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By Grant Gisondo

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]was sitting on the second floor of a private home in Key West. My tying vise was in front of me, a cold drink on my right and a halfway smoked cigar barely burning on the left. The sun was setting and soon Duval Street would become the tourist’s main attraction. I was reflecting back on my horrible day on the water. I watched blackfin tuna all around me hitting small bait, but could not get tight on a single fish. I began to ask myself the dreaded question we have all asked…Why am I not catching any fish?

Blackfin tuna oil of Key West. photo by Capt. Justin Rea

For me, that day, the answer was simple my 40-pound leader attached to the fly was overkill and I should have been using 25-pound leader like everyone else who spent the day catching fish. So why didn’t I change the leader? I forgot to bring some. *&%^ happens!

Scale down your leaders when everyone is hooking up but you for some reason are not. The opposite also applies. If you are getting hits but only losing fly’s scale up your leaders until you start landing fish. You should always have a good range of leaders with you when heading offshore. It’s better to have something there when you need it, than need it and not have it.

From my Key West excursion on, I pick a size of leader and began to fish with it, as the day continues based upon hook ups, break offs or lack thereof, I scale up or down on my leader. Also, keep in mind that as the day continues fish may become leader shy. In the morning the fish may readily take a fly with a 30-pound leader but later in the day you have to scale back to 20-pound.

I have also discovered that when fishing a full sinking line or any line deep under the surface you can get away with a much heavier leader than when fishing an intermediate or floating line. The deeper the line goes the less light is in the water and the harder it is for the fish to see your leader.

Another reason you might not be catching fish is line selection. You should ask yourself, “Is my fly at the target depth?” Almost every day offshore I began my day fishing with a sinking line until either the fish come up to the surface or near the surface and then I switch to an intermediate line. A full sinking line (4-8 ips) allows you to fish at many different depths. I prefer to cast a bit up current of the boat and count how long I let the line sink for. For example: Cast one, 10 seconds deep; cast two, 20 seconds deep and so on. If I get a strike I will know approximately how deep the fish are holding.

Pay attention to your retrieve. I start with a moderate single handed retrieve than will move to a fast double handed retrieve and also frequently use a very slow, almost “jiggy” type retrieve. You will be surprised how many strikes will be brought on when a retrieve is altered. Again, your retrieve may need to change as the day continues and target species preferences change.

Now the obvious problem-your fly.  This has been said many times-Match the Hatch. If the fish are hitting glass minnows throw a Clouser Minnow. If they are hitting bunker, throw a pattern with the same size a profile. Many times the profile is more important than the color of the fly. If you are throwing what the fish are eating and are still not catching fish try a totally different kind of pattern. Sometimes when there is a lot of bait in the water your fly will get lost and the fish can’t see it. For example, if big snook are hitting mullet and I’m not getting bites with a mullet pattern, I would throw a bright flashy deceiver, which will really stand out against acres of mullet.

When fish are on large bait schools try to land the fly on the edges of the school as that’s likely where the game fish are swimming around the bait to keep it in a tight “ball.” Of course, if you can see the targeted species swimming around the bait try landing the fly right in front of them.

Try some of my suggestions and let me know if they work for you.

Tight Lines,



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P.S. Ms. Rudolph-If I misquoted you on my last blog-you have my apologies. Please also accept my condolences on your recent loss.


Sideshow ugly with a good personality. Old enough to know what an record album is.

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