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Inshore saltwater fly-fishing surprises!

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Fly fishing for inshore saltwater species has become very popular along the South Atlantic and Gulf coasts in recent years. Most of the activity centers on species such as bonefish, redfish, seatrout, snook and tarpon.

There are, however, a number of other fish that often are hooked while pursuing the glamour species and can also be targeted. In fact, most saltwater fish can be taken with a fly under certain conditions.

Let's have a look a five that turn up regularly on the end of fly-casters lines, but upon which few anglers focus. Any of these can provide great sport on light fly-casting gear and often are found very near shore.

Inshore saltwater fly casting
Inshore saltwater fly casting Jimmy Jacobs

Inshore saltwater fly casting

Targeting inshore saltwater fish has become quite popular along the southeastern and Gulf coasts. But, it can hold some surprises when it comes to what you find has taken your fly!

Polly Dean casting from the deck of the boat of Capt. Tommy Thompson at Steinhatchee, Florida. 

Mangrove Snapper
Mangrove Snapper Jimmy Jacobs

Mangrove Snapper

Many inshore anglers know mangrove snappers - also called grey snappers - as bait stealers. Most of these fish are 12 inches long or less, and experts as taking shrimp from anglers hooks.

On the other hand, these snappers can reach weights of 10 pounds and more. They also are susceptible to flies fished around subsurface structure and debris.

Small shrimp imitations can get their attention. Bonefish flies like the Crazy Charlie work well on them.

Mangrove snappers are plentiful, usually found in schools and are quite tasty on the dinner table.

Bluefish Polly Dean


Bluefish are commonly thought of as being cold water fish caught from the surf on the northeast coast of the nation. But, they also are found all along the southern coasts in bays, sounds and tidal creeks. 

The difference in the fish is one of size. Blues of 12 to 14 pounds are common in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states, but from South Carolina around to Texas, 3- to 4-pounders more likely are the big fish.

Traveling in packs, the toothy critters attack just about anything in the water. Flashy streamers, spoon flies and noisy topwater flies all attract bluefish.

Sheepshead Jimmy Jacobs


Sheepshead also are known as stealthy bait stealers. In fact, the way most veteran anglers explain the best tactic to catch one is to set the hook before it bites!

But when sheepshead are feeding on shallow flats, they can be targeted with flies. Small shrimp or crab patterns are the ticket, and the fish are far easier to hook than when bait fishing.

Inshore sheepshead often reach weights of 2 to 5 pounds.

Cero Mackerel
Cero Mackerel Polly Dean

Cero Mackerel

Cero mackerel are closely related to their cousins the Spanish mackerel. While the Spanish has gold spots along its side, the cero is easily identified by its gold dashes.

Known mainly as an open-water species, ceros can be found in channels running through shallow near-shore flats. They are most common in the warm waters of South Florida.

Traveling in schools, these fish readily attack streamer flies. The brighter the colors of the fly, the better to attract cero mackerel.

Barracuda Jimmy Jacobs


These fish feature wicked sets of teeth and can grow to 4 feet long and pushing 80 pounds. But the ones that offer the best sport on a fly rod are 18 to 30 inches long and found on shallow flats or around near-shore structure.

Using wire leaders often is suggested for the species, but that cuts down on strikes from the surprisingly wary fish. But, ripping a topwater skipping bug across the surface on a monofilament leader drives them crazy. The strikes from the cudas are violent and spectacular.

Often the fish cuts the leader on the strike, but you can wade or boat over, pick up your fly and retie it to the line. If, however, you hook the cuda in the corner of the mouth, the leader usually stays away from the teeth and the fish can be boated or landed.