Saturday, August 29, 2009

Choosing a kayak is personal

Kayak fishing is the fastest growing segment of the sport.

There are a number of reasons for the surge: 1. Kayaks are inexpensive when compared to flats skiffs; 2. There's no gas required; 3. Maintenance is limited; 4. Anglers can fish areas not accessible to motorized vessels.

But what's the best kayak for you?

That's simple. Ask a kayak angler and he'll tell you the best boat is the one he owns. And why not? Why would he own that particular craft if he didn't think it was the best?

But just like automobiles, boats and fishing lures, kayaks come in every size, shape, color and description.

In my opinion, many beginning kayak anglers make the mistake of choosing a model because of price. That's understandable, but perhaps not the way to go. Considering most fishing kayaks range in price from $450 to about $1,800. If you're a little short on cash, hold off on your purchase until you save the required amount.

Realize there are several different types of kayaks: sit-on-top and sit-in. Sit-in kayaks are what most people envision when they think of these vessels. Many SIKs aren't suitable for fishing because you're severely limited in the amount of tackle you can carry.

Most sit-on-tops are made for fishing. They're stable, beamy and had amenities such as rod holders. Some of the top brands include Wilderness Systems, Hobie, Ocean and Heritage. Native Watercraft makes several SITs such as the Magic and Manta Ray.

I'm sponsored by Native and I own the Ultimate 14.5. It's 14 feet, 6 inches in length and is what as known as a hybrid kayak. It's sort of a cross between and sit-on-top kayak and a canoe.

I fell in love with this boat immediately. It's wide open and can carry a lot of gear. When I take people out on all-day charters (I'm a kayak fishing guide;, I carry a 36-quart cooler full of ice, sandwiches, snacks and drinks. You couldn't do that in most SOTs.

I also love the stability. The Ultimate is so stable that you can stand up and fish in them. That's gives you a real advantage when sight-fishing the flats.

The Ultimate also features the best seat in the industry; a real plus when you're planning to be out all day. It completely eliminates sore butts!

The Ultimate also tracks straight. Paddle corrections are rarely needed. Native offers a rudder for the Ultimate, but it's not really needed.

The Ultimate comes in a peddle model, but I'm a purist and prefer a paddle. If you're hellbent on a peddle, realize that you have forward and reverse in the Ultimate's Propel model. I don't think any other kayak manufacturer offers that. Reverse is important when you're fishing docks and other structure and need to move away. Otherwise, big fish will pull your kayak under the structure.

"Hands-free" fishing is something another manufacturer touts, but, believe me, the Ultimate really does feature hands-free fishing when you learn the nuances.

But realize, I own Ultimates. And the best kayak is whatever the person you ask owns.

Check out all of Native Watercraft's models at

If you have any questions about fishing kayaks, please feel free to drop me an email at or call me at 941-284-3406.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Strange slam on fly

Fishing was so-so today. There were plenty of fish, but they weren't real hungry.
But I did get some sort of slam. I got a snook, gag grouper and a large flounder -- all on D.T. Special flies. Strange, but true.

I fished with Scott Dempsey of Tampa, a very good fly angler. Scott's 29.5-inch snook was the big fish for the morning.

Most of the fish hit D.T. Specials. Scott also used a small Polar Fiber minnow.

We saw some really big fish, but had not takers. Many of the fish we cast to simply moved out of the way. The snook weren't aggressive by any means.

Sight-fishing for snook along the beach should remain decent for at least another month. It's a great way to learn how to sight-fish and how to catch fish on a fly.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

To fly or not to fly?

Fly fishing isn't for everyone. It's great for those who like it and are proficient at it.

But, truth be known, fly anglers make up a very small percentage of the total fishing population.

There are times, however, when someone who can handle a fly rod can do quite well. Now is one of those times in Southwest Florida.

Those who know me are aware that I love to sight-fish the surf this time of year for snook. I've been doing it for 25 years and have become pretty decent at it. I've been scoring pretty well over the last month.

One of my buddies, Ken Taylor of North Port, has been fishing the surf for a decade or more. He's a spinning enthusiast and one of the best around. But he as been having problems lately, and I blame it all on the equipment. I believe that my success is because of the fly rod. It allows me to present the fly naturally and quietly to skittish fish. In addition, when I pause during a retrieve, the fly doesn't bomb to the bottom; it suspends. When Ken casts a jig, it goes right to the bottom. Additionally, it makes some noise when it hits the water.

Today was a prime example. It wasn't that I landed a load of fish; it was the quality of the fish. I caught five snook to 31 inches. My next biggest snook was 28 inches. I've been getting quite a few snook of 27 inches and larger. My largest this season is a fish that went 38 inches.

I attribute it all to the fly rod.

By the way, my favorite fly is the D.T. Special (variation), a minnow imitation that I've been using for the last 17 years. The snook hit it so good that I don't see any reason to change.

There are days when a spin angler will do better than me, but not often. Fly fishing is very effective in the surf.

Beach snook season usually begins in May and continues until the first severe cold front in the fall. There are really good numbers of snook in the surf, so we anticipate excellent action over the next few weeks.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tough conditions, but success

The wind was supposed to be slight and out of the east. That's just perfect of beach snook fishing.

But when I got to the beach, the swells were fairly large and breaking right on the beach. In addition, there was a storm to the north that was threatening.

I decided to stick it out and was rewared. I caught and released 10 snook to 27 inches, lost several more and stuck a couple of hogs (but lost both). There were some sizeable snook in the surf today.

KEY TO SUCCESS: What worked for me was the find snook and wait until a wave broke right on them. I'd cast and hook up with good success. The stirred up water had them off-guard and they weren't quite as spooky.

Most of the action took place north of where I usually get into fish. Then, I got into a bunch on the walk back.

I consider this a very good day, in lieu of the circumstances.

Tide was incoming. Lots of grass in the surf. I don't think a spin angler would have had as much success.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Late Success Saves the Day

Another tough day -- but only for a while.

Took my friend Rick Grassett of Sarasota and we got into the fish early. However, they were very spooky. It was frustrating. I was ready to head home at about 11 a.m.

But a funny thing happened on the way: We found loads of fish. They weren't easy, but we managed to land a few.

Rick was the first to hook up. He landed a 20-incher on his night snook fly. I got in on the act a few minutes later with a 23-incher. My hand turned hot and I landed four more in the next hour. My big fish -- the fourth of my five -- was a 27-incher.

We saw maybe a half dozen really big snook, but had no takers.

We joined up with Bob Parker, president of the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers in Sarasota. We had a good time.

The bite wasn't the best, but still it was a good day.

Rick, Bob and I had lunch at Bogey's in Venice.

Good company, good times and good beer.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tough Day in the Surf

You can't catch them every day. Might as well face it.

Got up this morning and headed for a place I call Big Butt Beach, one of the best places to sightfish for snook in the surf. The real name of the beach shall remain anonymous -- to protect the innocent.

Conditions were decent when I arrived at about 7:30 a.m. But they progessively got worse as the morning went on. When the wind began coming out of the southwest, things got pretty bad.

Still, I did OK. I ended up with six snook to about inches and a pair of feisty mangrove snapper. All came on a 6-weight TFO TiCRX, sinktip line and D.T. Special (variation). There still are plenty of snook in the surf, but they're not as aggressive as they were earlier in the week.

The fish should remain in the surf until at least October.

Here's hoping we have some great days ahead.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Favorite places to fish around the country

I've been fortunate to have fished in a lot of places with some really great people. I've fished throughout Florida, in Costa Rica, Michigan, Ohio, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky and Canada.

I've enjoyed every stop.

My favorite?

Hard to say. Each place has its own charm.

Let it be known that I'm just as happy catching bluegill on a light fly rod as I am casting for bonefish on a shallow flat.

One of my favorite outings took place this summer when I got to pursue two species that I'd never caught on fly rod: carp and smallmouth bass.

When people think of carp, I'm sure they envision the bottom-feeders found in pay lakes and midwestern rivers. Well, a funny thing happened on the way ... people discovered fly fishing for carp. They're wary targets that can be tough. They fight hard and make long runs.

I'd read about the flats of Grand Traverse Bay in Michigan. And since my wife and I were renting a house on a lake near there, I decided to give it a try.

I got some information from a guy on He gave me directions to the flat and a few pointers. He also told me to stop in and see Kirk Novak, owner of The Northern Angler fly shop in Traverse City.

I wasn't prepared for what I was about to encounter. When I got to the flat, I saw hundreds of carp milling around. Some were schooled up and going through some sort of spawning rituals. Others were swimming around. I'd been told to ignore the schools and cast to single fish.

I hooked my first carp in less than 5 minutes.

The fight was strong and impressive. The fish made a lengthy run. You have to play these fish; you just can't reel them in.

First day out, I caught and released nine carp to 20 pounds. Next day was even better. I caught 15, with the largest going an estimated 35 pounds. Luckily, there was another fellow fly fishing for carp who was able to get a photo of me and the big fish.

I used a 6-weight TFO Finesse rod, Cortland reel, floating line, 10-foot 10-pound leaderl and a Befus Carp Fly.

I found the best technique for me was to cast the fly in front the fish. If the carp turned and followed the fly, I'd let it fall to the bottom and let it lie. Most often, the fish would swim up on the fly and suck it in.

A cold front moved through and the carp disappeared. But that gave me time to try for smallmouth. I did well. I got 14 to 5 pounds.

Michigan is a great place to fish.

Little Tarpon of the Everglades

June is hot and sticky in the Florida Everglades. The heat saps you quickly. The only way to deal with it is to not think about it.

That's easy when the fish are biting and when those fish are tarpon.

Baby tarpon are plentiful in The Everglades, but finding them is another story. Most are off the beaten path, so you have to look around.

Jim Dussias, a friend of mine and fellow kayak fishing guide from Doral, showed me one of his favortie spots. I'd passed it at least 100 times and didn't know it was there. It's a spot that thousands pass by daily.

We slipped the kayaks in and our expectations were high. We could see rolling tarpon while standing on the shore.

Since I was working on a story and needed photos, I suggested that Jim do the bulk of the fishing -- at least until I got enough photos.

Jim performed admirably. He quickly hooked up with a diminutive little tarpon, a silver flash of 12 inches. After releasing that monster, he hooked up with a 15-pounder. He caught a few more tarpon -- all on fly.

Then, it was my turn.

I hooked one down a mangrove shoot that leaped to the top of one of the trees. Luckily, the fish didn't get hung up. I hooked, landed and released a few more fish. Then, it was time to search for greener pastures.

We left that lake, paddled through a mangrove tunnel and into another lake. We paddled to the head of that body of water and into another tunnel. We eventually entered a third lake. We could see tarpon frolicking in the shadows.

But it was a rolling tarpon that I hooked. I got a beautiful 20-pounder while blind-casting. When my fly hit the water, it let it sink, then began stripping it in. I saw a silver flash and felt the weight of the tarpon, then set the hook. The little tarpon immediately took to the air.

The battle last 3-4 minutes. Jim helped land the little tarp. We took a couple of photos and released the fish.

I think we caught and released six tarpon and five snook.

Not a bad outing.

The heat was never a thought.


I like to take pictures. Sometimes I'll spend more time taking pictures than I do fishing. But that's OK.

A wise old professional photographer gave me some sage advice years ago: Film is cheap. So burn a lot of film and you might screw up and get a good picture.

In this digital age, we can take a lot of photos. And that advice is still true.

The real secret to taking a good picture is being able to visualize the composition. I've got a decent eye and I think I know what make a good picture.

I really don't like posed photos, but sometimes you have to take them. One thing I've noticed is that when I take photos of men holding fish, they won't smile. Guess it's a macho thing.

When I'm out in the kayak, I use a Sony Cybershot, a versatile camera that retails for about $350. I like it a lot.

Best Snook Fly

My best snook fly is perhaps one of the simplest flies ever -- the D.T. Special (variation). When I first started sight-fishing snook in the surf, I used a Lefty's Deceiver. And it was effective.

However, Matt Hoover, a guide in Naples, Fla., sent me a D.T. Special and told me it was the only fly I'd ever need for beach snook. He was right.

Over the years, I've tweaked it a bit to suit my needs. I place four neck hackles at the rear of the hook and they face each other. On the original D.T., the feathers are splayed. Reason I face them is so that the fly sinks just a little quicker. I also add eyes and epoxy the head.

Fly Tying

I've been tying flies for 20 years. It's something I swore I'd never do. I didn't want to become one of those "fly-fishing snobs."

But whenever I'd walk out of a fly shop, I'd usually have at least $50 worth of assorted flies. I'd look at them and figure there couldn't be more than 15 cents worth of material in each fly.

So, the proverbial lightbulb shined brightly in my head: I could tie them myself and save a whole lot of money.

I went out and bought a vise, several bobbins, head cement, bodkin, whip finisher, bucktails, thread, Krystal Flash, body materials, mylar and whatever else I thought would be of use. And I've added to my collection over the years.

I now have it figured out. The way to tie a 15-cent fly is to go out and buy $2,000 worth of equipment and materials.

I'm an OK fly tyer. I have come up with a couple of patterns that work well for me and others. The Myakka Minnow is my spotlight creation. And I've adapted a adjust other patterns.

My go-to fly for beach snook is the D.T. Special (variation). The original D.T. Special was sent to me by Naples guide Matt Hoover, who told me it's the only fly I'd ever need for beach snook. He was right. I've tweaked it to suit my purposes over the years and that's why I add (variation) label to it. Many people think I created the D.T., but I didn't. I've just tinkered with it a bit.
The fly in the top left is the Myakka Minnow, a creation that has caught thousands of fish over the years. It was orginally designed for panfish, but has caught everything from bluegill to tarpon. It can be tied on any size hook to suit your needs.

Once-in-a-lifetime day

I've been sight-fishing the surf with fly rod for 25 years. I've done OK during that span, catching and releasing an average of 250 snook per season. Most of them are small, 20-22 inches. Every once in a while, I'll encounter a really big snook, but they rarely even look at the fly.
On Aug. 17, I had a day that I'll never forget. I caught six snook of better than 28 inches, including one that taped out at 38 inches. The big snook was fat, so I estimated it to weigh at least 20 pounds. That's a mighty fine fish on 6-weight.
In addition, I landed three redfish (not a usual surf catch here) to 32 inches, several small jack crevalle, a ladyfish, mangrove snapper and blue runner.
The highlight of the day came when I jumped three tarpon, another first for me. They were big fish, all going better than 100 pounds. I had one on for five jumps and a long run. When I looked at my spool, I had about two turns of backing left, so I grabbed the spool and broke the fish off. I figured it was better than losing an entire fly line.
I have no idea why the action was so good. The barometer was low and it was three days prior to the new moon. In addition, the tide was incoming.
The next day, Ken Taylor of North Port and I hit the same beach.
We caught one snook.
Conditions were virtually the same. I did notice that the baitfish were not thick like they had been the day prior.