Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Big Red For My Dad

Low tide and calm winds at sunset usually means excellent tailing conditions off Matlacha and tonight was no exception.  This was the only fish we caught but it was my dad's second largest red ever at 33 inches.  It was tailing in less than a foot of water and hit a golden Flats Walker lure from FlatsHQ.  Since it was 5 inches over the 28 inch slot it was safely released and swam away after this photo.  Perfect cast and a perfect redfish.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

He's Under The Boat!

      My buddy Capt. Eric Wrenn working his Beavertail Vengeance around an angry tarpon off Pine Island this morning.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Juvenile Tarpon On Fly

If I'm lucky, I might get half a dozen chances each year to step on the bow of my skiff and cast a fly at a tarpon.  I got my first shot of the season a few days ago with my dad and 9 year old nephew watching and, after a bunch of horrible throws, actually made one connect.

This 12 pound juvenile is typical of the fish we're seeing inshore right now and will keep seeing throughout the summer and into the fall.  It was hanging with at least 100 other similar sized tarpon that were rolling like crazy at high noon in some very shallow 90 degree water.  These are the situations where a light fly rod works better than anything else, a perfect target for the 8-weight TFO rod I was using.  I actually could have gone lighter and will probably be dusting off my old 5-weight Sage very soon. 

Even though I was casting a mid-size fly rod, I was still using a heavy leader of 30# tippet.  This let me seriously yank on the tarpon and get it to the boat in only a few minutes, which is crucial to the survival of these fish in the hot summer water.  And since this tarpon was under 40" long I was legally able to pick it up for a very quick photo.  Anything larger than that has to stay completely in the water according to Florida law. 

Four years ago off Cayo Costa, I caught my personal best tarpon on fly; a 120lb fish that took half an hour to land.  That was definitely a memorable catch but I enjoyed this juvenile tarpon so much better.  It gave me the chance to hand off the rod to my nephew, who still lives 1300 miles north of Pine Island in Pennsylvania.  He helped me land it and then wanted to tie his very first tarpon fly later that afternoon.  Can't ask for anything better than that. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Building Your Own Tarpon Fly Leaders

Summer is officially here and it’s also the start of our juvenile tarpon season on Pine Island. The big migratory schools, which usually show up in early April, are still here but their numbers are tapering off as they move further up the coast. The little resident fish, and by "little" I mean any tarpon under 30 pounds, will start sliding out of their hiding spots and become a regular sight on the inshore flats and residential canals all along the coast.

If you’re a fly angler, these are the perfect saltwater gamefish. You can target them with an easy casting 8-weight, they’ll eat a variety of simple patterns, and with the right leader you can have them whipped in just a few minutes. So let’s talk about that leader system for these juvenile tarpon.

When I started guiding two decades ago, back in the Monofilament Era, tarpon leaders were remarkably complex creations of several 12 to 80lb test line segments held together by a mix of Bimini Twists, Homer Rhode loops, and Huffnagal knots. Each leader usually took a quarter of Monday Night Football to construct before they were attached to their designated fly and snapped into something called a stretcher box. Once there, they would wait in straightened silence for springtime.

Fluorocarbon, which is effortless to keep straight compared to mono, changed all of that. Tarpon leaders can now be tied while motoring away from the ramp and I don’t miss those mind-numbing leader building sessions at all.

For small tarpon I use Seaguar Red Label fluorocarbon to create a 10’ leader I call a "4-3-2-1." That simply means 4’ of 40lb, 3’ of 30lb, 2’ of 20lb which is the class tippet, and just over 1’ of 40lb for a shock tippet. If you think you’ll encounter larger fish then bump that last part up to 60lb, which will withstand a big tarpon’s rough jaw even better. All these lengths are joined together by double surgeon’s knots which are effortless and hold at nearly 100% of the line’s strength. The fly is attached to the shock tippet with a perfection loop, which I also use for all my spinning lures, and that’s it.

If you tie your knots properly, and test them afterwards, this leader won’t let you down. It’s simple, effective, and very inexpensive compared to prepackaged tarpon leaders which can cost up to $10 each. Give it a try and be thankful that you don’t have to fill up a stretcher box anymore.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Recent Pine Island Catches

It wasn't the best weather for my anglers with lots of wind and the occasional shower but still a productive week here in SW Florida:

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Pine Island Tarpon Fishing In June

Capt. Eric Wrenn with a five pounder on fly.
Fish like this one are coming out of the woods up and down Matlacha Pass right now.  Don't expect to see them everywhere but on the flat calm mornings most canals will have them rolling by the dozens or even hundreds.  If you can't feed them a fly go to pinfish of large shrimp hooked through the head and free-lined into the rolling schools.  Juvenile tarpon season is just beginning in SW Florida and should last through the summer and into mid fall.   

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Spooled Reels Redfish

I somehow missed posting this one when it came out a few months ago, but my buddy Chris Helt at Spooled Reels can always pack a lot of coolness into a very short video. Enjoy:

Monday, June 6, 2016

Redfish Are Back

If you can pry yourself away from the big tarpon that are rolling up the Gulf beaches right now, the reds seem to be back in good numbers on the flats.  They were acting a bit lock-jawed early last week on the few days I did chase them but live shrimp and crabs got a few to eat for us.  Some of the water out in Pine Island Sound was way too grassy so we stuck to the sandbars and mangroves of Matlacha Pass and spotted plenty of nice reds.  Angler Geoff Seed from the UK brought in the perfect 24" fish from the trees just behind the island.  We had to wait until a school of small snapper and sheepshead got their fill of shrimp before this guy showed up but creating a minor feeding frenzy under the bushes is a great way to draw in larger predators. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

June On Pine Island

From this month's Nautical Mile newspaper:

An hour long 1973 movie called “Tarpon” is by far the best documentary ever made about saltwater fly fishing. It was shot in Key West by director Guy de la Valdene and perfectly captures the town and the fishing as it was over 40 years ago.

“Tarpon” follows a handful of notable guides and anglers such as Tom McGuane, the well-known author of “92 In the Shade,” as they chase these giant fish on the fly off Key West well before the rest of the world discovered the sport. It’s fascinating to see how much things have evolved since those days of thick fiberglass rods and wood hulled flats boats without poling platforms. The sheer numbers of tarpon that these guys had all to themselves is jaw-dropping and the slow-motion footage in this movie, all shot on 16mm film, has never been topped.

While the fishing scenes are stunning, my favorite thing about the movie is how it serves as a time capsule for a Key West that sadly no longer exists. I lived and guided on the island for over a decade but I arrived too late to see it like this. The famous Duval Street of the early 70’s, as briefly and beautifully documented in “Tarpon,” was a very different world from the cruise ship infested trinket zone that I rolled into during the early 90’s. The Key West captured in this movie has been extinct for so long that it makes me kind of sad to see it here in its natural state.

But the real payoff when you watch “Tarpon” for the first time is its perfect portrayal of fly fishing as a sport that seriously respects the fish. In one single scene it drives that fact home far better than anything that’s ever been filmed before or since. I won’t give it away because part of it is a bit difficult to watch, but when that scene comes, without any dialog or narration, you’ll be stunned at the subtle yet overwhelming brilliance of it. The movie's entire message is delivered in one brief flight of a cormorant.

Shortly after it was filmed, “Tarpon” slipped into limbo. It was shown once or twice on TV in the 1970’s and then went back into Valdene’s vault. Somehow, a primitive video tape was made and started getting passed around by a few anglers down in the Keys. Over the last three decades it gained a cult following and we used to play a very grainy copy all day long at the Saltwater Angler fly shop in Key West when I worked there in the late 90’s. We were really sad the day our shop's VCR finally ate our worn out tape and nobody had a replacement. A few years later I was thrilled to hear from one of the folks involved with the 1973 filming that a remastered version would be out on DVD in 2006. When I finally got my own copy later that year, seeing “Tarpon” for the first time in its original state made Guy’s achievement even more brilliant than I ever realized.

If you’re a tarpon angler, or serious about any kind of saltwater fly fishing, this movie is a must have. It is the “Citizen Kane” of fishing documentaries. If you’re a Jimmy Buffett fan then you’ll also need a copy. His instrumental soundtrack covers the entire movie with a perfect atmosphere of the Key West that he owned in the 70‘s. And even if you don't fly fish but just appreciate great filmmaking, pick up a copy from anyway.

For those of you who live on Pine Island and Matlacha, do yourselves a favor and watch this movie carefully. We're much closer the old Key West of “Tarpon” than anywhere else in Florida. You'll feel incredibly fortunate for what we have here right now and will want to hang on to it more than ever.