Friday, October 29, 2010

Myakka Minnow works well throughout the country

Jonathan Allred said Texas bluegill love the Mighty Myakka Minnow

 I knew I'd come up with a great fly. I had no idea it would work so well across the country.

Jonathan Allred, a client of mine from near Dallas, Texas, emailed me some photos of some hefty bluegill he caught using the Myakka Minnow.

I'd given Allred a couple of Myakka Minnows during his last trip here. I wondered if he'd had the chance to use them?

He did well. And, he said, "with a red tail, they'd be perfect for grayling in Alaska."

Allred isn't the first to tout the Myakka Minnow. I received an email from Steve Piper of San Diego, Calif.

"I saw your FAOL article and tied up a couple on Friday night.

"We were fishing Diamond Valley Lake in SoCal and stripers and largemouth were busting threadfin shad. They were so focused on the shad that they would not take our flies. Sounded very much like the situation you described with fish and minnows.

"Most of the morning, we had to let the flies drop way down in the water column below the boils -- to 20 feet or so -- to catch a few.

"However, during some long lulls, I tried the Myakka Minnow -- shad variation -- white marabou

tail, pearl diamond braid body with felt tip cool gray back, and UV knot sense to seal the body, no weight. It seemed like everytime I cast it, it turned up a fish -- all very small -- including 8-10" largemouth and a plump bluegill.

"We went back to fishing big flies deep, but at the very end of our session, I tried the Myakka again to see if it really was "magic" -- yep, nailed another small bass to end the day.

"We were laughin'..."

"Got a Myakka for the big models? That was amazing."

Glad you had a wonderful experience with this amazing fly. And, yes, I do have a Myakka Minnow for larger fish.

The beauty of the fly is that it can be tied on any size hook to meet your needs. A couple of years ago, Capt. Rick Grassett of the Snook Fin-Addict in Sarasota told me that he has some large tarpon eating glass minnows, but couldn't get them to hit conventional tarpon flies. I tied him up a couple of Myakka Minnows on 3/0 hooks and gave them to him.

Couple of days later, he called to tell me that he'd finally jumped a couple of those tarpon.

"All they wanted was the Myakka Minnow," Grassett said.

Another angler in North Carolina emailed me to order a dozen Myakka Minnows. I tied them and sent them to him.

He said they were heading to the Florida Everglades and had heard the minnow worked well there. But I didn't hear from him for six months.

Finally, I received an email, detailing his trip. He told me they didn't catch a fish at the first stop, so they put the boat on trailer and headed for another spot.

Same story.

"Finally, I remembered I had the Myakka Minnows you tied," he said. "I put one on and started catching fish. It's the only fly they'd hit.

"The Myakka Minnow said the day!"

On another occasion, Capt. Al White of Boca on the Fly and I took famed fly tyer Ward Bean to the Everglades. It was the wrong time of year, but Bean, who resided in Iowa, was in town and wanted to go.

Bean ties some elaborate hair bugs. They're so beautiful that I consider them works of art.

If was last June, the water was up and it was hot. I was no time to be in the 'Glades. I usually fish there late November through April (the dry season).

Fish was slow as expected. Bean caught a couple of fish on his hair bugs and other flies. I totaled 40 assorted fish (oscar, Mayan cichlid, bass, bluegill, stumpknocker and peacock bass) on the Myakka Minnow. I offered Bean a couple of minnows, but he wanted to stick with his flies.

Although I'm not a commercial fly tyer, I do take orders for the Myakka Minnow. Because of the epoxy work involved, I sell them only by the dozen. Cost is $45 per dozen (plus shipping).

If you want to try this amazing fly, you can email me at or call me at (941) 284-3406.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Captain Catastrophe was an accident looking for a place to happen

I fished with a lot of guides over the years during my 35-year career as a professional outdoors writer. And I will tell you a vast majority know their business.

I've had a lot of great outings.

However, there a few that didn't go so well.

In March of 1999, I got a notice from a Chamber of Commerce in West Central Florida inviting me to spend a day and participate in a number of opportunities they were offering. Of course, the objective was to get journalists to return home and publicize good things about that county.

I threw the letter in the waste basket and had forgotten the whole thing when I received a phone call a week letter.

"We'd really love for you to come up and see just what we have to offer."

I am a sucker. I'll admit it. So, I reluctantly relented and agree.

Choices included saltwater fishing, hiking, kayaking, canoeing and freshwater fishing.

I opted for freshwater fishing.

They told me who the guide would be and gave me his phone number. I called him the afternoon before I was to drive up and discussed logistics.

"Do I need to bring anything?" I asked.

"Nah, I got everything," he said.

He instructed me to meet him at a bait shop on the banks of the river at 7 a.m.

He was there when I arrived and we walked into the shop to get bait. He placed a 5-gallon bucket on the counter said, “Give us 10-dozen shiners.”

The fellow took the bucket and headed for the shiner tanks in the back of his shop. When he returned, he put the bucket on the counter and said, “That will be $150.”

The guide looked at me and said, “Pay the man.”

I was stunned and I paid. I didn’t mind paying for the bait, but I sure wish I had known it was expected.

But that was just the first of several surprises on the day. When he headed out to the dock, I discovered his “bass boat” actually was a 25-year-old pontoon. And his rods and reels were out of a 1955 Montgomery Ward catalog. They were glass rods, with ancient spinning reels filled halfway with 10-year-old monofilament.

It was plain to see that this guy wasn’t a bass guide. He really wasn’t a fisherman at all.

We didn’t catch a fish that day.

I later learned he ran river tours aboard that dilapidated old pontoon.

Another blacksheep was a fellow I named Capt. Catastrophe. Every trip I ever made with him was a calamity.

I won’t go into detail on most, but I will tell you that he lost sunglasses, bent the axle on the boat trailer and ran onto oyster bars.

A day or two before a scheduled outing, he called and asked, “What ya want to do?”

I told him that I’d do whatever he wanted. He was the guide.

“We could fish the bay for trout. I had a couple of folks out the other day who caught some nice trout on fly.

“Or we could head down south a fish for snook.”

I thought snook sounded good.

So, we met and headed south. I knew we were in trouble when it became obvious he had no idea where the boat ramp was. When we finally found it, it didn’t take but a minute before he ran the boat onto a mud flat. We were stuck. We got it off after about 15 minutes of pushing (we had to get out of the boat). But we were stuck on another in just a minute or two.

Half hour later, we ran into an oyster bar.

Don’t ask me why I fished with this fellow again, but I did. I figured out his problem was that he didn’t do what he was capable of doing. He was capable of hitting singles, but always wanted to slam a home run.

He asked me to meet him at ramp south of Venice at 1 p.m. Although I like to get on the water early, it was his trip. We head south down the Intracoastal and into a creek. There, he said, we’d fly fish for snook. I landed a 10-incher the first hour. Two hours later, I jumped a 5-pound tarpon.

That was it.

On our way out of the creek, two fellows in another boat passed by and asked how we did.

“Great!” said Capt. Catastrophe. “We got snook and we got about a 35-pound tarpon on fly.”


Capt. Cat heads the list of catastrophe trips over the years. There haven’t been many, but there have been a few.

Hunker down, think positively and get ready for a battle

Sometimes life just isn’t fair.

But when something happens to you, just go out to a busy street and you’ll quickly realize that life goes on. Cars pass by and no one in them is aware of your problems.

That’s the way life is.

Yesterday, my family received some terrible health news. I don’t want to go into detail nor do I want to divulge who it is. The news was shocking. It was like a bolt of lightning going through your body. And the sudden thoughts were like darts piercing your brain.

I was at the bedside of my father when he passed on Dec. 22, 1996. It was a shock, but not unexpected. He was 75 years old and had been in the hospital for a week. I talked with him every day and was convinced he was feeling better. I didn’t think there was any urgency to fly north.

But on Saturday morning, I received a call from my youngest brother that Dad had suffered a massive heart attack during the night and wasn’t expected to make it. I arranged a flight and headed for Ohio. I left the warmth of sunny Florida for the cold and gray of southwestern Ohio.

I didn’t get into Dayton until about 5 p.m. Two of my brothers were waiting for me at the airport and we hurried to the hospital. When we got to Dad’s floor, two of my sisters in law and my other brother were with my Dad.

He looked peaceful in the bed. He didn’t appear to be in any pain. He was unconscious and sedated. He was hooked up to a myriad of machines.

I don’t know if he could hear me or not, but I said to him, “Dad, Marshall won the National Championship (Div. I-AA) today. The Herd clobbered Montana.”

That might be a strange thing to say in such a situation, but I knew my Dad would want to know. He attended Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va., prior to becoming a Navy pilot during World War II. He always had an interest in the Thundering Herd. In fact, he’d attended a Marshall game just a few weeks prior and had watched the Herd pummel Southern Conference foe The Citadel.

Marshall football, for those not familiar, wasn’t something that was impressive for many years. In fact, when I attended MU, I didn’t see the Herd win a game until November of my junior year. MU had the losingest program in the nation for years.

For the Herd to be competing for national championships in football at any level was amazing.

So, I knew Dad would want to know.

He passed a few minutes later.

It was almost as if he waited until I arrived.

My mother had passed 13 months earlier. I wasn’t with her at the time, but I had spent the previous two weeks with her. We had some great talks and shared a lot of memories.

“Steve, I dream that I’m OK, but I know that will never happen,” she said.

Mom died from complications of emphysema in November of 1995.

My wife’s father passed in July of 2009. Ironically, he was in Dayton at the time, living with his wife. She was with him the last few days.

It’s always tough when you lose your parents. But you’ll always have great memories. And it’s somewhat easier to take when they’ve already lived a majority of their live.

But when you get the news that someone very close to you has that nasty, insidious disease no one wants to talk about, well, it’s just not fair.

We cried yesterday. We laughed. We took a walk. We sat and hugged.

We decided we’d fight this thing and maintain positive attitudes.

Just a little while ago, I received a call that the survival rate of this particular disease is very high and extremely curable.

“Just the type I wanted,” I was told.

Who would have ever thunk that?

We did.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Manatee River cats dig the Myakka Minnow and other flies

This a perfect place to find catfish along the Manatee River

I don’t get taken into the backing of my fly line very often. It’s pretty rare for a redfish or snook to do it.

This 6-pound channel catfish put up quite a battle
 But I get taken into the backing quite often in fresh water.

I’ve discovered channel catfish are suckers for my Myakka Minnow. I’ve hooked about 15 big cats over the past two weeks and I’ve been into the backing four times.

When a channel cat inhales the fly, the battle is on. They jump and make lengthy runs. When they decided to head into the vegetation, I’m usually helpless. Most of the time I’m using a 1- or 2-weight rod and fishing for bluegill and other small panfish. Light rods aren’t meant to tame a cat.

I was fishing the Manatee River out of Ray’s Canoe Hideaway ( last week and hooked five big cats on successive casts. Why they suddenly turned on, I don’t know. Anyway, I lost four of them pretty quickly. Light rods and 8X tippet are great cat gear.

But I did land one. It was a 6-pounder that decided to head for open water. I was able to back my kayak away from the fallen tree and out in the open. A few minutes later, I was able to beach the boat on a sand bar and fight the fish standing up. It took more than five minutes to subdue that stubborn fish.

Channel catfish can grow to be up to four feet in length and weigh more than 50 pounds. They can live to be at least 40 years old.

Channel catfish can be found in both lakes and reservoirs and in more fast-moving waters such as rivers and streams. They are more numerous in lakes and streams. They prefer clear water with sandy to rocky bottom. Channel catfish are seldom found in areas with dense vegetation. They are normally found in freshwater, but do very well in brackish water.

Saltwater catfish are not prized. Even though a gafftopsail catfish are among saltwater’s best fighting fish, they are rarely targeted.

It’s just the opposite in fresh water where catfish are prized catches. In fact, there are guides throughout the country who make a pretty good living taking anglers out for monster catfish.

Channel catfish are extremely good to eat. Their meat is very tender and mild.

I don’t specifically target them, but I do enjoy it when I hook one. If I was to target them, I’d beef up to at least a 6-weight rod and 2X or 3X tippet. They seem to be structure oriented and I often encounter them around fallen trees.

In the Manatee River, you’ll find them in the deep river bends. And you’ll know it’s a really good spot if there are fallen trees in the bend. Most of the time, the catfish will try to get into the tree branches or whatever structure they’re around. So, you’re first take if you’re going to have any chance of landing them is to get them away from the structure.

I’ve hooked just about all of my channel cats on the Myakka Minnow. However, I think they’ll hit Wooly Buggers, Clousers and other subsurface fly. I’ve not had one rise up to take a popper, though.

Often, I’m lulled into a false sense of calmness when fishing for bluegill. You’ll catch 20 or so and then have all hell break loose when a channel cat interrupts the serenity of your outing.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Slow down for fast fishing action

This is a perfect place to cast a popping bug or other fly on sprawling Lake Manatee.
You pass DeSoto Memorial Speedway, home of the Snowbird Nationals, on your way to Lake Manatee.

This gorgeous Lake Manatee bluegill fell for a No. 10 popping bug.
The drag strip is home of testosterone and high speed.

But when you get to Lake Manatee, it’s time to slow down. Way down. The slower you fish, the better you’ll do. I’ve learned this since I began fishing from a kayak years ago.

Capt. Jim Klopfer of Adventure Charters was my guest on Lake Manatee recently and he quickly caught on how slow we were fishing.

“We’ve been here an hour, but we’ve only fished 50 yards,” he said.

The key to success on Lake Manatee and many of Florida’s freshwater lakes and streams is to slow things down. And when you think you’re really fishing slow, then you need to slow it down some more.

Dry flies work well at Lake Manatee.
 My latest outing is a perfect example. I launched my Native Watercraft Ultimate 14.5 at the Lake Manatee Fish Camp ramp shortly after dawn. I paddled east under the State Road 64 bridge and along the north shoreline for about 15 minutes. My destination was a point just beyond the first island in the lake.

I caught a hand-sized bluegill on my first cast. I was using a No. 10 chartreuse popping bug on a 4-weight rod. I was using a 7 ½-foot leader with a 7X tippet. I concentrated on that area for the first hour, not moving more than 50 feet. The end result was 17 bluegill, most of which were ¾ of a pound to a pound.

I’ve fished Lake Manatee with powerboaters. Most are very good anglers. But most move far too quickly. They’re on the trolling motor continuously. If you don’t hit your target on your first cast, you won’t get another shot because you’ll be well past it by the time you’re ready for another cast.

I’ll pull up to a likely spot in the kayak and fish it slowly and completely. If there’s a pocket in the vegetation, I might make a dozen casts before moving on. I’ll hit every opening along the way.

I’ve found when you fish slow, you fish thoroughly. You don’t miss many spots. You cover your area completely.

This stumpknocker fell for a popping bug.
 Lake Manatee is a tough nut to crack. There are those who fish the lake for the first time and never return. The reason is they catch few fish and can’t figure the old gal out.

Florida anglers are shoreline anglers. That doesn’t mean they fish from land. It means most cast toward the shoreline vegetation. That’s a very good strategy in most Florida lakes and it works in Lake Manatee – if you know what you’re doing.

You can fish some of the shoreline at Lake Manatee, but not all. Reason is that hyacinths float to the shoreline and pile up. Cast to the edge of them and there could be nothing but empty water underneath. The true shoreline might be 10 or 15 feet in back of the hyacinth jam.

So, when fishing the lake, try to find areas void of hyacinth jams. It’s tough, but you can do it if you just open your eyes.

When you see a tree on the shore or a fallen tree, you’re in the right area. And this is where we usually concentrate. I’ll often make a dozen or more casts in such an area. It’s a trick that I learned years ago when competing in bass tournament.

A typical Lake Manatee speckled perch (black crappie).
 When you find fish, don’t leave them. Fish the area until the action stops. I remember winning a bass tournament during which I didn’t leave a 200-yard stretch of hydrilla all day. The fish were there and I was able to catch enough to win the tournament.

I guess an outboard motor and a trolling motor are just the incentive needed to move quickly. If you don’t get a fish on the first cast, just move 100 yards down the lake. If it’s not going on, crank the engine and head 10 miles north, east, south or west. Move because you have the ability.

When you’re fishing from a kayak, you don’t have that ability. You have to fish where you are.

What that means is that you get to know your spots intimately. You learn every inch of the lake, river or bay you’re fishing.

And that means you’re able to fish slowly. You’re able to make repeatedly casts into a spot you think holds fish.

And when you catch a fish around a fallen tree what do you do? Move on?


You make another cast.

If you’re like me, you might make 12 more casts. And there are days when those 12 casts result in several more fish.

Slow down.

You’ve got all day to do it.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Every day is different at beautiful Lake Manatee

Another beautiful sunrise at Lake Manatee

I have a client who asked me to call him when the action gets hot.

“I’ll just fly in the next day,” he said.

One of eight channel catfis that hit the Myakka Minnow

No way.

You can’t judge fishing tomorrow by what’s going on today. And what would I feel like if he purchased an airline ticket, flew into town and the fishing suddenly went south? Or if a high pressure system moved into the area? Or we were hit by thunderstorms or gale-force wind?

My last two outings are a study in contradiction. One was wonderful and the other quite slow.

I fished Lake Manatee, perhaps my favorite Florida lake, the first day and did wonderfully. Things started out slowly, but picked up as the morning went on. Using the Myakka Minnow, I caught 60 bluegill, stumpknocker and shellcracker. In addition, I caught a pair of bass and landed two of the eight channel cats I hooked.
Even little bass can't resist the Myakka Minnow

Quality day and quality fish.

The best morning, I met Dusty Sprague of North Port. We were going to fish out of his renovated Bass Tracker, a beautiful aluminum skiff. We launched at the Lake Manatee Fish Camp ramp and headed east under the bridge and along the north shoreline. Things started out slow, but we weren’t worried because it was that way the morning prior.

After an hour, we had only two or three small bluegill. In fact, the fish weren’t hitting the Myakka Minnow at all. I was getting them on a No. 12 Aunt Sarah’s Homely Daughter nymph under a strike indicator. Sprague was using something similarly small.

The morning was crisp and bright. Only a few clouds were in the sky, indicating that perhaps a high-pressure system had pushed into the area. The wind was out of the northeast.
A nice bass on the Maykka Minnow

We were protected along the northeast shore and quite comfortable. But things would have been better had the fish cooperated just a little better.

We started picking up a few more fish and then the Myakka Minnow began to works its charm. After both of us switched to that fly, we combined to catch 25 or 30 bluegill and a couple of stumpknocker. We didn’t land any bass or shellcracker. We didn’t hook a catfish.

It was 180 degrees from the day prior.

Most of the bluegill were small, with only four being “hand sized.”

We did encounter schooling bass. However, every time we approached them, they’d go down. Shouldn’t be too much longer before they begin to stay on the surface longer.

The day prior, I’d hooked eight channel cats and landed two. This trip resulted in no hookups.
A typical Lake Manatee copperhead bluegill

Channel catfish are trophies among freshwater anglers. They hit savagely, pull like an elephant and are tough on fly rod to land. The two cats I landed were only about 3 pounds, yet they took about 5 minutes before I couldn’t get them alongside my kayak.

In addition, channel cats are excellent on the table.

The main thing about fishing Lake Manatee is that you often are lulled into a false sense of what’s going on. You’ll catch a hand-sized bluegill and follow that with seven or eight smaller fish. The bites are all the same.

This will continue and then you get the familiar take of a bluegill and set the hook. But the water erupts, your rod bends deeply and line begins to streak out the rod tip.

You’re quickly aware you don’t have a bluegill.

Channel cats often will take you into your backing – if you can get them away from the vegetation. If they decide to head to the shoreline, you don’t have much of a chance. But if they head out into the open lake, you have hope.

You never know when the cat bite will take place. You’ll hook none for three days straight, then they’ll with reckless abandon the fourth day.

Don’t tell your buddies. The fish just might get lockjaw the next morning.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Lightly fished Lake Manatee is a fly angler's paradise

Sunrise on Lake Manatee often is quite beath-taking

Just one of many bluegill on the Myakka Minnow

Lake Manatee is perhaps my favorite lake to fish.

One reason is that it's close to home. Another is that the lake produces a lot of fish.

I made my first trip of fall to Lake Manatee and wasn't disappointed. I launched my Native Watercraft Ultimate 14.5 shortly after dawn and began catching bluegill and stumpknocker almost immediately on a popper and dropper (bead-head nymph).

The action slowed down after about 30 minutes, so I paddled along the north shoreline to an area where I usually do fairly well. But the popper and dropper just wasn't working. I switched a fly that normally produces, my FLY Nymph.

Wasn't the answer. Got nothing on it.

I noticed a fallen tree about 10 yards from me and figured I'd switch to the Myakka Minnow that I had on my 2-weight rod when I got there. First cast resulted in a feisty, hand-sized bluegill. Over the next three hours, I must have caught 70 bluegill, a few shellcracker and a couple of stumpknocker.

This Lake Manatee largemouth bass fell for a Myakka Minnow

The highlight of the outing was four fish that I couldn't land. I hooked and lost four large channel cats on the Myakka Minnow. Two broke off quickly. I fought another for about 30 seconds when the hook pulled. The fourth fish hit near the shoreline vegetation and headed for the middle of the lake. I back-paddled furiously and fought the fish at the same time. When I was about 50 yards from the shoreline, I concentrated on what I figured to be at least a 10-pound cat. I got the fish on the reel, but that's when the hooked pulled.

I've encountered the cats on a number of occasions. They hit flies readily. They're stronger than an elephant and fight when great determination.

But they're too much for the 2-weight.

Last time this happened to me, I decided to fish a 4-weight with 8-pound tippet. I only hooked one channel cat, but I landed it. To show you how strong these fish are, it took me 5 minutes to land the fish. And it only weighed 3 pounds!

We're entering a special time of year for Lake Manatee, a 2,400-acre reservoir, is located nine miles east of Interstate 75 off State Road 64 in Manatee County. Won't be long before we start catching fat speckled perch (black crappie) which are a blast on fly rod.

There's a 20-horsepower restriction on outboard motors on the lake. If your outboard is larger, you can use your trolling motor.

I launch at Lake Manatee Fish Camp, 23745 State Road 64 E (941-322-8500). Launching is free and the ramp is decent.

I paddle under the bridge and fish the east side of the lake, usually concentrating on the north shoreline.

While I target panfish, I do catch my share of bass. I've taken largemouth to 6 pounds on a variety of panfish flies.

Bass will school this time of year. So, it's important that you keep your eyes and ears open. You can usually hear the bass busting shade in the old river channel. This often takes place in early to mid afternoon the water warms up. That's when the shad begin feeding on plankton.

These aren't typical school bass. They're often 2 to 5 pounds. And they'll hit most anything. The key is to get the fly to the fish quickly.

Flies I prefer include a No. 12 bead-head nymph that I call Aunt Sara's Homely Daughter, my FLY Nymph, Wooly Buggers, No. 10 popping bugs and the ever-mighty Myakka Minnow.

Although the lake has an official name, I call it Gibby's Lake because I'm often the only angler out there. So, it kind of feels like it's my private lake.

Lake Manatee State Park ( is located at 20007 State Road 64. It's a great place to camp.