Winter in the Keys is an amazing time to fish the flats and backcountry. Cool, clear water and cloudless, blue skies make for a beautiful setting to hunt fish in shallow water. Tarpon are few and far between. Bonefish and permit are around for sure, but sometimes (a lot of the time) they are quite illusive.
This time of year, some of the best sight fishing on the flats is for large, laid up barracudas. When it comes to an exciting stalk, an amazing strike, and long fast runs after the bite, these fish are hard to beat. And when the tide starts to flood sand flats, you can get many shots at these aggressive feeders.
Just because they are aggressive feeders, does not mean that barracudas are an easy fish to catch. They are not indiscriminate hunters that eat everything that swims around them. They are a very spooky fish, and a stealthy approach will greatly increase your odds of success.
I also tell my clients that the key to fishing for barracudas is distance and speed. Your lure needs to land well past the fish you are casting to, at an angle that it will cross in its line of sight. Too many times, a cast will land right next to the fish. If that doesn’t blow the fish out, it certainly will not have enough time to catch the bait before it reaches the rod tip.
Speed is imperative to trigger a strike. Keep the rod tip low, point it at the lure and reel as fast as you possibly can. I tell my guys that they can’t possibly reel too fast. When you have one start to follow, do not slow your retrieve. I have never seen a mullet or ballyhoo slow down when it is being chased. If you decrease your speed, it seems unnatural and the fish will turn off the bait.
Once you get one hooked, get ready for a great fight. You have to keep the rod bent and the line tight, because a barracuda will change direction in an instant. It will be running from you at full speed, and then, somehow, turn 180 degrees and fly through the air, almost land in the boat, and then, go straight under it, all in a matter of seconds.
Fight them hard with maximum pressure so you can get them to the boat quickly. Barracudas exert so much energy during the fight, so they wear out rather quickly. Carefully unhook them, snap a quick picture, and take the time to revive them. Just tossing them back into the water greatly decreases survivability.
As far as lure choices go, the tube lure, in many colors, is the standard. If it is very windy, I will use the old silver spoon, or a waxwing with a short trace of wire and a swivel twisted on.
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