Monday, April 29, 2013

The Tarpon Toad

A selection of Tarpon Toads tied by Colorado trout guide Chad Pettrone

I've always been skeptical when I hear about an amazing new and formerly "secret" fly that becomes all the rage in saltwater.  These flies are usually nothing more than slight tweaks to proven patterns whose owners are trying to sell to the catalogs.  The permit purists are usually the worst offenders, constantly reinventing the Merkin but still managing to get magazine articles written about their "new" creation.  There are always a few exceptions and the Avalon Crab is a great example of true innovation. 

I felt the same way about the Tarpon Toad when I first heard about it several years ago down in the Keys.  The great Andy Mill was absolutely dominating every tournament he fished and was using Capt. Tim Hoover's version of this pattern almost exclusively.  He was also doing some other unique things such as tying these flies on relatively small 1/0 hooks, dropping his shock leaders down to 60# test, and casting a stealthier 10-weight rod to fool the heavily pressured Islamorada tarpon. 

At that time I was (and for the most part still am) totally dedicated to the old fashioned Tarpon Bunny tied in red and black on a 2/0 Owner hook.  I've caught the vast majority of silver kings on this pattern and usually pull it out of my box first thing every morning.  But the Tarpon Bunny doesn't stay on my leader as long as it used to these days.  If I get one refusal from a well placed cast, I immediately switch to a Toad of the same color.  If that fly gets ignored I'll go to another Toad of a brighter shade, usually light green and yellow, especially in lighter water. 

The Tarpon Toad has a really unique action underwater, meaning it has almost no action.  Unlike traditional flies like Cockroaches, the Toad basically hovers on an even plane when stripped instead of bouncing.  This is actually a natural movement for prey and anyone who's watched shrimp swim around in a bait tank will know this.  This is most likely the secret to the Tarpon Toad's success.  Imitating the prey's movement is far more important than imitating the prey's look when it comes to saltwater fly fishing. 

If you're already an experienced tarpon fisherman you're fly box is probably half full of Toads already.  If you're new to the sport, using this pattern is a great place to start. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Beavertail Skiffs Water Camo

This is one of the custom paint jobs currently coming out of the Beavertail shop on a brand new BT3.

 It's called water camo and it looks like this on a finished boat.
Very cool stuff.  They can do almost anything up there in Palmetto. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Gear Review: Royal Wulff Bermuda Shorts Fly Line

Two years ago I tried Royal Wulff's Bermuda Shorts fly lines for the first time and they've been my favorite lines ever since. The Bermuda Shorts are part of their Triangle Taper series and have a 22 foot head making it incredibly quick to load and shoot. I first put them on both of my 8-weight rods, a Sage Xi-2 and TFO BVK, and found them to easily be the best line for casting at our small rolling tarpon around the canals of Matlacha. You can instantly haul it off the water's surface with one false cast and shoot it at a different fish when they appear.

The shooting head is light blue and the running line is a lighter yellow which is a nice looking combination, especially on the new BVK reel. It also features welded loops in both the backing and leader ends. I really like this because I hate nail knots and have never really learned to tie one properly. A simple loop to loop conection for both the leader and backing is the best possible connection and this line comes ready to go right out of the package.

All the Triangle Tapers retail for around $75 which is what you'd expect to pay for any premium saltwater line, and there are a lot more expensive ones out there. Unlike some of its competitors, this one actually will add 20 feet to your cast. Bermuda Short fly line is really great stuff and you can pick them up locally at Florida Paddlesports.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Some More Big Pine Island Redfish

We're still crushing the big trout and redfish out in Pine Island Sound.  And yes, the tarpon are here but I don't have any good shots of them this week.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Pine Island Fishing Report: We've Got Some Big Snook Down Here

Georgia angler Bob Francis came down to Matlacha last fall and got outfished by his wife on their first afternoon on my boat.  This morning he made up for that by landing this hog of a 35" snook in Pine Island Creek.  The fish hit a white Exude jerk bait right next to the mangroves and didn't take long to wrap itself in the roots.  I had to jump in the water twice to free the line (thank God for Power Pro) before Bob managed to wrestle it into the boat.  This was my best snook of the year so far and we even spotted a handful of others this morning that were much bigger.  These fish have made a complete recovery here around Pine Island and we're going to hopefully have a great season for them this fall.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The World's Best Redfish Ceviche

My anglers have been landing so many great redfish lately and while catch and release is great, every once in a while you gotta toss one or two in the cooler. Here's one of my favorite things to do with redfish besides slapping them on the grill.  Ceviche is delicious, good for you, and it's impossible to mess up this recipe.

1 lb. redfish fillet
2 large vine ripe tomatoes
1 cucumber
1 green pepper
1 large onion
1 clove garlic
4 limes
1 lemon
1 can spicy Bloody Mary mix
Old Bay
Ground pepper
Olive Oil

Directions: Cut the redfish into thumbnail size chunks and place in a bowl.  Cut the limes and lemon in half and squeeze the juice over the fish. Add two tablespoons of Old Bay and let marinate in the fridge for at least two hours.

Chop all the vegatables into similar size chunks and mince the garlic. Mix together in a large bowl with several spoonfuls of extra virgin olive oil and can of spicy bloody mary mix. Add the fish and stir along with a generous amount of fresh ground pepper and serve cold. Makes at least 6 bowls.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Some Recent Catches Off Pine Island

Local angler John Roberson with a fly caught snook from the mangroves near Burnt Store.

Michigan angler Carl Brown with a big Pineland redfish.
New Jersey angler Larry Kleiner with one of several upper slot trout he caught along with his son in law Carl out in Pine Island Sound on Tuesday.

Larry and Carl back at the dock with dinner for the entire family. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Fifty Feet

Now that tarpon season is here it’s time to think about casting distance with a fly rod. A lot of “experts” will tell you that you need to be able to make at least an eighty foot cast in order to catch anything on the flats. You’ll occasionally read this in magazines and often hear it from too many guides. The eighty foot cast is a very demanding requirement for any angler and a discouraging one for most beginners. But in my experience, it’s simply not necessary. 

Ninety percent of the tarpon I’ve caught over the years were hooked within fifty feet of my boat, and that’s a cast that anyone can make. Even if you’ve never touched a fly rod before, a decent guide or instructor can get you casting out to fifty feet within an hour.  The trick is to do it quickly and accurately, and this is the part that takes a fair amount of practice.

In a lot flats fishing situations, from the time your guide points out a cruising tarpon to the moment you’ll start your cast is around ten seconds. You’ll have the first five seconds to spot the target for yourself and the next five to get the fly in the water and in front of your fish. This is a really narrow window but at fifty feet it can easily be done.

Here’s an exercise you should try if you’re thinking of getting serious with a fly rod here around Pine Island or if you’re heading to any other saltwater destination. To do this properly you’ll need a measuring tape, two paper plates, and a partner with a stopwatch.

First, take the paper plates and find an open space, preferably a grass field, and measure a straight line of fifty feet. Place one plate at each end of this line. String up your 9 or 10-weight fly rod with a 1/0 baitfish pattern and stand on one plate. Start with the upwind plate and aim downwind.

Next, strip out at least eighty feet of fly line from your reel. Leave a rod’s length fly line hanging from the rod tip and hold the fly in your opposite hand by the eye of its hook. Have your partner hit the stopwatch and start counting out loud. At the same moment you’ll start your false casts, aiming for the downwind plate. When the count hits “five,” stop your casting and present your fly.

So how close are you to your downwind target?

If you realistically want to catch a big tarpon on a fly, in the conditions you’re going to find in Florida this time of year, you should be within two feet of the plate. If you’ve actually hit the plate then you‘re well ahead of the crowd but should still keep practicing.

So what happens if you’ve been flailing away for hours and still can’t get to the plate in those five seconds? Well then it’s time to stop what you’re doing and get some real instruction. I’ve seen a lot of self-taught anglers who’ve taught themselves some seriously bad habits.

If you’re one of these folks you may be totally effective with a fly rod on a trout stream but it just won’t happen on the flats. One hour of being taught the proper saltwater techniques, whether it’s in a field, parking lot, or on the deck of a boat, will get you punching that fifty feet in no time.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Lots Of Wind And Lots Of Fish Off Pine Island

This morning was Day Two with the Jersey boys Bob and Harry.  It went very well despite the honking south wind and partially overcast skies. 

Harry's first catch of the day was this 33" cobia that hit a Gulp at the top of Matlacha pass just after sunrise.  These are one of the best tasting fish in the ocean and a rare catch on the flats around here but we sent it back to grow a little bigger.

Bob with one of several 20" trout the guys caught out in Pine Island Sound.  All of these fish hit Gulps worked under corks.

Harry's 24" red was a bit smaller than the over-slot bull he landed yesterday.

Bob's last fish of the day was this perfect 26 1/2" red that ate a live shrimp right at high noon.  A perfect way to end our trip.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Pine Island Fishing Report: Some Big Redfish Out There

Harry from New Jersey landed this 30 incher out in Pine Island Sound this morning, along with several dozen nice trout.  The water temps were in the 80's and so was the wind speed.  Not really, but it was blowing like hell out there.  Tuck yourself in on the leeward side of almost any mangrove at high tide and you've got the chance of tying into one of these guys.  Live shrimp did the trick with this red but cut ladyfish or pinfish will work just as well. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Beavertail BT3 For Sale

This is a beautiful 2012 Beavertail BT3 with a Yamaha F70 for sale in Panama City.  The boat has less than 100 hours and is owned by Capt. Justin Leake and is currently the only used BT3 on the market.  I've run this skiff myself at the factory and it's in fantastic condition.  The asking price is $28,500 which is an excellent deal considering how rare it is to find one of these for sale.  You can contact Justin at (850) 258-7780. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

One Big Jack And A Slam

This was my best catch of the week.  Ohio angler Cam Walker landed this bruiser of a jack in the north part of Matlacha Pass on Thursday afternoon, just before the thunderstorms hit us.  He and his dad Terry also landed several trout, a 24 inch snook, and a 27 inch red to complete the Slam. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Pine Island Fishing Report: Warm Weather Finally Kicks In

My buddy Don Atkinson brought his son in law Bob out to fish with me for the first time and managed to land a pair of big Pine Island redfish on live shrimp.

What a week.  Last Friday I ran all over Pine Island Sound looking for reds in 63 degree water and landed only one fish.  Just two days later the temps were back into the mid-70's and the floodgates opened.  Snook, big trout, and more redfish than any time so far this year were all over the mangroves in both the Sound and Matlacha Pass.  It also helped that we had excellent rising tides starting from daybreak on most mornings this week.  The redfish really love that rising water.  Some of my anglers did manage to land a red or two on fly but Gulps and live shrimp were the key to making them eat, which is usually the case around here.  As always, we looked for the mullet schools to lead us to the reds.  Almost anytime you see lots of mullet jumping and boiling under the surface, you'll usually find bigger gamefish milling around with them.  Blind cast into their schools with weedless rigged Gulp Shrimp and if the reds are in there, they'll eat.  If you pull up to a flat or shoreline and don't spot mullet, keep moving. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

An Awesome Pine Island Slam

That's my buddy Larry Galaviz on the right who brought his grandsons Alex and Jordan out to fish with me yesterday afternoon.  The guys teamed up to land the inshore slam which made for the very cool picture you see above.  No, these fish weren't all landed at the same time, which would have really been amazing.  We already had the trout and redfish in the livewell when Larry nailed the 24 inch snook from the shoreline behind him.  Since it was out of season and too short it went back in the water while the other two were headed for the grill.  All of these fish were caught on 3" Gulp shrimp.  Great trip. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Pine Island Fishing Report: Great Rising Tide Redfishing

Ok, I think we're finally over this winter thing here on Pine Island. I spent yesterday with Cape Cod anglers Doug and Mark Nickerson and had a blast nailing some big redfish out in the Sound. We left Matlacha at sunrise and spotted a bunch of tailers in the northern part of the Pass but couldn't coax any into eating. In fact, we couldn't rent a bite for the next three hours of falling tide.  Once that switched and the flood tide started everything changed.

I could see lots of reds cruising under the bushes and once the live shrimp hit the water it was usually a quick eat.  This was a beautiful 26 incher for Doug.
This is Mark with his best fish of the day, a 28 incher.

Another one for Doug.

This was the best picture of the day that I unforunately screwed up by knocking the auto-focus off on my new Nikkor lens.  The guys had a double-header hookup on identical 26 inch reds and did a great job landing both.  I did a lousy job of capturing the photo. 

This was the only under slot fish we caught all day, a 16 inch rat red.

Oh yeah, they landed an handful of big fat trout, too.  Great day on the water.