DISCOVER
The Alabama Coast-
Fly Fish Orange Beach...photos and article by Bill Byrd, Jr.

Alabama's gulf coast is an incredible, but untapped southeastern fly fishing destination. Its inshore waters, estuaries, passes, and bays offer an exciting, and quietly different destination for excellent salt fly fishing. Its wonderful white sand beaches and clear warm waters will call you back for fun in the sun. Not only are there great fly fishing opportunities, your family will enjoy the great historic sites, shops, and food available in the growing area. Captain Rick Haag, owner of Southern Waters Outfitters in Orange Beach is a well known charter captain and guide based in Orange Beach, Alabama. He is one of this areas most active fly fishers, and he is one of the few guides prepared and equipped to take you fly fishing in the Orange Beach, Alabama area year 'round.

The Fishing Calendar

In January and February, fly fishing is concentrated on Spotted Seatrout holding in deep water pockets, and large spawning Red Drum up to 30 pounds, congregating in large schools just off the beaches.

By late March, Spotted Seatrout, Pompano, and Spanish Mackerel become active. Spotted Seatrout hold in deeper water around docks and grass lines, so dock fishing under the lights is good.

In April and May, sight fishing for in shore migrating Cobia averaging 35 pounds with 10 to 12 weights and LARGE flies is one of the best runs in the world. Also, 20 pound or larger King Mackerel are catchable by blind casting off shore oil rigs, or by chumming.

By June and July, all species are present, and by July, migratory fish populations build in the area with more King Mackerel and Spanish Mackerel, False Albacore, and Tarpon are migrating west on the beaches, plus Spotted Seatrout and Bluefish populations increase, through August.

From September into early November until water temperature drops below 70 degrees, fish feed heavily for winter. Spanish Mackerel, King Mackerel, and False Albacore in large, exploding schools, all feed VERY aggressively on anchovies, producing top quality near surface fly fishing action.

From late November until the following January, the main object of fly fishers is "bull" Red Drum in the 30 pound class. You'll find them in large schools smashing balls of anchovies deep on the beaches. On the lighter side, Spotted Seatrout are available in deeper water around docks and deep grass lines.

There is a commonly present population of incredibly strong Little Tunny and Amberjack available to fly fishers in these Alabama waters. VERY much like the False Albacore that make the famous fall run off the North Carolina coast, these species are available consistently throughout the year, and provide tremendous action on the fly.

Tackle

Bring a 4 to 6 weight outfit with weight forward floating or clear intermediate sinking line for spotted Seatrout, Spanish mackerel, and Ladyfish. Add a short 30 to 40 pound shock tippet for the toothy Spanish Mackerel. Bring an 8 to 10 weight for windy conditions and mid-sized fish, and a 12 weight for the largest species and heavy wind. To catch bull red drum in winter, or to chase Greater Amberjacks, and Bonito deep off shore on wrecks, bring a 10 weight outfit with 300 grain sinking line, or a 12 weight outfit with 400 grain sinking line. The 12 weight is good for rowdy Jack Crevalle, Greater Amberjacks, and Little Tunny, and 30 pound Red Drum. Have a spool of weight forward floating line, and a spool of intermediate sinking line, both with at least 200 yards of 30 pound backing. Your reel should have a strong, smooth, readily adjustable drag for fighting these strong fish. Weight forward floating line is good for fishing shallow flats; the intermediate sinking line casts well, helps keep the fly just below the surface; the 300 grain line will sink your fly sink deep for the larger fish. The 12 weight with 400 grain line will let you actually exert some measure of control over the larger, stronger fish. Strong, abrasion resistant leaders with shock tippets will turn over flies and survive sharp teeth.

Flies

Recommended flies include ever-popular Clouser minnows in chartreuse/white, orange/red, pink/white, white/white, or gray/white; the Charlie's Angel, which closely emulates local bay minnows, anchovies, or glass minnows, and any other good small bait fish imitation. Bring your most beat up minnow imitating flies for Spanish Mackerel -- they'll destroy flies fast!

Surf Fly Fishing

Early morning surf fishing on the beach is a beautiful and rewarding experience. Readily accessible, try this productive method in summer to early fall for hard tailed jack, Ladyfish, Bluefish, Spanish Mackerel, cruising Red Drum, Whiting and even Pompano. Use a stripping basket with intermediate sinking line, and cast to disturbances or explosions of fish busting bait. Grey, white, silver size-6 Clousers and Charlie's Angels are very good for the beaches. Also, night fly fishing for red drum and spotted sea trout under the plentiful dock lights can be incredible inside the intercoastal or, on the bays. Clouser minnows, Crazy Charlies, and Charlie's Angel glass minnow imitations are recommended.

Fishing deep on wrecks

On this trip, Captain Haag and I set out to find early morning red drum feeding on the beaches, but they just weren't active for this mornings activities. So we headed 7 miles off shore to a wreck which Captain Haag expected to be holding bonito and Amberjack. He WAS RIGHT!

Once his GPS showed we were on the spot, his graph painted the wreck, so he skillfully anchored the boat and we rigged. The plan was to approach this as deep subsurface fishing on the fly. We fished 200 to 300 grain Orvis depth charge lines on 6 to 8 weight rods, with six to 8 foot leaders and shock tippet. 10-weight outfits are not too big for these strong fish. We had to cast across the wreck, count down starting at 20 seconds to even 40 seconds to let the line sink the fly to the 20 to 30 feet necessary, then briskly strip back over and through the fish. The water was CLEAR, so we could see bonito and Amberjack, and their strikes were amazingly fast and strong.

Captain Haag fished his 6 weight 9 foot Orvis Trident TL rod with Orvis depth charge 200 grain line, and I fished my Orvis 8 weight Trident TL with 300 grain line. We only had to cast 50 to 60 feet for this style of fishing. This is just like fishing for suspended stripers in big impoundments subsurface fishing the fly. Captain Haag showed his skill by hooking, fighting and landing a bonito on his 6 weight. That took some time, and was a real feat! The biggest problem was keeping the hooked fish from diving back into the wreck to break us off. That is one reason BIG tackle could pay off in this situation.

I caught my biggest amberjack, a STRONG 10 pounder this morning. Once I hooked up, and in 3 seconds I was into backing, I realized that a 10-weight rod would about put me dead even with this fish, and maybe a 12-weight would be enough to exert some control over him. Once my reel quit screaming, I started trying to get some line back. After a few minutes of pumping and reeling, the tired fish came to the boat and Captain Haag netted him for quick photos and a good release.

After several fish, and a wonderful time, we headed back to the marina. If you have never experienced the power and thrill of one of these fish on the fly, it will be WELL worth your effort! These species are amazingly strong.

Tips
Casting: Learn to use the wind to help you cast better. Make your forward cast into the wind, then shoot the line downwind over your shoulder to your target. This way, the wind will help to shoot your line into position.

Landing "fork tailed" fish: when landing Bonito, Little Tunny, Amberjack, Crevalle Jack, False Albacore, the mackerels, lift fish with a boga grip, a net, or lift with your leader. This will protect your rod.

Preparations

Fly fish the beaches and passes, but hire an experienced fly fishing guide like Captain Haag who has the right boats, the knowledge, and the right tackle to help you focus on catching the many species available in this area. Your learning experience will be worth the guide fee, and you will avoid the many pitfalls of trying to fly fish unfamiliar waters and conditions. Captain Haag has vessel licenses, so you will be covered by his license while you are on his charter. Otherwise, you can order your license by phone, or see a local tackle store.

Fly to Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach, or Mobile. From Atlanta, expect about a 6 hour drive to the area. To the east is historic Pensacola, the nearby Naval Air Museum, forts, Beach Gulf Islands National Seashore, many other natural areas all along the coast. To the west is Mobile, Mobile Bay, the USS Alabama, Ft. Morgan, and much more. Everywhere, you find good seafood.

______________________________

Top quality guide service from: Captain Rick Haag Charters/guide service - Southern Waters Outfitters, Orange Beach, Alabama Phone 251-923-6384.

Alabama fishing license by phone: 1-888 347-4356


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