t the snook or redfish I was after, but this jack put up a good fight. As my fellow Driftless angler Eddie Rivard would say “I was so happy” (Eddie also has a blog to that you can check out here).

florida jack fish on the fly rod

Before I knew it, the time had almost come to head back to the marina and eventually the airport. With just minutes left, my cousin suggested that we hit a few mangroves only a hundred or so yards from the dock. After a few minutes of casting, I was ready to call it quits and hang my hat on the jack from earlier in the day; but then I felt a tug. I quickly strip set my line and saw what appeared to be a snook on the end of it. It wasn’t big, but it was a species I had wanted to catch and was determined to get him to hand. Thankfully, we successfully landed him, putting a perfect cap on my trip.

florida snook on the fly

This is the fly that came through for me. It is a white bait imitation that was tied by my buddy Aaron Przybylski (@stcroixpeezworth on Instagram). He ties sweet stuff, check him out!

white bait imitation fly

My trip didn’t go as I had planned, but it didn’t disappoint. I was able to spend time with relatives, while adding more experience to my fishing resume. Below are some things I took away from the trip:

  1. Fishing trips never go as planned.
  2. Go prepared with the appropriate gear (rod, reel, flies etc.).
  3. Talk to people with experience in that area, and get some tips.
  4. If you’re fishing salt water, the double haul is a must. If you don’t know how to do it, learn it (There are plenty of YouTube videos you can watch).
  5. Good polarized sunglasses, a buff, hat, strip guards or gloves, and a good water bottle (I prefer the Yeti bottles, they keep ice forever) are all good things to have while fishing in the hot sun.
  6. Stay persistent: Sometimes you don’t catch the fish you want to catch until the last 5 minutes of your trip.
  7. If you run into someone at an airport that wants to talk fly fishing, talk to them. You never know what opportunities will arise.
  8. Appreciate the experience!

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