Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Snook Season!

We haven't landed any keepers yet but at least they're willing to hit flies.

And we're getting some nice trout, too.
The water temps in Matlacha Pass are back in the mid 70's and just about everything is starting to eat once again. If it keeps up like this we should start seeing some tarpon in Charlotte Harbor before too long.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Microskiffs For Pine Island

From this month's Nautical Mile Newspaper:

As a full time guide, I get asked by a lot of folks for my opinion on what type of flats boat they should buy for Pine Island and my answer usually surprises them.  I tell just about everyone to buy the smallest boat with the least amount of horsepower that will do everything you want.  It’s that very last part that’s most important. 

Everywhere you look you’ll see flats and bay boats with 200hp motors or more, and those rigs definitely have their place.  But if you’re new to SW Florida and want to dedicate yourself to fishing our excellent shallows, you need to start out with something as basic as possible, and a microskiff is the way to go.

The term “microskiff” has only been around for a dozen years now but the boats themselves go back much further.  For most anglers it means a boat less than 18 feet long, designed for two people (a third is possible in some situations) and powered by no more than a 25 horsepower outboard.   Basically, these were the only kind of flats boats available until about 50 years ago. 

The modern microskiff was actually designed by a rocket scientist.  Harley Gheen was a senior engineer at Cape Canaveral in the early 1960’s.  He was also an avid fisherman who loved poling the Indian River in his canoe and casting to the huge redfish that prowled those flats.  What Harley didn’t like was constantly being dumped out of his tippy craft every time he tried lifting one of these fish on board.  Between Gemini and Apollo launches he carved a new design at his desk from a hunk of balsa wood that would eventually become the Gheenoe (short for Gheen’s Canoe,) and 45 years later over 50,000 have been built.    

Even if you’ve never heard of a Gheenoe, you’ve seen them at the boat ramp or parked outside the bait shops in the morning.  I’ve actually owned two over the last decade and will probably pick up another one in a few years for my kids to use.   A 15’ Gheenoe with a 15hp outboard is the perfect first boat for anyone looking to learn their way around the shallows of SW Florida.  They’re light enough to launch almost anywhere and fast enough to get you and another angler wherever you want to go.  When you run one hard aground (trust me, YOU WILL) they’re light enough for one person to drag back into deeper water.   A Gheenoe isn’t much fun to run in choppy conditions but they will teach you to when to head out and when to stay home.  Best of all, you can easily pick up a used Gheenoe for under $1000, and that price could include a small motor and trailer. 

As a guide, I obviously need something with a little more capability and a lot more creature comforts.  My current boat is an 18’ Beavertail BT3 that can run three anglers and myself anywhere around Pine Island in almost any kind of weather.  It has all the features like a brand new Yamaha 4-stroke outboard, remote controlled Minn-Kota trolling motor and Power Pole, and a full color Garmin GPS.  The BT3 is an excellent machine and does everything I possibly want when I’m out with paying customers. 

But on those rare days when I have a few hours to myself and the conditions are right, the 18’ BT3 stays in the driveway and my 13’ Beavertail Ambush hits the water with me.  This is the ultimate microskiff and is built for only one person with a maximum 6hp outboard.  It looks like a powered surfboard but is actually a very capable skinny water boat that will float shallower than most fishing kayaks.  I’ve used my Ambush to chase redfish on the Pine Island flats during some of this winter’s lowest tides without ever thinking about running aground.  I’ve also had a blast poking into some very narrow creeks that I never knew existed but took me to hidden pools of baby tarpon way back in the mangroves, (thank you, Google Earth.)  If I was starting from scratch with no knowledge of the waters around Pine Island, running around in an Ambush would be a great education. 

Before you start boat shopping, take a minute and decide how you’ll be spending most of your time on the water.  Sometimes you really can do a lot more with a lot less. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Big Jacks Near Matlacha

I love jacks and so does just about everyone else who fishes light tackle on the flats.  Pound for pound there's almost nothing stronger that swims in the ocean.  The one in this photo, caught by Mike Kitz from Ohio, was only a five pounder but nearly spooled the Shimano reel loaded with 15# Power Pro braid.  We were just pulling away from Seven Seas Bait & Tackle when a big school of these guys started blasting minnows right off their dock.  We chased them around for 20 minutes and this was the second jack that Mike landed just a few yards from the shoreline.  These fish are a common sight around the bridge this time of year but you have to be ready when their feeding frenzy starts.  Watch for the birds to start diving and toss anything you've got into the center of the action.  Just make sure your drag is cranked down since even a small jack like this one (they easily grow over 30lbs.) is enough to dump most smaller reels. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Still Bringing Home The Trout

Mother Nature obviously hates the northeast right now, but she doesn't seem to like Pine Island too much this month either.  Last week we had cold temps, the lowest in five years, but it warmed up quickly and that created a lot of fog.  Even though our skies are drippy and grey, the fish are eating once again and snook season is right around the corner.  Keeper size trout are an everyday catch and I've sent a few guys home with decent meals this week.  Live shrimp are always the best bet and our local bait shops are selling some really nice sized ones lately.  If they run out this weekend a bucket of Gulps is almost always just as effective. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

New Beavertail Skiffs On The Water

We did a video shoot in Bradenton last week along with Thomas & Thomas fly rods and got to run some of the newest BTs to hit the water.  You can see all of these boats in person starting this Friday at the Tampa Outdoor Expo.

The amazing 20' Lightning with a new 250 Evinrude.  This boat should come close to 80mph.
Fly casting from the enormous deck on the Lightning.

The 17' Strike.  BT's best selling skiff and my favorite, too.

Capt. Mark Cowart's new Lightning with a the Mercury 150 4-stroke.

Another view of Capt. Mark's Lightning.

The Lightning 250 at the dock.

The 16' Micro with a 30hp will still hit 30mph and draft in only 5" of water.