Sunday, May 30, 2010

Big Trout And Reds On Topwaters

Despite all the Memorial Day boat traffic, which wasn't as bad as I expected, we managed to find a nice amount of redfish and trout in both Matlacha Pass and Pine Island Sound today. Angler Bill Zaring scored on the 20 inch trout and his buddy Jerry is pictured with the 25 inch redfish. Both these fish clobbered white Zara Spooks which are my favorite artificials nowadays. Topwaters are great all around lures for just about every gamefish that swims in our waters. They're especially effective in the mornings when there is less grass floating on the surface.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Reds On Fly, Matlacha Pass

New Hampshire angler Jon Field had a great couple of days with me recently chasing redfish in Matlacha Pass. We had perfect tailing conditions for the first hour of each morning which is when throwing a fly works best. When it's especially calm I really like using deer hair patterns because they land so quietly and that's what this particular fish ate. This was a perfect 25 inch red and was Jon's first on fly. He also landed half a dozen others, including two over 30 inches, using Zara Spooks.

The redfishing here in Matlacha Pass and Pine Island Sound is off the hook right now. I've come across a couple schools this week that had over a hundred fish each in them. That's something we don't usually see until the end of summer and early fall. If you can pull yourself away from the tarpon fishing hooking a big red should be no problem.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Pine Island Jacks On Fly

Yesterday was one of those mornings that guides like to describe as great fishing and just a little bit of catching. Local fly angler Steve Krystyniak came out with me again and our first target was some of the big redfish that have moved into Matlacha Pass. With the low tides happening just before sunrise all week we've had great tailing action over the last several days. Steve and I were on dozens of reds for the first two hours of our morning, spooking them left and right in the dead calm water despite the fact that Steve was only casting unweighted flies. I'd never seen so many feeding reds act more nervous than all the bonefish I've ever chased over the years. It was awesomely aggravating but a lot of fun to see that many beautiful fish in one area.

We moved on to the tarpon in Charlotte Harbor after that and the big females are still pouring into the deeper water up there. Things were a little slower and Steve still managed three or four perfect shots at laid up fish but we got no interest from these tarpon. We were clearly using the wrong pattern. That's the beauty of fly fishing. You can always blame the fly.

Our final stop was a Pine Island basin holding a lot of juvenile tarpon. Steve switched to a dark purple Toad fly, one of my favorites, and got a quick eat right away but no hook-up. The fish simply missed the hook. We cast at rolling fish for the next two hours and finally managed to connect with this nice jack that was part of a school busting bait up and down the shoreline. This crevalle was basically five pounds of icing on the cake for us yesterday.

Even though we only landed this one fish, no more than five minutes went by when Steve wasn't casting his fly rod at something. It was one of those rare mornings when the time just flew by despite almost never having a bent rod. What a great day.

(Steve, I swear I'll get you a tarpon next time. Really. You gotta believe me!)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

12 Year Old Angler VS. 125 Pound Tarpon

Marshall Hespe is the type of angler that every guide should have on the bow of their boat. He can cast a fly rod quickly and accurately and spot fish well before they’re within his range. He rarely misses a shot and is quick to get the fly back on target when he does. He never gets frustrated with himself or the conditions when things go wrong, as they often do in fly fishing, and he doesn’t act different when things go right.

Marshall is also twelve years old and can cast better than most adults that I’ve fished with since I started guiding. It’s an amazing thing to watch a Little League centerfielder throw a perfect cast into a wind stiff enough to crumble the loops of a lot of veteran anglers. And he keeps getting better.

I first met Marshall and his dad Bill last year on a bonefishing trip down in Puerto Rico. We missed the bones that morning but Marshall did manage to jump a nice twenty pound tarpon on a flat where they rarely appear. He obviously had a knack for the sport and I was thrilled when they booked a three day weekend to fish with me here on Matlacha last week. He obviously liked jumping tarpon and we have a lot of those around right now so I thought we’d target some more juveniles. Turns out I was aiming a little low on that one.

Our first day was a bit slow except for a single tarpon that attacked his fly three times but never managed to find the hook. It wasn’t a big fish, about the same size as the one he jumped in Puerto Rico last year, but he was pumped and I promised him we’d snag one before his trip was done.

Charlotte Harbor was a windy and crowded mess, as it always seems to be on the weekends, when I took Marshall and Bill up there the next day looking for bigger fish. The wind was gusting a solid fifteen knots and there was already a small skiff anchored right on my favorite flat. I handed Marshall my favorite 10-weight Sage rod with a black fly and hoped to just get him a shot or two despite the lousy conditions.

We were five minutes into our first drift when I spotted the dark shape hovering over the light bottom. From a hundred yards away I knew I was looking at a huge laid-up tarpon. Unlike a lot of kids his age, Marshall isn’t much of a talker. When I asked if he saw the fish all I got was a quick, “Yeah.” He was clearly focused.

I pushed the bow to the right to give Marshall a downwind shot. His dad was sitting behind him on my cooler making sure the line stayed put in the stiff breeze. When you’re fly fishing on a windy day it’s invaluable to have a second angler on the boat to do this job. We were eighty feet from the tarpon when I had Marshall begin casting. By the time he dropped the fly we’d covered half that distance.

There are days when guiding is the most frustrating job on Earth and you ask yourself why you put up with so much exhaustion and aggravation over a handful of fish that never want to eat. This was not one of those days.

Marshall dropped the fly perfectly on target, stripped twice, and the tarpon lunged forward and ate. When it launched itself out of the water my jaw dropped. She was a massive fish, easily over 125 pounds. The term, “All Hell Broke Loose,” is the only thing that can describe the next twenty minutes.

Most tarpon are lost after the first jump but Marshall cleared his fly line and got the fish on the reel like a veteran. After that it was a perfect storm of chaos with the tarpon running towards deep water, waves breaking over my bow, and Bill and I taking turns driving the boat and keeping Marshall standing in the three foot chop of Charlotte Harbor.

About fifteen minutes into the fight the immortal words of Chief Brody from the movie “Jaws” loudly rang in my ears. “We need a bigger boat!”

My Beavertail B-2 is not specifically designed to run in three footers and the water dumping into the cockpit was above my ankles and not draining fast enough. The tarpon was still swimming upwind and I had to slow it down somehow. I switched places with Bill at the bow and cranked the drag way down on Marshall’s reel. Bad move on my part.

I jumped back behind the helm, put the boat in neutral, and started bailing with a coffee cup, hoping to help my struggling bilge pump. That’s when the fish made another high speed surge right upwind. The full drag caused the reel’s loose Dacron backing to dig into itself tighter and tighter with each outgoing turn. When I heard the loud snap I knew exactly what happened. The backing popped and I lost not only an entire $80 fly line but Marshall’s prize tarpon as well.

Most anglers would have melted down into a quivering mass of temper and profanity at that point, myself included. Marshall just looked quietly down at the reel and out to Charlotte Harbor where his fish was swimming away, trailing an expensive souvenir from their brief but violent encounter. He never said a word. When you’re twelve years old I guess your fish of a lifetime should probably stay out there for a little while.

Besides, everybody needs a good “One That Got Away” story, and Marshall now has one that will last a very long time.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Matlacha Pass Loaded With Bait

The water surrounding Matlacha and Pine Island is definitely full of something right now and it's NOT oil. The schools of baitfish are everywhere, especially in the northern part of Matlacha Pass. Huge schools of greenbacks, pinfish, and threadfins are all over the flats on both sides of the main channel and are easy to find. Just look for them dimpling the surface or watch for diving birds, especially pelicans. The photo above shows our haul of threadfins after only one throw of the castnet. It's hard to tell but these were huge baits, all of them at least six inches long. Perfect tarpon food.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Gulf Oil Spill And Pine Island, Sanibel, and Captiva, Florida

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded on April 20th was located approximately 500 miles to the northeast of Pine Island Sound and our barrier island of Sanibel and Captiva. At this point the main part of the spill is being pushed north towards the Louisiana coast and is only now starting to come ashore there. The strong southern winds should continue to push this oil to the north and the Gulf currents will keep the bulk of spill well away from Southwest Florida. If any of this oil should begin to spread to the south it will be caught up in the Loop Current and swept to away from this part of the coast and around the Keys. The chart below is good illustration of the Loop Current, seen in red, and the present location of the oil.

As of this morning, May 23th, the closest reported oil is in the Loop Current and being carried further west. There is almost no chance that this oil will come ashore here in Lee County and Southwest Florida. A new estimate of the spill from NOAA now has it covering slightly more than 2000 square miles rather than the previously reported 3400 square miles. The Panhandle is not totally out of the woods yet but that is some very good news. There has been absolutely no closure of any beaches or fishing here in Southwest Florida.

This spill is a serious ecological and economic problem for Louisiana and its coastal fishery and I'm not trying to downplay it with this post. However, the media loves a good disaster and they're doing their best to scare everyone. I'm getting a lot of calls and e-mails from anglers concerned about the potential impact of this spill in our area here around Pine Island. My friends down in the Keys are experiencing the same thing. There is no reason for anyone coming to this part Florida to be concerned right now and the worst thing that could happen to us, especially after our horrible winter, is for people to start cancelling their vacations. I'll keep updating this post whenever I find accurate information on the spill and it's possible impact on any part of Florida so please forward it along to anyone interested in a direct report from Lee County.