Sunday, December 29, 2013

Alligator Alley Exotics 12-22-13

Location: Alligator Alley (I-75) recreation area canal
Time: 0645-1200
Tides: N/A
Weather: Sunny, post front conditions. Hi/Lo 76/66, Winds 10-20.
Vessel: Native Ultimate 14.5 Kayak.
Fish: Stumpknocker, Bluegill, Warmouth, Oscar, Mayan Cichlid, Largemouth Bass
Tactics: Fly tackle, 2-5 weights. Poppers, nymphs, and myakka minnow. Top fly was the Shrymph.
Notes: First Warmouth I have ever caught. roughly 100 fish caught, with only 6 being exotics. Lost 3 exotics due to breakoffs. My brother came along and fished spinning gear for bass. He caught lots of fish, but not much size. 

Babcock-Webb WMA 12-20-13

Location: Webb Lake
Time: 0645-1030
Tides: N/A
Weather: Sunny, post front conditions. Hi/Lo 84/55, Winds 8-15.
Vessel: Native Ultimate 14.5 Kayak.
Fish: 15+ Largemouth bass to 14"
Tactics: Spinning gear with artificials. Top lure was texas rigged worm.
Notes: Great numbers of bass, but not so great in size. Largest fish of the day was 14". Consistent action, but got bored of catching the same smaller sized fish over and over. 

Winter Time Slam 12-19-13

Location: Gasparilla sound area of Charlotte Harbor
Time: 0745-1030
Tides: Low @ 0826
Weather: Sunny, post front conditions. Hi/Lo 79/46, Winds 10-15.
Vessel: Native Ultimate 14.5 Kayak.
Fish: Six trout to 15", one snook at 26", one redfish at 28.5", 3 jack crevalle.
Tactics: Spinning gear with artificials. Top Lure was DOA shrimp.
Notes: New personal best redfish at 28.5" and 8.25 lbs. Sightfished alongside an exposed sandbar as the tide was coming in. 

This will be the new format for my reports from now on. Organized and concise. I will be splitting up my blog posts into cut and dry fishing reports like this one as well as article style posts such as my Winter Time Flats Tactics post. Hopefully this will make it easier to put up a new report quickly and efficiently, which should lead to more frequent posts. Until next time...

Winter Time Flats Tactics

Winter sunrise over a Lemon Bay flat
Winter patterns are starting to play out here in southwest Florida. With each passing front comes cooler temperatures, gusting winds, and negative low tides. The bite this time of year can be difficult one day, and completely insane the next. The fish tend to feed heavily leading up to a front, but shut down almost immediately when the front arrives and the barometer drops past their comfort zone. After the front passes, it can take a day or two for the fishing to pick back up.
That said, when I can find a calm day between fronts I like to fish the incoming side of the low tides. Redfish and trout stage on the deeper edges of flats and feed as the water comes in. With the low and typically clear water this time of year, there are plenty of sight fishing opportunities. Even on a cloudy or choppy day one can easily spot potholes and other productive spots to place a cast.
Hungry redfish and trout will happily take a slow moving DOA shrimp as well as a variety of other soft plastics. I like to use DOA CAL series jerk shads rigged on a weedless and weightless wide gap hook. This delicate presentation is easy to cast without spooking fish, and can be fished at a variety of speeds to entice a strike. Suspending plugs, such as the Mirr-O-Lure MirrOdine can be deadly when the fish are keyed in on the small whitebait that is prevalent this time of year. The MirrOdine is available in 3 different sizes to help with matching the hatch as well.
Typical assortment of winter lures
Early on in the day a walk-the-dog style topwater bait can elicit some incredible strikes. However, I have found fishing smaller and slower to match the available forage tends to lead to greater overall success. I prefer to use a topwater bait mainly to locate active fish, and then fish that area thouroughly with soft plastics. That's not a steadfast rule though, if the fish stay active on surface plugs I will gladly keep casting them!
Occasionally you will find a snook or two as a bonus. By now though, a good majority of our local snook population has started to trek up the rivers, creeks, and canals in search of warmer water. If you do encounter any on a winter time flat, they will take the same lures as redfish and trout, especially a slow moving DOA shrimp.
Don't let the cooler temperatures and pesky winds fool you, some of the best fishing happens in the winter time. Pack a jacket, some hot coffee and a good attitude and you’re bound to have a great day on the water! Uintil next time...

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Windy Days

Front after front has been running through my neck of the woods, quite effectively keeping me out of the kayaks. That's not to say I haven't made it out to fish however! When it gets windy I like to stay close to home and do some shore-based freshwater fishing, as the bass action generally heats up as the first few cold fronts move in.

Fish have been taking Texas rigged worms consistently. I have found the bigger fish like the one above to be more apt to take weedless weightless soft plastic shad imitations however. An added bonus when fishing with soft plastic jerk shads is that you may run into a few baby tarpon.

Tarpon this size are a blast on light tackle and make for a welcome surprise on a windy day of bass fishing. Hopefully I can start finding these fish consistently enough to start targeting them on fly tackle.

Until next time...

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hot bite in Myakka River State Park

The freshwater fly rods and my casting arm got a great workout on Tuesday while fishing for panfish in the confines of Myakka River State Park. Myself and friend Steve Gibson of Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing each had 100+ fish days, and that's a pretty conservative estimate. 

Most fish caught were 6-8" bluegill, with a few surprises thrown in. Speckled perch, tilapia, largemouth bass, and shellcracker all made appearances throughout the day. Hot flies were bead head nymphs fished under strike indicators, Myakka Minnows, and poppers in various sizes and colors. 

The fall is my favorite time of the year to fish, and I can't wait to see what the next few trips bring!

Monday, October 14, 2013

I'm still alive and fishing

Haven't had many worthwhile days of fishing to report about lately. Hoping to change that tomorrow with some bluegill on the fly at Lake Manatee. I'm all rigged up and ready to go, with a full fly box to boot...

Friday, July 5, 2013

Beaching it

The wife, dog and I took a quick stroll on the beach to test out my new stripping basket. I got about half an hour of fishing in before the rains rolled in. Using a freshly tied DT special I managed a trout and a snook in short order. The basket worked great and made line management a breeze. Looking forward to using it pretty frequently the rest of this summer!

Monday, July 1, 2013

DIY Stripping Basket

With beach fishing season in full swing I found myself wanting to develop a line management system to utilize while stalking SWFL snook. I usually make a few casts and let the line play naturally around my feet. For lack of a better term, this kind of sucks when I decide to move a few clicks down the shoreline as the line either has to: 

A) All get back into the reel, making my next cast have to start from scratch


B) Get tangled around my feet and make me shout unwarranted obsceneties at the sky

Neither of these scenarios make for efficient fishing. If only I had a container that could not only keep my line off the sand and out of the waves but also in an easy to cast and untangled clump. 

Introduce my stripping basket. While I have seen many take advantage of a waste-basket uncomfortably affixed around the waist...  or some other form of line collecting device such as Carbon Marine's "line lair" which affixes to the deck of a boat and has protruding appendages to keep like from tangling... I haven't yet seen something to accommodate beach fishing where you don't have a deck to let line play out on.

Zip ties, a military belt and an Ikea FĂ–RSIKTIG children's stool all come together with a little ingenuity to create my fly line containment device. The contour of the Ikea children's stool keeps the basket snug to my waste and makes it easy to keep line close to my body and ready for the next cast. Walking down the beach is a breeze with this tool. I drilled a few holes in a pattern to keep the zip ties in check and create a table for the line to play out naturally in to, and have not had any problems yet.

Hopefully you can use this simple less than $15 project to help you in your beach fishing pursuits! Until next time keep those lines tight and those rods bent!

Dock Light Snook Flies

Spent some time during all this rain getting my boxes ready for some summertime docklight snook fishing. While I keep Gibby's DT Special variations and Norm's Crystal Schminnows in good supply for most of my beach and dock light fishing, I decided to try tying some different patterns to see if I have any success.

The pattern on the left is my interpretation of a very basic UV Polar minnow. A video on how to tie this simple pattern can be found here: 

The pattern on the right is known as a BSF (big snook fly/Borski shrimp fly). A step by step article can be found here:

Hopefully this rain subsides quickly so I can put these flies to the test!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Evening bassin

One thing I have always enjoyed is hitting up local canals for bass on summer evenings when the afternoon storms settle down. It's a relaxing change of pace from a 6-8 hour kayak trip. When the weather gets hot, day time kayak trips become almost cumbersome. Often times I will fish for snook in the surf in the morning and follow it up with a pond or canal bass night cap, leaving the kayaks at home.

 I recently got a couple of cheap bags of bass worms and have started putting them to good use, this two-pound fish came out of a canal in my neighborhood.

I had the worm rigged weedless on a weighted hook. It hit on the fall before the worm even hit bottom. I caught 4 more, all the others came in right around a pound. I just picked up some bullet weights and Trokar worm hooks to start fishing a true Texas rig next time I go out. Hopefully I can get a couple 5 pounders this summer!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Finally, some fishing!

Life has kept me off the water for the last two weeks so it was nice that all the stars lined up enough to let me chase some fly rod snook along the beach this morning. Hoping to get 3-4 fishing trips in this week so look for a couple of posts soon!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Palma Sola Bay exploratory trip

Headed to Bradenton to fish Palma Sola Bay with my brother. He recently moved to Bradenton and neither of us had fished the area before so we decided to do some exploring.

The bay is a lot larger than the areas I am used to fishing. The bay has a large quantity of fish able water, with tons of mangroves and oyster beds and grass flats.

Being an exploratory trip and not knowing much about the bay we began looking for signs of life in shallow water. Not 10 casts in I had landed a small red on a weedless DOA CAL jerk shad, so the skunk got out of the boat quickly. We paddled away from that area after a few more casts to find some more mulling mullet. My brother switched to a weedless rig as well and hooked up to the fish of the day at our next spot. 

The wind had us drifting at a pretty good clip, so we paddled back to the starting point and made another drift. Another small red for me and by the end of that drift the tide had brought in enough water to push the mullet elsewhere. We paddled around to explore the area a bit. We didn't have much success so we decided to paddle back towards the launch. On the way in we fished an oyster bed that was exposed when we passed it earlier but had become submerged underneath the incoming tide. I picked off a small snook and my brother a small trout and we called it a day.

Overall it was an interesting place to fish and is a place I would like to explore a bit more in the future.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

More Skinny Water Fun

I chose to hit the same area I had success in last week in search of another slam. My plan was to hit the skinny area for a redfish, then immediately paddle across the bay to get to the spot I found the large snook hanging around my last time out. The first part worked like a charm, managed a snook right off the bat in 6 inches of water. I developed an interesting technique of using a soft plastic jerk bait to "walk the dog" as you would with a topwater plug. This resulted in a lot of intense strikes, but only that one hook up with the snook. I did manage to sight cast to a tailing redfish as well. Picture perfect situation, tailed 25 feet in front of me, put a cast 18 inches in front of him, twitched once, and fish on. A bit smaller fish than last time but any sight-casted tailing redfish makes the day special.

After I got the redfish I headed to those pesky snook. This time went a bit better than last as I caught a couple of fish, but I didn't get any of the large ones. I lost a 25-26 incher when he pulled me into the grass and shook the hook, and landed two at 18 and 20 inches. I only saw 3 of the really big fish today in comparison to about a dozen last time out. I also got the same small trout as last time while targeting those snook.

The wind started to pick up and I had to paddle against it to get back to the launch so I called it a day early and made it home in time to watch some afternoon baseball. A bit smaller fish today than I hoped for, but still a successful day in my book!

Skinny Water Surprise

Lately I have found a nice pattern in some really skinny water. An area right by one of my favorite launches that I have paddled past dozens of times was showing plenty of signs of life on a trip last week. Mullet were huddled up and causing quite a commotion. I saw a few tails in the area but the ones I was close enough to distinguish were mullet tails. I decided it was worth a few casts, and my curiosity was rewarded with a nice 23 inch redfish.

I tried to duplicate that success and wound up with one small snook off of that same flat before the action slowed. I was shocked however that I had even caught anything in this area as it was barely holding 5 inches of water in some spots. I was excited though that I already had 2/3 of a slam, so I paddled across the bay to find a trout. I rounded out the slam pretty quick with a few small trout, but got sidetracked when I started spotting some very large snook. These fish became my sole focus, and I was almost successful. Right off the bat I had some explosions on a topwater, but didn't connect and they wised up to the spook very quickly. I spent the better part of the next two hours trying to get one on anything I had in my tackle box. I had follow after follow on weedless rigged exudes but could not entice a strike. Most other lures, especially anything on a jig head, would get taken by trout before I could get them near the snook I was seeing. Finally on a last ditch effort with a DOA shrimp, I hooked up. The fish ran immediately at me and promptly wound up behind me, spinning my kayak around in no time. I kept pressure and got the fish close enough to land, and in a lapse of judgement let some slack in the line while reaching for my camera. The fish laughed at the opportunity, gave a headshake, and the lure popped right out. My estimation was around 28-29 inches, and this was actually one of the SMALLER fish I saw. 

I was defeated after spending that much time and finally getting a bite and losing it. However, I still headed home with a decent slam and some new found knowledge about one of my favorite fishing spots. Overall, the day was a success.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Bluegill with a surprise

Set out yesterday morning in search of the ever elusive 10 inch bluegill. The weather was perfect for it, overcast without much wind. I began early by working a size 10 popper along the shoreline and picked off a couple of fish almost immediately. After that though, the action slowed dramatically. I switched to a nymph under a strike indicator to see if that would change things, and it didn't. I switched back to a popper to make a few casts around a culvert with some water pouring out of it and immediately hooked up with the best fish of the day.

This one measured right at 9 3/4". While I wasn't able to find any over ten, I did manage 3 fish over 9 1/2". I only totaled 11 bluegill today so it was nice to have a few of them be good quality fish. I may have caught more but got distracted by some rolling tarpon. River fishing is awesome, you never know what you will encounter. I had a spinning rod in the car, albeit light and intended more for trout than tarpon. I figured I would be happy just to jump one though so I grabbed it and switched gears.

It took forever to entice a strike and I almost gave up. I finally realized more fish were holding deep and once I stopped focusing on the rolling fish up top, I started to hook up. The first fish of the day jumped almost immediately right off the bow of my kayak. It was in the 40 pound range and hit a DOA Terroreyz. I hooked a couple more, both in the 10-15 pound range and absolutely full of energy. The second I managed about a 30 second battle with before he finally spit the hook, and the third came off immediately on the first jump. 

It turned out to be a fantastic day despite slow bluegill fishing in the morning. I never expected to see a tarpon in this area this time of the year and definitely didn't imagine I would jump 3 of them!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

That won't happen again!

I set out this morning for a nice paddle out on Lemon Bay. I got out right around sun up and was delighted to find one dock light still on upon my arrival. I promptly caught a small snook to get the skunk out of the boat. My focus today was to target a new shoreline I found on accident a few weeks ago. It was holding some snook the first time I fished it, and I figured it might be a good spot to add to my Lemon Bay arsenal. Today, it was holding some fish, but not as many as I was hoping. I caught a few small snook using DOA shrimp as well as topwater lures. My first 6 fish of the day were snook. Unfortunately I didn't catch any more snook after that and none of the ones I did catch were larger than 20". I decided to move along and let the wind push me alongside a mangrove island with some deeper water. I continued casting the topwater as I was getting hits on almost every cast. Most of the action was provided by ladyfish. I like to let them run when I do hook them, as they are very good at throwing the hook and put on an impressive aerial display. As a result, I can often hook and lose multiple fish on one cast. Today, however I had an interesting scenario play out: I hooked a ladyfish, fought it for a few moments, it spit the hook on a jump, and almost immediately upon the lure landing back on the surface of the water a bluefish inhaled it. These fish are a fun surprise every now and then in Lemon bay and the surrounding waters. They fight hard and are very willing to take fast moving lures.

After a few more ladyfish, I let the wind push me on over to one of my most consistent spots I have in  Lemon Bay. This spot has provided me with some of my biggest trout, my largest pompano to date, a few decent snook, and my two largest redfish. It seems to always provide me with at least something, and today it was full of surprises. After a few casts, I had one of the most exciting topwater strikes ever as a redfish breached the surface to hit the top side of my spook. I lost that fish unfortunately, but it did alert me to a successful pattern. That fish responded to a consistent retrieve with a short pause, and hit on first movement after the pause. I used the same tactic on my next cast and caught that redfish's little brother.

It wasn't a huge fish by any means but did manage to take quite a bit of drag off of my 4000 size Shimano Spheros. It had a lot of energy and I wound up almost 25 yards down the shoreline before I managed to land it. He measured in the upper end of the slot at 24". Excited about the pattern I had just found, I paddled back to make another drift. I immediately began to have very odd strikes on my topwater. The wake from whatever was hitting it was like nothing I had ever seen before. I was nervous it was a cormorant and I would be in for an unfortunate struggle with the pesty aquatic bird. However, a few casts later, one of those wakes turned into a ferocious hit and a very interesting battle. Much to my surprise, on the other end of my line, was a sheepshead. Until today, I had never caught a sheepshead on an artificial lure, and absolutely never expected I would ever catch one on a topwater lure. Sheepshead have a diet that consists primarily of crustaceans, and are generally extremely selective with what they eat. While easy to target with a live sand flea, fiddler crab, or a piece of fresh shrimp, they are incredibly difficult to trick with artificials. 

I wound up catching two of these bruisers and losing another. The larger (on the left) was over 20 inches and is now the largest sheepshead I have ever caught. The smaller (bottom right) was a respectable 16". After some closer observation, I realized the sheepshead were nipping at pass crabs that were floating out with the tide, and they must have mistook my lure for a floating crab. That would also explain why the two I caught hit as the lure was drifting freely when I paused my retrieve as opposed to hitting it while I was "walking the dog" or otherwise imparting action on the lure. I was absolutely shocked to catch these fish and highly doubt I will ever catch another on a topwater lure!

After the sheepshead bite subsided, I found steady trout action and was able to catch about 10 fish to 16 inches on DOA shrimp and topwater lures. The rain pushed me off the water early and I was home and cleaned up to watch some afternoon baseball games at 12:30.

Tomorrow I will be trying to dodge the rain while targeting bluegill, and Friday I hope to try a new area in saltwater. Until next time, keep those rods bent!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

First beach fish of 2013

After a dreadful 2012 beach fishing season full of west winds and seaweed covered beaches, I was excited to get out for my first beach trip of 2013. I was hoping for snook, but settled happily for trout. I was able to sight fish to schools of 5-15 trout. Most fish were in the 17-20 inch range, and I did lose one that may have surpassed 20". Seeing a fish before you cast, watching it notice your fly, and then being able to entice a strike is really what fly fishing is all about for me. I did see some snook but could not interest any in my flies. I am excited for what is already shaping up to be a better beach fishing season for me than last year!

Everglades on the Fly

Everglades panfish provide consistent fly-rod action

The Everglades, while famous for alligators and airboats to many, are home to a quite a vast and interesting fishery, both fresh and salt. A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to explore a bit of the freshwater side of things with Steve Gibson of Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing. Steve has many years of experience fishing the freshwater canals of the Everglades and possesses a wealth of knowledge. Our goal for this trip was to see how the population of freshwater exotics was faring after the dreaded freeze of 2010.

To arrive to our launch before sun-up we had to leave our part of Florida at about 4 in the morning. The drive was full of anticipation and excitement for the day of fishing to come. I had never caught an oscar or a mayan cichlid on any tackle nonetheless a fly rod. These are two species that Gibson speaks very highly of, as they are incredibly scrappy fish to battle with light fly tackle. As a bonus, they are relatively easy to target and are usually willing to take a well presented fly.

My first Mayan Cichlid.

The action began as soon as we started fishing, and did not subside until we decided to call it a day. The total between us was easily over 300 fish. Species included stumpknocker, shellcracker, bluegill, largemouth bass, speckled perch, oscar, mayan cichlid, golden shiner, and one hooked but not landed bowfin. We caught most of our fish on Gibby's Myakka Minnow, with a good number also coming on nymphs. Poppers worked early in the morning, but the action was more consistent sub-surface. Fishing was so consistent that I don't know if I made a string of 5 casts in a row without reeling anything in. Catching my first exotics was quite the thrill. They put up a completely different fight in comparison to any of the other species caught today. They make fast, aggressive runs and do everything in their power to pull you into cover and attempt to break you off, which did happen a couple of times today.

This speckled perch was a welcome surprise.
The fishery is best in the late winter months, as the water levels are low and the fish are concentrated. In the summer months, mosquitoes rule the air and the fish spread out over thousands of miles of marsh. They can still be targeted but the distance of the drive becomes a bit much knowing that you will have to deal with the mosquitoes. As we transition into summer and the rainy season it brings, I likely won't be making another trip down this year in favor of closer to home fishing, but I am anxiously awaiting next year to catch more of these feisty and cooperative fish!

Monday, April 15, 2013

New Personal Best Snook

I took my brother out for a saltwater trip. He got really in to bass fishing while living in Korea and has kind of shyed away from saltwater fishing lately in favor of chasing largemouth in local lakes and ponds. He wanted to try and catch a few trout, snook, or redfish to kind of mix things up.

We met up when I got off work Sunday morning at a launch in the Placida/Gasparilla sound area. I had success here early in the week so we figured it would be worth a shot. I tried to offer as much input and knowledge as possible... stuff like "I've caught a redfish on this dock using this bait..." "Snook like to hang out there..." "a faster retreive here gets more trout but if you slow it down..." It wound up paying off because within about an hour he had a decent slam including his biggest trout ever at 18 inches. My luck was almost non existent for most of the morning, as I caught a handful of trout with only one even being slot sized.

He hadn't gotten a photograph of his snook as it was his first fish of the morning, so wanting proof of his slam he asked if there was anywhere close by we could specifically target snook. I have a shoreline I have had good success on that was close by so we paddled on over. I start explaining the layout of the shoreline, the way the grass is, how there's a bit of a drop off, why I think snook live there, etc. etc. etc. I hooked a jack almost immediately and had a decent fight but it wasn't what we were looking for. A few casts later and my brother is starting to think I'm talking out of my rear end about this being a snook spot. I switched over to a MirrOLure Lil Jon and started targeting a little deeper water around that drop off I was speaking of and almost immediately hooked up. I knew it was a snook right off the bat. It gave a nice headshake above the water and I realized it was a bit bigger fish. It was a perfect scenario, the fight started about 50 yards from the closest dock and about 25 yards from the closest submerged mangrove roots, so there wasn't much chance of the fish getting in to anything and breaking me off. After a lot of drag screaming I got the fish to the side of the boat and asked my brother to come over and get a picture as I knew it would at least be competing for my biggest snook ever. He snapped a quick picture and I took a measurement, 32" beating my old best by 1.5"

It's always nice when a plan comes together!

Slamming in the Sound

Redfish, Speckled Trout, and Snook make up an "Inshore slam."
On Monday, I launched my kayak and fished the Gasparilla Sound area of Charlotte Harbor. I can generally find a pattern to consistently produce trout here, and I have one specific spot accessible from this launch that I can consistently target snook. While I have caught the occasional redfish here, I have not been able to find a consistent pattern to target them. I almost always catch 2/3 of a slam here and most often it is the redfish that I am missing. For that reason, it was much to my delight when I found a pattern that was able to produce three quality slot sized redfish, with two being at the upper end of the slot limit.

As a matter of fact, today was the exact opposite of what I generally find here. Methods that generally produce trout for me are what I found successful to catch all three of my redfish today. I also caught a surprise snook in an an area I have never even hooked a snook before. Making it even more bazaar, was the fact that I had an incredibly difficult time catching any trout at all today. As a matter of fact, the only one I was able to manage was a small fish that I had to work very hard for, drifting the same flat multiple times just for that one fish to round out my slam. Just when you think you have an area figured out, it can, and will, surprise you.

That, to me, is the excitement of fishing.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Moral of the story: Always bring a rod!

I spent time this weekend, as I do most weekends, with my wife. I'm lucky enough to have a work schedule that permits a lot of time on the water especially on weekdays. As a result I don't mind spending her off time on the weekends doing things she wants to do. This weekend, her goal was to work on her sun tan by spending some relaxing time on the boat.

For her, relaxing time on the boat involves a radio, lots of sun, and a beach towel laid across the front deck. This is not to be confused with my views of relaxing time on the boat which include a 5:30 a.m. wake up call, 5 or more fishing rods rigged and ready, and at least a thousand casts. While I don't mind either view, I generally much prefer the latter.

We made it on the water a little bit after noon. I generally don't like to fish too much in the heat of the day, as fish get lethargic and are less apt to chase an artificial lure. I don't like the hassle of live bait, so usually on days like this I would succumb to the sun and not worry about the fish. But this day, I had the itch. I brought a lone rod, and a small tacklebox, if only to make a few casts.

Instead of anchoring up or beaching on a sand bar as per usual on days like this, we decided we would set up so the boat would drift over a flat. A slow wind would push us, and I would be able to fish a large area while she enjoyed the ebb and flow of the bay from the front deck.

To my surprise, I managed two snook and one speckled trout in less than an hour of fishing. Sure, the action wasn't the best I've ever had, but I caught a lot more fish than I would have if I was working on my tan!

The water, and the fishing, are heating up!

This snook ate a Schminnow on the first cast of the day.
I made a solo trip in Lemon Bay early in the week. Having to be off the water relatively early, I launched close to home to maximize my time on the bay.

This time of year, I really enjoy being on the water an hour or more before sunrise. I find it very enjoyable to be on the water as all of the nature around me wakes up, but the part that gets me out of bed is the docklight action.

Snook are easy to target with a fly rod when they congregate around docks and ambush bait that is stunned and silhouetted by light. Whether it is an underwater light designed specifically for attracting fish or simply an area illuminated by a nearby streetlight, the action is bound to be hot. Small white baitfish imitations are the go-to fly selection for this style of fishing, as much of the natural forage for these fish measures less than 3 inches long. A fly rod also allows for a delicate presentation that can't usually be achieved with spinning tackle. By offering flies from a kayak, the fish hardly become aware of your presence. Stealth is a huge factor, as many of these fish see an array of lures each night from anglers and have become very keen to the vibrations put off by boat engines.

After the sun comes up, the snook generally scatter from the docks into deeper water and become difficult to target. I will usually make a couple of extra casts after sun up just in case, but sunrise generally signals that its time to move on over to the flats. I managed 2 snook on flies before the sun came up on this trip, and headed across the bay in search of other species.

I switched to spinning gear after the sun came up. Most of my fish caught today came on a Mirr-O-Dine, a fantastic baitfish imitation produced by Mirr-O-Lure. A slow erratic retrieve was the key. In short order, I found ladyfish, jack crevalle, and sea trout actively feeding in 4-6 feet of water with grassy bottom. After catching half a dozen fish in about 10 minutes, a dolphin that was clearly very social towards people came and spoiled the party. I continued on out of the area of the dolphin and went to a shoreline that has been very productive for me in the past, and immediately hooked into a nice sized speckled trout. After a nice drag-peeling run I lost that fish, which I estimated at about 23 inches, by the side of the boat. No worries though, as you can't lose a nice fish without hooking it first!

Soon thereafter I hooked another nice trout, this one measured 19 inches and made it to my hand for a picture:

The action remained consistent and I landed a total of 11 speckled trout, 4 jack crevalle, and 3 ladyfish on top of the two snook earlier in the morning. I was on a time limit and had strayed pretty far from the launch, so I had to leave the fish biting an begin the trek back across the bay. The wind had picked up a bit and made for a tough paddle, but my Native Ultimate provided a very comfortable ride.

Once back to the area of my launch, I realized I had a few minutes left to fish. I decided to make a few casts around a deeper water dock. I was hoping for a redfish to finish my slam, and wasn't disappointed when my second cast was taken by a nice hard fighting drum. After a good fight, I got this drum to the boat and was surprised to see it wasn't the red drum I was expecting, but rather its cousin, the black drum.

This was the first black drum I have ever caught on artifical and the first I have caught since my younger days of soaking shrimp on the bottom of the ICW every afternoon over my summer breaks. It was a great fight on light tackle and I look forward to catching many more!

Fishing should continue to heat up as the water warms. We should be past our last cold front of the year, and the rainy season and summer patterns are rapidly approaching. Tomorrow I have a saltwater trip planned, followed up by an Everglades bass/panfish/exotics trip on Tuesday. Hopefully I have a few good pictures to share later in the week!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Getting Salty

My local waters have been plagued the past few months with a bloom of Karenia brevis, more commonly known as red tide. The fish kills and respiratory complications associated with red tide have kept me from pursuing saltwater exploits since about mid-December. At any point over the past few months I could have traveled about 45 minutes up or down the coast to get away from it, but in that situation I found myself opting for closer to the house freshwater fly fishing options. I did keep myself pretty satisfied with bass and bream in local ponds, canals and lakes. However, I began to get the saltwater itch upon seeing some snook start to show up at a local marina by the bait tank earlier this week. The snook were a good sign that the red tide bloom may finally be moving out. So, I scoured the web to find some recent local fishing reports and checked out the red tide report provided by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. Much to my delight, the most recent red tide report showed absolutely no spots with a red dot (high concentration), and showed most of the remnants of the bloom moving to the south of where I most like to fish. This fact coupled with having overlapping off days with a good fishing buddy and I just had to get on the water. We planned to hit one of our favorite areas of Gasparilla Sound and got on the water this morning a little bit before 8 A.M.

Some rain came through the area yesterday, and behind it it left a bit cooler temperatures along with lots of wind. Between the bluebird skies, above average winds, and recent temperature drop I was worried the fishing would be tough. I was very optimistic though, as my long absence from the salt meant I would be happy with just about anything coming to the boat. The day started off great with Jared hooking up to a redfish within about 20 minutes.

Almost immediately though, the wind picked up from a docile 8-10 mph to a howling 15-20. This wiped out our hopes of continuing along this stretch of docks as we had no protection from the wind and the 2-3 foot chop it brought with it. Instead of getting frustrated with mother nature, we improvised and sought cover in a mangrove protected cove. Getting there was quite a hassle in the chop, but once there I was rewarded mightily with my first fish of the day.

Just over 28 inches without a pinched tail!
This fish took my MirrOLure Lil Jon on the second twitch of a cast parallel to a small dock. She had some interesting scarring on her sides, not sure if it was parasitic, fungal or simply from bumping against some sharp pilings. After a nice quick fight, a quick picture and measure, I thanked her for playing and sent her on her way. The rest of the day comprised of battling some more wind, each of us finding a few trout, and each of us getting a handful of jack crevalle. For not expecting much, we wound up having a great day in not so great conditions.

I am looking forward to getting out in the salt much more in the coming weeks. Inshore action should pick up and the winds and weather are generally very cooperative in April and May. Before long I will be taking my 8 weight along to get bent with some inshore action. Until next time...

Friday, March 1, 2013

Bluegill on the Fly

This morning, I spent some time on the water with my favorite feisty panfish. Rigged with a popper on a 5 weight and my Shrymph on a 3 weight I spent about 3 hours on the water before the wind got too rough. In that time I did manage two fish that both almost touched 10 inches, one of those on the popper, one on the Shrymph. Aside from those two, I caught about 15 fish in the 3-7 inch range.

In other news, I managed to score a fantastic deal on an Echo Carbon 2 weight rod. Echo has discontinued this very highly praised rod in the ultralight community, letting a few shops sell them at a closeout price. Once it arrives I will likely never use a 5 weight to target bluegill again, they are just too much fun on lighter tackle.

Until next time!

Monday, February 18, 2013

My first Fly-Tying Video: The Shrymph

The Shrymph is a fly that I came up with one tying session while working on creating productive panfish flies. I generally tie with two goals in mind, one is to obviously make a productive fly, and the other is to keep it simple to tie. This fly fits both of those criteria. It essentially has only 3 steps, and including the hook and thread only uses 5 materials. So far I have landed hundreds of bluegill along with a healthy variety of other sunfish from stumpknocker to largemouth bass. Without further ado, here is my first fly-tying tutorial video:

BentRods Step-by-Step: The Shrymph from Patrick O'Connor on Vimeo.

I generally tie this on a size 12 hook with a 1/8" bead head. The chenille and rubber legs are both of the thinnest size available. I can pretty easily tie a dozen of these in less than a half hour and be stocked for a good bit of time. Have fun tying it and please share a photo of what you catch with it!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Great Florida Sportsman article on fly rodding for bream

Panster Panache

This article was originally written in 2004, but the tactics and techniques still hold true. It was recently reposted to the Florida Sportsman website with updated pictures, one of which being mine from a fishing trip in November of 2011. This is my first credited photo used in any publication and was very exciting for me to see!

2013 So Far...

Some persistent local red tide has kept me out of the saltwater lately. While I could travel an extra 30 minutes North or South to find some fish, I have more often found myself chasing panfish with my 3 weight instead. I have been having great success on a fly I have been calling the Shrymph, kind of a buggy looking grass shrimp that I will be doing a step by step on in one of my next posts. Here are some of the nicer gills I have grabbed...

Many a coppernose gill has fallen for this fly, along with a good amount of shellcrackers and stumpknockers. I have even landed a couple of largemouth and one channel catfish with this fly so far. It lends itself as a fair imitation of a grass shrimp, while sharing the buggy characteristics of spiders and nymphs 

While tossing a popper on a recent outing, I managed my largest shellcracker to date. I have been surprised at the few shellcrackers I have caught on poppers, all have been larger specimen over 10 inches with this one touching 12. Had I taken a picture of this fish alongside a ruler I would have been eligible to receive "BigCatch" recognition from the Florida FWC.

The popper you see is a BoogleBug. These poppers are the most durable I have fished. I generally have hackles or rubber legs fall off of lesser poppers after a few fish, but these stay put. The blue popper in this fishes mouth has lasted me over a dozen trips now and countless fish, and is still tied to the end of my line.

As long as this red tide bloom lingers I will be doing a lot of fly fishing in freshwater. The unseasonably warm temperatures have kept the panfish feisty. I installed a tow hitch on my Volkswagen and can achieve 40+ miles per gallon while towing my kayaks, so I am excited to branch out and try some fishing down south along Alligator Alley as well as in some of central Florida's famous lakes. 

Stay tuned for some fly recipes and more fishing pictures!