October 13, 2023
Affiliate Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. We earn from qualifying purchases.
In a Belizean lagoon full of rolling tarpon, Doug, Ian, and I were perplexed. For two hours we’d been casting at poons and had been through all of the local go-to patterns in our boxes; several colors of Cockroaches, Black Deaths, Deceivers, Clousers, even the dreaded Gummy Minnow, with nary a sniff. We’d covered the water column with floating, intermediate, and fast-sinking lines. It was time to experiment, and I just happened to have some experimental flies that needed a trial run.
Prior to the trip, with springtime pike on the brain, I’d been experimenting with Toad patterns tied entirely out of rabbit fur, and I was dying to fish them, but the winter weather had lingered in western Montana, and the only way to catch a pike was still through the ice. As it turned out, these Belize tarpon would be the first to get a sniff of my bunny Toads.
I tied on a black-and-white bunny Toad and cast it among a pod of porpoising tarpon. The line went tight halfway through the retrieve, I set the hook hard into an immovable mass, and waited, not yet sure if I had found bottom or finally enticed one of these finicky fish to open its mouth.
Renowned guide Ian Cuevas knew better, and instructed me to prepare for all hell to break loose, which it did. I quickly learned that the loop-to-loop connection that I had rigged the evening before, a few Belikins deep, had a significant weakness. I reeled up my line, now missing the shooting head and one of the only seemingly useful flies I had in my box.
With that, I handed Doug Brady, my fishing partner and owner of Fly Treks, another Toad and he took the bow of the boat. It wasn’t long before he was tight to a fish and we were beginning to think that we had finally cracked the code.
Doug battled the 60-pound tarpon while Ian rigged me up with another shooting head, this time with a worthy set of knots. Then they wrestled the tarpon for a quick photo, and it was my turn to redeem myself. Another Toad, and soon, another hooked tarpon. After multiple jumps and several blistering runs, I failed to bow to the fish on its final leap. No matter, it wasn’t long before I hooked another one and landed it after a full 10-round brawl.
Click here to check out the original Tarpon Toad.
The Pike Connection
I’d been experimenting with Toad patterns for pike in my home waters around Missoula, Montana the previous summer, with good results. I have noticed myself, and gathered from others, that both pike and tarpon often prefer a suspended presentation so the fly is right at their eye level or above, and not below them. A fly that is neutrally buoyant—so you can fish it slowly, teasing a following fish to eat—is often the difference whether you’re in the Yucatan or Saskatchewan.
In the summer of 2012, we had plans to film a couple of episodes of Fly Fishing the World on Lake Athabasca in northern Saskatchewan. When Conway Bowman’s invited guest canceled at the last minute, it was my duty as the show producer to fill in as his fly-fishing sidekick.
I learned from a previous Fly Fisherman article [“Monster Magic,” Feb.-Mar. 2012] that big Canadian pike liked huge flies, so I set to tying some giant Toad patterns for Lake Athabasca.
Though I liked the swimming qualities of Toads with rabbit collars and tails, bunny fur would be unnecessarily heavy for the 10-inch fly I’d need for trophy Canadian pike, so I used long EP Fibers—the same material used for the body—to make pike flies in the traditionally successful pike colors of red-and-black and red-and-white.
These Crossover Toads have a large profile, yet they are light and easy to cast. You can fish them suspended near the surface, or drop them deeper using sinking lines to find pike lurking in the deeper cabbage.
At all depths, the Athabasca northern pike ate them up. I’m not going to pretend that the pike on that huge inland sea were overly selective—we could have caught pike on a variety of flies, but these were the easiest to cast and surprisingly durable. On our final day, our cameramen finally got a well-earned opportunity to fish and they caught more than 20 toothy water wolves up to 44 inches before they had to change the fly.
I now tie all my Toads with EP Fiber tails and saltwater hooks so I can use one fly for my favorite domestic quarry, the northern pike, and then take them to the salt to chase tarpon.
I tie the Crossover Toads long for pike, and then trim them down when I’m in a flats boat. For a pike and tarpon junkie, these versatile Crossover Toads maximize the efficiency of my ever-shrinking fly-tying time.
Crossover Toad, Black Death, Fly Recipe
- THREAD: Monofilament.
- HOOK: #1/0 Daiichi 2546.
- EYES: Red/black large Pseudo Eyes, or large bead-chain eyes.
- TAIL: Red and black EP Fibers, 10" long.
- FLASH: Lateral Scale.
- BODY: Red and black EP Fibers.
Step 1: Tie in Pseudo Eyes. Tie in 10" of black over red EP Fibers behind the hook eye. Fold them over (doubled) to secure them, and wrap a smooth underbody back to the hook bend.
Step 2: Tie in and fold over one strand of Lateral Scale on each side.
Step 3: Use figure-eight wraps to attach EP Fibers perpendicular to the hook shank.
Step 4: Alternate red and black EP Fibers up to the eye. Trim the body to the size and shape of a quarter, and coat all the thread wraps with head cement.
Justin Karnopp is a TV producer in Missoula, Montana.