Thursday, November 26, 2009

Fly fishing is a ticket to fish and fun

Why fly fish?

Why not?

It's a really neat way to fish. It's calm, peaceful and relaxing. And you don't have to be a rocket scientist to use a fly rod in your pursuit of saltwater or freshwater fish.

For years, though, fly fishing was thought of as an elite sport. I know that's the way I viewed it. But it's really not.

Fly-rod manufacturers and others that make reels, line and accessories helped perpetuate that myth by inflating the prices of their merchandise. Some fly rods sell for $700 or more. And you might faint when you see the price of an upper-echelon bamboo rod.

Can you say $2000?

Then along cam Temple Fork Outfitters, a Dallas-based company that produces great fly rods for great prices. You can buy a TFO for $200 or less. You don't have to mortgage the house to own a TFO.

Just because TFOs are affordable doesn't make them inferior. Quite the contrary. They're really good rods that have drawn raves around the world. Some of the best fly anglers I know use and recommend TFO rods.

Sarasota's Pete Greenan is one. Owner of The Gypsy Guide Service, Greenan is one of the most-experienced fly anglers in Florida. He was flinging flies here in the 1970s.

Ron Whitely is another. The Rotonda resident catches a lot of fish on his TFOs.

And Lefty Kreh, the guru of fly fishing, is a spokesman for TFO.

So, there you have it. There's no excuse not to get into the sports. TFO rods are affordable. You can own three for the price of one rod of another brand.

The late Ad Gilbert said it best when asked why he used a fly rod.

"I've already caught a thousand redfish on spinning rod," he said. "Do I want to catch another thousand on spinning rod."

In short, Gilbert had conquered and wanted a different, exciting challenge.

That's the usual route of many fly fishers. They begin with a cane pole and worms and worked their way up the fishing ladder. They end up with fly rods.

Truth be known, you can can just as many fish on fly rod as you can on spinning tackle in most cases. In some cases, you can catch more -- if that's your goal.

Last summer, I spent a good deal of time on local beaches, pursuing snook in the surf. I regularly fared better than my spinning brethren.

Fly rods are great in fresh water, too. I love nothing more than to fish local lakes, streams and canal for bass, bluegill and whatever else might be lurking in the depths. I usually do pretty well.

One of my passions is fly fish in The Everglades for oscar, Mayan cichlid, bass, bluegill, shellcracker, speckled perch and other species.

To be a successful fly angler, you first must become a proficient fly caster. Realize that fly casting and fly fishing are two different things. Once you learn how to cast, then you'll have to learn how to fly fish.

But that's really not too difficult. You're desire to do so usually is enough to spur you on.

How far do you have to cast?

Some experts claim that you must be able to cast a full fly line (about 100 feet). While that might be an advantage, I'm happy when one of my clients is accurate at 50 feet. Most of the fish we encounter are within 50 feet (and that includes redfish, snook, tarpon, bonefish and others).

Accuracy at 50 feet is much better than being off-target at 100.

How do you learn to cast? It's best if you hire a certified casting instructor. Those certified by the Federation of Fly Fishers do an excellent job and should have you casting easily in an hour or two.

I'm not sure I can remember them all, but here are the species I've landed on fly rod in salt water:

1. Spotted seatrout;

2. Redfish;

3. Snook;

4. Flounder;

5. Ladyfish;

6. Dolphin;

7. Cobia;

8. Mangrove snapper;

9. Mutton snapper;

10. Bonefish;

11. Permit;

12. Little tunny;

13. Spanish mackerel;

14. Tripletail;

15. Bluefish;

16. Pompano;

17. Pinfish;

18. Blowfish;

19. Houndfish;

20. Needlefish;

21. Bonnethead shark;

22. Amberjack;

23. Gag grouper;

24. Sheepshead;

25. Black mullet;

26. Black drum;

27. Black seabass;

28. Tarpon;

29. Umbrina roncador.

In fresh water, I've landed:

1. Largemouth bass;

2. Smallmouth bass;

3. Bluegill;

4. Stumpknocker;

5. Speckled perch (black crappie);

6. Shellcracker;

7. Channel catfish;

8. Rainbow trout;

9. Brook trout;

10. Brown trout;

11. Common carp;

12. Grass carp;

13. Oscar;

14. Mayan cichlid;

15. Butterfly peacock bass;

16. Ronkador;

17. Guapote;

18. Barramundi;

19. Sunfish;

20. Golden shiner.

I'm sure I've forgotten a species or two.

Nevertheless, that's a lot of fish. If I can do it, anyone can.

Grab a fly rod and go catch fish!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Redfish among fly fishing's toughest targets

Pete Greenan, who runs The Gypsy Guide Service out of Uncle Henry's Marina in Boca Grande, gave a great talk on fly fishing for redfish in winter at the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers meeting Tuesday night in Sarasota.

It certainly was one of the better talks I've heard over the years.

One thing that Greenan (in photo at right) said is redfish are great training for anyone heading south to try for bonefish.

I disagree.

From my point of view, I think it's the opposite. I think that if you head south, catch a few bonefish on fly rod, you might be ready to try for redfish.

Reds in shallow, clear water are about as tough of a fly-rod accomplishment as you can get. They're spooky and quite finicky.

A few years ago, I was fishing with Fishin' Frank Hommema, Jr. He was poling me along Charlotte Harbor's famed West Wall. I was casting a red-and-white Seducer under the mangroves and retrieving it slowly. I managed to land a half dozen hefty redfish.

I was extremely happy that I'd finally figured it out.

I haven't caught a red at that spot since that trip. The only think I have figured out is that I don't have anything figured out.

Redfish in deeper water are different animals and mush easier to fool on fly. Sarasota fly angler Walter Hamm wades a familiar spot in Sarasota Bay every August and September and does well on redfish that are schooled up in three feet of water off a sand bar. Put those same redfish on the sand bar in a foot of water and you'd have trouble with them.

Of course, outdoor writers have claimed for years that reds are among the easiest of saltwater fish to fool on fly. I'll guarantee you they haven't tried fly fishing for reds on Florida's west coast!

I can understand why they think reds are so easy. I was fishing with Islamorada guide Paul Tejera several year ago. We made the long run from Islamorada to Flamingo. Purpose of the trip was to test out Paul's line of saltwater jigs.

He found a flat and poled onto it. The water was chalky after being stirred up by a school of mullet. Even though the water wasn't clear, you could easily see fish in it. And the first fish we saw was a hefty redfish not three feet from the boat.

"Look at that redfish, Paul," I said, pointing my rod at the fish.

"Don't just stand there looking at it; give him the jig," Paul said.

I did as instructed. I reached out and dabbled the jig in front of the redfish, never believing I had a shot at such close proximity. But the fish rushed forward, opened its mouth and inhaled the offering.

After landing the fish and taking a couple of photos, I turned to Paul and said, "No wonder you guys think redfish are so easy. These fish are really stupid!"

In some areas, redfish do acrobatics to eat flies. In this neck of the woods, it's not like that often.

Lefty has only forgotten one name: mine

Lefty Kreh is my hero.

Long before I met this fly-fishing guru I bought his book: Fly Fishing in Salt Water. That book was my fly-fishing bible for years. I advise anyone contemplating fly fishing to obtain a copy. It has everything you need to know.

Kreh is the man when it comes to fly fishing. He has forgotten more than I'll ever know about the sport.

About 15 years ago, I got the chance to spend a day fishing with him. He was in town to be the featured speaker at a Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers banquet.

The day was lousy, overcast and very windy. That was great! I received a day of casting lessons, stories and jokes from the master.

There are several stories about Kreh. One is that he always takes a nap in the middle of the day no matter where he is. On the drive back to Sarasota, I looked back and saw Kreh sleeping with his mouth open.

Another story is that once he meets you, he never forgets your name.

A few months after spending a day with him, I ran into Kreh in the lobby of the Denver convention center. We were both attending the annual fly tackle dealers show. I stood by the side as Kreh talked with several people. When the last one left, I stepped forward, extended my hand and said, "How are you doing, Lefty?"

He looked at me, shook my hand and said, "I'm doing great, pal. How 'bout you?"

Lefty had no idea who I was.


Three years ago, I emailed him a couple of requests. I asked him for two business cards (one with his autograph) and for one of his Lefty's Deceivers, a fly that he created years ago. It might be saltwater fly fishing's most famous fly.

I received a small package a couple of weeks later. I opened it and found two business cards (one with his signature), an autographed photo of Lefty holding a giant northern pike that he'd taken on fly and a note.

He wrote that he quit mailing out Lefty's Deceivers because he couldn't keep up with the requests. He hoped I would understand.

I did. His business cards are in my collection. His photo is framed and on the wall in my home office/fly-tying room.

Sarasota Bay is fly-rod Mecca

If you can't catch fish on a fly rod these days, you're either not trying or you're not fly fishing.

Fish in Sarasota Bay are going ga-ga over Super Hair Clousers and just about any other fly.

I fished Monday and Tuesday and had monster days. On Monday, I launched at the end of Whitfield Avenue and made my way south to Stephens Point. I fished deep grass about 400 yards of the point.

I'm not sure what the highlight of the day was? Five trout over four pounds each? A hefty fly-rod pompano? A dozen bluefish to three pounds? A mutton snapper? Spanish mackerel? Or all of the ladyfish you could ever want?

Fish were breaking on bait all over the place, so it wasn't difficult to locate them. I'm guessing I caught around 50 fish.

Not bad.

On Tuesday, I took Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers president Bob Parker (above in photo) out. We launched just a little closer to the point. Fog was heavy as we made our way out into Sarasota Bay. Unlike the day prior, there were no breaking fish or diving birds. And it was pretty difficult in the fog to locate the grass patches. We did catch a few trout, ladyfish and Spanish mackerel, but not many.

We paddled inshore toward the Ringling Mansion. I found a bunch of small minnows on the surface and began casting around them. I quickly caught a pair of four-pound mackerel. I also hooked a fish that I couldn't stop. The hook pulled, so I was, um, off the hook! I suspect it was a hefty jack crevalle. Parker hooked and landed a three-pound jack that had him contorted like a pretzel as it swam around the kayak. We also landed a few seatrout.

I had a hunch fish would finally cooperate off the point. So, when the wind subsided, I paddled out. Before I got to where I wanted to be, I saw a pompano leap from the water. I did what anyone would do: I began casting.

I did hook and land a nice pompano. I ended up landed four others. There must have been a school of them below because they were skipping all over the place.

Bluefish were breaking on the surface and I landed a half dozen of them in short order. I also managed my largest blue in years -- a strong six-pounder.

A cold front is moving through the area today, so I probably won't get back on the water until early next week. I'll use the time to tie a few more Super Hair Clousers.

The reason I use Super Hair rather than bucktail is that the synthetic lasts much longer than the natural stuff when hook toothy fish like blues and macks. I also coat the three with epoxy which extends their life, too.

This deep grass pattern will last throughout the winter. There will be slow days, of course. But there won't be many.

It's a great place for beginning fly fishers. It's also a lot of fun for veterans.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Another day, another fly-rod slam

Evidently, redfish don't read what they're supposed to do. With excellent tides this week, I figured I'd try to find some tailing reds in Pine Island Sound.

I found them, but not very many.

On Monday, I did manage a fly-rod slam. I got my snook and spotted seatrout early and then added a red in the afternoon. I finished the day with five snook, eight mangrove snapper, five spotted seatrout and a redfish.

Today, I took Capt. Al White of Boca on the Fly out for a little paddle fishing. We did well on small snook and trout in the morning. We had a few hours to kill before low tide, so we paddled into the backcountry to sling flies. While back there, I noticed a number of cruising redfish.

As low tide approached, we paddled back into the Sound to look for tailing reds. We found one and Al made a number of really good casts. But it seemed as if the red never saw the fly.

With tailers few and far between, we went back to the shallow backcountry to look for redfish. I found one fairly quickly while Al was switching flies. I was poling along the shallows when I spotted a tail not 20 feet off my bow. I stopped the kayak, grabbed my fly rod and made a cast. The red didn't see the fly. I cast again and almost immediately hooked up.

It was a good fish on an 8-weight. Fly of choice was my First Cast Crab, a pattern that produced for my on Monday.

Redfish always seem to look smaller in the water and this one was no exception. As I worked the fish to the kayak, I could see it was larger than I had figured. Turned out to be a 28-incher that weight a little more than 7 pounds.
Being able to stand and pole my kayak was the key. I had no trouble seeing fish all day. It's a great way to fly fish.
Al caught a couple of more snook before it was time to paddle back to the launch. On the way, we encountered a couple of tailers, but we couldn't get them to eat.

Oh, well. Another day and another fly-rod slam.

Not bad at all.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Fishing success a matter of perspective

Is the glass half full or half empty?

Isn't it just a matter of perspective?

The pessimist will claim it's half empty. The optimist, of course, will say it's half full.
Fishing success, too, is a matter of perspective. What one angler perceives to be a bad day, another angler claim it's a good day.

Years ago, I took my Dad to Lake Okeechobee to fish with famed guide Glen Hunter. We fished long and hard and totaled 39 bass to 6 pounds.

"I'm really sorry that the fishing was so slow today," Hunter said after the trip. "You'll have to come back again when it's good."

I didn't say a word.

A year later, I ran into Hunter and he asked about my Dad.

"How's he doing?," Hunter inquired. "We need to get him out on the lake again. I'm really sorry the bite was off when we took him."

I just smiled.

"Glen, it may have been slow to you," I said. "But what you don't understand is that while you were apologizing, my Dad was basking in the glow of the best fishing trip of his life."

Guides often are their worst enemy. Many don't take into consideration the experience of their clients.

Ladyfish are great for some and not for others.

I had a client from Chicago who was new to salt water and relatively new to fly fishing. He hired me for a half-day outing.

My dilemma was where to take him?

We needed hungry fish in easy conditions.

The light bulb finally lit.

Little Sarasota Bay!

There were tons of leaping ladyfish roaming the Intracoastal Waterway and they would be just perfect.

We launched at the Main Street pier in Osprey and paddled about 200 yards west to the edge of the ICW. I had him anchor within range of the fish. He was about 30 feet away.

The only problem was he couldn't cast 30 feet. He struggled to hit 25.

What to do?

The solution readily became apparent.

"Ron," I said, "lift your anchor and move five feet closer, then drop it."

He did.

"Now, cast as far as you can," I instructed.

After six false casts, he sent the Clouser Deep Minnow toward it's target. Luckily, the distance was there.

I suggested that he let it sink, then begin a fast retrieve.

He was pleasantly surprised when his line tightened before he had moved the fly five feet.

"I've got one!" he yelled, giggling like a little boy.

It was the first of who knows how many ladyfish over the course of the morning.

The neophyte fly rodder caught fish after fish.

Easy as pie.

Sometimes inexperience backfires in your face.

My first kayak charter was great -- at least in my opinion. I took a fellow from Atlanta out on his first fishing trip ever. We launched at Joe Bay. Fish were hungry and they were large. Using light jigs, we caught and released 50 spotted seatrout from 18 to 25 inches and 15 redfish from 29 to 34.

I felt pretty darn good.

On the way home, I asked, "So, do you think you'd like to do this again?"

He replied, "Yeah, maybe, but do you think next time we could go after some big fish?

Talk about the bubble bursting ...

Bob Nutting called me one day and inquired about a fly-fishing trip. We talked for a while and then tried to settle on a date.

I gave him his pick of days I had open.
"Well," he said, "the Pirates are home that day and on the road the next two.

"How about Wednesday?"

Wednesday was fine for me, so we agreed.
"Let me ask you a question, if you don't mind?" I said. "Are you a Pirates fan? Or are you with the team?"

He paused, then said, "I'm with the team. I took over as principle owner in January."

I Googled Bob Nutting and not only found out that he had been with the Pirates for awhile before buying the team, but also he is a world-class fly angler. He had a number of fly world records to his credit.

March in Florida is baseball time. Major League teams converge upon the state to train prior to the regular season. They take advantage of the state's warm and balmy weather.

The day we were scheduled to fish dawned cold and windy. We were met by a bluebird sky (high pressure) as we launched at Cockroach Bay. A strong northeast wind coupled with a low tide made things pretty tough.

We paddled out into Tampa Bay, anchored the kayaks on a sand bar and began to wade. Not more than five minutes into the trip, a hefty snook moved off the grass in front of us and onto the sand bar.

"There's a nice snook," I said softly. "Put the fly about three feet in front."

Nutting did so with the aplomb of a master. He was quick and on-target. He let the fly sink, then began to twitch it.

The snook -- at least a 10-pounder -- charged, then moved off at the last second.

That was the only shot we got on the sand bar, so we waded back to the kayaks and paddled inshore.

Things were excruciatingly slow.

Fortunately, the wind slowed, the sun came out and the water warmed up in early afternoon. We paddled out to a line of mangroves, anchored the kayaks and began to wade. Over the next 90 minutes, Nutting cast to 16 redfish and snook.

He didn't hook up, but he had plenty of opportunity.

And with most fly fishers, that's all they ask.

Nutting didn't get a hit, yet he had a great day.

I received my biggest tip to date -- on a day when my angler didn't land a fish.
A had a fly trip last last year with an angler from Sarasota and his stepfather. Both were adequate with the fly rod, but conditions weren't exactly great. We launched at Whitfield Avenue and began working our way south.
When I have fly anglers, I will usually carry a spinning rod rigged with a jig to use as a fish finder. I used it to find a few ladyfish just off the sand bar. As they began catching the ladies, I attended to their needs, changing flies, retying and making sure their leaders were in good shape.
When we got to the channel leading into the Crosley-Horton Estate, we anchored the boats and got out. We waded to the edge of the channel and began casting.
"Would you mind if I used the spinning rod?" Jamie asked.
I handed him the spinner and took his fly rod.
A few moments later, he hooked a pretty nice fish. We had no idea what it was, but figured it was a redfish. My clients have hooked a number of big reds in that channel.
But this fish was different. It was strong and fast.
And when it tried to jump, it gave itself away. It was a hefty snook.
Jamie, who works at the Out of Door Academy, handled the situation like an expert. He eased the fish near and I was able to lip it with my Boca Grip. Turned out to be 32 inches and about 10 pounds.
Jamie was thrilled. Jamie and I are pictured above right.
Doesn't take a lot of fish to make the day.

A few years ago, I was fishing by myself. When I get that opportunity, I love to head for Lake Manatee to fly fish. There are days at the big lake when you cannot go wrong.

This was not one of those days. It was really slow.

I like to start out with a popping bug. But the fish told me that a popper wasn't what they wanted.

So, I switched to a No. 12 nymph under a strike indicator. I caught a few fish, but the action was still slow.

I cut the tiny nymph off and tied on a new creation, a fly I named the Nymph FLY. The fly's body was made of Fuzzy Leach Yarn -- hence Nymph FLY.

I really didn't expect it to produce much. It was tied on a No. 8 hook, so I figured it would be a little too big. But I started catch fish -- and quality fish at that.

I caught several hand-sized bluegill. I caught a couple of 2-pound speckled perch. I caught shellcracker. And I hooked a large fish that had me stumped.

It didn't jump, but it was strong. It slugged it out and took me into the backing. Every time I'd gain line, I'd quickly lose it. And with 3.5-pound tippet, I had to be careful.

My patience paid off. After about 5 minutes, I landed a 5-pound tilapia, one of the largest I'd ever caught.

My totals for the day: Five large bluegill, two hefty speckled perch, three beefy shellcracker and a 5-pound blue tilapia. Eleven quality fish.

I've had several 100-fish day at Lake Manatee, so 11 fish pales in comparison. But they were all really nice fish and came on a very slow day. I figured out the pattern and what the fish wanted.

Those 11 fish will always be in my mind.

What it all means is that if you're determined to have a good time, you probably will. Conversely, if you want it to be a bad time, then rest assured it will.

It's your choice.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Grand Cayman bonefish are calling

My wonderful wife, Kathy, gave me a great birthday present.

She presented me a gift certificate for a bonefish trip of my choice: Bahamas, Mexico or Belize. What a present!

I've never been to an exotic bonefish destination, so it was quite a surprise.

"All you have to do is figure out where you want to go," said Kathy.

That's where the fun began.

Of course, she'll accompany me on the trip, so "rustic" bonefish camps are out. That eliminated the Andros Island Bonefish Club or any other club on the island. Ditto for many other Bahamian camps.

Mexico was a possibility, but Ascension Bay was a little pricey. I thought about booking a room in Cancun and fishing on my own. I've heard the Mexican flats around there have good bonefish populations with little pressure.

At one point, I suggested that we skip the bonefish trip and just take a cruise. However, we couldn't find a seven-day cruise that fit our times schedule.

Back to fishing...

After several hours of working the Internet, I remembered that my friend, Capt. Al White, raved about the bonefish at Grand Cayman. He said there are lots of fish and virtually no pressure.

"Nobody fishes for them," said White.


Grand Cayman offers plenty of things to do, so Kathy won't be bored during the day. And there's great nightlife. It's a great place.

We booked a hotel and flights. We leave Tampa around 2 p.m. on Dec. 24 and land in Grand Cayman at about 3:50. Then, I'll have four days to fish.

White told me that I can drive to most of the spots. Just park the car, get out, grab my fly rod and start looking for bonefish. He said that he hooked and landed a 13-pounder and several smaller fish. White said bonefish "crushed" two of his flies.

I'll be spending time tying flies for the trip. I'm going to tie tan-and-white Clousers, pink-and white-Clousers, pink Gotchas, First Cast Crab Flies and a few other patterns. I want to have an assortment of 3-4 dozen flies. Of course, I'll probably visit a fly shop on Grand Cayman and purchase a few of the hot local flies.

I will take three rods: 6 weight, 8 weight and 9 weight. I'll only use the 6 to fish other species like snook, jacks and whatever else lurks on the Caymanian flats.
I'm excited. Getting older really isn't too bad!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Berman still telling fish stories

I was the guest on Saturday morning's Capt. Mel Show on Tampa AM radio station 970-WFLA. I guess I've been a guest on Mel's show a dozen times or more over the years.

I always enjoy it.

Host Mel Berman does a great job and his show is No. 1 in its time slot.

Back in the old days, I had to get up at 4 a.m. and drive to WFLA's Tampa studio. There's no drive involved now. Thanks to digital technology, Mel's guests can participate from the comfy confines of their homes.

Berman is a Tampa Bay icon. The former charter skipper has done a little bit of everything in his life. He was one of the first Top 40 disk jockies, spinning the likes of Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and many others at a time when it was more controversial than popular.

Berman, 81, and his wife, Ginny, moved to Tampa in 1969. That's when he bought a boat and began chartering. His clients caught their share of grouper, snapper, amberjack and other finny denizens.
I've fished with Berman on a number of occasions. His favorite outing is to cast for spotted seatrout, jack crevalle, ladyfish, bluefish and other species over deep grass flats until noon. Then, he likes to head to lunch.
I was surprised to find out that Berman has actually fished out of a kayak. He said he joined guide Neil Taylor for a morning of kayak fishing.

Next year, the Capt. Mel Show will be 25 years old. Berman said that everywhere he would go, people loved to talk about fishing. That spawned his show. But he had no idea he's still be behind the mic a quarter of a century later.

Unlike many newspapers, 970-WFLA realizes the popularity of Florida's No. 1 participatory sport. The ratings speak loud and clear. And Berman is tops in his time slot. That helps to sell a lot of advertising.

Friday, November 6, 2009

My favorite fly-rod species

My favorite fish on fly rod?

That's a tough choice. I love fly fishing for bonefish. I love fly fishing for oscar. And I love fly fishing for false albacore (the species I'm holding in the photo).

Bonefish are the ultimate in saltwater fly fishing. They're tough, speedy and very elusive. Biscayne Bay and the Florida Keys are the only reliable spots for bonefish in the United States. I can leave my home in Sarasota, Fla., and be on the bonefish flats in five hours.

I caught my first bonefish on fly about 20 years ago. I was fishing in a tournament. The two days prior to the tournament were calm and clear. On tournament day, the sky was overcast and the wind howled at 25 miles per hour.

But I had a great guide. He not only put me on a ton of bonefish, but also kept the wind at my back and off my casting shoulder. In early afternoon, I hooked a monster bone near Shell Key. The fish departed that flat like it was shot from a cannon.

"If that fish goes deep, you'll lose it on the coral," said my guide.

Luckily, the fish didn't dive and I was able to get it out of the channel and back onto the flat.

If I had known how big that fish was, I'm certain I would have choked. But I didn't. My guide netted the fish and said, "You might as well quit now because you'll never catch a bigger bonefish."

The bone was slightly more than 33 inches long and weighed an estimated 14 pounds.
I won the tournament.

Bonefish would be my favorite species if I got to fish them all the time.

False albacore (also known as little tunny and bonito) are great, too. They eagerly take a fly and make long, speedy runs. These fish usually range from 4 to 15 pounds.

I got to fly fish for them the other day. Pete Greenan and I found albies busting flying fish in the inshore Gulf of Mexico just out from Gasparilla Pass. We landed four of the five we hooked.

I caught the largest fish -- an 8-pounder -- on a 6-weight fly rod. I looked down at my reel about 2 minutes into the battle and saw that I was running out of backing.

I looked at Greenan and asked him to start the engine.

He just smiled.

Fortunately, the fish stopped its run and I was able to regain line.

It's not a great idea to hook albies up on a 6-weight. It's better on an 8-weight.

Albies might be my favorite fish, but they're hit or miss for most of the year. Sometimes I go a year between catching them.

Oscar no doubt are the hardest fighting freshwater fish in Florida. Like orange trees and coconut palms, they're not native. They were first discovered in state waters in the early 1950s. Most think an aquarium owner dumped his or her fish in the backyard canal down in Miami-Dade County.

The rest is history.

Now, south Florida's fresh waters have large populations of exotics: oscar, Mayan cichlid, walking catfish, blue tilapia, spotted tilapia, brown hoplo. Bull's-eye snakeheads, jaguar guapote, clown knifefish, suckermouth catfish, grass carp, butterfly peacock bass and others.

Grass carp and peacock bass were intentionally introduced into Florida waters by the state. The others were not.

State fisheries biologists probably would like to get rid of the exotics. But that's not likely to happen. With that in mind, we might as well catch them and have fun.

Oscar and Mayan cichlids are good to eat and I don't think there are size or bag limits on either.

Oscar would be my favorite fly-rod species, but I have to drive about three hours to get to them and I get the opportunity five or six times a year.

Around home, I guess it's snook. I probably catch and release 200-300 snook annually. And I land some big ones. I caught and reelased a 39-incher last summer.

Could be snook. Could be redfish. I like dolphin, too. Tarpon are a blast. Bass are pretty special. And I've always had an affinity for bluegill.

Last summer, I caught some mammoth carp on fly in Michigan. And I even managed some hefty smallmouth bass.

Michigan waters also have yielded steelhead, coho salmon, rainbow trout and brown trout.

Now, it's becoming pretty clear: Most any species taken on a fly rod is pretty darn good.

Freebies always come at a high price

Guy Tillotson of Bonita Springs, Fla., called me the other day. He's rep for several companies. He reps TFO fly rods and Freedom Hawk kayaks among other things.

During our discussion, he asked, "Why do people think reps and fishing guides get everything for free?"

We don't, but that's what people think.

Only unethical outdoor writers get things for free. When I was working full-time as an outdoor writer, freebies hit me in the face almost every day. I was offered free trips to many exotic destinations.

One time I was asked to attend a gathering of outdoor writers from around the country at Boca Grande. Jack Harper of Miller's Marine had this crazy idea that he could stage tarpon tournaments in Boca Grande Pass and attract a legion of fans just like NASCAR. The boats would be very colorful and wrapped with sponsor names all over the hull. Harper, a former football player at the University of Florida, also envisioned television coverage because the event was stage in the confined area of Boca Grande Pass.

That dream eventually turned into the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series, a very successful venture that is aired on the World Fishing Network.

Back to the beginning ...

I wasn't going to attend the outing. I filed the invitation in the circular drawer (trash can). But the marketing director called me and begged me to attend.

I relented, but only after telling him I'd pay my own way.

When I checked into the hotel, the desk clerk look at the comp list and said, "Your room is free."

I told her that I had to pay. And I did so by credit card.

I also paid for all meals.

A few months later, I recieved a call at home from the paper's managing editor. She was livid.

"Did you attend an outing for outdoor writers at Boca Grande?" she yelled.

I told her I had.

She wanted to know if I took the free room and meals.

I told her that I hadn't.

"I want to see the receipts in the morning."

I had the receipts, so it was no big deal. But it could have been a really big deal had I taken the free stuff.

Today's newspapers are very picky about freebies. They don't want writers obligated to any business or organization. Some outdoor writers don't get that.

Now, I'm a guide. I'm sponsored by a number of companies. My kayaks come from Native Watercraft. I get them at a good price, but not for free.

I use TFO fly rods and reels. They're not free, either.

I was talking with someone not long ago who said, "I know why you like TFO fly rods ... because they're free."

Wrong. Even if they were free, I wouldn't use them if I didn't like them. They're great fly rods and I'm fortunate to be on TFO's pro staff.

I learned long ago that nothings really free. There's always a catch on the freebies.

Fly-fishing duo keep it light and catch fish

Don't let Al White touch your line.

He's the kiss of death. Bad luck. A hex.

He's a banana on a flats skiff.

Everything Midas touched may have turned to gold. Every time White touches a fishing line, it breaks.

Twice the other day, White went to land fish for me. When he grabbed the leader to land a small snook I'd hooked, it broke. I not only lost the snook, but also a $5.95 popping bug. I lost a Super Hair Clouser that I had tied when White tried to land a nice trout I'd hooked.

But I didn't care. White, Pete Greenan and myself were just having fun. We caught a few fish while fly fishing in Gasparilla Sound, Bull Bay and Whidden Creek and we laughed all day.

When this trio gets together, it's the Three Stooges and Keystone Cops all at once. It's machine-gun jokes from start to finish.

White likes to sing, too. And he's not too bad, either. Greenan, meanwhile, can't carry a note.

Both can fish. Both can fling fly lines a country mile.

White and Greenan are professional saltwater fishing guides. When they get a day off, they go fishing.

Here's something you don't know about this gruesome twosome: They love to fly fish in The Everglades for panfish. Both have taken species of every size and shape in salt water, but they get a kick of of diminutive exotics like oscar and Mayan cichlid. On a trip last January, White anchored his kayak within casting distance of a fallen tree and caught 22 oscar in 22 casts.

How's that for efficiency.

"They fight like crazy," said White. "They're something else on a fly rod.

"I can't wait to go again."

We will. In December.

I've taken White to The 'Glades twice and we caught so many fish that we don't know how many landed. Greenan joined in last January. Both times, it was non-stop action.

I'll let you know how we do next time.

A guide to purchasing a fishing kayak

So, you're thinking about buying a kayak?

Good luck.

Realize there are dozens of brands and even more models from which to choose. There is a kayak for every paddler and, if you're lucky, you'll find the one for you.

Kayak fishing is the fastest growing segment of the sport. If you don't believe me, just take a look around the next time you're out on the bay or in the backcountry. You won't read this in your local newspaper, but paddle fishers are everywhere.

There are a number of reasons. Topping the list is that they're relatively inexpensive when you compare them to the cost of a boat, motor and trailer. And they don't guzzle gas.

They're also extremely fun. Tough to beat the feeling of hooking a big fish while sitting or standing in a kayak.

Not just any kayak will do, however. There are kayaks made especially for fishing. Most are sit on-top (SOT) boats and some are hybrid. Sit-inside kayaks (like the Eskimos use) aren't suitable for fishing. I'm sure some intrepid paddlers have made impressive catches from a SIK, but you'll be better off with one made for fishing.

Fishing kayaks are usually a little wider for stability and have features like rod holders and places to stow lots of tackle. I know some kayak fishers who tote along five or six rods on every trip.

Most use a milk crate that they place behind their seat to stow their tackle boxes and other gear. I added six rod holders to my milk crate.

Other accessories include anchor, anchor trolley, GPS, depth finder, live well, rudder, stakeout pole and push pole. My stakeout pole (Wang) doubles as a push pole.

The reason I need a push pole is that I stand in my kayak. My personal craft is a Native Watercraft Ultimate 14.5. It's a hybrid boat made by Legacy Paddlesports in Greensboro, N.C. I have two Ultimates and two 12-foot Heritage Redfish Angler SOTs.

Native Watercraft also makes the Ultimate in a pedal model. Foot power is becoming very popular in the market.

No matter what kayak you buy, make sure to test it out prior to making your decision. Remember that the best kayak is the boat the the person you're asking owns. That kayak might not be the best for you because people come in all shapes, sizes and weight.

I live in Sarasota, Fla., and Economy Tackle, the area's largest kayak dealer, holds Kayak Demo Days twice monthly at Ackerman Park (east of Interstate 75 and just south of Fruitville Road). If you're in the area, you can call Economy Tackle at (941) 922-9671 to find out dates and times. That's where I first paddled the Ultimate.

After you buy your boat, you'll need to get it home. So, you'll likely also purchase some sort of rooftop system. I used to have Thule racks and Malone gullwing saddles when I carried my fleet atop my Ford Expedition. But when I traded that vehicle in for my Toyota Highlander, I got rid of the racks and bought a four-kayak trailer.

You'll also need a paddle. A wise way to go is to buy the best you can afford. Good paddles are efficient, light and strong. They're made of carbon fiber and the blades can be feathered to cut through the wind better.

Your arms will thank you at the end of the day.

The best thing about kayak fishing is that you're reliant on no one. You can fish when you want, where you want, for as long as you and and for what you want.

And you don't have to buy gas on the way home.

You might find out like I did that fishing from a kayak increases your production. You're so quiet, the fish don't know you're there.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Spinach wilts when the water boils

When I was at the Federation of Fly Fishers Florida Council Conclave a couple of weeks ago in Celebration, Fla., I was surrounded by many excellent fly casters.
As I watched them send fly lines out 100 feet or more, I began thinking about the difference between fly casting and fly fishing. Obviously, they are not one in the same.
There are some excellent casters who can perform magic with fly lines, throwing tight loops and putting the fly wherever it needs to be. There are some anglers, however, who struggle to cast 25 feet.
If length was the measuring stick for angling success, then the person who casts the farthest would be the best angler. But there's no real correlation between length of cast and angling success. They can complement each other, but it's not necessarily so.
Back in my early days of fly fishing, I spent a day with my mentor, the late Addison Gilbert, a retired Sarasota County educator who began fly fishing in the 1940s in Florida. He often was target of laughter as he used the long wand to cast at tarpon and other marine species.
"Ain't no rainbow trout in Sarasota Bay," someone inevitably would say.
Gilbert ran the skiff as we looked for tripletail around markers in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. It was my first attempt to nab tripletail on fly. Turned out to be a great day as I landed five trips to 20 pounds.
I wrote a story on the outing. After reading it, two anglers, one of whom was considered a "world-class caster," contacted Gilbert and talked him into taking them out for a bout with tripletail. A couple of days later, I asked Gilbert how they did.
He laughed, started shaking his head and said, "It made me feel good to watch one of the best casters around lasso himself time after time with fly line."
How in the world could anyone do that? How could he wrap the line around himself?
"He couldn't handle the pressure," said Gilbert. "The pressure of casting for distance at a show or in a clinic was home for him. But casting for a big fish was not.
"He choked."
I've seen that happen to a number of fly casters over the years. When the pressure to put a fly in front on a big bonefish, snook or redfish is great, they wilt like spinach in a pot of boiling water.
It's just the opposite with me. I wouldn't stand at the casting pond at a fly fishing conclave and cast in front of the experts. I probably wouldn't do all that badly, but that's not my cup of tea. However, I'd gladly cast to a tarpon or other big fish in front of anyone.
I spent a day in Miami-Dade County fishing with Marty Arostegui, arguably the world's most successful fly angler. Arostegui, a Cuban immigrant, was looking for world-record oscars. He took a break from his world-record quest when he spotted a decent peacock bass along the shoreline. He cast to the fish, let it sink and then began stripping it back. The fly hadn't moved 18 inches when the 4-pound peacock charged and inhaled it.
After landing the fish, Arostequi looked at me, handed me the fly rod and said, "Now it's your turn."
No big deal.
It was like Babe Ruth handing you the bat after socking a monstrous home run and asking you to duplicate the feat.
I cast to a peacock bass and caught it.
Style and grace are appropriate words to describe fly casting. There is inherent beauty within the endeavor. It's not difficult to watch a great fly caster. You often find yourself mesmerized by the rhythmic ebb and flo of the fly line.
Not all casters are like that, though. Some are difficult to watch.
That reminds me of the time that I played golf at a mountain-top course in West Virginia. I was paired up with an older gent whose swing in no way resembled any good swing I'd ever seen. His legs weren't involved in the process as he did it all with his arms. The swing was on three different planes -- at the same time.
But somehow he was able to put it all together when he had to. When the club head met the ball, it was square. And the tiny white orb would land 250 yards right down the middle of the fairway. He wasn't overly long, but he was accurate.
He was also greedy. He took me for $50.
A few years ago, I was fishing with a fellow who I figured didn't know the tip from the handle of a fly rod. His loops were wide and his accuracy lacking. But he was somehow able to put the fly where it needed to be when he had to. Asking him to cast 100 feet to a tailing bonefish was out of the question. But if he was within 70 feet, most fish didn't have a chance.
There's a myth that fly fishing is only for the rich. I disprove that theory. Still, that myth is perpetuated by some of the snoots that call themselves fly anglers. However, fly fishing is for anyone who has the desire. And it doesn't have to cost an arm and leg.
Temple Fork Outfitters has done a lot to help the sport. TFO puts out very reasonable priced rods and reels. And they're not junk.
An acquaintance told me that he knew why I use TFO equipment.
"Because you're sponsored by TFO and you get the stuff for free," he said.
I am sponsored by TFO, but I don't get the product for free. I get a decent professional discount, but that's all.
But let me tell you this: Even if TFO gave me everything, I wouldn't use the rods or reels if I didn't like them.
I'm proud to be associated with TFO and I like their equipment. And I like that TFO has taken fly fishing out of the mansion and put it within reach of anyone.
TFO got the picture a few years back and it has paid off. More folks are beginning to understand that it's more than looks these days.
It's how you perform when the pressure's on.
And money ain't going to buy you that.

Fishing is priceless fun

I fished in the fifth annual Fall Fly Fishing Challenge held in Sarasota, Fla. Had a great time.
The event was sponsored by the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers and the Sarasota Chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association.

Didn't win. Didn't care. I finished one fish short in the Trout category of the Open Division. My tournament partner, Capt. Pete Greenan, caught 10 spotted seatrout to my nine.
Oh, well.

I did have fun. That's what it's all about.

Of course, some might claim that's a loser's cliche. I've placed in the tournament a number of times, so I really do fish to have fun.

You should, too. Always.

I give 40 or 50 talks to various organizations annually. Often -- especially when the audience is made up of non-fishing types -- I'll ask for a show of hands by all the golfers present.

I'll tell them what a great game golf is. How there's nothing better than taking a swing, hitting the ball on the sweet spot and sending it 300 yards straight down the fairway.

Then I tell them I used to play golf. And there were many days I'd pick up my ball on the 18th green, walk away, look up at the sky and think, "I should have stayed home and gone fishing today."

Then I tell them, "I've never ever been fishing and said I should have stayed home and played golf."

Fishing is catharsis. It's a break from monotony. It's a time to get away from your problems. And the concentration and focus that fishing requires certainly allows you to do that.

Fishing isn't the same for all folks. Some head out to their favorite bridge or pier, cast a line out, sit down in their beach chair, pop the top on a beer, open a book and pray a fish doesn't come along and spoil the tranquility.

That's quite OK.

For others, it's a constant battle to catch fish.

Most begin at the same level and progress at their own rate of speed and interest. Some begin by fishing nightcrawlers under a red-and-white bobber and continue doing so for the rest of their lives.

Others start with worm and progress to lures. Some even end up fly fishing.

No matter your choice, the experience is all the same. The sport offers a chance to unify with nature, inhale the beauty of this earth and every once in a while catch a fish.

I have taken dozens of anglers for walks along the Florida west coast beaches in search of the wiley snook. For some, it's all about snook and nothing but snook. While they're straining to see a lunker in the surf, I'm looking around and seeing dolphin 100 yards off the beach, frigate birds circling high overhead, barracuda zooming in on unsuspecting mullet and maybe even a lovely lass in a pretty bikini.

Oh, yeah, I see a few snook, too.

Anglers come from all walks of life. Some are young and some are old. Some are rich and some are poor. Some left-handed. Some right-handed. Some Republicans. Some Democrats.

The fish don't care.

I paid $50 to enter the Fall Fly Fishing Challenge. I competed as hard as I could. I prepared a couple of weeks in advance. I fished to win.

I didn't.

I really didn't care.

I had fun.

And $50 is a very cheap day of entertainment.

By the way, I won the Snook Division of the tournament a few years ago. I can't remember what year or what I won.

I do remember I had a great time.