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!