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Barracuda are quite common all year in the Florida Keys, but what makes the winter period so interesting to us kayak anglers is that some of the largest specimens will come in to super shallow water to warm themselves. I’ll usually pick a sunny day, with warming water temps around 70 degrees for ideal conditions. They like sandy or light-colored patches of bottom. They also like lee shores with little wave action. Ponder those facts for a moment and you can start to see why these critters make terrific wintertime sight-fishing targets. Standing in the kayak and poling a shoreline in about 2 to 3 feet of water, we look for fish and put the kayak in position for a good presentation, normally about 40 to 50 feet from the target. Quietly dropping an anchor is effective at this distance, and keeps the current or breeze from pushing you too close to the fish.

Cudas are classic lie-in-wait predators. Having an elongated shape and pointed head, they are built for speed, and use this much more than maneuverability as their primary means of capturing prey. They love to sit completely motionless behind structure or next to a shoreline, only to rush out at speeds up to 27 mph to overrun smaller fish.

As to catching them, the hands down favorite lure is the tube lure, sold in tackle shops throughout the Keys, though I’ve seen flashy top water lures work as well. The main problem anglers encounter in targeting cudas is they aren’t able to get their lure moving fast enough. This is different than most fish where you’re trying to “tease” the fish into eating. So spend a little practice time reeling at absolute top speed to improve your number of hookups with these guys. Also, a reel with a high retrieve ratio really helps – something around 6:1 works well.

Now here’s an advanced technique that will help you immensely in your pursuit. You want to develop 3 distinct speeds in your retrieve. Think of it like 1st, 2nd, and 3rd gear. Once you have a target in sight, and you’ve moved into a position in front of them, make your cast and start a slow retrieve (1st gear). If the fish starts following, abruptly pick up the speed to medium-fast (2nd gear). If the fish is still following, abruptly hit your top speed (3rd gear). At this point, you simply CAN NOT reel too fast! Normally you’ll get a strike when changing speeds. One of the most exciting things in sight-fishing is watching a full-grown barracuda turn, track down and assault your lure, followed by several line-peeling runs and a few greyhounding jumps as well!