Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tying The Merkin

Now that a cold front is here it's time to catch up on some fly tying. The classic Merkin Crab is one of my favorite patterns, especially for redfish. It can be a pain to assemble at first but I've been using it for so long that I can tie one in less than two minutes. They actually get easy after your first half dozen. You can check out my method by clicking on the photo above.

Friday, December 11, 2009

I Could Watch This A Million Times

Click on the video above and try not to die laughing.

I've literally had everything shown here happen to me in one way or another, including the 4-Wheeler incident at the end. But that one happened with a forklift in New Jersey, and at night.

Totally hilarious fishing video at its best.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Charlotte Harbor Mackerel

With winter coming and the water staying in the mid-60's we'll start seeing lots of action in the deeper waters of Charlotte Harbor. Spanish mackerel are a great target right now and a blast on light tackle and fly rods. The ones pictured above as well as the bluefish were all landed on a 9 weight Sage casting a foam slider. These are toothy predators so a short length of wire is necessary or you'll be loosing a lot of flies.

Birds are the best indicator of a school of feeding macs. A few diving gulls lead us right to these fish and I was hooked up on my third cast. When you get into a serious school it's hard to keep them away from your lures or flies. My dad even brought in two mac that hit both hooks on his Zara Spook this morning.

In addition to being an easy catch and a great fight both macs and blues taste excellent when smoked. I simply brine them overnight in a mix of salt and brown sugar and smoke them over mangrove wood for about five hours. This is the best way to enjoy these fish that taste too strong when simply grilled.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sliders For Redfish

Now that our water is turning especially clear as it does every December, the redfish have become especially spooky. This means that casting a soft landing fly will be one of the most productive ways to hook them.

I posted some shots of an antelope hair slider a few days ago which is a great pattern but a bit difficult to put together. Here's a fly that's as simple to make as is it effective on tailing reds.

This foam slider is made out of a medium size Mini-Me popper head with the concave end facing backwards on the hook making it more aerodynamic and easier to cast. This also causes the fly to slip quietly right under the surface every time it's stripped. The marabou tail adds a little extra pulsing action while the fly is sitting still. I tied this on a 2/0 hook and they take no more than a minute to put together.

I like to cast these flies as close as possible to the tailing reds we find at the bottom of the tide. These fish are usually so focused on what they're trying to dig out of the grass that they don't notice the fly land. I let the fly sit until the tail slips back under the suface. This means that the fish has pulled its head out of the grass and can now spot something on the surface. A couple of quick, smooth strips will usually get their attention. If I see the push from a chasing fish I switch to some very short but quick and spastic twitches with the line and rod tip. This keeps the fly moving without outrunning the closing red. Since prey won't slow down for the predator this usually seals the deal and causes the strike.

An easy fly and easy technique for a tricky fish.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Solo Redfishing

I shot out on my own to fish the best hour of the incoming tide this morning and hooked the first redfish I spotted. This catch was a combination of good timing and pure luck. I happened to be in the right place at the right time in Matlacha Pass with about a dozen tailing reds all around me. This 24 incher grabbed a bright green foam slider that I dropped right on its nose with my 9-weight Sage Xi-2. The water was so shallow that anything other than a fly would have scared these fish to death.

Sliders are the way to go right now with our low tides since they cast easily and land soft. They're also far less likely to snag any grass which will instantly turn off any fish, especially reds with their great eyesight.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Antelope Hair Sliders

One of my regular anglers from out in Idaho is both a great fly tyer and an avid hunter. This means he has access to natural materials that we don't usually find here in our coastal fly shops, like antelope pelts. On his trip to Pine Island last month he brought several great looking slider patterns tied with pronghorn antelope hair. This is some of the most boyant natural material I've ever seen. It's also a lot easier to spin than the more commonly available deer hair used in most commercial slider patterns.

 I used one of these flies to land this nice red on a very low tide just a few days ago.

Antelope hair is available from several different online fly shops for around $6 per package. This is enough for dozens of sliders or other saltwater sized flies. I've never tried this hair before but now it's all I'll use for my topwater flies. Give this stuff a try and you'll be sold on it, too.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Foggy Morning Reds

Running out in bank of solid fog is a little bizarre for me. It felt like we were in the opening scene of "King Kong" and were pushing through heavy mist to get to Skull Island. In the past fifteen years of fishing Puerto Rico and the Keys I've seen fog about four times. We were in my buddy Capt. Joe Harley's boat this morning and fortunately his brain has a built in GPS for this area. He got us to a great flat without plowing into anything solid.

The fog started lifting at about 10 AM. We had mullet everywhere and that means redfish too at this time of year.

We didn't have many tailing fish but Joe spotted one feeding just a few yards from the bow. I dropped an Olive Schminnow on its tail but the red still came charging after it. This one had some bonefish genetics in it since it tore off at Warp Speed and got me well into my 9 weight's backing. I haven't had a redfish do that in a long time. He was a solid 24 inches and was fooled by an olive Crystal Schminnow fly pattern.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Best Redfishing Of The Year

Pine Island is tailing redfish heaven right now. We had more great shots at these fish this morning than any other day this fall. My anglers were Ron Smith and Jim Chell of Melbourne, FL. The guys made the trek across the State to check out the area for the day and saw the best that Pine Island had to offer.

We hit Smokehouse Bay at first light, one of my favorite places in Matlacha Pass. With a new moon and a strong -1.3 falling tide, the water was rushing out of the bay and interesting things were happening all over the place.

Ron was the first to hook up with a nice but barely slot sized redfish on a Sebile topwater lure. Topwaters have been really effective lately but you can't use them on just any tide. Falling water is the best since it flushes out the surface grass that fouls them so quickly. Jim also hooked a solid red on a Sebile but it came unbuttoned at boatside. Not a problem since we were releasing all of these fish anyway.

When the tide had bottomed out the guys switched to weedless Gulps and the first fish was short snook that was busting bait in a small pothole. Although this fish was well under the slot we flushed dozens of snook out from the mangroves that well over the 28 inch limit. Other than the one Jim landed, the rest of the snook had a case of lockjaw this morning but some live bait would have easily cured that.

After nearly getting stuck in the rapidly draining bay, we decided to head to the other side of Pine Island and try the waters around Useppa and Cabbage Key. Fishing the big grass flats around these islands reminds me of the Keys or Puerto Rico. It's as clear as any bonefish flat and sightcasting to the reds there is just as challenging.

With several oyster bars still exposed the reds were tailing everywhere. One of the first fish we poled up to had its head so far in the grass that it never saw the first half dozen casts Ron threw at it. After finally laying a Gulp right on its head the red hit and ran off like a mole burrowing through the grass. This is why using braided line in this area is a necessity. Mono, while less expensive, would have never held up to this.

An hour later the fish had stopped tailing so we ran back to Smokehouse Bay to catch the middle of the flood tide. We pushed through the bay where it was still shallow and were quickly after another school of tailers. Jim dropped a weedless Gulp right into them and got an instant eat. This was the fish we were looking for, big enough to spin the bow of my Beavertail skiff on its own. After several big runs we got it boatside for a few photos and a quick measurement: 26 1/2 inches.

We tried to land a quick trout to complete the Slam for Jim but of course the easiest species of the three didn't cooperate, even though we saw dozens of huge ones darting out of the sand holes. Despite missing the Slam this was one of the best days I've had this season. We hooked six reds, boated four,and cast to nearly a hundred more. Throw in the perfect blue skies and temps in the upper 70's and Pine Island is the perfect place for shallow water anglers right now.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Topwater Reds

These reds were caught in the south part of Matlacha Pass on a white Zara Spook topwater plug. This is the best all-around lures for this area during the fall. The big redfish love it and so do the snook. It's also one of the easiest artificials to use in both fresh and saltwater. A few quick twitches and any predator will slam it, no problem.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

How To Grill Snook, Perfectly

A perfectly grilled snook filet is manna from Heaven and ruining one deserves punishment in Hell. Here's how to achieve the former and avoid the latter.

First, the hard part. Go out and catch a legal snook. In Southwest Florida that's a fish between 28 and 33 inches caught during the two open seasons each year, and make sure you have your saltwater license endorsed with the additional $10 snook stamp. Ignore any of that and it's another ticket to Hell, and a stiff fine from the State of Florida.

Now for the easy part. Take your legal snook and filet it. Snook are only a little tougher to clean than sea trout but much easier than redfish. They have very few rib bones and a thick spine that's easy to follow with a sharp knife. Their skin also peels off nicely leaving a beautiful inch-thick filet for the average 29 inch fish, like the one pictured above. You sushi lovers may be tempted to eat some of it raw but don't. Unlike tuna, cooking snook actually brings out the flavor and enhances the texture.

Now it's time to lightly season the filet, and I do mean LIGHTLY. The Holy Trinity of seasoning any gamefish is extra-virgin olive oil, soy sauce, and Old Bay. Most fish benefit from a combination of all three but snook require the bare minimum. A little garlic powder and pepper won't hurt here either. I simply dip my very clean fingers in a bowl of olive oil and rub down both sides of the filet to start. Next I dust both sides with an even sprinkling of Old Bay, just enough to give the filet some color. Finish with just two dashes of soy sauce and then lightly rub the filet again with your fingers. The excess oil and seasoning that doesn't belong on the snook will stick to your fingers. Rinse that off and start the grill.

Like my hero Hank Hill, I'm a Propane Man. Nothing allows you to control the temperature of your cooking like a good Weber gas grill. And with fresh snook, temperature is everything.

Four hundred degrees is the magic number. When you hit that it's time to cover your grilling surface with a heavy coat of olive oil. You can use a brush if you're brave but it's safer to spay it on with a can of Pam. At these temps your first squirts will flare up like a Marine's flame thrower on Iwo Jima, but keep spraying until the fire dies down and the oil just smokes but sticks.

Turn the burners to low, drop the filets on the grill and close the cover.  Now check your watch. In exactly four minutes lift the lid, flip the filets and cover them again. After another four minutes turn off all the flames but leave them in the grill for another two minutes. After that they're ready to serve. Total time: ten minutes.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Inexpensive Off-Season Rental On Matlacha

Right now it's the off-season here on Matlacha and a great time for anyone to come down for a last minute vacation. This house is located on Velma Street and features a pool, dock, and tarpon filled canal. It's wide open until January and can be rented by the week or even for just a weekend. It's one of the nicest and most affordable waterfront deals in all of South Florida. Here's their VRBO listing:

Friday, October 23, 2009

Almost A Slam (Updated)

This is my buddy Wild Bill Heindl from Virginia, a long time presence on the bow of my boat from Key West to Puerto Rico and now here on Pine Island, and he's not called Wild Bill because of his loud shirts.

Bill landed a Slam with me on Wednesday but all of the fish were undersize. We wanted to get another one will all legal size species so that meant heading out to Pine Island Sound with on my buddy Capt. Joe Harley's boat.

Bill was throwing a topwater Zara Spook with a Shimano baitcaster and first landed the big trout pictured above. His second strike was the 24 inch redfish that hit the same lime green Spook. This was one of the very few reds I've ever seen with an almost spotless tail. They're also much lighter in color in the clear water of the Sound than they are in Matlacha Pass.

We really needed a big snook and found several hovering in the deeper potholes near Flamingo Bay. Bill switched to an orange DOA shrimp and hooked a big snook that was close to 30 inches. This fish was a great jumper and I tried to get some shots while it was airborne but was in the wrong spot on the platform. Just as we were bringing the snook boatside it came unhooked. Total bummer but there's some really great action out in the Sound right now.

Update: I ran out with Bill here in Matlacha Pass this afternoon and finally scored him his legal snook. This fish hit the same Zara Spook we were using yesterday and was part of a school hanging under the mangroves near the Indian Fields.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Snook (finally) In Matlacha Pass

My Dad and I were doing some pre-fishing for the upcoming Pine Island Elementary Tournament taking place here on Matlacha this Sunday. Redfish and trout haven't been a problem for me lately but I've been banging my head against the wall trying to land a decent snook. This really bothers me because it's currently the middle of snook season.

We finally got our act together today and landed four nice fish using live bait. We managed to bring up three nets full of big pilchards and threadfins and used these to pull some respectable but short snook from the mangroves. The one pictured above was just and inch under the slot limit. That's ok since we're saving the huge ones for the tournament thisSunday.

We've been having no problems finding legal size redfish for the past month. Dad landed this beautiful 25 inch red out of a school of dozens running the Burnt Store Bar. The most remarkable thing about the redfishing lately is that I every one I've caught has been a legal fish. I'm not sure if this means anything but I'm willing to give the credit for this to some excellent management of our resources here in Florida.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Snapper And Reds On Fly, Pine Island Sound

Add caption

Capt. Joe Harley and I went out at sunrise this morning to look for one last push of tarpon before a front comes through this week. The big fish were absent but we found a lot of rolling babies in the creeks but got no hookups. We did see a lot of snook around several oyster bars and Joe landed an undersized one on a deerhair fly.

The snapper pictured above hit a white minnow pattern under the mangroves while we were casting at some laid up snook. Big snapper like this are a really underrated gamefish for fly rods. They hit like a ton of brick and pull harder than many fish twice their size.

I landed a couple small trout by blind casting around another oyster bar and then got a big strike on a copper colored shrimp pattern. I had landed the fly in the middle of a small school of redfish and got eaten by the 25 incher pictured above. Both sides of Pine Island are loaded with fish like this and we've been landing a lot of perfect slot size reds all month. This was a great morning especially since we've got a good tournament coming up this weekend.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Oil Drilling Off Western Florida

There's currently a heated debate going on about whether Florida should allow offshore drilling in state waters. Here's one of best written article I've read in a long time laying out the case in favor of drilling and its side benefits:

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Benefit For Mike Harley, October 10th

My good friend and local fly fishing guide Capt. Joe Harley's dad Mike underwent a lifesaving triple bypass surgery last month. Yesterday he came home for the first time in six weeks and is on the road to recovery. To help raise funds for his long and expensive recuperation there will be a benefit this Saturday, October 10th, at the Olde Fish House Marina on Matlacha. It starts at 5 PM and at least four bands will be playing, including Capt. Joe Harley's Bombaleros, a great surf rock trio. There's free parking and plenty of good food and beer available. There will also be a silent auction and several local charter captains, including myself, will be raffling off trips. This will be a great party at one of the coolest spots in Southwest Florida. Hope to see you there.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Red October

October is prime time for redfish in Southwest Florida. In addition to the perfect weather, low tides are giving us great tailing conditions for these fish. The best news of all is that most of these fish are within the legal slot limit if you decide to keep one for the grill.

This is Wisconsin angler Tom Morgan with his first redfish that we caught this morning just south of the Matlacha Pass bridge. Tom was casting a custom built 8 weight Sage rod, a Ross Canyon reel, and using a Lenny Moffo style Fleeing Crab pattern. This 24 inch fish was in a school of over a dozen reds tailing in just over a foot of water.

While they don't have the same explosive speed as a bonefish, redfish can be just as difficult to stalk with a fly rod. They are hyper alert in shallow water but will usually settle down a lot quicker if they're spooked. That makes them a bit more user friendly for most anglers. Even though we were fishing from my skiff, the reds we chased this morning were close enough to the ramps at Matlacha Park that any kayak angler could have chased them just as easily.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

October On Cayo Costa

There are a lot of places that have been called "Florida's Best Kept Secret" but for my money it Cayo Costa State Park. During this time of year it's actually possible to have this island, with nine miles of beaches, entirely to yourself. There are twelve cabins that rent for only $40 per night. They're very basic but comfortable, especially now that the nights have cooled off considerably. In addition to the great swimming and shell collecting, the beaches are loaded with fish. It's common to see schools of snook, sheepshead, and black drum right in the surf with their backs literally coming out of the water.

I hooked a huge snook near the ranger station and the 22 inch trout pictured above was caught a few miles to the east in Pine Island Sound. You'll also have access to the great redfish flats inside Pelican Bay. Even if you don't have a boat Cayo Costa is easily accessable from the ferry at the Pineland Marina. Weekdays are the best time to head to the island this month, other than the rangers you'll rarely see other people out there.