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: