Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fly Anglers Online is all take and no give

I'm a little ticked and somewhat miffed.
I've been a contributor to Fly Anglers Online for a few years. I've written articlesfor the site free of charge. I've given them free photos. I've contributed the Fly of the Month with detailed tying instructions and photos.
A few months ago, FAOL began a new policy to elminate commercial advertising on its popular forum. I didn't think I was really advertising and didn't worry about. Then I noticed a link to my Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing website which I used in my signature had been removed by someone at FAOL. In addition, the link to this non-commercial blog was removed.
I wrote the forum administrator a nice note and stated my reasons for disagreeing.
His reply was that he didn't care and I could go elsewhere.
I didn't want to do that. I had made several friends at FAOL over the years and I liked participating in the forum.
Over the next few weeks, I saw posts from members with links to their websites in their signatures. So, I added mine. That didn't last long. Again, both links were deleted.
At that point, I decided I needed to make a decision.
I've made a considerable amount of money over the years writing about fishing, so I figured I was doing FAOL a favor by not charging them. Of course, they wouldn't pay anyway. But the point is that my articles and photos are worth money.
But FAOL's philosphy is "We take, but we don't give!"
FAOL will quickly accept free articles and photos, but won't allow me or others to have a linke to our sites in our signatures.
I understand that it's FAOL's new policy. I don't have to like it, but it's their decision.
No more free articles. No more free photos.
No more Free Anglers Online for this outdoor writing pro.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday fly tying; giving in to the weather when it's bad

Tied a bunch of flies today. One pattern was for salt water and called a GIP Fly. GIP stands for Genuine Imitation Plastic. I found the pattern in Fly Tyer Magazine in an article written by Bruce Sublett. The GIP is fly fishing's answer to soft plastics such as the Exude, Saltwater Assassin and other jerk worms.

The other flies I tied were for fresh water. I'm not really sure what they're called. I got the bodies from Capt. Pete Greenan of the Gypsy Guide Service in Sarasota. I think he got the bodies from master freshwater fly tyer Jack Neeley.

Here they are:

Tarpon fishing from a kayak isn't for the inexperienced

I remember dreaming about fishing for tarpon when I was a boy, growing up in Ohio. I dreamed some day I'd get the chance to do that.
I've now spent a majority of my life in Florida and I've landed several hundred tarpon and most on fly rod.
As many of you know, I am a professional kayak fishing guide. I get inquiries all the time from people who want to go fishing for tarpon. It's a popular pursuit here in Sarasota in May, June and July when the giant fish show up in the inshore Gulf of Mexico and roam in schools just off the beaches.
When I tell those who want to fish for tarpon that I don't do it, they are shocked and want to know why?
While I love to fly fish for tarpon, I'm not taking a client out there.
Those of you who are old enough to remember former Ohio State football coach Woody Hays, I'm sure you also remember what he said about passing the football? Hays said when you pass the football, three things can happen and two of them are bad.
That's about the same as tarpon fishing from a kayak.
Now, I have some friends who pursue tarpon from their kayaks. Realize, however, that they have been doing it for years, are very experienced and do it as a team effort. They don't go after tarpon solo.
But most of my clients aren't experienced and might not be able to even handle a 100-pound fish.
There are several factors you have to take into consideration. Our tarpon range from 50 pounds to more than 200 pounds. If one of them would happen to jump in the kayak, it certainly could result in broken arms, legs or even death. And a tarpon jumping into a kayak is not unprecendented.
If you hooked a hefty tarpon, the battle could last two hours or more. You might hook the fish of your lifetime a quarter mile off Turtle Beach and land your fish two hours later six miles off the coast. You subdue the tarpon, have your picture taken, release the fish, then begin paddling back only to find a huge thunderstorm between you and the beach.
The weather can and often does change in an instant. One minute it's calm and the next the wind is gusting to 30 miles per hour and the seas running 4 or 5 feet. That's not safe for any kayak.
Another consideration is sharks. When the tarpon are here, so are the sharks. These finny denizens of the deep just love to snack on tarpon. I was fly fishing in 1994 and hooked a big tarpon just south of the Venice Pier. After about 15 minutes, the tarpon started going crazy and was chomped in half by a 10-foot hammerhead. It all took place in just a few seconds.
A fellow kayak guide used to scoff at those of us who questioned the sanity of fishing for tarpon out of a kayak. Well, he no longer does it. While on a charter a couple of years ago, he hooked a tarpon and handed the rod to his client.
That's when a big hammerhead showed up and beging figure-eighting the kayaks. The shark then got bolder and began swimming under the kayaks. On one pass, the shark actually lifted the one of the kayaks slightly out of the water.
"That's when I realized it wasn't a safe thing to do," he said. "Never again."
Good kayak guides will carry liability insurance. I do. And I had to fill out a form, detailing the waters I fish. I don't think I would have been approved had I told them I took inexperienced clients into the Gulf of Mexico to fish for giant tarpon in shark-infested waters.
That brings us to another point: Is your guide insured? That should be one of the first things you ask when inquiring about a charter. If he's not insured, it might be best to find another guide. If he says he is, ask to see proof.
I've caught several tarpon out of my kayak over the years. However, they've all been juveniles that I"ve taken in the bays or in The Everglades.
My kayaks are Gulf of Mexico virgins and they forever shall remain pure.
Call me a whimp if you want. But you can also call me safe and prudent.

Rudders, trollies and other kayak accessories explored in depth

To rudder or not to rudder?
That is the question.
Rudders are the savior to some and the bane to others. This accessory costs around $200. It might be the best addition you'll ever make to your kayak. Or it might be something that you never use.
What is the purpose of the rudder? Some use it as they paddle from Point A to Point B. Nothing wrong with that, but if you have a straight-tracking kayak you'll probably never have to use it.
I paddle a Native Watercraft Ultimate 14.5 and it's one of the best tracking kayaks out there. So, I don't use a rudder.
I've had kayaks which had rudders. I had a rudder when I started out in a Wilderness Systems Tarpon 140. I have rudders on two Heritage Redfish 14-footers. In those craft, I used the rudder when I was drift fishing. I would use it to correct my bow position as I drifted along a row of mangroves or over a deep grass flat. It allowed me to continue fishing as I made the corrections by pushing on the port or starboard foot pedals.
Port or starboard? That's left and right to you landlubbers. You'll notice port has only four letters. That's the same as left. That was the little trick I used years to ago to differentiate between the two. It works. Now, I don't even have to think about it.
Back to rudders ...
There's nothing at all wrong with adding a rudder to your vessil. However, I've found that I rarely use them. So, when I purchased two Ultimate 14.5s, I opted to go rudderless. Somehow, I developed the ability to correct my position without picking up the paddle. I usually fish with the paddle lying across my lap. As I'm drifting along, I can dip the paddle blade into the water and move it with my elbow to correct the bow. I never have to take my hands off the rod. Don't ask my how I do it because I can't explain. It's just one of those little tricks I've picked up over the years and I can do it without thinking about it.
What are some of the other accessories you can add to your kayak to make it better and more fishable? For me, less is better. My kayak is not loaded with a bunch of stuff.
You can add depth/fish finder, GPS, anchor trolley, rod holders, cup holders and a bunch of other stuff. I do use a hand-held GPS and I added an achor trolley.
A trolley is simply a system that allows you to anchor at any point from the bow to the stern. It's a line that runs throuh a pulley on the bow to a one on the stern. The line has a clip on one end and an O ring on the other. The clip is attached to the O ring and you have a nice trolley system. You can make one quite easily and buy a commercial rig and have it installed. I prefer the latter.
For an anchor, I use foam-covered hand dumbbells that I purchased at Walmart. I added about 30 feet of line to it and tie a clip to the end. When I want to anchor, I clip the line to the O ring, drop the anchor overboard and move the anchor to where I want.
I use the system whenever the wind is making it tough to drift. For example, the wind is blowing 12 miles per hour out of the north and I'm drifting the deep grass off Stephens Point in Sarasota Bay. The fish are cooperating, but I'm having trouble. The kayak is moving too fast for me to fish effectively.
What I'll do is anchor in an area where I think the fish are. I then drop the anchor over and pull the trolley line so that the anchor is now position off the stern. The wind then will turn the kayak so that the bow is point south. And that's the direction I want to face because I set up directly north of the grass patch I want to fish.
If I don't have to anchor, I don't. But there are times when it's a necessary evil.
I stand and fish about 80 percent of the time. I also usually pole my kayak over the shallows when I'm sight-fishing. So, a push pole is another addtion to my kayak. For a push pole, I use an 8-foot anchor pin. Two that are made in the area include the Stickit Anchor Pin and another made by Wang. Both are vertical anchoring systems made for powerboats, but they work great as push poles for kayaks.
There are real push poles for kayaks, but they're fairly expensive. And storing them while you paddle can be a problem. I can place the 8-footer on the bottom of the kayak when I'm paddling so that it's out of the way.
You can also put the anchor pin/push pole through the O ring on your anchor trolley and use it to stake out.
Do you need pedals for your kayak? That's up to you. I'm more of a purist, so I'll stick to a paddle. However, some prefer pedals to paddles.
Pedal kayaks are more expensive. That's a negative.
One manufacturer claims that its pedal craft gives you hands-free fishing. Good gimmick. As I explained above, I have hands-free fishing and I don't pedal.
Two of the best pedal kayaks are made by Hobie and Native Watercraft. In the Native, you can pedal backwards. That comes in hand if you're fishing around a dock and hook a big redfish or snook. If you didn't have the ability to pedal in reverse and away from the dock, the big fish certainly would pull you and your craft into the structure. The Hobie system doesn't allow reverse.
Kayak fishing is so popular that I rarely find a spot where I'm fishing alone. Reason is kayaks are fairly inexpensive, easy to maintain, great fun and don't require a stop at the gas station.
The two best days in a boat owner's life are the day he buys his boat and the day he sells it.
That's not true with a kayak.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

My take on the confusing world of fly-fishing leaders

A friend emailed me today with questions about fly-fishing leaders. Now, that's a controversial and sometimes difficult subject.
But it doesn't have to be.
You can differ with me if you want. I don't mind. But I will share with you my leader philosophy.
First, I like to keep it as simple as possible.
I spend most of my fly-fishing time on Sarasota Bay and adjacent water, fly casting for spotted seatrout, redfish, snook, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, pompano and whatever else my be lurking. If I'm targetting trout, I most often use a 6-weight TFO TiCr X with a sinktip line. Simplicity works really well here. For a leader, I use a six-foot length of 20-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon. If the trout are aggressive, I go with mono (it's much cheaper). If they're being picky, I use 6-feet of fluoro (it's nearly invisible under water).
The purpose of a leader is to put invisibility between the fly line and the fly. Leaders can be as short as a foot or two. Or they can be 15 feet of more.
In most applications, 9-foot leaders are common on salt water when using a full, floating line. Many anglers lengthen their leaders when targetting species such as bonefish, tarpon or permit. On my recent trip to Grand Cayman, I used a 12-foot leader while fly fishing for bonefish.
You can buy tapered, knotless leaders, but that can get pricey. Or you can make your own for less than half the cost. I usually make my own. It not only saves money, but also is fun.
For my 12-foot bonefish leaders, I used four feet of 40-pound test, four feet of 20-pound and four feet of 12. I think it's important to construct your leader out of the same material. For my bonefish leaders, I used Mason hard monofilament. It's tough and turns the fly over very well. If you make good, accurate casts, bonefish (especially in the exotic destinations) are not very leader-shy, so mono is feasable.
For some species, you'll have to add a length of heavier mono or fluoro as a shock leader. We use shock to prevent certain species (bluefish, mackerel) from biting through the line. We use shock to prevent other species (snook, tarpon) from wearing through the line.
In fresh water, most of my leaders are about 7 1/2 feet (give or take). When I'm casting small poppers for bluegill, I use 4X tippet (about 6-pound test). You don't want to go too light because the popper will twist lighter line as you cast it. I use monofilament when casting surface flies. Fluorocarbon is actual more dense and will sink some dry flies and poppers. Mono is more buoyant.
When I'm nymphing, I use fluorocarbon becase it's nearly invisible in the water and sinks well. Nymphing is a technique most often used when trout fishing in freshwater streams. But the techneque works very well on Florida warm-water lakes and streams.
I also carry several spools of monofilament and fluorocarbon tippet material. You 7 1/2-foot leader can lose a foot or two after you change flies over the course of the day. Rather than putting on a new leader, you can just add a piece of tippet material to the end of your leader.
For larger poppers, I'll use a 15- or 20-pound leader. To cast these big, air-resistant bugs, you'll need at least a 7-weight rod. You need tackle that's a little beefier because bass love to lurk in some awfully weedy places and around fallen trees. You need a heavier stick just to get them out of the cover.
While leaders are important, they're not the end all. Accurate casts than land softly often make up for leader deficiencies. You can have the most expensive leader you can buy on your line, but it won't do you any good if your casts are off-target or make a lot of noise.
When I'm fly fishing for giant tarpon, I use about nine feet of 20-pound fluorocarbon looped to a short length of 40-pound butt leader. For shock, I use 12 inches of 60- to 100-pound fluorocarbon. I go lighter if the fish are finnicky, spooky or I'm fishing in extremely clear water. I go heavier if the fish are aggressive. I do use a Bimini Twist, whick provides a length of double line and also acts like somewhat of a shock absorber. I've gone as short as six feet for a tarpon leader and as long as 15 feet. For most of my tarpon fishing here along the Gulf Coast, I use a sinktip or intermediate sinking line. Many will telll you and you don't need a long leader when using a sinking line, but I think it can and does make a difference -- especially if the tarpon are nervous.
You can Google leaders and read all about them on the Internet.
Remember, it can be as easy as you want. Or you can make it extremely complicated.
It's your choice.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Veteran radio fishing show host Mel Berman dies at 81

Mel Berman died this morning.
The Tampa Bay area morns the passing of this gentle legend.
Berman, who hosted the Capt. Mel Show on 970 WFLA in Tampa every Saturday morning for the past 25 years, died from complications following heart surgery earlier in the week. He was 81.
Berman is survived by his wife, Ginny, daughter, Debbie Arkin, and son, Ron.
The family will hold a private service. Berman's ashes will be scattered at sea, according to his wife.
Born in Philadelphia, Berman began his broadcasting career in 1952. He moved to Tampa in 1969 and later boat an offshore boat and got his captain's license. He specialize in grouper fishing charters.
Berman also created, an internet fishing magazine that was popular in the region and around the state. You can visit the site's forums and read comments by faithful contributors about Berman.
I knew him for 20 years and I was a co-host on his show at least a dozen times. In addition, I got to fish with Mel on several occasions,. The trip that I remember most is one Mel and I made with Rick Grassett of Sarasota in 1995 or 1996. Using D.O.A. Shrimp, we caught loads of spotted seatrout, pompano, ladyfish and jack crevalle in Little Sarasota Bay.
Grassett said Berman was active to the end, hosting the radio show and fishing.
"He tried to get out every week," said Grassett. "He didn't fish long ... about four hours. Then, it was time for lunch."