Top 10 for the Everglades
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The pros pick their favorite patterns for fishing Florida’s backcountry.

No matter where he fishes, a knowledgeable angler carries a selection of flies that imitate the local prey and covers the entire water column from top to bottom. You might also want to carry a few attractor patterns to stimulate otherwise uninterested fish. For fish living in or near weeds, trees, oysters, or other types of obstructions, using flies that have weed guards is usually an excellent idea.

Some areas feature dramatically different types of habitat or a wide variety of fish species, which complicates final fly selection. The watery wilderness that makes up Everglades National Park is a perfect example of this. Saw grass swamps, mangrove forests, oyster beds, grass and mud flats, salt ponds and bays, Gulf-side beaches, and tidal creeks and rivers create a wide variety of habitat. But the same principles of fly selection apply.

Largemouth bass, cichlids, Spanish mackerel, flounder, black drum, snapper, sharks, jewfish, moonfish and lookdowns, spotted seatrout, tripletail, crevalle jacks, and ladyfish are a few of the species you may encounter. But when most fly fishers start thinking about the Everglades, they usually have snook, redfish, and tarpon in mind. Our discussion of flies for the Everglades, then, will concentrate on patterns for catching these three species. The fact is if you’re prepared for them, you will also be ready for any other fish you are likely to encounter.

Big Fish Eat Little Fish
Small fish are extremely important prey items for larger fish, and there are many different kinds of small fish in the Everglades. Mullet, for example, are important prey. Predatory fish also love pilchards and other types of Cupleid minnows. Mojarras, silversides, and even tiny Gambusia minnows (mosquitofish) have situational significance; tarpon, for example, especially the 10- to 20-pound “babies,” love mosquitofish. These minnows are from one to two inches long, and are tough to imitate on any hook likely to hold a tarpon. Redfish in salt ponds, such as Mud Lake and Bear Lake, will also gorge themselves on these tiny fish. Shrimps are also a significant food source, and crabs may be important depending upon the species of fish you are targeting. If you carry imitations of small fish, shrimps, and crabs, and have a few attractor patterns, you probably have everything you are likely to need to succeed in the Everglades.

It goes without saying that you should tie these flies in various sizes and colors, and with different sink rates. I don’t mean to be redundant, but some of your flies should have weed guards. Mangrove branches and oyster beds gobble up flies without weed guards faster than the fish will eat them.

Okay, enough theory: you want to know what I carry in my fly box when fishing the Everglades. My list originally looked like this:

Attractor Patterns

• Poppers like the Floozie

• Fly rod spoons such as the Dupre Spoonfly

• Rattle Rouser

• Kreelex

Imitator Flies

• Merkin crab

• Homer Rhode’s Shrimp Fly (Seaducer) in grizzly

• Sexy Fly Mistress (a minnow imitation)

• Clouser Deep Minnow

• Mosquito Lagoon Special (a generic pattern that could be a shrimp, crab, or minnow)

• Sexy Fly Bend-Back

That’s a pretty good list of flies that work well in the Everglades. I use them, and I recommend them to my clients. But, I began to wonder what patterns other guides use. Was I overlooking anything? So, I got on the phone and talked to people who fish there all the time. Their answers were enlightening, if not completely surprising.

The Guides Say . . .
Capt. Rick Murphy fishes the Everglades out of Flamingo. Tim Borski’s Chernobyl Crab is his favorite fly for redfish, but this pattern also serves double duty for snook. Murphy likes this fly in two colors: tan, and red with white. The Murphy Furball, which Rick designed, is another favorite; he likes this fly in chartreuse and also red with white. He tosses the Murphy Furball to all species of fish in the ’Glades. Captain Murphy’s favorite surface fly is Rick Ruoff’s Orvis Popper. He says this balsa popper is especially effective on snook and small tarpon.

Captain Murphy uses only three flies for big tarpon. The first is a Deceiver-like pattern he uses in dirty water or when dredging for rolling fish. The tail is made from a black, brown, or purple bunny strip, and the collar consists of body fur of a matching color. This fly has lead eyes to make it sink quickly.

For clear water, Murphy likes what he calls the Chicken Fly. This is a large pattern similar to a shark fly, and his favorite colors are chartreuse with orange or purple with black. He selects the exact fly to use depending upon the lighting conditions.

“A dark sky equals a dark fly,” Capt. Murphy says. “I never change from a dark fly to a different dark fly. I think it’s important for the fly to have bars on it, too, like on a grizzly hackle.”

Finally, when fishing for tarpon in clear water over grass, he likes a two- to three-inch-long, chartreuse or bright yellow pattern called the Lemon Drop. Rick doesn’t carry a large selection of flies, and went on to say that making a good presentation is always more important than the pattern you use.

When he’s not traveling, angling authority and author Bob Stearns also fishes out of Flamingo several times a week.

“Your Sexy Flies work just fine here for all the species, especially small tarpon, snook, and redfish,” Bob said in an email referring to a list of flies I designed. “And I like your larger flies tied in black when the water is more clear than usual in Whitewater Bay or the Gulf.”

At the other end of the park, Mark Ward owns the Everglades Angler, a fine fly shop in Naples. While Mark seldom guides anymore, he has a stable of guides working in the 10,000 Islands area. He says, “My guides are using Enrico Puglisi’s flies almost exclusively and with great effect, especially the Peanut Bunker pattern. The two favorite colors are chartreuse and black over purple. Personally, I still like a chartreuse Deceiver.”

Chico Fernandez, a regular contributor to Saltwater Fly Fishing magazine, has fished the Everglades for many years. Chico says, “The kind of flies people like to use in the Everglades depends a lot on what kind of fishing they like to do. My favorite fishing is for shallow-water snook, and my fly selection reflects that. I like Seaducers because they sink very slowly, almost like they’re neutrally buoyant.

“I also really like to use a Saltwater Muddler pattern,” Chico continued. “This should be tied roughly, not like the real pretty ones with the hard heads you see some tiers make. Those are beautiful pieces of art, but they don’t work as well as the ones that soak up water. I fish this pattern when it’s not very windy. You can make it form a wake under the surface, and the strikes are fantastic.

“Flies used here need weed guards, and I like to use number four wire for the guards. I think wire helps the flies track better than monofilament.”

Like Chico, Flip Pallot has also fished the Everglades for a long time. Flip says, “My favorite fly for fishing in the Everglades is a pattern called the Bushwood. It’s long and weighted so it casts well, and planes up under overhanging mangroves very nicely. The wing is tied in a reverse fashion and bent back, which puts a layer of deer hair over the lead eyes. This makes the fly land softly. You can really be aggressive in your presentation to sighted fish. I use it for just about everything now.”

Captain Kumiski’s Revised List

Okay, we’ve covered a lot of territory and heard about a lot of different flies. Maybe I should make some adjustments to my top-10 list of patterns for fishing the Everglades. Rick Murphy, for example, prefers the Chernobyl Crab to a Merkin. I can live with that. The Puglisi flies and my Sexy Flies are similar imitations of minnows. I could easily substitute Flip’s Bushwood for the Clouser Minnow. Likewise, I could switch out the Floozie for Chico’s Muddler or Rick Murphy’s Orvis Popper. So, the modified list of flies for fishing the Everglades looks something like this:

Attractor Patterns

• Saltwater Muddler

• Dupre Spoonfly

• Rattle Rouser

• Kreelex

Imitator Flies

• Chernobyl Crab

• Homer Rhode’s Shrimp Fly (Seaducer) in grizzly

• Puglisi Peanut Bunker or Sexy Fly Mistress

• Pallot’s Bushwood

• Mosquito Lagoon Special

• Sexy Fly Bend-Back

The Everglades is an amazing place to fish. There is so much diversity of environments and species of fish that you could spends years in this area and not really experience all of it. If you already fish the Everglades, you are fortunate, indeed; if you have never visited this unique national park, then you should place it close to the top of your fly-fishing to-do list. Just be sure to tie these top-10 guide flies before your trip into the Everglades.

For some of the fly patterns in this article check out our fly pattern database at

Capt. John Kumiski is a crackerjack saltwater guide who specializes in catching all of Florida’s favorite game fish. For more information about his guide services, check out John is also a respected outdoor writer. His newest book is Redfish on the Fly: A Comprehensive Guide (Argonaut Publishing).


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