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Flats fishing in Florida for…Catfish?!

We just took a quick vacation to Florida, and or course, had to bring along a fly rod.

The initial goal was to fly fish in the surf and see what species we could find. Unfortunately, two days of our stay were red-flag conditions and the final day was double-red-flag conditions. The wind and surf, combined with the algae and the grass, made it virtually impossible to fish the surf.

A leather jack, or leatherjacket, is a species that has venemous spines on its doral and ventral sides. Learned that one the hard way!

The coolest discovery in the exploration of the Panhandle's coast was some gorgeous, white sand flats that reminded me of my time in Belize chasing bonefish. Unfortunately, we were too far north for bonefish, but that didn't stop me from scanning the flats for fish.

When exploring one particular calm flat, it didn't take too long for a fish to show itself. At the time, I wasn't sure what species it was, other than that it was a very dark fish. I hoped that it would respond to a very fast clouser minnow swimming past it, but that unfortunately scared the fish, but he didn't leave the flat. I kept pestering him and he kept refusing, and I was worried that I had blown my only shot at a fish on this flat.

The shadow of a catfish moving up the flat

But as I continued to push along with the outgoing tide, I saw more and more fish pushing up the flat in singles, groups of 2, and groups of 3. I had a shot at a single who was coming directly up the flat at me, and I decided to throw my shrimp pattern about 15 feet ahead of him and let it sink. I did and slowly twitched it along the bottom near him. The fish seemed to be heading in the right direction, and my heart started to race in anticipation. He continued to move closer and closer to where I thought my fly was until one strip and he was on. He didn't give the exceptional fight I expected from a flats fish, and I was slightly surprised when I brought him to hand: a hard-headed catfish, a saltwater catfish.

You would have thought that after leaving Iowa, the land of catfish, that I would have avoided catfish at all costs; but I rather enjoyed the saltwater relative of the channel catfish. Over the course of an hour, I landed a handful of these catfish sight-fishing the flats of Florida. Many native Floridians find these catfish to be a nuisance, but in my opinion, they were a great target for the fly angler.

Fishing Report

Back in Iowa, the water temperatures are increasing and river levels are dropping.

Click here for the Iowa DNR's Fishing Report (06/22/2023)

Local Reservoirs: Expect weekend boat traffic. Avoid weekends if you expect a quiet outing on the water.

Local Ponds: Bass and bluegill are generally done spawning (though bluegill can spawn multiple times per year) and water temperatures are rapidly increasing. Weed and algae growth on the edges of many ponds makes fishing difficult in many ponds around the state through mid-summer, but if you can cast far, the ponds can still be a good option.

Des Moines River: Water clarity is good, and levels are dropping. Having less water doesn't necessarily bode well for the fish, but it does concentrate the fish more and make them easier to find. Look for the deepest parts of the river and focus on structure.

Get in touch with us to book a fly fishing trip in Iowa!


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