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.

Kayak fishing is the fastest growing segment of the sport

Bill Sudia battles a big fish on the Myakka River.

(NOTE: I wrote this for Sport Fishing Weekly:

I was fishing with a friend the other day who told me one of his clients wanted to get into kayak fishing.

He said his friend, a very accomplished fly angler, was going to buy Brand X.

I asked why?

"Because that's the brand the last speaker at our fly fishing club recommended."

Kayak fishing arguably is the fastest growing segment of the sport. Kayaks not only are economical (they range in price from $300 to $2,500), but also are stealthy and efficient platforms from which to fish.
But there's no one brand or style of kayak for everyone.

I own a fleet of Native Watercraft kayaks ( I have three Native Watercraft Ultimates and a Slayer 14.5. My personal boat is an Ultimate 14.5. Native Watercraft meet my needs. They paddle easily, track very straight and have plenty of room for tackle, gear and other stuff.

I heartily recommend Native Watercraft. But before you run out and buy one, you might want to try a few kayaks out. Many kayak dealers have a local body of water where you can test their products. Do some research, then test several brands.

I have been a full-time kayak fishing guide since 2006. I run Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing in Sarasota (, Fla., about 50 miles south of Tampa on the west coast. I fish Sarasota Bay, Tampa Bay, Charlotte Harbor, Pine Island Sound, local rivers, lakes and The Everglades.
One of the main attractions of kayak fishing is that you're only limited by your imagination. If you can find a place to launch and park, you can fish.

Kayaks eliminate the limitations of most forms of fishing. Kayak anglers can fish where they want, when they want and for what species they want. They can stay late or leave early. And they don't have to rely on anyone else.

And there's usually no need to stop at a gas station on the way home.

I believe fishing from a kayak makes you a better angler. If the action is slow, you certainly can't turn a key, slam the throttle forward and speed off for a hot spot 10 miles away. No, you're at your spot for the duration.

So, you get to know your spots quite intimately. You become familiar with every inch of the waters you fish.

You know where every sand hole is. You know every edge. You know where the fish are at most any stage of the tide.

I co-founded the annual Fall Fly Fishing Challenge in Sarasota nine years ago. Three years back, I decided to fish the event from my kayak.

"Only makes sense," I told myself.

Prior to that, I had fished the tournament with a buddy out of his technical flats skiff.

The first year out of the kayak, I caught enough fish to win two of three divisions in the catch, photo and release event. I caught nearly 200 inches of snook and more than 150 inches of spotted seatrout. But since entrants are only allowed to win one division, I opted to take the more prestigious Snook Division.

The angler who won the Trout Division had 42 inches.

My tournament performance isn't really a true indicator of my fishing ability. It's more of a testament to the effectiveness of the kayak than anything else.

Kayak dealers are springing up all across the country. So, you shouldn't have any trouble in your search. 

Paddle different brands. Test out different models. Figure out which length is right for you.

When you finally decide, don't trick you new boat out with all the bells and whistles right away. Most kayak anglers simply add as they go.

One staple item that is universally accepted is a milk crate. You place it behind your seat and it serves as a place to store your tackle boxes. On my milk crate, I've attached six rod holders.

I also added an anchor trolley -- a line running through pulleys on the bow and stern. You clip your anchor to the line and move it to whatever position you want. That way, you can always face the direction you need to fish.

My kayaks are so stable I can stand up and fish. So, I also have a 9-foot push pole that I use to slowly move me along the shallows. I've found plenty of fish while poling along the shallows.

Of course, your paddle is your main power source. It's my opinion your paddle should be your second most expensive piece of equipment. I used an Aqua-Bound Surge Carbon Paddle (

Pedal  kayaks are popular is some areas. Several kayak dealers (including Native) offer pedal craft). They're not my cup of tea, but they do appeal to a certain segment of the kayak-fishing community. I do a lot of fly fishing, and the pedal mechanism tends to catch the fly line a lot.

No matter your choice of kayak, rest assured your fishing probably will improve significantly. And you'll be joining the fastest-growing legion of anglers in the country.