Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Pine Island Angler

Whenever I find them I'll post any good Pine Island related articles here. This one came from last month's Kayak Fishing magazine which is available both in print and online:

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Stuff I Like: Clouser Minnows

There isn't a better fly for either salt or fresh water than the Clouser Minnow. It would be easier for me to list the species that I haven't caught on it so far. That list would be one fish; a permit. But I've seen someone else do it on my boat a few years ago, so I kind of count it, too.

Up here around Pine Island, everything eats Clousers. Snook and sea trout love them unconditionally. Back down on Vieques, bonefish and tarpon grab them with a vengence. They're easy to tie and just as easy to use. An added bonus is that they can also be cast short distances by very light spinning rods. If you're heading to anywhere in Florida or the Caribbean in the near future, your fly box should by 3/4 full of Bob Clouser's perfect fly.

Spotted Sea Trout: Florida's Easiest Gamefish

In Florida, spotted sea trout are flat fishing’s version of the bluegill pond. They’re found everywhere on both coasts year round. They only get a little scarce down in the Lower Keys. As a shallow water fish, anyone can access them with or without a boat. Here on the west coast simply wading from shore is one of the most popular way of fishing for sea trout. Hop into a kayak and you’re even more effective.

The other reason I call them Florida’s easiest game fish is their eagerness to hit almost anything. Toss a live shrimp under a cork and it’s gone within seconds on a good grass flat. Since fly fishing is my preferred method, I use a seven weight rod with a variety of streamer patterns. Here around Pine Island a green and white Clouser minnow can get a strike on every cast in many places. Two days ago I landed thirty trout in just over an hour. Only one of them was over fifteen inches, the minimum legal size, but I wasn’t out there looking for records. Constant action in stead of quality is what I’m looking for some days.

Sea trout are the perfect target for an angler with absolutely no saltwater experience or gear. A five or six weight fly rod will cast a #4 Clouser with no problem. Your click-drag freshwater reel rigged with floating line is more than enough for any sea trout you’re likely to find in Florida. With a tapered twelve pound leader you can strip these fish in by hand. Sea trout have a great strike but are not a strong running fish. They spend most of their energy thrashing on the surface and I’ve never had one get into the backing on my reel.

In case you’re worried about freshwater gear in the salt, don’t be. Any rod or reel made in the last ten years can handle a saltwater environment as long as it’s cleaned at the end of the day. Drop the reel, line and all, into a sink filled with warm water and dish soap for a few minutes and that will dissolve any salt crystals.

Bonnethead Sharks

Catching sharks on a fly is great sport, but it can be a labor intensive effort involving a lot of chum, big bulky flies, and heavy fly rods. Fortunately, there’s one species that’s very user-friendly and can be caught year round throughout South Florida.

The bonnet head shark is the smallest of the hammerhead family and rarely grows over three feet in length. They’re crustacean eaters and you’ll find them on any shallow flat in the South Florida. The bonnet head is so common and easy to catch that guides often call them the “Poor-man’s Bonefish.”

Toss a live crab or shrimp across the nose of a bonnet head shark and you’ll get an immediate take. Like most sharks, their sense of smell is unreal but their eyesight is rather poor. Getting them to take something that doesn't produce a scent, such as an artificial lure or a fly, is a lot more difficult, unless you’re using the right color.

Years ago I picked up a package of rabbit fur strips dyed in a color called Crawfish Orange. It was a little too unnatural looking for tying bonefish patterns but I thought the tarpon would love it. They didn’t, but one morning I asked an angler cast one of these Crawfish streamers at a cruising bonnet head just for target practice and the shark went nuts attacking the fly. I’d never seen one react that way to anything other than live bait.

Since bonnet heads have small mouths and like to pin their prey to the bottom, I tied up a weighted Crawfish Orange shrimp pattern on #4 hooks and instantly started catching these sharks left and right. I also found out that bonefish love the color just as much, and now this color fly is almost all I use in both the Keys and Puerto Rico.

A standard 7 or 8 weight bonefish outfit is perfect for bonnet head sharks and fifteen pound fluorocarbon is all the tippet you’ll need. Their teeth are sharp but their small mouth usually doesn’t reach the eye of the hook. Just be sure to use a pair of pliers or forceps when unhooking them.

Bonnet heads are not a glamour species, but their “poor-man’s bonefish” nickname is well deserved. You can sight cast to them all year from here around Pine Island down to the Keys, even when it’s too hot or cold for everything else. They don’t spook easily and will tolerate a lot of bad casts. This makes them an excellent species for beginning anglers. Ten pound bonnet heads are not uncommon and they can burn off a lot of fly line in a few seconds once hooked.

You can find these sharks on the shallows almost everywhere, even in places where the crowds and jet skis chased away the redfish or bonefish years ago. This is one species that you’ll have a realistic chance of hooking in South Florida without using a guide. Pick a good looking flat on the downwind side of US-1 and look for the light grey dorsal fin cutting through the surface. Drop a Crawfish Orange fly on their nose and you’ll be off to the races.