Throughout the year, I try to share a number of field reports interspersed with my Step-by-Step tutorials. These tend be big trips (Costa Rica) or Tournaments (25 on the Fly), but, as often as not, the simple day trips that I fail to share produce noteworthy fish and moments.
With that in mind, I decided I’d take a moment to share my Top 5 Fish of 2022. Some have been highlighted elsewhere on this blog, but, in a few cases, this will be the first time they’ve been shared.
Narrowing this list down to five proved a more difficult task than I had initially expected. As a result, I wanted to include a few honorable mentions as well. While write-ups are not included for these, clicking on the links below will take you to images of each.
#5 – Spotted Gar
In early October of this year, I ventured out to a stretch of public land that Maedbh and I occasionally visit for the sake of wildlife photography. A shallow flood plain ideal for migratory waterfowl, the vast swath of shallow water also seems to produce spotted gar in significant numbers.
Given our recent lack of rain, however, this area has quickly become more mud flat than flood plain. And, as a result, the gar were now stacked in ever receding ponds like the one shown here.
A situation reminiscent of Fish in a Barrel, the primarily challenge was targeting individual fish in water the consistency of chocolate milk.
Armed with small flashy flies, I spent the morning targeting wakes and tails with intermittent strikes (and the occasional foul hook) adding excitement to the passing hours. Of the fish that came to hand, most were in the 18” range. However, one gar easily outpaced its brethren.
Measuring in at over 33”, and a girth better suited to a largemouth, the big gar would have likely surpassed the state fly rod record (6.18 lbs). With no scale to confirm though, and a mile hike back to my truck, a picture is as close as I will come to knowing. A few shots taken, and the gar was sent back into the muddy abyss.
#4 – Gafftop Pompano
While not among the largest I’ve landed this year, the second fish on this list was definitely one of the more unique fish. Previously featured in my Costa Rica posts from May of this year, this Gafftop Pompano came as a surprise as I targeted Sierra Mackerel along the shore of Gulfo Dulce.
A member of the genus, Trachinotus, this fish is a relation of both the Florida Pompano and Permit. The first member of this genus to grace the end of my fly line, it (along with the juvenile permit my nephew landed on conventional gear over Thanksgiving) has motivated me to spend more time targeting Pompano, Permit and Palmetto along the Florida and Alabama coast this coming year.
#3 – Black Crappie
A few different fish were in the running for this spot on my list. In the end though, I settled on another personal best. This time, a sac-a-lait (black crappie).
While black crappie are a common catch in south Louisiana, the vast majority, in my experience, fall within the 6-8” size class. Needless to say, I was a bit surprised when this 13” slab came to net in late March.
Bycatch while searching for chain pickerel, it was one of three crappie over 10” landed that morning.
As a bit of post-hoc internet sleuthing indicated crappie to 2+ lbs are not uncommon in this body of water, it is safe to say I’ll be returning with frequency in the coming year.
#2 – Black Drum
Black Drum have long eluded me on the fly. I’ve caught plenty in the past on conventional, but, for reasons known only to the fishing gods, I had long struggled to entice one with the fly.
Mercifully that changed on July 4th of this year. Rising early, Maedbh and I headed for the coast, intent on an Independence Day fishing/photography adventure.
Though I had planned on launching my kayak into the surf that morning in search of Speckled Trout, large tails fanning above the shallow marsh along the beach entry road changed that.
Combat launching from the shoulder, I spent the morning pursuing tails. Hooking up twice and missing others, I finally brought my first black drum to hand.
Longer than the 30” measuring board stashed in the rear of my kayak, that big ugly was and is the largest fish taken on my 9wt H3D to date.
#1 – Striped Bass
Put simply, I worked harder for the fish featured here than for any other fish I caught in 2023. Arriving in Providence shortly after midnight on a Thursday in mid-May, Jake and I were on the water less than four hours later as the sun began to peak over the horizon. Jake’s goal for the day was simple, introduce me to Striped Bass on the fly. And he did.
Over the 15 hours that followed, I received a crash course in New England Striper as bounced around the state of Rhode Island. Chasing tides, winds and bait, we fished jetties, tidal rivers, bays and backwaters. All under ideal New England weather. 50 F, overcast and drizzling.
Exhausted, cold and wet, I would have been satisfied to call it quits after a number of stripers measuring into the low 20s caught late in the afternoon. Jake wanted me to land at least one big fish though, so we pushed on well into the evening.
Finally, wading chest deep, the sun waning in the west, I hooked into the type of fish we had been looking for.
That’ll do it for me. Now let’s here about your top fish of the year. Comment below. Or better yet, email me a picture. I’d love to include a Readers Gallery as part of this post!! The first few submissions can be seen below!!