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Feature: Spinner Sharks, and a Little History About Sharks and Flies

By Grant Gisondo with Sidebar by Norman Duncan

On a gray Sunday afternoon sitting at my desk, I witness the first of several cold fronts roll into South Florida. The temperature dropped 15 degrees in a matter of a few hours. The wind switched from 20 miles per hour out of the northeast to a steady 10 miles per hour out of the northwest.

What does this mean for fly fishing in the Jupiter and Palm Beach area?

Capt, Scott Hamilton demonstrating techniques. Notice rod he uses has a fighting grip and it’s a 14-weight. Some big female spinners are over 100-pounds and make a 100-pound tarpon feel like a goldfish in comparison. Gisondo photo.

It means the spinner sharks are here and active! But what I don’t know is does a northwest wind after a cool front passes change the hordes of spinner sharks from breeding mode to feeding mode? Now I understand because yesterday I attended Capt. Scott Hamilton’s (www.flyfishingextremes.com/) lecture at Ole Florida Fly Shop. Capt. Scott spent the better part of two hours discussing the most intimate secrets and tactics of successfully catching spinner sharks on a fly. Scott virtually invented the techniques and flies and is credited by every legitimate area captain as the guru of spinners on a fly.

NOTE: some years, like last year, they’re scant few spinners and in other years, like 2010, they’re thick well north of Vero Beach, but the Palm Beach area is always Mecca.

The lecture was made up of a small group of maybe a dozen of us. Capt. Scott captivated us all with his knowledge of every aspect of fly fishing for spinners: flies, tackle, knots, leaders, locating fish, fighting techniques, safely landing and releasing these energetic sharks. The best part about it is that all this action takes place in around 25-feet of water, so the need for large boats and large amounts of fuel is eliminated. This is great because gas prices are not gas engine friendly for boaters.

Darren, on the left, (proprietor of Ole Florida Fly Shop) and Capt. Scot Hamilton pose for Grant Gisondo post spinner lecture.

Ole Florida Fly Shop, located in Boca Raton is truly a one stop shop for the fresh and water water fly fishermen. Ole Florida is run by Darren Selznick and has an entire room dedicated to fly tying materials, flies, rods, reels and terminal tackle. While the other room is dedicated to any clothing item a local or traveling angler could ever need. After Capt. Scott’s lecture, I was ready to get out there and make some casts for these fish. Darren took the time to set me up with all the tying materials I needed to tie up some of Scott’s shark flies. I was out the door and on my way to my marina.

It was a fun, educational and an enjoyable Saturday based around a a remarkable fishery. I would personally like to offer a person thank you to Capt. Scott for offering his knowledge on the subject and Darren for running a great fly shop. For those of you who would be interested in learning about fly fishing for spinners in the Palm Beach area, I strongly advise contacting Scott. Book  him as soon as possible and give it a try – learn the ropes, even if you have a boat because running over any fish in shallow water ruins a fishery faster than you can say sh&t. Scott has a long list of repeat clients that come from all over the US, Canada and south of the border.

Here’s the ammo. Like so many before Hamilton found out, you can use any color fly you want on a shark as long as it’s red / dark orange. Gisondo photo.

Some years, like last year, they’re scant few and in other years, like 2010, they were thick well north of Vero Beach, but the Palm Beach area is always Mecca.

Not an uncommon site at all when the spinners are in town. Another good spinner guide in the Palm beaches is Capt. Ron Doerr ( www.captainronbiteme.com/ ). You can catch them from the shore, but you’ll need a 14-weight outfit and a top of the line fly reel with steel shock and the toughest leader material made.

 

Information!

Orange SHARK FLIES – A little History

By Norman Duncan

Note: Norman Duncan, John Emery (deceased), Chico Fernandez and Flip Pallot attended the University of Miami in the early 1960’s, since then they have become legends fly fishing in South Florida and the Keys. Norman invented the Duncan Loop, which was renamed the uni-knot by an outdoor writer. He also invented the “outside fly” that later became known as the deceiver.

Around 1955, John Emery came into the tackle store where I worked building custom rods and repairing reels. Since he was also interested in fly fishing, we became fishing buddies. We would take his Triumph TR3 or my Volvo PV544 and drive out the Tamiami Trail to fish the canals on the west coast or go down to the Florida Keys to fish road side flats and the canals in new housing developments. Occasionally, if we headed back early in the afternoon we would stop at the roadside just north of the Jewfish Creek Bridge to wade the flats along Barnes Sound. At that time there was a fish house on pilings out in the Barnes Sound called “Manatee Smoked Fish”, they also sold fresh fish and turtle meat. We found that they slaughtered the turtles and fish then at night then threw the carcasses out the back door into the sound. Even driving by we could see the small bonnet and lemon sharks cruising these beautiful white sandy flats. We would buy the best smoked fish from their market and find out when they were going to dump a load.

While fishing the canals and channels we often used the orange/yellow streamer fly that had been recently developed for tarpon by Kay Brodney and Jim Adams, usually we tied a shock leader on the tippet, sometimes with wire. If we didn’t re-rig we would use some of these same flies when we waded these flats.  We soon found that the sharks and barracudas would respond best to the orange/red flies, we thought that these colors best imitated the carnage that they were feeding on from the smokehouse. At about this time I read a report that the US Navy had tested several different life rafts out in the ocean by dropping them all well offshore. When they came back a week later they found that the rafts from one of the manufacturers had one side ripped apart apparently by sharks. It turned out that this manufacture had their specifications written on an orange patch at the waterline! John and I were not at all surprised at this finding.

In the early 1960s Little John and I joined some of the local fishing clubs, the members were keen on learning as much as they could about all aspects of light tackle fishing, especially salt water fly fishing. When the subject of how to get the normally near sighted sharks to respond to a fly we recommended using orange/red streamer flies since we had found them to be the most effective. At this time I caught my first sizable barracuda (9-pounds) with this orange fly while wading the flats behind Big Torch Key. From there this concept took off in the fly fishing circles, although I still don’t know for sure if Little John and I were the ones to first introduce this fly pattern to saltwater fly fishing.

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