Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Key West Bonefish After Hurricane Irma

I spent most of last week down on Key West with my buddy Capt. Mike Bartlett and while I was sad to see the condition of some islands, I was thrilled with the fish we saw and caught. 

Once you hit Key Largo, the damage is everywhere and only gets worse down through Big Pine Key, where piles of debris were still ten feet high in some places along Highway 1.  Just past Sugarloaf, where the eye of Irma came ashore, the damage suddenly ends and it's like the storm never happened, at least from the road. 

On the water, things are a bit different.  Cruising out of my old home base of Garrison Bight Marina, Mike and I saw dozens of venerable old houseboats smashed to pieces in the harbor.  I remember some of them surviving Hurricane Georges back in 1998, but not this one.  Key West Harbor is still home to several dozen live-aboard sailboats but half of them are now just masts sticking up from the surface, their keels firmly buried twenty feet below. 

Out on the flats, it's a different story.  Some of the flats were still a muddy mess thanks to the first real cold from of the season, but once Mike pushed his skiff into some sheltered water near the Boca Chica, the visibility improved and the bonefish came pouring out of the shadows.

We kept getting shots as schools up to twenty fish and every time the fly dropped in their path, the bones attacked.  It always amazes me how aggressive this species actually is when they spot something moving in their path.  That's the big dirty secret about bonefish.  They can be hard as hell to find and spot, but once you do, they're really easy to feed. 

So if you're thinking of making a trip to the Keys to chase bones, or any other species, please do it.  The guides and everyone else down there wants your business.  Some of the bigger resorts in the Middle and Upper Keys are going to be closed for a while but the Lower Keys are good to go.  Best of all, Capt. Mike Bartlett is still on the fish and his Beavertail Skiff is ready go.  Give him a call at 305-797-2452 and land some bones or permit while you're there.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Recent Catches

Here are some shots from the last few weeks.  I know that my blog posts have been rare this year and that's mostly because I've become a lazy Instagram user with my new iPhone.  Please follow me at this link and in the meantime I'll try to be a lot more consistent with my blog updates.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

September On Pine Island

My article from this month's Coastal Angler Magazine:
Thanks to the inescapable heat and oppressive humidity, late summer was nobody’s favorite time of year in Southwest Florida.  But if you’re like me, and love chasing juvenile tarpon with a fly rod, those intensely hot days may have given you some of the best action of the year and September can be even better.

For a lot of dedicated anglers, there is nothing better than jumping the 10 to 20 pounders that are still on the flats from right now until the first cold fronts of November.  The slick calm mornings and high water temps force our smaller resident 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 spotting a school of rolling fish during a dead-calm sunrise might be the greatest sight in all of flats fishing.  

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, September could be your best shot at a tarpon on fly.  These smaller fish are totally unpressured, especially during the weekdays.  Juvenile tarpon are usually an early morning or end of the day target and almost any basin at least 3’ or deeper can hold them.  Calm conditions are essential for targeting them at the surface but once the wind kicks up these small tarpon roll far less frequently.  On a perfectly flat morning you’ll also hear them taking that breath of air from a good distance.  It’s a quiet but unmistakable slurping sound that can lead you right towards a pod of hungry fish.  

The biggest drawback to chasing juvenile tarpon during the end of summer and beginning of fall 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 exactly where they’re going.  The best way to get a strike is to actually hit them with the 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.  You need to anticipate where the tarpon will be before they actually surface.  Throwing bushy white flies, like Seaducers or deer hair Sliders, usually works best during these conditions.

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 pulling a tarpon out of the water is illegal if they’re over 40 inches in length.  Even with the smaller ones it really shouldn’t be done.  Keep them in the water like you see in the photo on this page and you’ll be doing these fish a big favor.  Our juvenile tarpon can live a very long life, maybe 50 years or more, so fight them hard and release them quickly.  You might just meet them again in a few decades when they’ve put on a couple hundred pounds.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

2012 Beavertail BT3 For Sale

It's finally time to sell her.

2012 Beavertail BT3 for sale with 2014 Yamaha F70.This is one of only two side console BT3s ever built and is also one of the lightest. The BT3 has the same hull as the current Beavertail Vengeance but with a more spacious cockpit. This boat has a true 8" draft fully loaded with two anglers and has a top speed of 35mph with the current Yamaha F70. Cruising speed is 27mph while burning less than 4gph. I built this BT3 to go shallow, not fast, so the engine has rarely been run over 4500rpms. Current hours are 1152 and all oil/impeller changes have been done every 100 hours. An 82" beam and huge front deck make it the best fly casting platform on the water while being very easy to pole with zero hull slap. It had a complete factory overhaul done last week in Bradenton and is in great condition with several upgrades. Also included are:

Minn Kota 80lb CoPilot remote control trolling motor w/new 24volt battery system.

6' Power Pole Pro Series w/remote.

Yeti 75qt. cooler w/seating cushion.

Garmin 541 GPS w/depthfinder.

Brand new BT Mosquito style poling platform w/folding backrest. (This is very light and looks awesome.)

Under gunnel Seadek padding in Faux-Teak.

2012 Magic Tilt trailer w/spare tire.

The boat is currently located on Matlacha, FL and I'm asking $28,500. Please call me at 239-565-2960 with any other questions. I have several more photos that I plan on uploading tomorrow but feel free to shoot me a text if you'd like to see them sooner. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

August On Pine Island

From this month's Nautical Mile Magazine:
My kids with their first legal size pompano.

Late summer on Pine Island is usually a time of transition for my charters.  I stop focusing exclusively on tarpon, even though there are still plenty of them out there, and go back to chasing whatever target of opportunity presents itself on the flats.  Snook, trout and redfish are back on my list as well as several other edible species such as snapper and Spanish mackerel. But the best of all is the pompano.

This beautiful and hard fighting member of the jack family easily gets my vote as the best tasting fish that you can find in the shallows.  Unlike their much larger cousin the permit, pompano rarely exceed five pounds of solid, flying saucer shaped muscle.  Their sharp, forked tail gives them a tremendous acceleration and they’ll often jump several times when hooked.  This combination of good looks, great taste and a strong fight has made pompano a favorite of anglers in both the Gulf and Atlantic for decades.  

There are several ways to target them on both spin and fly gear but in late summer I’ll choose the easiest route.  Pompano are often spooked by running boats and will often skip like a stone in your wake.  They’re easiest to spot when cruising through manatee zones and at a fast idle.  If you see this happen kill your engine immediately and start bouncing live shrimp or shrimp tipped jigs on the bottom.  Pompano are a schooling species and where you see one there will usually be plenty of others, especially in water between three to six feet deep.  

Fly fishing for them right now in the dark summer water is a bit more difficult but I’ll sometimes dredge the bottom with heavily weighted Clouser Minnow patterns cast with an intermediate line.  This is a bit more labor intensive but pompano are an elusive catch on the fly here in SW Florida and well worth the effort.  Sight casting to one here on Pine Island is almost as rewarding as scoring on a permit down in the Keys. 

The beaches from Sanibel to Cayo Costa are some of the only places that fly anglers can actually spot cruising pompano right now.  Other than that, the inshore flats in August are the color of coffee and this is perfect camouflage for almost any species.  You’ll have to wait until the middle of winter when the water brightens up again to really sight fish for them.  Once that happens there are plenty of bright and shallow sandbars in Charlotte Harbor when pompano gather.  

Cruising stingrays are the one thing that ever angler should constantly look for, especially in the skinny water.  Most rays are crustacean eaters, just like pompano, so it’s not uncommon to find several different kinds of gamefish clinging to their backs.  As a rule, I toss whatever is in my hands at every stingray I see and this has resulted in plenty of pompano on my boat, especially with the fly rod.  

You won’t find a better looking or better tasting gamefish anywhere on the flats of SW Florida.  Most of the pompano we catch are in the two to four pound range which makes them perfect for the grill or sauté pan.  A big one will easily feed two people and you can have fun releasing the rest.  I’m really looking forward to bringing home a few nice pompano this month after a long season of chasing big, inedible tarpon.  Hope you can get a few for yourself.   

Sunday, July 30, 2017

We're Still Catching Fish And Please Follow Me On Instagram

I've been running this blog for over seven years now and yes, I have really slacked off on the postings these last few months.  I actually have a few legitimate reasons for that, mainly an unbelievably busy season that kicked in last Christmas that had me booked solid until last week.  I'm definitely not complaining about this and the fantastic weather and economy of 2017 has been more than a blessing.  Things have just started to return to a more normal pace and I definitely plan to get back to my schedule of posting photos and fishing reports at least twice a week here. 

I'll also confess that since some friends introduced me to Instagram two years ago I've been far more active on that platform than I ever expected to be.  As an avid photographer and reluctant writer it's been a great outlet for my laziness these last few months.  I can throw up an Instagram post in about two minutes while I usually spend at least an hour creating one on this site.  So if you've been reading this site regularly please click here to catch up with me on Instagram.

At the same time I promise to start posting a bit more regularly on this blog and really want to thank the handful of folks who've contacted me lately about that.  Really appreciate knowing that you guys are out there and reading my stuff. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

July On Pine Island

From this month's Nautical Mile Magazine:

July has always been one of my favorite months to fish on Pine Island.  For starters, every worthwhile species to chase on the flats are here in good numbers.  Tarpon season is still in full swing, big sharks are all over the shallows, redfish will tail on the flat calm mornings, and spawning snook are cruising the beaches.  And best of all, the boat traffic out there, at least on the weekdays, is at a minimum with the snowbirds all back up north.

The only drawback to July is the fact that we're in the middle of summer and the heat and humidity are off the charts.  But that's not exactly a bad thing, especially for fly fishermen looking for smaller tarpon on light tackle. 

Every saltwater fly angler lives for the thought of cruising into a sheltered bay and spotting a school of several dozen slow rolling tarpon.  This is the time of year when that can happen on any given morning around here.  When the waters get greasy calm, that's the time to break out the light to mid-size fly rods and toss 1/0 patterns at 5 to 10 pound fish. 

Baby tarpon school up by the dozens since there is safety in numbers.  They can be almost anywhere but the man-made canals all over Pine Island and Cape Coral are holding them right now and the live bait guys have been catching them with ease with free lined pinfish.  Getting one to hit a fly is a much more difficult chore, and that mostly has to do with the water depth. 

All my fly rods were strung up with weight forward floating lines which are perfect for the flats or clear waters less than 6 feet deep.  They've never worked well in the canals which are very dark and usually around 10 feet deep or more.  I recently started casting a clear tip, intermediate fly line from Royal Wulff on my 9-weight rod and the results were immediate.  Once this line started dragging my flies down and extra couple of feet the canal tarpon started eating. 

Casting an intermediate fly line is a bit of a chore for beginners but once you've done it a few times it becomes a lot of fun.  You can actually shoot these lines for a very long distance compared to the more common floating lines.  They'll definitely get your light flies in front of the deeper swimming tarpon in the canals can be equally effective along the passes off the Gulf islands.  Keep and intermediate line on a spare reel and you'll be surprised how useful it can be this time of year. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

2013 Beavertail Strike For Sale

This is an excellent Beavertail Strike in like new condition located in Cape Coral.  Click here for a more detailed listing or call David at 701-509-1624.  The Strike/F70 combo is one of the best technical poling skiffs ever built and this one is ready to fish for a recreational angler or guide.  This is the only one like it on the market right now so don't let it slip away if you're in the market for a great high end flats boat. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pine Island Permit

I came across a very rare sight this morning: a big school of tailing permit in the north end of Pine Island Sound.  These fish are not uncommon in the deeper waters here in SW Florida but you don't often see them behaving like this on the flats anywhere north of the Keys.  These permit hung out for at least a half hour and ignored every fly I dropped on them.  At least they let me get a handful of mediocre photo to prove they were out there. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

June On Pine Island

I'm always skeptical when I hear about some amazing new or "secret" fly that suddenly becomes all the rage in saltwater fishing. These are usually nothing more than slight tweaks to proven patterns aimed mostly at the fly catalogs than the fish.  The permit fishing fraternity usually has some of the worst offenders here. These guys regularly do little more than reinvent Del Brown’s classic Merkin Crab fly but still manage to get magazine articles written about their "new" creations. There are always a few exceptions to this, the Avalon Crab from Cuba is one example that is different and actually works, but I haven’t seen all that many real innovations for inshore anglers over the past decade.

  I felt the same way about the Tarpon Toad when I first came across it several years ago down in the Keys. The former Olympic skier and expert angler Andy Mill was absolutely dominating every tournament he fished and was using Capt. Tim Hoover's version of the Toad almost exclusively. The pattern itself is yet another evolution of the Merkin fly but fine-tuned specifically to work on the Florida Keys tarpon. Andy was also doing some other unique things such as tying his Toads on relatively small 1/0 hooks, dropping his shock leaders down to 60# test, and casting a stealthier 10-weight rod to fool the heavily pressured fish that cruised the Islamorada flats. It was a pretty unbeatable combination for several years and these guys rewrote the record books during the most competitive fly fishing tournaments in the world.

  At that time I was (and for the most part still am) seriously dedicated to the classic Tarpon Bunny fly, a relic from the 1970s which I usually tie in red and black on a 2/0 Owner hook. I've caught the vast majority of my tarpon on this pattern and usually pull it out of my box first thing every morning. It’s worked very well for me in the Keys, much of the Caribbean, and definitely here around Pine Island. But the Tarpon Bunny doesn't stay on my leader as long as it used to. These days if I get one refusal from a well placed cast, I immediately switch to a Toad of the same color. If that fly gets ignored I'll go to another Toad of a brighter shade, usually chartreuse, especially in lighter water like we have right now off the Gulf beaches.

  The Tarpon Toad has a really unique action underwater, meaning it has almost no action. Unlike traditional flies like Cockroaches, the Toad basically hovers on an even plane when stripped instead of bouncing. This is actually a natural movement for prey as anyone who's watched shrimp swim around in a bait tank will know. This is most likely the secret to the Tarpon Toad's success. Imitating the prey's physical movement is far more important than imitating the prey's actual look when it comes to saltwater fly fishing.

If you're an experienced tarpon fisherman your fly box is probably half full of Toads already. If you're new to the sport, stocking up on this pattern is a great place to start. They’re easy to tie and widely available in fly shops and online. The Tarpon Toad is one of those trendy flies that wound up here to stay and may help you rewrite your own record book.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Another First Tarpon

Mike from Alabama brought this nice little 12 pounder in yesterday with a live pilchard.  Even though he grew up on the east coast of Florida, this was his first tarpon landed.  We're hooking a lot of these guys right now and getting about half of them to the boat.  Batting .500 when you're tarpon fishing is actually a pretty good average and we've been right there all season. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Rainy Season Is Here, And So Are The Baby Tarpon

Actually, the baby tarpon have been here for several weeks and won't be going anywhere for a while.  I've been a bit quiet on this blog since the weather so far this May has mostly sucked.  Sorry to be so blunt but I feel like I'm back in the Keys with winds over 15kts, and well over 30 the last two days, being the norm. That's a real problem up here in SW Florida since our water is nowhere near as bright and spotting the migratory tarpon from more than 50 feet out is a real problem.  That's why we've been chasing the smaller fish most of the month and thank God for them.  The 5 to 20 pounders have been hanging around several shorelines and the one in this photo hit a white #4 Schminnow meant for a snook popping glass minnows.  If it weren't for the occasional dumb tarpon, this season would be very frustrating for my fly anglers so far. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Big Winds And Small Tarpon

Blowing like hell out there all day but at least it was from the southeast.  That means the wind and sun is to our back and makes sight fishing a lot easier.  The few tarpon I've landed recently have been juvenile fish, like the ten pounder in the photo above.  My angler popped this one from the shoreline on a pinfish pattern and it involved a lot of blind casting to make that happen.  The small tarpon are here in full force and that's great news.  They usually don't show up until mid-summer so thing are looking great for the entire season so far. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Chasing Dinner In Matlacha Pass

My good friend and long time angler Geoff Seed from England with the results of his last trip with me yesterday.  We tried for tarpon all morning and when it became obvious that they weren't going to play we chased edible fish instead.  The 25" trout and 26" red both ate  live shrimp and were more than worth the effort. 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Tarpon On The Fly Off Pine Island

My article from this month's Nautical Mile Magazine:

May in Southwest Florida is one of my favorite months since it’s the real start of our tarpon season.  The big migratory schools, which usually show up in early April, are still here but their numbers are really picking up as they move north from the Keys.  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 ultimate saltwater gamefish no matter what their size.  You can target them with an easy casting 8-weight for the juveniles and up to a beefy 12-weight for the full grown ones.  Tarpon will eat a variety of relatively simple patterns, and with the right leader you can have them whipped in a lot less time than most folks realize.  So let’s talk about that leader system for both juvenile and adult fish.

When I first 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.  I would start tying these in December and 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 on the boat and I definitely 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, they won’t let you down.  These leaders are more than strong enough to beat a 3’ tarpon into submission in less than 5 minutes on an 8-weight.  Hook up with a 100 pounder on a 12-weight and you should have it boatside in no more than half an hour.  Homemade leaders are simple, effective, and very inexpensive compared to prepackaged ones 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.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Pine Island's Tarpon Season So Far

If I had to give Tarpon Season 2017 a letter grade here on the first day of May, it would get a "C" average.  There are two things that factor into this:  weather conditions and the number of fish we're seeing here in SW Florida. 

Let's start with the weather conditions first.  They suck.  We've had almost two solid weeks of 15 knot winds, which is common for Key West right now but not Pine Island.  My fly anglers are struggling just to make a backcast, but at the same time the live bait guys are doing a lot better.  Seeing fish is almost impossible on most early mornings thanks to the churned up water.  The weather so far this spring gets a "D-minus" for being a serious chore to overcome. 

On the other hand, the tarpon we're seeing this year get a solid "B-plus" for the numbers and their size.  The big migrating fish were here at the end of February and really never left us.  The winds made them tougher to find for most of March but the resident juveniles came out of the woods recently and have been a blast ever since.  No complaints there. 

The tarpon won't be leaving us for several month but the winds should vanish very soon.  Overall, I think this is going to be one of the better seasons to chase these fish than we've had in a long time.  Fingers crossed.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Speck Feeding Frenzy Off Pine Island

Even though we're in the middle of tarpon season, on some mornings those silver bitches just won't eat.  When that happens it's time to bend the fly rod on the very reliable (and delicious) speckled trout.  Here's a shot of Andreas from Germany with one of several dozen specks he caught two days ago in Charlotte Harbor tossing Clouser Minnows over the 3' grass flats.  We had a blast with these fish and the action never stopped.  Thanks, Specks.  I love you guys. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Tarpon In The Boat

I don't post a lot of tarpon photos because I just don't take a lot of tarpon photos.  Once my anglers get a solid hookup I can count on at least 10 to 60 minutes of barely controlled chaos on the boat, depending on how big the fish it.  During that time, my cameras are the last thing on my mind.  Getting some nice shots of this beautiful 3-footer from this morning off Pine Island was a real bonus.  My angler whipped this guy in just a few minutes on 20lb spinning gear and got to pose for a pics before sending it back to rejoin the school. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Beavertail Micro: The Perfect Ultra Skinny Skiff

The Beavertail Micro has been in production for almost four years and in that time has gained a huge following with the ultra skinny water crowd.  I poled the first prototype and currently have several friends across over Florida running Micros who all love their rigs.  This 400lb, 30hp stealth fighter was a home-run for Beavertail from the word go.  If you're looking for a perfect two person flats fishing machine you'll need to take one for a ride.  As an added bonus, it's actually rated for three passengers, making it even more versatile than any Gheenoe or Jon Boat.  I took the shot above today in Matlacha Pass of my buddy Ethan and his dad Todd on their  very tricked out Micro.  Doesn't get any better than that. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Last Dragons: Protecting Appalachia's Hellbenders

This has nothing to do with flats fishing but it's an excellent short film about a giant freshwater salamander that few people even know exists.  This is very well done and worth watching in the full screen setting:

The Last Dragons - Protecting Appalachia's Hellbenders from Freshwaters Illustrated on Vimeo.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

More Big Matlacha Redfish

I just had another week where none of my anglers landed any legal redfish.  They were all over the 27" top of the slot.  (Except for a single 16 incher that I thought was a trout until we pulled it out of the water.)  Bob from Cape Coral landed the 32" beauty in the photo above on a hunk of cut ladyfish tossed at a school of at least 20 others just off Matlacha.  He's mostly and offshore guy and had never caught a red and really wanted to try one for dinner.  I knew way before we landed this fish that it was over-slot and Bob was just a bit disappointed about that, but this is what we call a "High quality problem," on the water.  For a first red, this one was a real gem. 

On a side note, take a look at the color of this fish.  You'll notice that it's not really all that red, just slightly orange with a lot of white on the belly.  That's because our water all around Matlacha and most of Pine Island is still so remarkably clear.  We haven't had any rain in SW Florida for several months and almost no runoff is coming down the Caloosahatchee River.  The water temps are also several degrees below normal so the natural tannic acids from both the mangroves and grass beds haven't leeched out and stained the waters yet.  The flat where we caught this fish looked as clear as any in the Keys or Bahamas.  Redfish, like many other shallow species, can adjust their skin pigments to match the color of both the water and the bottom where they hunt.  If you take a look at my previous post you'll see a photo of one caught way up in the mangrove creeks a few days earlier with a much different color.  By mid-July, when our water is as dark as strongly brewed tea, all these local redfish will be the same shade as the bricks on Main Street in Ft. Myers. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Recent Catches

Mike from Wisconsin with his first red.

Brian from PA with a 24" gator trout.

Local angler Greg with an under-slot snook on fly.

A local osprey with a very big trout that we should have caught instead.  Jerk.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

To Fly, Or Not To Fly...

Here's my article for the April issue of Coastal Angler Magazine.  Kind of appropriate for the mixed bag of weather we've had so for this month in SW Florida. 

Even though I mostly write about saltwater fly fishing tips and tackle here in on the pages of Coastal Angler, I’m far from a purist.  I absolutely love throwing flies but my skiff never leaves the dock without a pair of spinning rods on board.  There are many times when fly rods work better than anything and a few more times when they’re obviously a lost cause.  Let me give you a few examples of both.  

Here in SW Florida, we’re blessed with plenty of flat calm mornings during the late spring, nearly all of the summer, and much of the early fall.  When you’ve got a single redfish tailing or tarpon rolling in absolute glassy conditions, throwing a spinning lure at them can be about as effective at tossing a rock on their heads.  A rabbit fur shrimp fly tied on a #4 to 2/0 hook lands far more quietly than anything tossed by conventional gear.  This is crucial for saltwater fish that, unlike freshwater trout, don’t expect their food to fall from the sky.

Fly rods are also great when you’re drifting a shoreline for snook.  They allow you to cast right at or even under the mangroves, strip the fly back a few feet, and recast into the strike zone over and over with little effort.  And snook really love to hit 1/0 white Deceiver patterns.  Working a shoreline from 50 feet out with spinning gear requires a lot more time between casts than a quickly hauled fly.  If your leader is heavy enough, and I never go lighter than 15-pound test, you’ll be amazed at the size of fish you can yank out of the shoreline with an 8-weight rod.  

Windy days are obviously the enemy of all fly anglers.  If it’s cranking over 20 knots and you’re on your first flats charter, don’t be too proud to pick up the spinning rod with a live pilchard or hunk of cut ladyfish if the guide recommends it.  It will often mean the difference between actually catching something other than the back or your head.  Without the ability to punch a back cast into a stiff wind, you’re in for a very frustrating day.  

And speaking of that, the double haul technique is also something that every fly angler should know before heading to the flats.  It’s the only thing that will allow you to be effective in any kind of wind.  Even on the flat calm days, the double haul will cut the amount of time your fly line is in the air by half and greatly increase your distance, too.  If you have this mastered you’ll be able to shoot 50 feet of fly line to the target in less than 5 seconds, and be able to catch almost anything that swims as a result.  If you still need to learn the double haul and don’t have the time or money for actual lessons, YouTube is your friend.  There are plenty of excellent videos out there that can show you this technique step by step and in slow motion.  

The one thing I always tell everyone to remember is that fly fishing is just a sport, not a religion.  I look at my fly gear as just another tool in my tool box.  There are times when an 8-weight is the perfect tool for the job and other times when it’s almost useless.  Fly rods, just like spinners or bait casters, are something every serious flat angler should know how to use and use well.  Best of luck out there.  

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Monday, April 3, 2017

Pine Island Bird Watching

I snapped this quick photo of this male blue heron preening his breeding plumage early yesterday morning.  These birds are a very common sight around here but the sun hit this one just right and you can see some of the down floating in front of him in the backlight.  Not too bad for a hand-held shot.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

April On Pine Island: Tarpon Season 2017

My article from this month's Nautical Mile Magazine:

April on Pine Island means that tarpon season is just getting underway.  I’ve written dozens of articles about chasing and catching this species over the past few years so this month I’m just going to toss out a bunch of random tarpon trivia that you might find interesting. 
Tarpon are one of the oldest fish currently swimming in the ocean.  Their fossil record dates back to over 100 million years ago and there are two distinct species: the Atlantic tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) and the Indo-Pacific tarpon (Megalops cyprinoides.)   Atlantic tarpon are found from South America to the west coast of Africa, and that includes Florida.  The much smaller and Indo-Pacific tarpon are only found around northern Australia and a few scattered islands north of the continent. 
The very first recorded Atlantic tarpon ever caught on a rod and reel happened right here in SW Florida in 1885 off Punta Rassa, at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River.  The angler was William Wood from New York and his tarpon weighed 93lbs.   His guide was a Finnish immigrant named Capt. John Smith who lived in St. James City and fished from a home built wooden row boat. 
Atlantic tarpon can grow to over 300lbs.  The current International Game Fish Association’s all-tackle world record was landed in 2003 off Guinea-Bissau in Africa and weighed 286lbs.  Larger fish in excess of 300lbs have been hooked and released on conventional tackle but did not qualify for world record status due to the IGFA’s strict guidelines.  The Florida state record tarpon weighs 243lbs and was caught off Key West in 1975. 
The current fly rod record tarpon weighed 202lbs and was caught in Homosassa, FL in 2001.  A 225lb fish was caught on fly off Boqueron, Puerto Rico a few years later but was photographed and released.  I knew guide and fished with the angler a few days later.  He showed me the photos and wasn't exaggerating.
All those world record fish were female.  Male tarpon rarely exceed 60lbs.  Both sexes can live over 50 years.  They don’t begin to spawn until they’re at least 7 years old. 
Tarpon have gills just like all fish, but they also have a very primitive lung, which is actually a swim bladder lined with red blood cells.  This enables them to gulp air off the surface and lets them live in both salt and fresh water with very low oxygen content.  It’s not uncommon to see baby tarpon rolling in man-made canals, lakes and even golf course water hazards all along the Florida coast. 
Tarpon are phenomenal jumpers, rivaling the blue marlin, which is the main reason anglers even bother chasing them since they have no food value.  Their meat is coarse and bloody and has never been commercially harvested in the States.  Unfortunately, they were routinely killed by guides and sport anglers as dockside trophies until that practice was made illegal here in Florida in 1989.
Tarpon are currently one of our most heavily protected gamefish.  Any tarpon longer than 40 inches can’t even be legally removed from the water for a photograph.
If you want to kill a tarpon for any reason, such as weighing it on dry land to qualify for an IGFA record, you’ll need to purchase a $50 tag from the state in advance.  Fewer than a dozen of these tags are turned in each year here in Florida. 

Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams was a fanatic tarpon angler and helped accelerate the sport in the time between baseball seasons and his military service with the Marine Corps.  After retiring from both he spent half his year on Islamorada in the Florida Keys and is credited with landing over 1000 tarpon on every kind of tackle.  He released almost all of them.    

The largest tarpon I’ve ever had a client land happened four years ago just off Bokeelia, on the north tip of Pine Island.  That fish weighed around 150lbs and took an hour to land on a 10-weight fly rod.  The angler was 16 years old.  He hooked and lost a much bigger tarpon on the same spot two years earlier. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Recent Catches

George from New Jersey with and upper-slot red caught on a live shrimp.

Spinner shark on fly for Aiden from Maine.  Amazing fight on an 8-weight.

My Mom, Karen McKee, with a 32" snook caught from their dock on Matlacha. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Live Bait Rules!

Every once in a while I get a few guys who just want to bend rods and feed the family, and I'm all about that.  This week it was Randy, Ryan, and their dad Frank from Ohio, and we brought home this net full of meat caught on live shrimp and Berkely Gulps.  Their fish dinner tomorrow night will be epic for all ten people down here on vacation.  Nice job out there, guys. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Cobia On The Flats

For some strange reason, the flats of Matlacha Pass are currently home to a lot more cobia than I've ever seen before  I'm not questioning this at all since it's a very good thing and I hope it continues for the rest of the time I'm alive.  I absolutely love Cobia.  They're easily one of my favorite inshore fish to catch and eat, once they hit the 33" slot legal size.  The one in the photo was just under that at but still put up a hell of a fight on an 8-weight fly rod.  This was the first cobia I brought to the boat on a fly this year but we usually get quite a few in Charlotte Harbor once the tarpon start moving through. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Key West Flashback: Barracuda On The Flats

This picture was taken in early March, 2014, after I dropped off my buddy Capt. Mike Bartlett's new Beavertail Vengeance to him on Key West.  I agreed to make the 390 mile drive from their factory in Bradenton since I knew that I'd get at least two days on the bow of Mike's new skiff in exchange for my drive.  I had grand plans of throwing flies at tailing permit and maybe even some early season tarpon.  Those plans were quickly demolished by the weather. 

As you can see, Mike was bundled up like he was running a smallmouth trip on the Susquehanna River instead of a flats trip at the south end of Florida.  A cold front dropped on us the night I arrived and the temps were in the 50's the next morning.  That's frigid for Key West.  The skies were also overcast with high clouds and the winds was pushing 20 knots.  I knew I was never going to be warm at any point during the day, let along catch a permit, bonefish or tarpon with anything other than dynamite and a gill net. 

But fortunately, for all the cold and frustrated anglers who hit the Keys at the wrong time of year, barracuda exist.  I'm not exaggerating when I say that they might be the greatest light tackle species you can chase with a spinning rod.  Barracuda love to eat when it gets cold and sloppy in the shallows.  In fact, they get remarkably aggressive.  Just tossing a foot-long tube lure and retrieving it at top speed across the flats is enough to draw an insane strike. 

We caught the 3-foot fish in this photo that same morning just a hundred yards outside the Oceanside Marina.  The clouds never parted and the wind stayed steady, but the big barracuda were right where Mike new they'd be and didn't disappoint. 

I loved chasing these scary predators when I used to guide in Key West and it was a blast to get reacquainted to them on a cruddy day.  Unfortunately, we don't have barracuda on the flats around Pine Island and I miss them terribly. 

This past week in SW Florida was nothing but wind, some clouds, and a little too much cold.  I've had all fly anglers on the schedule and have been lucky to land some nice trout along with a few undersize snook and reds.  It'll get back to normal in a few days but a big barracuda or two, like we used to catch off Key West, would have made this month a lot more tolerable.