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.