Salomone: Don’t forget the monsters

Peacock bass on the fly.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy Photo

I have been fortunate over the years to travel to many warm climate environments as soon as the ski season is over. The “off season” seems to have faded over the years to become a busy cycle throughout the year. However, my family still plans a vacation every year.

Traveling challenges me as I seek a type of fly fishing regardless of the destination.

When an email came in from a magazine editor a few weeks ago with questions about the fly fishing I do in Florida, I had to immediately refocus my fishing itinerary. The fish I hunt with a fly rod in South Florida are labeled non-native, invasive, alien. These are my monsters.

Rex Hannon and tilapia.
Rex Hannon/Courtesy Photo

I reached out to another friend who flies fly in Florida, Rex Hannon. Rex has published extensively in a variety of magazines surrounding his adventures in pursuit of all things fly-biting. His target area begins in Jensen Beach, Florida and moves south. The variety of fish we catch together on the fly is staggering. Fish from distant places like Brazil, Costa Rica and Indonesia all thrive in South Florida’s interconnected waterways. We push our angling into new waters, hunt freak species, and do it all on the fly. Every adventure dances on the sidelines of cool fly fishing.

South Florida is a mecca for fly anglers looking to eliminate some hard-to-catch freshwater species. Peacock bass, snakeheads, Mayan cichlids and many more call South Florida waters home, alongside native species like largemouth bass, bluegills and crappie. I sent Rex some questions to prepare us for this month of June.

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

A. Jensen Beach is a little too far north for the majority of alien/invasive species that get the most attention. But tilapia, especially blue tilapia, is 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 greatest pound for pound fighters I have ever caught. They have earned the nickname ‘Atomic Sunfish’ due to their colors and mean, aggressive disposition.

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

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

B.The Mayan cichlid should be considered my favorite simply because of the large numbers found here. They will take a fly with eagerness and aggression and fight like few other fish in their size class.

Do you have specific flies just to target invasives?

A. I don’t even need to think about that question, minnow clouser! I always make sure I’m well stocked with this pattern in multiple weights and sizes.

B. A gargoyle pattern in multiple colors and sizes is another must-have.

What is your recommended gear for hunting invasive species in South Florida?

A. I prefer and wear a 9′ 8wt outfit because the waters I haunt can hold anything from Slot Snook to Juvenile Tarpon to Record Class Tilapia to Big Largemouth Bass. I find it best to be prepared for anything you might encounter. Even one pound cichlids will test this outfit.

Can you give readers a common walking location to hunt some invasive species in your area?

A. South Florida is an amazing area and has some of the most diverse and available fishing waters in the world. South Florida is an angler’s paradise.

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

A. I cannot stress enough the incredible number of fishing opportunities available to the average angler here. Not so long ago, a fisherman who wanted to target these species had to spend a small fortune and travel to exotic locations and needed a passport. Now they can be here in South Florida from anywhere in the country in just hours. Just get out of there.

South Florida has become an old haunt for me over the years. The list of crazy fish that Rex and I have caught on the fly surprises me sometimes. Deliberately targeting invasive species in South Florida with just flies is a challenge and a thrill. When it comes to fly fishing trips, don’t forget the monsters.

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