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.
Add caption
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
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!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Gibby's Snymph is a an effective, easy fly that catches fish

Snymphs are easy to tie and  effective in most any color.
Fly fishing is a great way to catch fish. It's not only deadly on such species as rainbow and brown trout in this country's colder fresh waters, but for most species of fish.

I'm going to share a technique that I began using about 10 years ago that has increased my catches in fresh waters around Florida.

Monster shellcracker on Synmph.
Flashback to 1975. In those days, I cast popping bugs and only popping bugs. When the topwater bite ended, it was time to go home.

Fast forward to 2006. I discovered nymph fishing. Nymphs are small flies that are usually used in colder streams for freshwater trout.

I'm here to tell you they're deadly on a variety of fish in Florida. Now, when the topwater bite is done, my day is usually just beginning.

For starters, I use a No. 10 bead-head nymph that I tie on a White River (Bass Pro Shop) WR-396 No. 10 hook. It's a 1X long classic nymph hook.  You can tie the nymph on any size hook you want, but I've found No. 10 is very versatile.

The fly is so simple and easy to tie that I've dubbed it Gibby's Snymph.

I tie the fly with tan dubbing, brown dubbing, olive dubbing and a number of other colors. I use a 1/8 gold bead.

Gibby's Snymph (simple nymph)
Hook:  WR-396 No. 10
Thread:  8/0 Uni Thread (color to match dubbing)
Head:  1/8 gold bead
Tail:  Small bunch of squirrel tail to match dubbing
Body:  Hare's Ear Plus Dubbin Hare's Ear
Ribbing:  copper wire
Nice peacock bass and a Snymph.

The fly is not only deadly on a variety of fish, but ultra-easy to tie.

Add bead to hook and place in vice. Tie in thread and wrap back to point of hook. Tie in a small clump of squirrel tail. At this point, I tie in a short length of copper wire. Now, I twist on dubbing to the thread and wrap forward. I start with about a 2-inch noodle of dubbing. I keep going forward and build up the dubbing toward the head. After I'm satisfied with the shape, I wrap the wire forward, tie it off and cut it. I then whip finish the thread.

Voila! You're ready to fish.

I've caught a variety of fish on the Snymph. I've caught big bluegill, huge shellcracker, stumpknocker, channel catfish, largemouth bass to 4 pounds, golden shiners, Mayan cichlid, oscar, peacock bass, speckled perch, sunshine bass, snook and tarpon. I might have caught a couple of other species, but I can't remember.

I fish the Snymph under a strike indicator. I adjust the strike indicator according to the water depth. It might take a couple of adjustments to get it right.
Diminutive tarpon on a Snymph.

I fish out of a kayak, so I don't have to make long casts. The beauty of kayak fishing is that the fish don't know you're there (if you're quiet). So, I set up about 20-25 feet from my target area.

When it comes to kayak fly fishing, there's no doubt in my mind that the NuCanoe Pursuit (  is the best. It's roomy, spacious and features and uncluttered cockpit that makes a perfect stripping basket. Additionally, it has four rod tubes into which you can stow fully assembled fly rods. I normally carry at least three fly rods on most trips, so two are stowed safely out of the way when I'm not using them.

I cast to my target area and allow the nymph to sink. I don't "work" the nymph much, and I believe you can overdo  it. I give it a twitch or two and allow it to sink.

Channel catfish love the Snymph.
A majority of my hits take place as the Snymph sinks or when it's just suspended under the indicator. Sometimes I'll just let it sit there. If there's a little chop on the water, that's usually enough to give the fly life.

Detecting a strike comes with experience. The indicator (think of it as a miniature bobber) might go under. Set the hook! But it might just "twitch." Set the hook. It might not move at all. I advise watching your line and responding if it moves.

With experience, you'll get the hang of it.

Just the other day, I launched my Pursuit at a local spot which I hadn't fished in years. It's a lake within a county park that has been fished hard over the years.

The fishing was pretty darn good.

In just a few hours, I caught nine largemouth bass, 25 bluegill, four shellcracker and a decent channel catfish. I also hooked another sizeable cat, but broke off.
Bluegill are suckers for the Snymph.

That's 39 fish.

Most came on the Snymph.

I have caught bass to nearly 5 pounds on the Snymph. I've caught loads of hand-size bluegill. It's deadly on shellcracker. Speckled perch (black crappie) love it. Ditto for stumpknocker, channel catfish and tilapia.

The best thing about the Snymph is it meets my criteria for a great fly: 1. It catches fish; 2. It can be tied in five steps or less.

Quick, easy, out the door and on the lake. What more can you ask?

It's my opinion that many (most?) flies are designed to hook fly fishermen. They're intricately designed, beautiful and take more time to tie than they're worth.

I received a new fly-fishing/tying magazine to which I subscribe and saw an article written by one of the young guns of fly tying. He wrote about a new fly that he had designed.

Now, nowhere in the article did it chronicle the fly's effectiveness on any particular species. The fellow simply wrote about how to tie it.

It was a good-looking fly, for sure.

But it involved 62 tying steps! That fly would take more than an hour to produce.

The only way I'm going to spend that amount of time on one fly is if fish jump out of the water to hit it or it's a fly that will catch a species that won't hit a fly.

Take a look at the Clouser Deep Minnow, if you will. It's perhaps the best fly in the country for both freshwater and saltwater species. In addition, the Clouser is one of the simplest flies of all. You can crank them out to the tune of 12 or more an hour. Four tying steps and you're ready to fish.

That's my kind of fly. And, by the way, I do use the Clouser successfully in fresh and salt waters.

The Snymph is quite similar in that it's easy to tie and catches fish -- lots of fish.

When the topwater bite is over, I no long head home. I start casting the Snymph. My day is just beginning.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Freshwater fishing was the ticket to September success

John Weimer of Sarasota shows off a beautiful peacock bass that fell for a Clouser Deep Minnow.
Let's just call it "Freshwater September."

With red tide rolling into Sarasota Bay, we switched things up in September and spent most of our time in fresh water.

Hefty shellcracker 
We located a bunch of Mayan cichlid in a small lake within South Gulf Cove in Charlotte County and spent a couple of days there.

We drove south a couple of hours and fished a small lake east of Naples and did well.

We didn't forget about salt water. In fact, we launched near Buttonwood Harbor and had two pretty good outings.

First, let's address red tide. It's a pesky algae bloom that can kill fish and makes things uncomfortable for humans. However, it doesn't mean you can't catch fish. When red tide enters a body of water, it doesn't cover it like a blanket.

The worst red tide that I can remember took place in 2005-06. It lasted a little more than a year. We were able to catch fish throughout its stay.

Fish will seek clean area, and you can often have some pretty good days.

When the wind is out of the east, you usually can find decent action along the east side of Sarasota Bay. In addition, others local areas haven't been affected. I expect Little Sarasota Bay to offer strong action as the weather and water cools.

Rick Grassett's tarpon that was caught on a nymph.
I found out about the spot near South Gulf Cover from a friend. It is supposed to contain a healthy population of Mayan cichlid, a non-native species that found its way into Florida's waters in the mid-1980s. It had a whole bunch of cichlids. This is the farthest north I've encountered appreciable numbers of Mayan cichlid.

John Weimer and I visited the lake and did well. We caught more than 50 of the "atomic sunfish" on No.  bead-head nymphs under a strike indicator. The cichlids ranged from hand-sized to 12 inches in length.

These fish are great fun on light fly rods. They can fight about as well as any fish you'll encounter in fresh water.

Next time out, I took local charter guide Rick Grassett. It was his first fly-fishing venture in a NuCanoe Frontier. We caught a bunch of Mayans to 12 inches. But the highlight of the day was a 14-inch tarpon that Grassett caught while casting a nymph along a fallen tree.
Stability? No question in a NuCanoe as Rick Grassett shows.

I told him at the time that he might be the only fly fisher ever to catch a tarpon on a nymph!

Back to Sarasota Bay, I had a couple of decent outings. First time out, I fly fished docks along Longboat Key and landed two of the four snook I hooked. I saw a few tarpon, but didn't hook any.

At daylight, I paddled to a nearby flat where I have experienced good redfish action in the past. A funny thing happened this time out. Couldn't find any redfish, but I caught several snook and spotted seatrout on topwater plugs and MirrOlure MirrOdines. I caught snook to 28 inches and trout to 24.
Next time out, I found good numbers of snook on the same flat, but smaller. I caught and released eight snook to 22 inches. I also landed a couple of decent trout.

Paddling north, I found some decent trout action toward White Key. I caught trout to 25 inches on MirrOlure MirrOdines and the new D.O.A. 2 3/4-inch shrimp.

I fished southern Tampa Bay and caught six trout, a jack crevalle and a lookdown on topwater plugs and MirrOlure MirrOdines.

Tampa Bay lookdown.
Two trips to Naples proved enjoyable. First time out, I landed three peacock bass to 3 pounds on nymphs. Now, I would never have expected to catch decent-sized peacocks on nymphs! John Weimer and I also caught jumbo bluegill, Mayan cichlid, large shellcracker and largemouth bass on nymphs, Clouser Deep Minnows and popping bugs.

Another trip to Naples resulted in a variety of peacock bass, bluegill, Mayan cichlid, shellcracker and largemouth bass. Largest peacock went 3 pounds and was caught on a Clouser Deep Minnow. Nymphs accounted for most of the other fish.

I spent a day on the Myakka River just below the dam at Upper Myakka Lake. I caught good numbers of hand-sized bluegill, a large shellcracker and small bass on nymphs. I also found several rolling baby tarpon, but didn't hook up.

I bought an annual pass, so I can now get into Myakka quite early. I can be on the water and catching fish by the time the park opens at 8 a.m.

OCTOBER FORECAST:  I look for the best bets to be spotted seatrout and snook. Trout will hit jigs, MirrOdines, D.O.A. Deadly Combinations and D.O.A. shrimp over deep grass along the east and west sides of the Sarasota Bay. Snook will be around dock lights and on the flats at dawn. Shark fishing should be good in Tampa Bay. I also expect decent trout, snook and redfish on the flats around Joe Bay. In fresh water, I anticipate strong action on peacock bass, bluegill, Mayan cichlid, largemouth bass and shellcracker south of Sarasota. Closer to home, Upper Myakka Lake, the Myakka River and Lake Manatee should produce decent bluegill, shellcracker and largemouth bass.

The "season" is beginning to book up. I anticipate a good year based on the interest I've received . If you know when you're going to be in the area, please give me a call or email me to book your trip.

And remember, the best time to go fishing is any time you can!

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

From keyboard to video: An arduous process

Print journalism has always been my bag. I've been pounding a keyboard for about as long as I can remember.

I spent more than 40 years in print journalism from the time I entered the U.S. Air Force in 1971 until I retired from the newspaper business in 2009.

I fooled around with video and electronic media over the years. I host a weekly radio fishing show in Sarasota and a fishing segment on a local TV station.

I didn't get into the technical end of it, though.

About 18 months ago, my wife bought me a GoPro video camera. I have a buddy who has a GoPro and he's done some quality work. Also, there's a plethora of video work around the Internet.

Unfortunately, my GoPro sat in my office. I could shoot video, but editing it was a whole other world.

The more I thought about my dilemma, the more determined I was to solve this problem. At the 2014 ICAST in Orlando, I spent 30 minutes at the GoPro booth, getting some expert instruction on how to produce video. I was excited and couldn't wait to get home to put my new knowledge to use.

A funny thing happened between Orlando and my home in Sarasota: I forgot most everything I had learned.

Chalk that up to old age. Stupidity.

So, my GoPro remained in the office for another year.

One day I was headed to the beach to sight-fishing snook in the surf. I figured that would be the perfect place to begin my GoPro efforts. I had previously purchased an apparatus that allowed my to put the diminutive video cam on my cap.

So, I hit the beach and decided to give it a go
The effort was less than stellar, but it was a start.
While it wasn't the best video on beach snook fishing around, it served to give me perspective. You have to understand what's going on and what the camera is seeing.

Next time out, I shot more video. And I was able to put it together via instruction from YouTube. The more I looked into it, the more I found out. I learned how to make clips. How to put them together.

How to add titles, music and voice-overs. I learned how to fade in and fade out. I could do that with clips, music and titles.

I've taken the camera out in the kayak a few times. The first couple of occasions kind of sucked because the fishing was so slow. Third time was the proverbial charm! We caught loads of fish and I was able to get a lot of footage.

For most of my life, I've been a photo guy. And since the advent of digital cameras, I've been able to download photos into my computer and edit them. It's a pretty painless and quick endeavor.

Video -- at least for me -- in another matter. It takes time, planning and is a production.

Of course, you can keep things simple and just create a simple clip to show to your friends. But there's a whole new world out there and there are no limits.

I'm a whole lot better at this video thing than I was a few months ago, but I'm not as good as I'll be tomorrow. It's a never-ending process.

I'll keep at it and I'm looking forward to future endeavors.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Beach snook winding down; back to kayak fishing lakes and bays

Snook are plentiful in the surf from May through August. The season is winding down.
Beach snook season is finally coming to a close, so it's back in the kayak for this fishing guide.

There are still a few snook in the surf, but the numbers are down drastically compared to a couple of weeks ago.
The author shows off a fine beach snook caught on fly.

For planning purposes, I target snook in the surf from May until about mid-August. For the most part, I sight-fish these great game fish with my fly rod.

My clients totaled more than 175 snook this past season. On days when I didn't have trips, I caught and released 154 snook from the surf to 28 inches.

This was the best beach snook season that we've had in at least five years. I'm hoping it's even better next year.

For beach snook, I recommend 6- to 8-weight fly rods, with clear, intermediate sinktip line. I don't get fancy on the leader. I use a six-foot length of fluorocarbon. My fly of choice is my Gibby's D.T. Variation, a fly that has produced more than 1,000 beach snook over the years.

Check out this video I produced on beach snook fishing:

I also did a little freshwater fishing during the month, although I must admit I didn't do all that well.

We're a couple of months from peak action. Freshwater fishing will heat up as the weather cools and the water level goes down.

Now that I'm back fishing the bays, here's what we can expect:

SARASOTA BAY -- I usually launch at Buttonwood Harbor on the west side of the bay midway up Longboat Key, I like to get out an hour or so before dawn and fish dock lights for snook, tarpon and other species. At dawn, I like to be on an adjacent flat, casting for redfish. I look for schools of mullet on the flat and concentrate my efforts there. I usually start out with a topwater plug. I also use jigs, spoons and jerk worms. Stephens Point on the east side of the bay can be a very good spot. You can work the dock lights before dawn there, then paddle out into the bay and fish for spotted seatrout, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle, pompano and ladyfish over the deep grass. I like to use jigs, Mirrolure MirrOdines and D.O.A. Deadly Combinations.

TAMPA BAY -- I launch at the south rest area near the Sunshine Skyway and fish the area around Joe Bay. I like to hit the nearby flats at dawn and cast topwater plugs for redfish, snook and trout. I'll also use MirrOlure MirrOdines. At mid-morning, I paddle out to the nearby sand bars where I like to sight-fish for redfish, snook, cobia, shark and large jack crevalle. When on the sand bars, I cast MirrOlure Lil Johns on 1/16-ounce jig heads. I also fish Tampa Bay out of Bishop Harbor.

CHARLOTTE HARBOR -- My favorite place to launch is Ponce de Leon Park in Punta Gorda. If I paddle north to the mouth of the Peace River, I often encounter tarpon from 30 to 100 pounds. The shoreline structure (docks, mangroves, fallen trees) can be good for snook and reds. If I paddle south from the launch, I'll get into snook, reds and trout on the flats and along the shoreline against the mangroves and around creeks mouths.

SEPTEMBER FORECAST: Fishing around dock lights for snook, tarpon, spotted seatrout and other species is the best bet and a great way to beat the heat. You'll need to use tackle stout enough to prevent the fish from getting around pilings or back into the docks. After daylight, I like to switch to deep grass of Whale Key on the west side of Sarasota Bay and Stephens Point on the east side to cast for spotted seatrout, bluefish, Spanish mackerel and other species. Action should be good in southern Tampa Bay for redfish, trout, snook and shark.

As always, I would like to thank my sponsors: NuCanoe, Aqua-Bound, MirrOlure, D.O.A. Lures, Peak Fishing.

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing


NuCanoe's Pursuit and Frontier are simple, comfortable and very fishable

My NuCanoe Pursuit is a fishing machine with clean lines and  loads of comfort.
I have been doing this kayak thing for quite a while now. To give you an idea, when I first started fishing from a kayak, I most often was the only one on the water doing so.

That was in 1986. I fished from a kayak while doing articles for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on the subject. I used kayaks from Intracoastal Kayaks in Venice and from Economy Tackle in Sarasota.

Client Todd Dawson battles a nice fish out of the Frontier.
I enjoyed it immensely. I love the feeling of freedom and independence that kayaks gave me. I also enjoyed that I could go fishing when I wanted, where I wanted, for which species I wanted and I could fish the way I wanted. I could also fish as long as I wanted and I could leave when I wanted.

As a bonus, I didn't have to stop at a gas station on the way home to fill up the tank for the outboard.

I've been the powerboat route. I had one of the first flats boats in Sarasota, Fla., where I reside. It was a great boat, but it continuously cost me money. If it wasn't one think, it was another.

What I learned many years ago is that I was catching more fish out of the kayak than I did in the powerboat. And that made a whole lot of sense to me. If the fish didn't know I was there, they were easier to catch.
Vinny Caruso fights a shad on fly on the St. Johns River.

Granted, I was limited where I could fish. I was only as good as where  my paddling arms could take me. But I realized that was a bonus, too. If the fish weren't cooperating where I was, I couldn't simply turn the key and speed off to a hot spot 10 miles away.

I was there for the entire time. So, I got to know each and every spot intimately. I eventually discovered every nook and cranny in every spot I fished.

Take Buttonwood Harbor, for example. Buttonwood is a popular spot located on the west side of Sarasota Bay. It's comprised of nine mangrove islands, grass flats, channels and sand holes. It's about a mile long and half mile wide. Within that area, I have about 60 spots I can fish, depending on the wind, season and weather.

Standing and poling the flats at dawn in Charlotte Harbor.
Simply put, fishing from a kayak has made me a better angler.

I co-founded the CCA/Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers annual All-Release Fly Fishing Challenge (along with Capt. Rick Grassett)  in 2004. For the first few years, I fished with a buddy out of his powerboat. Six years ago, I decided it was best for me and my business ( that I fish out of my kayak.

I've done well. I have won a division of the tournament nine out of the 11 years. I've won the Snook Division five times and Spotted Seatrout Division four times. On three occasions, I've caught more than enough snook and trout to win both divisions. However, tournament rules limit each anglers to winning just one division.
A.J. Menard fights his first permit.

I've also caught Slams (snook, trout and redfish) three times. My slams haven't been enough, but I've won a division two of the three times.

You might have surmised that I like to fly fish. Yes. And I do it as often as I can.

Early on in my kayak-fishing career, it was a tough go. Most kayaks aren't designed for fly fishing.  There's no place to stow fly rods safely. And most kayaks have plenty of line-snagging equipment and/or accessories scattered over the deck.

Then came NuCanoe. I was introduced to NuCanoe by fly-fishing guru Joe Mahler ( of Fort Myers. Mahler is a fly-casting instructor, author, illustrator and world-class fly angler.

A couple of trips with Mahler had me convinced that NuCanoe was the way to go.

When I decided to make the switch, there were just to models: the Classic and Frontier. I opted for three 12-foot Frontiers.  The Frontier is a spacious, wide open kayak that arguably is the most stable watercraft of its kind. Standing in the Frontier is no big deal.

Menard's permit made him smile.
It's so easy, in fact, that I've had anglers as old as 84 standing while fishing.

I have discussed with NuCanoe owner Blake Young that we need to change the designation of the Frontier from kayak to personal fishing craft.

By any name, it's a winner.

About a year after I joined NuCanoe (, the company came out with the Pursuit, a narrower, longer, sleeker version with similar stability. The boat also features four rod tubes in which you can stow four fly rods safely and out of the way.

That sealed the deal for this fly-fished enthusiast!

The Pursuit also has a spacious, uncluttered cockpit. There's nothing for my fly line to catch on.
Simply put, it's a virtual fly-fishing machine.

I'm a minimalist when it comes to rigging and accessories. But that's the beauty with any of the NuCanoe models. The integrated track system allows you to add as many (or as few) accessories as the want.

For me, it's as few. I added an anchor trolley system to my Pursuit. I also mount a GoPro video camera in the track system. That's about it.

I carry tackle in a milk crate behind my seat. I've added seven rod holders to the milk crate.

I fish all over in my Pursuit. I fish saltwater bays and estuaries. I fish freshwater lakes and streams. I fish from Tampa Bay to The Everglades and points beyond.

And best of all, I always catch fish.

I'm a fishing fool in the best fishing kayak on the market.

I'm a versatile guy, so I need the most versatile fishing kayak available.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Snook are plentiful and easy to catch -- if you know the secrets

Snook are plentiful in the surf along barrier islands in southwest Florida from May through August.

The more I fish, the more I realize that there is nothing certain about the sport.

Just because you do well on a certain species at a certain spot one year doesn't mean the same will hold true the next.
D.T. Variations are top flies for sight-fishing snook.

If things can change, they usually will.

This applies to beach snook fishing.

That's my specialty. I've been doing it for the past 35 years and I've seen things change in less than 24 hours.

First, let me tell you that I will not share spots with you. Most of you have eyes, legs, feet and brains. That's enough to allow you to put in the time to find your own spots.

I found mine the good old-fashioned way: hard work and determination.

All  you need is the desire to success and the willingness to put in the time.

Mick Coulas shows off a beach snook.
This season has been among the best. The snook have been plentiful in the surf and usually more than willing to cooperate. My best day so far was a 29-snook day on Aug. 1. I had a 23-fish outing in July.

I've had several days in double digits.

I've also head days when I've found plenty of snook, but getting them to hit was another matter.

I am fortunate in that I've been able to guide quite a few people to their first beach snook. Most are surprised at the complexity of the sport. I have seen them make every mistake possible. I have also witnessed them improve and become quit adept at seeing snook in the surf.

The first skill to be mastered is seeing the fish. And this is quite difficult for many folks. I'm not sure why, but I do know that it's true.

I believe that those who have trouble seeing the fish do not own a quality pair of polarized sunglasses. I can't understand why anglers enjoy sight-fishing are handicapping themselves in this manner. Makes no sense.

A quality pair of polarized sunglasses helps you see the fish. If you can see fish, you have a good shot at catching them. If you can't see them, the odds are against you.

Steve Kost fights a snook a fly rod.
Recently, I gave a talk on beach snook fishing at the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers in Sarasota. As usual, I gave my spiel about sunglasses.

Immediately, I saw a hand go up.

"Do you think my (cheap) sunglasses will work?" one guy asked.

Before answering, I asked, "Why not invest in a better pair?"

He responded, "Too expensive."

I paused, then asked, "How much did you pay for your fly rod?"

He got the point.

It makes no sense to pay $300-$700 for a fly rod, then "cheap out" on the sunglasses -- especially if you want to sight-fish.

A good pair of polarized sunglasses drastically reduces glare on the water's surface, allowing you to see what's below.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Once you can see below the surface, you have to interpret what you're seeing. If you start looking for snook with tails, scales, fins, eyes and a mouth, you probably won't see very many.

What you're looking for is a shape. A color. Movement.

Snook have an uncanny ability to blend into their surroundings.

It takes practice. But once you get the hang of it, it's pretty easy.

Another common mistake is to look for snook too far away from the dry sand. You can find snook lying of the bottom in the trough. However, the snook you want are cruising parallel to the beach just a foot or so out from the dry sand. These fish are in what I like to call the feeding zone. They're actively looking for food: sand fleas, scale sardines, glass minnows.

Those fish you see lying on the bottom have already eaten and aren't actively seeking food. They'll take a fly every once in a while, but not often.

Another mistake I see often is casting diagonally or parallel. When you see a snook swimming toward you, simply cast straight out (perpendicularly) from the beach. Time your retrieve so that the fly and snook meet at the same place at the same time.

It's that simple.

Rarely will a snook swim out of its way to take a fly. Your offering has to be within 18 to 24 inches of the snook.

The reason I prefer a white fly is that I can see it in the water. I can track it easily and know where it is in relationship to the fish. If I can't see it, then how would I know the snook is tracking it or even remotely interested in it?

Okay, let's say you make a good cast and the snook starts to follow your fly. What do you do?

That's easy. You trigger or provoke a strike by speeding up your retrieve. You make the snook think the "bait" is trying to get away. I do this by increasing my striping speed. Or i might even do so with the rod tip.

If a snook follows don't give up until you run out of water. I've had many snook take the fly at the very last second.

As far as rods go, I use a TFO BVK 5 weight and matching reel. I prefer a clear, intermediate sinktip line. However, on the BVK I have a floating line.

Floating lines can be a nuisance because you'll often find the fly line inside your rod tip. You can remedy that by shortening your leader or moving back on the beach.

With a sinktip line, I use a 6-foot leader. With a floating line I use a 7 1/2-foot leader. I add a short length of 20-pound fluorocarbon for a shock leader.

While I won't divulge my favorite locations, I will tell you I avoid beaches that have undergone re-nourishment.  The companies that re-nourish beaches often use offshore sand or inland sand for the procedure. It's not compatible with the natural sand and usually won't hold sand fleas, a common food for snook.

In addition, new sand stirs up quite easily and can make it tough to see.

What's the attraction of beach snook fishing? No 1, it's a great sight-fishing adventure. With a little imagination, you can picture yourself on a remote tropical beach, casting to bonefish.

While snook are our main target, we have also encountered redfish, spotted seatrout, jack crevalle, ladyfish, flounder, tripletail, mangrove snapper, barracuda, tarpon and cobia in the surf.

You just never know what you might see.

Typically, I don't get out on the beach much earlier than 7:30 a.m. You can't see much because the sun isn't up high enough to light up the water. Your peak fishing time is 10 a.m. to about 1 p.m.

There are times when you can fish all day is good conditions. But most of the time, you're done by 1 the sea breeze kicks in and roughens the surf.

Essential gear for beach snook fishing includes cap or hat, sunscreen, clippers, pliers, leader material, fly box and flies and plenty of water. I usually walk 3-4 miles and drink a couple of liters of water.

Snook will stay out into the sure through August and into September. They'll start heading back into the bays as the water cools.

The action so far has been great. I hope it remains so for a few more weeks.