Saturday, January 30, 2010

Scuds and jigs are on the panfish menu

As you probably have guessed, I like tying flies. I don't spend all of my free time tying, but I do sit down every once and a while a tie.
Since I'm in a freshwater mood, I decided to tie some stuff that might appeal to bluegill and other panfish. I tied jigs on 1/124-ounce heads and a couple of difference colors of scuds. I think both will work just fine. Scuds imitate the tiny freshwater shrimp that live in Florida lakes and streams.

The jig is simple to tie. The design is by a friend of mine, Capt. Pete Greenan of the Gypsy Guide Service in Sarasota.

Capt. Pete's Simple One

Hook: 1/124-ounce jig head
Thread: Fine mono
Tail: Chartreuse marabou
Body: Micro Ice Chenille (pearl)

The scuds aren't too difficult, either.

Gibby's Bluegill Scud

Hook: No. 14 scud hook
Thread: 6/30
Body: Dubbed rabbit
Shellback: Scud back
Ribbing: Fine wire

Can't wait to try them out!

Fishing improves as the weather finally warms

The weather is warming and the fishing is improving.
After some unusually cold weather, I finally was able to get out. I did well.
Spotted seatrout and redfish are the main targets. Remember, snook season is closed at least until Sept. 1. Scientists estimate that nearly 10 percent of the snook along Florida's west coast were killed during the record cold. You can catch-and-release snook, but you cannot keep them.
That's OK! We're catch-and-release anyway.
I'm not sure how beach snook fishing will be affected. Last spring and summer, we had a wonderful time sight-fishing snook in the surf. It was a record year for us. I caught snook to 39 inches (nearly 20 pounds) and had a number of fish of more than 28 inches. In addition, I caught spotted seatrout, ladyfish, jack crevalle, mangrove snapper and flounder.
My best day was spectacular and certainly "once in a lifetime." On that August outing, I caught and released 15 snook to 39 inches, including six of more than 28. I landed three redfish to 32 inches. And I "jumped" three tarpon, all of which went more than 100 pounds.
My best morning was 41 snook on fly.
Beach snook fishing is all sight-fishing. We don't make a cast until we see the fish. I've been doing this for more than 20 years and I know where the fish are at any particular time. We use 6- to 9-weight rods, floating or sinktip lines and 20-pound leaders with 25-pound fluorocarbon shock tippets.
Our fly of choice is my D.T. Special (variation), the best beach snook fly I've ever used.
Back to the present ...
I've been getting into some large spotted seatrout. On an outing to Palma Sola Bay, I caught and released 25 trout to 6 pounds. I had many trout in the 18-inch range.
I fished Al Ewert and his daughter, Annie. Al manages a BMW store in Connecticut while Annie is a senior at UConn. Both are accomplished anglers.
They caught about 15 trout to 4 pounds in Sarasota Bay off Stephens Point. All fish came on D.O.A. CAL Jigs with shad tails. Fishing was tough, but their persistency was the difference in trying conditions.
On Wed., Jan. 27, I spoked at Economy Tackle/Dolphin Dive in Sarasota. To my surprise, a standing-room-only crowd showed up. And the audience was enthusiastic, attentive and asked a lot of question. I talked about cold weather kayak fishing.
I am scheduled to conduct seminars and tie flies Feb. 26 and Feb. 27 at the Grand Opening of Flint Creek Outfitters in Riverview.
I will serve as the Master of Ceremonies at the Lakewood Ranch Anglers Club's annaul Kids Fishing Tournament on Feb. 27.
On March 18, I will speak at the Suncoast Fly Fishers in St. Petersburg.
Fishing is improving. We're keeping our fingers crossed that the sun shines and the wind is calm.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Fish love the Big Eye Baitfish

I hate cliches, but necessity really is the mother of invention.
Anyway, I needed a fly that would appeal to spotted seatrout, yet hold up to the toothy destruction of bluefish and Spanish mackerel.
When it comes to seatrout, it's difficult to beat a Clouser Deep Minnow. However, they don't fare well to sharp teeth. After you catch a couple of fish, all you have is a hook with some lead eyes and maybe 2 or 3 strands of bucktail. You can go through a dozen or more bucktail Clousers with the bite is on.
So, I set out to come up with a fly that not only trout like, but also would last when you tangle with toothy fish.
After thinking about it, I came up with the Big Eye Baitfish, a fly that appeals to a variety of fish and holds up very well.
It features a wing of Super Hair stacked on top of Fish Hair, a pair of tough synthetics. The body is coated with epoxy as is the head.
The fly works very well over deep grass flats. It's obviously patterned after the Clouser, but holds up a little better.

Gibby's Big Eye Baitfish

Hook: Mustad 34006 No. 1
Thread: Fine mono
Body: 1/8-inch silver Flexi-Cord
Wing: White Fish Hair topped with chartreuse Super Hair
Eyes: Large Orvis Dumbbell Eyes


1. Attach mono thread about 1/8 inch behind hook eye.
2. Tie in large Orvis Dumbbel Eyes.
3. Attach Flexi-Chord and coat with Devcon 2-Ton Epoxy. Allow to dry (I have an electric fly turner).
4. After body dries, reattach thread and tie in a clump of white Fish Hair and top that with chartreuse Super Hair.
5. Build up head and whip finish.
6. Epoxy head and allow to dry.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Trout save the day in Palma Sola Bay

The more I know about fishing, the less I know.
I do realize, however, the only thing I have figured out is that I don't have much figured out about fishing. It's a complex sport that is affected by a variety of variables.
On Monday, I launched my Native Watercraft Ultimate 14.5, the best fishing kayak going, at the foot of the Cortez Bridge. My plan was to paddle to Palma Sola Bay where I'd received a tip that there were redfish in the shallows.
I found the reds soon after arriving.
I fished them all day.
I caught none.
I had no hits.
I really didn't get a good shot at any.
I returned Tuesday because the lure of redfish was too much to resist. On the way to Palma Sola, I stopped at a large sand hole just northwest of Price's Key. I caught 10 spotted seatrout to 18 inches on my Big Eye Baitfish. I was casting a 6-weight rod and sinktip line.
It was good to feel the battle of feisty trout after three weeks of brutal cold and little fishing.
I headed through a cut and into Palma Sola. I stood and poled myself over the shallows, looking for redfish.
I saw a few, but not nearly as many as the day prior. I moved out a little and began a drift over a deeper portion of the flat. The east wind was perfect for drifting.
My path was taking me near some great looking sand holds. I knew that threre should be redfish and trout lurking in the holes since it was low tide.
I hooked a fish that I was sure was a red. It was heavy and strong. It took line easily. I was surprised when the fish came to the surface and wallowed like a trout. It was a large spotted seatrout ... one of the heaviest I've ever taken on flly. The fish was almost too heavy for the 6-weight rod, but not quite. The trout was 26 1/2  inches and fat.
I landed the fish after a couple of minutes. I removed the fly and took a couple of quick photos. It's not the easiest task to photograph and fish when you're by yourself. I then returned the gator trout to water and watched it swim off.
I saw a couple of other kayakers fishing in deeper water. I poled out just to see what was going on. They were catching smaller trout. I made a few casts and caught a couple of trout that went 10 inches or less.
I found a grass line that was holding larger fish and caught 10 trout that ranged from 16 to 19 inches. In all, I landed 25 trout to 6 pounds.
Not a bad day, considering the weather we've had. Not a bad day at all.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Catching fish during cold weather is the topic at Jan. 27 seminar

Dick Pfaff, a kayak specialist at Economy Tackle/Dolphin Dive in Sarasota, called me the other day and wanted to know if I'd be interested in conducting a kayak fishing seminar?
I'm always interested.
So, we set Jan. 27 as the date. I'll talk about fishing in cold weather that evening at 6:30. Economy Tackle is located at 6018 S. Tamiami Trail. Check this out for exact location:
Fishing in the cold is quite appropo, considering the winter we've been experiencing. Water temperature is about 47 degrees and we've had numerous fish kills. According to Capt. Rick Grassett of the Snook Fin-Addict, there have been reports of dead snook from Tampa Bay to Naples.
"I fished Charlotte Harbor on Tuesday and we didn't even get a bite," said Grassett. "And there were dead snook all over the place."
While it can be very tough to catch fish during periods of extreme cold, there are a few tips that will work when the weather starts to warm. Even though the water temperature may be in the high 40s or low 50s, fish have to eat.
I will talk about these techniques at the seminar and hope to see you there!
For information, call Economy Tackle at (941) 922-9671.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Fresh fish and proper preparation is key to good eating

I don't eat a lot of native fish for a variety of reasons.
As I have written in other blogs, I don't agree with killing heavily regulated species as snook, spotted seatrout and redfish. And it's those species that I mainly target.
Additionally, my wife, Kathy, is a vegetarian. So, I don't want to kill a fish and have a portion go to waste.
But every once in a while, I'll keep a fish. I've been known to take a Spanish mackerel, flounder or pompano home.
While I don't keep fish very often, I do know how to cook them.
Still, I find a number of people who aren't hesitant to pronounce their disdain for fish.
"I don't like fish," they'll say.
Why not?
"Because they taste fishy."
That's understandable. I wouldn't want to eat a fish that tastes "fishy," either.
Fish that taste "fishy" usually come from grocery stores and fish markets.
Rule No. 1: Never buy fish that's on sale. The reason that it's on sale is that it has been on ice for several days and it's not at its freshest.
Realize that commercial boats for out for two weeks or more at a time. The first fish caught are dumped into the cooler and they're the last fish out. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't go out, catch a fish, take it home and put it in my refrigerator for two weeks and then eat it.
Several years ago, I was offshore on a grouper outing. We had a good day and caught a number of hefty gag grouper. I kept one fish. When I got home, I was informed that we were having company for dinner. That meant I had to come up with more grouper.
I drove over to Publix and bought a couple more grouper fillets.
Back at home, I washed all of the fillets. That's when someone said, "What's that smell?"
It was the Publix grouper, obviously not the freshest fish.
I'm also not a fan of freezing fish. I know there are several freezing methods out there that supposedly work very well, I'm still not a fan. As soon as you freeze a fish, the cellular breakdown begins.
I kept a grouper one time and prepared only one fillet. I put the unused fillet in the refrigerator and planned to use it the next day. Well, something came along to change the plans and I forgot about it.
Several months later, I came home and dinner was ready: grouper, baked potatoes, green beans and salad.
What a surprise!
As we started eating, someone said, "What's wrong with this grouper?"
I asked where the grouper had come from? I was told that it was the fillet that I had put in the refrigerator. It had been wrapped and frozen.
Those who dislike fish probably have never had fresh fish. Freshly caught fish has no "fishy" odor. Also, some species are milder than others. Grouper and snapper are examples of mild fish.
Bluefish, on the other hand, are very oily and strong. I only keep bluefish to put in my smoker. Smoked blues and mullet make great smoked fish spread.
Cooking fish is an art in itself. Many people have no clue what to do.
I like to grill or saute most of my fish. I'll only resort to frying about once every 10 years.
I love pompano. I'll take fillets and marinate them in Zesty Italian Dressing for more than three hours (a full day is best). Then, I'll place the fillets skinside down on the grill and allow them to cook for five minutes per inch. Turn them once, cook for five minutes and your done. You don't have to turn them several times.
Ditto for kingfish, Spanish mackerel and other species.
When I'm out fishing and get the hankering for fresh fish, I'll make sure than we're going to be home that night or the next evening. Then, I'll only keep enough fish for one meal. If there are leftovers, they're usually great to snack on the next day.
The fishing industry is one of the least regulated industries in the country. In fact, a lot of folks have purchased grouper and toted home tilapia.
How do most people know what they're getting or eating? Most don't.
I ate at a Hops (restaurant) in Tampa a few years ago. I wasn't in the mood for steak, so I ordered catfish fillets. I love fresh catfish.
When the waiter brought the meal, he set the plate down in front of me. I looked at the fillets and it was obvious they weren't from a catfish. The fillets were not long like a catfish. They were about the size of a large bluegill or speckled perch.
I didn't think much about it because the fish was excellent.
Next day, however, I started thinking about it and decided to call the restaurant. I told the manager that I had ordered catfish and received another species.
"I can assure you it was catfish," he said, pompously.
We argued for a while and he then admitted, "OK, it was tilapia. We ran out of catfish. But there's nothing wrong with tilapia."
I told him that I hadn't called to complain about the taste of the fish. I had called to complain that I had ordered catfish and was served something else.
"Well," he said, "most people don't know the difference."
It was the old bait and switch. I had ordered the more expensive catfish and served the cheaper tilapia.
Snook have the reputation of being Florida's tastiest inshore fish. They may be, but that they're out of season six months and year and have a strict slot limit (28 to 32 inches) adds to the myth. And snook are a gamefish, so they cannot be commercially harvested or sold. Restaurants can't have them on their menus.
That didn't stop someone from importing Nile perch from Africa and marketing them as snook. At first, you'd just find snook on the menu. Then, when folks started complaining, they changed the name to Lake Victoria snook, which satisfied the requirements of the Food and Drug Administration.
I talked with FDA and was told that since snook were related to Nile Perch it was OK to market them as Lake Victoria snook.
Convoluted reasoning, I thought.
That would be the same as catching a bass and selling it as a speckled perch. Bass and specks are in the same family. And specks are much tastier. This is just an example, though, since those freshwater fish are illegal to commercially harvest and sell.
One of my favorite franchise restaurants is Outback Steakhouse. Redfish showed up on their menu a few years ago. I asked the waiter to get the manager. It is illegal in Florida to commercially harvest redfish or sell them.
The manager told me that their redfish were pond-raised in China, so it was OK. I told him Florida laws stated that possession of more than one redfish is illegal and that it's illegal to sell redfish.
The menu was changed the next day.
Food for thought:
Years ago, I caught a number of sheepshead, porgy and Key West grunt. I took them home and dredged the fillets in Italian bread crumbs. I then fried them in peanut oil. I took the leftovers to some friends who raved about my creation.
"Best fish I've ever eaten."
"Fresh grouper?"
When I told them they were eating sheepshead, porgy and Key West grunt, their jaws dropped.
It's amazing how good fresh fish is when it's prepared properly.
No fooling.

Strict regulation means fishing more for fun than food

There's a good reason I haven't killed a snook in more than 25 years.
The species is so heavily regulated I just don't think it makes sense for me to kill them. The snook season is only open six months a year. And when it's open, anglers may keep one fish per day as long as it's between 28 and 32 inches here on the Gulf Coast.
Ditto for redfish and trout, two more heavily regulated species.
Although there are no closed seasons for redfish (like the one being released in the photo), there is a bag limit (one per day) and a slot limit (18 to 27 inches).

Spotted seatrout season is closed November and December. Bag limit when the season is open is four and the slot limit is 15 to 20 inches. For some reason, there's a trophy provision which allows anglers to have one trout of more than 20 inches among their limit.
From Dec. 15 to Jan. 1, Florida anglers on the West Coast legally can keep only one redfish. Trout and snook are out of season.
I haven't killed a redfish or trout in years, either. When I want to keep a fish to eat, I'll take home a pompano, Spanish mackerel, flounder or mangrove snapper. If I get to fish offshore, I don't mind keeping a snapper or kingfish. Those species appear to be in good shape.
I'll occasionally get a call from someone interested in a kayak charter who wants to keep fish.
"Got some folks coming in and we need enough fish for a fish fry," they'll say. "So, we'll probably need at least a limit of trout, pompano and Spanish mackerel.
"We wouldn't mind a snook or a redfish, either."
That's when I tell them that I'm not the guide they need. I thank them and then give them the number of another guide.
I'm proud that I've got a catch-and-release policy. The reason is because I don't feel that killing snook, reds and trout is a good idea. In addition, fish storage in a kayak is limited. Plus, there are no cleaning stations at most places with launch.
Most of my clients are very understanding. If someone just has to kill a fish, then they'll do it with another guide.

Extended cold taking its toll on snook and other species in Florida

Florida's cold spell is the worst the state has endured in years. And it's killing lots of saltwater fish.
Our fish aren't used to the cold. I'm not either, but I can retreat to my house or put on extra clothing when I have to go out.
Snook, in particular, are susceptible to cold. Arguably Florida's No. 1 inshore fish, snook are sub-tropical fish which can't tolerate water temperature much lower than 55.
It has been reported the water temperature in New Pass is 51 degrees. And it could drop even more.
"It's the worst we've had in years," said Capt. Jonnie Walker, who runs the Bay Walker out of New Pass Bait and Tackle.
Walker toured Sarasota Bay on Monday with a representative from Mote Marine Laboratory. He discovered dead and dying fish, including snook, pinfish, pompano, jack crevalle, mangrove snapper and other species. He reported most of the dead fish were found in canals along Longboat Key.
"It's not good," Walker said.
Walker also said he saw thousands of live mullet in the canals.
"I just hope the commercial netters don't find out about them," he said. "Most were alive, but I saw some spinning near the surface."
Reports have been filtering in from throughout Florida's West Coast. Kills have been reported from Hillsborough County south to Naples.
"It's the worst I've seen since 1977," said Capt. Scott Moore, who runs the Primadonna out of Gasparilla Marina. "This isn't good."
Snook kills aren't rare in the Sunshine State. They take place whenever there's an extended period of cold weather. This cold began after Christmas and has continued into the second full week on January. Most agree that this has been the coldest winter since 1989 when the last severe snook kill took place.
There is good news. The weather is supposed to warm, with temperatures in the 70s by weekend. That should help the fish that haven't perished.
Those who encounter dead snook should remember the species is out of season and it's illegal to possess them. The rule was implemented in the 1980s to protect stunned snook that appeared dead. That often happens and when the afternoon sun warms the water, stunned snook revive and swim off.

Monday, January 11, 2010

I now know what the 'shack nasties' are

Those who live in the cold north often talk about the "shack nasties." Living in Florida for most of my life, I had no idea what they were talking about.
I now know.
Florida has been hit with cold weather that has stuck around for a couple of weeks. We've had ice on the windshields, arctic wind and fish kills. Our fish don't like cold, either.
I finally figured out the shack nasties. It's also known as cabin fever. It takes place in the winter when northerners can't get out of the house. Kind of like being stir crazy.

To combat the nasties, I've been tying flies. I've got D.T. Specials ready for beach snook season. I've tied plenty of Aunt Sara's Homely Daughters for bluegill. The ASHD is a bead-head nymph on a No. 10 or 12 hook. I've tied several FLY Nymphs and Wooly Buggers. I'm working on a few Gibby's First Cast Crabs.
I need to get out on the water. This weather is rare in the Sunshine State.
I've got two charters this week, one on Wednesday and the other on Saturday. Both are 6-hour outings. I hope I can get them in.
The weather is starting to warm up a little, so I'm hopeful.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The fly-fishing bug is still biting after all these years

I've been fly fishing for far longer than I'd like to admit. I've always been fascinated with the sport.
I began as a teenager. My first attempts (believe it or not) were done with a spinning rod. I'd tie a popping bug on and "whip" it out. I even caught a few fish that way.
I could cast a fly rod the first time I picked one up. I was talking to a classmate of mine and he said his dad had a couple of fly rods that we could cast that afternoon. After school, we went over to his house, got the rods out and started casting. I had never held a fly rod before, but I could cast 40 feet rather easily.
I moved to Florida in 1971 and began fly fishing for bluegill, bass and other species. I stuck to freshwater after I moved to Sarasota in 1975. I loved to drive over to Lake Okeechobee and cast for bluegill and bass. I'd fish Upper Myakka Lake, Lower Myakka Lake, the Myakka River, Lake Manatee and the Braden River around Sarasota.
I got bit by the saltwater bug in the 1980s. Several people were instrumental in this: the late Ad Gilbert, Capt. Pete Greenan and Ray Moss. They whetted my saltwater appetite.
In the earlier 1990s, I help Greenan start the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers, a Sarasota-based club dedicated to saltwater fly fishing. Walt Jennings and Mike Lang were the other founding fathers.
Although I'm not purist by any means, I do fly fishing most of the time. If I can get the fish to hit a fly, then that's what I'll do. I've found that on many occasions, I catch as many fish or more than those using spinning tackle.
Why fly fish?
It's fun. If it weren't, I wouldn't do it.
Fly fishing is an effective way to take fish. It's the key to success when walking the beaches in the summer and looking for snook. Just last summer, I had the day of a lifetime. I caught and released 15 snook to 39 inches, three redfish to 32 inches and lost a trio of tarpon, each of which easily surpassed the century mark.
Fly fishing led to tying flies. I use some traditional patterns and I have designed a few of my own. My most famous fly is my Myakka Minnow, a creation that has caught species in both fresh and salt water. The pattern works terrifically any time fish are feeding on small minnows.
My Gibby's Bonefish Fly and Gibby's First Cast Crab, flies I designed in the last three months, have served me well. The First Cast Crab has produced a number of redfish. The Bonefish Fly did well for me on my recent trip to Grand Cayman.
I swore early on that I'd never tie flies. I didn't want to be hooked on the sport that badly. But I gave in one day after I bought a dozen flies and the bill was $53.35. I figured there wasns't $5 worth of matierial in all of those flies.
I discovered you can tie a fly for about 11 cents. To do so, you have to go out and buy $2,500 worth of material and tools.
Used to be, fly fishing was an eliteist sport. It still is when you think about it. And it has nothing to do with money. You're among the elite if you can do it well. If you can go out and catch a bonefish, permit or tarpon on fly rod, then you're among the elite.
I teach fly casting. You have to learn how to cast before you can even begin to think about fly fishing. And I've had a few students who I put my arm around their shoulders and asked, "Have you ever thought about taking up tennis?" They would never grasp the concent of fly casting.
It's really not that hard, but I think beginners want it to be. Or it is in their mind. It's simply an exercise of timing and rhythm.
There are several common problems that beginners have. One is the correct application of power on the back cast and forward cast. They want to power the fly rod throughout the entire stroke and they usually all slow down when they should be applying the power. The power application comes toward the end of each stroke.
Another common problem is improper rod path during the strokes. The path should be on one plane. But most beginners will have the rod on several planes, most likely a concave path. That creates a very large loop and often no loop at all.
What I try to do when teaching is to provide the student with a solid founation. I make sure he or she understands each concept and I give them practive routines.
My philosophy is simple: If a student can get the fly from Point A to Point B and it results in a hookup, then I've done a good job. We fly fish to catch fish. Don't let anyone fool you.
I heard an angler say, "I don't care if I catch fish. I just love being out on the water."
Translation: "I don't catch very many fish."
I tell all of my students that their success or lack thereof is directly proportional to the amount of time and effort they put into it.
A lady in her 60s took a lesson from me several years ago. We spent an hour on proper stance, how to hold the rod, the back cast, forward cast and other things. After the lesson, I advised her to practice at home.
About a year later, she showed up at a casting school I was conducting. She walked up to me and said, "Do you remember me? I took a lesson from you last year and I haven't touched a fly rod since then."
Go figure.
The sport really took off in the eary 1990s. Some attribute the rise in popularity to the moive A River Runs Through It. That flick may have sparked the interest, but I'm not sure. I am sure there was a surge in fly fishing interest.
My feeling is that it was a yuppie thing. It was trendy and had an elite feel. The yuppies jumped on the fly-fishing wagon all at once. Most jumped off quickly. Their money couldn't buy success. And their lack of success drove them to other interests.
Meanwhile, I'm still fly fishing. And I'm still catching fish.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Internet forums good sources of information

If you are a kayak fishing enthusiast, you can learn a lot and have a lot of fun participating in Internet forums.

Here are a few I like:

Bonefish flats are calling my kayaks

I've been contemplating a bonefish trip to the Florida Keys. I'm thinking this spring.
But I want to divert a little from normal. I want to put together a group of four anglers and take the kayaks to the Keys.
I'm thinking kayaks are the way to go. They're so stealthy, even wiley old bonefish wouldn't know you're there.
I've got some spots in the Keys which would work out great. I would envision me poling my kayak along, then spotting a bonefish tailing, stopping the kayak, picking up the fly rod, making a cast and hooking a fish. Of course, it's always easy in my dreams.
I've learned that it's often easier in low-light conditions. Mike Lang and I used to fish a Redbone media tournament out of Islamorada every year. We'd go down early and spend at least two days fishing prior to the event and another day after. We'd usually stay at Breezy Palms. It wasn't upscale by any means, but it was clean and a place to sleep. We didn't spend much time in the room.
We'd get out of the water prior to dawn and head for our first spot. That was usually Teatable Key, just a few hundred yards south of the motel. Once there, we'd pole along until we'd start seeing tails. Then, we'd stakeout or anchor. We'd usually see 20 to 50 tails within casting range. We took a number of bones this way.
By the way, Lang and I each won this event. In our first tournament, we were fishing with Islamorada guide Rusty Albury. Our first spot was a flat on the ocean side near Holiday Isle. Lang drew first chance and was on the bow. When he picked up his fly rod, Albury said, "Let me see you cast and work the fly like you would for a bonefish." Lang made a cast, let the fly sink and then began setting the hook. A big bonefish had inhaled the fly.
A few minutes later, he landed a nice 6-pounder.
Albury began laughing at the bewildered Lang.
"If I had told you I'd seen a bonefish there, you would have choked," Albury said.
About an hour later, we were in a cove and saw about 20 bones tailing around. I was on the deck and made a cast. No dice.
Lang was backing me up with a spinning rod and shrimp. He made a cast and hooked up quickly. His two bonefish were more than enough to win the tournament.
A couple of years later, we were with Albury again.
"I requested you two," he said. "But we're going to have to get our fish early. It has been so hot that if we don't have a fish by 10, we won't get one.
We not only didn't get a fish by 10, but we also didn't even see one. At 10:30, we left the bayside and headed toward the mouth of Tavernier Creek on the oceanside. Albury poled us onto a large flat and we began looking. It was almost as if we were going through the motions because it was so hot.
About 15 minutes after we arrived, we saw a school of six bonefish swim out of the channel on onto the flat. They were heading our way. I took a deep breath, made one false cast and sent the fly in front of the school. I let the fly sink, then began retrieving it.
I was into a nice bone.
Albury landed the fish about five minutes later. After a quick photo, he released the 8-pounder.
It was now time to head back to Cheeca Lodge for the awards lunch.
Ed Marinaro, former pro football player and star in Hill Street Blues, was the emcee. He handed out the awards and then grabbed a print that was designated for the Grand Champion.
"What this fellow did,' he said, "is what keeps me coming back. I've never caught a bonefish on fly, but that's what I dream of."
He then called me up and handed me the print.
Ironically, it was the exact print that I had seen in the Redbone Galley the day prior.
"Mike, I'd love to have this print," I said.
Little did I realize I'd own it less than 24 hours later.
Another popular spot for us was a flat just south of Lignum Vitae Key. Mike and I hooked quite a few fish on this flat -- usually right before dark.
I was fishing this flat one day in the spring of 1999 with Branden Naeve, a guide from Nokomis, Fla. We were looking for bones when we noticed a couple of large tails out toward the edge of the flat in about three feet of water. Naeve was on the bow and I atop the poling platform. I took my time and poled him toward the slowly moving tail.
When he was about 75 feet away, he made a cast. Although Naeve put the fly right in the permit's window, the fish spooked.
We poled back onto the flat.
Thirty minutes later, we saw another couple of tails. This time, I was on the bow and Naeve was poling. He pushed the boat toward the tails. When we got to withing 80 feet, I started to cast.
"Hold on," Naeve said softly. "Let me push you just a little closer."
But when he pushed the pole into the shelly bottom, the soft crunch of shell and graphite sent those permit scurrying like scalded dogs.
There's a lot of bonefish water in the Keys. They're beckoning my kayaks. I've got four boats. Looking for three more anglers.
Remember, there's virtually no cleanup at the end of the day and we don't have to buy gas.
Let me know.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Brad Befus' fly was inspiration for Gibby's Bonefish Fly

I created a new bonefish fly that paid off on my recent trip to Grand Cayman.
Actually, I borrowed a few ideas from Brad Befus. I used the Befus Carp Fly (right)  with great success last summer while fly fishing for carp on Grand Traverse Bay near Traverse City, Mich.
I liked the fly. I liked how it cast. I liked how it looked in the water. And I especially liked how the carp and smallmouth bass loved it.
So, when I began tying flies for my bonefish trip, I tied the usual: Gotchas, Clousers and the like. Then, I remembered the Befus Carp Fly.
I changed it a little bit. I added mini-lead eyes so that the fly would ride hook up (that's important when fishing heavy turtle grass for bonefish). I added two tufts of rabbit fur toward the eye of the fly. In addition, I added a weed guard (imperative).
The fly worked well. It cast good. It looked good in the water. And the bonefish seemed to like it just fine.
I call it "Gibby's Bonefish Fly." My fly is shown at the bottom. Even though the pattern was inspired by the Befus Carp Fly, I feel that I changed it enough that I could call it what I want.
The late George Rose, who was one of my early fly-tying mentors, once told me, "Steve, there are no new flies. They're all variations on the same theme."
I agree.

Time to move to Florida

I'm moving to Florida as soon as I can. This cold weather is too much for me to take.
This can't be Florida. This has to be Michigan. Or Ohio. New York. Pennsylvania.
This is shaping up to be our coldest winter in years. I can't remember the last time we had a sustained period of cold?
I do remember it snowing here in Sarasota. I was on my way to work at the old Sarasota Journal at 4:30 a.m. on a cold, winter day in 1977. I saw it snow.
It also snowed on Christmas Eve 1988, albeit only flurries.
But that's been it.
For the last five winters, I haven't even had to wear waders while out fishing. Shorts, long-sleeved fishing shirt and maybe a vest or light jacket has been the norm.
I had to reschedule a charter I had today until next week.
I also have a charter on Friday that I'll try to get in. We probably won't hit the water until maybe noon or 1 p.m. You don't have to get on the water at sunrise these days.
The bad news is there's another front on the way.
It's not good for our snook population. Snook are very susceptible to cold. When the water temperature dips into the low 50s, snook can die. We've had heavy snook kills in past winters.
Maybe it's Mother Nature's way with controllng the population? They always seem to rebound.
I don't know if I can rebound. I'm a Florida boy. My blood's way too thin.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Slow down for fast fishing action

Many folks have a difficult time figuring out how to fish a D.O.A. Shrimp. Mark Nichols' plastic creations are among the best saltwater lures found anywhere.
They are extremely productive, but you've got to know how to use them. My advice to those new to D.O.A. is to fish them as slowly as you can. I fish them just like I'd fish a live shrimp.
When asked how to fish the shrimp, Nichols always tells anglers, "Fish it as slowly as you can and when you're fishing it slow, slow down some more."
I've found SLOW to be the key to fishing success. I discovered on a bonefishing trip to Grand Cayman that the slower I fished, the better results I had.
For example, I waded out on a turtle-grass flat and simply stood and observed for at least a half hour. That's when I saw a pair of bonefish swim off the grass and over the sand. They had no clue I was there. I was so close that when I made a cast, the leader wasn't even totally out of the rod tip!
If you cover a flat quickly, you've likely spooked every fish on that flat. I take two or three steps, then stop. I'll stand there for 10 minutes or more before taking another couple of steps. This pattern helped me immensely. It even helped on days when I didn't catch fish. It at least allowed me to get shots at bonefish.
While waded the lush turtle flats off Barkers, I encountered several schools of tailing bonefish just by standing in place and allowing them to come to me.
Patience, it is said, is the key to fishing success. However, patience in itself is not the key. It's the ability to sense when you're in an area holding fish. If you are, then you just stand pat and wait for the fish to reveal themselves. Then, patience is a virtue.