Friday, October 31, 2014

October marked the beginning of the flounder invasion

Flounder lie on the bottom and blend into the sand. This Tampa Bay flatty ate a MirrOlure Lil John (upper left). 
John Garcia with one of three mullet on fly.
October usually is one of the more interesting months for fishing. It's a time when we begin to transition from the hot summer months into the cooler days of fall.

October also is when fish begin to feed heavily in anticipation of winter.

Along with the regular array of spotted seatrout, redfish, snook, jack crevalle and other species, we begin to see increases in bluefish, Spanish mackerel, flounder and pompano.

I think October is the beginning of a two-month flounder show that is unparalleled throughout the country. The big flatties move in mass into sand holes and along the sand edges of flats where they actually can be targeted.

Imagine intentionally fishing for flounder with rod and reel? Sure, we catch a few flounder throughout the year on jigs. However, during fall you can catch almost all you want.

The author with a fine Buttonwood Harbor snook.
Buttonwood Harbor is a prime spot to target flounder. I like to work the edge of the main Buttonwood channel where the grass flats give way to sandy bottom. There's no secret or special technique when it comes to flounder. Simply cast to the edge and let your jig drop to the bottom. Then, just work it slowly in short hops.

When a flounder hits, you'll probably think you've snagged something on the bottom. Given that the bottom is nothing but sand, the only thing you'll snag is a big, old flat flounder.

For flounder fishing, I use a 1/16-ounce Norton Jig paired with a MirrOlure Lil John. I don't think color makes one iota of difference, but I usually use Lil John's in the MirrOlure colors of golden bream, tube worm, watermelon with copper glitter, watermelon with red glitter and money.

I also fish the sand bars along southern Tampa Bay. Flounder congregate on the sand there like voyeurs at a nude beach. The sand bars there are among the best anywhere for sight-fishing redfish, snook and spotted seatrout.

But you're not going to see the flounder. They bury themselves in the sand and actually blend right it. They lie there in anticipation and attack whenever an unsuspecting prey swims too close.

I don't kill many fish and haven't done so in many years. The reason is that our main three species -- trout, snook and redfish -- are highly regulated and don't need me or anyone else killing them.

Whenever I feel like a fresh-fish dinner, it's tough to beat a flounder. The flesh is firm, sweet and among the best that Florida waters have to offer (pompano and mangrove snapper are my other favorites).

I haven't killed a snook or redfish in more than 30 years.

Snook action has been pretty good. I've been averaging about three per outing while fishing before daylight and throughout the day. My biggest snook of the month was a 30-incher that I hooked on a light spinning outfit with 5-pound braid.

That fish sparked an amazing frenzy of action. I was fishing an edge along the south side of Whale Key with Steve Manning of Sarasota. We were wading and casting MirrOlure MirrOdines. Manning and I had caught a number of spotted seatrout and a few jacks. He caught and released a small snook and a nice redfish earlier in the day around Red Key.

I had been getting snook for about a month in this location. But the tide was slowing and all I had to show for my efforts was four nice trout. I think three of the four went better than 20 inches.

The fish turned on (albeit for just a few minutes) when the tide began to flood. In five casts, I caught a 30-inch snook, a 23-incher, a 20-inch trout and a small redfish. That's a five-cast slam!

"I wouldn't have believe had I not seen it," Manning said.

Everett Howell of Longboat Key and I returned to the same spot the next day, but didn't find any snook or reds. We did catch a number of seatrout to 20 inches and some feisty 5-pound jack crevalle.

Fly/spin angler Pete Taylor of Venice joined me for a pre-dawn sortie on Sarasota Bay at Stephens Point. We found snook piled up on the dock lights, but they weren't hungry.  We moved out into the bay over the deep grass and caught a decent amount of seatrout to 18 inches on D.O.A. CAL Jigs with copper crush paddle tails and MirrOlure MirrOdines.

Fly angler John Garcia of San Francisco and I fished Buttonwood Harbor and had to work for out catch. Garcia, who grew up in Sarasota and attended Riverview High School, is an accomplished fly fisher. We managed 10 trout to 24 inches, two snook to 27 and a load of jack crevalle. Garcia also hook and landed three mullet.

John Fisher of Kentucky had some back luck. The fish were cooperating when thunderstorms ended out outing prematurely. Fisher, a former pitcher at the University of Kentucky, caught a nice mangrove snapper on a Lil John. We also landed a pair of small redfish and a snook.

I fished the 10th annual Fall Fly Fishing Challlenge, a tournament I co-founded with Capt. Rick Grassett. In the first nine years, I was fortunate enough to win a division eight times.

My plan was to fish dock lights for snook in the Stephens Point basin. I arrived at the launch at 45 minutes prior to the start of the tournament. As I began paddling toward the main dock I planned to fish, a powerboat entered the basin and headed for the dock.

So, my plan was already shot.

I paddled to a second light, but found few fish there.

The two anglers in the other boat didn't stay long. Five minutes after they left, I paddled to that light to find no fish.

I began casting a chartreuse-and-white synthetic Clouser around docks and along the seawall. I picked up three small snook and four very nice flounder. I photographed the snook and released them. I really didn't think much about it, but I would later.

Eligible species in the Open Division are snook, trout and redfish. The Grand Champion is the angler accumulating the most inches for a single trout, snook and redfish.

So, I had snook. I knew I would get trout, so I kept casting around the structure in hopes of getting a redfish.

Two hours of casting yielded no reds.

I moved out into the bay in a search of trout. I had no trouble finding them. I caught a dozen or so and accumulated 122.50 inches. That's normally enough to win the Trout Division.

When I began filling out my scorecard, I had to make a decision: Enter only the trout or enter the snook? Fifty inches of snook probably would do me little good. And 122.50 inches of trout usually is enough to win that division.

I opted to fill the card with trout.

Bad decision. A friend of mine, Jeff Brue of Tampa, caught more than 160 inches of trout to win that division.

My three snook would have won that division. Doug Fisher of Sarasota won the Snook Division with 39 inches.

Oh, well, that's the chance you take when you're filling out your scorecard.

When I head out, I have a minimum of three rods rigged and ready. On one, I'll have a Lil John on a Norton Jig. I'll have a 14MR MirrOdine on my light rod (a Star Seagis 6-foot-6 rod with a 1000 CI4 Shimano Stradic Reel and 5-pound PowerPro braid), and a topwater plug on the third. Sometimes, I'll take a fourth rod rigged with a gold Johnson Spoon. Once cold weather sets in, the topwater bite will slow.

NOVEMBER FORECAST: I look for very good action in November as the transition continues. Seatrout, snook and redfish will cooperate in the bays. The flounder bonanza will continue for at least the first couple of weeks. I also anticipate increased numbers of bluefish and Spanish mackerel. Pompano should begin to show up toward the end of the month.

November is booking up nicely, but I have open dates. Please book early to assure yourself of the date(s) you want.

Don't forget the big snook will begin to enter the Myakka River in December. In addition to monster snook, we get redfish, tarpon, largemouth bass and gar.

Last season was disappointing, but the previous two years were wonderful. We're hoping things rebound this time around.

As always, I'd like to thank my sponsors: NuCanoe, MirrOlure, D.O.A. Lures, Temple Fork Outfitters and Peak Fishing.

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing