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Barracuda 101 // How to Fly Fish for Barracuda

Posted by Joe Rotter on
Barracuda 101 // How to Fly Fish for Barracuda

My first experience with was mind blowing. I still remember the guide talking me into the fish that I couldn't see, and I literally said, "where is it from the log?"... His reply, "it IS the log!"

Barracuda are long fish that typically sit very still while hunting with the intent of ambushing anything they can tear apart and fit in their mouth. Once I finally realized that I was casting at the log I made an effort to cast at what I thought was the fish's head.  Of course I misread the fish and threw at its tail, by some act of God the fish actually turned and exploded on my fly so fast that I couldn't even follow the action with my eye! It was insane.  Then to continue to debauchery I clamped down so hard on the line I broke the line where my wire leader was connected to my base leader. It was all over in about .5 seconds but I was hooked. I was ready for any and all shots at Cuda after that!  These fish are fast, explosive, they jump like crazy, and will provide you some major excitement. They also fill some gaps when other in-shore species might be hard to find. Like Permit for instance!

Where Will You Encounter Barracuda?

Joe Rotter on How to Fly Fish for Barracuda

While Barracuda can be found in both the Atlantic Oceans as well as the Pacific Side, most anglers will be fishing for on the east side of the Americas when fishing for Cuda. The world record Cuda was recorded at 102 pounds! It was caught off the west coast of Africa by an angler fishing for Tarpon on the Cuanza River. Most Cuda will be in the 10-15 pound range and put up a great fight with explosive jumps and runs. They tire quickly so you won't have to spend 20 minutes hauling these in. 

On the Pacific Ocean side of the Americas, my experience has been that the Cuda are living in deeper water floating with suspended bait balls and are much harder to track down with fly gear. In the shallow flats and lagoons found on the east coast, Cuda are easier to target in water as shallow as 1-2 feet deep. It's very exciting when you can find them in shallow water. 

Barracuda are most often a "Plan B" species and can be cast to and targeted when looking for Permit, Bonefish, Tarpon, or even Snook. Cuda are a bit more randomly distributed so it's a nice bonus to get a shot when you least expect it.  Savvy anglers will want to have a rod in the boat dedicated for Cuda so that when an opportunity pops up they are ready at a moment's notice. Put down the Permit rod, grab the Cuda rod.

What Do Barracuda Eat?

Meat. Well, fish technically.  These fish don't typically mess with shrimp, crabs, or other small stuff. Their game is predate and ambush baitfish often quite large in comparison to their body size. Barracuda will attack and use their scissor like jaws as well as their spiked teeth, to cut their prey in halves and disable it. I've seen Barracuda slice Bonefish, Snapper, and small Jacks right in half!

Flies for Barracuda

Fly Collection for Barracuda

Flies for Barracuda

Needlefish patterns are very popular, and you'll see that the fish pictured above was hooked on the rear hook, on the outside of the fish's mouth. This is very common, and a result of the Cuda trying to cut the fish in half.

Popper Fly for Fishing Barracuda

Poppers are my preferred strategy. It's very important that the very second this fly lands you begin your first strip. I believe the bubbles, waves, and chaos created by a popper can be an advantage over Needlefish. Carry both, find your favorite.

Anglers will want to have a variety of flies including Poppers, Needlefish, and some traditional saltwater baitfish patterns. Hooks are typically 2/0 - 4/0 and sharp hooks are obviously important. Low flex, big gape, and having a pattern or two with a stinger hook is a bonus. Sometimes you'll find nervous Cuda that slash at the tail and a stinger hook can pick these up. The downside is that it will cost you line speed, distance, and some casting control with that extra hook and wire in the body of the fly.

Poppers are essential as the cavitation and wake can disguise the true identity of the fly. Fleeing baitfish also jump and tailwalk along the surface so it just makes sense!  The other bonus is that on cloudy days the popper tends to get their attention in situations where blind casting may be a good option. Plus you'll get to watch them absolutely exnihilate your fly!

Leader Systems for Barracuda

Fly Fishing for Barracuda with Wire Leader and a Popper.

Wire leader is critical to your success as they teeth and razor sharp ridgeline along the inside of their jaws will sever even 100 lb. Fluorocarbon. I've tried many times with my 60+ lb. Tarpon Leaders to catch Barracuda and I'm about 1 for 10. They seem to slice it on the strike quite often.

In the Barracuda 101 video I explain my preferred system for attaching wire to a base leader. This is my way, there are lots of ways to do it and plenty of knots you can learn to make tidy little connections. 

I personally like to "loop to loop" by wire leader onto the end of my Tarpon rig and knot tie my fly on versus a swivel snap. That's MY preference. With all the changing of leaders, flies, etc. that works best for me. It's pretty agile and allows me to swap out rigs on various rods quickly.

Barracuda Leader Options:

  1. Pre-tied Toothy Critter Leader.  This is a good way to go if you are great with knots and just want a "plug and play" system. Get a 30-45# weight, and it's up to you on snap or no-snap.
  2. Hand Tied Leader with Wire Bite Tippet. This is my preference, its casts well as there is no hardware like swivels or snaps involved. I use a loop-to-loop connection that is small, clean, and compact. Don't be messy, keep it tight. I can usually run the fly through the loop and quick change by simply cutting of my Tarpon fly, inserting a Perfection Loop, and loop to loop my Cuda fly and wire bite onto the end.  RIO Wire Bite Tippet 30# or 40# recommended. 
  3. Quick change rig. I don't have a video available at this time, but a life-hack is to use a RIO Fly Clip - Twist Clip #2, and a short section of wire, and you can add a streamer to your Bonefish rig. It makes for a near instant addition. You would cast your Bonefish fly that is essentially being chased by a Cuda fly. There are lots of cons to this rig, but if you are wading for Bonefish and spot a small to mid-sized Cuda it can work!

Rods, Reels, and Lines for Barracuda

Saltwater Fly Rod Choices

Saltwater 10 Weight Fly Rods for Barracuda

My #1 choice if I had a dedicated rod would be a 10 weight. I personally like a slightly longer head, like a Grand Slam or Flats Pro type line. Similar to what I would use for Permit or Tarpon. Floating lines are nearly essential, although you could limp through a trip using an Intermediate if your Tarpon rig was being cross utilized for Barracuda.

Reels should be sturdy, saltwater friendly, but don't need more than 200 yards of backing and frankly Cuda tire out quite easily after the first few explosive runs and jumps. Since this reel is likely going to be on your 10 weight, invest wisely and get something that can also handle large off shore species as well. Better is always better.

Presentation for Barracuda

Fast. You'll need a fast retrieve if you want to convince an angry Barracuda your fly is attempting to flee.  However, more important than speed is acceleration. Start with a cast that is within 2 body lengths of the fish, try not to cast beyond the fish as they don't like things swimming at them. It freaks them out. 

Start stripping and leave some reserve speed for when the fish begins to chase.  As the fish begins to attack, speed it up!  That's what a baitfish does when swimming for its life.

Two Handed Strip? Only when blind casting. The problem is that you can't pick up, re-cast, or take the fly away from the fish if it threatens getting too close to the boat (the result is it will spook, better to take the fly away and make another cast).   

Other Tips and Thoughts on Fishing for Barracuda

You'll be in the boat for Barracuda most of the time, so it's likely that you will have a boat partner and a couple of rods handy. Most of the time you'll be poling along searching for Permit or other species. the angler NOT on the deck is most likely the Cuda guy and will bat cleanup and take shots at the Cuda when spotted. Be ready! Don't be the lame teammate dozing off until a fish is spotted. Have your Cuda rig ready, slightly unspooled, and ready to go. Discuss with your boat partner who and how will get the shot if you you spot a Cuda. Will you cast from the middle of the boat, switch places on the deck, etc. Make a plan before the action unfolds.

Handling Barracuda and a Picture

Let the guide do this. It's good to keep a gardening glove handy so you can hold your own catch, but you can get sliced open quickly by these fish so be careful! You could ruin a trip with improper handling. Get your picture upon the guide's discretion, they are a fun species to photograph and quite resilient to handling so it's a good one to get that trophy shot!

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