Sunday, January 27, 2013

Barracuda: A Couple Techniques for this Great Gamefish!

Tosh Brown Photo
Tosh Brown Photo

Many flats fishermen behave as if barracuda were a second rate species. They might deign to cast to a 'cud a with a spinning rod or troll for one with a fly rod when the bonefishing is slow, but flats fishermen rarely target barracuda. I'm not sure I understand why.
Barracuda are awesome critters and a very underrated flat's species. They are faster than bonefish (that's how they catch them), extremely powerful and super aggressive. I've watched a 'cuda pursue a bonefish for what must have been an eternity for the bonefish. The duo rocketed back and forth from very shallow water (where the bonefish gained ground) to waist deep channels (the 'cuda would quickly gain ground here. The bonefish eventually escaped with quick turns... the barracuda couldn't match the radius of the turn). It was an awesome display of speed, power and agility, from both prey and predator.

Barracuda can be quite challenging to catch on a fly rod. Barracuda have great vision and can easily spot a phony... until they get their blood up. Then they become super aggressive to the point of maniacal. Barracuda eats are amazing, if not a bit scary! After the take, all hell breaks loose as a 'cuda's first run is almost guaranteed to go directly to your backing and they usually get there with a series of powerful broad jumps. Barracuda are often overlooked, but I'm convinced this is because we are all just a wee-bit scared of them. We spend our time with the bones. They are a more genteel species and we are more comfortable pursuing th "grey ghost" than Hannibal Lecter. With 'cudas, we're not entirely in control. We're not sure who is the hunter and who is the hunted. But if you need a shot of adrenaline and a quick gut check, try a 'cuda. 

Here are a couple of my favorite techniques for 'cuda's:

The Long Distance Reach Out and Touch Someone Technique: 

For many anglers, barracuda are a very frustrating fish to catch on a fly rod. Intelligent predators, barracudas will often follow flies, but they just as often won’t eat the fly. So try this trick for getting hits instead of follows: 

1.) Once you've found your fish, try to put your fly between the sun and fish. This way the fish must look into the sun to see the fly. He will see it, but just not real well. Fish have no eyelids, or sunglasses to keep the sun out of their eyes.

2.) Don’t cast directly at the fish. Bait doesn't fall out of the sky on top of a predator. Instead, lay the fly 40’ feet or so in front of the fish. Don’t worry, the 'cuda will see it.

3.) Use a steady retrieve. If the 'cuda wants your fly, the speed of your retrieve won’t matter. The conventional wisdom is to use as fast a retrieve as possible. Some anglers even use the two-handed retrieve with the rod tucked under the arm. I have not had great success with this technique. If you fish with a moderate and steady retrieve, you can speed up if a fish starts to follow. If you are already retrieving as fast as you can, you can't speed up.  'Cudas are smart, they expect their prey to speed up and try to get away. 

4.) The closer the 'cuda gets, the faster you retrieve! 

5.)  When he eats, be cool! Try not to flinch and or emit a high pitched squeal.

The Tease 'em Up Technique:

1.) Find a barracuda. Look for layed-up fish, pay attention to the edges of grass beds and large sand patches surrounded by grass. 'Cudas like to use the edges of the grass to ambush other fish. 

2.) Get close enough that you can control a quick backcast once the fly hits the water. Throw the fly anywhere from 15 to 20 feet in front of the fish. 

3.) Immediately pick the fly up off the water with a quick back cast after it lands . This surfs the fly across the surface of the water very quickly (much faster than you can strip the fly). This will also water load the rod for the next cast back to the same spot as the first cast (or to a spot 15-20 feet ahead of where the fish has moved). 

4.) Make sure with each cast you place the fly at least 15-20 feet in front of the ‘cuda. Once he starts looking for your fly and charging it, leave the fly in the water and start stripping FAST.

This casting, water loading and casting again can be done multiple times, but often once or twice is enough to get the cuda's blood up. Once the ‘cuda is "primed" he will try and kill everything and anything.

5.) When he does eat, strip strike hard.

6.) Hang on!

Tosh Brown Photo


  1. What irritates me about cudas is the way they can detect a wire bite tippet - and the correlary - they way they aggressively eat a fly without a bite tippet. And the way a big cuda will attack a tiny bonefish fly when I mistakenly drag it along a deep cut with some current flowing through it.

  2. Amen! What is the deal with that? They are so easy to get to eat on mono (when you don't want it) and so tough on wire (when you want it). Thanks for making a very good point. What is the solution Doug?

  3. Live bait. They can't refuse a live needlefish or a frisky jack, even if it's trailing a wire string.

    I swear those things are the smartest fish in the sea (sorry Flipper). They're very curious about things around them. I've had them follow me snorkling and get closer and closer to my fins. I turn around and they'll sit there staring at me opening and closing their cuisinart mouth, freaks me out. But if you carry a spear gun, the minute you start to turn around they vanish only to reappear somewhere else when you least expect it. I think I told you the story of the giant cuda that lived under the pier in Panama where we lived. Had three wire leaders stuck in his mouth. No one ever landed or speared that fish as long as I lived there.

  4. I remember that story! It would scare me shitless to spear a 'cuda. You haven't done that Have you?... and if you have, don't do it again. You look better with appendages!

  5. Interesting writing Doug, and some great photos!!!