Fly Fishing for Roosterfish: A 101 Guide

Roosterfish are a game changer when it comes to fly fishing. For this guide we will focus on Baja Mexico. Enjoy our take on Fly Fishing for Roosterfish: A 101 Guide.

The Fish

Most often found in Guatemala, Panama, Costa Rica and Mexico. Roosterfish (Nematistius Pectoralis) are distinctly known for their seven long dorsal spines that resemble a mohawk. They have black striping and interestingly their swim bladder penetrates the brain through the large foramina and makes contact with the inner ear allowing them to use their swim bladder to amplify sounds. That being said, you can actually cast too quiet to a roosterfish. The louder the fly hits the water (when they are in a feeding frenzy), the better. You can expect a large to be upwards of 5 feet long and 90+ pounds.

There are two ways of fishing for roosterfish. From a boat or from the beach.

  1. Boat fishing for Roosterfish: Possibly the easiest way to fish for rooster. Maybe the better option if your casting skills aren’t up to par since the guides can “help” by baiting the waters with sardine and allowing you to cast into the feeding fish.
  2. “Run down the man” from the Beach: With only a four-wheeler and your sight. This style of fly fishing will be the most demanding, yet even more rewarding. You stalk your prey, in the shallow waters. Waiting to see their fin charging the wave tip as they chase their prey.  When you finally see it, you have to quickly calm yourself. Run into the surf and make precision casts, sometimes as deep as your body can go into the water as waves crash into your face. When fishing from the beach, roosters are more likely to hit a well-placed fly. When you finally get a roosterfish on the end of your line you can expect a hard and sometimes long fight. The bigger the fish the longer the run, smaller fish tend to mimic tarpon and like to jump out of the water.

The best time to fish for rooster in Baja, Mexico is usually year round. The best months are March – May and September – October. Those months you will have a better chance of fish. In May and early June the fish migrate through. BEWARE OF HURRICANE SEASON!

The Lines:

Choose a line that is designed for the tropics. Overweighting? You’ll want a line with a powerful front taper that can cut through wind with the bigger leaders and flies. Scientific Anglers Titan Tropical Sink Tip or Full Intermediate are the go to choices for most avid Roosterfish anglers when fishing from shore or a boat. For those who spend a majority of time on a boat, it would be advantageous to also carry a rod rigged with a floating line for surface action popper fishing, or even consider having a full sinking line like the Rio Leviathian in order to target fish that may be sitting deeper in the water column.

The Rods:

The go-to rod for most anglers, whether fishing from the boat or from shore is a 10 weight rod. The 10 weight represents a rod that can still cast great distance while providing the amount of backbone necessary to fight these fish effectively. We thoroughly love fishing with the G Loomis NRX + Saltwater, Sage Maverick or the Echo Boost Blue

Waters that Roosterfish reside in also contain various species of Jacks, Mackerel, Tuna, Dorado, Grouper, and Billfish. Therefore, we would also recommend having an 11 weight or 12 weight on hand for the variety of situations you will find while fishing.

Ideally, if fishing from a boat, three rods would be rigged in order to cover all the varying depths at which you may see fish during a given day. We would recommend having a rod rigged with a floating line, an intermediate tip or full intermediate, as well as a full sinking line. 

The Reels: 

All of the fish found while fishing for Roosterfish are known to run. So, it is recommended to outfit your rods with saltwater grade reels that have a stout disc drag and high backing capacity, (a minimum of 300 yards or 50lb Gel-Spun or braided backing is recommended. Some of our favorite reels for this include the Galvan Torque T-10, Hatch 11+, or Redington Grande series reels.

The Leader & Tippet: 

It is recommended to have 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, and 50lb (optional) spools of fluorocarbon tippet on hand in order to construct your own leaders using this simple formula. 

  • For Roosterfish –  3ft of 40lb + 2ft of 30lb + 3ft of 20lb to the fly, 
  • For Dorado – 4ft of 40lb, + 3ft of 30lb to the fly 

If you are not confident tying your own leaders or squeezed for time while preparing, you can also bring tapered leaders and add tippet to them depending on what you are fishing for, 20-25lb is recommended for Roosterfish, Jacks, and small Dorado. 30-40lb is recommended for larger Dorado

The Flies: 

Matching baitfish is very important. Small roosters tend to feed on small baitfish like sardines. Larger roosters tend to eat mullet and mackerel ranging from 3-6 inches long. Make sure you choose colors that match the baitfish such as tans and olives. We would also recommend having a small selection of poppers.

Here is a quick list of fly’s to bring, all are 2/0 – 4/0 hooks and 3″-6″ long in tan/white, grey/white, and olive/white.

  • EP Perfect Minnow
  • Umpqua Major Mullet
  • Umpqua Conners Midnight Mullet
  • Umpqua Major Sardine
  • Umpqua Clouser Minnow Fly
  • Umpqua Todd’s Wiggle Minnow
  • Charlies Airhead 
  • Crease Fly 
  • Bob Popovic’s Banger

The Casting:

Casting for Roosterfish in Baja, Mexico presents distinct challenges when done from the beach versus a boat. From the shore, anglers contend with limited casting distance due to the shallower water, necessitating a perfect combination of speed and precise presentations to entice these powerful predators. Stealth becomes paramount as the close proximity requires cautious footwork to avoid spooking the skittish roosterfish. Conversely, casting from a boat affords greater mobility to locate schools of Roosterfish, Jacks, or Dorado in deeper waters. Boat-based angling allows for longer, more accurate casts, with more time to present the fly, granting anglers a tactical advantage. The dynamic nature of boat fishing, however, demands adapting to changing currents and wind conditions. 

The Clothing:

The environments that these fish reside in are often very hot and humid and it is essential to prepare in order to maximize your comfort while on the water. We would highly recommend having the following items on hand:

  • Polarized Sunglasses + Backup Pair
  • SPF/UPF Rated button down or hooded sun shirt (Men’s / Women’s)
  • Buff, Sungaiter, or other lightweight face covering
  • Lightweight, quick-drying, pants (Men’s / Women’s)
  • Hats – Lightweight, trucker style or larger brimmed sombrero for sun protection
  • Footwear – subject to personal preference, but an important component. When fishing from a panga many anglers choose to go barefoot or use sneakers. But once on the beach, some anglers prefer sturdy wading boots because when it’s time to run to a get into casting position they are not concerned about stepping on anything sharp.