Fly Fishing for Ladyfish – an Underrated Species!

fly fishing for ladyfish

Fly Fishing for Ladyfish – an Underrated Species!

This article will thoroughly cover fly fishing for ladyfish. Ladyfish are and underrated game fish species in my opinion. They strike savagely, leap high out of the water multiple times, are fast, and are a beautiful silvery fish. What more could an angler ask for?

My name is Capt. Jim Klopfer and I am a fly fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida. I target a wide variety of species on my trips. Whether targeted or not, ladyfish are often caught by anglers casting flies in our local waters.

Fly fishing for ladyfish

fly fishing for ladyfish

As mentioned above, ladyfish or an underappreciated species that are found in the warmer saltwater fisheries in the United States. Some anglers go so far is to consider them a nuisance. Others strictly use them as live or cut bait. Pound for pound, I’m not sure that there are any other fish that are as much fun to catch on fly as ladyfish.

Ladyfish school in large numbers and can be found throughout inshore waters along with passes and inlets and out on the beaches. They are seldom found very far offshore. I am positive that the fact that they school in large numbers attributes to their aggressiveness as natural competition takes place.

fly fishing for ladyfish

Ladyfish are an excellent species to target for novice anglers. I often use them as a “training” fish due to the fact that they are so aggressive and will readily take a fly. Also, larger ladyfish put up a great fight and will often get on the reel. If one escapes, it is no big deal as there are usually plenty more to catch. This is especially true when they are found feeding aggressively on the surface.

Best tackle for fly fishing for ladyfish

I use the same tackle when fly fishing for ladyfish as I do for my other inshore fishing. A 7wt or 8wt outfit with an intermediate sink tip line is perfect for most situations. Ladyfish do not grow larger than several pounds so no need to go heavier on the tackle. The 8wt does come in handy on a breezy day or when a heavier fly is required to get down to the fish.

Spanish mackerel fishing flies

Fly selection is pretty simple as well. I use a Clouser Minnow pattern on the majority of my fly fishing charters in Sarasota. It is a versatile fly that can be worked throughout the entire water column and catches everything. On days when Spanish mackerel and bluefish are mixed in, I use a D.T. Special variation with a long shank hook that helps reduce cutoffs.

Once again, I use the same leaders when fly fishing for ladyfish as I do when fly fishing for other inshore species. Anglers can use a tapered leader with an 18 inch piece of 30 pound bite tippet. I often use a simple leader consisting of 4 feet of 50 pound test and 4 feet of 30 pound test fluorocarbon. Since I am almost always using weighted flies, there is no issue with the leader turning over.

Fly fishing for ladyfish on the deep flats

catching ladyfish on a fly rod

The most productive technique when fly fishing for ladyfish, at least in my area, is drifting the deep grass flats. These are large areas between 5 feet deep and 10 feet deep with submerged vegetation. The grass or vegetation is the key, as it attracts the forage such as shrimp, crabs, and small bait fish that the ladyfish feed on.

This is a fairly simple technique that anglers can use when fly fishing to catch ladyfish and a variety of other species. As the boat drifts across the flat with the wind and the tide, anglers cast the fly out ahead of the boat. The fly and line are allowed to sink and are then retrieved back into the boat.

fly fishing

In most cases, a fast aggressive retrieves works best. Hard 12 inch to 18 inch strips followed by a pause will usually draw the most strikes. At times, the primary challenge can be actually stripping the fly fast enough. Ladyfish are very aggressive and in many cases the angler stripping the fly as fast as he or she can will produce the best results.

If the drift produces, the boat can be idled around and then repeated. If not, time to look for another spot. Ladyfish school in fairly large numbers in many cases, and wants some action is found that area should be worked thoroughly. They may also be encountered feeding on the surface as they corral a bunch of helpless bait fish.

fly fishing for speckled trout

The added bonus when fly fishing for ladyfish on the deep grass flats is that anglers will almost certainly encounter other species as well. The same flies and retrieves that produce ladyfish will catch Spanish mackerel, speckled trout, bluefish, pompano, jack crevalle, and other species.

Read more about fly fishing for speckled trout

Fly fishing for ladyfish in passes and inlets

Ladyfish will often times be found in big numbers in passes and inlets. “Pass” is just a term used on the Gulf Coast for an inlet, they are for all effect the same thing. Passes and inlets are natural feeding stations as water flow is fast between the inshore bays and the open Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.

The primary challenge anglers face when fly fishing passes and inlets for ladyfish is getting the fly deep enough. Often times the water is deeper, up to 15 or 20 feet, and when combined with a fairly strong current, getting the fly deep enough can be a challenge. The good news is that ladyfish often feed high up in the water column.

fly fishing for ladyfish

Anglers can certainly use a sinking line as well. I have a 350 grain sinking line on a nine weight that will get the fly down to the bottom and deep water and in a strong current. However, this is not the easiest line for novice anglers to use. The entire line must be brought up out of the water, roll cast, then cast out. It is a bit “clunky” for those not used to fishing with heavy sinking lines, but can be extremely effective when fish are in deeper water.

As when fishing the flats, anglers fly fishing for ladyfish in the passes and inlets will do best with a fast, aggressive retrieves. Toothy fish species such as bluefish and Spanish mackerel are often found in these locations as well. If cutoffs occur, anglers can bump up the bite tippet to 40 pounds or 50 pounds or even go to a short trace of wire. This is one situation where my D.T. Special variation tied on a long shank hook works well.

Fly fishing for ladyfish off the beach

fly fishing off the beach

Anglers fly fishing for ladyfish can certainly catch them without the aid of a boat as well. In most cases, the best opportunity for this is to do so right off the beach. Ladyfish will often be found within a cast from shore, especially in the warmer months when bait fish are abundant. Late spring, summer, and early fall are generally the best times to experience this action.

Anglers can walk the beach in search of fish or blind cast for them. There are times when one technique will be more effective than the other. Obviously, it is great fun casting into schools of breaking fish. However, there will be plenty of times when the fish will not be seen feeding on the surface. Anglers should never pass up an opportunity when schools of bait fish are seen, as ladyfish and other game fish will often be found close by.

fishing Spanish mackerel

As with other types of fly fishing for ladyfish, fast aggressive retrieves work best. Also, anglers can expect to catch other species such as Spanish mackerel, bluefish, jacks, speckled trout, and even snook. White is usually the best color in clear water.

In conclusion, this article on fly fishing for ladyfish will help anglers catch more of these under appreciated hard fighting little game fish They did not not earn their nickname “poor man’s tarpon”for nothing!

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