My favorite fish on fly rod?
That's a tough choice. I love fly fishing for bonefish. I love fly fishing for oscar. And I love fly fishing for false albacore (the species I'm holding in the photo).
Bonefish are the ultimate in saltwater fly fishing. They're tough, speedy and very elusive. Biscayne Bay and the Florida Keys are the only reliable spots for bonefish in the United States. I can leave my home in Sarasota, Fla., and be on the bonefish flats in five hours.
I caught my first bonefish on fly about 20 years ago. I was fishing in a tournament. The two days prior to the tournament were calm and clear. On tournament day, the sky was overcast and the wind howled at 25 miles per hour.
But I had a great guide. He not only put me on a ton of bonefish, but also kept the wind at my back and off my casting shoulder. In early afternoon, I hooked a monster bone near Shell Key. The fish departed that flat like it was shot from a cannon.
"If that fish goes deep, you'll lose it on the coral," said my guide.
Luckily, the fish didn't dive and I was able to get it out of the channel and back onto the flat.
If I had known how big that fish was, I'm certain I would have choked. But I didn't. My guide netted the fish and said, "You might as well quit now because you'll never catch a bigger bonefish."
The bone was slightly more than 33 inches long and weighed an estimated 14 pounds.
I won the tournament.
Bonefish would be my favorite species if I got to fish them all the time.
False albacore (also known as little tunny and bonito) are great, too. They eagerly take a fly and make long, speedy runs. These fish usually range from 4 to 15 pounds.
I got to fly fish for them the other day. Pete Greenan and I found albies busting flying fish in the inshore Gulf of Mexico just out from Gasparilla Pass. We landed four of the five we hooked.
I caught the largest fish -- an 8-pounder -- on a 6-weight fly rod. I looked down at my reel about 2 minutes into the battle and saw that I was running out of backing.
I looked at Greenan and asked him to start the engine.
He just smiled.
Fortunately, the fish stopped its run and I was able to regain line.
It's not a great idea to hook albies up on a 6-weight. It's better on an 8-weight.
Albies might be my favorite fish, but they're hit or miss for most of the year. Sometimes I go a year between catching them.
Oscar no doubt are the hardest fighting freshwater fish in Florida. Like orange trees and coconut palms, they're not native. They were first discovered in state waters in the early 1950s. Most think an aquarium owner dumped his or her fish in the backyard canal down in Miami-Dade County.
The rest is history.
Now, south Florida's fresh waters have large populations of exotics: oscar, Mayan cichlid, walking catfish, blue tilapia, spotted tilapia, brown hoplo. Bull's-eye snakeheads, jaguar guapote, clown knifefish, suckermouth catfish, grass carp, butterfly peacock bass and others.
Grass carp and peacock bass were intentionally introduced into Florida waters by the state. The others were not.
State fisheries biologists probably would like to get rid of the exotics. But that's not likely to happen. With that in mind, we might as well catch them and have fun.
Oscar and Mayan cichlids are good to eat and I don't think there are size or bag limits on either.
Oscar would be my favorite fly-rod species, but I have to drive about three hours to get to them and I get the opportunity five or six times a year.
Around home, I guess it's snook. I probably catch and release 200-300 snook annually. And I land some big ones. I caught and reelased a 39-incher last summer.
Could be snook. Could be redfish. I like dolphin, too. Tarpon are a blast. Bass are pretty special. And I've always had an affinity for bluegill.
Last summer, I caught some mammoth carp on fly in Michigan. And I even managed some hefty smallmouth bass.
Michigan waters also have yielded steelhead, coho salmon, rainbow trout and brown trout.
Now, it's becoming pretty clear: Most any species taken on a fly rod is pretty darn good.