Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Redfish

I spent the last two days on the water with Nebraska angler Terry Rusthoven chasing our swimming pumpkins with a fly rod.  Excellent doesn't even begin to describe the late fall fishing down here right now. 




Monday, October 29, 2012

Beavertail Skiffs New Website

Their long overdue redesign was finished two weeks ago and you can check it out here.  You'll find lots of great pictures of all the new boats as well as complete pricing, something almost no other skiff building company ever lists. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Western North Carolina Trout Fishing

I just got back from a week in Franklin, NC where we did a lot of hiking in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, some high speed driving on the amazing roads up there, and a little bit of trout fishing on the Tuckasegee River. 




Sunday, October 21, 2012

Cold Front Trout

I caught this 21 incher on Saturday in the Mud Hole right after a quick moving front shut down everything else for us.  I do love these cooler mornings, though.  It acutally feels like fall down here on Pine Island these days, a nice change. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Matlacha Fishing Report: Topwater Slam

My buddy George Schramm shot out with me for a few hours yesterday to catch the bottom of the tide in Matlacha Pass.  We finally had some relatively grass-free water near the power lines and which let us throw some topwaters into the huge schools of swirling mullet.  The results were George's first Inshore Slam.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Great Bonnethead Shark

My buddy Capt. Mike Bartlett writes and excellent monthly column for the Keys based Fish Monster Magazine.  Here's his latest about one of my favorite species on the flats.

Winter is on its way down here at the end of road in Key West. Hurricane season is over, officially, so it's time to break out the winter wardrobe - long sleeve shirts for those comfortably cool evenings! The effects of cold fronts will be felt more now these days as we continue to tilt away from the sun. The days are so short compared to just a couple of months ago, something I have always had mixed feelings about. It's great for those quick evening sunset trips and I don't have to wake up at some ungodly hour to go fishing. But I do love fishing those wee hours of the summer mornings for tarpon when they are rolling and popping baits from the surface.

Fishing the flats now is much like the early part of the year. Weather is the major factor to consider how we proceed each day. We will have plenty of warm calm days and fishing the flats for permit, bonefish and tarpon will be the primary focus. There will however be many more opportunities on the flats now as barracudas, redfish and jacks move back in to the shallows. Sharks of course will be plentiful and on a lucky day I might even run into a cobia traveling with a shark or sting ray.

On those dreary November days right before a cold front pushes through and the following cooler, windy days we may consider fishing the backcountry basins and channels for a plethora of species including jacks, sea trout, pompano and many others. Or maybe the many shallow patch reefs that will hold a variety of snappers, grouper and mackerel. There is always somewhere to fish and something to fish for in all but the worst of weather conditions.

There is a much overlooked species that roams the flats of the Florida Keys. I can't recall reading any magazine articles about this fish, except for maybe a quick mentioning and I'm sure I haven't seen any fishing shows highlighting this species. What is this mystery species? The mighty and elusive bonnethead shark! I've been wanting to write about the bonnethead for some time, but with so many opportunities to write about the big three, it has always been pushed by the wayside. So here it is, possibly one of the first articles dedicated to bonnethead sharks. Probably not but I like to think so!

The bonnethead shark is a member of the hammerhead family of sharks. Bonnetheads have a broadly shaped head much like a shovel or bonnet (thus the name) with eyes on either side of the bonnet. They are a small shark reaching probably twenty pounds at most and reaching a length of three to four feet. Being a shark their diet consists of anything dead or alive it can get a bite of, but their favorite forage are crustaceans, including crabs and shrimp. Bonnetheads are the 'baby hammerheads' you see in the research tanks during Shark Week where they show how sharks react to minute electrical impulses.

Fishing for bonnetheads is quite simple really. Any flat we fish for permit and bonefish will have bonnetheads. Since we are trying to catch permit and bonefish we usually ignore the bonnetheads. Invariably, if a bonnethead is hooked up, a permit or bonefish will swim by and the opportunity may be lost. Most days however, especially with anglers new to the flats, we'll go ahead and catch one or two. They are after all quite fun to catch and really cool looking.

Bonnetheads are pretty easy to catch. If you are using spin tackle and have rods rigged with crab or shrimp you are ready to go. The hard part of catching bonnetheads is they have the uncanny habit of switching direction just as a cast is made. The trick however to elicit a strike is to literally hit the bonnethead on its head with the bait. This is especially true for fly anglers wishing to catch one on fly. Bonnetheads have poor eyesight with their eyes stuck way out there to either side of their head, but they do possess and incredible sense of smell. When a bait or fly is placed directly in front of the bonnethead he will have a chance to possibly see it and will definitely smell and feel it as it falls toward the bottom in an attempt to flee and not be eaten.

Bonnetheads for their small stature are a great fighting fish especially on light tackle. Referred to as the poor man's bonefish, bonnetheads will make a long and fast initial run, getting into the backing on fly with the larger specimens. Most of the battle however takes place near the boat with the shark pulling hard to get away from this thing piercing it's jaw. Handling bonnetheads at the boat is fairly easy, but caution must be used. A bonnethead isn't going to take your leg off in one bite, they do have small teeth and can cause considerable damage if one was to get hold of a finger or hand. One must be quick when removing the hook and taking photos. When stressed, bonnetheads will empty the contents of their stomach all over you and the deck of the boat. It's pretty nasty and stinky. And never hold a shark by just it's tail when releasing. Bonnetheads can bite their own tail and if your hand is in the way, fishing is over and off to the hospital for some stitches.

Knock on wood, I have had only one shark encounter while in the water. I was catching lobsters and had several in my catch bag laying on the bottom. I chased after a nice hogfish with my speargun in hopes of adding to my bounty. On the way back I heard a crunching sound and thought oh crap a nurse shark has found my lobsters and is gnawing on them through my bag. When I reached my bag I see it is a bonnethead and I don't think too much of it. I swim at the shark and sort of poke him with my spear to shoo it away. The shark is defiant and really jacked up trying to get to my lobsters. I go at the shark again and this time the shark comes at me and bumps me in the chest. With that move I grabbed my lobsters and went home.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Boat Review: Beavertail Skiffs New Strike

Beavertail Skiffs is Southwest Florida’s premier manufacturer of shallow water boats.  Located just up I-75 in Palmetto, they’ve built the last two hulls that I’ve used for my charters over the past six years. 

My first Beavertail was a 2006 B2 model, a pure sight fishing machine and a dream to pole.  At only 550 pounds, I actually bought it to launch right of the beaches on Vieques, PR where I was living at the time.  It would float in only six inches and still handled the rough, open waters surprisingly well.  No bonefish was safe from us and when I moved back to Florida in 2009 I gladly forked over the money to ship it up here.  The B2 was just as effective on the tailing reds of Pine Island Sound and even subdued some huge tarpon in Charlotte Harbor.  Unfortunately, it was only rated for 60 horsepower and I wanted to go just a bit faster. 

Last fall I ordered a new Beavertail BT3 with a Yamaha F70 outboard.  This skiff was like a B2 on steroids.  It was six inches longer, ten inches wider, but only one hundred pounds heavier.  With its extra power I picked up an additional 10mph but still got the same fuel burn as my previous boat with its 2 stroke motor.  The most impressive thing of all about this boat was its ride.  No matter how nasty the chop, it’s actually difficult to get wet in a BT3.  I’ve never experienced anything like it in the two decades I’ve been fishing the flats. 

Now for 2013 comes Beavertail’s all new 17 foot Strike.  This skiff has almost the same dimensions as their original B2 but its hull is evolved from the BT3.  The huge flared bow is not only great looking but just as functional in deflecting spray away from its passengers.  This also gives the Strike a casting deck that’s larger than any other skiff in its class and more than enough room for two anglers to fish side by side.

I got to drive the first production Strike last month in Tampa Bay and was thrilled with how it performed.  Its hole shot was amazing with just a 60 Evinrude on the back.  This was thanks to the unique short sponson hull and a very light Atlas Jack Plate.  With the outboard trimmed all the way down and the trim tabs dropped just an inch the Strike jumped right up on plane in only a couple boat lengths.  This is hugely important for us here in SW Florida when it comes time to go after tailing redfish during the low tides this time of year.  Anglers in Texas and Louisiana will also love being able to jack the motor straight up and run for miles across their ultra-shallow grass flats.

The boat’s stern has only 4 degrees of deadrise which means it’s essentially flat.  Along with the light weight, this helps to give the Strike a 6 inch draft.  A stripped down Lodge Edition with a tiller mounted outboard will float in even less water but still cruise at 30 mph, making it a perfect choice for the Everglades and Ten Thousand Islands.  Anglers down in the Keys will probably opt for the full 90 horse option which will let you fly out the Marquesas at close to 40 mph. 

Poling the Strike was effortless and it reminded me exactly of my old B2.  It was easier to stop and turn than my current BT3 and only a bit tippy up on the platform, which is something I expected from a 10 inch narrower beam.  Down on the casting deck it felt totally stable and standing on the 11 inch gunnels will give you plenty of room to chase down a zig zagging tarpon at boatside.  The storage was also a huge improvement over the older B2 and all the gear for three anglers can easily fit below the deck and in the optional cooler. 

All of this performance is great but not if it comes at a price that keeps it out of the hands of the average angler, and this is where Beavertail really outdoes the competition.  They’re offering a full boat, 60 E-tec motor, and trailer package for the first ten production Strikes at $25,000.  Throw 90 horse on the back as well as a shallow water anchor system, trolling motor, and GPS and you’ll still be right around the $30,000 mark for this boat.  Most of the competitor’s skiffs in this class will run anywhere from $5000 to $15,000 more. 

I would have given my right arm for a 90 horsepower Strike when I started fishing in Key West back in the early 1990s.  The first technical skiffs were just coming on the market around that time but none of them had all of the Strike’s capabilities.  Over the last two decades I’ve owned half a dozen different boats and spent time fishing on almost everything designed for shallow water.  There are a lot of great skiffs out there right now and almost all of them are built in Florida.  If I were in the market for a new ride, the Beavertail Strike would be at the top of my list.   
If you want to see one in person give them a call at 941-705-2090 or stop by the Ft. Myers Boat Show starting on Nov. 8th.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Red October Is Here!

You gotta love fall in SW Florida.

One for my grill from my buddy's awesome Gheenoe.

Nick Hiscott's big red.

His wife Linda's bigger red.

We're also catching a good amount of undersize snook in the same waters as these redfish.  My anglers yesterday, Nick and Linda Hiscott from the U.K., landed several of these guys and probably lost a pair of big slot sized snook.  In fact, Linda managed a Grand Slam by nailing a juvenile tarpon first thing in the morning and then getting a handful of trout, snook, and a pair of reds later that afternoon.  All of those fish were caught on a falling tide in the southern part of Matlacha Pass near the power lines.  
A nice snook for Nick.

A nicer snook for Linda.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Pine Island Fishing Report: Tricky Falling Tide Reds

Running a morning charter with nothing but falling water is never my favorite thing but this time of year it usually works.  A low incoming tide is always best for tailing reds and we had the exact opposite of that yesterday.  Fortunately my buddy Steve Krystyniac is a really experienced fly angler so when the shot are few and far between, I know he can make them count. 

We were poling along in ankle deep water near the power lines in Matlacha Pass, seeing every mullet in the known universe but only a handful of fleeing reds.  The water was absolutely slack just before noon and was going to stay that way for a while, definitely not good conditions for tailers.  A lone stingray cruised 100 yards in front of us with a pair of hitch hiking redfish on its back and I knew those guys would eat.  Steve beaned the ray with a perfect 50 foot cast and boom, instant eat from the beautiful 22 incher in the photos.  That was a huge relief after two hours of poling.

Ten minutes later, Steve's friend Kim Becker was on the deck casting a white Gulp at some good looking boils on the flat and an identical fish crashed her lure.  This spottless red was Kim's first and was sent back to score some good karma points with the fish gods. 

In a few days the tides all around Pine Island are going to be excellent in the mornings.  It's also October and the reds are schooling up in big numbers.  I watched a huge school blasting bait just north of Matlacha yesterday in some very skinny water.  I couldn't get in front of them since it was so shallow and also a manatee zone but there were very easy to spot for a quarter mile down the flat.  Throw in a lot of rolling tarpon in the early mornings and October can't get any better.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The New Aeon 20: First Photos

This model joins the Beavertail Strike in the Aeon lineup for 2013.  The boat/motor combo as pictured is $46,000.  I got to spend an entire afternoon running this new hull up and down Tampa Bay and this is easily the best 20 foot center console ever built.  The speed and draft numbers are unbelievable with a 150hp outboard.  As you can see from the photos below, the Aeon 20 can float in water that most other 18 foot flats skiffs only dream about in real world conditions.