Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January offered warmth and some pretty hot action

Terry Byce of Lakewood Ranch battles his first Everglades oscar.
This unseasonably warm winter is good and bad. It's good because you can get out on the water and enjoy yourself in warmth.

It's bad because it isn't the norm for fish.

Snook are still on the flats and under the mangroves which isn't normal this time of year. We should be finding most of the snook up creeks and rivers, but that's just not the case.

Burt Benjamin, 81, battles a spotted seatrout on fly rod.
Fishing has been pretty good in both fresh and salt waters.

In salt water, we've been getting spotted seatrout, snook, ladyfish, jack crevalle and pompano.

Burt Benjamin of Connecticut joined me for an outing on Palma Sola Bay. We managed to catch 20 seatrout to 23 inches, three flounder and a pompano on Popovics Jiggy Flies.

If you think you're too old for kayak fishing realize that Benjamin is 81.

John Weimer of Sarasota fished with me on several occasions. We fished Palma Sola Bay and caught 22 seatrout to 19 inches and several ladyfish on Popovics Jiggies and Super Hair Clouser Deep Minnows.

Terry Byce of Lakewood Ranch spent a day along Alligator Alley and wasn't disappointed. On his first trip, Byce caught "more fish in a day than I've ever caught." He managed oscar, Mayan cichlid, bluegill, stumpknocker, warmouth perch and largemouth bass. All fish were caught on Gibby's Mighty Myakka Minnow.

John Weimer of Sarasota is hooked up in The Everglades.
Weimer and I fished Alligator Alley and had similar results. We caught an estimated 200 oscar, Mayan cichlid, bluegill, stumpknocker, warmouth perch and largemouth bass.

Interestingly enough, we caught a majority of our fish while employing a method we dubbed "the non-working technique." We'd cast out Myakka Minnows and allow them to sink. We wouldn't retrieve them at all. Sooner or later, a fish would inhale the offering and the battle was on.

The non-working technique paid off in many fish.

Speaking of the Myakka Minnow ...

I developed the fly more than 10 years ago. And it has resulted in many fresh and saltwater fish over the years. One of the main materials used is Bodi-Braid by Spirit River.

However, Spirit River was recently bought by Hareline Dubbin. And the new parent company has decided not to carry Bodi-Braid.

That caused me concern. However, after a visit to a local needlepoint shop, I have come up with a substitute. Actually, I'm better off because the shop carries not only the colors I need, but also additional colors that were previously unavailable to me.

I now tie Myakka Minnows in a variety of colors.

If you're interested in purchasing Myakka Minnows, they're $60 a dozen (plus shipping). Minimium order is a dozen.

I tie them in sizes No. 12 to No. 6 for freshwater. In addition, I tie them in No 4 to No. 1 for saltwater.

They make great night snook flies.

Over the years, the Myakka Minnow was caught oscar, Mayan cichlid, peacock bass, stumpknocker, warmouth perch, largemouth bass, sunfish, pumpkinseed, speckled perch (black crappie), white crappie, channel catfish, blue tilapia, spotted tilapia, barramundi, brown trout and others.

In salt water, they have resulted in spotted seatrout, snook, ladyfish, jack crevalle, Spanish mackerel, tripletail, bonefish, tarpon, mangrove snapper and others.

The Myakka Minnow is not magic, but a great fly whenever fish are feeding on small minnows.

I fished Lake Manatee on a couple of occasions and did well. On one trip, I caught 20 bluegill, two bass, one speckled perch and a stumpknocker on Myakka Minnows, popping bugs and Snymphs. The other trip was virtually the same.

February looks promising and is booking up quickly.

FEBRUARY FORECAST: Spotted seatrout action should be very good over the deep grass in Sarasota Bay, Little Sarasota Bay and Palma Sola Bay. In addition, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and jack crevalle should please. Redfish action should perk up on the flats and around mangroves. Snook are still in the bay, but will move to creeks and rivers if we get a sustained cold front. In fresh water, Lake Manatee and the Manatee River should produce bluegill, largemouth bass, channel catfish, shellcracker and speckled perch. Alligator Alley should produce loads of oscar, Mayan cichlid, bluegill, largemouth bass, stumpknocker, warmouth perch and an occasional peacock bass.

If you're interested in a fishing trip or purchasing Myakka Minnows, please give me a call (941-284-3406) or email me (steve@kayakfishingsarasota.com).

Hope to hear from you soon!

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

December saw improved fishing in Sarasota Bay and plenty of freshwater action

John Kis of New Rochelle, N.Y., caught a variety of species, including this leaping bluefish.
December arguably was the best month of fishing we've experienced in a while. After battles with red tide, poor water quality and wind, things finally perked up in salt waters around Sarasota.

Ray Gibson of Atlanta shows off a fine pompano.
We experienced good to excellent action in both fresh and salt waters from Tampa Bay to The Everglades.

The big news, however, was the return to glory of Sarasota Bay. That's good news on a number of accounts. First, it's close to home. Second, the bay perked up considerably after red tide pummeled it for the second straight year.

John Weimer of Sarasota and I launched at Stephens Point and caught a number of ladyfish and jack crevalle. We were anticipating spotted seatrout, bluefish, Spanish mackerel and pompano, but came up short. However, the water quality of extremely encouraging.

The next three days saw us launch off Longboat Key at Buttonwood Harbor. The first day, we caught several snook on fly rod around dock lights. Then at daylight, we switched to spinning gear and caught a number of snook to 26 inches on MirrOlure Lil Johns on light jigs.

We moved into the bay and caught numerous spotted seatrout to 22 inches on MirrOlure MirrOdines. In addition, we managed eight bluefish to four pounds and eight pompano to three pounds.

Next day, repeat client John Kis of New Rochelle, N.Y., caught snook, spotted seatrout, ladyfish and pompano. Snook were caught on Lil Johns and light jigs in the Longboat Key rim canal. We caught seatrout to 21 inches, bluefish, pompano and ladyfish on MirrOdines.

Ray Gibson of Atlanta caught spotted seatrout to 19 inches, ladyfish and pompano on MirrOdines and flies.

That action was particularly encouraging after several months of slow fishing. If we can avoid red tide, I anticipate a good year of fishing in Sarasota Bay.

We fished Lake Manatee on a number of occasions and did well. We caught hand-sized bluegill, speckled perch to 15 inches, largemouth bass, stumpknocker and channel catfish on Gibby's Snymphs under strike indicators. We also caught fish on popping bugs and Gibby's Myakka Minnows.

Manatee River action ranged from fair to very good. On one trip, we caught six channel catfish to four pounds, a number of hand-size bluegill, tilapia and a 7-pound largemouth on Snymphs under a strike indicator.

John Weimer and I visited a small lake east of Naples and had an average trip, catching bluegill to 12 inches on Myakka Minnows, stumpknocker, largemouth bass and two peacock bass.

JANUARY FORECAST: It has been unseasonably warm, but we're expecting the weather to cool off with a cold front on the way. When that happens, look for snook to begin to push up rivers, creeks and canals in search of warm waters. If that happens, we anticipate decent action up the Manatee and Myakka rivers. Spotted seatrout, pompano, bluefish and Spanish mackerel action should remain good in Sarasota Bay over deep grass. In addition, our trips to Alligator Alley should results in hot fly-rod action on oscar, Mayan cichlid, largemouth bass, bluegill and stumpknocker.

We hope everyone had a great holiday season.

Of course, we couldn't do anything without our sponsors: NuCanoe, Aqua-Bound Paddles, MirrOlure, D.O.A. Lures, TFO and Peak fishing.

January is looking good and my schedule is filling. If you'd like to experience the world of kayak fishing, please give me a call (941-284-3406) or drop me an email (steve@kayakfishingsarasota.com). 

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing


Friday, December 2, 2016

Anticipating strong action in fresh and salt waters as we head toward winter

The author shows off a fine peacock bass caught on fly near Naples, Fla. (Photo by John Weimer)
Freshwater fishing has been much better than saltwater fishing.

But that's subject to change any day.

We're moving into the winter pattern and that means several things.

In salt water, it means bluefish, pompano and , hopefully, large snook.

In fresh water, it means wonderful trips to The Everglades for tackle-busting exotics.

We fished the salt a few days in November and did so-so. Fishing Little Sarasota Bay around Vamo, we encountered snook, spotted seatrout, jack crevalle and ladyfish. Snook were plentiful around the islands on the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway and were a blast on topwater plugs.

Trout, although somewhat scarce in most areas, could be found along the ICW. We caught sseatrout to 20 inches on MirrOlure Lil Johns on 1/16-ounce jig heads.

The best action took place around and under docks just south of the launch. Using skip casts to get jigs well under the docks, we caught snook to 30 inches, jack crevalle and mangrove snapper. The most effective bait was the new D.O.A. 2 3/4-inch shrimp in gold flake.

John Lacy of Kentucky joined me for a trip on Little Sarasota and did fair. We caught three snook, two jack crevalle, six spotted seatrout, a mangrove snapper and a ladyfish. We also lost a snook estimated at 15 pounds while skipping D.O.A. Shrimp under docks.

Highlight of the day was the number of manatee we encountered. We probably saw at least 18 manatee over the six-hour outing.

In fresh water, we fished a variety of spots, including Lake Manatee and a small lake east of Naples in southwest Florida.

Lake Manatee, located in Manatee County just 10 miles east of Interstate 75 off State Road 64, is one of my favorite places to fish -- especially during fall and winter. It's a spot where diversity rules and you'll likely catch a variety of fish.

I really don't target any species in particular. I used popping bugs, nymphs and my Myakka Minnow. I catch bluegill, speckled perch, shellcracker, tilapia, stumpknocker, shellcracker, largemouth bass and channel  catfish.

Our best day in November was an outing in which we caught big bluegill, two huge speckled perch (black crappie) and five nice channel catfish. All of the fish were taken on my Snymph (simple nymph).

The following day was much tougher. John Weimer of Sarasota and I combine to catch 26 bluegill, one speckled perch, one bass and a golden shiner on Snymphs.

A few days later, I took John Freyer of Ludington, Mich., and we had to work extremely hard. We combined to land 17 bluegill and a gar. The interesting thing was we couldn't catch anything on Snymphs. Most every fish came on my Myakka Minnow.

John Weimer and I drove 105 miles south on I-75 and had a wonderful outing. Fishing a small lake east of Naples, we caught a variety of fish, including peacock bass to 4 pounds. Interestingly, we had few fish by 1 p.m.

It was at that point, I decided to pull out the 6-weight TFO fly rod and cast an orange-and-chartreuse Clouser Deep Minnow  in areas where I had caught some nice peacock bass. I wasn't disappointed. Over the next two hours, Weimer and I combined to land 23 peacock bass to four pounds. We lost several others.

Peacock bass were introduced in state waters in 1984. Because they can't tolerate cold water, they were stocked only Miami-Dade and Broward county waters. Both barred and butterfly peacocks were stocked, but the bigger barred species couldn't tolerate the cold. Butterfly peacocks thrived.

Somehow, they made their way west to Collier County. And, through a friend, I found out about a small lake and adjoining canal system that holds a good population of these colorful, hard-fighting battlers.

It took me a while before I began catching them with regularity. I found out you don't have to get up too early to catch them. Best action takes place from mid-morning on.

I've caught them on a number of flies (even tiny nymphs), but I've discovered the best action takes place on orange-and-chartreuse Clousers.  I use a fairly quick retrieve.

I also keep my eyes open for peacocks chasing bait or nesting along the shoreline. If you pay attention, you'll be rewarded.

The lake is also home to mega-bluegill, giant shellcracker, monster Mayan cichlid and largemouth bass.

DECEMBER FORECAST: I look for good numbers of spotted seatrout, jack crevalle, ladyfish, bluefish and pompano  in Sarasota Bay over deep grass off Stephens Point and Whale Key. Night fishing for snook should be good around lighted docks. Late in the month, we'll start probing local rivers for monster snook -- especially if we encounter cold weather. In fresh water, Lake Manatee and the Manatee River should yield good numbers of bluegill, channel catfish, largemouth bass, speckled perch and shellcracker. For those interested in non-stop fly-fishing fun, Alligator Alley should yield good numbers of feisty oscar, Mayan cichlid, largemouth bass, bluegill, stumpknocker, warmouth perch and an occasional peacock bass.

I'm booking up fairly fast, so contact me to make sure you get in on the action. You can call me at 941-284-3406 or email steve@kayakfishingsarasota.com.
Happy Holidays!

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Fast and furious peacock bass action at its best

John Weimer of Sarasota admires a chunky peacock bass he caught on fly.
In the United States, you have to choices when it comes to fly fishing for peacock bass: 1. travel to an exotic destination; 2. visit south Florida.

The author got in on the action, too.
I choose the latter. It's convenient and productive.

A little history here. The state of Florida stocked butterfly peacock bass into south Florida waters in 1984. The original stocking was in waters of Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Waters anywhere north of that area could be too cold in winter for these tropical cichlids.

Somehow the fish have found their way to Florida's west coast and can be found just 100 miles down Interstate 75 from my home in Sarasota. In just 90 minute, my clients and I can be fly fishing for peacock bass.

I will not reveal the name or location of the lake to protect the fishery.

I have fished the location many times in the past four years. At first, peacock bass were somewhat of a mystery. I didn't catch any on my first trip, but a friend of mine did. Joe Mahler, a fly-fishing guru who resides in Fort Myers, caught a chunky 3-pounder on his famous fly, the Straw Boss.

It took several more trips for me to start figuring out how to catch peacocks.

First trick I discovered was to find peacock bass on nests and sight-fish them. I'd stand up in my NuCanoe Pursuit (www.nucanoe.com) and slowly pole along the shoreline. When I'd spot a peacock on a nest, I'd anchor nearby and cast to the fish. Note that peacocks will hit the fly virtually every time it enters the nest. But hooking them is another matter. They have an uncanny ability to spit your fly out quicker than you can react.

So, it becomes a game of guessing and timing. You almost have to "set" the hook before you see the bass take the fly.

I caught some very nice peacocks with this method.

But peacock bass don't spawn year round. So what do you do when they're not on the nests?
I began "blind casting" along the shoreline with No. 6 Clouser Deep Minnows, using a fairly quick retrieve.

For this fish, I use a 5-weight TFO Finesse rod, floating line and 9-foot (8-pound test) leader.
This method has paid the biggest dividends. I've had several "double-digit' days using it.

My best fly is a No. 6 Clouser in orange and chartreuse. I tied it to resemble a baby peacock bass. The fish are cannibalistic and will often eat their young.

Last trip to the lake was very productive.

John Weimer of the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers and I made the trek and did extremely well. We combined to catch 23 peacocks to 4 pounds. However, we didn't catch our first peacock until 12:30 p.m.

Up to that time, we had nine largemouth bass, one bluegill, one shellcracker and two stumpknocker on poppers and on Gibby's Snymph.

The action was much slower than normal. At that point, I pulled out the 5-weight and set up a drifter along a shoreline that had produced peacock bass in the past. I was quickly rewarded. I caught a trio of peacocks, including a pair of 3-pounders in about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, Weimer was casting a tiny Clouser that was producing nothing. I gave him an orange-and-chartreuse Clouser and suggested he give it a try. It wasn't long after that he connected on a solid 4-pounder, the largest peacock bass of his life.

We hit several spots, but really found some fast action at a location that has paid off in the past. I was drifting down the bank when I saw a peacock chasing minnows. I made a quick cast and immediately got a hit. I missed that one, but hooked up on a chunky 2-pounder on the next cast.

After I released that peacock, I began casting again. I noticed some action underneath a nearby tree that was hanging over the water and began to cast around it as I neared. I had the rod nearly jerked out of my hand on a ferocious hit. I was solid into another fat peacock.

I caught and released nine peacocks along that stretch. Weimer also caught a fatty.

The day started slowly, but ended beautifully.

"That's why you have to keep at it," said Weimer, who relocated to Florida from his home state of Oregon. "Your days wn't always start out quickly. But if you keep at it and keep a fly in the water you have a chance."

I love fishing south. I love catching fish that I can't find in local waters. I fish south a lot during the year. And it won't be long before I start fishing along Alligator Alley where I target oscar and Mayan cichlid.

These great fisheries are simple too good -- and productive -- for Sunshine State anglers and others to ignore.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Nymphing is a productive fly-fishing technique in Florida

Gibby's Snymphs (simple nymphs) are quick and easy to tie and are very productive for a variety of freshwater species.
A few years ago, I traveled to northeast Georgia to fly fish for trout.

After a frustrating morning on Noontootla Creek, I asked guide Rex Gudgel for a little help.

"I know where the trout are, but I can't catch them," I said. "Why don't you show me what you would do?"

The author shows off  a hefty Mayan cichlid
Gudgel, who was working at the time as a guide out of Unicoi Outfitters in Helen, Ga., surveyed the spot, then tied on a nymph and added a strike indicator. He cast upstream and allowed the rig to float down with the current.

He explained the nuances of nymphing to me. While doing so, he caught rainbow trout of 12, 17 and 26 inches.

I was amazed.

After he left, I caught and released a 27-inch rainbow, the largest of my life.

But that wasn't the highlight of my life. Don't get me wrong. The trout was great. But nymphing lit the proverbial lightbulb in my head.

I thought the technique would pay handsome dividends back home in Florida where freshwater trout were little more than a dream.
John Weimer's peacock bass sucked in a Snymph.

Rather than trout, I envisioned big bluegill and shellcracker. I could see these panfish sucking up nymphs with reckless abandon.

Now, I'm not going to tell you that I'm the first person ever to use the technique in the Sunshine State. I'm sure others have done it. However, I have fished in Florida for more than 45 years and I've never seen anyone use the technique.

For me, freshwater fly fishing was simple. You'd cast a small popping bug for bluegill. You'd cast a larger popping bug for bass.

There was no in between.
Lake Manatee speckled perch on a Snymph.

When the bite ended, it was time to go home.

Sometimes, the bite lasted all day. Often it didn't. We would usually head home by mid-morning.

That all changed when I began nymphing.

I started out using a popular trout pattern: a bead-head Hare's Ear. It produced pretty consistently. 

Later, I began developing simpler patterns that could be tied in just a couple of minutes.
Hefty shellcracker on Snymph.

I first began nymphing on Lake Manatee, a  body of water nine miles east of Interstate 75 in Manatee County. The lake can be tough, but if you invest the time to learn it you'll find it's loaded with fish.

I've used a number of different strike indicators over the years, but I've settled on  Lightning Strike Round Foam Strike Indicators (http://www.basspro.com/Lightning-Strike-Round-Foam-Strike-Indicators/product/15218/)  that I purchase at Bass Pro Shop. They're simple and do the job nicely.
This is no fancy system. I tie on my Gibby's Snymph (simple nymph) and set the strike indicator according to the depth of the water. Usually I set it between 18 inches and two feet.

I cast it out (usually toward the shoreline structure), allow the nymph to sink, and then twitch it during a slow retrieve.

When the strike indicator twitches, moves or goes under, it's time to set the hook.

What could be more simple?

I've used the technique in lakes and streams throughout Florida, and it has rarely failed. I have used it in Lake Manatee and caught hand-sized bluegill, large shellcracker, impressive speckled perch, largemouth bass to 4 pounds and channel catfish.

Capt. Rick Grassett used a Snymph to fool this tiny tarpon.
In a small lake east of Naples, I have caught gargantuan Mayan cichlid, hefty bluegill, shellcracker, largemouth bass and peacock bass.

It has produced in The Everglades, the Myakka River, Upper Myakka Lake, Hillsborough River, Manatee River and other bodies of water.

A month ago, I launched my NuCanoe Pursuit at Benderson Lake near my home in Sarasota. I had only fish the lake a couple of times and not in the last 15 years. I caught a few bass near a spillway on Clouser Deep Minnows, then begain drifting down the east side of the lake. I started nymphing. I caught 25 bluegill, five shellcracker and a hefty channel catfish. I also lost another large channel cat.

I've also caught small snook on the Manatee River on the Snymph. Capt. Rick Grassett of Sarasota fished a small lake in Charlotte County with me and landed a small tarpon.

The Snymph has now become my "go-to" rig in fresh water.

The beauty of the rig is its simplicity.

It is quick and easy to tie.

Most of the time I use a White River 396 No. 10 or 12 nymph hook (Bass Pro Shops).

Slide the gold bead on the hook, then place it in the vise.

Tie on the thread just behind the bead and wrap back to the bend of the hook. Then tie in the tail. You can use pheasant tail, squirrel or whatever.

Tie in a short length of copper wire, then began dubbing with Hareliine Dubbin' Hare's Ear Plus. Build up the body. Finish by wrapping the copper wire toward the bead and whip finishing the thread. The wire serves two purposed: 1. It segment the body; 2. I secure the dubbing.

I usually use tan, olive, brown and rust dubbing. I'm not sure color makes much difference, though.




When I head to a lake or stream to fly fish, I'll still start out most of the time with a No. 10 popping bug on a 3-weight fly rod. I'll stick with it until the bite slows or stops.

When that happens, I'll pull out my 2-weight TFO Finesse rod and begin nymphing.

What I've learned over the years is when the topwater bites stops, your day is just beginning.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Wind, rain, red tide and high water slowed things down in October

I've always said October is the best month in Florida.

Light breezes, low humidity, comfortable temperatures and great fishing.

Usually it is. But not this October. It was windy and rainy. We had a hurricane (Matthew) push up the east coast. That storm didn't affect us much here on the west coast, but we did get a lot of wind and rain.

Snook fishing has been consistent throughout the area.
I can handle most anything when on the water: rain, heat, cold. Wind is another matter. It makes fishing quite tough. It's not that you can't fish in the wind, but it make controlling the kayak a problem. It doesn't allow you to fish areas slow and thoroughly  as you'd like.

Still, we were able to get out and catch fish.

Early in the month, we spent a few days fly fishing local fresh waters. We fished Upper Myakka Lake and Benderson Park. We did well.

The first day at Myakka, we launched the kayak and paddled to the dam. There, we floating over the dam and spent a few hours casting flies for whatever might be lurking in the depths. We caught hand-size bluegill, shellcracker, largemouth bass, tilapia and channel catfish.

We returned a day or so later, but high wind prevented us from getting into the lake. So we opted to fish the protected boat basin. We were surprised when we caught a bunch of hard-fishing, hand-sized bluegill.

We wanted to target Clay Gully, a creek that empties into Upper Myakka Lake. But high water caused by recent heavy rain made that impossible. We'll keep that in mind and plan a return trip in a month or so.
Snook gather in a dock light.

For most of this fishing, we used a TFO Finesse 2-weight rod, floating line and a No. 10 Gibby's Snymph (simple nymph) under a strike indicator.

Our trip to Benderson Park was quite surprising. The lake is a former pit that was given to Sarasota County. It now serves as a world-class rowing facility. I'd fished the lake a couple of times previously, but not in about 15 years. I launched at the boat ramp on the south end of the lake and paddled up the east side to the Cooper Creek spillway. There, I caught several bass to 15 inches on Clouser Deep Minnows.

I drifted along the east side and cast Snymphs to the edge. I caught 25 bluegill, four shellcracker, five bass and a hefty channel catfish. I also hooked another channel cat, but lost it after a short battle.

I was at the lake in the spring of 2000 when the State of Florida stocked it with 10,000 channel catfish. After my outing, I would say the lake has a good (and hungry) population of channel cats.

Sarasota Bay has been battling red tide, so most of my salt water outings have been in other areas. I fished a couple of days in a tidal creek south of Venice. I was scouting for the 12th annual Fall Fly Fishing Challenge. The creek paid off for me last year when I caught enough snook to win the Snook Division of the tournament.
Speckled perch action should perk up in November.

This time was different. First trip, I didn't see a snook. John Weimer and I returned a week later and totaled five snook to about 20 inches.

I decided I would fish somewhere else in the tournament.

I also fished Sarasota Bay off Stephens Point. I've had memorable days off Stephens Point, but not this time. Usually, it's a spot where I can always catch 20 or more spotted seatrout. I caught none on this trip. I only managed a couple of ladyfish and a jack crevalle.

To make matters worse, two underwater lights in the Stephens Point basin were turned off, making night snook fishing impossible.

Scratch Stephens Point as a tournament spot.

We waded the flats near Vamo in Little Sarasota Bay and caught seven snook on Rainey's Bubblehead Poppers. That was encouraging. However, we didn't find any redfish or trout. That eliminated the spot from tournament contention.

John Weimer and I drove to Palma Sola Bay and did so-so. We found several underwater lights that held a bunch of snook. We left them alone, preferring to catch them during the tournament.
We paddled out onto the nearby flats and found a few seatrout.

We returned on tournament day. Things started out pretty decently. I caught five snook and lost another at the side of the kayak.

We then headed out onto the flats. I caught a small trout. Now, I had the rest of the day to catch one redfish.

Didn't happen. In fact, the wind started blowing and we had to abandon our outing.

Fortunately, Weimer managed four trout that totaled 53 inches to win the Trout Division.

Congratulations, John!

We're hoping the wind finally settles and that red tide dissipates.

If so, things should pick up in November.

NOVEMBER FORECAST: We look for improved snook, spotted seatrout and redfish action in Sarasota Bay and surrounding waters. Water temperatures should drop, causing gamefish to begin a feeding assault in preparation for winter. Night snook fishing should remain strong. In fresh water, we look for improved action on bluegill, bass, speckled perch, shellcracker and channel catfish. Best spots should be Lake Manatee and Upper Myakka Lake. Also, we're anticipating a couple of trips south to the Land of Peacock Bass. We've got a small lake just east of Naples that holds a decent population of peacock bass, plus monster bluegill, shellcracker, largemouth bass and Mayan cichlid.

Steve Gibson
Southern  Drawl Kayak Fishing


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Tournament success has little to do with luck

Redfish are our toughest fish on fly, but I got this one early.
Had to pick my wife up at the Orlando airport last night and got home late.

So, I didn't fish today. Instead, I've been tying an assortment of flies in preparation for the 12th annual MCFF/CCA Fall Fly Fishing Challenge, an event that Rick Grassett and I founded.

Now in its 12th year.
It's a pretty decent little tournament. Though the stakes aren't all that large (grand champion in each division receives an Orvis fly rod and reel), there certainly is some good competition. If you win the overall prize or a division, you've accomplished something against many of the best fly anglers in southwest Florida.

Although I'm not a tournament angler per se, I do enjoy competing. First, it's a day on the water doing what I like to do. Second, I like formulating a game plan and implementing it. I like the focus and concentration it takes to succeed.

I've done decently over the years. In the event's history, I've won a division nine times. I've won the Snook Division five times and Spotted Seatrout Division four times.

I fish in the Open Division. If you're a guide or license charter captain, you have to fish in the Open Division. If you think you're pretty good, you can opt to fish in the division. It's open to anyone. In the Open Division, eligible species include snook, spotted seatrout and redfish.

The tournament's other division is the Angler Division. No guides or charter captains are allowed.

This pits weekend anglers against other weekend anglers. Nearly all inshore saltwater species are eligible.

We usually hold the tournament on the last Saturday of October. So, I spend portions of the last two weeks of that month preparing for the event. I try to formulate a game plan that gives me the best shot.
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First, I want to win the event. I want to be grand champion. To do that, you must catch, photo and document a Slam (snook, trout, red). I've done that three times in the tournament. Twice, my slam simply wasn't large enough. The third time, I forgot to place the required tournament chip in the photo of my first snook. I landed the fish, placed it on the measuring board, snapped a quick photo and then released the snook.

As soon as I let go of the fish, I realized my blunder.

And, as luck would have it, my next fish was a 25-inch redfish. I caught more than 100 inches of trout that day to easily win the Trout Division. However, that mistake on my first fish cost me the overall title.

Mistakes happens. So do errors in tournament strategy. Two years ago, I caught a lot of trout and three snook. I decided that since the snook were small and shouldn't be a factor I would enter 10 photos of trout. Even though I had nearly 150 inches of trout, I was a distant second to a friend of mine.

Had I entered my three snook (49 inches total), I would have won that division.

Oh, well.

Though I place a premium on pre-fishing and coming up with a game plan, things rarely go as you might you envision.

Five years ago, I found some pretty good action in southern Tampa Bay between Bishop Harbor and Port Manatee. As I was paddling out the Bishop Harbor channel into Tampa Bay a couple of days before the tournament, I noticed a couple of things: 1. The nearby flats were void of water on the negative low tide; 2. There were loads of trout in the channel. The trout had nowhere else to go on the low tide. The was no water on the flat, so they had to fall into the channel.

I beached my kayak, got out and began casting Clouser Deep Minnows into the channel. The trout were more than cooperative. In 20 minutes, I must have caught and released 15 trout to 18 inches. In addition, I coaxed a small snook into hitting. Now, all I had to do was find a redfish.

If you've ever fly fished along southwest Florida, then you understand redfish are our toughest fish on fly. If you go out and catch a red, you've had a good day. If you catch two or more on fly, you'd better buy a lottery ticket on your way home.

There are sand bars that run for great lengths between Bishop Harbor and Port Manatee. Redfish and other species will swim onto the sand bars as the tide rises to feed. I was able to catch and release a couple of decent reds.

So, I had a pretty decent slam. With an 18-inch trout, a 22-inch snook and 28-inch red, I had accumulated 68 inches. I'll take my chances with a 68-inch slam any time!

The next day, I paddled to the channel just to make sure the trout were still there. They were. At this point, I paddled back into Bishop Harbor to a hole in the mangroves where a creek led to a decent-sized saltwater lake (Mose's Hole). I have caught some nice snook and reds there, so I wanted to find out if it might be a tournament spot.

In just 20 minutes, I caught and released three snook and two reds.

Game. Set. Match.

I was ready for the tournament.

As I wrote earlier, things rarely go as you plan. A front had moved through overnight and the wind was cranking when I launched the next morning.

Luckily, the trout were still jammed into the canal. I caught 10 trout in about 10 casts and documented each with photos. There was no water on the adjacent flats and it was too windy to fish Tampa Bay, so I headed for Mose's Hole.

I caught fish there, but no snook or reds. I caught several more trout, including an anchor fish that was 24 inches in length. My 10 trout totaled 178 inches. I won the division with room to spare.

The weather came into play another year. It was predicted to be bad, and it was.  With the wind supposed to blow 20-25 out of the north, my plan was to fish the Buttonwood Harbor area of Sarasota Bay. I would paddle to just north of the Buttonwood channel, anchor and fish the deep water slowly. With a super low tides, I expected snook , redfish and trout to be in the channel.

The wind was cranking when I arrived at the launch. But it wasn't  out of the north. It was straight out of the east -- not a good wind to fish Buttonwood. I sat in my truck for about 10 minutes and decided to drive to the east side of the bay and fish Stephens Point. There I would get a little relieve on the lee side.

It was still dark when I launched my kayak. I paddled out to a nearby lighted dock and saw several snook. I hooked up on my first cast and landed a chunky 24-incher after a strong fight. By the time I landed the fish, photographed it and released it, the sun was up and the light was off.

I made a few "just-in-case" casts, but didn't get a hit. So, I paddled out of the basin and into Sarasota Bay. There are several docks along the bayfront, so I set up to make a few prospect casts.

Long story short: I caught and released nine more snook from one of the docks. My 10 snook were all that large, but I had slightly more than 200 inches -- no doubt enough to win the division.

When the snook bite ended, I paddled out into the bay. The wind was now blowing hard out of the north. All I could do was anchor on grass patches and blind cast. I spent three or four hours doing this and caught 30 or more trout. My 10 best went  160 inches. Again, that should be plenty to win.

With two hours remaining in the tournament, I paddled to the shoreline, anchored the kayak, got out and began casting for redfish. I didn't get a red, but I was confident I had done well.

When I got back to tournament headquarters, I decided to enter 10 snook photos. I won the Snook Division quite easily. I also would have won the Trout Division easily. However, tournament rules restrict all competitors to winning just one division. That spreads the wealth, so to speak.

As you have probably surmised, I fish the tournament out of my kayak, the last three from either a NuCanoe Frontier or NuCanoe Pursuit. Realize, this isn't a kayak tournament. I'm one of the few competitors going against powerboaters out of a kayak.

I realize this could handicap me -- if I allowed it. However, I actually think I have the advantage. If the fish don't know you're there, you have a pretty good chance at getting them to hit.

And that's where tournament strategy comes into play. It certainly would be a different story if I didn't have the foggiest idea of what was going on when I launched on tournament day.

Here's an elementary tournament strategy. Since the tournament begins at 6 a.m., I suggest camping out at a lighted dock at which you know there are snook (you can see them). Arriving early stakes your claim and assures no one else will fish it. There's a great chance you'll catch at least one snook -- and maybe more. At daylight, your redfish quest can begin. You can spend several hours in pursuit of reds. Remember, redfish are usually the toughest of the trio on fly rod. I suggest getting out of the boat and wading. You can cover the water slowly and completely.

If you get that red, you're in business. Saving trout for last makes a lot of sense because the species is pretty easy to catch.

If you live in southwest Florida or will be in the area in late October, you might was to fish this fun event. For tournament information and registration form, visit http://fallflyfishingchallenge.com/.
You can also call me with any questions at 941-284-3406.

We'd love to have you. You'll not only get to spend a day on the water, but you'll have loads of fun, too.

We have a pre-tournament (captains' ) meeting scheduled Oct. 28 at 6:30 p.m. at The Meadows Community Center, 2004 Longmeadow,  in Sarasota.

The tournament begins at 6 a.m.. Oct. 29. The tournament ends at 3 p.m.

We'd love to see you there. You won't regret it!