As a primarily freshwater angler I could not help but feel intimidated by the salt.
A world known only to me by images. Some printed others in my mind.
For me it was the mangroves. Poling down that ragged edge, hunting. I poured over charts, read and reached out to anglers with experience. I was building a starting point as the place had already found me.
A brackish system containing miles of creeks, mangrove shorelines and open flats – all perfectly representing what the Florida backcountry is. These fisheries are massive and several could be fished for a lifetime and In that time you would only have a brief view of what it truly is. That view, is a privilege and the vastness is just more room for opportunity.
I started close and worked outward. You learn what areas need to have to hold fish.
These fish know exactly where they are and why they are there at any time .This world lives and dies on the tides. It dictates everything and knowing how these fish move at certain times is key. The day’s low tides would give me a glimpse of what was there and with enough time, why. Each spot had to be checked time and again. A education that takes time and that information is currency. Even on the worst day I came back with something.
Although the majority of the fish you’ll encounter are not 9wt fish a few are and that’s what I throw. My Mangrove Coast rod matched with a longer tapered bonefish line has done an incredible job of hitting fish and keeping them out of the trees. The leader is simple, #50 tapered down to #30 fluorocarbon. I will build that out to #25 when targeting crawling fish although it makes landing bigger snook very difficult. If big snook and smaller tarpon are around I’ll run a #40 or #50 bite guard. Sight fishing the flats I’ve had to drop all the way down to #15 fluorocarbon to get the take.
My two tarpon rods are both 11wts in the Mangrove Coast and the Axiom ll-X. One rigged with a match floating line and the other a match intermediate line. My leader is a straight section of #80 with a #100 bite guard. Tarpon leaning in on that 200 mark are a real opportunity and I rig to go toe to toe with that fish. If big North American GTs (Giant Trevally) are busting bait, I will run a section of #80 hard mono to a popper on the floating line rod.
I rig as heavy as I can to beat fish quickly. I believe the longer the fight lasts, the less likely the fish will survive.
Once in this world you’ll have stepped into story with no ending and that story is just now being told. Many of the anglers who made possible what we can do today are still with us. It’s that new. The innovations continue with every single push toward the edge of what can be done. That cost is so high because the reward is so great.
Once paid for it has to be respected.
Blog written by TFO Ambassador Jon Lee (@kalamazoo_river_guide). Jon spends half his year fishing and guiding in Michigan for smallmouth, carp and pike, and the other part of the year you can find him in Florida putting clients on tarpon, redfish, and snook.