Catching a roosterfish on the fly is a long game. You’ll spend your days waiting in the hot sun for opportunities and when you spot a fish, a quick sprint and a pinpoint accurate double haul is needed to get these fish to feed. Once hooked up, you’re in for a serious fight.
But catching a roosterfish on a fly rod is not easy and you’ll need to be prepared and ready. Join me as we run through all the tactics, gear, and flies you’ll need when fly fishing for roosterfish.
Roosters are apex predators that spend their time cruising along the edge of beaches or around surf zones and structures chasing bait such as lady fish, mullet, and sardines.
Roosters are unmistakably beautiful thanks to their comb dorsal fin and silver body with black stripes. Anglers trying to spot roosters from the shore often lookout for the comb dorsal protruding from the surface or for a large dark shape slowly making its way along the shore.
Roosters are mean fish and once hooked up will fight like crazy. You should expect blistering runs that will have you in your backing in seconds which is then followed by a dog fight of note.
Where do roosters live?
Roosters have a rather small range and are only found in the eastern Pacific between Mexico’s east cape and Peru and the fly fishing hotspots include Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, east cape Baja Del Sur, as well as some spots in both Costa Rica and Panama.
I would describe roosters as an inshore species similar to a Giant Trevally. They will speed their time wherever the bait is cruising between the shore and reefs in search of any meal they can find.
Why is saltwater fly fishing for roosters so cool?
Beach fishing for roosters is incredibly visual. Watching a big rooster rush in through the surf and eat your fly just 10 feet from the shoreline in shallow water is an experience that gets your heart booming and one you will have imprinted on your brain for life.
It’s also incredibly rewarding as you really do spend long hours between opportunities and when a rooster comes along, you’re sprinting down the beach to get a shot off and when it all comes together and you get the eat, the feeling is unexplainable.
Another thing that makes fly fishing for roosters so special is where you do it. Whether you’re on the Baja beaches with turquoise waters and a rugged mountain backdrop or cruising the jungle-lined coasts of Costa Rica and Panama, you’re spending time in a magical place.
What gear do I need for catching roosterfish on the fly?
The fly gear required to catch roosters is on a much higher level than anything you would throw for a trout. You’ll need a burly rod and reel and a ton of backing line to stop the fish after its first run.
It’s best to have two rods when fishing for these fish, one for big roosters and another for smaller roosters and other species.
Your big fish rod should be a 10 weight fly rod with fast action. The fast action will increase your casting range and help you throw a quick long cast that will also punch through the wind.
Your small rooster and multi-species rod should be an 8 weight rod, again with a fast action so you can punch through the wind and be able to make a cast quickly.
For our recommendations on the best saltwater fly rods check out our full guide here.
Once you have hooked a fish, especially if it’s a big roosterfish, you’re not going to be able to land it without a good reel. Fly rods aren’t really made for lifting bigger fish like larger roosters and while you can do short pumps, 90% of the larger fish caught on a fly rod are landed by the reel and its drag.
Make sure you have a saltwater fly reel with a drag you trust and I’d recommend Nautilus, Mako, Shilton, and Hatch reels for the job. Or you can visit our Best Saltwater Fly Reels here for more selection.
Fly Line & Backing
You’re going to need to fill your 10 wt reel with around 300 yards of 50lb backing and your 8wt reel with 300 yards of 30 lb backing. This is enough to manage the first run of any rooster from the beach and more than enough from a boat.
When it comes to fly lines, you’ll need a range including sinking and floating lines depending on whether you’re fishing from beaches or on a boat (you’ll only use the sinking line on a boat). Having a clear intermediate line for beach fishing is also a good idea as it helps get your fly down and is harder for a rooster to see.
Make sure you’re using a weight-forward line and some great options include any Rio Tarpon Clear Tip Intermediate, Rio Outbound Short, or Scientific Anglers Titan Tropical line.
Leaders & Tippet
You’ll want a few rolls of 40lb, 30lb, and 20lb fluorocarbon in your fishing bag. Most anglers try to use a 40 lb tippet when chasing roosterfish but quite often they spot the thicker 40lb and refuse flies forcing anglers to move to 30ln and then to 20lb.
DIY fishermen will want to build their own tapered leaders and if you’re with local guides, be sure to have them help you build your tapered leader as they need to be tied correctly so don’t lose a fish.
If you want to know what’s the difference between a leader and a tippet, see our post here.
Small roosters love eating sardines and needlefish while the bigger specimens are looking for a decent meal and thus are after mullet, mackerel, ladyfish, and even ballyhoo. When fishing from beaches, mullet patterns are a favorite choice, and having a few crease flies around for other species isn’t a bad idea.
Here are some flies you must have in your fly box.
- 3/0 ep rooster fish Sardina
- 3/0 & 4/0 EP Rooster Fish Mullet pattern with a spun deer hair head
- 3/0 EP Tinker Mackerel
- 3/0 EP Sardina
The most important thing you need to think about when fishing from the beach for roosters is hydration, snacks, fishing friends, and footwear.
Chances are you are going to be walking the sand for hours every day of your trip, so some friends t share the pain with is always a good idea.
To hook a fish, a quick sprint down the sand and throwing a 60 feet cast is a must. Choosing your footwear for these moments is, of course, a personal preference but the last thing you need it stepping on some sharp rocks in the sand while sprinting down the beach to make a cast.
When fishing from the beach it’s recommended that anglers use light neoprene boots. When on a boat, barefoot is preferred as you can feel if you’re steeping on your line when making a cast.
Hydration and snacks are key, and every angler should have their own camel pack when walking the beach. Don’t leave your backpack at base camp either because chances are you’re not going back for hours.
See also our Saltwater Fly Fishing Gear for Beginners post here.
Tactics For Catching Roosterfish On A Fly
As you have probably already worked out, you’re going to be fishing for roosters either from the beach or from a boat (panga) on your trip and each approach is very different.
From A Panga
When fishing from a panga you will be cruising in deeper water looking for bait and signs of roosters on the surface. On slow days, guides may even throw in live bait to chum up a school of roosters or cast out spinning lures as teasers to bring the roosters in.
To catch a rooster from a panga, you’ll want a sinking line and to be able to throw your fly around 50 feet – meaning being able to double haul cast is a must. You’ll then need to throw your fly around 10-15 feet away from the fish, let the fly sink, and then proceed with long strips until you’re on.
The benefit of being on a panga is that you can cover more ground and you’re not walking all day long. But, the experience doesn’t compare to doing it from the beach.
From The Beach
To catch these fish from the beach, you need to bring your A-game which means getting prepared before your trip and staying in the zone on your trip. Make sure you have practiced casting your 10 wt and double haul a line to at least 60 feet is light work before you get on the plane.
Once you’re on the beach, you need to be prepared to for long gaps between fish but still have to be alert at all times as the fish can come out of nowhere, as most fish do.
Chances are you will have a beach buggy to get you to a spot and then it’s on foot from there. Keep your eyes peeled on the first 60 feet of the sea from the shore looking for signs of bait and the dark shape of a big rooster following the shoreline.
When you see a fish, it’s time to get ahead of it so you can feed it a fly. This usually entails a mad sprint to get in position and then a long cast to lay up your fly around 10-15 ft in front of the rooster.
At this moment, you need to pause, letting your fly sink and waiting for the fish to get closer to it. You’ll remember thinking that these are the longest seconds in the world.
Once the fly has sunk, make slow long strips until the fish comes into the fly and then start stripping faster and walking backward until it eats. Now it’s time for a strip set, if you lift your rod you’ll lose the fish.
Once on, fight the fish with your rod down letting it run when it wants to, and using the reel and small pumps to bring the fish to hand.
It’s not easy to catch a roosterfish from the beach but it’s one of the most rewarding and exciting things you can do in fly fishing.
Where are the places to cast roosterfish on a fly?
The number one place to go fly fishing of roosterfish is in Mexico’s East Cape and it’s probably the only place in the world you can do it from the beach successfully and there are many options to do it from a panga too.
Staying at Rancho Leonero is your best bet and ask to be guided by the one and only Jeff DeBrown who has been guiding in Baja longer than anyone else. You also have other options including Bahia De Los Suenos and Cabo Pulmo Copalapa.
When it comes to Costa Rica, Crocodile Bay Resort on the south Pacific coast is a great place to fish for roosters.
When is the best season for roosters?
When it comes to roosterfish fishing in Mexico, the best time for a fly angler to be there is between mid-March and mid-June or September and October. This is when there are more fish around and the winds have dropped making casting a fly a lot easier.
If you’re heading to Costa Rica, any time between December and May works well and you’ll also be able to do some offshore fishing from marlin, sailfish, tuna, wahoo, dorado, and more.
Can you fish for roosterfish from the shores in Costa Rica?
Fishing for roosterfish from the shores in Costa Rica isn’t doable as most of the fish tend to stay in deeper water around reefs, rocks, and other structures. If you want to catch a roosterfish on foot, you pretty much have to go to Mexico.