Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ponce de Leon Park Fishing and Kayak Trails

With some winds out of the East I had to pick a spot that would be protected from gusts. I wanted to try something a bit different, as most of my spots I frequent during an East winds are places I have fished a dozen times or more. Off to Google Earth I went to scope out a spot.

Ponce de Leon park is a 10 acre park on Charlotte Harbor at Ponce de Leon Inlet, with a boat ramp, boat trailer parking, two fishing piers, a playground, a man-made beach, shelter, restrooms, and picnic tables. Also on site is the Peace River Wildlife Center. Whats special about this park is the entire waterfront community of Punta Gorda Isles is supplied through this inlet, meaning there is a TON of water flow. All of the inshore slam species reside here this time of year. For kayaking it is best to get out early and on a weekday as the park can get pretty busy. Also, there is no charge to park or to use the ramp, which is always a nice perk.

Unfortunately my fishing day started out slow and ended even slower. In between I had a twenty minute window of a hot topwater trout bite, managing 5 fish to 20 inches. The tannin-stained rainwater pouring out of the Peace River made finding fishy water pretty difficult. I resorted to throwing topwaters in 4-6 feet of grassy bottomed water, as for me that almost always entices trout to strike.

The stained river water makes for some dark trout!

After another hour or so of fruitless fishing, I chose to call it a day and explore the Ponce Canal, which is a Kayak trail tailored from old mosquito ditches and the barge canal that was used as a passage way for construction/supply boats during the building of PGI. This is a very interesting place and can get very tight in the tunnels at times. It was quite easy to follow, but I would reccomend a smartphone with GPS to aid in navigation as it could be a long paddle if you make a wrong turn. The barge canal itself is now closed off to boat traffic on both the harbor side and the PGI side, but now exists as a deep cut surrounded by mangroves on all sides. This is a very intriguing place that is pretty much only accessible by kayak, and it may be a place to consider fishing after a cold front. I did manage to catch a micro sized snook in the canal and suspect his big brothers and sisters might visit him in the winter. 

This was the view found through most of the tunnels.
I had a great time launching out of this park and have a feeling it may become a winter time go to spot for me. How great is it to be able to write off a difficult day of fishing and turn it into a leisurely paddle through fantastic scenery? Until next time, keep those rods bent!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fly Rodding for Bream

There is something to be said about the simplicity of fly fishing for bluegill. I love tossing a popper, letting the rubber legs quiver and being greeted by that classic slurp. If you were ever looking to get in to fly fishing this is surely the way to do it. Any rod from a 3-6 wt is proficient, and it doesn't have to be technical. I have been known to use a straight section of 6-10 lb test monofilament as a leader, no tippet involved. Yet time after time, I have success, but more importantly, I have fun. This morning was no different.

I started out slow, only catching one small bluegill before daylight. It took my Bea Bea Bug after I placed a cast on top of the seawall, and tugged it to land very lightly in the water. It wasn't a big fish, but a good start. After sun up though, it was like a switch flipped. I paddled on over to a spot that is oddly consistent for me. It has no distinct features that are visible from the surface, so I am suspicious of some submerged structure. Anyways, almost immediately I hooked up to the biggest gill of the day. 

He measured in at a touch over 9 inches. A few yards down the shoreline I had a perfect cast into some vegetation. I was greeted by a much bigger pop than the usual bream kiss, and the subsequent jump gave away this largemouth's identity. He really inhaled the bug, and put a solid bend in the rod.

This particular canal that I fish is laid out in a very urban setting. It is part of a water management area, and serves as a drainage system for quite a large area. As a result, it provides excellent fishing in the late summer months. The rainwater flushes out the canal, oxygenates and cools the water, yet pours over a spillway into a larger bottle of water before the levels can get too high. Another benefit of being part of a water management area, is that many retention ponds and storm drains flow into this canal by way of culverts. After any period of steady rain they begin to flow and where they flow, the bass like to lurk. I tossed a popper under the first culvert I saw and was instantly greeted by a second bass for the day. This one was about the same length, but had a much fuller belly. 

I managed to wrestle this fish out of some lily pads with a 6 pound test leader. I must say, I don't understand typical bass fishing rigs. I don't have any need for 50 lb. test on a baitcaster when I can catch a nice 2 pounder on a size 10 fly. After this fish, I began working my way back to the launch. On the way back I caught two of the most colorful, beautiful shellcrackers. I was surprised to catch them on a topwater, as most of their food comes in the form of snails and other mollusks. They also put up quite a different fight, making fast runs where a bluegill will tend to turn to its side and use the natural drag of its body.

This fish, the larger of the two, went just over 10 inches. The smaller was right at 9. The colors were amazing, and this picture barely does it justice. I rarely catch these in this canal so catching two nice sized specimens in one day was quite a thrill. The Bea Bea bug slowly became less appetizing to the fish, so I switched to a bead headed nymph to wrap up the day. I tend to catch more fish with the nymphs and today was no different, however the quality of fish is slightly less. I attribute this to the smaller fish being more aggressive and getting to the fly quicker, where with topwater flies there are many times a smaller fish will peck at it but not be able to get it inside of its mouth. Anyways, to finish off this post here is the largest gill I managed on the nymph...

Not a great fish but a fun way to end the day. I have a feeling I will be sitting down and tying a few scuds for a few more trips coming up! Until next time, keep those rods bent!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Recent Fly Tying

I have been in a good groove tying some flies lately. I have been focusing on saltwater flies almost exclusively for the first time ever. I tend to be more comfortable tying bass and panfish flies, likely because just about anything that looks hairy or buggy attached to a hook gets eaten. Also, I have really been favoring craft fur recently. It is a great material in that it is simple to use, readily available, comes in a laundry list of colors, is cheap, is very consistent in shape and size being synthetic, and has a great action in the water. Here are three successful patterns I have been tying...

The first is loosely based off of the Feather Craft Sand Shrimp. It is fished as a shrimp or crab imitation by stripping it slowly over the bottom, however can pass as a baitfish imitation with a quicker retrieve. 

  • Tail: White craft fur, barred with a sharpie marker, plus a couple of strands of Krystal Flash 
  • Body: Palmered Estaz in a "tan" or "natural" color
  • Eye/Weight: Lead dumbell eye in desired weight. 
  • Wing: Craft fur in a similar color to the estaz body.
The second is the famous Crystal Schminnow. It is fantastic when fish are feeding on smaller baitfish, as is generally the case around docklights. I recently caught my first flyrod snook and first flyrod redfish in the same night off of this fly. I have also had success with this fly on the beaches and flats. A great all around fly that is simple to tie. This fly can cover just about any water column by varying the weight of the eyes. A mono eye will result in an extremely light fly which is perfect for delicate docklight applications. A beadchain works well for all around fishing, while a dumbell eye can bring this fly to the bottom which can be deadly on redfish.

  • Tail: Maribou clump. Cut to roughly the length of the hook shank (I prefer a slightly longer tail).
  • Body: Palmered Estaz or Pearl Chenille
  • Eyes: Mono Eyes/Beadchain/Dumbell Eyes
The third fly is a whitewater clouser, as originally perfected by Bob LeMay. I chose to tie some with craft fur instead of the usual bucktail and I am very pleased with the action this fly has. I caught my spillway snook on this fly, and the carp picked this fly up off the bottom while I was distracted as well. The dumbell eye is attached first with red thread, and a thread base is layed back to about the bend of the hook as a sort of "throat" or "gill." The fly is whip finished, and a chartreuse thread is then used to tie in the wing and form the head.

  • Eye: Dumbell eye attached with red thread to create "gill"
  • Wing/Tail: Craft fur (or bucktail) Lighter color for underbody, darker color for back.
  • Head: Build up with thread and coat with head cement or epoxy of choice
As you can see, the recurring theme with all of these flies is that they require a minimal amount of materials and are relatively quick to tie. I don't have any desire to spend 20 plus minutes and take 15 or more steps to tie a fly that will likely be torn to shreds after a handful of fish. I hope you found this helpful, now have some fun tying and keep those rods bent!

Afternoon Spillway Fun

After running some family to the airport yesterday I found myself in close proximity to some spillways. With pretty consistent rain recently I was delighted to find water flowing at a steady rate. Within a few casts I hooked up to a small snook on a craft fur clouser I had tied up recently.

Unfortunately that was all the action I could muster in the 20 minutes or so I had to fish. I did manage a hookup with a pretty large carp on the fresh side of the spillway that spit the hook after showing his face. I am now 0/5 on carp on the fly, and every single hookup has been by accident. They tend to pick up my fly off the bottom the times that I make a cast and get distracted by something that makes me delay my retrieve. I believe most if not all have been grass carp, as many of the local freshwater canals and ponds are stocked with them for vegetation control. Also, they have hit flies with chartreuse or green marabou or craft fur on every instance, which could be taken as a "grass" imitation. Maybe there's something too that, I wonder if I should tie a few grass flies?