Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Key West Bonefish After Hurricane Irma

I spent most of last week down on Key West with my buddy Capt. Mike Bartlett and while I was sad to see the condition of some islands, I was thrilled with the fish we saw and caught. 

Once you hit Key Largo, the damage is everywhere and only gets worse down through Big Pine Key, where piles of debris were still ten feet high in some places along Highway 1.  Just past Sugarloaf, where the eye of Irma came ashore, the damage suddenly ends and it's like the storm never happened, at least from the road. 

On the water, things are a bit different.  Cruising out of my old home base of Garrison Bight Marina, Mike and I saw dozens of venerable old houseboats smashed to pieces in the harbor.  I remember some of them surviving Hurricane Georges back in 1998, but not this one.  Key West Harbor is still home to several dozen live-aboard sailboats but half of them are now just masts sticking up from the surface, their keels firmly buried twenty feet below. 

Out on the flats, it's a different story.  Some of the flats were still a muddy mess thanks to the first real cold from of the season, but once Mike pushed his skiff into some sheltered water near the Boca Chica, the visibility improved and the bonefish came pouring out of the shadows.

We kept getting shots as schools up to twenty fish and every time the fly dropped in their path, the bones attacked.  It always amazes me how aggressive this species actually is when they spot something moving in their path.  That's the big dirty secret about bonefish.  They can be hard as hell to find and spot, but once you do, they're really easy to feed. 

So if you're thinking of making a trip to the Keys to chase bones, or any other species, please do it.  The guides and everyone else down there wants your business.  Some of the bigger resorts in the Middle and Upper Keys are going to be closed for a while but the Lower Keys are good to go.  Best of all, Capt. Mike Bartlett is still on the fish and his Beavertail Skiff is ready go.  Give him a call at 305-797-2452 and land some bones or permit while you're there.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Recent Catches

Here are some shots from the last few weeks.  I know that my blog posts have been rare this year and that's mostly because I've become a lazy Instagram user with my new iPhone.  Please follow me at this link and in the meantime I'll try to be a lot more consistent with my blog updates.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

September On Pine Island

My article from this month's Coastal Angler Magazine:
Thanks to the inescapable heat and oppressive humidity, late summer was nobody’s favorite time of year in Southwest Florida.  But if you’re like me, and love chasing juvenile tarpon with a fly rod, those intensely hot days may have given you some of the best action of the year and September can be even better.

For a lot of dedicated anglers, there is nothing better than jumping the 10 to 20 pounders that are still on the flats from right now until the first cold fronts of November.  The slick calm mornings and high water temps force our smaller resident tarpon to gulp air from the surface several times an hour.  This behavior is called rolling, and it’s something these fish must do in order to survive. 

The prehistoric tarpon has a highly evolved internal air bladder lined with red blood cells that also functions as a rudimentary lung.  This allows tarpon to live in both fresh and saltwater and spotting a school of rolling fish during a dead-calm sunrise might be the greatest sight in all of flats fishing.  

These are the ultimate light tackle fish.  Juvenile tarpon hit hard, jump dozens of times during the fight, and can be landed in a relatively short time.  They’re nothing short of a nuclear bomb on the end of an 8-weight fly rod.  

For those of you non-snowbirds, September could be your best shot at a tarpon on fly.  These smaller fish are totally unpressured, especially during the weekdays.  Juvenile tarpon are usually an early morning or end of the day target and almost any basin at least 3’ or deeper can hold them.  Calm conditions are essential for targeting them at the surface but once the wind kicks up these small tarpon roll far less frequently.  On a perfectly flat morning you’ll also hear them taking that breath of air from a good distance.  It’s a quiet but unmistakable slurping sound that can lead you right towards a pod of hungry fish.  

The biggest drawback to chasing juvenile tarpon during the end of summer and beginning of fall is the water itself.  Thanks to the heat and frequent rains, most of SW Florida’s inshore flats look like a freshly brewed cup of coffee right now.  When the rolling fish drop back below the surface, our tannic stained water makes it tough to determine exactly where they’re going.  The best way to get a strike is to actually hit them with the fly while their heads are above the water.  If you’ve ever played the old arcade game Whack-A-Mole, you’ll understand this kind of fishing.  You need to anticipate where the tarpon will be before they actually surface.  Throwing bushy white flies, like Seaducers or deer hair Sliders, usually works best during these conditions.

Since you’re not going to set any world records with these fish, skip the ultra-light leaders.  A couple feet of 15# tippet and a 40# shock leader will let you muscle a juvenile tarpon to the boat in just a few minutes.  In this hot summer water, that’s crucial to their survival.  

Finally, and most importantly, remember that pulling a tarpon out of the water is illegal if they’re over 40 inches in length.  Even with the smaller ones it really shouldn’t be done.  Keep them in the water like you see in the photo on this page and you’ll be doing these fish a big favor.  Our juvenile tarpon can live a very long life, maybe 50 years or more, so fight them hard and release them quickly.  You might just meet them again in a few decades when they’ve put on a couple hundred pounds.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

2012 Beavertail BT3 For Sale

It's finally time to sell her.

2012 Beavertail BT3 for sale with 2014 Yamaha F70.This is one of only two side console BT3s ever built and is also one of the lightest. The BT3 has the same hull as the current Beavertail Vengeance but with a more spacious cockpit. This boat has a true 8" draft fully loaded with two anglers and has a top speed of 35mph with the current Yamaha F70. Cruising speed is 27mph while burning less than 4gph. I built this BT3 to go shallow, not fast, so the engine has rarely been run over 4500rpms. Current hours are 1152 and all oil/impeller changes have been done every 100 hours. An 82" beam and huge front deck make it the best fly casting platform on the water while being very easy to pole with zero hull slap. It had a complete factory overhaul done last week in Bradenton and is in great condition with several upgrades. Also included are:

Minn Kota 80lb CoPilot remote control trolling motor w/new 24volt battery system.

6' Power Pole Pro Series w/remote.

Yeti 75qt. cooler w/seating cushion.

Garmin 541 GPS w/depthfinder.

Brand new BT Mosquito style poling platform w/folding backrest. (This is very light and looks awesome.)

Under gunnel Seadek padding in Faux-Teak.

2012 Magic Tilt trailer w/spare tire.

The boat is currently located on Matlacha, FL and I'm asking $28,500. Please call me at 239-565-2960 with any other questions. I have several more photos that I plan on uploading tomorrow but feel free to shoot me a text if you'd like to see them sooner. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

August On Pine Island

From this month's Nautical Mile Magazine:
My kids with their first legal size pompano.

Late summer on Pine Island is usually a time of transition for my charters.  I stop focusing exclusively on tarpon, even though there are still plenty of them out there, and go back to chasing whatever target of opportunity presents itself on the flats.  Snook, trout and redfish are back on my list as well as several other edible species such as snapper and Spanish mackerel. But the best of all is the pompano.

This beautiful and hard fighting member of the jack family easily gets my vote as the best tasting fish that you can find in the shallows.  Unlike their much larger cousin the permit, pompano rarely exceed five pounds of solid, flying saucer shaped muscle.  Their sharp, forked tail gives them a tremendous acceleration and they’ll often jump several times when hooked.  This combination of good looks, great taste and a strong fight has made pompano a favorite of anglers in both the Gulf and Atlantic for decades.  

There are several ways to target them on both spin and fly gear but in late summer I’ll choose the easiest route.  Pompano are often spooked by running boats and will often skip like a stone in your wake.  They’re easiest to spot when cruising through manatee zones and at a fast idle.  If you see this happen kill your engine immediately and start bouncing live shrimp or shrimp tipped jigs on the bottom.  Pompano are a schooling species and where you see one there will usually be plenty of others, especially in water between three to six feet deep.  

Fly fishing for them right now in the dark summer water is a bit more difficult but I’ll sometimes dredge the bottom with heavily weighted Clouser Minnow patterns cast with an intermediate line.  This is a bit more labor intensive but pompano are an elusive catch on the fly here in SW Florida and well worth the effort.  Sight casting to one here on Pine Island is almost as rewarding as scoring on a permit down in the Keys. 

The beaches from Sanibel to Cayo Costa are some of the only places that fly anglers can actually spot cruising pompano right now.  Other than that, the inshore flats in August are the color of coffee and this is perfect camouflage for almost any species.  You’ll have to wait until the middle of winter when the water brightens up again to really sight fish for them.  Once that happens there are plenty of bright and shallow sandbars in Charlotte Harbor when pompano gather.  

Cruising stingrays are the one thing that ever angler should constantly look for, especially in the skinny water.  Most rays are crustacean eaters, just like pompano, so it’s not uncommon to find several different kinds of gamefish clinging to their backs.  As a rule, I toss whatever is in my hands at every stingray I see and this has resulted in plenty of pompano on my boat, especially with the fly rod.  

You won’t find a better looking or better tasting gamefish anywhere on the flats of SW Florida.  Most of the pompano we catch are in the two to four pound range which makes them perfect for the grill or sauté pan.  A big one will easily feed two people and you can have fun releasing the rest.  I’m really looking forward to bringing home a few nice pompano this month after a long season of chasing big, inedible tarpon.  Hope you can get a few for yourself.