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.