Matlacha on the Fly

Featured photo by Jimmy Jacobs

On The Fly Saltwater

A Salty Village on the Water

By Polly Dean

December 2020

Matlacha is foremost a village whose residents and even most visitors live and breathe fishing. It is surrounded by water and literally lies on the narrow spits of land and bridges that span Matlacha Pass reaching onto Pine Island off the southwest coast of Florida. Matlacha is also a community of artisans and colorful people that thrive on the bounties and beauty of their briny home. The locals are just as salty as their surroundings and the seaside village is frequented by anglers that enjoy the fishing as well as the carefree vibe. 

The miles of shallow waters that surround Pine Island and Matlacha are dotted with mangrove islands, where fish can be easily targeted by kayak or small boats. These many tree-lined islands are where we find redfish, snook and trout. With the numerous small islands and watery cut-throughs within larger groups of islands, it was easy to maneuver our vessel downwind or even out of the wind and still be accessible for casting toward a shoreline.

Kayaks are ideal for exploring the mangrove islands. Photo by Polly Dean

Because the water is rarely more than 4 to 5 feet deep, or only a couple of feet deep along the mangrove-lined islands, the fish can often be spotted. These fish can be seen hunkering down in the shadows (if a bright sunny day), laying off of points or within indentions or laydowns along the island’s edges. Casting a fly toward the shoreline and stripping it back toward the boat is the method for encouraging strikes and pinpointing the fish. It may be discovered that the fish are found consistently several feet away from the island’s edges, rather than tucked in close.

Seatrout are most often found several feet out from the shore. Photo by jimmy Jacobs

Even though the mangrove-lined islands are numerous and easy to target, it takes a local that fishes the area regularly to know where the fish are likely to be. Captain Joe Harley of Snooktown Charters is on these waters almost daily guiding fly and light-tackle anglers to redfish, snook, trout and even tarpon. The captain is happy to provide all gear and flies if preferred.

A redfish that Capt. Joe Harley put the On The Fly South crew on. Photo by Polly Dean.

It is a good idea to book a guide for a day, even if you have your own boat or kayak for getting around. Just picking up a tip or two, can make the difference between finding or not finding success on your fishing trip in the days that follow. We all know that when out in salt water, it can be difficult to discern one mangrove island from the next, or one oyster bed from another. But a local guide often knows which ones to target and where the fish tend to be. Capt. Harley knows where the troughs (extended depressions in the bottom) are and the type of terrain or waterscape to pinpoint when looking for bait or the predators that follow – in other words, the fish you are looking for. It pays to book a guide for a day and take advantage of local knowledge, whenever visiting a new fishing destination, or even when returning to a favorite destination during different times of year or weather conditions.

Casting to the mangrove shore line is the usual tactic. Photo by Polly Dean

Fly rods in the 7- to 9-weight range are adequate for most of the species encountered. Snook and redfish weighing into double-digits and more, are not uncommon and found close to shore in the shallowest of water. Capt. Harley had us throwing small green-and-white Clouser Minnows, with which we caught a number of trout and redfish. Larger Clousers in various colors, depending on the clarity of the water – light and bright colors in clear water and dark colors in water that is stained – would work as well. You may also find success with Puglisi-style flies and Deceivers (blue/white is a good color choice). The captain had us varying our speed of retrieve until we found what the fish reacted to. If you get follows, be sure to keep the fly moving. A live bait fish doesn’t decide to stop fleeing when being chased by a predator and your fly shouldn’t either. The captain also had us using a strip, strip, pause motion in our retrieve. We found that several of our takes were during the pause, when the fly was falling.

The mangrove edges teem with juvenile snook that readily attack flies. Photo by Polly Dean.

Capt. Joe Harley fishes year-round. The winter months produces some of the finest tailing redfish action of the year. These waters and location are really a world-class destination when it comes to fly-fishing on the flats or in the backcountry. Juvenile and baby tarpon can be targeted several months out of the year. Snook, redfish and trout are also willing residents most months of the year.

Capt. Joe Harley. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs

Visit the Capt. Joe Harley’s website at for tips on what’s biting during your visit. Maybe, if you time it right, you will succeed in completing your inshore slam of a tarpon, snook and redfish in a single day!