Trash On The Flats

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A Perfect Lady Photo by Louis Cahill

A Perfect Lady Photo by Kathy Cahill

If we can fly fish for carp, why not lady fish?

I was in the Bahamas last month for a little DIY bonefishing. I love DIY trips. They have a whole different vibe from a guided lodge experience. I’m sure I miss some opportunities fishing without a guide. I may not catch as many fish, or as big a fish but I fish at my own pace and am a whole lot more relaxed. I appreciate a guide who works their ass off for me but it’s nice to just walk the flats, sometimes with my wife who doesn’t fish, and just explore.

This last trip was one of those and it allowed me to do something I really enjoy. Catching a few saltwater trash fish. On a guided trip there is always this pressure to stay on task and boat as many, or as big a specimen of what ever the target species may be. I’m generally curious about all kinds of fish and when I see something different, well, I just want to put a hook in it.

photoSome guys get really serious about it. They wouldn’t consider casting to a barracuda, for example. I think anyone who doesn’t enjoy catching a cuda on the fly is seriously missing something awesome. I get the whole idea of sticking to the program, and nobody loves catching bonefish more than me, but at some point you really don’t have anything else to prove. One more bonefish isn’t going to make or break you as an angler.

I caught a bunch of bonefish on my last trip but when I think back on it, those are not the fish I remember. I remember the cool trigger fish with their bright blue spots. I wish I’d had the camera when I caught them but there comes a time when that thing needs to stay at home.

I think about catching my first cow fish. I saw it on the flat and had no idea what it was. So, of course, I had to catch it and see. It was surprisingly picky and hard to feed. Once I hooked it it put up a great fight. A really cool little fish. It’s body is almost square and surprisingly hard. The Bahamians call them box fish and it’s easy to see why. My friend Ronaldo was very unhappy that I released it. Apparently they’re tasty.

The Fish Says Moo

The Fish Says Moo

Maybe the coolest fish I caught on the trip was a lady fish. I know! A total trash fish. The only other time I’ve intentionally fished for lady fish we were using them for shark bait. But this guy was awesome. The biggest lady fish I’ve ever seen. It put me on my backing and made several nice jumps. It left me wondering why we don’t target them.

I guess this fish was an outlier. If they were all like that there’d be professional lady fish guides. I checked the record books when I got home. It would have been a record in Florida. Not that I want to hold any record, let alone the lady fish record. That would be a pretty quick way to ruin any street cred I might accidentally have. Still, it was a cool fish.

I have a lot of buddies who are totally rabid about chasing carp. I think the first fish I ever caught might have been a carp. My grandfather told me they were a useless fish that was good for nothing but fertilizer. I spent the rest of the afternoon catching about a dozen of them on dough balls and whacking them on the heads with a croquet mallet. I dumped them in my grandfathers garden, thinking I was following instructions. For a great many years after that I think he considered me less that bright.

I guess my point is this. There’s a fine line between trash fish and sport fish, idiot and angler, and that line is always moving. If lady fish are the next big thing, remember it was my idea. If not, they do make excellent shark bait.

Read more on trash fish (HERE)


Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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14 thoughts on “Trash On The Flats

  1. Hey Louis,

    Great article and I always find it interesting what fish people refer to as trash fish in different regions in the world and then how they become cool for some reason.

    Lady fish, or skipjack as we call them here in South Africa are prized in certain estuaries on our East coast and there are whole lot of guys who focus on them obsessively. We have some very good Lady Fish guides here and 100cm fish is a prize. As you say, “It put me on my backing and made several nice jumps.” and since they take the fly redilly why are they considered trash fish in the USA? To me that is a fish worth chasing.

    Thanks for a great site articles, and I hope you don’t mind comment from other continents.


  2. Louis one of my best friends, Capt Norm Bartlett, has had several fly world IGFA records on ladyfish. He has also held records on tarpon, and sea trout. If you ask him what he really enjoys it would be ladyfish. He traveled to South Florida earlier this year to see if those ladyfish were still where he caught them years before and they were gone. His wife Sandy has also held IGFA records on ladyfish. We catch them in SW Florida and sometimes they can save a really bad trip. The worst thing about ladyfish is the thrashing and mess they make at the boat. You really have to be careful if you catch one on a lure with treble hooks. I’ve had to extricate them out of my hand on more then one occasion. Overall though they make an excellent fly rod species on 6 or 7 weight rods.

  3. Lady fish can be fun, especially for kids. They are a bit messy on landing, but who can blame them?

    I have thrown successfully to cobia and grouper on tarpon trips and triggerfish, mutton snapper, runners, and cuda on bonefish trips.

    When targeting redfish or snook I will fish for anythin redfishg that will eat my fly., including sailcats, snapper, pompano, jacks, and other flats denizen. Every tug of the line is a gift.

    I have successfully fished for mullet with a tiny trout sized fly and caught one in the mouth with a redfish fly once. Both acquitted themselves well in the fight.

    Some my look down on such efforts. I do not care. Fishing is fun.

  4. Well said.

    The foundation of a living a sporting lifestyle is being fair and generous in one’s behavior or treatment of others and the game we chase.

    Any fish caught in a sporting way is an adversary worthy of respect. I crave the sport, not the fish per se. I am glad that you and others do too.

  5. Here in South Africa we call them Skipjack. They are specifically targeted and are a whole lot of fun to catch. They put in blistering runs and fight hard to the end. We fish for them on 6 and 8wt outfits in the surf and estuaries . My personal best is a fish of 53inch.

  6. Ladyfish are great except for when you go to unhook one and it’s bleeding… In waist deep water… with bull sharks around. Then they become a problem. Also in places along the Florida coast(trying to answer a comment from South Africa) you’ll be targeting fish like reds and trout for the fryer and end up catching ladies. They’re a problem for most fisherman but we flybums dont mind because of the fight they put up. If I’m trying to feed an army however, I’ll be kinda pissed to hook one

  7. Yea lady fish get a bad rap, but a lot of the time they end up providing some fun for me in between catching reds or sea trout down around Steinhatchee. They’ll hit darn near anything, and I’ve caught some really sizable ones that have put up a fun fight.

  8. Ladyfish share an order with Tarpon and are similar but smaller. I’ve never seen the logic behind labeling such a species as trash fish.

  9. Any fish is a good fish. I watched a friend get worked over -but good by a good sized box fish…impressive . Bonefish wish they could jump like a ladyfish. Jacks deserve more respect.

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