Friday, December 13, 2013

Oscar are sipping flies and bending rods in the Florida Everglades

Vinny Caruso of Bradenton, Fla., battles a feisty Everglades oscar on fly rod.

The trip was no different than any others: oscar and Mayan cichlid sipping flies like construction workers at happy hour.

The action was THAT good.

This oscar took a copper Myakka Minnow.
It usually is in the Florida Everglades where exotic species --  along with native species -- are plentiful and ever so willing to provide fishing fun.

That trip took place on Dec. 17, 2009.

A month later came the day the fishing died. The freeze of 2010 was so severe it killed several hundred thousand fish (or more) across the state. Snook, which were severely impacted, got the headlines. The exotics virtually were ignored.

I understand why. Oscar, Mayan cichlid and other exotics aren't native to Florida. Fisheries biologists think the first exotics were unceremoniously dumped into south Florida waterways as far back as 1954. They theorize a frazzled aquarium owner chose to dump the fish rather than transport them on a move north. Or perhaps they simply got tired of taking care of the critters.
Paul Drewry of Michigan holds a whopper oscar.

Whatever the reason, the exotics are here to stay.

I don't mind that at all. In fact, I rather enjoy catching them on light fly rods.

But that hasn't been too easy over the past four years. In fact, my treks to the Everglades yielded little more than largemouth bass, bluegill, shellcracker, stumpknocker and speckled perch during that span. For the first three years after the freeze, I caught no oscar and less than a half dozen Mayan cichlid.

Things began to change last spring when Patrick O'Conner of Rotonda and I made the 2 1/2-hour drive south. We didn't exactly tear the exotics up, but we did pretty well. We combined to catch 30 oscar amount out bounty of other species.

So, when Vinny Caruso of Bradenton drove to the 'Glades  on Dec. 10, we had great expectations.

Myakka Minnows are the ticket to Everglades' success.
We weren't disappointed.

I'm happy to say, the oscar are back!

We caught at least 125 oscar -- and maybe more.

Let the good times roll!

I figured the exotic species would rebound. Severe freezes occur in Florida from time to time. So, fish kills are somewhat common. The exotics are tropical fish and cannot tolerate water temperatures much below 60.
But you have to figure that no matter how severe the freeze, every exotic is not going to be killed. As long as one male and one female survive, there's a chance to sustain the species. It took four years, but the oscar appear to have rebounded.

We only caught one Mayan cichlid, but that doesn't mean too much. I caught several Mayans post freeze in other locations. In fact, a buddy of mine, Dave Robinson of Sarasota said he and a couple of others caught all they wanted last year just south of Marco Island.

Could have been there just weren't that many Mayan cichlid where we fished.

What's the attraction?

It's threefold: 1. They're plentiful; 2. They're aggressive; 3. They fight better than any fish for their size.
I target the exotics only with fly rod. Most often I employ a 3- or 4-weight fly rod (I used Temple Fork Outfitters Finesse series) with floating line and 7 1/2-foot leader. While tiny tippets are the rule when fly fishing for panfish, you'll have to beef up when you target exotics. They like to hang out around structure and their first move is back into that structure. So, rather than the usual 5X (4-pound test) tippet, you'll need at least 4X or even 3X.

When you hook an oscar or Mayan, they'll make a strong, quick lunge back into the structure. It's you job to keep them out. If you fail, you'll most likely lose the fish and your fly.

It was Caruso's first time fishing for exotics. He was impressed. He couldn't believe that small fish could actually tow his kayak during the fight.

"i lost quite a few flies," he said. "It took me a while to get used to their strength. They're a lot stronger than other fish their size."

The average oscar weighs about 3/4 of a pound. A really large one will push 1 1/2 pounds.

But don't let their size fool you. Tie an oscar tail to tail with a bass, and the oscar will pull the bass inside out!

The International Game Fish Association all-tackle world record oscar weight 3 pounds, 8 ounces. It was caught by Jay Wright Jr., from Pasadena Lakes (Florida) in 1999. A friend of mine, Marty Arostegui of Coral Gables, holds several tippet class world records for oscar.

The biggest oscar I've even taken weighed an estimated 3 pounds. I caught that fish on a popping bug in a Picayune Strand State Forest waterway in 2006.

We usually start out fishing with No. 10 popping bugs. I like chartreuse (I use Boogle Bugs), but I'm not certain color makes too much difference.

When the topwater bite ends -- it usually doesn't a  couple of hours after sunrise -- I switch to my Myakka Minnow, a fly that has produced thousands of fish for me over the years.

One Myakka Minnow will last the whole outing, providing you don't break off.

For information on that great fly, just "google" Myakka Minnow. Or you can drop me an email:

We didn't experience one of those great days in the 'Glades, but it was good enough. In addition to oscar, we totaled 80 largemouth bass (mostly small), 30 bluegill, 25 stumpknocker and a few shellcracker.

I don't know much about using spinning gear in the 'Glades, but I would imagine ultralight tackle would work just fine. Couple that with 6=pound line and you're in business. Beetle Spins (1/32-ounce), small jigs and tiny topwaters should produce all the action you want.

I fish the 'Glades from my kayak and offer kayak trips. For fly fishing, I've found my Jackson Kilroy (  to be a superb boat. It's roomy, stable and uncluttered -- perfect for fly fishing.It's the best kayak for fly fishing that I've ever used.

I limit my Everglades outings. I usually begin in December and will fish through April. That's when the water level is at its lowest. Low water concentrates the fish.

I avoid the rainy season. Not only are the fish able to spread out over millions of acres, but the heat, daily thunderstorms and mosquitoes aren't fun.

Though I offer Everglades charters, I hesitated over the last four years. That's a long way to go for less than stellar action.

But it appears that the exotics have recovered. So, I'm happy to say I'm looking forward to the long drives once again.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

November fishing report and December forecast

Pete Wolocko is a happy camper after landing this fine Sarasota bay redfish.
November was a month of wind, rain, sun and calm conditions.

It also was a month of redfish, snook, spotted seatrout, bluefish and Spanish. The only thing missing was pompano, a species that usually shows up in good numbers around Sarasota Bay in November. Perhaps we'll catch plenty of pompano in December.

We did a lot of fly fishing in November. Most of the action took place in the shallows and deep grass around Buttonwood Harbor on the west side of Sarasota Bay off Longboat Key. We did pretty well, casting Gibby's TK Flies and synthetic Clousers.

Trout, snook and redfish were holding the edges of the shallow flats on the outing tide. We did best while wading the edges and casting the TK Flies on full floating lines. In addition to snook, trout and reds, we also managed bluefish, Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle and ladyfish on the edges of the flats.

It's good to see jacks back. They were hurt critically during the freeze of 2010 and it has taken this long for them to rebound. After the freeze, we weren't catching a half dozen jacks a year. Things improved slowly year by year. Now, we're catching up to a dozen jacks per outing -- and they're pushing four and five pounds! I'm think that next season we'll see a bunch of seven- and eight-pound jacks.

That's great news!

Longtime client Pete Wolocko of Michigan joined me for an outing and had a decent day. Using MirrOlure Lil Johns on light jig hads, Wolocko caught spotted seatrout to 20 inches, jack crevalle and a 30-inch redfish. We were fishing inside Buttonwood Harbor along the edge of a grass flat.

Denton Kent of Washington D.C. fly fished the shallows with me on a strong outgoing tide. He totaled 15 spotted seatrout to 18 inches on TK Flies.

Vinny Caruso of Bradenton fished a number of trips. He decided to take up fly fishing and only used a fly rod during the month. He did well. Caruso caught quite a few spotted seatout to 22 inches, plus jack crevalle and ladyfish. He hooked one redfish, but wasn't able to land it.

We'll start to explore the Myakka River and will begin concentrating on the stream by mid-December. We usually begin fishing the Myakka in December and fish it heavily through mid-February. Last season, clients caught snook to 42 inches, plus redfish, tarpon, gar and largemouth bass.

On two occasions last season, we came within a largemouth bass of a Super Slam (snook, redfish, tarpon, gar and bass).

These trips book early so that you're assured a trip (or two).

We're going to put more of an emphasis on fly fishing the river, but we'll also do plenty of spin fishing.

While December is mainly a river month, bay fishing should produce trout, pompano, redfish and jack crevalle.

We'll also do our share of freshwater fishing. Local lakes and rivers should produce plenty of bluegill, shellcracker, stumpknocker, tilapia, channel catfish and largemouth bass.

Everglades trips are expected to result if all of the above, plus oscar and Mayan cichlid.

Happy Holidays!

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

So you want to become a kayak guide? Here are a few tips

This client is a happy camper after landing this fine Sarasota Bay redfish.

So, you want to be a fishing guide?

You went to bed, dreamed of being a guide, then woke up the next morning and decided you are one.



The kayak fishing guide profession is a rather new phenomena since kayak fishing itself is rather new. Seems as if everyone and his/her  brother/sister is a kayak fishing guide these days.

I've been guiding since 2005 and full-time since 2009. During that time, I've seen a whole bunch of wide-eyed neophytes become guides and I've seen a bunch become disenchanted and quit.

There are many reasons to become a guide.

I became a guide via a suggestion from my wife, Kathy.

"You're all the time take people fishing and they always seem to catch fish," she told me one day a few years back. "You ought to become a guide."

At first, I resisted. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. I made the decision and jumped into the endeavor head-first. I haven't regretted that decision for a second. I run Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing (www.kayakfishingsarasota) in Sarasota, Fla.

Here are a few things you'll need in order to hang your shingle:

Kayaks: You'll need as many as the amount of anglers you'll anticipate taking fishing. I prefer to limit the number of anglers I take to two. So, I have three kayaks. I have two Jackson Cudas and a Jackson Kilroy.

Rigging: You'll need to rig each kayak. I rig mine with anchor trolleys, anchors and rod holders.

Paddles: Of course, you'll need one for each kayak. I use Aqua-Bound Paddles. I find it wise not to skimp when it comes to paddles (for you or your clients).

Safety equipment: Personal floatation devices and whistles (or air horns) are required. And you'll need lights if you plan to fish in the dark.

Tackle: I like to carry two rods and reels per anglers. So, if I'm taking two out, I'll need four rigged rods and reels. And since there are a variety of fishing scenarios, I have rods ranging from light to medium heavy. In all, I have 16 spinning rods and reels.

Lures: You'll want to carry an assortment, ranging from topwater plugs to jigs. I do not fish with live bait, so I have plenty of artificials from which to choose. I am sponsored by MirrOlure and D.O.A. Lures. Your clients will go out and buy the lures that you use after they've caught fish on them.

Fly tackle: If you plan to take fly anglers, you'll need tackle for them. I usually carry rod rigged with a sinktip line and another with a floating line. I am sponsored by and use TFO Fly Rods.

Freshwater gear: There's a demand for freshwater trips in Florida. I specialize in fly fishing for bass, panfish and exotics. I have six fly rods and reels suitable for this venture.

Other gear: I also carry rain gear for my clients. In addition, I take a first-aid kit on every trip, along with duct tape, screwdriver, pliers, toilet paper, sunscreen, etc. You never know what emergency might arise. And don't forget a cooler. You'll need to carry cold drinks on every trip.

Camera: I always tote along a camera to get photos of my clients fighting fish and/or posing with catches. I try to email photos of clients the afternoon after a trip.

Liability insurance: You're a fool if you take anglers fishing for money and don't have insurance. You may never need it, but you'll be glad you have it if the situation arises.

Website: An essential. It's imperative to have an attractive and up-to-date website. And you'll need to work the Internet almost daily when you're not on the water in order to get your services and your website exposure.

Knowledge: You can't buy this. You have to earn it the good, old-fashioned way: hard work. If you don't have a charter, you need to be on the water. Nothing's worse for a guide than to book a trip for the next day, but you haven't been out in a week or longer. Some call it fraud.

Personality: Your clients sometimes will endure a slow day. It might not be your fault, but you can insure that they have a good time by keeping things lively. Make sure you have a good knowledge of your local fish, flora and fauna.

Clean equipment: You'll need to clean all of your equipment after every trip. It usually takes me at least an hour to prepare for a trip and another hour to clean my equipment afterwards. Clients expect clean and well-maintained equipment.

Business sense: Run your charter service as a business. Remember to tuck money away for lean times and whenever the need might arise. You'll find that rods break, reels get dunked and lures are lost. And there are slow times of the year when the phone doesn't ring.

Exposure: Your phone probably won't start ringing just because you decide to be a guide. You'll need to get the word out. Join local kayak fishing forums and be a regular contributor. Speak at kayak clubs in your area and around your region and state. Many fear public speaking, but it gets easier as time goes by.

As you can tell, becoming a kayak fishing guide can be a costly endeavor. You can offset the cost somewhat by obtaining sponsorships. Many kayak manufacturers have guide and or pro staffs and offer discounted products to them. Ditto for those companies who make rods, reels, lines and lures. To obtain sponsorships, you can start by sending a query email and attaching your bio.

It's important that you don't abuse the sponsorship. Offer to assist at shows, demo days, etc. And talk your products up to your clients during every trip. Over the years, I've had more than 30 clients go out and buy the brand of kayaks I use.

I also do not seek sponsorships for sponsorships' sake. I only want to be associated with products that I use and believe in. What could be more worthless that to get a sponsorships for products that you don't or rarely use? Might look good on your sponsor list, but it's not right or fair.

One last tip: The way to make a small fortune in the guide business is to start out with a large fortune.

Good luck!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

October (Florida's best month) lives up to its reputation

Vinny Caruso of Bradenton battles a 70-pound blacktip shark.
October, arguably, is the best month in Florida -- for a number of reasons.

One, the weather is superb. Two, fishing is great. And, three (for the most part), the water is uncrowded.

Oh, did I mention that traffic is pretty light?
Geoff Henderson and pompano

Vinny Caruso of Bradenton enjoyed several good days of kayak shark fishing. We fished southern Tampa Bay and did pretty well. We caught and released a number of blacktip and bonnethead shark to 70 pounds.

We like to arrive at daylight and paddle to the shark grounds. Once there, we spend a little time catching bait.

We use light jigs to target ladyfish or whatever else we might catch.

For shark fishing, we use Star Seagis medium heavy rods, Shimano TLD 15 reels, 30-pound Power Pro braided line and wire leaders with 8/0 circle hooks.

Once we get the bait, it usually doesn't take too long for the shark action to heat up.

We have averaged nine shark runs per trip and four sharks landed.

It's a thrilling sport and you're often towed on quarter- to half-mile sleigh ride.
Max Hofmann with his first bluefish.

All sharks are released alive.

Bay fishing has been good.

Geoff Henderson of Bradenton joined me for a day on Sarasota Bay . The redfish wouldn't cooperate, but spotted seatrout, jack crevalle, flounder and pompano did. We caught trout to 21 inches, loads of feisty jacks  and a few flounder. The catch of the day was Geoff's first "big" pompano -- a 4-pounder.

Max Hofmann of Maryland fished another trip with me. Max just started fishing the last time he was in the area in December. He caught spotted seatrout, bluefish and jack crevalle and experienced consistent action.
I spent a few days preparing for the 9th annual Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers/CCA Fall Fly Fishing Challenge, an event that Capt . Rick Grassett and I started nine years ago.

I fish in the Open Division (for guides, captains and whoever want s to fish it). In the Open Division, the Grand Champion is the angler with the most cumulative inches of one redfish, one trout and one snook.

There are also awards for the most inches of trout, most inches of redfish and most inches of snook.

I spent a couple of days pre-fishing for the event and was encouraged.

First morning out, I launched at Stephens' Point an hour before daylight. I fished around lighted docks and caught three nice trout and a decent snook. I then paddled to just north of the Ringling Mansion and caught a redfish on my fifth cast.

Next day, I launched at Whitfield Avenue and tried the dock lights inside Bowles Creek. I caught a three snook. I paddled south and anchored the kayak on a sand bar. I got out and waded the bar. There, I caught a 28-inch snook and about 15 trout. I saw a few reds, but didn't catch them.

I debated where to go on tournament day, but opted to launch at Whitfield. I broke off a snook early, then landed a small snook. I put the snook on the measuring board, took its picture and released it.
One third of the Slam done!


I forgot to put the chip with my number in the photo.

Shortly after daylight, I paddled south to the area I fished the day prior. I knew I'd get the red because of my snook error.

I did.

I caught a 23-inch red in about five minutes.

Then, I started catching trout. I got more than a limit (10 photos) of trout, then decided to spend the final two hours back in Bowles Creek to try and get a snook.

No deal.

However, I did add several larger trout to my total.

I won the Trout Division with 129.5 inches. I received a beautiful plaque and a $75 gift certificate to Economy Tackle.

My snook debacle turned out to be no big deal. Had the snook counted, my "slam" would have only been 56 inches -- three inches short of Grand Champion Ray Markham's slam.

I also won a number of prizes in the raffle, including a $75 gift certificate from C.B.'s Saltwater Outfitters.

During the tournament's nine-year run, I've won a division eight times.

Earlier in the month, I took four days to do a little freshwater fishing. I fished Upper Myakka Lake and the Myakka River.

Patrick O'Connor of Rotonda joined me for day and we had a blast. We caught well more than 200 hand-sized bluegill, plus speckled perch, tilapia, shellcracker and largemouth bass.

Most of the fish were taken on my Myakka Minnow, nymphs under strike indicators and popping bugs.

November's outlook: Cooling water temperature should improve action over the deep grass patches around Sarasota Bay. I look for increased numbers of bluefish, Spanish mackerel and pompano. The blues are getting bigger, with some pushing 8 pounds.
Redfish activity should heat up on the flats.

Freshwater action should improve, with bluegill, speckled perch and shellcracker leading the way. I look for good action in Upper Myakka Lake, Lake Manatee, Myakka River and Manatee River.

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayaking Fishing

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Myakka's back and fish are hungry for flies

Patrick O'Connor battles one of many bluegill on light fly rod at Myakka River State Park.

While I fish mostly in salt waters, those who know me are aware that I truly love to fly fish in fresh water.

Guess it goes back to my roots of catching bluegill when in the infancy of my angling.

When I have a couple of days off from guiding, I often head to a local lake or river with light fly rods and a box full of panfish flies. As long as I have a few nymphs, Myakka Minnows and poppers, I'm set for the day.

Kathy and I recently had company. Pat and Vicki Golliver of Muskegon, Mich., came to Florida for the first time. While here, we were good hosts and showed them around. They wanted, of course, to see alligators, so we took them to Myakka River State Park. Park officials estimate there are between 500 and 1,000 alligators in the upper lake.
Speckled perch are plentiful in the lake.

First thing I noticed was the abundance of aquatic vegetation in the water. That was good news to me. Park officials had eradicated most of the lake's vegetation over the past 15 years in an effort "to return the park to its original, natural state."

Hyacinths and hydrilla are exotic weeds and not native to Florida.

While I agree that too much of either weed is bad, a little of both is good. Especially hydrilla. This subsurface plant is great habitat for bait and gamefish such as largemouth bass, bluegill, speckled perch, shellcracker and other species.

Bluegill feed on minnows washing over the dam.
While at the park, we walked down to the dam. Our guests saw a couple of alligators. I saw literally thousands of plump, hand-sized bluegill slurping tiny minnows as they washed over the dam. I immediately envisioned bluegill taking my trusty Myakka Minnow.

Next day, I launched my Jackson Kilroy kayak and paddled across the lake to a spot that looked pretty fishy. I did OK there. I caught several bluegill, speckled perch and tilapia on a No. 12 nymph under a strike indicator. When the action slowed, I paddled to the dam and anchored just above it.

Bluegill were plentiful and feeding heavily on small minnows.

Obligatory alligator shot.
I cast a Myakka Minnow and let it sweep downriver with the current. Almost immediately, a feisty bluegill inhaled my offering. It was the first of more than 100 bluegill I caught that day.

Next day, Patrick O'Connor of North Port joined me. We spent an hour across the lake and caught a dozen bluegill, a couple of speckled perch and a

tilapia. We then headed for the dam. At first, we anchored above the dam and caught fish on virtually every cast. Then, we pulled anchor and drifted over the dam.

Nice bluegill on a nymph.
We caught fish consistently all day. The Myakka Minnow worked well in the faster water. Along the sides of the river, we used nymphs under strike indicators. Patrick caught fish on every cast on poppers alongside the dam.

"I don't have a clue how many fish we caught," he said. "Conservatively, I'd say we each caught more than 100."

In addition to bluegill, we caught speckled perch, largemouth bass, shellcracker and tilapia.
Next day, I started out at the dam. However, I noticed that the water level was down slightly. The bottom of my kayak scraped the top of the dam as I attempted to float over.

Once in the river, I found the fish still hungry for Myakka Minnows. I also caught bluegill on nymphs and popping bugs.

I guess that I caught nearly 200 fish.

The action should remain good as long as there's water flowing over the dam.

I have fished Upper Myakka Lake since 1975. It's long been known as a very good bass lake. But it also has a decent population of panfish.

I'm glad to see the fishing improve.

As long as there's a decent amount of aquatic vegetation in the lake, fishing will be good.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fishing was far from dry during wet September

Bob Parrish of Plant city caught this redfish on a MirrOlure Top Dog while fishing around Buttonwood Harbor.

Fall is our favorite time to fish along southwest Florida.

It's a time when a wide variety of fish are available in Sarasota Bay, surrounding salt waters and area 
Parrish also landed some nice bluefish.
freshwater lakes and rivers.

September, one of the wettest months we've had in quite a while, was a month of diversity. Anglers fishing with me caught a plethora of species, including spotted seatrout, snook, redfish, flounder, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, permit, flounder, ladyfish, blacktip shark and bonnethead shark.

Dave Cyr, a repeat client from Maine, got things started off on a fine note. We fished the Buttonwood Harbor area off Sarasota Bay and did well. We totaled 40 spotted seatrout to 21 inches, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, jack crevalle and mangrove snapper. Most of the fish were caught on MirrOlure MirrOdines and D.O.A. CAL Jigs with gold paddle tails.

Mike Esposito of Kentucky battles a blacktip shark.
Dr. Everett Howell of Nashville, Tenn.,  had a decent outing in the same area. We managed 25 trout to 20 inches, jack crevalle, mangrove snapper and a redfish on MirrOdines, jigs and D.O.A. Deadly Combinations.

Bob Parrish of Plant City received a four-hour kayak fishing trip from his dad. But the action was good enough that he increased it to a six-hour outing. Parrish caught redfish to 28 inches, trout to 23, bluefish, ladyfish, jack crevalle, flounder and a bonnethead shark. He used MirrOdines and D.O.A. CAL Jigs.

Michael Esposito  of Louisville, Ky., fished Buttonwood Harbor and had a tough but rewarding day. Even though the fish weren't exactly jumping in the kayak, he caught trout to 18 inches, jack crevalle, ladyfish,  mangrove snapper and a blacktip shark on D.O.A. Deadly Combinations and MirrOlure MirrOdines.

Dr. Everett Howell of Tennessee enjoys the morning action.
Steve Manning of Sarasota joined me for a trip to Tampa Bay. We caught 40 spotted seatrout to 19 inches on MirrOdines and D.O.A. CAL Jigs. We also landed a pair of blacktip sharks.

Vinny Caruso of Bradenton fished with me on a number of occasions. We targeted sharks in Tampa Bay. Using live ladyfish, dead ladyfish, pinfish and bonito strips, we hooked a number of sharks over three outings and landed blacktip sharks to 50 pounds. We had 21 pickups over the three trips and landing a half dozen fish. In addition, we caught spotted seatrout, mangrove snapper, jack crevalle, Spanish mackerel and mangrove snapper while waiting for sharks to home in on our baits.

On our first trip to Tampa bay, we landed snook to 25 inches, flounder to 21, 15 trout to 18, ladyfish and gag grouper. We also encountered a bunch of sharks, but didn't have the tackle to handle them.

I fished a few different areas on scouting trips. I tried the Vamo area of Little Sarasota Bay and caught snook and spotted seatrout on MirrOlure Top Dogs and MirrOlure Lil Johns on light jig heads.

We had record amounts of rain during September. Although we needed the precipitation, we're hoping that October is just a little drier!

We're looking for good action in October. Redfish and snook should please on the flats. Spotted seatrout, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, pompano, ladyfish and jack crevalle are expected to cooperate over deeper grass in four to six feet of water.

Shark action should continue strong in Tampa Bay until the first cool snap.

October is a great month to fish. It's one of my favorites times to be on the water.

If you're interested in a fun day on the water, please give me a call or shoot me an email.

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Parrish has a pretty good day of kayak fishing on Sarasota Bay

Bob Parrish of Plant City gets ready to land a bonnethead shark while fishing on Sarasota Bay.
Bob Parrish of Plant City, Fla., experienced his first kayak fishing trip with me. He'd fished from a kayak on an occasion or two, but never with me.

Parrish landed a 28-inch redfish.
He had quite a day.

The morning began when we found a school of bull redfish on a flat along the west side of Sarasota Bay. We were able to coax a 28-inch red out of the school. The big fish blasted a topwater plug on the second twitch.

We found the school a second time, but a long cast against a stiff east breeze prevented us from reaching the fish.

We then moved out to deep grass and had a blast, catching spotted seatrout to 23 inches, bluefish to 5 pounds, flounder, mangrove snapper, jack crevalle, ladyfish and bonnethead shark. We caught a few other species that gave us 13 different types of fish on the day.

Big blues are busting lures around Sarasota Bay.
Most of the fish came on D.O.A. CAL Jigs with gold or copper crush paddle tails. We also caught fish on MirrOlure MirrOdines.

Our modus operandi was to anchor (the wind was too much to drift) and fish an area until the action slowed. We'd then only move 20 or 30 feet and re-anchor.

The action was consistent.

Parrish came within a hooked snook of a Sarasota Bay Slam (redfish, seatrout and snook). But he couldn't quite get the hook set after the fish blasted his topwater plug.

Fishing in Sarasota Bay is getting better by the day. I'm looking forward to October and November, which traditionally are great months in the bay.

To book a trip, please call me (Steve Gibson) at 941284-3406 or email me at

Visit my website:

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Shark fishing has been hot on Tampa Bay

The author battles a blacktip shark from his Jackson Kayak Cuda 14 on Tampa Bay. (Photo by Steve Manning)
I've been thinking about fishing for sharks from my kayak for quite a while. It was just a thought until Vinny Caruso and I visited Tampa Bay a couple of weeks ago.
A small blacktip during the fight.

We didn't plan to fish for sharks; it just happned.

We'd caught some nice flounder, snook, spotted seatrout and ladyfish when we first encountered the sharks. The toothy critters not only were hitting our MirrOlure Lil Johns on light jig heads, but also intercepting our hooked ladyfish.

So that got the proverbial lightbulbs burning in our heads.

We planned to purposely fish for sharks the next time we visited the bay.

I read up on shark fishing in Tampa Bay and found out it's one of the top bodies of water in the world in which to shark fish. You'll most likely encounter blacktip sharks, bull sharks, bonnethead sharks and maybe even a hammerhead. And there are some lesser-known species in the bay.

We encountered bulls and blacktips. And that was plenty of fun.
The battle in nearly  at end.

The next time I visited the bay, I tried shark fishing for about 45 minutes. I hooked three sharks on live pinfish and landed two. Both were blacktips. One was about 15 pounds. The other I estimated at 30.

When Vinny and I fished the bay a few days later, I hooked a much larger shark, but lost it after it peeled off about 150 yards of line.

We hooked five sharks, but landed just one. Vinny landed a 20 pound blacktip on light tackle. He used half a ladyfish.

That trip resulted in slower action. The only thing I can figure is that tide wasn't quite right. Our best results have taken place on a strong incoming tide. The action slows on the outgoing.

For shark fishing, you'll needed a rod and reel capable of handling these toothy critters. Since there are sharks that will reach six feet in length or more, I use a 7-foot Redbone rod with a Shimano TLD 20 conventional reel. I use 30-pound PowerPro braided line, 60-pound wire leader and a 7-0 circle hook.

When the action is going on, it usually doesn't take long to hook up.

Because I have detachable anchors on my kayaks, it's best to release the anchor when you hook a shark. That way, you can go on a "sleighride." The sharks will actually tow your kayak around the bay.

Since we don't plan to kill sharks, we carry wire cutters and cut the leader near the hook once we get the sharks to the boat. That way, the shark can swim off no worse for the wear.

Our top bait is a live ladyfish. Usually there are plenty out there and they're easy to catch on light tackle.

If the ladyfish is too big, you can simply cut it in half and toss it out.

Pinfish and grunts also work well.

I haven't done any chumming, yet. But that might change if the going gets tough.

As far as I can tell, shark fishing remains strong during the warmer months. And in Florida, that's May through September.

It will be a while before I started offering shark charters. I want to know the ins and outs of the sport. I want to give clients the ultimate shark experience. I plan to iron out all the kinks before hand.

If you're into shark fishing, keep it in mind. Let me know and we can book a shark trip for next summer.

No doubt it will be an outing that you'll never forget!

The Cool-Cat Pro is a must for outdoor enthusiasts

I tried a Cool-Cat Pro the other day. I'm glad I did.

The Cool-Cat is made by really cool cats up in Georgia -- Matt and Carolyn Womack. The Cool-Cat Pro basically is sun protection for the face, neck and head if you're out on the water. It has other uses, but you can visit Cool Cat's website:
Cool-Cats' Matt and Carolyn Womack

I wear lots of sun protection when I'm on the water. I wear a cap or hat (I love my new Tilley Hat), sunglasses, sunscreen and my new Cool-Cat Pro. I also wear gloves to keep the  back of my hands from getting weathered and sunburned.

But we're discussing the Cool-Cat Pro here, so we'll stick to the topic.

I have a white Cool-Cat and a gray Cool Cat. The company offers several other colors, including  orange, blue, yellow, pink and black. I'd be interested in Cool-Cats with some sort of outdoor-oriented pattern, but that's not offered -- yet.

I just slip my Cool-Cat Pro on before I leave the house and I'm good for the day. If the sun is particularly brutal (which it often is here in Florida), I can pull it up over my face to give myself some extra protection. They're made of polyester micro-fiber and carry a UPF 30 ratings. What that rating means is that you will be protected 30 times longer than if you went out unprotected.

The Cool-cat also has snaps on the back which can be used to tighten it up when folded and used as a headband or wristband. It's the only gaiter that comes with snaps as far as I know.

We don't have to worry about cold weather much in Florida, but in those rare instances we can pull the Cool-Cat Pro up over our face to provide some warmth. I remember my days in bass tournaments, running 60 miles per hour in the stinging cold.

I do all of my fishing from a kayak these days, so I don't think I'll have that problem again.
Women love Cool-Cats because they can be used as a head cover or head band.

The possibilities are limitless.

Do yourself a favor. Get yourself a Cool-Cat Pro . You'll protect skin and you'll be glad you did!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Seatrout plentiful in July; redfish and snook should take the August spotlight

Spotted seatrout were the name of the game in July for clients of Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing.

We caught and released several large trout, including one 6-pounder during the month.

Most of the action took place near and around Buttonwood Harbor on the west side of Sarasota Bay.

Keith Kosco of New York is a happy camper.
Keith Kosco of New York picked a slow day to fish, but did manage a few seatrout, including one that tipped that scales at 6 pounds. Most of the fish were taken on MirrOlure Lil Johns on 1/16-ounce jig heads.

Exploratory trips earlier in the week had resulted into trout to 6 pounds, redfish to 29 inches, snook to 24 inches and flounder.

The highlite of the week was an 8-pound permit that went for a Lil John.

Randy Ruskey of Peoria, Ill., and his sons, Eric and Jon, had a pair of fair outings. On the first day, we fished off Stephens Point on the east side of the bay and managed 30 trout to 19 inches and a pompano. The second day was spent drifting the deep grass off Whale Key along the west side of the bay. We landed 20 trout to 17 inches, jack crevalle and ladyfish.

Later in the week, I caught redfis to 26 inches, trout, snook to 26, jack crevalle and flounder on jigs and MirrOlure MirrOdines.

David Andrews of Charlotte County  joined me for an outing off Stephens Point. David managed 12 trout and a ladyfish on flies (Clouser Deep Minnows).

Vinny Caruso of Sarasota fished with me in Lee County near Matlacha and had a memorable day. We caught redfish to 21 inches. trout to 24 and jumped a tarpon we estimated at more than 100 pounds. It was the first tarpon Vinny had ever hooked. He used a Sebile Stick Shad to entice the big fish.

I caught a 26-inch redfish and 20 trout in Buttonwood Harbor on a scouting mission prior to a trip with Dr. Everette Howell of Longboat Key. Dr. Howell managed a dozen trout to 18 inches on Lil Johns and D.O.A. Cal Jigs with gold paddle tails.

Randy Truman of Sarasota and his son, A.J., caught trout to 18 inches, flounder and bluefish off Whale Key on the west side of the bay. The fish were caught on D.O.A. CAL jigs and golf paddle tails and MirrOlure MirrOdines.

Andrew Adler and Michael Adler of Sarasota fished the deep grass off Whale Key and experienced some very slow action. We totaled 10 trout and a few mangrove snapper on D.O.A. CAL jigs and gold paddle tails. The fishing was slow, but the scenery wasn't. We had a pair of manatees swim around our kayaks.

I recently switched to Jackson Kayaks ( I now own a 14-foot Jackson Cuda, two 12-foot Jackson Cudas and a 12-foot Jackson Kilroy.

I have one (1) Native Watercraft  left for sale. I have a 12-foot Ultimate Basic. The boat sells for $799 new (plus tax). I'm selling it for $600. I bought it in October, so it's still under warranty. It comes with an anchor trolley system.

Please let me know if you're interested in the Ultimate.

August should see an increase in redfish on the flats. In fact, we could encountered large schools of large redfish. One of my favorite trips is southern Tampa Bay. I like to hit the water before daylight and cast topwater plugs over the grass and along the mangroves. This usually produces noteworthy redfish and snook.

Matlacha is also a possible outing -- especially if we get negative low tides. When we do, tailing redfish are usually easy to find. Tarpon action should be good there, too.

Beach snook action should heat up in August, with sight-fishing the name of the game for those interested in fly fishing.

And don't forget night snook trips. This is perfect for those who like to sight-fishing for snook at night in pleasant conditions.

Please call me or email me if you're interested in booking a trip.

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing

(941) 284-3406

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The fleet is up for sale and Southern Drawl June report

Native Watercraft Slayer 14.5 is a great fishing platform with all the bells and whistles.
 Sorry for this delayed report. When Kathy and I returned from vacation, the computer wouldn't work. It was still under warranty, so we returned it to Best Buy where it was diagnosed as a "fried hard drive."

The hard drive was covered, but, according to Best Buy, the data on it wasn't. We had to agree up front to pay $100 for them to "try" to recover what was on the hard drive.

Fortunately, the problem turned out to be a bad mother board. It took two weeks, but we're back in business and have all of our photos and other stuff.

Annie Ewert of Connecticut fished out of the Ultimate Basic
Before I get into fishing, I need to let you know that I'm selling four kayaks. Reason is I'm getting a new fleet. They're in excellent shape with minimal wear and tear. All are sand color.

I have a 14.5-foot Native Watercraft Ultimate (my personal boat) which is immaculate. It comes with an anchor trolley and bow spray skirt. The boat sells for $1,299 new. Spray skirt is $119. Anchor trolley is $39. Total cost new is $1,457. I bought the kayak in November, so it's eight months old. I'm selling it for $1,100. Check the boat out at

I have a fully equipped Native Watercraft Slayer 14.5.  This is Native's newest sit on top. It comes with an anchor trolley, scupper plugs and bow hatch cover. This boat sells for $1,279. The hatch cover is an accessory that sells for $99. Anchor trolley is $39. Total new is $1,407. I'm asking $1,050. Read about the Slayer at

I also have two Native Watercraft Ultimate Basic 12s with anchor trollies. They sell for  $799. Total new with anchor trolley is $838. I'll let each of them go for $650. Here's the skinny on the Native Ultimate Basic:

Please contact me if you're interested. My phone number is (941) 284-3406. In the past, my boats haven't lasted long after I put them up for sale.

I already have my new fleet, so you can take possession immediately and being fishing tomorrow!

June is usually a slow month, so that's when we take vacation. We spent a week in Traverse City, Mich., where I fly fished for carp. Before you sneer, realize that fly fishing for carp is rapidly gaining in popularity. 
And Grand Traverse Bay is perhaps the place to go. I fish a large sand flat at the tip the Old Mission Peninsula where the water is knee deep or less and offers firm footing.

Carp swim onto the flat in June to spawn. They remain on the flat until about mid-July.

These fish are huge, fight hard and make long-determined runs.

This is all "sight-fishing." However, it's important to understand that it's a waste of time to target schools of fish. They're only interested in spawning. I target the single stragglers. Cast the fly about 10 feet in front and begin to move it slowly as they approach.

I caught more than 50 carp over three days. Most of the fish weighed more than 20 pounds. My biggest fish weight an estimated 35 pounds.

I also caught a number of chunky smallmouth bass when the card action slowed.

I used a 6-weight rod, floating fly line, 9-foot leader (10-pound tippet). Crawfish patterns work well, but I did best on brown, bead-head Wooly Buggers.

For information on the great Traverse Bay carp fishing, contact Scott Pitser and the Northern Angler Fly Shop in Traverse City at (231) 933-4730. The shop offers guides services and has everything you need. The Northern Angler website:

After Michigan, we flew to San Francisco. We rented a car and drove to Sacramento where my sister lives. I was "surfing the Internet" one night a few months ago when I discovered I had a sister that I didn't know. I contacted her and found out my dad and her mother were married while they were in the Navy. They divorced shortly after they got out.

It was nice spending time with Carole and her husband, Don.

We spent time in Sacramento, Lake Tahoe and Reno. Nev.  After we left Sacramento, we drove back to San Francisco and toured Alcatraz and Fisherman's Wharf prior to out flight back to Sarasota.

June fishing around Sarasota Bay was pretty fair. We managed decent catches of spotted seatrout to 6 pounds, redfish to 28 inches, snook to 30 and a variety that included flounder, mangrove snapper, ladyfish and jack crevalle.

July fishing usually picks up with redfish taking the forefront on the shallow flats and along grass edges. We also anticipate good action on spotted seatrout, snook, flounder, jacks and ladyfish.

Beach snook action should improve as the weather settles.

Let's go fishing!

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing

(941) 284-3406

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The author holds a hefty snook that fell for a MirrOlure Lil John on a light jig head.
(NOTE: I wrote this article for

Most of us are guilty of carrying way too much tackle when we head out on the water to fish.

Send me to the slammer!

Truth be known, I could put all the lures I use at the end of the outing in my shirt pocket. It's just that I'm terribly afraid of being on a hot bite and not having what the fish want. So, I go (figuratively) overboard when it comes to my lure assortment.

Guess there's nothing really wrong with that, and I'm probably in good company.

But if I had to trade my multiple tackle boxes for one small one, it would force me to make decisions.

Decisions, decisions.

I can do it. And so can you.

Let's get down to business here and only take our most reliable lures.

Here we go:

1. D.O.A. 1/16-ounce CAL Jig and copper crush paddle tails: Great combo here. Deadly on spotted seatrout over deep grass beds. I also routinely take other species, including ladyfish, jack crevalle, bluefish, pompano and Spanish mackerel. I use them in sand holes on the flats for redfish, too. Website:

2. MirrOlure Lil John on light jig head: Very versatile plastic that comes in a variety of colors. I like the golden bream color for redfish, snook and spotted seatrout. This is my "go-to" lure when fishing shallow water for redfish. Also works well around deeper grass patches. This is my top lure when it comes to monster river snook in the winter. Website:

3. Johnson Silver Minnow Spoon: This is my "prospecting" lure. If you're searching for redfish on the flats, this is what you want tied to the end of your leader. It can be cast a country mile and allows you to cover lots of prime redfish real estate. And it's simple to use: Just cast it out and reel it in. Very effective on redfish, but also results in snook and seatrout. Website:

4. MirrOlure MirrOdine: This small, suspending baitfish imitations is one fish-catching lure. Last year, my clients and I caught 56 spotted seatrout weighing 5 pounds or more. A majority came on the MirrOdine. It's very effective in shallow water and along grass edges where the big trout like to feed. I use the "mini" version in winter when the baitfish are smaller. I used the regular model during the warmer months. Although color doesn't seem to matter, I'd pick the chartreuse back if there was money on the line. Website:

5. D.O.A. Deadly Combination: This is D.O.A.'s version of the traditional "popping cork rig." Instead of a live shrimp under the noise-making cork, D.O.A. adds one of its plastic shrimp. It works really well. Adjust the length of your leader so that the shrimp will dangle just about the grass. Twitch the cork and set the hook when it goes under. Very effective on spotted seatrout and very easy to use. Website:

6. Zara Super Spook Jr.: I use the chrome model. Great surface lure for "walking the dog." Very effective in shallow water for redfish, snook and seatrout. The retrieve is the key. If you don't know how to "walk the dog," Google the technique or ask the pros at your local tackle shop. A key with this lure is to replace the stock hooks with stronger hooks. You don't want to lose a big fish because your hooks straightened out. Website:

That's my deadly dozen, a comprehensive look at the lures that have produced for me and my Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing ( ) clients over the years. These are proven fish-catchers in the salt waters around southwest Florida.

When I'm spin fishing, I don't leave home without them.
Casey Gawthrop shows off the first of many redfish he caught from Sarasota Bay.

(NOTE: This is an article I wrote for

 "Slow down, you move too fast ... "

Those lyrics from Simon and Garfunkle's 59th Street Bridge Song (1966) are certainly apropos when it comes to fishing.

I've spent most of my life on the water and the biggest mistake I see is people fishing way too fast.

What's the hurry?

Realize I'm a full-time kayak-fishing guide ( in Sarasota, Fla. Since all I have is paddle power, I can't get anywhere fast. So, I'm forced to fish slowly.

It pays handsome dividends.

A couple of weeks ago, I was fishing Buttonwood Harbor off Sarasota Bay when I witnessed a fellow kayak angler scurrying about like a rat sniffing for the elusive cheese. His kayak not only was equipped with a pedal system, but also an electric trolling motor.

He was here, there and everywhere in just a matter of minutes.

I didn't think anything about it until I got back to the launch spot. He was putting his kayak atop his vehicle as I paddled up.

"How'd you do?" I asked.

"Terrible. Caught a small trout and a pinfish," he said. "Been that way for me lately."

I understood. The fellow fished so fast there was no way he could figure out patterns or what the fish were doing.

While he was struggling to catch fish, I was doing quite well. I fished one grass edge for a couple of hours and landed 22 spotted seatrout to 21 inches and a 26-inch redfish. I moved atop a nearby flat and landed a trio of reds to 27 inches and a fat, 28-inch snook on a topwater plug.

And I caught bluefish, Spanish mackerel, pompano, jack crevalle and a few more trout over some deep grass patches before I decided to call it day.

Scoreboard: Me 39, Mr. Speedy 2.

The result had little to do with fishing skill. I'm sure my associate in the "go-fast" kayak had the necessary attributes to catch fish.

But it had everything to do with speed. He was fishing way too fast.

My approach goes back to my bass-fishing days when I was into tournaments. My philosophy was that if I was "on" fish, I wasn't going to leave them. Many days, I'd pound a grass edge or other area for hours at a time.

I see saltwater anglers catch a fish and never slow down. Five minutes after they land a nice red, snook or trout, they're a few hundred yards down the bay.

If there's one redfish on the flat or along the mangroves, there are likely others. So, I continue to work the area after I land a fish.

And many times it pays off in additional bounty.

There are reasons fish hold in certain area. It can be because of the cover (mangroves, grass, san d holes). It can be because of a food source.

When I paddle onto a flat, I look for signs of life: mullet, baitfish, crabs, stingrays. If that quartet is present, it's likely I'll find predator fish. If there are no mullet, baitfish, crabs or stingrays, I'll move on.

And I'll keep moving until I find the right area.

But when I do, you can be that I'll slow down.

After all, my slogan for success always has been to slow down for fast action.

Try it.
Patrick O'Connor of Rotonda, Fla., caught this speckled perch on a No. 12 nymph.

(NOTE: This is an article I wrote for Sport Fishing Weekly:
Flashback to 1985:

Big bluegill are rising to take No. 10 white poppers along a grassy shoreline. There's nothing more fun than taking big bluegill on a light fly rod. And when they're hitting surface flies, it's better yet.

The bite lasted for a couple of hours, then began to slow. Three hours after it began, the bite was done.

Time to go home.

Forward to 2013:

Big bluegill are rising to take No. 10 white poppers along a grassy shoreline. The bite is fast and furious, but begins to slow. After three hours, the topwater action slows to a crawl.

Time to switch tactics.

I pull out another rod, a 2=weight rigged with a No. 12 nymph and a strike indicator. I cast it out along the grassy shoreline and begin to catch bluegill. And shellcracker. And stumpknocker. And speckled perch (black crappie).

What I stubbornly learned years ago is that when the topwater bites ends, the subsurface feeding frenzy often is just beginning.

Used to be I'd head home when panfish quit taking a popper. But I discovered the wonderful world of subsurface action and it has paid handsome dividends over the years. In fact, it's most often much more productive than topwater
Don't get me wrong. I love topwater. Few things are sweeter than a hand-sized bluegill rising to slurp a popping bug off the surface. But, as I have learned, you can't always count on them to cooperate.

But that certainly doesn't mean you have to go home.

After a trout-fishing expedition to northeast Georgia a few years back, I returned inspired. It dawned on me that trout tactics might work very well on Florida's panfish. Bluegill and their cousins eat insects, so why wouldn't nymphs, scuds and other diminutive flies work?

Long story short: They did.

My productivity has increased immensely since I made the switch. Instead of heading home when the fish stop rising to take a popper off the surface, I just make the switch.

I'll usually started out with a popping bug, and I'll use it until the fish are willing to take it. But when the actions slows, I'll go subsurface.

My subsurface arsenal includes nymphs, scuds and my Myakka Minnow.

I fish nymphs and scuds under a strike indicator. I don't use a strike indicator when using the Myakka Minnow.

The strike indicator serves a couple of purposes. It allows you to keep the fly in the strike zone and out of the cover. It also gives you a visual reference when a fish takes the fly.

The indicator doesn't always dip below the surface when you've got a fish. It simply may twitch or dart. When you're using a strike indicator, it's a good idea to set the hook anytime you think you might have a hit.
My strike indicator is a Thingamabobber made by Brian Westover of Westwater Products (

Typically, I take three light fly rods on every trip. I prefer a TFO 1-weight Finesse ( I also use a 2= and 3-weight Finesse. I'll cast a popper on the 2 weight and a Myakka Minnow on the 3.

For what it's worth, I've found TFO fly rods to fit my needs. They look good,  cast good, and feel good. And they don't put a big dent in your wallet.

Just because you're using small flies (I use hook sizes 10, 12 and 14) doesn't mean you'll only catch small fish. Big bluegill, shellcracker and speckled perch can be suckers for tiny flies.
Ditto for bass.

No matter what you're targeting in fresh water, you don't have to go home when the topwater bite is over

Your day just might be beginning.