Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Should have been here yesterday

The cliche has been around as long as fishing has been a viable sport. But, yes, we should have been there yesterday. Or was it the day before?

For reasons unknown to fishing guides and boy scouts, the fish weren't on a feed when I joined my friend Pete Greenan on a trip to Charlotte Harbor.

We launched his Maverick HPX flats skiff at Uncle Henry's at Boca Grande shortly after daylight and headed for the backcountry. Our plan was to cast for some large snook that Pete ( had located a few days earlier. He said one of his clients, a former touring bass pro, had caught and released eight slot-size snook on topwater plugs around mangrove islands in Bull Bay.

Gasparilla Sound was calm as we headed toward Bull Bay. A beautiful sunrise greeted us as we neared the mangrove backcountry.

When Pete pulled back on the throttle and eased the skiff toward the flat, it was evident something was amiss. There were no mullet, no stingrays, bait or other life. I cast a topwater plug for about five minutes with no result.

That scenario played out over the next few spots. Finally, off a mangrove island in Bull Bay, we found a few fish. I hooked several, but lost each. I managed a 20-inch red on a Rapala Skitter Walk. That's when I decided to grab the fly rod and cast a Gartside Gurgler.

The fish weren't interested in the fly.

"Something's changed today," said Pete. "I know that we had a front move through. Could be high pressure. It'd different, for sure."

We added a few spotted seatrout over the next couple of hours. We were back at the dock at 1 p.m. and headed home.

"Great day," said Pete.

I agreed.

It's not always about the catch. It's about nature, friendship and fun.

My own private lake

Lake Manatee is a 2,500 body of water located nine miles west of Interstate 75 off State Road 64 in Manatee County

It's a great fishing lake that supplies drinking water for Bradenton and other parts of the county.

I propose the name of the lake be changed. County commissioners should rename it Gibby's Lake.

Reason is that I feel like it's my own private fishing spot. On many occasions, I'm the only angler on the lake. Usually, it's just me, my kayak, fly rods and fish.

Can it get any better?

Gibby's Lake, er, Lake Manatee isn't and easy lake. First timers often struggle when trying to figure the old gal out. But once you put in a little time, you can eliminate slow area and discover productive spots.

It's a fly anglers' dream. Hand-sized bluegill are plentiful. Bass are obliging. In fact, I rarely even target bass. I catch them inadvertently as I cast small poppers or my Myakka Minnow for bluegill.

Shellcracker, speckled perch and feisty channel cats also are willing.

Recently, I've been averaging about 100 fish per trip. One day last week, I caught and released 111 fish, including 102 bluegill, five shellcracker, one bass and three channel catfish (4, 8 and 10 pounds).

I've discovered over the last month that if I paddle to the mouth of Gilley Creek, I'll catch less fish but more quality. Typically, I'll get 20 hand-sized bluegill, maybe a speckled perch, several nice bass and perhaps a channel catfish.

Speckled perch (also known as black crappie) are incidental catches now, but they'll become typical in a month or so as the weather cools. And Lake Manatee specks average 2 pounds. They're great fighters on light fly tackle.

I use a 6-weight fly rod for bass so that I can toss big poppers. For bluegill and other panfish, I usually cast a 1-weight. Top flies are my Myakka Minnow, Aunt Sara's Homely Daughter Nymph and my FLY Nymph.

Slam time in the backcountry

Fall is fabulous for local saltwater fishing. I just love it.

It's a time when fish are hungry and the water is uncrowded. Tourist season is still months away, so there's only a few locals on the water at any given time.

This time of year, I like to branch out and fish areas that I don't get to experience often. Lately, I've been fishing Bishop Harbor and southern Tampa Bay. And I've been doing well. Fishing the incoming tide, I have been getting snook to 28 inches, redfish to 25 and spotted seatrout to 16 on Rapala Skitter Walks and plastic-tailed jigs.

Most of the action has been taking place in the shallows along the northeast side of the harbor -- partiularly around the numerous mangrove islands. The fish are hanging out around mullet schools and off the tips of the islands.

When that action subsides, I like to paddle out into southern Tampa Bay and fish a couple of sand bars that offer fabulous sight-fishing for redfish, large jack crevalle and shark. On one outing, I caught and released three reds to 28 inches in just 10 minutes. I've also been catching spotted seatrout to 18 inches, bonnethead shark and pompano to 4 pounds.

I haven't seen any tarpon, but it wouldn't surprise me if I encounter one soon.

As the weather and water cool, this area is going to heat up.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Bishop Harbor blast

With the local lakes and streams up because of rain, I decided to head out on the salt.

Didn't have the foggiest idea where, but I wanted a change.

I finally decided to try Bishop Harbor off southern Tampa Bay.

Good choice.

Launched shortly after daylight and paddled toward the east shoreline. Water is shallow there and there are several mangrove islands. Noticed a lot of mullet around, a good indication.

I caught six snook, 10 spotted seatrout and a nice redfish before the action subsided.

Around 11 a.m., I paddled out the harbor mouth and into Tampa Bay. I love to fish the sand bar that runs east to west.

Caught several spotted seatrout and a 4-pound pompano.

On the way back to the launch, I managed seveal spotted seatrout, mangrove snapper, ladyfish and jack crevalle.

Rain, rain go away

After several years of drought, it's probably not wise to complain about rain.

Lord knows we need it.

But we've had a lot of rain this summer and many of our freshwater lakes and streams are pretty full.

I was on Lake Manatee Tuesday and did really well. But when I returned Wednesday, things had changed. I caught a lot of fish, but the quality of the day prior wasn't there. And the action stopped suddenly at about 11 a.m.

At first I couldn't figure it out. But then I noticed current ... and a lot of it. Seems as if water from upriver was finally making its way into the lake. And as soon as the current increased, the fish stopped biting.

My totals included 40 bluegill, three shellcracker, a tilapia, stumpknocker and three channel cats. The cats weighed in at 4, 8 and 10 pounds.

Productive flies were No. 10 popper and No. 10 nymph (under strike indicator).

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I'm going to be speaking at a couple of upcoming events that are geared for fly fishers.

I'll be speaking at The Art of Fly Fishing Festival Oct. 3 at the Andy Thornal Company in Winter Haven and at the Florida Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers' annual Conclanve Oct. 23-24 at the Ramada Inn in Celebration.

Both events should be on every fly fisher's schedule.

I'll be speaking about kayak fishing and, in particular, freshwater kayak fishing. I'll give a Power Point presenation on Fly Fishing for the Florida Exotics.

There will be a wealth of knowlege at each function. Well-known guides and experts from throughout the state and country will be on hand.

I talked with Allen Wyatt of Andy Thornal's today and he is excited about the event. He told me there will be a 100-foot casting pond. Not only will those in attendance be able to try out their favorite fly rod, but also I will demonstrate how to stand in and pole a kayak.

Hours for The Art of Fly Fishing Festival are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Andy Thornal's is located at 336 Magnolia Ave., SW in Winter Haven. Phone number is (863) 299-9999.

Although both events are designed for the fly angler, anyone can attend. And the neat thing is that if you're not a fly fisher, you'll be able to pick up information that will help you in your spin-fishing endeavors.

Fishing knowlege is fishing knowlege.

Among the experts scheduled to speak are Capt. Frank Catino, Capt. Dan Malzone, Capt. Rick Grassett, Capt. Keiland Smith, Capt. Brian Clancy, Capt. Jon Bull, Bill Howard and Leigh West. George Kremer will be tying bass flies.

The two-day Florida FFF Conclave will feature a variety of speakers. I'll list them as soon as I get more information.

If you have any questions concering the conclave, email Pete Greenan at Or you can call me at (941) 284-3406 and I'll try to help.

I also will be speaking at the Lakewood Ranch Anglers Club on Oct. 5. More details as I get them.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Numbers down, but quality up

I watched the New England Patriots post a come-from-behind win over feisty Buffalo on Monday Night Football. I noticed that Pat QB Tom Brady completed passes to eight different receivers.

I'm no NFL quarterback, but I caught fish on eight different flies today at Lake Manatee. It wasn't that the fish were hitting anything I cast. Quite the opposite; they were very finicky and would turn off a particular pattern quickly.

Wasn't a great day in terms on number, but it was when you consider the quality of fish. Of the 17 bluegill I caught, 15 were hand-sized. I caught five bass, with one pushing 3 pounds.

Most of the bluegill were along the hyacinths on the east side of Gilley Creek, a place that has been holding good numbers of panfish for the past three weeks. I had been catching bass there, but not today.

My bass came just east of the State Road 64 bridge. They were schooling up and busting minnows. All I had to do was drift until they started feeding, then move in close enough for a shot. All the bass came on 6-weight floating line and black popper.

The flies that accounted for the bluegill includeed the black popper, a white popper, smaller white popper, chartreuse popper, Myakka Minnow, FLY Nymph and Aunt Sara's Homely Daughter Nymph.

Fishing was slow overall, but quite enjoyable when you consider the quality of the fish caught.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Small minnow produces big results

I'm not very artistic when it comes to designing flies for fishing. I can usually imitate and duplicate, but coming up with my own designs isn't my forte.
However, I'm pretty proud of the Myakka Minnow, a fly I designed about five years ago after a very frustrating morning on the Myakka River.
I was fly fishing from my kayak and I was watching as bass and bluegill exploded upon schools of small minnows along the shoreline. I'd immediately cast a small, white No. 10 popper into the fray, but I came up empty every time. The fish obviously were feeding, but they didn't want what I was casting.
On the drive home, I began thinking about a fly that might work in this situation, one that would imitate a small minnow. I thought about various designs. I looked for small minnow patterns in my fly-tying books. But nothing really impressed me.
So, I sat down at my bench and start playing with various designs. I came up with a small minnow that certainly looked like a tiny minnow, but I had no idea if it would work.
I used a No. 10 nymph hook. The tail was a small clump of Krystal Flash. I added a few wraps of .20 gauge lead wire in the hook's mid-point, then tied in some polyflash at the bend of the hook and wrapped it forward, creating a minnow-shaped body. The body with thin toward the tail and built up toward the head.
When done, I added eyes on each side and coated the entire body and eyes with epoxy. I put the fly in my rotisserie and let it dry.
When it was done, I knew I had a winner.
Next time out on the river, I caught fish on a small popper like always. But when the topwater bite ended, I began casting the new fly. I allowed it to sink, then began retrieving it slowly. I can't remember how long it took, but I caught a really nice bass on it, a fish that weighed about 3 pounds. I later handed a few hand-sized bluegill and a hefty tilapia.
I noticed minnows scurry for safety along the shoreline with fish in pursuit. This was my chance, I thought, to see if the new fly worked like I thought it might in this situation. I cast it out, began retrieving and felt the line tighten and a 2-pound bass inhaled the fly.
The Myakka Minnow has evolved over the years. The tail is now a clipped bunch of marabou. The body is made out of Bodi-Braid by Spirit River. It works like a charm.
Although it was designed as a panfish fly, it has caught a variety of fish. It can be tied on any size hook, so you can tie it as large or small as you want.
Here's a list of freshwater fish it has taken: Largemouth bass, bluegill, speckled perch, golden shiner, stumpknocker, shellcracker, channel catfish, blue tilapia, spotted tilapia, rainbow trout, brown trout, sunfish, redbreast sunfish, barramundi, peacock bass, oscar, Mayan cichlid, and warmouth perch.
In saltwater, it has taken little tunny, redfish, snook, spotted seatrout, jack crevalle, ladyfish, mangrove snapper, pinfish, gag grouper, flounder, bluefish, Spanish mackerel and others.
It's no a magical fly by any means. But it is productive and works quite well. The secret to success is tying it on your leader and using it. Most of the time, I cast it to a likely looking spot and allow it to sink. Then, I begin a very slow retrieve.
I watch the end of my fly line. If I don't feel the hit, I'll often see the end of the fly line dart forward or to one side or the other. When that happens, it's time to set the hook.
It really works great in The Everglades for oscar. They really love it. I tied up a black Myakka Minnow for my Everglades trips. I noticed during one outing there that there are hundreds of small black minnows along the shoreline.
First time out when black Myakka Minnows, I'll bet I caught 100 or more oscars.
Since the fly has an epoxy body, it's virtually indestructible. There have been days when one minnow has gotten me through the day. It's rare when I use more than two.
The Myakka Minnow catches fish and that's good. I entered it in a fly-tying contest last year and it didn't place. Another fly I tied (which I had never used prior) took third place in the national contest.
Some flies catch the attention of anglers. The Myakka Minnow catches the attention of fish.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A fresh approach to fly fishing

I've spent a good portion of my life fly fishing in salt water. It's fun. There's nothing quite like casting to, hooking, battling and landing a hefty redfish, snook or tarpon.

I take a lot of anglers from all walks of life fly fishing in salt water. Seems to be a very popular activity. Not everyone has salt water and his or her disposal.

When I have a day off and want to go fishing, I usually hitch up the trailer and head for my favorite freshwater lake or stream. I find fresh water is my nirvana.


First of all, most freshwater lakes and streams are not heavily pressured. I often find myself the only angler on the water.

Secondly, I love to catch fish. And I always seem to catch a lot of fish in fresh water.

It's my observation that fly fishing in Florida's fresh water is a whole lot more productive than in the salt. Our bays and estuaries are heavily pressured and catching fish on the fly can be tough -- especially when it comes to redfish and snook.

But I always seem to do well on the lakes or rivers.

Usually, I cast a light fly rod (1 weight) and target bluegill or speckled perch. I often catch my share of bass with this outfit. Lately, however, I've been targetting bass with my 6-weight and a black popper before the sun comes up. I've been catching a few this way and I expect it to get better as we move into fall and the water cools.

My favorite body of water is Lake Manatee, a 2,500-acre lake located nine miles west of Interstate 75 off State Road 64 in eastern Manatee County. It's about a 20-mile drive from my home in Sarasota. There's a 20-horsepower restriction on outboard motors at the lake, so you don't have to worry about being run over by one of those high-powered bass rigs. Anyway, I'm often the only person on the lake.

Lake Manatee isn't the easiest lake to fish, but it's rewarding if you put your time in. I know the lake very well and have quite a few productive spots.

One of the best kept secrets is the lake's population of channel cats. They are plentiful, large and cooperative. They will hit a variety of flies, including Wooly Buggers, Myakka Minnows and nymphs.

When I'm nymph fishing, I will catch a few golden shiners. That's why I tote along a spinning rod rigged with a hook, split shot and bobber. When I catch a shiner, I'll hook it up and cast it out. I'll place the spinning rod in a rod holder and go back to fly fishing. Usually doesn't take long before I hook a big cat or feisty bass.

Speckled perch (black crappie) are my favorites. They move into the shallows in fall and spring and will hit flies. At Lake Manatee, the specks are thick and hard-fighting. They average nearly 2 pounds.

If you love freshwater fly fishing, give me a call (941) 284-3406. I let you in on a few Lake Manatee secrets.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Myakka Minnow saves the day (again)

Sometimes you stumble upon something good. That's what happened when I created the Myakka Minnow. I came up with a fly that catches fish.

I entered the Myakka Minnow in a national fly-tying contest last year and it didn't place. I won third place with another fly. I discovered that flies that catch fish aren't necessarily the best flies to enter a contest. Many contest flies aren't functinoal and they don't catch fish.

The Myakka Minnow is and does.

This morning (9-11), I hit Lake Manatee, a favorite spot of mine. I got out on the water before daylight. I cast for bass with a black popper and caught one nice fish. The bite quickly ended and I switched to a nymph under a popping cork. I cast for 3o minutes without a strike.

Finally, I tied on a Myakka Minnow, a gold one. I immediately started catching fish. I caught at least 20 hand-size bluegill, another bass and a nice channel cat -- all on 1-weight fly rod.

I'm convinced had it not been for the Myakka Minnow, it would have been a really slow day.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Thunderstorms, jacks, flounder and snook

Dark clouds loomed offshore, holding off for most of the morning. Evidently, the fish seemed to know that bad weather was on the way.

Small jack crevalle swooped in on unsuspecting baitfish along the shoreline just north of Big Butt Beach. The bait frantically tried to escape, some leaping from the water and onto the sand. Ladyfish got in on the action, too.

The bait is plentiful along the beach from Big Butt north to Sand Bowl.

The target, as usual, was snook, a species that just might be Florida's most popular inshore gamefish. They were there by the hundreds, as usual, but they've been acting peculiar.

Blame it on the full moon. Blame it on the tide. Blame it on whatever you want. But we figured this day would be different. That offshore storm had things stirred up and that's often enough to spur snook into a feeding frenzy.

We didn't strike out. We rarely do. But it wasn't as good as we had hoped. We caught and released a pair of small snook and lost another.

All was not lost, though. We caught eight or 10 small jacks, a couple of ladyfish and another flounder -- all on fly.

Ken Taylor of North Port joined us again and totaled one snook, several jacks, a ladyfish, whiting and a mackerel. He lost the best fish of the day -- an almost-doormat flounder.

Flounder fishing will improve through October as the popular flatties move into the surf to spawn. That another species that should provide some fun over the next month.

We fished with Ed Hurst of Sarasota on Tuesday and did fair. Ed landed a redfish on fly. We caught a pair of snook and several little jacks.

My white feathers from Feathercraft arrived in the mail today. That's great. I was out and I need to tie up some more D.T. Specials (variation). My dog, Jack the Jack Russell, got ahold of my last good rooster neck and chewed it.

I wasn't happy, but I had to laugh when I saw him plucking those feathers. That's what dogs do.

Now to the tying desk. Got some D.T. Specials to tie.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Florida Council of FFF Conclave

If you're a fly angler, here's an event you won't want to miss.
I'll be tying flies and conducting a PowerPoing seminar of freshwater kayak fly fishing. I think I'll talk about Fly Fishing for Florida Exotics.

The Florida Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers will hold its annual Conclave at the Ramada Inn in Celebration, Fla., Oct. 23-24. The event features 25 of the best fly tyers in the world, great speakers, casting help from Master Certified Casting Instructors, booths from some of the top fly fishing manufacturers and a barbeque and auction.
For information, email Capt. Pete Greenan at or see the council's website at

Striking out

I struck out on Monday -- first time I haven't caught a snook on the beach this season.
There were plenty of fish, but they weren't the least bit aggressive. I had a few snook follow my D.T. Special, but they really weren't interested.
Tide was virtually the same as it was two weeks ago when I had such a fine day. The moon was about half. Barometer was falling.
Ken Taylor caught some ladyfish and at least one snook on Tuesday while spin fishing the same beach.
On Monday, I saw some really large snook. In fact, just north of "The Wall," I saw a group of 15 really big snook, some pushing 30 pounds.
I'm hoping unstable weather will put the fish in a feeding move!