Monday, June 30, 2014

Storm Season On Pine Island

It looked like a scene from the movie "Independence Day" but was even scarier and was bigger on the radar.  I came flying home as soon as I saw the lightning even though it was still ten miles away.  Storms like this brew up almost every afternoon this time of year and can be very dangerous to boaters and fishermen, especially when you're whipping a nine foot graphite fly rod over your head. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Golden Tarpon

We spent yesterday afternoon chasing the big tarpon off the beaches south of Gasparilla Island and my anglers noticed how different the color of these fish were compared to the juveniles closer to Pine Island.  Those full grown Gulf dwellers are much lighter and even have a slightly golden shade to their top scales.  This isn't uncommon since tarpon, as well as most of our inshore game fish, adapt their colors to the water they inhabit at the time.  Down in Key West where the fish are now coming out of the Gulf Stream their backs are a deep blue-green this time of year. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Jacks Schooling Up In The Pass

In between shots at rolling tarpon, Eric Treutel from Idaho nailed this hard pulling 5 pound jack on a fly.  There have been some nice sized schools of these fish working over the mullet near the oyster bars in Matlacha Pass.  They're not hard to spot once they start feeding.  Just look for the small explosions on the surface of the water and the baitfish flying in all different directions.  What you throw at them isn't important since jacks will hit anything that moves, but any kind of surface lure is especially fun.  The one in the photo ate a rabbit fur tarpon fly.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Backcountry Tides

This is a short article I wrote for the summer edition of the Lee County Coaster.  You can pick up a copy in just about every tackle shop in the area and a lot of other locations, too.  It's a great resource, especially for it's tide charts. 
Summer on my boat is all about chasing tarpon, especially with the fly rod.  Their annual migration brings them into our shallows sometimes as soon as March but early June through the end of August is prime time for silver kings in Southwest Florida.  And while a lot of my anglers come here with visions of tangling with one of the 150 pound Charlotte Harbor monsters, it’s the fish that are only 1/10th that size that excite me the most these days. 

Baby tarpon, which are no more than 20 pounds or 40 inches long, might be the greatest thing you can catch on a fly.  They’ll hit almost any pattern, spend the entire fight in the air, and can be boated in less than 5 minutes on an 8-weight rod.  Best of all, these fish are commonly found in some of the most beautiful backcountry bays and mangrove creeks of Pine Island Sound and Matlacha Pass. 

For dedicated fly anglers, the hunt for these hidden schools of baby tarpon is half the fun.  Some of us will spend hours examining both traditional navigation charts as well as Google Earth looking for likely habitats before we even step on our boats.  The hunt will (and should) also involve a careful study of the tide tables like the ones that are printed in this book. 

Exploring the dense creeks that cut into the Pine Island shoreline is not that dangerous when compared to similar areas like those found in the Everglades but they still require a bit of caution, especially if you’re fishing from a small skiff or kayak.  Strong currents are normal in these tight mangroves and during the new and full moons the water flow can easily overpower a paddle or electric motor.  It can be a lot of fun to ride into these areas but no fun to fight your way back out, especially after sunset. 

And keep in mind that the predicted tides for the reporting stations in this book are just that:  predictions.  None of them are set in stone and weather and especially topography can affect them greatly.  Take the Matlacha drawbridge chart as an example.  When its posted low is 12 noon then the bottom of the tide at the back of Pine Island Creek, just a 15 minute run from that same bridge, usually happens almost an hour later.  This information isn’t printed anywhere but serious backcountry anglers will figure it out just the same.  That’s just one example for the endless shorelines of this area. 

So learn your tides and learn them well if you want to chase fish way up in the mangroves this summer.  And while you’re at it, learn to love the smell of Deep Woods Off.  That’ll really save your life back there. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

2012 Beavertail Vengeance For Sale

This is a fully custom skiff that's in flawless condition powered by an Etec 90 outboard with just under 300 hours.  It has just about every option that the factory could rig and would cost over $45,000 brand new.  The owners are moving up to an Aeon 23 later this summer and are asking $36,000 for their Vengeance.  The boat is located in Bradenton, FL so give them a call at 941-749-6350. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Silver King: The Birth Of Big Game Fishing

Here is an excellent documentary that first aired in 2012 about the history of tarpon fishing right here in Southwest Florida.  Our local PBS station just reran it this evening and it's always worth another look.  For those of you who don't know, the very first tarpon ever caught on a rod and reel happened in 1885 just south of Pine Island in Sanibel's Tarpon Bay. For the next half century the frontier town of Ft. Myers and our local waters were the center of the saltwater fishing universe, and as far as I'm concerned they still are.

Watch Silver King on PBS. See more from WGCU Presents.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Still Jumping The Tarpon

We're just not landing that many.  We had three eat yesterday and put thing one in the air this morning but none decided to stay hooked long enough to get them to the boat.  The good news is that there's no shortage of mid size tarpon off Pine Island right now and they'll probably stick around for another month or so.  Dark flies dropped right on their heads while they're rolling really do the trick. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Slack Tide Redfish From Matlacha

Conditions weren't great to catch anything today.  My anglers were 9 year old Luca Gomez along with his uncle Jeff and grandfather Frank.  We had a full moon last night which means the tarpon feed like crazy in the dark and not at all during the daylight, which is exactly what happened.  They were rolling all around us for two hours and we hooked zero.  The trout bite was also slow and even the few ladyfish that wanted to eat didn't stay hooked.  Throw in an overcast sky along with a flat tide and you've got a recipe for a very slow day of fishing.  Fortunately, that's not what happened.  Just before lunchtime we managed to turn the single ladyfish Jeff landed into bait for our limit of three legal reds.  The two best were the 24 and 26 1/2 inchers caught by 9 year old Luca in the photos above.  The guys also lost a couple of fish that were probably even more impressive.  Not bad for a cruddy looking morning. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Early Morning Jumper

I got this shot when the light was still low and just after the tarpon spit the hook.  If I wasn't fumbling to drop my push pole and grab the Nikon this could have been a great shot just a quarter second earlier when the fish was three feet higher in the air. This is also an example of why you should take your camera off its Auto setting.  A higher shutter speed would have captured the spray in the air even better while reducing the blur and glare on the water's surface.  Sometimes it's really tough to be both the guide and photographer at the same time. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Tarpon Toad

This is the go-to patterns for a lot of anglers this time of year and chances are you already have a few in your box.  Here's an interesting article about how the Tarpon Toad was created from Saltwater Sportsman.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Beavertail Skiffs Launch Party On Islamorada This Weekend

My friends Will and Liz at Beavertail just announced their first dealership in the Keys by partnering with Islamorada Boats located at mile marker 80 on US-1.  Their kick off is this Saturday, the 14th and at the La Siesta Marina and these events are always a blast.  Their latest skiff, the BT Elite, will be on hand for free demo rides.  This boat is rapidly becoming the new favorite for a growing number of guides in the Keys who all have spent many years in rival skiffs such as Mavericks and Hell's Bays.  If you're in the market for any new boat, stop by have a look. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Beach Tarpon Are Here

Our share of migratory tarpon have been a little slow to appear this season but they're definitely out there. The one in this photo ate a bright green 3/0 Toad just off the north tip of Cayo Costa beach just before the tide went slack. It wasn't a very big fish but even a 40 pounder on fly is something to celebrate right now. There are a lot of these small tarpon popping up in the darker inshore water and live bait is definitely the way to go when you find them. My fly anglers have been banging their heads against the wall lately so if you really want to land a tarpon this week, break out the pinfish.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

When Sharks Meet Tarpon

From this month's Nautical Mile newspaper:

Let's start with the story behind this photo.  That shot was taken exactly ten years ago this month in the Marquesas, an isolated ring of islands twenty five miles west of Key West.  And that's me holding what's left of a formerly six foot tarpon that had a run in with a much larger shark.  What makes this scene really remarkable is that the dismembered fish wasn't even hooked before its demise. 

Even though it was the middle of June and the height of tarpon season, we were actually looking for permit that morning.  I was poling my skiff close to the eastern shoreline of the islands hoping to find some tailing fish on the rising tide.  My client that week was a very skilled angler who was obsessed with this notoriously difficult species and had recently created the "Ultimate Permit Fly" that he was convinced would change saltwater angling forever and make him famous in the process. 

We had just caught and released a small six pound permit on his "ultimate" fly (the only one he'd catch with it all week) when we both noticed a strange roostertail of water ripping between us and the mangroves.  It was about fifty yards away but I could easily make out the light grey dorsal fin poking through the surface.  The water was only three feet deep on this particular flat and the fin was just as tall, the unmistakable feature of a big hammerhead. 

This shark was clearly after something and it tore across the shallows at full throttle for about thirty seconds before we saw several fish leaping from the surface in front of it.  I started poling toward the action as fast as I could just in time to witness an eruption of froth and blood and the front half of a tarpon come flying out of the water just a few boat lengths in front of us. 

The hammerhead kept zig-zagging around for a few more seconds, searching for the other part of its meal, and nearly collided with my boat before spooking off the flat.  It was easily a twelve footer, by no means full grown but still big enough to cut a tarpon in half with one bite.  I'd seen bigger hammerheads in the shallows, some as long as my seventeen foot skiff, but never one this close.  Once I was convinced that the shark wasn't returning to finish its lunch we floated over and pulled what was left of the tarpon on my deck for some photos.  My angler and I each took turns holding it for the camera and then slid the remains back into the water.

The entire event lasted less than three minutes but to this day is still one of the most impressive things I've ever witnessed on the water.  Seeing a shark eat a tarpon is not uncommon when the fish is hooked and struggling.  There are scores of You Tube videos of it happening all over Florida, especially here in the Boca Grande Pass area.  But the real drama of sharks chasing down free swimming tarpon is played out across the ocean thousands of times each day and so few people ever get to see it.  I was extremely lucky to have a front row seat for such an amazing event.

If you feel bad for the tarpon in this story and photo, you shouldn’t.  They are not an endangered species and there are far more tarpon in our waters than big hammerheads.  In fact, almost all shark species are in serious decline because of overfishing worldwide and the horrible practice of finning.  You should really be rooting for the shark in these situations.  They are way too important to the health and balance of the oceans.

But this doesn’t mean that as tarpon anglers we need to sacrifice every hooked fish as soon as a shark appears.  There are several things we can do to get them in quickly and release them unharmed.  Using heavy tackle is a given.  When I’m guiding fly fishermen for the huge beach tarpon I prefer 12-weight rods, 30# tippets, and 80# shock leaders.  You can put a remarkable amount of pressure on the fish with an outfit like this and even 150 pounders can be boated in less than an hour.  When I’m chasing the juveniles of Matlacha Pass I’ll still use an 8 or 9-weight rod and 20# tippet.  I’m not interested in setting IGFA records, just getting them in quickly and in one piece. 

When I land a big tarpon after a prolonged fight the first thing I do is start the boat’s engine and slowly drag the fish through the water while holding its lower jaw.  This forces water across their gills and gets their oxygen levels back to normal, while the engine noise also keeps any prowling sharks at bay.  The fish will kick itself away from your grip when it’s ready but this can take several minutes in most cases.  Don’t try to hurry it. 

Sometimes the sharks are just too quick and are on the tarpon right after they’re hooked.  There are a few quick things you can do to give them a fighting chance and the first is to slam your hand on the reel to stop the drag and break the leader.  Second is to make a lot of noise by banging your feet on the deck and starting the motor and revving it in neutral.  This usually works surprisingly well since sharks on the flats hate human noises. 

Fishing is obviously never going to be a bloodless sport, even for a strict catch-and-release species like tarpon.  The truth is that nearly all of them will eventually fall prey to a bigger shark.  When it happens on the end of your line it’s kind of sad.  But when it happens as nature intended, like it did in that photo, it’s purely amazing. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

2005 Beavertail B1 Skiff For Sale

These boats don't come up for sale very often and this is a great example of one of the first Beavertails ever built.  I'm a huge fan of the old Yamaha 50 which gives it the best combination of light weight, great performance and unbeatable reliability.  The seller has a new Beavertail Strike on order so click here for this boat's listing. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Burrowing Owls

These are one of my favorite local birds. This family live just down the street from me and is remarkably tolerant when I want to take their photos.