Thursday, March 25, 2010

Warm weather means hot fishing

Just as we figured, it only took a little warm weather to heat up the fishing action.
I had a couple of charters this week and we did extremely well.
On Wednesday, Ian Hill of Ontario caught a mess of pompano, spotted seatrout, Spanish mackerel and ladyfish. All of the fish were taken on D.O.A. CAL Jigs with gold paddle tails, D.O.A. night-glo shrimp and my Big Eye Baitfish Fly. Best action took place over deep grass patches in Sarasota Bay. We found fish on just about every cast.
On Thursday, I took Mark Fleischauer of Illinois and his son, Matt. Fishing was better than on the previous day.
We started catching fish right off the bat -- all on CAL Jigs with gold tails. Mark started things out with a fine Spanish mackerel. We caught at least a half dozen macks to 4 pounds on the day. In addition, we caught pompano to 2 pounds, spotted seatrout to 2, bluefish to 3, ladyfish and flounder.
Matt had the hot hand as far as big fish went.
We probably would have done better, but the wind picked up around 10 a.m., and kept us from fishing the productive spots.
The weather is definitely warming up and the fishing is pretty hot, too!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Take advantage of the days that will allow you to fish

It's difficult for those in other areas of the country to comprehend just how tough this winter has been for those of us who reside in Florida.
This winter has been brutal for a number of reasons: unseasonable cold, strong wind and many lost charters because of the first two. I was forced to cancel 15 charters in February alone. That's not good for business or the wallet.
I like to get out on the winter whenever I can; whether or not I have a charter. It's a good way to keep abreast of what's going on. If someone calls this afternoon and wants to go fishing tomorrow, I like to be confident about his or her chances.
I got out twice this week before the weather deteriorated. On Monday, I fished in southern Tampa Bay off E.G. Simmons Park, a neat spot that I've fish a number of occasions. I arrived at the launch at about 7:30 and was in my kayak paddling north by 7:45. I chose to paddle just outside the backcountry, but didn't see any signs of fish. There were no mullet in the area and there were no visible signs of snook or redfish. I then decided to paddle in the backcountry, a series of shallow bays that were separated from Tampa Bay by several cuts. Some cuts are deep and should be prime spots to target when the weather warms. But they were fishless this time. And even though the bays held good  numbers of mullet, predators were absent.
I returned to Tampa Bay and scouted a variety of locations: mangroves, shallows, grassy areas, sand holes and deep water. I didnt see any fish and I didn't see a couple of other anglers in the area hook up.
I was thinking it might be time to head home. On the way back to the launch, I decided to check out a canal-like stretch of water. I thought the canal's depth might hold some warmer water and some fish. I paddled about 100 yards into the cut and sent a cast under some mangroves. I was using a D.O.A. Cal Jig and gold shad tail. I bounced the jig once, and then let it sink. I felt a fish take the jig as it sank. I set the hook and was solid into a fish. Didn't know for sure what it was, but figured it was a redfish.
A few minutes later, I landed a 23-inch redfish. I took a photo and then released the fish.
The tide was incoming, so I set up my drift accordingly. I could easily cast under and around mangrove on the north side of the cut. I caught and released seven more redfish over the next hour. I landed one fish that went 26 inches. The others ranged from 17 to 19 inches. Didn't matter to me. I had a great time.
The next day, I decided to stay home and fish Sarasota Bay off Stephens Point. I launched at a spot nearby and paddled directly to a grass patch that had yielded a good number of spotted seatrout a couple of weeks ago.
The fish were still there. I caught a small trout in my first cast and ended up with eight trout in 10 casts. I simply kept fishing until the bite slowed. When it did, I paddled to the next patch. I fished for about three hours and caught more than 75 trout and one ladyfish. All came on the D.O.A. CAL Jig and gold paddle tail grub. I may have caught one legal trout (the slot limit is 15 to 20 inches). Doesn't matter. The good news is the trout population is healthy. And these 12-to-15-inch trout will grow!
On a side note, I want you to know just how tough and durable the paddle tail grub is. I caught 76 fish and used just two grubs. And the second grub is still in good shape and I'll use it the next time I have a spinning trip. In addition, when placed on the jig head with the paddle tail horizontal, the tail vibrates nicely when jigged or reeled.
I don't use a spinning rod often, but I will when I'm on an exploratory trip. My goal is to find fish. Once I located them, I'm confident that I and my clients can take them on fly.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Brian was keen on fishing and a little rough around the gills

I met him when I rented a three-bedroom apartment in southern Sarasota.

He was a 6-year-old whirlwind who had no fear of anything. Bryen loved to get his bicycle up to speed and do a flip into the swimming pool.

Management didn't like Bryen, but he was a cute son of a gun.

He grew up in a rough home. His parents were nice enough, but I never saw them without a beer and cigarette in their hands. Bryen pretty much did what he wanted when he wanted.

One thing he loved to do was fish. And I've always said that a kid who fishes is a good kid. You learn all sorts of life values as an angler.

I was sitting on the couch one afternoon watching television when I heard the doorbell ring. When I opened the door, there was Bryen with a fish in hand.

"Steve, what is this?" he asked.

I quickly took the fish from him. It was a pirahna and its mouth was full of large, sharp teeth. The fish obviously had been released in the pond behind our clubhouse. Bryen was lucky he didn't try to remove the hook from the fish's mouth.

Bryen was about average size for a 6-year-old. Most of the time he was barefooted. He usually wore long pants and a T-shirt. He always looked as if he hadn't had a bath in weeks.

I watched him fish a couple of times at the pond. He was pretty good and caught his share of bass, bluegill and tilapia. Everytime he'd see me, Bryen would ask if I'd been fishing?

One day, my wife, Kathy, said, "Why don't you take Bryen fishing?"

Good idea.

I walked over to his apartment and knocked on the door. A thin, obviously tired woman opened the door. As the door opened, it was if all the smoke from a year's worth of cigarettes had finally found a way out.

"Are you Bryen's mom?" I asked.

She nodded.

I introduced myself and told her I'd like to take Bryen fishing. I figured she'd think I was some weirdo and would slam the door.

She simply smiled and said it was OK.


"Saturday morning. Just send him over to my apartment at 8."

Three days later, Bryen showed up at my place. He was dressed in neatly pressed long pants, a starched dress shirt, white socks and tennis shoes. His hair was slicked and combed.

He was excited.

As we headed east on Clark Road, Bryenn asked, "Where are we going?"

"Myakka," I said. Myakka River State Park is a popular fishing spot located nine miles east of Interstate 75 off State Road 72.

"My mom's taking my brothers fishing today," Bryen said.

"Where?" I said.

"Her akka."

I smiled.

My plan was to let him fish in the boat basin directly in front of the souvernir shop. The basin usually had plenty of bluegill, warmouth perch, stumpknocker, speckled perch and bass. I had about four dozen live worms for bait. I also had a couple of sub sandwiches, drinks and chips for lunch.

You've probably heard a lot of things about children and fishing. Most are simply myths. The most common is that children have short attention spans, so you need to keep things simple and short. Not with Bryen.

He would have fished for 10 hours that day if I had allowed. He was all concentration, and he caught a load of fish.

I told him it was time for lunch. Begrudgingly, he put down his rod and we walked to the car. I grabbed the sandwices and couple of drinks and we sat down at a picnic table.

That's when a rather corpulent woman walked by. She was about 5-foot-5 and 350 pounds.

"God damn she's fat," Bryen blurted.

"Bryen," I said, "that's not nice."

"I know," he said, bowing his head, "but Jesus she's fat."

I don't think the woman heard him, but I'm not sure.

Bryen probably caught and released 100 fish that day. He caught mostly bluegill, stumpknocker and warmouth perch. I think he might have taken a bass or two.

On the way home, I asked if he had fun?

"Yeah," he said. "Do you have any more akkas you can take me to?"

About a year later, I stopped by his home and asked his mom and dad if I could take him fishing. That was when I had my Fishing Paradise show on SNN in Sarasota. They agreed.

The next morning I picked him up and we met Capt. Jack Hartman at the boat ramps at Ken Thompson Park on City Island.

My photographer, Ray Kugler, was already there.

It was Bryen, my stepdaughter, Morgan, Capt. Jack and the photographer.

We were going to do a segment on kids fishing. We headed out into Sarasota Bay and to the Middlegrounds, a large area of grass patches just off the southern tip of Longboat Key. The youngsters caught spotted seatrout, bluefish, ladyfish and jack crevalle with no difficulty.

Early in the afternoon, a nice cobia began swimming around Bryen's bait. The fish quickly departed.
"Want me to pull the anchor and try to find that fish?" Hartman asked.

"Nah," I said. "It will be back."

Just as I predicted, the cobia returned about 15 minutes later. Hartman grabbed the rod and gave the popping cork a couple of jerks. The noise attracted the cobia. The fish saw the live shrimp and inhaled it.
Hartman then handed the rod to Bryen.

The battle was on.

It was a big fish and I'm not sure who was battle who?

After about 20 minutes, Bryen got a good look at the big, brown fish as he battled it near the boat.

"It's a God-damn shark," he yelled, oblivious to the TV camera.

That expletive was deleted.

We called it a day after Bryen's cobia was subdued. We decided to keep that fish, which weighed about 30 pounds. We planned to have portions of it for dinner that evening.

I dropped Bryen off on the way home and asked his parents if he could come over for dinner?
They had no reservations about it.

A couple of hours later, I picked him up. I had the fish marinating in the refrigerator. When I got home, I fired up the grill.

Doesn't take long to grill fish. It's simply five minutes per side per inch. Turn once.

We sat down and had a great dinner. The cobia was superb. We also had baked potatoes and salad.

Bryen acted as if he hadn't eaten in a month. He inhaled three pieces of cobia.

On the way home, I asked him if he'd had a good day.

"Yeah," he said. "Steve, I wish you were my dad."

I haven't seen Bryen since that day. I lost track of him and often wonder about him. I'd guess he's about 17 now.

I hope he's still fishing.

Fly fishing is a challenge that keeps on giving

Why fly fish?
Why not?
I posed that question to the late Ad Gilbert and he said, "I've already caught a thousand redfish on spinning tackle. Do I want to catch another thousand on spinning tackle?"
Good point.
Boil that down and it means Gilbert wanted a challenge.
Nothing more.
Fly fishing traces its roots back to 200 AD when Claudius Aelianus wrote about people fishing a river with flies made of red wool and feathers. Today, the sport is practiced all over the world for a variety of fresh- and saltwater fish.
Like many, I began fly fishing for bluegill and other panfish when I was in my early teens. My first attempts took place with a spinning rod. I tied a No. 10 popping bug on the end of my line and whipped it out in "fly-rod fashion." And I caught fish!
I really got into fly fishing when I moved to Florida. At first, I was strictly a freshwater angler. I had a 6-weight fly rod and a 9-weight. Both rods were custom made by Loren Wilson of Okeechobee. They were fiberglass, somewhat slow and rather whippy. But they performed well. Wilson, a master rod builder, fly tyers and guide, charged me $65 each for the rods.
I didn't fly fish in salt water in those days because I really didn't know much about it. Although I regularly fished the salt, I had no idea what to do. Plus, there were no fly shops in the area and no saltwater fly fishing equipment.
My first endeavor into the brine took place in that late 1980s. My early mentor was Capt. Pete Greenan, now a Master Certified Casting Instructor. I remember catching oversized redfish in Whidden Creek while fly fishing with him. Since that time, I've caught tarpon, snook, spotted seatrout, dolphin, cobia, Spanish mackerel, little tunny, bonefish, houndfish, tripletail, mangrove snapper, jack crevalle, flounder, ladyfish, black drum and other species. Most saltwater species will take a well-placed fly.
I now own many fly rods. My saltwater arsenal includes (all TFO) a 12-weight, 9-weight, two 8-weights and two 6-weights. For fresh water, I have a 1-weight, 2-weight, 3-weight, 4-weight and 6-weight. I am sponosored by TFO, so I get the rods at a good price.
My most memborable saltwater catch?
That's easy. It was a 14-pound bonefish taken at Shell key near Islamorada in the Florida Keys. The fish was taken at high tide on a blustery October day. My guide said after releasing the fish, "You might as well quit because you'll never catch a bigger bonefish."
I've caught many more bonefish, but never one approaching that size!
I also have a 165-pound tarpon on 12-weight fly rod and a 39-inch, 20-pound snook on 6-weight.
My most memborable freshwater catch?
It would have to be a 35-pound common carp that I caught on a Befus Carp Fly in Grand Traverse Bay last June. It was the largest of 24 carp I caught while sight-fishing over two days.
I've had some other noteworthy catches in fresh water, including a 30-pound coho salmon from the Pere Marquette River in Michigan, and a 6-pound largemouth bass from the Everglades.
I've also won or placed in a number of fly fishing tournaments. I won the Sarasota Sportfish Anglers Tarpon Tournament Fly Rod Divsion in 1993 and was runner-up in 1996. I've won the snook, redfish and spotted seatrout divisions of the Sarasota Chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association's Photo Release Tournament and the CCA/Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers' Fall Fly Fishing Challenge.
I remember the first time I picked up a fly rod. I was in the ninth grade and I was talking to a friend, Scott Ecker, about fly fishing. He said his dad had a couple of fly rods and we could use them. After schook, we walked to his house and cast the fly rods.
I could cast fairly well the first time.
I'm pretty much self-taught. I taught myself how to cast. I taught myself how to double-haul. Most of what I learned came from Lefty Kreh's book, Fly Fishing in Salt Water. If you don't have this book and you're serious about learning to fly fish, you should purchase a copy.
Many anglers make fly casting much more difficult than it really is. They want it to be difficult for some reason.
However, nothing could be easier. It's simply a matter of timing, rhythm and proper power application. Simply put, if you can walk and chew gum, you can cast a fly rod.
Realize that it does take effort. You've got to have a keen desire to succeed and be willing to put in the time and effort it takes.
I am not a purist by any means, but I do fly fish a majority of the time. I haven't done anything other than fly fish in fresh water in years. And I estimate that I fly fish in salt water about 80 percent of the time. Reason is that I am a full-time kayak fishing guide and some of my clients use spinning rods.
Fly fishing is a neat way to pursue fish. It's a lot of fun and a never-ending endeavor. It my be somewhat of a cliche, but you learn something new almost any time you get out on the water or when you're in the company of other fly fishers.