Sunday, January 31, 2016

February On Pine Island

From this month's Nautical Mile newspaper:

The Saltwater Spook Jr. by Zara Spook

February can be a tricky time to fly fish here on Pine Island.  Cold fronts, and the wind and clouds that they bring, can shut down all but the very best anglers chances with the fly.  Even though I emphasize this aspect of my charter business, I am definitely not a purist for the fly rod and never leave the dock without spinning gear on my boat.  So when it's time to pull out the hardware on a cruddy day, I usually pick from a small handful of go-to lures that I can count on to produce. 

My first choice is usually a topwater, which is my favorite of all artificials to throw with a spinner.  These work exceptionally well when it's overcast but not so much in choppy or very cold water.  When conditions are right I'll pick either a Heddon Zara Spook Jr. or a Flats HQ Flats Walker. 

The Zara Spook is a proven lure that has been around for almost a century.  It has the best action of any topwater with its famous "walk the dog" retrieve which just begs fish to kill it.  That zig-zagging action is also one of the Spook's drawbacks as it requires a very precise combination of rod tip twitching and steady reeling to get just right.  Some anglers never get this rhythm and without it the lure is almost useless.  The other issue with the Zara Spook is the twin treble hooks Heddon uses.  For starters, they're way too weak for saltwater use and I've had more than a few big reds and snook straighten them like paper clips.  I've e-mailed Heddon about this in the past but nothing has changed.  I'm sure it's a cost issue but I shouldn't have to swap hooks on an $8 lure.  Those trebles also snag grass terribly which isn't much of a problem now but is sometimes impossible to deal with in the summer.  You can replace them with a single J hook but in my experience this also changes the balance and compromises the walk-the-dog action.  Despite those complaints, the trusty Zara Spook Jr. will usually be my first choice when I'm using a spinning rod in clean water on a calm, overcast day.  It really works and you can find these lures at every tackle shop in Florida. 
The Flats Walker from Flats HQ

When water conditions aren't as perfect and especially when I have less experienced customers on the bow, the Flats HQ Flats Walker gets selected.  These are relatively new lures and are made by a local company in Bonita Springs.  The Flats Walker doesn't have quite the same noisy topwater action as the Zara Spook but it's far easier to use.  A straight and slow retrieve is enough to give it a jerky, "crippled mullet" impression which anyone can quickly master.  It also has a slightly cupped nose which gives it a better push of water that predatory fish can feel with their lateral line in choppy water.  Best of all, the Flats Walker is available with very strong single or treble hooks and runs perfectly with either style.  I definitely prefer the single hooks which are easier on the fish and make this lure nearly weedless in most situations, especially compared to the Heddon Spooks.  A few local shops are carrying these lures but you can also order them online at

There are dozens of other great topwaters out there but these are the two that take up most of my tackle box.  They cover every situation where I’m looking to fish on the surface with any angler I may have on the boat.  Give them both a try and you might pick a favorite.  Or if you’re like me, you’ll end up buying a bunch of each.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Beavertail Skiffs At The Florida Sportsman Expo This Weekend

The annual Florida Sportsman Expo is at the Lee County Civic Center this weekend and these are always a fun show for boat shoppers.  I'll be at the Beavertail Skiffs booth and you can check out some of their latest models such as the 20' Lightning pictured above.  Click here for a $2 off coupon for show entry.  Hope to see you there. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Pine Island Fly Fishing Club Swap Meet, January 25th

Got fly gear?  Want fly gear?  Want to pick up or get rid of fly gear?  Then stop by the Matlacha Park Community Center (4577 Pine Island Road) Monday evening at 6:30 PM for the monthly meeting of the Pine Island Fly Fishing Club.  We usually have a guest speaker but this month will be a swap meet where anyone can buy, sell or trade any fly fishing gear, for either salt or fresh water.  There is no membership fee but we do ask a $3 donation to help cover the cost of renting the hall.  Hope to see you there. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Cold Fronts And Low Tides

One thing to keep in mind this time of year is that our water can get insanely shallow.  Negative low tides are normal all winter and when a cold front drops down on us, as one did on Sunday, acres of flats can become bone dry for much of the day.  Matlacha Pass is a rather narrow body of water and a strong north wind has the same effect on it as blowing water out of a straw.  The photo above was taken at high tide yesterday before I picked up my charter.  When I saw all of those crab traps sticking up I knew we had our work cut out for us.  Keep in mind that tide charts are nothing more than predictions for certain geographic points.  They're usually very accurate but weather will affect them greatly.  If you're just learning the waters around Pine Island, be aware that cold fronts usually mean a lot less water than the tide chart will indicate. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Charlotte County Boat Show

Since the weather is going to be terrible on Sunday head to the Charlotte County Fairgrounds in Port Charlotte and check out some boats.  My friends at Beavertail Skiffs will be there right at the gate with two of the three models you see in the photo.  The 16' Micro on the left sold today and went to its new home. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Tarpon Flies

It’s never too early to start filling up your fly box for tarpon season.  I usually plant myself at the vise right after the Playoffs and since the patterns I depend on are not that sophisticated, I can have everything I need for the year tied up before the Super Bowl. 

I love the Tarpon Bunny and my go-to colors are red and black or solid purple.  This fly has been around for decades and a quick Google search will provide you with dozens of step by step tying instructions, which are nothing more than wrapping rabbit fur around a hook.  The Tarpon Bunny is one of those rare patterns that is almost impossible to mess up, even for a beginner. 

But no matter what tarpon flies you prefer to tie, your hooks should always be non-stainless with cutting points.  My personal favorites are the Owner SSW in size 2/0 for juveniles and 3/0 for adult fish.  These are chemically sharpened with a slight offset that can penetrate the dense bone of a tarpon’s jaw like nothing else on the market.  They have very small barbs that don’t need to be flattened or cause unnecessary trauma when you remove them with pliers.

Best of all, these hooks rust quickly when they’re broken off in a tarpon’s mouth.  I dropped one in a jar of saltwater as an experiment and after four days I could crumble it in my fingers.  They’ll basically dissolve in a fish’s jaw and that’s why you should never use stainless steel hooks for your tarpon flies.  Keep this in mind when you’re putting your box together for the upcoming season. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016


A close up look at these primitive birds is proof that the dinosaurs really didn't go extinct but some just grew feathers and learned how to fly. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

January On Pine Island

January can be a great time of year for fishing around Pine Island, especially if you’re here on vacation from anywhere north of Tallahassee. Our average daytime temps are in the low 70’s and the water is at its clearest, making sight casting to redfish a lot easier. Unfortunately, it’s also prime time for cold fronts, and nobody enjoys those. Strong winds and overcast skies can drop down on us for days at a time after a decent front and the temps sometimes struggle to get above 60. If I have a charter booked for a day like this I always give my anglers the Get Out Of Jail Free card and let them make the call to go or cancel. I've never forced a paying customer to go fishing on a day that I would personally prefer to stay home. Don't get me wrong, I like making money but there is a big difference between giving it a shot in tough conditions and knowingly taking someone for an expensive boat ride.

So what should you expect if you show up at the ramp and you find me dressed in winter clothes? Well, if you're a spin fisherman and there's a good incoming tide, then we'll probably go as long as it's not too cold. And for me, too cold means anything under 50 degrees. I know a lot of my anglers from New York of Minnesota will laugh at that but I live in Florida because of the 300 days each year when the temps are well above 70. I have no problem with staying home on the dozen or so days when the Polar Vortex reaches down this far, and the fish usually feel the same way, too.

  With spinning gear and live bait there are numerous back bays and mangrove shorelines where we can hide from the wind. It might not be the most exciting type of flats fishing but I've pulled a lot of reds out of some of our creeks on days that really didn't look promising to me at first.

If you've come down here hoping to fly fish just after a cold front it might be a different story. I can deal with wind and I can deal with clouds but both of them together are usually a nightmare for most anglers. If your experience level is casting a 5-weight fly rod on a trout stream, I'll probably offer to reschedule you if the winds are gusting over 20 knots.

Fortunately for us, strong winds and cloudy skies are the exception and not the rule down here. Our last few winters have been surprisingly mild on Pine Island, despite what the folks up north had to endure. So don't worry about the long range forecast if you have a trip booked with me over the next few weeks. Chances are I'll be able to get you out on the water and we’ll see some decent fish while we're at it.

On a final note, if you’re a snowbird and are lucky enough to be down here for the season, please check out the Pine Island Fly Fishing Club. We meet on the last Monday of each month at the Matlacha Park Community Center which is located at 4577 Pine Island Road. The club is currently into its second season and has been a big success so far. Our monthly meetings start at 6:30PM and are usually attended by up to 80 local anglers and always feature a guest speaker from the fly fishing community. Veteran guide Capt. Paul Hobby spoke last month and before that we had a fascinating presentation by Carbon Marine founder Joe Welborn. His company builds push poles and other essential gear for flats skiffs. If you’d like to attend feel free to shoot me an e-mail at for more details.