Alabama Fly Fishing

Alabama claims more navigable rivers than any other state in the union. Thousands of miles of wilderness feeder creeks and streams offer wading and boating anglers opportunity for everything from Rainbow Trout to world caliber saltwater and hybrid striped bass. This multitude of waterways flow together in the beautiful Mobile River Delta where the majesty of Spanish moss laden water oaks and cypress provide cover for largemouth bass, redfish, and seatrout all wonderful fly rod targets.

Coastal Fly Fishing in AL

Alabama’s gulf coast is an incredible, but untapped southeastern fly fishing destination. Its inshore waters, estuaries, passes, and bays offer an exciting, and quietly different destination for excellent salt fly fishing. Its wonderful white sand beaches and clear warm waters will call you back for fun in the sun. Not only are there great fly fishing opportunities, your family will enjoy the great historic sites, shops, and food available in the growing area.

The Fishing Calendar

In January and February, fly fishing is concentrated on seatrout holding in deep water pockets, and large spawning reds up to 30 pounds, congregating in large schools just off the beaches.

By late March, Seatrout, Pompano, and Spanish Mackerel become active. Seatrout hold in deeper water around docks and grass lines, so dock fishing under the lights is good.

In April and May, sight fishing for in shore migrating Cobia averaging 35 pounds with 10 to 12 weights and LARGE flies is one of the best runs in the world. Also, 20 pound or larger King Mackerel are catchable by blind casting off shore oil rigs, or by chumming.

By June and July, all species are present, and by July, migratory fish populations build in the area with more King Mackerel and Spanish Mackerel, False Albacore, and Tarpon are migrating west on the beaches, plus Spotted Seatrout and Bluefish populations increase, through August.

From September into early November until water temperature drops below 70 degrees, fish feed heavily for winter. Spanish Mackerel, King Mackerel, and False Albacore in large, exploding schools, all feed VERY aggressively on anchovies, producing top quality near surface fly fishing action.

From late November until the following January, the main object of fly fishers is “bull” reds in the 30 pound class. You’ll find them in large schools smashing balls of anchovies deep on the beaches. On the lighter side, Spotted Seatrout are available in deeper water around docks and deep grass lines.

There is a commonly present population of incredibly strong Little Tunny and Amberjack available to fly fishers in these Alabama waters. VERY much like the False Albacore that make the famous fall run off the North Carolina coast, these species are available consistently throughout the year, and provide tremendous action on the fly.

Tackle

Bring a 4 to 6 weight outfit with weight forward floating or clear intermediate sinking line for spotted Seatrout, Spanish mackerel, and Ladyfish. Add a short 30 to 40 pound shock tippet for the toothy Spanish Mackerel.

Bring an 8 to 10 weight for windy conditions and mid-sized fish, and a 12 weight for the largest species and heavy wind.

To catch bull red drum in winter, or to chase Greater Amberjacks, and Bonito deep off shore on wrecks, bring a 10 weight outfit with 300 grain sinking line, or a 12 weight outfit with 400 grain sinking line.

The 12 weight is good for rowdy Jack Crevalle, Greater Amberjacks, and Little Tunny, and 30 pound Red Drum. Have a spool of weight forward floating line, and a spool of intermediate sinking line, both with at least 200 yards of 30 pound backing. Your reel should have a strong, smooth, readily adjustable drag for fighting these strong fish.

Weight forward floating line is good for fishing shallow flats; the intermediate sinking line casts well, helps keep the fly just below the surface; the 300 grain line will sink your fly sink deep for the larger fish. The 12 weight with 400 grain line will let you actually exert some measure of control over the larger, stronger fish. Strong, abrasion resistant leaders with shock tippets will turn over flies and survive sharp teeth.

Flies

Recommended flies include ever-popular Clouser minnows in chartreuse/white, orange/red, pink/white, white/white, or gray/white; the Charlie’s Angel, which closely emulates local bay minnows, anchovies, or glass minnows, and any other good small bait fish imitation. Bring your most beat up minnow imitating flies for Spanish Mackerel — they’ll destroy flies fast!

Surf Fly Fishing

Early morning surf fishing on the beach is a beautiful and rewarding experience. Readily accessible, try this productive method in summer to early fall for hard tailed jack, Ladyfish, Bluefish, Spanish Mackerel, cruising Red Drum, Whiting and even Pompano. Use a stripping basket with intermediate sinking line, and cast to disturbances or explosions of fish busting bait. Grey, white, silver size-6 Clousers and Charlie’s Angels are very good for the beaches. Also, night fly fishing for red drum and spotted sea trout under the plentiful dock lights can be incredible inside the intercoastal or, on the bays. Clouser minnows, Crazy Charlies, and Charlie’s Angel glass minnow imitations are recommended.

Near Shore / Off Shore

Here is a story about a day fly fishing for off shore species in Alabama.

by Capt. Clifton Jones

“Stormy Monday,” a favorite tune from the blues master B.B. King and Lucille, poured out over the radio. It was loud enough to be heard over the sputtering of our engine, but not so loud as to cover the automatic horn of the large yellow gas platform not 40 feet in front of us. Nor was it loud enough to break our concentration on searching for the big fish that often frequent these sturdy structures. From the tower on my 24-foot skiff, I watched patiently as my friend and accomplice, Van Kirchoff, retrieved a hook less chugger across the surface. We were looking primarily for amberjacks, hoping to catch them on big poppers. A client of mine, Walt Holman, had sent me several popper she ties in his spare time, and they are truly beautiful. After seeing how aggressive amberjacks (AJs) can be when chummed up on live bait, we agreed his poppers might serve as the perfect surface flies for teased-up fish.

When we pulled up to the big platform, I pitched out a half-dozen or so live and dead menhaden. Then I eased up into the tower and waited. Drifting slowly down current, I studied the bait fish as some settled toward the bottom and others ambled off. I armed myself with my trusty 12-weight. When the jacks came up, I would be ready. I asked Van to cast his teaser as far as he could to the north side of the rig. We have used this bait-and-switch technique together several times for many different types of fish, and we have it down to a science. Van pops and chugs the teaserback to the boat as fast as possible without ever fully raising it out of the water while we watch for activity on the teaser and in the chum slick.

“Here we go!” I called over the tunes. “They’re on the teaser! “One false cast and my fly landed in front of the teaser. I stripped in the slack and waited for the fish to get close enough to see my popper. “Now!” I instructed. Van yanked the teaser from the water. One real hard pull left the AJs in a frenzy and looking for anything to eat or chase. By now several of them had begun feeding on the menhaden we had thrown over earlier. With a solid “chug” of my popper, two nice fish tore themselves from their search and pounced on the big fly. Another “chug” and one of the big jacks lifted half its body across the water in an attempt to catch it.Momentum caused the first jack to miss the fly completely, but the other fish found it. With a solid strip-strike, I set the hook. “Van, pitch in some more live ones, and grab your stick!” I hollered. “We can get a double on!”

Another netful over the side brought in the little tunny. Streaks of blue green and amber raced to the surface, and their breaks and boils surrounded us -some were right at the boat. The view from the tower was awesome. Half a dozen amberjacks and numerous little tunnies scurried around us, circling closely. Down deep, I could see the dull redness of the red snapper, rising to investigate the activity at the surface. Van flipped his fly inattentively in the water as he hurriedly stripped the fly line off his reel. The large white Lefty’s Deceiver, lying motionless in the water next to the boat, got engulfed, and fly line peeled off the deck as Van grabbed for a hook-set. But slack formed in the line before he had a chance to set the hook. He gave me an amazed look that said “how did that happen?” and “did you see that?” all at once. “Strip it in fast and see if there’s still a fly on there; maybe you’ll get a bite,” I said. No sooner had I spoken than the next fish hit. “There he is -I’m on, too,” Van grunted. In a matter of minutes, we had an amberjack doubleheader. That’s when the real test began – trying to keep them away from the barnacle-encrusted security of the rig.

Pick Your Platform
It is fortunate that the Alabama coastline, although relatively small, is located on the dividing line for the Gulf of Mexico. Split Alabama’s coast right down the middle, and to the east lays the deep water of the continental shelf, with the Desoto Canyon pushing clear deep-water currents onto our beaches. To the west lies the Mississippi River Delta, depositing its nutrient-rich waters for hundreds of miles in every direction. Orange Beach, Alabama, is on that line, and fly-fishing opportunities abound, including natural and man-made reefs, oil and gas platforms, beaches, sandbars and flats.

Due south of Alabama’s Mobile Bay, easily in sight from the mouth of the pass, lie several different natural gas platforms. Since many of the fish migrate or follow bait migrations, one platform often offers as many opportunities as the next. However, the bigger platforms seem to hold more bait and, therefore, tend to yield more shots. Depths range from less than 80 feet near shore all the way to several thousand feet offshore. The spring, summer and fall migrations bring many opportunities to these platforms. Large concentrations of different kinds of baitfish move through the area either to spawn or relocate for the winter. Some will also winter around the platforms. When large groups of baitfish like hard tails(or blue runners) gather around the platforms, it can be a pretty good indication that kingfish, as well as amberjacks and little tunny, might be there. Chum lines used in conjunction with teasers can tell you in short order just which predators lie beneath the bait.

Fit for a King
Whenever I think the kingfish might be present, I attach a wiretrace for bite tippet. I use 6 to 8 inches of the lightest single strand of wire I can get by with to fend off the scissors like jaws of a king. A shorter piece of wire will usually work as well sincere are not feeding or free-spooling the kings, and the shorter the length of the wire, the greater the chance for a hookup.

For kingfish and amberjacks, I like to use a fairly large whiter chartreuse Lefty’s Deceiver that has a decent amount of flash and is tied on a high-quality, super sharp 3/0 or larger hook. Epoxying the head can help the fly last longer. Big bright poppers will also work, and the bites can be dramatic, but subsurface flies tend to draw more strikes. A fast-sinking line will help turn over the larger flies and give the angler the option of getting down to the deeper fish.

Retrieves should be varied, but remember to make the fly look like a wounded or dying baitfish -erratic, uncoordinated and even still. It helps to understand that kingfish often strike their prey and cut them in half only to spin around and then eat the leftovers. When retrieving the fly and a strike is missed, try slowing the retrieve and letting the kingfish turn back around. Often they will try to hit the fly again. Hook-sets should be solid, but be ready to clear the fly line from the deck in a hurry -a kingfish strike going away is tough to hold on to. Being taken down into the backing is almost a certainty.

Angling for AJs
The object of using live baits for chum is to entice the game fish up to the top and give them so much confidence that they will eat anything in sight. Amberjacks are a perfect target for this type of fishing. Generally they are schooling fish, so a large number of them can be present at any given time of year. And when AJs are in these large groups, the competition can be fierce. The ensuing melee that chumming causes will be the driving force behind successfully hooking these fish on fly. If the baitfish are on top and the big jacks are down deep, the jacks will have to chase the baitfish to the surface to feed. AJs chase these baits with such abandon that they will hit almost anything, especially flies.

I like to use live baits that I can get in large numbers. A dozen or so won’t do it -you’ll need several hundred to make a decent go of it. Alewives or menhaden are my two top choices. I can often find them in large enough concentrations to catch with a netor sabiki rig (a multihook-rigged leader consisting of about six to eight small, usually gold hooks). Baitfish size is not that important. I can fit more 2-inch baits into my livewell than I can6-inch baitfish.

Once the jacks are found, I like to start a chum line by pitching live baits over the side two or three at a time. I constantly watch for jacks or anything else to appear. Before any fish are even chummed up, I break out the teaser rod. My personal favorite is a big Yo-Zuri Chugger with all the hooks removed. I like to cast the Chugger as far as possible, then retrieve it erratically. The combined activity from the teaser and the live chum can create a very aggressive feeding frenzy in short order.

When the amberjacks come up on the teasers or live baits, I start throwing four to six live baits at a time to keep the jacks right at the boat. My choice of flies is the same for amberjacks as for kingfish -a big, bright Lefty’s Deceiver stripped fast. I have seen several jacks actually fight over a fly. You’ll often see the fish hit the fly, and hook-sets need to be solid -amberjacks have tough, thick jaws. Wire shock tippet is unnecessary, but you should use at least a 40-pound bite tippet.

Tunny Time
These high-speed gamesters are made for the fly rod. A 10-pound fish is a good one, and they fight like a fish three times their size. With their long runs, they make a perfect candidate for an8-weight fly rod. They will readily come into a chum line if they are in the area. No shock or bite leader is needed, and most any small, bright fly will work. Chartreuse-and-white Clousers ands mall Lefty’s Deceivers tied on No. 2 or 4 hooks are my favorites. Most of the time the retrieves should be fast, but sometimes little tunny like the fly to just sit there and drift slowly toward the bottom. For a real show try a popper. If the little tunny, or bonito, are excited enough, they may clear the water in an attempt to rush the fly. The fish themselves usually set the hooks, and they routinely run you into your backing.

Opportunities Abound
You never know what might appear in your chum line, so be ready for anything. Jack crevalle, bluefish, redfish, Spanish mackerel and even pompano visit these rigs, as do some prized game fish. Red snapper have occasionally frequented our chum slicks, rising completely to the surface and even busting baits there. Mangrove snapper are also an added bonus. When the snapper do come around, we use a 9- or 10-weight fly rod with a small Clouser or bonefish-style fly in tan or white. Crab flies and shrimp flies also seem to produce well. A short strip with a slow retrieve worksbest, as does a slow drift. A short bite tippet can help since snapper have rough mouths, and it is especially helpful when a big snapper heads back into the rig to escape.

Cobia offer another possibility on the rigs. In the spring and summer our beaches and offshore structures hold these fish in great numbers, so we try to keep a 12-weight rod rigged with a 5/0 or 6/0light-colored Lefty’s Deceiver. Conventional and fly-anglers alike seek cobia. Although big cobia have seen many a bait in their days, I think flies are still new to them. Tease them and feed them a fewlive ones, and these fish can get aggressive. Cast the fly a few feet in front of one, and retrieve it moderately without stopping(cobia tend to lose interest in a fly that stops moving).

Rigging for Rigs
This is aggressive fly-fishing at its best, and standard tackle includes an 11- or 12-weight fly rod as a minimum. Bigger rods canturn over and cast bigger flies easier and farther. There is also the added benefit of plenty of backbone for lifting and pulling the bigger fish out from the safety of their haunts. Fly rods with fighting fore grip are nice, too, because they make long drawn-out battles more bearable for some anglers. I try to keep at least twobig outfits ready at all times. The first one has a standard weight-forward floating fly line; the second outfit is rigged with a sinking line. My leaders are pretied with loop connections on the ends. This way I can change from a kingfish leader with a wiretrace to a leader with or without a shock tippet in a hurry.

Fly reels with quality drags are a must. The bruisers that inhabit these rigs can burn out a weaker drag quickly, as can even the smaller fish. Backing capacities should be at least 300 yards or so, even though most of these fish won’t take you out –just down. Still, it’s nice to have the backing if you hook a big king or a jack crevalle.

For a teaser I like to use big spinning outfits loaded with30-pound test. The bigger outfits can handle bigger teasers and cast them farther. Any old topwater plug will work, but we prefer a Yo-Zuri Chugger. Don’t forget to set your drag, though. More than one fish has forgotten to let go of the teaser in the confusion and has taken it into the rig never to be seen again.

 

Related Articles & Websites

A story about fishing chasing reds on the Gulf Coast flats near Orange beach.
www.hatchmag.com/articles/pressured-redfish/7715453
A cool story about fly fishing for stripers on Lay Lake.
www.gameandfishmag.com/editorial/fishing_stripers-hybrids-fishing_al_0505_01/244156

Burleson Sporting Company
P.O. Box 6305, Montgomery AL 36106, 1-800-871-5346
www.burfish.com
Mark’s Outdoor Sports
1400-B, Montgomery Highway, Birmingham, Alabama 35216, 1-877-979-6275
www.marksoutdoors.com/

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