Sunday, August 30, 2015

End Of The Day

A couple of shots I took last week with Tim Gleason on his BT Strike. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Tarpon In A Thunderstorm

These shots are from Thursday morning when an intense storm blew up right after I launched from Matlacha Park. The rain wasn't too heavy but the thunder and lightning were constant. Normally I would have spun my boat right around in this kind of weather but I was fishing with two of my local regulars, Len and Brian Favara, who wouldn't hold it against me if I got us all electrocuted as long as fish were caught.  Fortunately for all of us, there were still a lot of baby tarpon hanging around the seawalls and the storm really boosted their appetite.  Another bonus to fishing right next to the island were the numerous tall trees and sailboat masts that would hopefully draw the lighting bolts before they made it to our heads.  It worked out and we wound up feeding an handful of great little tarpon.

All joking aside, I would never have gone out into open water during weather like that and I was very close to heading in at least several times.  Lightning is a real killer in SW FL and holding a 7-foot graphite fishing rod in your hands is just asking for it.  I've been in the middle of two different thunderstorms down in the Keys where I was fairly certain my passengers and I were going to die.  This was long before smartphones with radar apps and it's a horrifying experience to say the least.  We've got some more nasty weather coming in the next few days so keep your eyes on your screens if it starts rumbling on the horizon. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Very Big Shark, Very Little Water

I really like this time of year since business slows down and I actually get a chance to fish.  I was out with my buddy Tim Gleason again last night looking for tailing reds near Bokeelia.  About an hour before low tide we spotted a large bull shark with its dorsal and tail fins cutting the foot-deep water's surface.  This is actually a common sight during the summer and I've probably seen this particular shark a dozen times on these flats.  They don't often hit artificials but I tossed a weedless jerk bait at its head and got an explosive take.  The shark then ripped off a hundred yards of braid and kicked up a rooster tail while it blasted off the flat.  Tim tried to motor after it but could barely get the Beavertail's prop underwater since we were that shallow.  After that first run I put my hand on the spool and it was very warm from the drag's friction.  I was amazed when we got the shark next to the boat since there was only fluorocarbon leader tied to the hook, but it didn't hold much longer.  The six-foot bull made one run and the braid popped, which was fine with me.  I had no plans of pulling this fish into Tim's skiff.  Even though we didn't nail any reds, this made my evening.  I don't target sharks as much as I used to but there's nothing else you'll find swimming as shallow that packs that kind of punch. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Baby Tarpon Season In Full Swing On Pine Island

The little ten pounders are still popping up all over the place in Matlacha Pass.  When they're near the drawbridge and seawalls they rarely hit anything other than live bait.  But when you find the tarpon out on the flats in dead calm water, flies work better than anything.  I pulled this guy out of a school of glass minnows on the east side of Charlotte Harbor yesterday morning.  It's a very rare occasion for me to be on the pointy end of a skiff when the tarpon are rolling so I owe my buddy Tim Gleason a big thanks for poling me to this one on his excellent BT Strike

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Reddish Egret In Flight

Saw this guy chasing little mullet while we were chasing big redfish off Bokeelia today.  These are large and beautiful wading birds and you can see by his neck feathers where they get the name. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

And One More First Tarpon

We had good week with these fish.  Four different anglers managed to land their first tarpon with me and a couple of them wound up with Grand Slams.  The fishing was a little slower yesterday for locals Teresa Spano and her father Don but she managed to boat this perfect ten pounder right at the end of the morning.  We were using live pinfish which are very easy to net right now and are perfect bait for every other inshore species, too. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Another First Tarpon

Marandi Gills and her dad Greg drove over from Ft. Lauderdale yesterday morning to take a test ride on my Beavertail BT3 and check out the Pine Island fishing at the same time.  Both were a big hit, especially for Marandi who landed her first tarpon as well as lots of small snook, a few trout, and one redfish to complete the Grand Slam.  We had to work to land all four but persistence pays, especially in the middle of August when the heat and humidity can get brutal like it was yesterday.  Great job, guys. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Key West Scenery

Still going through some of my shots from last week in the Keys.

Monday, August 10, 2015

First Tarpon

We've been trying for over two years but local angler Carl Schroeder finally landed his first tarpon.  This was a baby fish, just around ten pounds, but it jumped like crazy, ran under and around the boat several times, and basically gave us a great fight.  It also held still long enough for this perfect photo.

I rarely bring tarpon into the boat since it's actually illegal if the fish is over 40 inches long.  It's also tough on the fish after a stressful fight and hurts their chance of recovery in the hot summer water.  I just wrote an article on this subject for this month's Nautical Mile newspaper. 

I broke my rule for this tarpon since it was only 36 inches long and legal to pull out of the water.  We also used 30# braid and had the fish in my rubberized net very quickly.  I had my camera on the cooler and ready to go and the tarpon was back in the water about twenty seconds after it came out of the net.   Since this was Carl's first tarpon he deserved a photo and the look on his face is worth it.  He also caught a second fish a few minutes later and we popped that one off boat side like I prefer to do with this species. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Meanwhile, Back On Pine Island...

I haven't posted any local shots since I got back from Key West earlier this week but here are a few.

The snook bite has been very good but most fish are on the small side. They've been hammering the artificials just off the mangroves at high tide. There has also been a nice run of jacks all over Matlacha Pass. Big schools are blasting bait around the drawbridge just after sunrise and then they seem to move onto the flats later in the afternoons.  And best of all, the big redfish are here and will be schooling up in just a few weeks.  Great morning tides in both Matlacha Pass and Pine Island Sound all week, too. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Tarpon Feeding At Robbie's Marina

I love stopping at Mile Marker 79 and checking out the wildlife under the docks.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Key West Bonefish (And Some Edible Stuff, Too)

I never turn down a chance to jump on the bow of my buddy Capt. Mike Bartlett's skiff for a few days.  The clouds followed me down there but we avoided the rain and caught a decent amount of fish.  Best of all, it was great to see perfectly clear water again, which is the total opposite of our summer conditions here on Pine Island. 

Our one flat calm morning.
Woman Key
A four pounder on my first cast.
Mike in action.
Key West bones are plentiful and voracious.
Almost legal black grouper.
Much smaller black grouper, we caught a lot of these.
Beautiful red grouper.
Dinner.  Mutton snapper taste even better than they look.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

August On Pine Island

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 pop up on 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 these fish must do in order to survive. 
The very prehistoric tarpon has a highly evolved internal air bladder lined with red blood cells that also functions as a rudimentary lung.  It extracts oxygen from above the water which 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” 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 just fine with me.
Juvenile tarpon are usually an early morning species and they eat the best at sunrise.  Almost any basin around Pine Island can hold them this time of year provided the water is at least 3’ or deeper.  Calm conditions are essential for spotting them.  Once the wind kicks up these small tarpon roll far less frequently 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 frequent rains, 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, our tannic stained 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 understand 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, usually works best for my anglers. 
Since you’re not going to set any world records with these fish, skip the ultra-light leaders.  A couple feet of 15# tippet and a 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” 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 small tarpon have a very long life ahead of them, maybe 50 years or more in some cases, so fight them hard and release them quickly and you can meet them again in a few decades when they’ve put on a couple hundred pounds.