Wednesday, December 3, 2014

November saw improved action; December forecast good

Vinny Caruso of Bradenton battles a feisty oscar on a light fly rod in The Everglades. (Photo by Steve Gibson)
November proved to be just what was anticipate with improved fishing for a variety of species.

The highlight of the month was a trip to The Everglades with Vinny Caruso of Bradenton.

Typical oscar in The Everglades.
We met at 4:30 a.m. to make the 2 1/2-hour drive south. Our plan was to fish the canals along U.S. 41 (Tamiami Trail) south of Marco Island.

This was the first time that I left the kayaks at home on a trek to The 'Glades in several years.
Fishing that area by foot is something I've done many times, but not since 2004.

I chose to fish this particular area because I'd received word that water levels were up in The Everglades along Alligator Alley. And high water is not conducive to productive fishing in that area.
And with the wind predicted to be blowing around 15 mph, the Tamiami Trail would be perfect.

One of many largemouth bass caught on Myakka Minnow.
My usual "modus operandi" is to start fishing at the Turner River and work my way from spot to spot toward Miami. Fishing was so-so until we stopped at the fourth bridge. We didn't catch much at that bridge until we moved about 50 feet to the west. There we caught oscar on virtually every cast == until a pair of hungry (and healthy) alligators moved in to mooch free food.

We left and hit a couple of more bridges, but didn't have much success. So, we decided to fish along Loop Road, a scenic drive through The 'Glades.

One thing about Loop Road is there are plenty of gators. And this day was no exception. When you pull over to fish, you'd better check the side of the road before you get out. I don't know how many gators we saw sunning themselves along the road's shoulder.

Be sure to look before you exit the vehicle.
Typical strategy along Loop Road is drive from culvert to culvert (there are many) and stop at the ones that look good. I'd drive slowly as we approached a culvert, and Vinny would look out the window to determine is the spot was holding enough fish to stop.

We did fair on the first three stops. It was a different story on the fourth. I'm not sure how long we fished, but I'd estimate it was at least four hours. And we caught fish on literally every cast. I couldn't give you an accurate count on our fish, but I'd guess we landed 100 oscar, 12 largemouth bass, a half dozen hand-sized bluegill, several Mayan cichlid, gar and stumpknocker.

For this type of fishing, we use 3- and 4-weight fly rods, floating lines and 8-foot 6-pound leaders. Fly of choice was my ever-trusty and amazing Myakka Minnow.

The oscar, an exotic species that was inadvertently introduced to south Florida waters in 1954, was larger than average along Loop Road.

If you'd never hooked an oscar, you're missing out. They're not doubt the strongest fish for their size around. They're gregarious, strong and bulldog-like. You often wonder if you'll be able to land them.

We usually release all fish, but Vinny decided to take a few oscar home to sample. The fish are thick and produce sizeable fillets.

He sautéed the fillets in olive oil and garlic. He said the fish were superb. And since there are no size or bag limits on oscar, he plans to keep them on subsequent trips.

Whether fishing The 'Glades by foot or by kayak, the action usually is fast and furious. This is a wonderful trip that is among my favorites. The action usually is best December through April. Cost is $350 and that includes tranportation and lunch. Add $50 for an extra angler. There's an optional stop at the Bass Pro Shop in Fort Myers free of charge.

On Everglades trips, I don't fish by the clock. We arrive shortly after daylight and fish until you say it's time to go. If you want to fish until dusk, that's OK.

Closer to home, fishing finally picked up in Sarasota Bay. We caught slams (redfish, snook, spotted seatrout) on several occasions around Buttonwood Harbor on the west side of the bay. On a couple of occasions, we were able to "sight-fish" all three species on the flats and in sand holes on the incoming tides.

We caught snook to 28 inches, reds to 32 and trout to 26.

In addition, we caught several hard-fighting bluefish to 5 pounds, a couple of pompano and a black drum.

We fished southern Tampa Bay behind and in front of Joe Island on a couple of occasions and caught a variety of fish, including redfish, spotted seatrout, snook and doormat flounder.

I ventured up to the Palma Sola Bay and did well. We caught 89 trout to 22 inches, six flounder, two redfish, a pompano and several ladyfish and jack crevalle -- all on D.O.A. CAL Jigs with gold paddle tails.

I have several openings early this month, but the schedule is filling quickly around Christmas. In addition, I am scheduled for eye surgery on Dec. 30 and then again about a week later, so I will be out of commission for a few days during that span.

Please feel free to email me or give me a call if you'd like to book a trip or if you have any questions.

DECEMBER FORECAST: I look for increased numbers of bluefish, Spanish mackerel and pompano off the edges of the flats around grass patches in the deeper water. This action is great for spin and fly anglers. Spotted seatrout action should continue steady. Snook are in transition, migrating from the bays to creeks, canals and rivers where they'll spend the winter. I look for decent snook action in local rivers from mid-December through Feb. 15. Over the last few years, river fishing has produced snook to 44 inches (about 28-30 pounds). In addition to snook, we also catch redfish, largemouth bass, tarpon and gar in the river.

Happy Holidays!

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing