Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Baby Tarpon In August

From this month's Nautical Mile newspaper:
Thanks to the inescapable heat and oppressive humidity, August is almost nobody’s favorite month in Southwest Florida.  But if you’re like me, and love chasing juvenile tarpon with a fly rod, these intensely hot summer days are the best time of the year. 

As far as I’m concerned there is nothing better than jumping the 10 to 20 pounders that invade the flats just after sunrise this time of year.  The slick calm mornings and 90 degree water temps, especially in Matlacha Pass, force these small tarpon to gulp air from the surface several times an hour.  This behavior is called rolling, and it’s something all tarpon must do in order to survive. 

The prehistoric tarpon actually has a highly evolved air bladder lined with red blood cells that functions as a primitive lung.  It extracts additional oxygen from above the water and supplements the O2 that they draw through their gills.  This allows tarpon to live in both fresh and saltwater and the juveniles can thrive in places where few predators dwell. 

These are the ultimate light tackle fish.  They hit hard, jump dozens of times during the fight, and can be landed and safely released in a relatively short time.  Any freshwater angler who thinks that largemouth bass are tough will be blown away by the compact violence of a 36 inch tarpon.  They’re nothing short of a nuclear bomb on the end of an 8-weight fly rod. 

For those of you non-snowbirds stuck here in the August heat, right now is your best shot at a tarpon on fly.  These smaller fish are mostly unpressured, especially during the weekdays.  The majority of charter captains concentrate on the really big tarpon that congregate off the Gulf Beaches and Boca Grande Pass in the late summer.  Most recreational anglers around here also seem to ignore these smaller, inedible fish in favor of the reds and trout that inhabit the same flats, and that’s all just fine with me.

Juvenile tarpon are usually an early morning species and they eat the best just after sunrise.  Almost any basin around Pine Island can hold them this time of year provided the water’s depth is around 3 feet or more.  Calm conditions are essential for spotting them.  Once the wind kicks up these small tarpon roll infrequently and the chop provides extra camouflage.   On a perfectly flat morning you’ll not only spot them easily but also hear them gulping air from a good distance.  It’s a quiet but unmistakable sound and can lead you right towards a pod of hungry fish. 

The biggest drawback to chasing juvenile tarpon this time of year is the water itself.  Thanks to the heat and freshwater runoff from the Caloosahatchee River, Matlacha Pass looks like a freshly brewed cup of coffee right now and Pine Island Sound isn’t much better.  Once the rolling tarpon drop back below the surface, the tannic water makes it impossible to determine where they’re going.  The best way to get a hook up is to actually hit them with a fly during the very brief moment their heads are above the water.  If you’ve ever played the old arcade game Whack-A-Mole, you’ll enjoy this kind of fishing.  Unless you’re quick you’ll do a lot of blind casting when you find these tarpon.  Throwing bushy white flies like Seaducers or deer hair Sliders will also help you out here. 

Since you’re not going to set any world records with these fish, skip the ultra-light leaders.  Some 15# tippet and 40# shock leader will let you muscle a 20 pound tarpon to the boat in just a few minutes.  In this hot summer water, that’s crucial to their survival. 

Finally, and most importantly, the days of dragging these fish onto the deck for a photograph are over.  In fact, it’s actually against the law right now to completely remove any tarpon over 40 inches long from the water.  Hold them like you see in the photos on this page and you’ll be following the rules and not hurting the fish at the same time.  These fish have a long life ahead of them, maybe 50 years or more, so fight them hard and release them quickly and you can meet them again once they’ve put on a couple hundred pounds. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Keystone Custom Rods

My buddy Don Moorehead of Keystone Custom Rods here in Cape Coral just built this beautiful 7' spinning rod for my dad's70th birthday last year.  Don used a Rainshadow RX8 blank which is perfectly suited for very light braid.  He also added titanium reflex guides and several custom wraps and inlays that you can see in the above photos.  I spent a lot of time casting this rod with a Shimano Saros 3000 reel spooled with 10# Power Pro.  I was tossing a Zara Spook at the neighbor's docks in some nasty winds and it felt like I had a sniper rifle in my hands.  The accuracy of this thing is stunning and it looks like a million bucks.  If you want Don to build you one give him a call at 239-292-5201 or check out his website here.

Sunday, July 28, 2013


Not a great photo since the light wasn't very good but anytime I get to see these birds off Matlacha and Pine Island is a real treat. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Waiting For Some Fish

My buddy George on his tricked out Gheenoe with a friend trailing along, both hoping for some rolling tarpon a few miles north of Matlacha on Wednesday.  We were all disappointed that morning. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Beavertail Skiff's New BTV

This is the latest hull to come out of the Beavertail shop.  The redesigned BTV takes the cockpit and live well layout of their original Vengeance and gives it the wider beam of the BT3, which is the driest running 18 footer on the market.  This entire package was delivered for less than $40k.  No other boat company is even close to delivering a package like this at that price.  I've had my BT3 for almost two years now and still consider it the best boat I've ever owned.  Check out their Facebook page for more photos like this updated daily. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

First Tarpon

It was far from a world record, but Cape Coral angler Richard West landed his first tarpon with me using live whitebait off Pine Island on Saturday morning.  The huge fish are still running up the Gulf beaches but I stick to the shorelines during the weekend to avoid the insane boat traffic.  Small tarpon are the best and I could catch fish like this all day long. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Weekends Off Cayo Costa

Even though the big tarpon are still out there, this is why I avoid fishing the gulf beaches on the weekend.  I have to admit that the anglers on this skiff played it very cool.  If this had happened down in the Keys my photo would have been used as evidence in an attempted murder trial.  Fortunately, the tarpon off Pine Island are more tolerant of boat and jet ski traffic but I still avoid the beaches like the plague on the weekend.  I'll stick to the baby tarpon off Matlacha on Saturdays and Sundays right now. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Cheeky Fly Reels

My buddy Tim Gleason shot this cool image for the newest fly reels by Cheeky. They're well built and really priced right. If you're in the market check them out at

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sunday, July 14, 2013

More Matlacha Tarpon

It was a busy week but thanks to the flat calm mornings there were tarpon everywhere.  Getting them to eat was a different story.  Two things that worked where Hogy jerkbaits like the one Vic used in the top photo and live pinfish that got Melissa her first tarpon in the bottom picture.  I had anglers throwing flies almost every day with zero success except for a few jumped babies in the creeks.  I'm glad to have this rainy weekend off to forget about tarpon for at least a day. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

A Great Meal

Osprey are found all over Pine Island and seeing them diving to get a meal is a very common sight.  They usually pick off mullet and catfish but every so often you see one pick off a really excellent game fish.  This guy clearly knew what he was doing when he nailed this legal size flounder on the Two Pine sandbar yesterday.  It kind of annoyed me watching him fly away with a fish a really wanted for myself but it made for a cool photo. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Big Pine Island Redfish On Fly

If you can pull yourself away from all the rolling tarpon you'll find some really excellent reds out there right now.  North Carolina angler Eric Wrenn scored this beautiful 29 incher out in Pine Island sound yesterday on an 8-weight with one of his own flies. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Pine Island Fishing Report: Live Baiting Tarpon Off Matlacha

Angler Doug Cole with a 50 pound fish caught just north of the island.

July is usually my favorite time of year to fly fish for tarpon thanks to the calm winds and blue skies.  Well, we're a week into the month and none of those conditions have materialized.  We've had a constant breeze out of the east and our regular afternoon thunderstorms decided to hit us in the mornings most of last week.  Those two things together mean very few rolling fish on the flats.  Throw in our usual summertime dark water and sight casting at tarpon becomes almost impossible. 

So that means it's time to pull out the spinning gear, load up the baitwell, and take a quick trip to the deeper water around the Matlacha drawbridge.  Toss a live pinfish under there first thing in the morning or late at night (especially after midnight) and getting a tarpon in the air is no problem.  Later on in the morning the oyster bar to the north of the island will also hold plenty of tarpon that aren't necessarily hungry but won't turn down an easy meal. 

You can either free line these baits or put them under a float but use at least 20# braid and a 50# fluorocarbon leader for these tarpon.  The water is especially warm right now and it's very easy to kill one if you fight it too long on lighter gear.  Also, be sure to remember that it's against the law to take any tarpon over 40" long out of the water, even for a quick photo.  That's now considered possession of the fish and requires a $50 tag to do so.  You can hoist the head up like we did in the photo above and then put the boat in gear to get water moving over the tarpon's gills.  The fish will swim off to fight again and you'll avoid a ticket for slapping a big fish on your deck and posting the photo online.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Tarpon Fly Fishing On The Tamaimi Trail

This is one of the better fly fishing videos I've seen in a while.  It could use a good deal of editing but some of the footage here is just excellent.  Best of all, the beautiful images of jumping tarpon aren't ruined by any horrible rap music blaring in the background.  There's some really great camera work here that I'm guessing from the credits came from the angler's wife with a GoPro.  No matter how they got it, it's better than most TV shows these days.  I've driven the Tamiami Trail back and forth from Key West at least 100 times in the last two decades and this video makes me want to head back there with a 5-weight tomorrow. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

2012 Beavertail Vengeance For Sale, $34,000


This is easily one of the nicest boats to ever leave the Beavertail shop.  This 2012 Vengeance has almost every option available and is in perfect condition.  The Yamaha F70 outboard only has fifteen hours on it and the boat is kept in a climate controlled storage facility.  My buddy is selling it to make way for a new BT Strike that will fit in his garage.  To order a new Vengeance like this one would cost just over $40k so this boat is a fantastic deal at $34,000.  It includes everything you see here except the pushpole.  Contact Giovanni at 863-660-1369.  This is basically a brand new boat so the price is firm.

Monday, July 1, 2013

A Family Slam


These shots are from last month when my brother was down from PA.  He and my Dad teamed up for a slam in Matlacha Pass on the first day we fished.  We only get to do this once a year so it was a good start to his vacation.