Salomone: Don’t forget the freaks |

Salomone: Don’t forget the freaks

Michael Salomone
Vail Valley Anglers
Peacock bass on the fly.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy photo

I have been fortunate enough over the years to travel to many warm climate environments as soon as the ski season ends. The “off season” seems to have blurred away over the years into a growing year round busy cycle. However my family still plans vacations every year.

The travels challenge me as I seek some type of fly angling wherever the destination.

When an email arrived from a magazine editor a few weeks ago with questions about the fly angling I do in Florida I had to immediately refocus my angling itinerary. The fish I chase with a fly rod in south Florida are labeled non-natives, invasives, aliens. They are my freaks.

Rex Hannon and tilapia.
Rex Hannon/Courtesy photo

I reached out to a fellow fly-rodding friend in Florida, Rex Hannon. Rex has published numerous articles in a variety of magazines surrounding his adventures chasing anything that bites on a fly. His target area starts in Jensen Beach, Florida and moves south. The variety of fish we catch together on the fly is astounding. Fish from far off locations like Brazil, Costa Rica and Indonesia all thrive in the interconnected waterways of south Florida. We are pushing our angling into new water, chasing abnormal species and doing it all on the fly. Every adventure dances on the fringe of fly fishing cool.

South Florida is a mecca for fly anglers looking to scratch off some difficult-to-catch freshwater species. Peacock Bass, Snakeheads, Mayan Cichlids and more inhabit the water of southern Florida right alongside native species like largemouth bass, bluegills and crappie. I sent Rex some questions to prepare ourselves for this June.

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What bucket list fish can fly anglers cross off their list around Jensen Beach?

A. Jensen Beach is a little too far North for the majority of the exotic/invasive species that garner most of the attention. But Tilapia, most notably the Blue Tilapia are found here and the IGFA All Tackle World Record was caught here in Stuart, Florida.

B. Mayan Cichlids are an amazing species. They are very aggressive and are one of the pound-for-pound greatest fighters I have ever caught. They have earned the nickname of the ‘Atomic Sunfish’ due to their colors and their nasty, aggressive disposition.

What are your favorite invasive species to pursue on the fly?

A. My favorite species would be the butterfly peacock bass, but I have to travel south to find them in any numbers.

B.The Mayan Cichlid would have to be considered my favorite simply due to the great numbers found here. They will eagerly and aggressively take a fly and fight like few other fish in their size class.

Do you have specific flies just for targeting invasives?

A. I don’t even have to put much thought into that question, the clouser minnow! I always make sure I am well stocked with this pattern in several weights and sizes.

B. A gurgler pattern in several colors and sizes is another must have.

What is your recommended gear for chasing invasive species in south Florida?

A. I prefer and carry a 9′ 8wt outfit because the waters I haunt can harbor anything from Slot Snook and Juvenile Tarpon to Record Class Tilapia and Big Largemouth Bass. I find it better to be prepared for whatever you may encounter. Even the one pound Cichlids will test this outfit.

Can you give the readers a common on-foot location to chase some invasive species in your area?

A. South Florida is an amazing region and has some of the most diverse and available fishing water anywhere in the world. South Florida is a fisherman’s paradise.

What do you want anglers to know about fly fishing for invasive species in Florida?

A. I can’t stress enough just how much amazing fishing is available to the average angler here. It wasn’t long ago when an angler that wanted to target these species would have to spend a small fortune and travel to exotic locations and need a passport. Now they can be here in South Florida from anywhere in the country in just a few short hours. Just get out there.

South Florida has become an old haunt for me over the years. The list of crazy fish Rex and I have caught on the fly surprises me at times. Purposely targeting the invasive species in south Florida with only flies is a challenge and a thrill. When it comes to fly fishing travel, don’t forget the freaks.


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