Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tarpon Fishing In August

From this month's Nautical Mile newspaper:

Thanks to the inescapable heat and oppressive humidity, August is 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. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

2012 Beavertail BT3 For Sale

Capt. Lucas Bissett guides out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana and is selling his excellent Beavertail BT3 to make room for a newer and lighter BT Elite. This is a fantastic package with the Yamaha F70 and is almost identical to the one I've been running here on Pine Island for the last three years.  These new generation Beavertail skiffs rarely come up for sale on the used market and this is the nicest one out there.  The full details and contact info are listed below the photos.   

2012 Beavertail BT3

Peterson Aluminum trailer with brand new radial tires and mag rims and a galvanized spare.

Yamaha F70 with approximately 400 hours.  Guide owned and maintained with full oil changes at every 100 hours.  Recently had a full engine service done at 275 hours with all receipts available.

Stiffy Hybrid 24 push pole.

Garmin 546s Full Color GPS.

Motor Guide Great White 82lb. thrust trolling motor.  (This is optional so call for details.)

Insulated cooler in front of center console that is also plumed for a live well.

Stainless steel hand rails on side of center console.

Brand new starter battery.

This skiff has been garage kept and professionally maintained with only non-ethanol gas used from day one. 

Asking $32,000 OBO. 

Email or call 225-718-9532

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Concrete Bucket

Even though this is a very small tarpon, these photos are a great example of how big their mouths are and how few soft places are in there for a hook to find.  The inside of their jaws feels just like a broken cinder block and is nothing more than skin over very hard bone.  This juvenile tarpon was caught just north of Matlacha and fell for a Toad pattern tied on a 2/0 Owner SSW cutting point hook.  These are the only hooks I use for my tarpon flies and if you stick them hard enough they usually hold. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tarpon On Topwaters

My favorite topwater is the Super Spook Jr., a smaller saltwater version of Heddon's famous Zara Spook bass lure.   If you know how to work one properly, everything that swims around here will hit it.  It has been a hard sell for our juvenile tarpon so far this season but they do seem to be reacting to it a little better over the last few days.

There's nothing more entertaining than watching big fish smash a topwater and tarpon do it better than just about anything.  Unfortunately they tend to hit them a little too violently and often send the lure flying into the air before the hooks can find their mark.  I watched this happen a couple of times this morning with Spooks and my angler lost a nice fish yesterday after a few jumps because the hooks just didn't dig in enough. 

There are a few things you can do to up the odds of keeping a tarpon stuck if you're throwing a Spook or any other topwater.  For starters, work it slow, about half the speed that you'd normally use for snook or reds.  Tarpon don't like to work hard for their food in the daytime so a slow retrieve is more inviting to them.  Keeping your rod tip pointed low and right at the lure will also help give better control of the action and a stronger hook set after the strike.   And make sure your drag is tighter than normal.  You can always back it off quickly if the tarpon you hook is more of a runner than a jumper. 

One last thing about the hooks on the Spook Jr.  They really suck.  They're fine for trout or smaller reds but it you hook a big fish those two treble hooks are glorified paper clips.  I've posted something about this before and still have the same complaint.  If you're using Spooks for tarpon, swap out the factory hooks with a pair of 3/0 Owner ST-36s.  That's what's on the lure in the photo above and don't worry about the corrosion you see on them.  You want hooks that will rust out of the fish's mouth if your leader breaks, and that happens all the time with tarpon.  The only time I use stainless steel is for bonefish flies.  Hope this helps. 


Sunday, July 20, 2014

More Cool Stuff From ICAST

The guys from Clutch Fly Rods got my buddy Alexander Leslie seriously hooked on fly fishing and set him up with one of their brand new TSX 7-wt rods. 

Alexander making some great casts at the demo pond.  It always impresses me how an 11-year old can pick up a fly rod for the first time and be excellent with it two days later. 

Tibor Reels.  The best fly reels ever made.  It was great to see Ted Juracsik in person and remind him how much we all love his gear. 

A handful of new color combinations from Tibor along with some great custom engraving.

Love my Yeti cooler and check out the ultimate beer tub on the left.  That's the new Yeti tank cooler a must own for anyone in the south. 

The Fly Reel Company is based in the UK and while their name might sound rather generic, there is nothing ordinary about their product.  These are some truly innovative anti-reverse reels that have a remarkably simple design but manage to be light weight and saltwater tough at the same time.  They're not inexpensive but neither is a Bentley.  There aren't too many great anti-reverse fly reels out there and this one is really worth a look. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

New Beavertail Elite At ICAST

ICAST is the world's largest fishing trade show and my friends Will and Liz brought two of their newest skiffs to Orlando this week.  I had a blast up there with them today and got to reconnect with a bunch of old friends from the Key's, too. 
A new 2014 Elite that will be heading to Islamorada Boats in the Upper Keys this weekend. 

A very slick BT Elite with the breakaway tongue Peterson trailer.  This 17'8" skiff will fit in any garage. 

I love this huge front casting deck.  The largest one in it's class. 

The Elite's front storage hatch with the powder coated and fully removable fuel tank. 
A two tone, rope-wrapped and powder coated steering wheel.  This isn't standard but well worth the extra cost. 
The combination back rest/lower platform mounted to the rear storage hatch.  This is a very cool feature that kills three birds with one stone.  The engine on this particular skiff is the new Merc 90 4-stroke. The price for this Elite with the full Kevlar hull and added features is still in the low $40k range. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Keep Your Tarpon In The Water

This is the best way to handle and photograph a tarpon.  In fact, for any big tarpon caught in Florida, it's the only legal way to handle and photograph them.  If the fish is over 40 inches in length then removing it completely from the water is considered possession and that requires a $50 state issued tag to be placed in their lower jaw.  If the fish is small enough, like the 30 incher I caught in the photo above, you can quickly pull it from the water for a picture on the boat.  Just remember to hold it gently with two hands and don't put pressure on it's abdomen unless you want a nice coating of tarpon poo all over yourself, something your really want to avoid on a hot day.  Trust me on that one. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Bow To The King!!!

Take a good look at all of these photos and you'll notice one thing:

When the tarpon is in the air the rod is thrust way out towards it, as far as the arm can reach.  This is the only way you'll ever consistently keep these fish on the hook with a fly rod.  When a tarpon jumps you have to throw slack into the line as soon as they break the surface.  Pulling against them almost always results in a tossed hook.  This is where the famous phrase "Bow to the king" comes from since some anglers even bend at the waist to increase the slack.  Hook enough tarpon over time and bowing to them will become an automatic reflex.  You'll still lose some fish no matter how well you do it but you're success rate will improve dramatically.  All the tarpon in those photos above were landed. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Mutton Snapper On Fly From Key West

My buddy Capt. Mike Bartlett sent me this shot yesterday.  He was tarpon fishing with our good friend Wild Bill Heindl when they scored this beautiful mutton snapper on the flats.  According to Mike this one came out of a small school in three feet of water and attacked the fly.  These snapper are a rare but very hard fighting catch in shallow water.  They also taste as good as they look.  Way to go, Mike. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Baby Tarpon Season On Pine Island

Local angler Mark Favara with a 10 pounder from this afternoon.  This fish was just over 30 inches and legal to remove from the water for a very quick photo before a safe release. 
July means two things for us here on Pine Island, oppressive heat and lots of juvenile tarpon on the flats.  So far this month has produced a good amount of both.  Temps in the mid-90s might not be most enjoyable conditions for anglers but the dead calm mornings will make these smaller fish roll by the hundreds in certain areas.  Unfortunately, the shallow water is also as dark as coffee right now so getting your fly or bait on target is a real challenge.  You have to be quick and hit the rolling tarpon just as they're dropping back under the surface.  They also spook very easily so weightless flies or lightly rigged jerk baits are usually the best choice.  Live bait can work even better but be prepared to catch a lot of catfish at the same time if you go that route.  The good news is that the small tarpon will be here for the rest of the summer and into the early fall.  You'll have plenty of shots at them. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

US Marine Pilots Are Awesome

Happy Independence Day.  This has nothing to do with fishing but it involves two of my other favorite things, boats and jet fighters.  Watch and be amazed because this is real superhero stuff. 

By the way, the pilot in that video, Capt. Awesome (USMC), is paid an annual salary that is about $125,000 less than a US congressman.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Sunless Sunset

The late afternoon storms sometimes produce the best skies at sunset.  This was from last night after the tarpon stopped rolling.