Toads For Big Bones

Toads For Big Bones
Toadfish have a mottled camouflage that matches the grass and cobbles they hide in. They are a significant yet overlooked food source for large bonefish, and Florida and Bahamas fly fishers are just now discovering their importance.

Over the last couple of decades, researchers have conducted a number of studies on the feeding habits of Florida Keys bonefish, confirming what local guides have known for yearsbig bones are partial to big prey. But while this new researchlike several studies before itrevealed that Florida's bonefish prefer larger prey like crabs and shrimp, one research finding was especially surprising: The Gulf toadfish, Opsanus beta, which appeared infrequently in earlier research, was among the most desirable prey targeted by the Keys' big bones.

A voracious bottom feeder, Opsanus beta conceals itself with a camouflaged tan and gray-olive mottled body and barred dorsal and caudal fins. Shaped like a sculpin, this toothy, large-mouthed killing machine hides in turtle grass beds and on cobble bottoms waiting to ambush small fish like gobies and blennies, and gobble up small crustaceans such as tiny shrimp and crabs.

A few skiff guides, tournament anglers, and flats veterans have taken advantage of the bonefish's predilection for toads, creating flies with big meaty profiles to suggest the plump toadfish body. Here are three you may want to add to your boxand not just for Florida's flats. I've found smaller toadfish flies effective at other destinations, especially in the Bahamas.

Three Top Toads

One of the first toadfish patternsand still one of the bestis the Tasty Toad, created by guide Harry Spear, one of the legends of Florida Keys flats fishing and fly tying. Spear's toad adopts the basic tying technique used to construct crab patterns like Del Brown's classic Merkinyou attach strands of yarn or similar material, with figure-eight wraps of thread, perpendicular to the hook shank to form a wide body. Spear animates his fly with a fluffy marabou tail, which flares to suggest the mud puffs left by a darting toad, and he flanks the tail with grizzly hackle to suggest the barred caudal fin of the natural. Spear also dabs the body with an olive/tan permanent marker to suggest its mottled coloring. 

Tasty Toad: Harry Spear Hook: #1/0 Mustad 34007. Thread: Chartreuse 3/0 monocord or Danville 3/0 flat waxed nylon. Weight: Size small lead barbell eyes. Tail: White marabou fibers (one side of a marabou blood feather pulled from quill), tan marabou fibers, and a pair of grizzly saddle hackles flanking the marabou and flared. Pull one wrap of thread under and behind entire tail to kick it up from shank. Body: White poly yarn, tied Merkin-style and trimmed. Color with Pantone or similar markers. Rub edges of body with head cement, pinch to flatten, and trim. Weedguard: V-shaped 15-pound-test Mason hard monofilament.
Toad Fly: Patrick Dorsy Hook: #2-4 Tiemco 800S. Thread: Beige Danville 3/0 flat waxed nylon. Eyes: Small or medium lead barbell to suit desired sink rate, with painted black pupil and yellow iris. Tail support: Beige badger hair with guard hairs, tightly bound, with enough bulk to keep tail from fouling. Tail: Tan rabbit strip. Body: Beige rug yarn attached perpendicular to hook shank, tightly packed and clipped to an oval shape. Color with olive and gold/orange permanent markers. Weedguard: 15-pound-test Mason hard monofilament double spike. Tying note: Dorsy applies yarn strands in pairs, packing them very tightly to form a dense body before brushing out and trimming to final shape. 
Slinky Toad: Dick Brown Hook: #2-4 Tiemco 800S. Thread: Tan Danville 3/0 flat waxed nylon. Weight: Size X-small (5â'„32") barbell eyes. Tail: Two tan and cream grizzly hackles, concave sides facing in. Body: Tan Krystal Flash over barred tan rabbit strip. Collar: Tan saddle hackle, palmered. Head: Ginger SLF dubbing, teased out. Tying note: Vary colors to match local bottom colors.

Tournament angler Patrick Dorsy created his simple but deadly Toad Flyin a tier's tribute to the Tasty Toadby re-fitting Spear's pattern with a lively rabbit-strip tail to improve both profile and action.

The Slinky Toad is a derivative design, evolved from a long-bodied fly that I've fished in the Bahamas for over 20 years to suggest gobies.

After discovering the importance of the toadfish as a diet staple in Florida, I fattened the body with barred rabbit, and increased the head profile. The Slinky Toad has proven an effective toad emulator in both Florida and the Bahamas.

Toadfish live and hunt primarily on the very bottoms of flats, where they liecamouflaged and waitingready to ambush prey. The bulky bodies of most toadfish patterns require moderate weighting with barbell eyes in sizes X-small, small, and medium (1/50, 1/36, and 1/24 oz.) to get them down into the zone where naturals are normally found.

When bonefish are tailing, however, they blow prey up into the water column as they excavate targets from the substrate, so tying some toads with lighter eyes like 1/8" bead chain or just a heavy hook for weight is wise.

Since the Gulf toadfish ambushes prey by making small darting lunges as it attacks, you should use a retrieving rhythm that intersperses irregular short strips with sporadic stops to suggest the natural's movements. Then pause the fly when the fish turns on it and watch for the take.

Dick Brown, who lives on the Massachusetts coast north of Boston, is author of Fly Fishing for Bonefish (Lyons Press, 2008) and more recently Bonefish Fly Patterns (Lyons Press, 2011) which profiles 197 fly patterns from tiers around the world.

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