Sunday, July 31, 2016

August On Pine Island

From this month's Coastal Angler Magazine:
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 right now.  The slick calm mornings and 90 degree water temps 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 prehistoric tarpon has a highly evolved internal air bladder lined with red blood cells that also functions as a rudimentary lung.  This allows tarpon to live in both fresh and saltwater and the juveniles can thrive in oxygen poor water where few predators dwell.  

These are the ultimate light tackle fish.  Juvenile tarpon hit hard, jump dozens of times during the fight, and can be landed in a relatively short time.  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 August, right now can be your best shot at a tarpon on fly.  These smaller fish are mostly unpressured, especially during the weekdays.  Juvenile tarpon are usually an early morning species and they eat the best at sunrise.  Almost any basin can hold them provided the water is at least 3’ or deeper.  Calm conditions are essential for getting them to gulp at the surface.  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 taking 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 right now is the water itself.  Thanks to the heat and frequent rains, most of SW Florida’s inshore flats look like a freshly brewed cup of coffee right now.  When the rolling fish drop back below the surface, our tannic stained water makes it tough to determine where they’re going.  The best way to get a hook up is to actually hit them with a fly while 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.  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 juvenile tarpon to the boat in just a few minutes.  In this hot summer water, that’s crucial to their survival.  

Finally, and most importantly, remember that dragging these under 40” fish onto the deck isn’t illegal, but it shouldn’t be done.  Hold them like you see in the photo on this page and you’ll be doing them a favor.  These small tarpon can live a very long life, maybe 50 years or more, so fight them hard and release them quickly, and you might meet them again in a few decades when they’ve put on a couple hundred pounds. 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

First Fish

Gail from Connecticut had never even held a fishing rod before her trip with me last week. After a few minutes of instruction with some light spinning gear and a Cajun Cork she getting the hang of it and making some decent casts. On her third throw the cork went under and she brought in this beautiful 17" trout, her first fish ever.  What made this catch even more impressive is that I hadn't even baited her hook yet.  She'd been fishing for a grand total of five minutes and landed a legal fish on a bare hook. 

Over the next few hours Gail and her husband Michael, also a beginner, landed a few dozen more trout, snapper, and ladyfish as well as each jumping a small tarpon.  Not a bad start.  Really looking forward to seeing them again next week. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Addictive Fishing On The Mosquito Lagoon

Here's the latest episode of "Addictive Fishing" featuring their new BT Vengeance. Capt. Blair catches some nice redfish and also has some interesting things to say about the current state of the lagoon and its algae problem.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Green Herons

Two fledglings that just left the nest near the boat ramp at Matlacha Park. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

And Another Tarpon

I'm a little behind schedule with my photos and these were from last weekend when some of my relatives from Delaware were in town.  Here's a shot of cousin Jason with his first tarpon, a sweet 30 pounder that ate a pinfish in Matlacha Pass.  You can see that the water is still very brown which is not uncommon for this time of year.  The tarpon don't mind it at all and have been rolling happily most mornings from the mouth of the Caloosahatchee to Burnt Store Marina. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Few More Tarpon

There are still some bigger fish around but these small mid-summer tarpon are my favorites. Martin Walls from Oklahoma spent his birthday hooking a few earlier this week near Little Pine Island.  These guys are usually eager to hit a fly and my go-to pattern lately has been a #2 Schminnow with bead chain eyes to get them further down in the water.  They're easy to tie and even easier to cast with light rods. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

It's Still Tarpon Season On Pine Island

This is a shot from yesterday morning after 18-yr old Chance Smink from PA landed his first tarpon. It wasn't a full grown fish but we kept it in the water since it was just over the 40" size limit. This was one of a few dozen tarpon busting live minnows and crabs in the very brown water just north of the Matlacha Pass drawbridge. They've been on a feeding frenzy lately and my anglers have been hooking them on everything from live pinfish to #4 Schminnow flies.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

White Ibis From Ding Darling Refuge On Sanibel

The white ibis is a very common bird all over Florida.  I've seen them in the depths of  the Everglades and in my front yard after every rainfall.  The one in this photo was interesting since it was at the end of dimorphic color change.  They're mostly brown for the first two years of their life and then gradually transition to the solid white during year three.  This ibis was almost finished with that change and was also very cooperative as it sat on a mud flat in the Ding Darling refuge last month. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Snook In Matlacha Pass

I took this picture a few weeks ago from the shoreline just north of the Punta Rassa boat ramp at the south end of Matlacha Pass.  This is practically at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River.  Despite what you might be hearing from the media, our water in SW Florida is not a lifeless, brown mess.  The snook, trout, redfish and tarpon are still all over the flats of Matlacha and Pine Island despite the releases coming from Lake Okeechobee. 

Some folks have gotten a bit upset at me for making posts like this but the truth is that my friends and I are still seeing and catching plenty of fish.  And NO, I don't think the Lake O releases are harmless, and YES, I voted for Amendment 1 and fully support spending all the money for the Everglades Restoration Plan.  Everyone needs to remember that the US government spent the first half of the 20th Century trying to drain the Glades and now that they're trying to reverse it the damage just won't be fixed overnight.  But right now, what I'm seeing and really don't like is sensationalism and lazy journalism on this issue. 

It's summer in SW Florida.  We're getting a lot of rain and yes, some of our water is very dark.  This happens every year and you'll still catch fish. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Way To Go, Frank!

Here's a shot of my friend and local angler Frank Potter with an excellent redfish he caught on fly yesterday morning.  This red was right at the 27" slot limit, as big as we're allowed to keep them in SW Florida.  If we were in a tournament, this fish would have been worth some money. 

We originally set out to go tarpon fishing but a strong easterly breeze and a bunch of high clouds wrecked that for us.  Plan B was to hit the creeks and try to find some tailing reds which worked quite nicely.  This fish was crawling in less than a foot of water when Frank dropped the fly right on its nose about 30 feet from the boat.  The take was violent and immediate, as well as one of the coolest things I've seen from the poling platform in a while.  I really need to start using my GoPro like everyone else does. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

July On Pine Island: Permit Anyone?

Capt. Eric Wrenn with an nice Pine Island permit from the flats.
From this month's Nautical Mile Magazine:

Permit are one of Florida’s most prized gamefish in both inshore and offshore waters.  Unfortunately, they’re only common on the shallows from Biscayne Bay to Key West.  We have plenty of them here in Southwest Florida but mostly on the deeper reefs and rock piles out in the Gulf of Mexico.  Catching a permit on the inshore flats of Pine Island has always been a rare event but that might be changing for the better.

I’ve always seen permit on our flats as long as I’ve been fishing this area, especially on the sand bars of Charlotte Harbor, but have never hooked one until recently.  Last month I had a charter from New Jersey on board throwing live shrimp at some baby tarpon off Matlacha.  We had a solid hit that pulled a nice amount of drag but the fish never jumped.  I assumed it was another mid-sized jack, which had been eating our baits all morning, but I was thrilled when a two pound permit came up to the boat.  I’ve guided clients to several hundred of these fish off Key West and this was by far the smallest I’d ever hooked.  I also can’t remember being so excited about any catch in a long time. 

The main reason I was so thrilled is because I seemed to be the only local flats guide who hadn’t landed a permit in the past year.  My friend Capt. Joe Harley had at least three anglers catch them on fly last fall out in Pine Island Sound.  My other buddy Capt. Eric Wrenn had an amazing morning recently when he caught eight permit on live shrimp off a Matlacha Pass oyster bar.  I’ve also heard from at least a half dozen recreational anglers who’ve landed these fish in the same waters on both live bait and artificials. 

This is really great news and it says a lot about the current condition of our fishery despite all the recent bad press we’ve had after the Lake Okeechobee situation.  At the same time, I have no illusions about Pine Island becoming the next hot permit destination.   This area will never rival Key West or Belize because our water is just too dark most of the year to allow the kind of sight fishing for this species those locations can offer.  But word will spread and there is a cult of hard core permit anglers who won’t hesitate to travel to any new spot to chase this “Holy Grail of the Flats.”  Best of all, they’ll bring their money with them just like they did to the Keys and Central America several decades ago. 

So if you’re reading this and have caught a permit on the Pine Island flats recently, please don’t keep it to yourself.  Feel free to brag a little, especially online.  It will only benefit our local economy and our waters in the long run.