Sunday, June 20, 2010

Southern Drawl Kayak fishing report June 20

The good news is there is plenty of snook in the surf. We weren’t sure just what the situation would be after our record-cold winter resulted in a major snook kill.

But after a month of walking the beaches and casting flies at them, we don’t see much difference from a year ago (a banner season).

In fact, we have noticed more large fish than in the past.

I’ve taken a number of people out to date. All have caught and released snook on fly. If you’ve never caught a snook or never caught one on fly, give me a call. You will succeed.

I had Jason Beary of Warren, Pa., out last week and he got to cast at a lot of fish. The tide wasn’t great, so the feeding window was small. Still, he caught and released a trio of snook, a Spanish mackerel and a couple of ladyfish. I estimate he had shots at nearly 1,000 snook – maybe more.

I look for good fishing this week and tides improve. Culprit last week was a low tide that bottomed out during the middle of the morning.

We’re averaging eight snook per trip. That’s down slightly from a year ago when we averaged 19 snook a trip.

Big snook to date is a 36-incher that I took on (what else?) a Gibby’s D.T. Variation.

My top outing was a morning that I caught and released 22 snook. I’ve yet to have a fishless outing.

Most of the action is taking place in the surf of the Gulf of Mexico about 35 minutes south of Sarasota. Fishing pressure has been light.

I advise clients to wear a cap, lather themselves in sunscreen and have a quality pair of polarized sunglasses. Also, proper footwear is a necessity. I wear flats boots and they work quite well. I also carry plenty of water. Oh, yeah, don’t leave the camera at home.

In addition to snook, we’re seeing tarpon (none of have into casting range), redfish, houndfish, jack crevalle, ladyfish and some really large spotted seatrout.

Dolphins, pelicans, ibis, blue heron, skimmers, plovers, terns, osprey, rays and even a shark or two are visible nearly every day.

Steve Gibson

Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing

Native Watercraft-endorsed guide

(941) 284-3406

Beach snook fishing through the eye of the camera

Here are some photos which chronicle what beach snook fishing is all about. Hope you enjoy!

It's fun fishing. It's fly fishing.
It's baitfish.
Snook. Spotted seatrout. Redfish. Ladyfish. Tarpon.
It's lots of casting.
Some days are great. Some days are slow.
Every trip is wonderful and fun.
Keep your eyes open because you never know what you'll see.
Snook are plentiful, but tough to fool.
The season will run into September, with peak months July and August.
A guided trip with me, Steve Gibson, is $150. You may contact me at (941) 284-3406. I've been doing this for nearly 30 years.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Snook are plentiful in the surf, but you have to work for them

Snook (top photo) certainly are more plentiful in the surf than fans at a Tampa Bay Rays game.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that the tide sucks and the fish are tougher than cheap steak.
Recently, I had Jason Beary, a teacher from Warren, Pa., out for a couple of days of fly fishing. He caught snook, but it wasn't easy. In fact, he had shots at more than 500 snook each day, including a bunch of really big fish.
There are days when snook fishing is really easy. My personal best day was 41 snook caught and released. I've had many days of 20 more. In fact, I averaged 19 snook per trip last year.
This season, my numbers are down somewhat -- not because there are fewer snook. It's because of those unknown variable that strike the sport from time to time. Could be the tide. Could be the wind. Could be there's a bad karma in the air.
Doesn't matter; it's still a lot of fun.
I had a day earlier in the week when I landed 22 snook to 36 inches. The next day, I got 12 and could tell the conditions were a little tougher.
On Day One with Jason, things were extremely tough. It got better the second day and we actually had an hour feeding flurry.
None of the really big fish showed interest in the fly. That's they way with big snook.
The pig that I stuck earlier in the week was an exception. I put the fly in front of her and she gobbled it up like a kernel of popcorn.
Go figure!
Bait is plentiful in the surf. I think all it will take to spark a feeding frenzy is a good, strong incoming morning tide.
Rest assured that I'll be there that morning.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Beach snook action heating up with the weather

Great day on the beach!
Lot of fish and a big one.
Totals: 22 snook to 36 inches. All on Gibby's D.T. Variation, a fly I consider the best beach snook fly going.
The fish weren't easy, and I had to work at it. They came in flurries of two and three. I'd catch two in a row, then go for 20 minutes without a fish. Then, they'd turn on again.
The big fish was particularly fun. I saw it slowly cruising about 20 feet off the beach, a scene that I've witnessed countless times over the past 20 years. Even though these fish rarely show interest, I still cast to them. I cast the fly about 10 feet in front of this big gal and let it sink. She turned to follow when I started the retrieve. She charged the fly like a mad bull and ate it.
Not the greatest fight. Two long runs and then I was pretty much in control. Never took me into the backing, which was surprising.
Beach snook are my favorite. Love to walk the beaches and cast to these silver bullets.
I used a 6-weight TFO TiCRX with a sinktip line. Leader was six feet of 20-pound fluorocarbon.
Oh, yeah, I was fishing along Watermelon Beach, one of my favorite spots.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Local guide owns the beach; don't get in his way

I was walking the beach the other day, minding my own business and looking for snook.
I found a spot that was holding quite a few fish, so I started casting.
I caught and released a few fish and continued casting.
I heard a noise, looked up and saw a guide boat moving in.
"This is the same bastard who moved in on me last year," I thought.
Indeed it was.
It was a fat guide and three paying morons who couldn't have caught a fish on their own.
The guide motored his boat to within a cast of beach and anchored right in front of me. He hopped overboard with a net container of live white bait. He bait a hook, cast it out and then hand the rod up to his client. He repeated the procedure for the other two. He then started tossing out handfuls of live bait for chum. Some landed within a foot of me.
What gall! What a dipspit!
Because he had a captain's license, the idiot therefore had the right to move in on people.
While I stood on the beach, chin hitting the sand in wide-eyed disbelief, I watched amazingly and some of the cast baits almost hit me in the foot.
He stayed long enough for his anglers to catch a few fish, then started the outboard engine and sped off -- oblivious to anyone else fishing around him. Oh, yeah, the moron waved as he sped off.
I wish I knew his address so I could send him a letter of apology for fishing his private spot.
How dare me to trespass.

Snook along the beach haven't let us down this season

My passion for beach snook fishing goes back 25 years.

Maybe more.

There have been good season and bad seasons. There have been great seasons. The past two years have been excellent.

This season?

Better than I expected.

We had a record cold winter in Florida and there were thousands of snook that were killed because of it. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

But I’ve caught snook every trip. In fact, my clients and I have caught and released 51 snook over eight trips. That’s not great, but it ain’t too bad!

My largest snook this season is a 27-incher. Most of the fish have been ranging from 19 to 24 inches. No matter the size, they’re all strong and feisty.
S.R. Evans, his wife, Amy (top right), and brother-in-law, Fleurent, joined me earlier in the week for a morning of fly fishing for snook along the beach. They did well. The trio totaled seven snook, a Spanish mackerel and a ladyfish on a day that wasn’t the best. The tide was poor and visibility not great.

And they lost several fish that they had hooked.

Of course, all fish too Gibby’s D.T. Variation (right). It’s a fly that I consider the best beach snook fly there is.

Matt Hoover, a Naples guide, sent me a well-used D.T. Special many years ago.

“It’s the only fly you’ll ever need for beach snook,” he said.

How right he was.

The D.T. Special is nothing more than a Stu Apte Tarpon Fly tied on a small hook in all white.

I’ve tweaked it a bit over the years. I don’t slay the tail feathers and I don’t cover the shank of the hook with thread. I add eyes and cover them with epoxy.

The fly has taken more than 5,000 beach snook over the years. And that’s a conservative guess!

No two beach snook seasons are ever the same. There are no fences holding the fish. And beach geography changes from month to month and year to year.

I used to do virtually all of my beach snook fishing along Casey Key. I still fish that stretch of beach, but only a couple of times a season. I’ve switched to a more productive beach. Reason is that there are long stretches of barren water along Casey Key.

I stay on top of the fish at all times during the season. I know where they are and where anglers will have the best shot.

Las t season, I had the day of a lifetime. I caught and released 15 snook to 39 inches, three redfish to 33 and jumped three giant tarpon – all from the beach. Six of the snook went 28 inches or more.

My best day in terms of numbers of snook is 41. I’ve had many days of 20 or more.

In addition to snook, tarpon and redfish, you also might encounter Spanish mackerel,  spotted seatrout, jack crevalle, ladyfish, flounder, tripletail, cobia, whiting and other species.

If you’ve never tried this exciting sport, it just might be the time. It’s all sight-fishing and loads of fun!

Experience is the best teacher when it comes to kayak fishing

To rudder? Or not to rudder?

That’s the question.

Most beginning kayak anglers think they have to have a rudder on their boat. There’s nothing wrong with a rudder, but it is an added expense. Most rudders cost around $200.

Before you buy a kayak with a rudder you might want to consider a few things. What’s a rudder do?

Of course, a rudder helps you turn. However, I paddle a Native Watercraft Ultimate 14.5 without a rudder. The reason is that my kayak paddles extremely straight. Therefore, I don’t need a rudder to help keep me on course.

I believe that if you just have to have a rudder, it should be used primarily to adjust the bow of your kayak while you’re drift-fishing. Think about it for a second. You’re drifting over a deep grass flat in Sarasota Bay and your bow begins to turn to the left. Simply push on your right rudder pedal to push the bow back to the right.

The rudder keeps you on your drifting course.

Another question to consider is do you want a pedal kayak or do you want to paddle?

I’m a purist, so pedals aren’t for me. However, a lot of people like pedal craft because they think they can go faster, cover more territory and have “hands-free fishing.” I’m not sure you can go any know the nuances. I can dip a paddle blade into the water to make a correction by manipulating my paddle with my elbow. Don’t ask me how I figured that out.

I’ll give you a situation that took place in Little Sarasota Bay a couple of springs ago. I was casting around and under some docks along the west side of the bay just north of Blackburn Point. I hooked a couple of hefty fish that towed me under the docks.

I should have been anchored, but I wasn’t. A 30-inch snook or big redfish can tow your kayak.

That’s where Native Watercraft’s pedal kayak would have come in handy. You can actually reverse pedal the Native. When I hooked the fish, I could have back away from the dock. Another well-known manufacturer’s pedal boat has no reverse.

What about anchoring?

There are times that you just have to (wind). So, having an anchor trolley on your kayak is a good idea. An anchor trolley is a system that allows you to place your anchor along any portion of your boat so that you can always face the direction you desire. The trolley is a line between a pulley on bow side of your kayak and the stern. The line has an O ring in one end and a clip on the other. You clip your anchor line to the O ring, drop your anchor over and manipulate the trolley line to anchor where you want.

What do you use for an anchor?

There are small, commercial kayak anchors for sale, but I don’t like them because most don’t hold well. What works best for me is a 5-pound, foam-covered hand dumbbell that you can purchase at Wal-Mart.

For those brave enough to stand and pole, I recommend a Wang Anchor Pin. I use an 8-footer. It’s great. It can also be used to “stake out” rather than anchoring. I simply put the anchor pin through the O ring on my anchor trolley.

Folks with conventional “sit ontop” kayaks can stick the pin right through the scupper holes on the bottom of the cockpit in your boat.

I carry most of my gear in a milk crate that sits directly behind me. I’ve added a pair of three-rod rod-holders on each side. The rod holds also have slots for pliers, knives and de-hookers. You can get a milk crate or file crate at office supply stores or grocery stores. There are some commercial milk crate systems for sale, too.

Kayak fishing is a lot of fun and very effective. Rigging your kayak the way that’s best for you is a lot of fun, too.

And you’ll learn a lot of little tricks along the way that will make things easier and produce a lot of fish.

There's a kayak out there for every desire

When it comes to kayaks, you have a three choices: to paddle, to pedal or to use an electric trolling motor.

What’s best for you?

If you’re a traditionalist, then all you’ll need is a paddle to slip around the backcountry, looking for fish.

Paddles and kayaks go together like Tweety and Sylvester, ham and eggs, Laurel and Hardy, Lewis and Martin. It’s a most natural marriage.

As mentioned in a previous article, your paddle should be your second costliest investment. Your kayak (obviously) should be your top investment. With that in mind, you won’t want to skimp on your paddle. It’s with you all day and does a bulk of the work.

When it comes to paddles, remember: Cheap equals heavy. And heavy equals tired arms and a miserable experience. In addition, the blades on cheap paddles usually cannot be “feathered” (offset) to counter the effect of a head wind. When you feather the blades on a light, strong paddle, they will slice through the air horizontally and easily.

A good paddle can be a friend forever. Only extreme abuse will result in enough damage to warrant purchasing a new one.

Price tag on a good paddle will run from $150 to $400.

Pedal kayaks have become very popular in recent years. There are many positives. They’re propelled via leg power. Most peoples’ legs are stronger and have more endurance than their arms. So, you can cover more distance with less effort that you might be able to with your paddle.

Pedaling allows for “hands-free” fishing. Well, for the most part, it does. However, realize that’s more of a marketing ploy than anything else. Any good paddler will tell you he or she can fish and adjust the kayak’s position without having to let go of the rod and reel. But that’s a maneuver that’s learned through experience.

For fly fishing, the pedal mechanism can get in the way when it comes to your fly line. And remember the old law: The fly line will tangle on anything it can.

Hobie manufactures the most popular paddle craft. It features “wings” that move from side to side when the pedals are turned. The mechanism reportedly works well. There is no reverse of which I’m aware.

I am sponsored by Native Watercraft. Their “Propel” version of their popular Ultimate features a regular propeller that can be reversed. That is important when fishing docks and under mangroves when you hook a large snook or redfish. You can simply pedal backwards to prevent the fish from pulling you under the structure and to pull the fish out of the same.

Some manufacturers make kayaks that are moved via electric trolling motor. Kinda slick when you think about it. You can cover vast amounts of water in a shorter period of time. Certainly no cardio-vascular advantage here.

A kayak with an electric motor might be perfect for someone with minor health problems, however.

But I think I’d just go ahead and get a flats skiff with an outboard motor.

Remember, I’m a purist.

Make your kayak "fly-fishing friendly"

So you want to fly fish from a kayak?

Good choice.

However, there are a few things you can to do to make your kayak “fly-fishing friendly.”

There’s an old fly-fishing law which states: “The fly line will catch on anything it can.”

With this in mind, it’s up to you to eliminate anything on which the fly line might catch. What can it catch on? How about gear bags, rod holders, coolers, feet, paddles, levers, handles and whatever else might be lurking in your cockpit?

One way to fly-proof yourself and your kayak is to simply lay a towel over your lower torso. The fly line will not catch on anything and will smoothly cast.

Stow coolers and gear bags behind you. Remove them from the cockpit and place behind your seat. If you have removable rod holders like Scotty’s, then simply remove them from their base while you’re fly fishing.

You can also use duct tape to cover any other snags that might catch your line (kayakers should always carry a role of the very useful duct tape; you never know when you’ll need it).

Once your kayak is “fly-proofed,” it’s time to start fly fishing. But where do you strip the line?

Good question.

As a Native Watercraft-endorsed guide, I fish out of the very versatile Ultimate 14.5, perhaps the best fly-fishing kayak on the market. I strip the line right into the cockpit between my legs. I resist at all costs stripping line into the water. Most often your kayak will drift over your line, creating a whole new problem.

While fly fishing, it’s imperative for your bow to face the direction of your cast. That way, you can point your fly rod directly down your line as required. When a fish hits, there will be no slack in your line and you’ll feel the fish. Many of my inexperienced clients will fish with the tips of their fly rods two or three feet above the water. That creates slack and prevents them from feeling the hit. The rod tip should actually be on the water’s surface and even an inch below.

Casting can be a chore when sitting at water level. It’s just like standing waist-deep in the water and trying to cast. Distance is compromised, but it makes little difference. Remember, you don’t have to make long casts while fishing from your kayak because you can get closer to the fish. A 40-foot cast is plenty.

Keys to a good cast: 1. A good back cast that doesn’t hit the water behind you. Make sure the trajectory of your back cast is high; 2. Line speed on the back cast and forward cast is sufficient.

You might want to prep for your fly-fishing outing be practicing your casting while sitting on the ground. Just make sure you don’t allow your fly to touch the ground behind you on your back cast.

The Ultimate is the perfect kayak in which to stand. I stand a fly cast most of the time. So, that eliminates the problem and allows you to get more distance on your cast. However, you must practice standing so that your comfortable and confident in doing so.

One other thing you’ll want to think about is rod stowage. I usually carry two rods on a saltwater trip (6-weight and 8-weight). I keep the one I’m planning to use first on front of me and lying against a foam-covered structural tube (I use a child’s pool noodle to cover the tube). The second rod lies beside me with the tip pointing toward the stern of my kayak and the rod butt lying on the tube.

Fly fishing from a kayak is fun and surprisingly efficient and productive. In fact, over the last few months, my fly clients have been doing better than clients who fish with spinning tackle.

With just a little thought and preparation, you’ll be experiencing the thrill in no time at all.

Best reason to fish from a kayak: You catch more!

There are many reasons to fish from a kayak.

It’s fun.

It’s healthy.

And you can catch a lot of fish.

I always knew that kayaks were the perfect stealthy platform from which to fish, but I really didn’t realize just how perfect until this past winter when my clients and I realized fantastic results.

Over one two-day period in December, we totaled 60 pompano and who knows how many spotted seatrout, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and jack crevalle (mostly on fly). Anglers aboard flats skiffs caught fish, but not nearly in the same numbers. Our performance had little to do with our prowess as anglers. But it had everything to do with the stealthiness of our crafts.

The fish simply didn’t know we were there.

Just this past week I got another first-hand look at just how stealthy these plastic craft are. I was fishing a favorite spot about an hour before daylight. I like to cast flies for snook around some dock lights before the sun comes up. I’d caught and released a couple of snook when I made an errant cast. I figured the snook action was over because I had to paddle to the dock to retrieve the fly.

Once done, I noticed the snook were still around the light and on the surface. I was only 10 feet away, but the fish were undisturbed.

“What the heck?” I thought. “I’ll just see what happens when I make a cast.”

I flicked the fly toward the dock and used the rod to manipulate it through the water. Almost instantly, a snook inhaled the fly.


That’s when it really dawned on me that this stealthy business was no baloney.

On another occasion, a client caught and released three snook and 10 seatrout. Not a great day in my estimation.

However, when I learned that anglers aboard flats skiffs in the same area hadn’t fared nearly as well, the performance suddenly shined.

When I launch the kayak, I know that I just can’t pick up and head for another hot spot if the action is slow. I’m forced to fish my area come feast or famine. What has happened over the years is that I’ve learned my spots quite intimately. I know where the fish will be at any given time. I know that sooner or later those same fish will turn on and start eating.

On a recent trip, I was casting around mullet schools on a shallow flat. When I saw a redfish tail pierce the water’s surface not 15 feet away, I quickly put a fly in the area and hooked up immediately. The red was a good one. It measured 30 inches and weighed 9 pounds.

I realized that only because I was in a kayak could I have gotten so close to that fish and hooked it.

Stands to reason when you think about it. Kayaks are very low profile. They’re virtually silent. And they provide the perfect platform to increase your productivity on the water.

Use your anchor to increase your catch

Rules for kayak fishing aren’t etched in stone.

What you take as the gospel one day, just might go against your grain the next.

When I purchased my first kayak (more years ago than I like to remember!), I figured I would use it mostly to get to my favorite wading spots. Once there, I would anchor the kayak, get out and start fishing.

How wrong I was. I rarely wade. I found out the hard way that you’re more stealthy in the kayak than you are wading. So, I spend most of my time fishing from my kayak.

Anchoring is another area about which I’ve changed my mind over the years. Used to be, I carried an anchor but rarely used it. Only in extreme wind conditions did I lower the anchor overboard and fish.

But recently, I’ve been using the anchor quite a bit. And it’s paying off in good catches of hefty redfish and spotted seatrout.

I’ve realized that sight-fishing on a shallow flat is pretty tough – especially during periods of low light. And it’s during those low-light periods that redfish are most likely to cooperate.

With that in mind, I began anchoring and covering portions of the flat with long casts. For those of you who don’t subscribe to the “long-cast theory,” think again. While I agree that you catch most fish from 50 feet in, you stand a much better chance with redfish while blind-casting if you can put the fly out there 80 feet or more. The longer, the better.

I’ve also adjusted my anchor line a bit. Rather than put the anchor over and let out all the line, I put a half-hitch in the line at about the 3-foot mark. In most conditions, that’s sufficient enough to hold the kayak in place. And when it’s time to move, it’s a whole lot easier to retrieve the anchor. Additionally, if you want to move just a little closer, all you have to do is grab the line, lift the anchor slightly off the bottom and drift. When you want to stop, just let go.

An anchor trolley (bottom, right) is a valuable piece of equipment that should be a staple on every fishing kayak. Anchor trolleys are simple mechanisms that are easy to install and use. You can buy commercially made trolleys or make you own. While I opt for the former, there’s nothing wrong with purchasing a couple of pulleys, an O-ring and line and doing it yourself.

For those who may not know, an anchor trolley is a simple system made of pulleys and line that allows you to anchor at any point along your kayak. You can then anchor and your craft will face the direction you need to cast.

That’s what I’ve been doing at several spots in Sarasota Bay, and it’s paying off in good catches of redfish to 33 inches.

I’m convinced that I wouldn’t have as much success if I was drifting or standing and poling.

A key to this system is a very long cast. If you have trouble getting the fly out more than 50 feet, perhaps it’s time to seek the help of one of the club’s Certified Casting Instructors or Master Certified Casting Instructors.

If you are spin fishing, then you need to use a thin-diameter line. I recommend 8- or 10-pound Power Pro and a 7-foot rod.

No matter what your choice of weapon (fly or spin), use your anchor. Select a good-looking spot, quietly anchor and then cover the area thoroughly. Once done, move on until you find the fish.

There are all sorts of anchors for sale. The one that I find works best is a foam covered hand dumbbell that you can get at Wal-Mart. I used a 5-pounder.

HINT: The fish move onto the flat with the incoming tide and can be found around schools of mullet. Find the mullet and you’ll likely find the redfish.