Monarch sampling the Bottlebrush

The Monarchs are getting ready to haul off to Mexico. It is that season. These creatures are worthy of our respect and admiration. This one fueling up on nectar from my Bottlebrush is the forth generation of this year. This Monarch is destined to fly from the Florida Panhandle to Mexico for the winter. I am not any authority on Butterflies but witnessing this spectacle when they cover my Bottlebrush trees has led me to Google a bit. If you would witness the “gathering” on my Bottlebrush trees and not be moved you are probably dead. I simple must share this with my friends.



Monarch sampling the Bottlebrush



Monarch sampling the Bottlebrush

It is impossible for me to get a picture that conveys the sheer number on my trees. These two above is just to give an idea of the density of the Monarchs. You will have to believe me when I tell you that there are thousands working and drinking the nectar that fuels them.

The forth generation of Monarchs will reach Mexico for the winter. I have not witnessed the winter location but pictures on the web are telling.

There are some that will spend the winter in south Florida and they migrate down the peninsula in the fall. Then there are others that take the coast route to Mexico and pass through here in the Panhandle. These Monarchs are the ones that roam east of the Appalachians. Monarchs west of the Sierras can overwinter in San Joaquin Valley. Those in between migrate to Mexico (or this is how I have understood it). If I am getting it wrong please post a reply to me so I can correct this blog.


Monarch sampling the Bottle Brush

Next spring this Monarch will mate and the first generation Monarch is on its way. They lay their eggs on so called Milkweed plants solely. From the eggs we get the caterpillars. They will munch on Milkweed plants happily and from the latex derive the Cardenolides (type of steroid that is cardio toxic) that they sequester. The caterpillars will pupate and enter into the chrysalis stage. Of course we humans are destroying Milkweed habitat (along with much else) and if you love these butterflies plant Milkweed plants in your garden and be aware of this connection and educate people around you. If Milkweed disappears so do these beauties

Monarch Chrysalis

The Monarch Chrysalis is attached to a Round-Up plastic container! They are beautiful but not smart.


Now the great miracle of metamorphosis occurs and the butterfly emerges from the Chrysalis. And – no the shower that fishermen take after a days work is not comparable albeit a small miracle.

This first generation Monarchs will fly north. There will be the second and the third generation as they fly and actually reach Canada. These generations all are completely reliant on Milkweed plants. The Caterpillars will only chomp on those.


Monarch sampling the Bottlebrush

The fourth generation is responsible for getting back to the winter-grounds and they do not need any Milkweed until after mating next spring. This generation must get nectar for the flight. The Bottlebrush trees are a great attractor and the Hummingbirds also love them but most of the Hummers are gone south by now.

These colors of the Monarchs are there for a reason. This is called true advertising. “I am black and orange and you eat me at your peril” – they are poisonous because of the Cardenolides. In my garden I also find the Gulf Fritillary.

Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary sampling a Lantana

Gulf Fritillary sampling a Lantana

Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary sampling a Lantana

Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary in flight

And we notice right away that they are sporting the same colors. However they are not poisonous. This ploy they use and is called false advertising. They are sheep in wolves garb. I prefer sheep in sheep´s clothes.

Spanish prior to release

The bad hombre stunt is already taken so I had to improvise. I love catching Spanish Mackerel. There it is an admission and we can move on. The Spanish appear in the spring on our Gulf shores and then they make their way into the bay systems. The water temperature needs to be 68-70F and over. What I find exciting about them are the ferocious takes. There is no nibbling or sipping or such cautious stuff they mean business and the fly gets hammered. Their teeth are sharp and cutting.

The Spanish got my thumb

The Spanish got my thumb and did not let go when asked. Lizard fish took a tube fly


Spanish Mackerel prior to release (this one got my thumb)

This Spanish Mackerel got my thumb when I was getting the hook out of his mouth

They easily cut through 40 pound even 60 pound strain tippets. They announce their return in the spring by hammering your redfish fly and cut it off. The leader is frayed not with the curlicue end (pig tail) the tell tale of a sloppy tying of fly to a leader. I used to use thick tippet for the terminal connection but I have subsequently moved to nylon coated multi strand wire. It is easier to tie and withstands the mayhem. Of course the coating takes a beating but the wires hold. It is generally a good idea to inspect the wire to fly connection and move the fly up by retying if the tippet has gotten a beating.

Conehead tube

Conehead tubefly tied with a nylon coated multistrand wire

The tube flies are remarkable in that after the fish is hooked they ride up the leader and are more durable than the classical flies. However after catching a number of fish they manage to destroy them all the same.

Spanish Mackerel

Spanish Mackerel – note how the tube fly rides up the leader


They usually move in schools small or large. If you catch one there are probably many more right there. These are aggressive fish and if you can locate them they usually take a fly. However “always” is a dangerous word and they can follow right up to the boat but then turn away or hammer the fly feet from the boat. This brings me to a general advice. When anglers strip the fly towards them I notice that sometimes they start recasting when there is say 20 feet to the boat. They do this to avoid all that false casting when only a short line is outside the tiptop. However if you stop stripping and just lift up the rod watch the fly swim towards you and bring it to the boat then you are in a position to just roll out the line and go into a backcast and deliver (roll cast pickup). This is called fishing to the bank or boat and is a general advice. Increases your chances of getting strikes and hones your roll casting abilities.

Spanish Mackerel boatside

Spanish Mackerel does not want to be caught

Once hooked they put up a decent fight relative to their size and they will make a furious attempt at escape when close to the boat. The Spanish will take all the usual Clousers and they will also take top water flies.  When in the mood the fly is not important. This one took a red Crease Fly after having followed subsurface flies repeatedly. So it pays to mix things up. If subsurface does not work try a topwater fly. It does not matter which fly you use to not catch fish. If I can use a topwater fly it is always my choice cause the takes are just so magnificent to witness.

Spanish Mackerel

Spanish Mackerel took a red Crease fly in the surface

The Spanish are currently here and I have to go out and chase them because they will disappear when the temperature in the bays decreases. When they are gone I will absolutely not think that I chased them too much and I will miss them. It is a consolation that I can then turn to False Albacore, Pompano, Spotted Seatrout, Redfish or Bluefish. So little time!


Jelly fish

Sea Nettle floating in Pensacola bay

Spanish Mackerel

Spanish Mackerel – the nylon coated black wire is clearly visible and so are the sharp teeth

Spanish Mackerel

Spanish Mackerel prior to release – notice the blue in the dorsal fins

Spanish Mackerel

Spanish Mackerel netted – note how the tube fly rides up the leader

Spanish Mackerel

Spanish Mackerel prior to release

Spanish Mackerel

Spanish Mackerel prior to release

Spanish Mackerel

Spanish Mackerel – note the blue tinge of the dorsal fin

Amberjack on Popper

Now there is a badass fish. They are big heavy and strong.

Amberjack on Popper

Amberjack took a Popper

When hooked they really are pissed off and you sense their extreme displeasure. We find them on wrecks out in the Gulf down on the bottom. If you come to a wreck where there are boats bait fishing your chances are slim. If you have a wreck to yourself the chances are much better. Now we cast big Poppers and work them for a while and often the Amberjacks come to the surface to check out the commotion.

Tube popper

Four inch tube popper

The rods need to be 10 weight both to fight these fish and also to cast the big Popper and the reel needs to have absolute top-notch drag. The leader needs to have a thick butt to help turn the fly over and we keep it fairly short around  7´6´´for the same reason. Now the strikes in the surface are just spectacular and we strip strike to set the hook. Now what to do? If the fish gets to dive to the wreck it will cut itself off. Maybe even severing the fly line itself.

Fighting an Amberjack

Baz making sure the Amberjack can not dive

So set the drag to max and just do not let the fish dive. The fight is very hard but short this way. I was astonished to experience that the fish fight hard for a minute or two then they are done. This short fight probably increases their survival after release.



Salmon with Francis

Parliamentary elections were around the corner in Iceland (Year 1990). One of our heavyweight politicians had recently chanced his constituency. He had represented one of the rural districts and had moved to a city constituency in order to gain more votes and influence and of course there were heated discussions on this because that is what we do in Iceland. We never discuss what needs to be discussed and decided but ruminate on trivia ad nauseam. (For instance, when AIDS came on the scene there we did not talk about condoms until we had decided what we should call this new disease in Icelandic and that took some time). I did not particularly agree with his party´s politics.

I was performing some abdominal operation. I do not remember what I was doing but I rather suspect I was a little bit like the Swedish Chef of Muppets fame, organs flying, etc. Now I am bashing this politician because that is what we do during operations and to my surprise a young Medical Student who had just started and was assisting me chimes in and just rips the poor guy to shreds. Very eloquently and expertly done. She just upstaged me completely and so I just had to ask, “do you know this guy”? Sure she said, “He is my father”. I have never been shafted with more skill and finesse.

The reason I share with you this story is that I later learned that he was a very good fly slinger and salmon fisherman (I know – thin but I have to come up with a blog?). As the years passed he became one of our best-liked politicians and always tried to find common ground and solve problems. His speeches were not hyperbole and dogma rather common sense and moderation. Once during an interview, he was reminded that recently he held the opposite view to which he retorted “And I really meant it when I said it”. Now we miss politicians of that type.


Grjonagrautur – this picture only makes sense to Icelanders

Some days you just have to get out of the cabin and go fishing. So I did. My wife joined me with her e-reader and in short order, we were bobbing on a favorite flat at anchor. My boat is what is called here a bowrider – not a proper fly fishing boat. Oh well, I have to endure some hardships for family right?

Upon leaving I just grabbed the next rod and it turned out that I was a bit under-gunned for lobbing heavy Clousers. This time of the year I expect some Spanish Mackerels to be present. So I rigged up with a heavy Clouser tied to a 6 inch of multi-strand wire subsequently tied to the leader. Covered the area around me but did not get any strikes at all. If the fly is too heavy for the line it is unpleasant to cast. Calm wind and sun and nothing happening around me. Concluded that this is just one of those days. Decided to turn this into a casting practice. Left out the wire since the Spanish were awol. Put on a small streamer called “Heimasaetan” (#10 long shank – good for Seatrout and sea-run Arctic Char). This is an Icelandic fly that is quite productive there. Do not ask me why I put it on – well it was there and matched the line.


Now the casting became an absolute joy. Got into a rhythm and the casts were not bad at all. Then suddenly to my surprise, the fly is hammered, and a good fish was on. Did not feel like a Spanish or a Spotted Seatrout. Worked the fish towards me and I get this flash of light as the fish turned otherwise it was not visible.


Now the odds are that this is a good size Pompano since they have this incredibly bright flash when they turn, and the sun hits them just right.


This is a nice outline of the fish.


I managed to bring the fish to the boat were I in a moment of madness forgot I had a perfectly good net to deal with the situation and tried to hand-line it just a bit and that was that and he swam away. Put on another #10 bead head trout fly olive colored and out it went and immediately got hammered and then cut off. So the Spanish were there after all.

I have to credit Drifa my wife for the photos taken with a smartphone. I often catch something interesting when she accompanies me and must muster her from the reading to photo duties.

Now an election is looming, and some party is screaming Go Low or was it High? My advice to fellow anglers when nothing is happening -“Go small”.

palm eroded, beach erosion

Let’s just get it off our chests. Most casters are terrible in the wind.

Mostly because they do not have to be that sharp. Most fly fishermen are what we can call trouters. I was one myself. The long casts are not really necessary so why bother. Hence fly fishermen trying the salt for the first time will have a very hard time in the wind and cannot get the line out more than say 50 feet. People generally do not practice (for a variety of reasons) which certainly would cure many casting ills.

Captain  Baz ( has a client that is small and thin and he was fitted out with a stiff brute of a rod that he could not load/bend and it proved to be very hard for us to load/bend it. Naturally, the casts were poor and shortish. It got me looking for alternate solutions. I got a 10’4” rod 6 weight Switch rod (still short enough to land a fish from a boat). I played with it and could get some nice casts overhead with an overhead #8 weight shooting head type line (a brick on a string really). With this setup, very long casts are a breeze. Two-handed rods are rated for Spey lines that are much heavier than the corresponding number for overhead lines thus one needs to go 2-3 numbers higher with an overhead line on a switch rod.

I use a horizontal backcast then up and over vertically (oval cast, Gebertsroither´s cast, Belgian cast) in a continuous motion.  Baz’s client tried it and lo and behold he was double handing it with casts 60-80′ no problem. Several other and some rank beginners have tried, and my conclusion is that I can teach just about anyone to cast over 60′ with this technique in one hour. Let’s face it most casters will not practice getting their casts one-handed up to the 100′ wall. Short casts and saltwater are mutually exclusive – with this setup, the odds are much better and fly fishermen can start to enjoy saltwater fly fishing and catch fish instead of the imaginary saltwater fly fishing. 

Second scenario. 

Bad dominant shoulder. Lots of folks will get problems from arthritic and otherwise damaged shoulders. It is a very common ailment. Lifting of the arm is painful and motion is limited. We get around that by holding the rod with the dominant hand on top of the handle (above the reel). The power is provided by the non-dominant hand holding the rod below the reel. The dominant hand is merely a fulcrum or a pivot point. The movements are much easier on the shoulders this way. It is fairly simple to cast from both shoulders with the shoulder hand on top making it easy to deal with crosswinds.


These rods are marketed as Switch rods meaning you can cast them with one hand, or you can use a two handed technique i.e. switch from one-handed to two-handed. They are ok to cast one-handed up to 11´ if longer it becomes difficult. The optimal length is from 9-11´. If you plan to use one from a boat, go short. It will be easier to land the fish. Two-handed rods are often called Spey rods which is really a casting technique. It much clearer to just call them one-handed, or two-handed rods.


Handle small two handed rod

Up-locking reel seat and space for lower hand

Here is a link to the Spey line weights and # rating. The same link takes you to the overhead line weights and # ratings.

Fly fishing in the salt

Went fishing with my friend Baz who is a fly fishing guide ( in late September. No clouds and a light northerly wind. This always makes a trip to the Gulf enticing. We went out through the Pensacola Pass and turned west. The Gulf can be flat in such a wind and it was. Close to the beach there tend to be deeper pockets of water with a channel to its southwest. These pockets can be around football field size. We were using Baz’s flats skiff and just beached the boat.

Fly fishing in the salt

On first sandbar casting into the first trough

Just jumped in and waded barefooted in the warm water. Then we saw that each of those pockets held a school of Bluefish. They tend to be cooperative, so we opted for a small white popper because surface takes are spectacular. We had 5 rods strung up and ready but as it turned out we only used one rod and only the one popper (we have hundreds of flies) and took turns casting. We use a short multi-strand wire because of the Blue’s sharp teeth.

Bluefish on a Popper

Bluefish on beach ready to be released

We caught the Blues by sharp short strips and then we paused for a moment to give them a chance to grab the fly. They attacked it from the side and half out of the water they turned down and tore into it. I strip strike meaning I keep the rod down and give a sharp pull with the line hand then I raise the rod. It was just wonderful to be out there witnessing these takes. After a while we had a snack and as we were relaxing a Bald Eagle circle above us and higher up another one. It was just a perfect end to a great morning of fishing.

Bluefish caught on a popper

Wading the sandbar, fishing the first trough

palm eroded, beach erosion

Gulf of Mexico

False Albacore that took Gummy Minnow

I am a Fly Fishers International Certified Fly-Casting Instructor. I teach fly casting in lakes or rivers. Additionally, I teach salt water casting techniques. This blog will be dedicated to fly fishing and fly casting. I will also write about rods and reels and whatever takes my fancy in the fly-fishing universe.

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Vidja Laxa

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