As I stood on the bow of a Palometa Club panga which bobbed heartily in the chop running across Mexico's Ascension Bay, stiff 9 weight doubled over and my arm aching from battling the barracuda that was leashed to the end of my line, I thought mostly about landing the monster that had been thrashing about at the end of the line threatening to unbutton the jam knot on the wire leader that held on my fly. We'd been at it for almost 20 minutes and the barracuda showed no signs of tiring. Having not gotten a great look at the fish before it emerged from the depths to attack the gaudy fly I had been stripping through the water at the fastest pace I could manage, I was eager to see the beast. Surely it had to be 20 pounds. Possibly 30.
Truth be told, I had missed the cuda was battling. It came upon the boat quickly, and by the time we fumbled the appropriate rod out its holder, the fish had passed. As I started to slide the rod back into its holder, my guide Antonio shouted, hurrying me to get a cast launched and the fly into the water. So I turned and raised the rod, ready to fire a cast at the no-longer-visible fish's tail, or at least where I presumed it would be. "No, no! That way!" He pointed at 10 o' clock off the bow, which was virtually in the opposite direction the fish was headed. A jovial exchange of profanities ensued and, after the target was confirmed, I launched the best cast I could in what seemingly anyone would consider the absolute wrong direction. "Now strip! As fast as you can. No! Faster!".
Seconds later, shouts of "It's coming! It's coming." emerged from both Antonio and my boat mate, Chris. My eyes searched for my fly in the water and as they located it, the barracuda -- which had performed almost a 180 degree turn and dove beneath the panga on its way to attack -- torpedoed from below at an almost incomprehensible speed and exploded from the surface with the fly in its mouth.
After about 25 minutes, the cuda called it quits and we boated it. The monster that had tugged us about with feverish runs and unexpected power turned out to be a roughly six pound barracuda. Six. The fish was still an impressive sight, but certainly not the behemoth I had been imagining as my reel screamed and my arm begged for relief during our extended battle. As it was my first encounter with a barracuda, I was shocked by the power that came from a relatively small fish and my mind quickly turned to wondering why we hadn't been spending more time seeking out these monsters.
Unlike most flats anglers, we had at least been prepared. We had a cuda rod -- a hardy, stiff rod with a heavy leader and wire tippet attached, reserved specifically for barracuda -- rigged all week. But it only came out when we stumbled upon a barracuda and there wasn't more "legitimate" quarry around. We hadn't been seeking them out.
But why? Barracuda are voracious, powerful predators that attack a fly with abandon. The fact is, however, that anglers seldom hit the flats in search of barracuda. Most anglers ignore them entirely, opting to focus on chasing bonefish, permit or tarpon even when the action for those species is few and far between. I talked to other anglers that had encounters with barracuda and their experiences mimicked or exceeded my own.
I left with the impression that anglers who travel far and wide to land themselves on sunny tropical flats were missing out by not dedicating some of their fishing time to barracuda. But as a relative greenhorn on the flats, what did I know? So I decided to put the question to folks who make their living putting people on fishy flats. Here's what they said.
Here in the Bahamas, many of our clients do in fact rig up for barracuda. Most carry a spare 9 or 10 weight rod locked and loaded with a wire leader and a popper or needle fish fly. Should a big 'cuda come strolling by, they may switch out from their bonefish rig and make a shot. However, rarely do we see anyone devote their entire day to targeting barracuda on the flats.
I think the majority of our clientele on South Andros are reluctant to stray too far from their 'trophy bonefish program.' Would they like a hero shot with a big toothy barracuda? Of course! But not necessarily at the cost of hunting for that double digit bonefish. Nonetheless, every few weeks or so, we have a client or two devote a day to fishing for barracuda. Sure enough, come cocktail hour, these days are usually the talk of the camp!
To some degree, I think there is a little 'angler ego' to blame for why more people don't target barracuda as regularly as other species as well. As anglers, we like the idea of catching the most elusive species on a fly. Although for some reason, barracuda seem to have been labeled 'easy to catch,' as if there is not enough of a challenge to pursue them. This could not be further from the truth. Barracuda are known for refusing a fly after its first look, and stripping a fly fast enough to entice a 'cuda is no easy task! Not to mention keeping them on once you do get the eat!
If it were up to the guides however, I believe we'd see a lot more 'cuda specific days. Around here, a big barracuda is a meal (or several), and we rarely see a barracuda over three feet returned to the flats.
-- Kyle Shea - Andros South, Bahamas | Deneki Outdoors
Barracuda are the most underrated and overlooked sports fish to target while flats fishing. They run, jump, and provide all the excitement necessary to make them a fish worth pursuing. However, they are all too often overlooked.
Why? Good question. For those of us on the Turneffe Atoll, they are overlooked simply because of the other three species that anglers target: bonefish, permit, and tarpon. Those are far and away the top three species while fishing on Turneffe. In particular, bonefish and permit capture guests’ imaginations and become what might be termed an addiction – not a bad addiction – a very good one! It’s not that anglers don't want to pursue barracuda, it is more that they don't have the time; they keep their focus on the task at hand – hunting bonefish and permit.
I encourage anyone to bring a barracuda setup on their next flats trip. They are an absolute blast to catch and will eat a well-presented baitfish pattern or even a top water popper.
-- Cameron Davenport - Turneffe Flats, Turneffe Atoll, Belize
Why anglers don’t consider a happy barracuda a welcome target while on the flats is always a bit of a mystery. I suppose it is their top-of-the-food chain attitude that is misunderstood. Barracuda have few predators to worry about and associate a flats skiffs with a hanging bonefish as an easy meal. For these reasons they hang around, seldom spook, and will often follow you around with curiosity even when your cover is blown. I understand how this behavior can easily be confused as a unsophisticated or a less gratifying trophy, but they are not always easy to trick on a fly. Even at the height of boredom when targeting the more traditional species, barracuda can offer a bend in the rod, a ferocious eat, a few laughs, and some gnarly photos.
-- David Leake - Palometa Club, Ascension Bay, Mexico | Tailwaters Fly Fishing