Monday, June 29, 2015

A Monster Boca Grande Tarpon

I usually avoid Boca Grande Pass like the plague this time of year but there are some very big animals rolling through the shallower inside waters right now.  My angler hooked this full grown tarpon from a school of at least 100 fish using a 3/0 purple Toad fly and casting a 10-weight Sage Xi2.  We were way under-gunned with this outfit.  The photo above was the last of at least a dozen jumps we got out of the fish before it spat the hook.  During the ten minutes we fought this tarpon at least six other boats motored onto the rolling school and started hurling bait at them.. 
If you're going to fish anywhere near the Pass this time of year you'll have to expect a crowd, especially if the fish are putting on a show at the surface.  As a former Key West guide, it still drives me a little crazy and I don't think the tarpon like it too much either.  But that's the way it is out there and these guys mostly get along with each other.  I personally don't like fishing within 100 yards of anyone else and fortunately it's a huge ocean.  Boca Grande Pass is famous for a reason and the dense concentration of fish and fishermen is just part of the scenery. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Great Matlacha Sunset

Friday, June 26, 2015

Charlotte Harbor Reds

We caught these upper-slot reds today by sight casting live crabs to them over the sand. Reminded me of fishing in the Keys.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Matlacha Backyard Bull Shark

This is a first.  My nephew Matt and I were trying to catch catfish in my parent's canal when this juvenile bull shark swam right by their dock.  We tossed a dead pinfish in front of it which was eaten immediately.  A few minutes later we had the three foot shark in a net and then quickly back in the water after a few photos.  I've never seen, let alone caught, a shark of any kind in the canals on Matlacha or Pine Island but this wasn't too surprising.  Bull sharks are very common in our waters and the juveniles prefer the backcounty bays and creeks which hold lots of food and fewer large predators.  (Yes, bull sharks are very cannibalistic.)  A man-made canal is a perfect place for small bulls to hunt mullet and avoid their parents.  I'm not looking forward to diving down there later this week to fix my dad's snook light. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Big Pine Island Slam

32" snook from Jug Creek
25" redfish from Orange Pass
20" trout from Pineland
Theo Chupein has been fishing with me since I started guiding in the late 1990's and he always delivers.  His first day on my bow this year was no exception and this slot-legal Slam was the result.  Theo also had a big laid up tarpon hit a Gulp shrimp but miss the hook so this wasn't a true Grand Slam, something he managed to do two years ago

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Cayo Costa Tarpon

The Gulf waters have been almost flat calm these last few days and that makes chasing tarpon off the beaches a real treat. I watched Capt. Cliff Simer and his anglers hook this beauty on live bait the other day and managed to grab one decent shot before they landed it.  There are still a lot of big tarpon cruising up the Gulf but they're sporadic and I'm not getting on the larger schools this season.  Fortunately, the juveniles are showing up in good numbers and we'll start to concentrate on them as July gets closer. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Little Angler, Big Trout

My nephew Matt is in town from PA for a few weeks and he LOVES to fish. This 19" trout is his best catch so far which he landed on a live shrimp under a Cajun Cork. Upper-slot fish like this one have been hard to find these last few weeks but it's still possible to bend the rod on a bunch of undersize specs in much of Matlacha Pass. We pulled this big trout out of Buzzard Bay right in the middle of the afternoon.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Early Morning Jumper

Here's a small airborne tarpon from Matlacha Pass that hit a white deer-hair slider fly.  Once again, I wasn't ready with the camera since I had the push pole in my hands instead of the camera when this fish ate.  I did get a nice bit of spray in the air but the splash was out of focus and the shutter speed was too slow.  This tarpon spat the hook a fraction of a second earlier so that's why you don't see any line in the shot.  Lots of these fish out there but the breezy morning make them hard to find.  They'll be popping up everywhere in another month once the July heat settles in on us. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Key West Tarpon In Action

The other day I made a post about how difficult it's been for me to get decent jumping tarpon photos here on Pine Island.  My best fishing buddy in Key West, the great Capt. Mike Bartlett, took these shots and it reminds me that if you can put enough fish in the air, you're going to snag some memorable pictures.  These two might not be worthy of a magazine cover but they're better than anything I've captured so far this year.  If you're planning a trip to the Keys, do yourself a favor and call Mike at 305-797-2452.  He'll put you on tarpon like this until the end of July. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Morning Scenery

Snapped these on the way to Cayo Costa yesterday.  Great light despite the clouds.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Photographing The Elusive Jumping Tarpon

I rarely post jumping tarpon photos because most of the ones I take are terrible, and here's another example.  The secret to getting an excellent shot of these fish in the air is to have the camera in your hands and ready before they jump.  As a guide, I nearly always have a push pole in my hands and my Nikons in their case down on the skiff's floor.  When I finally do manage to grab a camera after the first minute of chaos the tarpon usually throws the hook and the fight is over.  That's what happened in the photo above, but at least I got 90% of the fish in this barely focused frame.

Fishing and photographing tarpon on the flats is basically a three person job.  One guide, one angler, and one dedicated photographer.  The latest DSLRs have remarkable auto-focus settings but they're worthless if you're trying to yank one out of its case while the fish is airborne.  Have someone with the camera powered on and ready and you won't get blurry tarpon shots like this one. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Pine Island Sunsets

There have been some really great ones this past week thanks to our late afternoon thunderstorms.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Summer Pine Island Redfish

If you can pull yourself away from chasing the tarpon for a few hours, June can serve up some of the best redfish action of the year.  The low tides aren't all that low right now which doesn't lend itself to good tailing conditions.  Fortunately, the wind likes to get dead calm for several hours in the morning through late afternoon.  Whenever that happens here on Pine Island, our shallows can erupt with tailing redfish.  If the low tide happens just after sunrise or before sunset, that's an even better situation.  Topwater lures are still my favorite in these conditions and the big Badonk-a-Donk in the photo above drew a ferocious strike from this legal size red the other night. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Pine Island Creek

Hit the very shallow water with my buddy Tim on his excellent Beavertail Strike late in the day.  Great fishing but slow catching.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Tarpon Fishing Then And Now

From this month's Nautical Mile Newspaper:

Key West, 1995

It’s been 20 years since I guided my first client to a tarpon on a fly and, remarkably, a lot has changed with the sport in that relatively short time. 

Tarpon fishing was born right here in Southwest Florida on March 25th, 1885, when the first one was caught on a rod and reel off Punta Rassa.  The angler’s name was William Wood and he used a short bamboo rod and a solid steel reel holding just over 200 yards of spun linen line.  His guide was Capt. John Smith from St. James City whose boat was a 10 foot wooden skiff that he rowed after the fish with a pair of oars.  They didn’t have an outboard motor because those didn’t exist back then. 

Here are a few other things that also didn’t exist back then:  sunblock, sunglasses, bug spray, clothes made of something lighter than wool or heavy cotton, cameras that weighed less than 30 pounds, cameras that took less than 30 seconds to take a photograph, and any method of communicating with someone on another boat or the shore except shouting at the top of their lungs. 

In other words, William Wood and Capt. Smith’s first tarpon didn’t happen easily.    

So let’s fast forward to my first client’s tarpon 110 years later in 1995.  I was poling a fiberglass hulled Maverick Mirage powered by a 70hp two-stroke outboard.  That 16 foot skiff could cruise at 30mph and float in just under a foot of water fully loaded.  This was the state of the art fly fishing skiff back in the early 90’s and it put me on a pile of fish over the following years.

My angler was casting his 12-weight Sage RPLXi rod mounted with a Billy Pate anti-reverse reel, both state of the art for the time and horribly expensive.  The entire outfit easily cost over $1000 at the time.  His fly was a 4/0 Cockroach that I selected from my handmade stretcher box of a dozen patterns pre-tied to monofilament leaders that each took me almost an hour to assemble. 

Before I handed him his rod I double checked all five of the different knots that made up the ten foot leader system and then sharpened the Mustad hook with a small file.  This was just part of effort that still went into chasing these fish in the late 20th century. 

The tarpon my angler caught that day wasn’t even close to a record setter, perhaps 50 pounds at most, but I still hauled it up on my skiff's deck and marveled at it like it was the Lost Ark.  Then I pulled out my Cannon AE-1 and snapped off an entire $7 roll of 35mm Fuji 100 film, which cost me another $8 to develop and only two of the pictures turned out decent enough to keep.   That fish did swim away after a lot of reviving but I’m sure we didn’t do it any favors during its two minute photo session.   

So let’s jump ahead to Tarpon Season 2015 and talk about how things have become easier for guides, our anglers, and the fish we chase. 

My current boat is an 18' Beavertail BT3 which is larger, lighter, and faster with the same amount of horsepower as my old  16' Maverick.  Its new 4-stroke Yamaha even burns less fuel and no oil.  When I’m fishing the deeper water off Cayo Costa beach I use a remote controlled Minn Kota trolling motor to get me on the fish quicker than I ever could with a push pole in the Keys. 

My tackle has changed just a little.  I still own a few of those older $1200 Sage fly rod and reel combos but the most recent tarpon rod I purchased just last year was a 10-weight Temple Fork BVK that retails for only $250.  Advanced graphite is easier than ever to produce and these new rods cast as well as anything else at triple the price. 

I paired this rod with a matching BVK reel.  It's solid aluminum frame weighs half as much as those legendary Billy Pates and is just as capable when it comes to taking down a full size tarpon.  Best of all, you don’t have to skip a mortgage payment to own one. 

That big stretcher box full of flies and pre-tied leaders has disappeared thanks to the arrival of fluorocarbon.  I ditched the stretcher ten years ago and now just keep a few spools of Seaguar in my tackle bag to whip up leaders as needed.   And my tarpon flies are tied on amazingly sharp Owner hooks which never need sharpened with a file before you rig them. 

Documenting the catch has also never been easier.  My current cameras are a pair of Nikon digital SLRs that allow me to capture an almost unlimited amount of images each day, basically free of charge and stored on memory cards the size of my thumbnail.  These new digital cameras are no more expensive than their 35mm film consuming older brothers from a few decades ago.  Even more amazing are the smart phones that we all carry with us.  Most are capable of taking fantastic stills but they can also shoot high-definition video that a $70,000 broadcast camera couldn’t match back in the 1990’s.  Throw in a couple of apps like GPS and real-time radar and you’ve got something in your pocket that Star Trek never even predicted. 

So for those of you who think that fly fishing for tarpon has only gotten more difficult, I seriously disagree.  Yes, there are more folks out there doing it, but the gear has never been better and the learning curve has never been shorter.  It still takes time on the water, but all the cost barriers to chasing silver kings on fly have been knocked completely down in the last decade.  It’s never been easier to become part of a sport born a century ago right here in Southwest Florida,  And you don’t have to climb into a wooden rowboat to do it. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Stay Ready For Jacks

Coming across a school of blitzing jacks is always a possibility just about anywhere but just outside the Matlacha canals is a real hot spot for them right now.  Even if I'm not with paying customers, I always have a rod rigged to toss into these guys.  A topwater for spinning gear and a Clouser Minnow for a fly rod are just about perfect, although just about anything that moves will draw a strike.  I was actually just motoring over to my folks place on the island for a quick visit yesterday when a nice school erupted just outside of their canal.  I barely had time to strip out some line from my 8wt but as soon as the Clouser hit the water it was smashed.  This two pounder pulled me well into the backing and took almost five minutes to land.  I could spend all day catching jacks like this and never get tired of it.  As a bonus, the small tarpon are starting to roll around with them first thing in the morning, too.  Gotta love summer on Pine Island.