Thursday, September 29, 2011

Gear Review: The Tahoe Rubicon Stand Up Paddleboard

Tahoe Paddleboards are some of the lightest and highest quality SUPs on the market.  I borrowed one of their Rubicon models from Florida Paddlesports earlier this week and took it fishing on a rainy afternoon in Matlacha Pass. 

The Rubicon is Tahoe's all-purpose model, sort of an SUV of SUP's, and weighs 34 pounds.  That's really light for a 12' long board that's not strictly made for racing.  At 30" wide it's also stable enough for a beginner to paddle in smooth water. 

My interest in standup paddleboards is centered around how they perform as a fishing platform.  I could care less about the workout aspect of the sport since my six-pack abs are already so awesome that I have to keep them hidden beneath a few inches of belly flab.  Tahoe claims that the Rubicon is a great board for just about everything and I agree with them, although I'd grade it with an A as a touring board and a B as a fishing board. 

A you can see from the pictures I was trying to fly fish from the board and in the slightly choppy water it was a bit of a chore.  There is a lot of motion involved in casting a fly rod and I never felt totally comfortable doing it from the Rubicon.  It was a different story with a spinning rod and I even hooked and landed a nice 20" snook with a DOA Double Threat.  The Rubicon's light weight also makes it drift very quickly in any breeze so that further limits anglers to spinning gear in open water.  If fishing is your main focus when choosing a paddleboard, try an Ark Silencer or Hooked SUP first.  You'll gain a lot of stability with either of those boards but sacrifice the speed of the Rubicon.

The Rubicon retails for $1399 and you won't find a better looking board out there.  Its built in bungees and attachment points make it a great long distance touring platform, capable of carrying full sized coolers as well as paddlers.  Rig up a rod holder to your Igloo or Yeti cooler and a Tahoe Rubicon can take you almost anywhere. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Matlacha At Sundown

Monday, September 26, 2011

Stand Up Paddleboard Tarpon Fishing

My buddy Jory Pearson hooked and landed this great little 15 pound tarpon from a Hooked SUP paddleboard this afternoon.  We were fishing in a Cape Coral canal that was full of rolling fish and casting live greenbacks.  As you can imagine, the tarpon yanked him all over the place but Jory somehow managed to keep the fish out of the pilings and boat lifts.  Even more amazing was the fact that he landed the fish without going for a swim.  The Hooked SUP is actually a very stable platform and designed specifically for fishing.  You can read a short review of this board here or head over to Jory's shop, Florida Paddlesports in Cape Coral, and try one for yourself.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Matlacha Fishing Report: Tarpon And More Tarpon

There aren't many places in Florida better than Matlacha and Pine Island for juvenile tarpon fishing, especially in the fall.  This 15 pounder was one of nearly a dozen fish this size that we've landed this week.  Thanks to the lighter winds, fly fishing for them has been a lot more agreeable but the easiest way to get them is a live greenback freelined on a light flourocarbon leader.  That's what the tarpon in these photos fell to in Matlacha Pass. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

How To Spot Bonefish On The Flats

September is prime time for bonefish in the Keys so if you're heading that way here's an article I wrote a few years ago that might be helpful:

For a beginner, the simple act of spotting a bonefish on the flats is the biggest hurdle on the way to actually catching one. They’re nicknamed the grey ghost for a very good reason. Bonefish are nearly invisible under the best of circumstances and they can appear and disappear in the blink of an eye. They really are the most ghostly fish in the shallows.

The first step in spotting the bonefish is having the proper eyewear before you hit the flats. Even the most expensive frames are worthless without polarized lenses. My personal favorites are the Costa del Mar Fathoms. These are in the upper price range for quality fishing glasses but they also come with a great warranty, so you won’t feel too stupid when you inevitably sit on them. There are several lens colors available but amber is the by far the best for shallow water. If $150 is too steep of a pair or sunglasses there are several less costly alternatives. Even the $10 shades you find at the tackle shop counter will work in the end. The polarized coatings on these cheapos are prone to scratch easily so handle them with care.

Actually knowing a bonefish when you see one is a big challenge, especially if you’re fishing on your own without having used a guide before. I’ve lost count of the number of times my anglers have, just by following my directions, cast to and hooked their first bonefish without ever seeing it. You simply can’t count on walking out to a good looking flat and expect the tails to start sticking up. Casting to a school of tailing bones is one of angling’s great thrills but it’s a lot less common than the TV fishing shows lead you to believe. Tailing is caused by several factors, especially a low incoming tide and calm winds. Find these two conditions, which are a lot more common in the early fall, and you’ve got a nice chance of spotting tails. The good news is that tailing bones are actively feeding, so you know you’re looking at hungry fish.

In most situations you’ll be looking for cruising fish in water at least a foot deep. Add a good twenty knot breeze to the mix and you’ll really need your eyes and brain working together to spot a bonefish. Movement is always a big giveaway. The best thing to do at first is simply pick a spot on the flat and stand totally still for at least fifteen minutes. Open your eyes wide and take in all that’s in front of you, don’t just stare at the downwind spot where you hope to cast. Once you get a fix on the terrain of the flat, the rocks, the sand patches, the sponges, and everything else that’s stationary, a moving object will jump right out at you.

On grassy flats like those in the Keys or Puerto Rico, bonefish can look surprisingly dark. Their backs take on a deep olive camo pattern that makes them appear very grey or even black from above. On the bright sand flats of the Bahamas they’re an exceptionally light blue-grey or even pure silver. Again, movement is always the giveaway. However, wind and currents can create a tremendous optical illusion in the water. Throw in a lot of anticipation and after a while everything starts looking like a bonefish. Stay in one spot too long and you’ll eventually be casting at rocks and sea fans. These are your dreaded “Wish Fish.”

One way to make sure you’ve found a moving target is to immediately look for a feature right next to it. Is the gap between the two points widening or closing? If it is then you’ve definitely spotted a fish. Now lock on to it and don’t look away. If you’re on a moving platform like a skiff or kayak don’t even blink. Taking a quick glance behind you to make sure your cast is clear will cause you to loose the fish almost every time.

Your final step before you cast is to positively identify your target as a bonefish. All good flats are home to a host of other species that can look very “bonefishy” from a distance. Barracuda, boxfish, and small sharks are the three most common imposters. (Although those three are great fun to catch on their own.) The one thing to remember is that bonefish are almost never stationary except when they stop to feed. At that point you’ll either see them tailing or kicking up puffs of mud on the bottom.

That brings us to our final giveaway. Any patch of muddy or milky water on an otherwise clear flat is usually something feeding. This could be caused by mullet, a large stingray, or a school of bonefish. Anytime I see a basketball sized or larger puff of mud, I cast into it immediately. Let the fly or bait drop to the bottom and begin a slow retrieve. If it’s bones you’ll get a quick hookup since you’ve found hungry fish that aren’t paying attention to what’s happening above them.

There are a whole lot of other factors that go into catching bonefish on your own. When you finally see and can positively identify them, even if they’re running in terror from your clumsy cast, then you’ll be a whole lot closer to actually landing one.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Vieques Bonefishing With Capt. Franco Gonzalez: Puerto Rico's Best Flats Guide

Capt. Franco Gonzales with a big african pompano caught off Mosquito Pier, Vieques, PR.
Back in the summer of 2004 I was finishing up my ninth tarpon season in Key West and I wasn’t happy. I had a full schedule of charters but the wind had been blowing a solid twenty knots since New Year’s and didn’t stop until right after my last client of the summer stepped off my boat. Just spotting a fish in those churned up conditions was a minor victory on some days. And to rub salt in my wounds, the number of guides working around Key West had easily tripled from the previous decade. Even if you could find a good spot out of the wind, thanks to the miracle of GPS someone else was usually there. I wanted out of the Keys and a small island off the coast of Puerto Rico called Vieques was the most likely candidate at the time.
Ensenada Honda, Vieques.
I knew I was going to live on this island before the wheels of the tiny Cessna even touched the short runway at Vieques International. Mile after mile of shoreline stretched out below me and no other charter boats except for one, owned by Capt. Franco Gonzalez, who'd been guiding on the island since 1999. I envied the hell out of the guy and I hadn’t even spoken to him yet. And truthfully, I was afraid of actually doing that. Franco had something down here that was completely unheard of up in Florida. No competition.

When I first started fishing off Key West in the early-90s there were about twenty five full time flats guides on the island.  Most were indifferent at best to a newcomers like myself.  A few of them welcomed me like bad news after a colonoscopy. One notoriously short tempered veteran even threatened me with an ass-kicking after I got too close to him on a huge tarpon flat. I apologized profusely back at the dock and then pointed out to this particular vodka-sponge that, while I could probably use a good ass-kicking, I was twenty years younger and twenty pounds heavier than he was, and I didn't appreciate his way of "educating" me on the water. We settled on an uneasy truce after that. I never crowded him again and he never spoke to me again.  Win, win.
Key West, the end of the road.
Conflicts like that were just another part of the Key West landscape, and I actually did everything I could to aviod them. Eventually I found success with my clients and developed a good reputation with most of the other guides on the island, so moving on after a decade on the flats was a big risk.  What would it be like down on Vieques where there was no guide community, and only Franco Gonzalez to contend with?
Bonefishing at Purple Beach, Vieques.
I got the answer on my second trip to Puerto Rico when I spent a month down there looking at real estate, fishing from the Vieques shore and asking everyone I met if they thought Franco would tolerate another guide sharing his water. I finally worked up the nerve to call his number on the next to last day of my trip and book a charter with him. I decided to spill my guts and tell Franco that I was a guide hoping to move to Vieques and start running trips in a few months. I braced myself for a barrage of profanity (I learned all the Spanish swear words from the Cuban boatyards Key West,) but instead I got a very measured response of, “Well, thanks for telling me that.”

So long story short: Franco took me out the next day, showed me the entire south side of Vieques, including his two most productive tarpon bays, and hooked me into my first Puerto Rican bonefish within five minutes of stepping onto his favorite flat in Ensenada Honda. I wrote a deposit check for a house later that day.
Ensenada Honda bonefish.
Capt. Franco Gonzalez had the island of Vieques to himself and could have said “Get lost, Gringo. Don’t even think of stepping on my toes down here.” A lot of other guides would have done exactly that, but Franco didn’t. He did the exact opposite and I can’t thank him enough for it.

Over the next few years we saw a big increase in tourism on Vieques and our two boats became a necessity on several occasions when groups of anglers would visit. In 2007 a New York Times article profiled both Franco and myself and business really took off.  Our guide services complimented each other for the most part and my wife and I really benefited from having Franco as a friend down there.
Capt. Franco and one of his clients with the first permit ever caught on fly in Puerto Rico.
Two years ago the big tarpon of Pine Island beckoned me and I handed my share of the Vieques bonefish back to their original owner. They couldn't be in better hands. Capt. Franco Gonzalez is a not only a rock solid fly fishing guide but a true conservationist and the perfect ambassador for the flats of Vieques and Puerto Rico. If you’re heading to the island anytime soon and want a perfect day on the water just give him a call at (787)450-3744.

Tight lines, Franco. See you soon.

TFO Fly Rods: They Taste As Great As They Cast

Sophie Reagan McKee loves her new 8-weight BVK.

That photo is a bit of a joke, of course.  She's only 7 months old and the BVK 8-wt is too much rod for her right now.  I'm actually teaching her to cast a slower action 5-wt. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Key West 2020 Walk Around For Sale

The Key West 2020 Walk Around is one of the smoothest running bay boats ever built.  This 2008 model has only 14 hours on its 150 Yamaha 2-Stroke outboard.  The boat has been lift kept and completely covered since it was delivered.  It is essentially a brand new boat selling for $12,000 less than an identically equipped 2011 or 2012 model.  I'll have some more detailed photos soon but be sure to look at this 2020WA first before you head to a dealership.  The boat is currently located at St. James City on Pine Island, FL. 

Click here to see this boat's full listing details and contact information at Cape Regal Yachts.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Gear Review: Allen Fly Lines

Last week I posted a review of Royal Wulff's new Bermuda Short fly line which retails for about $75. That's an average price for fly lines these days and there are a few that top the $100 mark.  But what about a fly line in the $20 range?  Well it turns out there's a pretty good one made by Allen Fly Fishing.

Their weight-forward floating line retails for $22 and is just fine for most light saltwater uses.  It has a fairly long taper and is a little slow to load on the 8wt rod that I use with it, but that doesn't bother me too much.  This is my backup outfit and I mostly use it for easy species like sea trout or ladyfish.  It will perform even better if you overline it on a 7wt rod.

The line's coating has been really durable so far and retains its stiffness in the heat.  It only comes in an unattractive olive color but that hides the dirt and grime nicely.  This is basically a fly line that you don't have to worry about cleaning that often to beging with.  There are no welded loops on the ends of this line but that's OK with me at this price.  A lot of premium fly lines don't come with welded loops but they should since I hate tying nail knots.

So for $22 you get an ugly but totally functional line from Allen Fly Fishing that is perfect for the casual angler or on a backup reel like a TFO Prism.  I like this stuff, it's inexpensive, not cheap.

Friday, September 16, 2011

My Favorite Tarantula Story

Tropical Storm Irene became Hurricane Irene in the middle of the night on August 23rd while it was directly over the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, where I guided before moving back to Florida and still own a house. My current tenants experienced several inches of water on the floors, despite the fact that the property is 140 feet above sea level, but no serious damage. They also told me about a more unpleasant flood that started the next day. A bug flood.

Heavy rains flush all sorts of things out of the ground on Vieques. It usually starts with swarms of flying termites and escalates in horror until poisonous things start showing up in unfortunate places. My tenants seem to be taking in all in stride since so far, but it reminded me of my favorite bug story from my time in the Caribbean.

I used to launch my bonefishing charters at a little beach called La Platita. It was actually nothing more than a small clearing at the end of a five mile dirt road on the eastern tip of Vieques, an uninhabited part of the island that the Navy used to use as a bombing range for several decades. After I launched the boat I’d park my Jeep and trailer under the mangroves and go fishing.

One January day I got chased back to shore by a sudden storm and quickly hauled out my boat in the heavy rain. Before I started down the trail I noticed something unusual tucked into a corner of the Jeep’s canvas top. It had a lot of hairy legs and clearly did not belong in my vehicle. I poked at it with my keys, hoping to convince it to leave but the GIANT FREAKING SPIDER had other ideas. It dropped into the passenger side foot well and then disappeared under the seat. I wasn’t exactly sure what species this was, but it was definitely a member of the I-Really-Don’t-Want-This-Damn-Thing-In-The-Car-With-Me order of arachnids.

I spent a long time poking under the Jeep’s seats hoping to chase it out into the open, but that didn’t happen. I finally climbed in and lurched down the bumpy dirt road, hoping the monster would stay safely hidden for the next half hour. Talk about a long ride home. When I got back to the house I emptied half a can of Raid under both seats. Goodbye, spider.

The next morning I decided to head down to a spot called Purple Beach for some wade fishing since I had the day off and really needed to catch a bonefish or two. I'd forgotten about my troubles from the previous day's trip and was just enjoying a drive through Vieques on a warm January morning in my convertible Jeep. Life was good.

Then I looked down and sure enough, THERE‘S MY BUDDY!!!

It was a definitely a tarantula and he was climbing up the steering column, clearly getting ready to do something radical like drop right down onto my crotch. If I were flying an F-16 I would have hit the ejection seat right there. Unfortunately, the ‘89 Jeep Wrangler didn’t come with that option so I aimed for the sidewalk and jumped out when the front tires whacked the curb.

I've never had a fear of the tarantulas on Vieques and I'd become used to occasionally finding them in the dark corners of the garage and laundry room at my house. But one in my Jeep? While I'm driving it? Come on! Why can’t they at least chirp like a friendly cricket to let you know they’re nearby?

This tarantula had somehow avoided my Raid fogging and was now trying to make a statement. He continuted crawling to the top of the steering wheel and was staring me down when I finally stepped back towards the Jeep. This was one tenacious spider with a twisted sense of humor, so I decided not to kill him. I snapped a quick photo to remember him by and then flung him on to the road with my ball cap.

I could write a whole book on all of the creepy-crawly things I’ve encountered down in the tropics and tarantulas were far from the worst. They’re actually harmless and their bite is no more painful than a bee’s sting. No one has ever died from being bitten by one, but if I'd been careening through traffic in San Juan instead of cruising an empty road on Vieques, I probably would have been the world’s first tarantula-caused fatality. What a humiliating way to go. On top of that fun little incident, I didn’t even catch any fish when I finally got to the beach. That was a really great morning in Paradise.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

September Tarpon Fishing On Pine Island

It doesn't get any better than September in Southwest Florida.  Everything is out there right now, especially juvenile tarpon like the 20 pounder caught by Huston angler Charles Bartlett shown in the above photo.  Fall tarpon fishing around Matlacha and Pine Island is legendary and fish like this will be plentiful until the end of October.