Monday, August 31, 2009

It's Still Tarpon Season On Pine Island

The tarpon are still rolling all over the place in Pine Island Sound and Matlacha Pass right now. For the most part these are smaller fish but the occasional 50 pounder will show up with them. We caught the one pictured here yesterday afternoon at the peak of tide. He was in a large school spread out over 100 yards along the mangroves. This 15 pound tarpon hit a 1/0 white Crystal Schminnow which is quickly becomming my favorite for this area.

Since our water is still exceptionally dark at high tide, I get the best results with tarpon by simply throwing right on top of them as soon as they roll. Anywhere else that tactic will spook the hell out of them but here around Pine Island it works quite well when using a fly rod. With live bait or lures it's not a good idea and you still have to lead the fish.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Gear Review: Tibor Reels

Tibor Reels are the best made pieces of fly fishing tackle on earth. I got my first one almost 18 years ago from a customer who owned a fly shop in New England. He gave it to me as a tip and I've treasured it ever since.  It's the black Everglades model pictured above which I spooled up with a 9-weight line, 200 yards of 20# backing, and mounted it to a Sage RPLXi 990.  I still have this rig and it’s been my most effective saltwater combo for the past two decades.  I‘ve used it catch everything from bonefish to blackfin tuna.

Tibor Reels are still completely made in America and their shop is located in Delray Beach, FL. They're machined out of bar stock aluminum and come in several different models for rod sizes from 3 to 15 weight. You can chase everything from chalk stream trout to gulf stream marlin with a Tibor.

The most impressive thing about these reels is that they’re totally bulletproof. I’ve never once taken my old Everglades apart to clean it, and in fact I rarely even rinse it off with freshwater after a full day of fishing.  Back in 2005 I landed a nice bonefish while wading off a Puerto Rican beach and set the rod down right in the surf while unhooking the fish. When I picked it back up the reel was full of sand and would barely turn. I simply swished it around in the saltwater and kept moving the handle until the bigger pieces of sand jamming the spool where crunched up enough to free it. The reel sounded like a pepper grinder for a few moments and then went right back to clicking away like it was brand new. Even after that I was too lazy to rinse it with freshwater when I got home. I did drop it in the sink with some dishes a few days later just to get rid of the salt crust.

The company doesn’t recommend treating their products like this but it’s nice to know that you can. This kind of quality isn’t cheap. A new Tibor Everglades will cost you around $650 but this is definitely a case getting more than your money’s worth out of a piece of tackle. They also look, feel, and sound like they're worth every penny of that price. You can personalize you own nameplate and order them engraved with several different fish designs, too, making them completely unique.

These reels will honestly last a lifetime and then some. There is very little room for improvement with them so I can’t imagine ever thinking that my Tibors are obsolete. I currently own three different models and none of them has ever given me a singe problem. They’re some of the best money I’ve ever spent and if you‘re really serious about saltwater fly fishing, you need to own at least one of these reels.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Stuff I Like: Stick It Anchor Pins

The 8 foot Stick It Anchor Pin is one of the most useful things I've purchased for my skiff in years. The Stick It is as simple as it gets; a flexible composite pole with a hard plastic T-handle on top that allows you to shove it down into the bottom. It also has a floating lanyard for securing it anywhere on your boat. I've used this system over grass, sand, mud, and even oyster bars (which they don't recommend,) and never had a problem with it holding my 18' Beavertail B-2. My boat is a very light skiff and heavier hulls won't work as well with this system.

The Stick It completely eliminates the hassle of anchoring in less than 6 feet of water and holds better on a firm bottom than the standard push pole thanks to smaller diameter. You should be aware of one thing if you buy this product: unlike a push pole, they don't float. Drop it in the water and it'll sink like a rock. Stick It does sell a simple foam float system that attaches to the handle and this should be a standard feature on all of these anchors.

I think of my Stick It as a Poor-Man's Power Pole. These $1500 mechanical systems that are becomming standard on almost every shallow water boat in Florida and the Stick It sells for about $1400 less than that. Power Poles are extremely useful for bigger skiffs and a Stick It is a great accessory when used together, allowing you to quickly hold the bow in just about any position. We do this all the time in my dad's very heavy Action Craft with no troubles.

The Stick It comes in lengths of 5.5' for kayaks and 7' or 8' models for power boats. I highly recommend the 8' model which will realistically allow you to anchor in 6 feet of water or less.

I paid $85 for mine and it's a bargain to get something so useful for that price

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Redfish Season Is Here

This is what you're missing if you're not in Southwest Florida right now. The fall is always our best time of year for big tailing redfish but they're already here in really decent numbers and the big schools will be showing up soon. Over the next few months we'll start to see some very low tides which is when fly fishing for these reds is as good as it gets.

I caught the red pictured here last night just before sunset on the flats north of Matlacha. It ate a green Crystal Schminnow which has been a perfect all-around fly for this area all summer long. This redfish was right at the upper slot limit of 27 inches, making it legal to keep, and weighed 6 pounds. Too bad I wasn't in a tournament, it could have been worth some money.

In a lot of ways, redfish are one of saltwater's perfect fly rod targets. You don't have to be a complete expert to catch them and they're available all over Florida and the other Gulf states. At times, they eat almost anything and you don't need a mess of expensive, high tech gear to tackle them.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Huge Pine Island Jacks

If the Hell's Angels were fish, they'd be a school of jack crevalles. These are brutal, hard fighting thugs that will hit anything that moves, and they're one of my favorite fish of all time. Crevalles are very common all over Florida and the southwest coast is no exception. Here on Pine Island we've been seeing big schools of them blasting bait on the surface every day just a few hours before sunset. That makes them very easy to spot and once they start feeding they're just as easy to catch. These fish will literally hit anything that moves. It doesn't matter what you put in front of them, a live bait, lure, fly, bananna, or Barbie Doll, they'll attack it. The ten pounder in this photo hit a MirroLure and took over five minutes to land using 30# braid. These jacks can easily grow to four times this size and if they got much bigger, nobody would ever go swimming around here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Longnose Gar In Matlacha Pass

The longnose gar is a common freshwater species all over Florida that we periodically see in the saltwater of Pine Island Sound and Charlotte Harbor. For the past few weeks they've been schooling up over one particular oyster bar just north of Matlacha. This seems to happen every summer after we get a lot of rain. Despite their mean appearance, these gar don't put up much of a fight. They do make a great photo and you can see the Gulp Shrimp that this three footer ate in the close up shot.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Norm's Crystal Schminnow: The Best Fly For Southwest FL

This is a variation of the Norm Zeigler's Crystal Schminnow, already a great all around pattern for most inshore species in Florida. I've found that the addition of a mini glass rattle tied onto the back of the hook shank adds both noise and bulk to the fly, two factors that help trigger strikes in darker water. Glass rattles are a litte bit tricky to incorporate into flies if you haven't used them before. One thing that helps it to start with a heavier than normal thread base on the hook. I was also using a lot of super glue at first but the more I worked with rattles the less I needed, which makes for a more clean looking fly. Norm's Crystal Schminnow can be ordered online and is exceptionally easy for beginners to tie. Try a few of the regular variation at first and then use one or two with the rattle added, especially on an easy target like sea trout. You'll notice a definite difference.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Great Pine Island Photography

My friend Ron Mayhew, who's manatee shots I posted a few days ago, has a great website full of his photography that you can check out at In addition to his Pine Island gallery there are some fantastic shots of Africa, Haiti, and a host of other locales. The picture posted above is one of my favorites spots here on the southwest coast of Florida. It's one of a handful of stilt houses used as fish camps located in the sound between Pine Island and Captiva.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Pine Island Manatees

        My friend Ron Mayhew sent me these photos of a mother manatee and her newborn calf that were exploring his St. James City canal at the southern tip of Pine Island yesterday afternoon. Although they're listed as an endangered species, the west indian manatee is a very common site in this area. It's not uncommon for us to come across dozens of them on a daily basis while we're out fishing the flats. They routinely swim right up the canals in search of a drink of fresh water from a dock hose. Manatees in Florida have no natural predators, and at the same time no fear of people. This is kind of ironic since boat collisions are a common occurrence, even though they're rarely fatal. The large white stripe down the mother's back in the top photo is the result of being run over at one time in her life. In fact, I've never seen an adult manatee in Florida that didn't have some scarring on its back. It's sad to see these wounds but the manatee's elephant-like hide and thick layer of fat protects them quite well. The pristine condition of the baby in these photos shows how extremely young it is. Seeing these gentle vegetarians is one of my favorite things about being on the waters around Pine Island.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bluefish In Matlacha Pass

Although they're a common catch throughout much of Florida during the winter months, large schools of bluefish have been all over the oyster bars and grass flats of Matlacha Pass all summer. I've never before seen them on a daily basis during this time of year. Even though our water temps are between 85 and 90 degrees right now, these mid-size blues don't seem to mind at all and you can find them schooling by the hundreds and blitzing on mullet all over the flats called the Indian Fields, just north of Matlacha.
Bluefish are a real treat for light tackle anglers, especially using topwater lures or fly rods. For starters, they absolutely homicidal when they're schooled up and on the hunt. They'll literally attack anything that moves on or below the surface. Blues have a formidable set of teeth so I'll usually rig a thirty pound or heavier fluorocarbon leader if I think they're around. A lot of northern anglers who tangle with them regularly use flexible wire to insure against cutoffs.
Although they're not prized as tablefare in most places, I really like to keep a couple of blues for the smoker. Brining them overnight in kosher salt, brown sugar, and lemon juice and then smoking their fillets for several hours over mesquite gives them an unbelieveable flavor. A bag of smoked bluefish is one of my favorite things to snack on while I'm out on the water.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Pine Island Snook

Even though they're not in season, decent size snook are still hitting on the flats all around Pine Island. The fish pictured here hit a topwater Bagley lure in less than two feet of water. Casting into the large mullett schools are where you're most likely to find big snook and redfish away from the mangroves. Topwaters are my favorites when I'm casting a spinning rod. The strikes are explosive and you can see the whole thing unfold. Also, if the fish misses at first it's likely to come back for a second or third shot. In addition to the Bagleys I've also had a great deal of success lately with Mirrolure Top Dogs and any Zara Spook.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Florida Sportsman On Matlacha

Even though this was published three years ago, Florida Sportsman's article on Matlacha's outstanding fishery sums up a lot of the best point about the island. The one thing that doesn't get proper mention however is the great tarpon fishing in these same waters that's still going strong right now. The article's writer Norm Zeigler is a highly regarded fly fisherman and owner of a great little fly shop on Sanibel. He's also the author of an excellent book titled "Snook On A Fly," a very good how-to guide for this species.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Big Sea Trout In Matlacha Pass

Lately it's been hard to catch a sea trout that was under the 15 inch size limit. The two pictured here were caught yesterday on a topwater Bagley Mullet just south of the Matlacha drawbridge. The grassfields just east of the island have also been producing a number of keeper size trout and you can easily access these areas with a kayak. I love targeting trout since they're one of the most user-friendly gamefish in all of Florida. Working a topwater lure is easy for anyone and you get great visual strikes. A pair of sea trout like these will easily make a meal for four people and you can release everything else you catch.