Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pine Island Sunrise

We didn't land any fish but we had dozens of shots at rolling tarpon all morning yesterday. This is a great sign that they're still here at the beginning of October, especially since the first of my fall charters are showing up this week. Water temps are still in the mid 80s which is perfect for everything we target in this area.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pine Island Sea Trout

Even though we're all busy chasing snook and redfish now that it's a great season for both, there's still plenty of nice sea trout around if you're looking for an easy meal. I call the sea trout Florida's easiest gamefish and it really is. You can catch them over almost any grass flat around this area. I landed the one in the photo above on a #4 Schminnow fly just blind casting south of the Matlacha drawbridge. I was on my skiff but this is an area that I've often kayaked to from the canals of Matlacha. From the kayak ramp at Matlacha Park this flat is only a fifteen minute paddle.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Secret" New Crab Fly

Here's a close up of the crab pattern I've been using on the big reds here in Matlacha lately. It was created by Eric Treutel of Idaho, one of my regular anglers who I've guided for bonefish and permit down in Puerto Rico. One of the benefits of living in Idaho is having a lot of free time on your hands in the winter to come up with stuff like this.

According to Eric, this fly is a total pain in the ass to put together. According to me, it's worth the hemoroids. I caught my biggest redfish of the year on it so far and plan to take it down to the Keys next week and try for a permit.

The fly is weighted with a dumbell at the eye of the hook and the felt body also conceals a glass rattle. With the rabbit strip claws this fly sinks in a perfect immitation of a blue crab diving for cover. This is the secret of most successful crab patterns. They're constructed to mimic the behavior of the crab first, and the physical appearance second.

This fly is far from perfect. In addition to being a pain to tie it's also a pain to cast on anything less than a 9 weight. Eric's working on making it smaller and easier to assemble. This is the type of pattern that would sell for $7 or more in a fly shop. If Eric gets to the point where he can tie them in less than fifteen minutes, and I can land a permit or two, we might start selling them. Obviously, I don't believe in having "secret" flies so if anyone out there wants to duplicate it and suggest some improvements please let me know. I'll post some tying instructions soon.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Redfish On The Fly In Matlacha

My buddy and I went out this morning hoping to catch a few late season tarpon. We found a few small fish rolling in their usual haunts but kept getting hit by ladyfish as we blind casted. I didn't want them tearing up my flies or sliming the boat so we ran north towards Burnt Store hoping to find a school of redfish.

Jackpot. There were at least a hundred reds in this particular school and all of them hungry. They pushed an amazing amount of bait in front of them. We even saw several small flounders skipping across the surface to avoid getting clobbered.

Our first redfish hit an olive Schminnow pattern and was easily more than 30 inches, well over the slot limit. I hooked two more fish on a new crab fly tied my one of my anglers from Idaho. It worked like a charm. Even when we had the school totally spooked and running from the boat the reds still grabbed the fly as they shot towards deeper water.

This was an amazing morning and we're not even fully into redfish season yet. And all this happend just a fifteen minute boat ride from home.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Redfish Ceviche

Catch and release is great but every once in a while you gotta eat some fish. Here's one of my favorite things to do with redfish and it's impossible to mess up this recipe.

1 lb. redfish fillet
2 large vine ripe tomatoes
1 cucumber
1 green pepper
1 large onion
1 clove garlic
4 limes
1 lemon
1 can spicy Bloody Mary mix
Old Bay
Olive Oil

Directions: Cut the redfish into thumbnail size chunks and place in a bowl. Halve the limes and lemon and squeeze the juice over the fish. Add two tablespoons of Old Bay and let marinate in the fridge for at least two hours.

Chop all the vegatables into similar size chunks and mince the garlic. Mix together in a large bowl with several spoonfuls of extra virgin olive oil and can of spicy bloody mary mix. Add the fish and stir. Makes at least 6 bowls.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Pine Island Slam

A Gulf Coast Slam, for those of you not familiar with the term, means one angler catching a redfish, snook, and sea trout all in one day. The shots above came from a quick trip I took this morning north of St. James City on Pine Island. Since my wife caught the redfish it doesn't technically count as a Slam.

Instead, this is what we call a Boat Slam. That means two or more anglers teamed up to land the three necessary species. The redfish was the only one that fell within the legal slot. Amanda hooked and landed this on a red and white Bagley Finger Mullet. I landed the snook and trout on flies and both were well short of being legal.

Slot sized redfish are still all over the place around Pine Island these days. Look for any big mullet school and you're likely to find a legal red. The one we caught above went right to the grill and the ceviche bowl.

I'm still frustrated when it comes to landing some big snook around here, even though we're almost three weeks into snook season. The one in the picture hit a new shrimp pattern tied by one of my Idaho based anglers.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Shark Fishing In Charlotte Harbor

This is why we don't attempt underwater tarpon fishing, as seen in the post below, here in Southwest Florida.

This is a five foot dusky shark that ate a five pound bluefish I was fighting near Burnt Store Marina. I'd estimate the weight of this shark at over one hundred pounds.

Note the dark water. I never saw this shark until it came blasting up under my bluefish. He was part of a pack of at least five other sharks that were wating for a good target in the school of blues we were working. The food chain is very unforgiving somedays.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Underwater Tarpon Fishing

Angler Richard Gill (great last name) sent me this video of he and his brother-in-law flyfishing for tarpon in Belize with out a boat, or a kayak, or a beach. This is definitely NOT something you ever would or could want to try here in the dark water around Pine Island, home of the world's largest bull and hammerhead sharks. There is bit of bad language in this video but most of it is spoken in Snorkelese.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Rigging My Beavertail Skiff For Matlacha

The perfect flats boat doesn’t really exist, but for every angler there’s always one that comes close. Over the years I’ve owned five different skiffs, from a beat up Gheenoe to a top of the line Maverick Mirage. They’ve all had their merits but my current boat is the one that comes closest to being perfect for my type of fishing. Here’s a quick rundown of how I have it rigged.

For the last two years I’ve been guiding out of a Beavertail B-2, this is an eighteen foot skiff made in Avon, Minnesota, which is more than a thousand miles away from the nearest redfish. Beavertail, originally a duck hunting company, has almost perfected the technical poling skiff over the past five years. Since the majority of my anglers are looking to sight cast with fly rods, the five hundred pound B-2 is about as quiet and easy to pole as a flats boat can get. With a full tank of gas and two anglers it floats in only six inches of water, which is shallower than most redfish will ever swim.

I ordered the Beavertail to replace the older Maverick Mirage I was using down on Vieques, Puerto Rico. There were no boat ramps close to where I fished and the Maverick was too heavy to launch off the beach. With the Beavertail I could back right down on to the sand and have a five minute run to the island’s best bonefish flats and it would prove just as useful up here in Florida.

The B-2 that I bought was a very basic model with a side console, trim tabs, and not much else. I powered it with a fifty-horsepower Yamaha two-stroke outboard. I learned the hard way with my Maverick that owning anything other than a Yamaha outside of the Continental U.S. is asking for trouble. Almost every single boat you see bobbing around the Caribbean is sporting a Yamaha. They’re incredibly reliable and parts are available worldwide.

With only fifty horsepower, my B-2 is no rocket sled. It will hit thirty mph wide open, but I never needed to travel more than four or five miles to get to the fish on Vieques. I plan to eventually bump the power up to a four-stroke sixty for the longer runs that I need to make here around Pine Island.

After I shipped the Beavertail back to Florida I made a couple more additions that I think are must haves for this area. The first thing I added was a Garmin 440s. This full color GPS/Sonar unit comes loaded with charts and tide tables for the entire coastal U.S. and the Bahamas. Technology like this didn’t exist for small boats when I first started guiding and I really like marking the schools of baby tarpon I find way up in the local mangrove creeks.

The second thing I added was a trolling motor. It’s rare to see a small boat in this area without one but this is something I didn’t need it when I had the skiff sent to Vieques. Chasing bonefish by boat in shallow water and high winds requires someone on the poling platform at all times, and that person was always me. If I wanted to catch a one on my day off I did it on foot. The flats up here around Pine Island are far more expansive and a trolling motor is a must for exploring new spots. The Beavertail’s light hull allowed me to rig it with a lower thrust and less costly unit. I chose a fifty-five pound thrust Minn Kota Riptide which only requires a single battery, saving me a lot of weight on the bow.

Another must have for this area is a shallow water anchor system. Just about every flats or bay boat in Southwest Florida now sports a Power Pole. This is one of the best inventions for boaters in the last twenty years, allowing you to stop and hold position in up to eight feet of water at the touch of a button. I don’t know anyone who owns a Power Pole and is not totally satisfied with it. Beavertail offers them as a factory installed option but I didn’t order it and wish I had. The $1500 cost was a serious issue at the time but it would have been money well spent.

For now I use a Stick It Anchor Pin. This is an ingenious piece of hardware that I call the “Poor Man’s Power Pole.” The Stick It is a simple eight foot composite spike with a nylon lanyard and a T handle at the top. You simply shove it into the bottom and tie it off to the bow or stern. This holds a light skiff almost as well as a Power Pole but only costs $90. It’s an easy and indestructible alternative and also a great backup system for larger boats in the shallows. At some point, however, I will add an eight foot Power Pole to my Beavertail.

Finally, the one piece of gear on my boat that gets more use than any other is my graphite push pole. By my own rough estimate I’ve spent at least twelve thousand hours on a poling platform over the last fifteen years. That’s almost five hundred solid days with a push pole in my hands. I’ve owned only one model for the past ten years and that’s a twenty-one foot Stiffy Hybrid. These Texas made push poles are the best on the market and at $700 they’re not cheap. They are well worth the money. This is the one thing I consider indispensible on my boat and I wouldn’t consider using another model.

So that’s a quick rundown of how I’ve rigged my boat for fishing around Pine Island. I’m not endorsed by any company I mentioned above so these were my honest opinions. There are a lot of flats boats currently on the market similar to my Beavertail B-2. Most cost more and some cost less. The good news is that if you’re in the market for a very shallow running skiff and the all the gear to rig it for fishing Southwest Florida, you literally have a ton of choices. It’s a great time to hit the flats.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Everything Loves The Schminnow

Here's a sample of what I caught this week using a white Crystal Schminnow. All of these fish were caught within two miles of Matlacha. If you have to have only one fly in your box, this is the one. It's as easy to use as it is to tie and also available and any Southwest Florida fly shop.

One the fishing front, the tarpon are thinning out on the flats but still rolling in all the canals and most backcountry creeks. These are our resident juveniles and they love eating flies in the mornings and at sunset.

Reds are everywhere and some amazing schools are marching across the flats of Pine Island Sound. Some of the schools I've seen this week have been so huge that "herds" is a more appropriate term to use. Anytime you find mullet these days you'll usually find a redfish or two.

Trout are as consisent as ever and getting bigger as fall approaches. These fish are the best fly rod target for a beginner or anyone trying for a quick hookup from a kayak or on foot. In addition to streamers like the Schminnow, trout will hit any baitfish pattern, especially at the top of the tide.

We're two weeks into snook season and I have to admit to being frustrated by these fish. I've been sticking with flies and topwater lures almost exclusively on my last few trips so I know I'm missing out on them. I watched another guide chum up over a dozen snook last Sunday by tossing pilchards over a flat near Captiva. I plan on doing an all-out bait trip in a few days and finally bagging a bigger snook and a slot sized keeper for the grill

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Pine Island Elementary Fishing Tournament

The 11th annual Pine Island Fishing Tournament is coming up on October, 18th. The entry fee is $50 per angler and all the proceeds benefit the Pine Island Elementary School and other island charities. The registration fee includes a tournament t-shirt and huge fish fry during the weigh-in at the Olde Fish House Marina on Matlacha. Four anglers maximum are allowed per boat but kayak or wade fishing is also permitted.

Fishing begins at 7AM and the weigh-in begins at 3PM. Snook, redfish, and trout are the targeted species and all Florida saltwater regulations apply to weighed fish. The prizes are:

Heaviest Legal Snook: $500

Heaviest Legal Redfish: $500

Heaviest Legal Trout: $500

Heaviest Legal Slam: $1000

The fish will all be measured and weighed by the tournament director on a ceritfied scale at the Olde Fish House Marina and safely released. Prizes will be awarded around 6PM.
There will also be some excellent live music after the weigh-in featuring the great local band The Bombaleros.

To download a registration form click here:

Monday, September 7, 2009

Captiva Rocks Redfish

Florida anglers Matt and Shawn Kerstang came over to the Southwest coast to celebrate a buddy's bachelor party out on Cabbage Key. These guys were all hard core anglers and brought half a dozen flats boats with them, including Matt's Egret and Shawn's Beavertail BTX. Our main target was tarpon and we did get a few shots at some really small juveniles in the creeks south of Pineland but no hook ups.

What we did find in abundance were redfish on the flats over Captiva Rocks. This is one of the most scenic spots in all of Pine Island Sound and home to several historic fishing cabins. We got dozens of shots at reds in the clear water and the guys each landed one using a Merkin style crab fly. This was Labor Day Weekend and there were at least a dozen other boats fishing this same area, some of them within a few yards of us. Matt and Shawn were the only anglers using fly rods and in the hour we spent on this flat they were the only ones to land any redfish. This was really surprising given all of the commotion going on around us.

One of the keys to their success was precise casting. Redfish rely on their sense of smell more than their eyesight to find their prey. Since flies don't give off a scent it's sometimes best to put the cast within a few inches of the red's nose. This isn't easy, especially when standing on a moving deck and casting into moving target. Get it right and you'll be successful not only with redfish but just about any other saltwater species.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Redfish By The Ton Off Pine Island

This morning it seemed like every redfish in the ocean was swimming through Pine Island Sound. With a perfect incoming tide, 82 degree water, and bait everywhere, it was a total flood of reds for several hours. The only drawback was high clouds that kept us from seeing many of these fish until the were right underneat the boat and a lot of grass in the water that kept fouling our flies.

New York angler Rich Lamanna was on the bow all morning throwing cast after cast at tailing and cruising reds. The one pictured above was a perfect 24 inch fish that ate an orange and red streamer pattern. Rich also hooked up using a deer hair slider and broke off a big oversized redfish right at high tide. Awesome day.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Beavertail's Fantastic New Vengeance Flats Skiff

I just got back from a great week in Key West where I helped with some filming for a new Sportsman Channel show. We were really thrilled to have Beavertail Skiff's owner Mark Fisher and his good buddy Matt Kersting along for the trip. This was also the Key West debut of Mark's latest design, the all new Vengeance skiff. The wind was honking at 15 to 20 knots all week but we managed to land some great fish on the flats and rack up some really impressive bar tabs at the Hurricane Hole Marina.
The Vengeance on its way to Key West.

This boat is hands down the most amazing skiff currently on the market.  Over the past 20 years I've been on just about every flats boat on the market and have owned five different models, including a top of the line Maverick.  None of them run through chop as smoothly and keep the passengers as dry as the Vengeance.  It's also as easy to pole as the lightest, but far more expensive, Hell's Bay models.
Angler Matt Kersting staying dry on a high speed run to Calda Bank on the new Vengeance.

Watching our camera crew running ahead of us in their Maverick skiff. They nearly drowned in the southeast chop.

Matt and Mark with a beautiful 15 pound permit caught on a live blue crab.
Our Beavertail BTX camera boat owned by Capt. Rob Kramarz running director Brad Douglas and cameraman Don "One Sock" Hoy towards Bluefish Channel. Capt. Rob is a great guide and it was a blast hanging out with him all week in Key West.

Matt Kersting casting some of his excellent flies in the insanely difficult Key West wind at some crusing permit.

Myself and Mark Fisher with his 12 pound permit caught off Boca Grande Key. Mark paid his dues by sticking several flies into his skull before lowering himself to catching this permit on a live crab for our cameras. This show's editing department is going to have a hell of a job with their bleep button for this segment.

Matt and Mark with one of the two dozen tarpon we hooked Tuesday night under the Cow Key Channel bridge. This was probably three of the best hours I've ever spent on the water. The tarpon were hitting every other cast we threw under the bridge and a trio of homeless drunks were hurling abuse at us from the shore. Between hookups we were emptying a cooler full of Sam Adams and I don't remember laughing so hard in a long time. It was one of those rare moments in my life where I had to stop and ask myself, "Should I really be having this much fun?"

This whole trip wouldn't have been possible without the invaluable help and advice from my good friend Capt. Mike Bartlett, pictured here on high alert for catchable fish after a night at my buddy Irish Kevin's house.

In all seriousness, here's the image of Mike that most people will see after they book him for a charter. Mike Bartlett is the best permit fisherman in Key West and is also the first captain to guide an angler to a Grand Slam in the Keys in 2010, something he did the day before we arrived with our cameras. For some reason Mike likes to claim that I was his mentor before he started guiding in Key West. That's a ridiculous statement since he has easily forgotten more about flats fishing in the Keys over the past decade than I've ever known. If you're heading to the island do yourself a favor and book this guy right now.

Key West is an amazing place where I was lucky enough to spend one third of my life. I've been away from it for too long and this past week was blend of everything I always savored about the island, especially the fishing and the friendships. I can't wait to go back there next month.