Chasing Florida Exotics with Tribe Member Jeff Thill

Florida has been a fly fishing destination for generations, from the great tarpon run in late-March to the year-round fishery in the Keys. But Florida is also home to some incredible exotic species that are always willing to take a fly when given the opportunity. One of these species is a Southeast Asian transplant, the Barramundi. This type of sea bass is found all over the Indo-Pacific region and is much beloved as a game fish and a source of delicious meat. They crush flies like snook, jump like tarpon and pull line like a striper, making them an incredible fish to fight on the fly rod.

For those of you who are members of our Facebook Group, the Tribe, you may recognize Jeff Thill from his almost weekly pictures of barramundi with Postfly flies in their lips. So we decided to hit up Jeff to share a little bit about his favorite local fish and how he gets them to the bank.

Jeff’s fly fishing journey began when he picked up a 5 weight rod on a to fish for rainbow trout in a stocked pond in western Colorado for a couple of hours. He was instantly hooked and found himself back in the Western Mountains 10 months later chasing trout on the legendary waters of the Clark Fork, Bitterroot and Blackfoot rivers in Montana. Jeff said his love for fly fishing is best described by the quote, “That escalated quickly!” as shortly after that trip he took a plane down to Argentina and landed an 11 kilo (22.22 lb) Dorado.

Jeff took his new found passion and started exploring his local areas in Florida, hunting anything that would take his flies. He keeps a fly rod rigged in his car at all times ready to stop and fish any of the many bass ponds in the Central Florida area. He recommends asking people if you can fish their ponds and has found that almost all have said yes with the promise of catch and release.

A big Barramundi swirling on a popper.

Jeff’s barramundi ponds are about an hour from his home but not on the way to or from work.  The site is a former tropical fish farm near St Cloud Florida that was hit by a prolonged freeze in 2010 that killed most of the farm’s Barramundi, many over 15 pounds. In 2017, his business partner and he restocked 2 ponds with 4000 one-pound Barramundi. Currently, many of the fish are now 8 pounds plus. And through hard work, the 2 ponds are virtually freeze-proof now protecting the Barramundi from the rare Florida freeze. The surrounding canals and ponds on the property hold largemouth bass and Oscars as well, allowing you to switch up your targets if you get bored of roping in big Barramundi.

A Barramundi setup is not that different from your typical streamer or topwater setups. You want an 8 weight rod rigged with matching line. You’ll only need a 20 lb leader to bring these fish in, but you will also want to have some 50lb Hard-Mono tippet to defend against the Barramundi’s sharp gill plates and mouth. Jeff recommends crimping all your barbs as it makes removing the fly much easier and with less risk of your hands falling victim to the sharp gill plates.

When asked why he loves these fish so much, Jeff had this to share, “A barramundi hits streamers like a snook, then aerialize like baby tarpon (see top photo) and will frequently give you that coveted reel scream. They are also crazy for topwater and unlike bass in Florida the bite is better the hotter the weather later in the day. Unlike trout or redfish, instead of spooking if a fly hits near them, they are attracted to agitated water so slapping the water near them induces them to strike.”

Jeff is a big topwater action angler, so you will find him throwing a lot of big poppers and gurglers til the bite shuts off. After that, Jeff goes deep with streamers, olive Clousers being their favorite. Jeff says the flies from his Postfly Warm Water Subscription have been key to dialing in his fishery with almost every pattern fooling the Barramundi, including every carp pattern sent out recently. These fish are hungry!

Barramundi on the fly
A Typical Barramundi from Jeff’s Locale

The best time of year to chase Barramundi in Florida is between May and November when it’s hot. Barramundi are used to tropical climates and higher temps can be the difference between a few fish to hand and a crazy day on the water.

Jeff has extended an invite to Florida Tribemembers looking to get their Barramundi fix in this year. Just shoot him a DM on Facebook, set up your dates and get your gear ready.

Barramundi on the Fly
Tribe Member Jeff Thill with a Healthy Florida Barramundi

Stay tuned to Jeff’s page and the Tribe as he sets up his fly fishing travels for 2019. Jeff hopes to spend more time targeting Peacock Bass in the lakes of South Florida and hunting backcountry snook and tarpon in the Everglades. However, he is most looking forward to his trips this year chasing Tarpon, Permit, Bonefish, and Pike, as well a big trip up to Alaska chasing the legendary salmon runs.

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