Thursday, April 28, 2011

Matlacha Fishing Report: Another Day, Another Slam

Ohio angler Lee Seabeck came back for round two this month with the hopes of landing some big redfish and possibly a Slam.  Mission Accomplished.  Three reds, a small snook, and a keeper trout all fell to the almight Zara Spook before luchtime.  The best catch was the 28 inch redfish pictured above

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Matlacha Redfishing, Topwaters Rule!

Cape Coral angler Jim Whisner brought his neighbor Eric, who is visiting from Germany, out on my boat this morning to chase down some redfish off Matlacha.  With a strong incoming tide I knew that there would be some nice red working the mangroves in the southern part of the pass and they didn't let us down.  The first fish of the morning was a 17 inch trout that Jim landed on his third cast.  Shortly after that Eric hooked and lost a big snook that nailed a Zara Spook but quickly wore through the 20# leader.  I bumped him up to 30# Flourocarbon and three redfish came into the boat after that.  Two were slot legal and the best was the 28 incher in the first photo.  To top it off, Jim snagged a nice little snook to complete the Slam.  A great morning and we'll have the same conditions all week.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Sunday Snook From Matlacha

I shot out with the family for a quick hour of fishing in the northeast part of Matlacha Pass and found some great snook action.  It was only about an hour into the rising tide and I was plugging the downwind side of the mangroves with a Zara Spook and getting hits every twenty yards.  None of these were big snook, they were all nearly identical 20-inchers as the photos show, but they clobbered the topwater like maniacs and that's my favorite kind of action to find with a spinning rod.  I also spotted a few slot legal snook and a handful of smaller reds but none of these fish felt like eating at the time.

After more than a year since the cold snap and fish kill of 2010, the snook population of Matlacha and Pine Island is booming.  You still can't keep any but that doesn't mean you can't have a blast catching them on topwaters.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Pine Island Catch Of The Week: Franklin Chen's Big Ladyfish

New York angler Franklin Chen caught the best fish of the week on my boat with this beautiful ladyfish that hit a floating shrimp in Matlacha Pass.  After landing this 18-inch trophy and posing with it for these photos, 7-year old Franklin insisted that the ladyfish was released to grow bigger and possibly get caught again next year.  It's great to fish with a young man who is such a good angler and a conservationist at the same time.  Way to go, Franklin.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Stuff I Like: Costa Del Mar Fathom Sunglasses

Most of my anglers ask me what kind of sunglasses I wear and these have been my choice in for the past ten years.  Costa del Mar is the best company around and their Fathom model sunglasses with amber colored lenses are the perfect choice for spotting fish on the flats in the Keys, the Caribbean, and here around Pine Island.  They have a great warranty and repair policy and their customer service is excellent.  You actually get to talk to a real human right here in the United States working at their facility when you call them.  That alone is enough to make me by any product.  Costa Del Mar Fathoms retail for about $140 and they're a bargain at that price.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pine Island Fishing Report: Big Snook In The Mangroves

Lee Seabeck from Ohio came back to fish with me again this year and landed this awesome snook near Tropical Point off Pine Island.  Our main target were the redfish that we were seeing everywhere but this big 30 incher slammed a topwater lure right at the tip of a large mangrove.  The next few minutes were one of the most impressive struggles that I've witnessed in a long time as Lee pulled hard against the snook that was violently determined to drive itself back into the root system where it could easily cut the leader.  Lee won the battle and five minutes later we had the fish on board for some photos and a quick release.

In addition to this brute we also landed a couple of these smaller snook on the same white Badonk-A-Donk lure.   

For at least two hours we were seeing and casting to nice reds every fifty feet.  Most of them were surprisingly indifferent to the lures and only a few made half-hearted follows.  We finally managed to hook a beautiful red in a very narrow creek but lost it and the lure to an unseen knot in my Power Pro.  A big 20 inch trout also came unhooked right next to the boat so Lee almost had a Grand Slam but we can't claim it without the landing photos.  It was still a perfect morning either way. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Paddleboard Fishing Video

San Diego anglers Al and Christie Parker sent me this video they shot yesterday on the flats north of Matlacha. They were fishing from a pair of C4 paddleboards that they rented for the week from Florida Paddlesports. Al was casting a white fluke rigged on a 1/4 jig head along the mangroves when he nailed a nice slot sized redfish.

Paddleboards are a blast to fish from and it's a lot easier than you might think.  I tried it for the first time a few months ago and not only did I manage to stay dry the entire time, I also landed a 22 inch redfish using a fly rod whick I wrote a post about here.  Give it a try sometime.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Big Trout, Small Reds

Locals Nick and Cathy Smith hit the flats with me this morning.  They scored a couple of keeper trout on Zara Spooks right away, including the beautiful 20 incher pictured on top, but then the action in the northern part of Matlacha Pass died out on us.  At the end of the trip Cathy finally got her first redfish, a very photogenic rat that was immediately released to do some more growing.  Stellar weather but slow fishing today.  The rest of the week should only get better.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Matlacha Fishing Report: Redfish Everywhere!

I've been so busy with charters this past week that I've forgotten to post a report on what we've been finding out there.  Like the headline says, the reds are just everywhere in both the north and south parts of the Pass.  I'm not talking about rats either but big over-sized fish that leave huge wakes when you spook them out of the grass.  And they've been mixed in with some remarkably big snook that lay dead still in the shallow pot holes, looking like black logs but refusing to eat any of the artificials of flys we've been dropping on them. 

The redfish are another story and have been climbing all over the topwater lures and live shrimp.  These are some shots from this morning with angler Jeff Seed from England and two of the reds he landed.  The first one was a really strong 30 incher that crushed a Zara Spook on a flat in the Indian Fields.  The second red was a 23 incher we spotted cruising along the mangroves and hit a live shrimp.  This one came back home with us for dinner since it was one of the first fish that wasn't over slot that I've landed all week.  Not a bad problem to have. 

We've got some fantastic morning tides coming up this week and the best day of all is Friday, which I still have open on my schedule.  If you're a fly fisherman and want a shot at some tailers that will be the day so give me a call.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Permit Fishing, Lower Keys

My buddy Capt. Mike Bartlett sent me this shot from his trip yesterday with an angler from New Jersey who caught four permit on the flats.  They were using spinning gear and live crabs but this was still a fantastic day on Mike's new Beavertail BT-3.  Key West and the Lower Keys are Ground Zero right now for permit fishing and if you want to land one of these big jacks there is no better guide than Capt. Mike Bartlett.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Matlacha Bald Eagle

You never know what you'll come across on your way to the flats each morning.  These guys are quite common but they're usually a little boat shy.  This adult bald eagle was nice enough to sit still for a few shots before deciding we were too close and flew back to his nest in the mangrove of Matlacha Pass.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

TFO's New BVK Fly Rods

Temple Fork Outfitters (TFO) is one of the most interesting manufacturers in the fly rod business these days. This Texas based company was one of the first to introduce a line of truly affordable rods that were both great to cast and sturdy enough to handle the harsh saltwater environment. Their smartest move however was teaming up with fly fishing legend Lefty Kreh and giving him a free hand to design many of their products. Thanks to Lefty and TFO, the world finally had a $99 fly rod that was actually capable of going tarpon fishing.

Last year TFO unveiled their new BVK series for both fresh and saltwater and this one is a real game changer. Priced at just $249 for the 7 through 10 weights, these four piece rods cast as well or better than almost anything their competition makes at twice, or in some cases triple, the price. A couple months ago I picked one up for the first time and easily cast the entire 100 foot fly line. This was really amazing since it was such a light rod, a 3.1 ounce 7-wt, and I don't consider myself a long distance caster. If I didn't know the rod's price to begin with, I would have guessed that TFO was charging at least $500 for it. The 7-wt BVK is the perfect outfit for working the local grass flats for sea trout around Pine Island.

And I'm not writing this just to shill for TFO because they're giving me a deal on anything. I've actually been on Sage's guide program for the last 15 years and every fly rod I own has their name written on it, but that's about to change. One of those little BVK 7-wts will be my new trout and baby tarpon rod very soon. If you're in the area you can pick up a new BVK or one of several different TFO rods and reels at Florida Paddlesports.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Pine Island Tarpon Story

I wrote this last year for the Nautical Mile newspaper but it's worth repeating since tarpon season is here and the anglers in this story just booked me for another trip this summer.

One of my favorite clients of all time is the young man in the picture, Marshall Hespe. He 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 the moment 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 any different when things go right.

Marshall is also twelve years old and can cast a fly rod better than many of the 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 crush the loops of many veteran anglers. And he keeps getting better.

I first met Marshall and his dad Bill in 2009 when they booked me for a bonefish trip down in Puerto Rico. In addition to all the shots at bones he got, Marshall managed to jump a nice twenty pound tarpon on a flat where these fish 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 for the next Spring. He obviously loved hooking tarpon and we have a lot of those around in May. Our small canal tarpon are a perfect size for teaching kids how to eventually fight the bigger fish. I thought we’d target some more juveniles like the one he hooked the previous year and maybe get him a look at some full grown rollers. 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 first one he jumped in Puerto Rico, but he was pumped and I promised him we’d snag one more 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 best 10-weight Sage rod with a red and black Tarpon Bunny 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 fish. Unlike a lot of kids his age, Marshall isn’t much of a talker. When I asked if he saw the big tarpon 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 loose fly 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 pure chaos with the tarpon running towards deep water, every other wave 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 Roy Scheider from the movie “Jaws” started ringing in my ears. “We need a bigger boat!”

My Beavertail B-2 is not specifically designed to run at idle speed in three foot seas 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 straight 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 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 only twelve years old your fish of a lifetime should probably stay out there for a little while longer.

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