Monday, July 28, 2014

Summer heat didn't deter the action for snook, trout, redfish or shark

This Tampa Bay bull shark towed the author's NuCanoe Frontier for quite a while.
The summer heat usually doesn't have an adverse effect on fishing. In fact, it often results in good action.

A small snook caught fly fishing in the surf.
We switched out location somewhat, spending a majority of our time in southern Tampa Bay.

First, however, we took a break and spent a week in Michigan. Kathy and I rented a waterfront house on Diamond Lake near White Cloud, Mich. The weather was wonderful, with lows in the 50 and highs in the 70s.

Fishing was superb in the lake. I fly fished several mornings and evenings and caught a variety of fish: largemouth bass, bluegill, sunfish, yellow perch and crappie. I caught fish on poppers, Myakka Minnows (yes, the Myakka Minnow works outside of Florida) and nymphs.

I spent several mornings on the nearby Muskegon River. Following the advice I received from the staff at the Muskegon River Fly Shop in Newaygo.
The author with a Tampa Bay topwater snook.

I'm not a very adept at cold-water trout, having spent a majority of my life in Florida. But I'm not adverse to asking for guidance.

The folks at the fly shop set me up with a good selection of flies and gave me a few locations to try.

I did pretty good, catching and releasing a good number of rainbow trout and brown trout.

It was a much-needed elixir.

If you're ever in that neck of the woods, take time to visit the Muskegon River Fly Shop, 8382 Mason Dr., Newaygo, Mich. Phone number is (231) 652-5386.

On our last night in Michigan, we got to watch our beloved Tampa Bay Rays beat the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. The Rays took three of four on the road against the Tigers.

I was on the water the first morning after returning to Florida. I launched on Tampa Bay and caught a variety of fish. I started out before daylight, casting a Zara Super Spook Jr. in the backcountry. I caught spotted seatrout, redfish and a number of snook.

Snook action has been the best bet in the backcountry. Most of the fish have been 25 inches or less. However, there are some larger fish around. I hooked a snook I estimated at 15 pounds, but lost it when the fish wore through the 20-pound shock leader.

I found a couple of schools of redfish on successive days in front of Joe Island. The first day, I caught and released three oversized reds on topwater plugs before losing the school. I caught one red the second day.

In addition, I managed jack crevalle, mangrove snapper, ladyfish and cobia along the sand bar in front of Joe Bay.

The real news is the shark action in Tampa Bay. There are good numbers of blacktip, spinner and bull sharks in the bay.

Shark fishing from a kayak is a thrilling experience. We stress safety and won't hesitate to cut the line if we sense any danger.

Most of the time, we encounter blacktip and spinner sharks from 20 to 50 pounds. Every once in a while, we'll hook up a larger shark that is more than we choose to handle.

Beach snook action really improved during July. I took Mike Hodges of Tampa out twice and we encountered a number of fish.

Hodge has walked the beaches of Pinellas County on several occasions without great results. He said there's "no comparison" between the beaches of Sarasota County and those further north.

On the first outing, we combined for 12 snook. That's a decent number, but not all that impressive. The highlight of the outing was a hefty snook that ate Hodge's fly. As Hodge was trying to set the hook, the big girl (we estimated her at more than  15 pounds) suddenly took off and broke the 20-pound leader.

We returned to the same spot a couple of days later and didn't fare as well. We landed four of the 10 small snook we hooked.

For this activity, we use 7-weight fly rods, floating or sinktip lines, 20-pound shock leader and D.T. Variation flies.

I anticipate very good snook action along the beaches in August.

This is a sight-fishing endeavor and very exciting.

Night snook action also should be good around lighted docks.

We also spent a morning on the Braden River, casting poppers and nymphs for bluegill. But the action was very slow. We caught and released about a dozen panfish. Surprisingly, bass were not cooperative.

AUGUST FORECAST: We look for increased redfish action on the flats of Sarasota Bay and Tampa Bay. The oversized fish should start schooling up in preparation for their annual spawning migration. The big schoolers will hit most anything cast their way, including flies, spoons, jigs and topwater plugs. Spotted seatrout, jack crevalle, ladyfish, bluefish, flounder and mangrove snapper should be plentiful along the flats. Shark action should continue good around southern Tampa Bay and at Fort DeSoto.

If you're worried about the heat, don't fret. We get out on the water early and usually are finished by mid-day.

August fishing signals the start of excellent action. Please feel free to give me a call or email me at your convenience.

I was fortunate enough to attend ICAST in Orlando. The show is where all the associated fishing businesses unveil their new products for the upcoming year. I worked the NuCanoe booth for a couple of days.

I was in the company NuCanoe owner Blake Young and Pro Staffers Joe Mahler, Drei Stroman and Danny Barker.

If you get the chance to check out a NuCanoe, please do yourself a favor. You can read out NuCane here:


You can visit the NuCanoe website at

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing

(941) 284-3406

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Stephens Point offers a plethora of fish species for fly and spin anglers

The kayak launching spot is secluded at Stephens Point off Sarasota Bay.
Fishing is good year round throughout Sarasota Bay.

Lee Badensnyder with a fly-rod snook at Stephens Point.
For the kayak angler, however, where you fish depends on the wind.

When its blowing from the east, I like to fish along the east side of the bay. In that situation, you're in the lee and usually will find smooth paddling and fishing.

One of my favorite spots to fish is Stephens Point, an area that's tough for many kayakers to get to because they don't know where to launch.

I own and operate Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing ( and fish Stephens Point often.

In my continuing series of Sarasota Bay kayak hotspots, here's the lowdown.


Pompano off Stephens Point.
This is a great area that produces good numbers of snook, spotted seatrout, bluefish, Spanish mackerel and pompano. Stephens Point is located along the east side of Sarasota Bay and can be reached from a launch located on Sun Circle west of U.S. 41 (Tamiami Trail).

This launch is not known by many. I hesitate to publish the location and ask that you don't litter and that you keep noise to a minimum during the early and late hours. I launch at the southernmost point of a small city park located there. You can park right on the street.

There are several docks in the small harbor at the launch. Two have underwater lights. They can be great for snook and spotted seatrout. Redfish also like to hang out around docks and rocks along the seawall.

On the outside of Stephens Point, there are several more docks where you can target snook, redfish and trout before daylight.

When you leave the basin and paddle into Sarasota Bay, there's a huge grass area that begins just south of Stephens Point and runs north to just above the Ringling Mansion. The grass holds spotted seatrout, bluefish, pompano, Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and jack crevalle.
Bluefish are common during the cooler months.

I like to use D.O.A. CAL jigs with gold or copper crush paddle tails, MirrOlure MirrOdines or D.O.A. Deadly Combinations.

The grass area is large and easily identifiable in bright sunlight. You'll have to move around until you find the fish.

On a calm morning, you often will see schools of baitfish. It's always worth casting a jig or other lure around baitfish schools that you find. You'll also see predator fish chasing bait. Don't hesitate to cast.

With that in mind, keep your eyes and ears open. If you don't see the baitfish, you'll often hear them. The key is to get a lure to that area quickly.

Stephens Point is a great fly-fishing area. I fish the lighted docks before daylight. I'll usually use a small, white baitfish or shrimp imitation tied on a No. 6 or 8 hook. I use an 8-weight fly rod, floating line and 9-foot  (20-pound fluorocarbon) leader. You can fish the leader as is or add a short length of 25- or 30-pound fluoro shock if you desire.

I usually anchor when fly fishing around the docks. Take your time, be quiet and anchor within an easy cast. Don't make it difficult on yourself by anchoring too far away.

You might have to cast around docked boats or under docks.

I usually start by working the dark perimeter of the light and work my way in. If you start out casting right in the middle, you'll likely spook the snook.

You can usually see immediately if there are feeding fish around. At Stephens, you can see it from the launch.

If you're spin fishing, use small jigs or plugs like the MirrOlure MirrOdine. D.O.A. Shrimp often work well, too.

When you paddle out into the bay, you can identify the dark grassy areas easily -- if you're wearing polarized sunglasses.

I like to work the edges of the grass and any sand holes within the grass.

One of my best days at Stephens took place several years ago when Chad Pennington, then a quarterback with the New York Jets, joined me for an outing. Pennington and I combined to catch 60 trout and 15 Spanish mackerel -- all on D.O.A. Deadly Combination. The lure is a D.O.A. Shrimp rigged about 3 to 4 feet under a popping cork.

The rig is so easy to use. Cast it out, allow the shrimp to sink, reel in any slack and then pop the cork with the rod tip. Repeat often. When the cork goes under, reel up slack and set the hook.

In late fall and winter, the area often holds good numbers of pompano, bluefish and Spanish mackerel. Trout are available year round.

In December of 2009, another angler and I combined to land 30 seatrout, 40 pompano and 25 blues. It was pretty much non-stop action.

One species is available that not many know about. During the winter, silver trout, a smaller relative of the spotted seatrout, show up in good numbers in the Stephens Point basin. Bounce a light jig along the bottom and you should catch all you want. Silver trout are small, but are tastier and stronger than spotted seatrout.

While mackerel are in good numbers from November through March, we occasionally catch some monster macks. In March of 2010, I caught a 7 1/2-pound Spanish mackerel on fly rod. It was the largest mackerel I've ever caught -- or seen!

No matter where you fish when you launch at Stephens Point, you'll have a relatively short paddle. If the weather goes awry, you can get back to the launch in just a few minutes.

Have fun!

Buttonwood Harbor is diverse and offers many fishing situations

Map of the Buttonwood Harbor area with launch site and islands names.
I've been fishing around Sarasota Bay since 1975.

Fly angler Norm Ferris with a Buttonwood redfish.
First time was at Buttonwood Harbor, an interesting area about midway up Longboat Key. Buttonwood Harbor is one of my favorite spots in Sarasota, possessing a variety of situations that produce a plethora of fish.

I run Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing ( and fish Buttonwood quite often.

Following is the first in a series of my favorite Sarasota Bay spots and how to fish them.


This is my favorite spot, an area I fish most. It's comprised of shallow grass flats, mangrove islands, channels, sand holes and deep grass. It offers many fishing situations which can pay off in most any situation.

Pompano often are plentiful around Buttonwood in winter.
The launch to Buttonwood Harbor is located midway up Longboat Key on the east side. It's difficult to pinpoint the location because it has no address. But there's an overflow parking area across the street from a public beach access. You can park there and launch your kayak through the mangroves. There's a small hotel/resort on the west side called The Beach (3465 Gulf of Mexico Dr.). The public beach access is located just north of The Beach. The kayak launch is directly across the street on the east side. There is ample parking.

The town of Longboat Key grades the launch a couple of times a year. However, rain often washes it out, making it somewhat precarious. Be careful. If you're launching before daylight, use a light so that you can watch your step.

Beginning fly angler Vinny Caruso caught a hefty trout.
There's a grass flat immediately in front of the launch. At times you can take redfish, spotted seatrout, snook and other species on the flat or along its edges. It's best to fish the flat at dawn and dusk with jigs, topwater plugs and jerk worms.

Be careful when paddling across the flat before daylight. Manatee like to sleep on the flat. Although they're docile animals, the can make quite a commotion when you paddle across them. I did that once and was amazed how easy it was for the surprised manatee to lift my kayak out of the water!

There are eight mangrove islands within the Buttonwood area. Two -- Whale Key and White Key -- are named. Whale Key is the easternmost island of the group. White Key is the northernmost. But I have named them all.

Beginning with White Key and running south, there are Black Key, Crabclaw Key, Red Key, Little Whale Key, Whale Key, Oyster Key and South Key. Most of my friends have learned the names so they know what I'm talking about when I discuss daily results.

My favorite area to fish is an grass edge on the south side of Whale Key. Redfish, snook and spotted seatrout. I like to fish this area November through April. It's particularly good to fish on a negative low tide. That's when I'll anchor the kayak and wade.

Fly fishing can be good along the edge. I will use a 7-weight rod, floating line and 9-foot leader. My go-to fly is my Gibby's Duster  Fly. Clouser Deep Minnows are a good choice, too. Any baitfish imitation will work.
It's along that edge where monster seatrout often will congregate. On one trip, a client of mine caught three huge trout from 6 to 7 1/2 pounds on topwater plugs. I had a morning where I caught several trout from 6 1/2 to 9 pounds on MirrOlure MirrOdines.

For redfish and snook, I like to use a MirrOlure Little John on a 1/16-ounce Norton Jig.

You can work the edge as far out as you can walk.

On the east side of Whale Key, there's a grass edge that's productive at times. There is a series of sand holes on the east edge of the grass that redfish, snook and trout like to hang out in at low tide. It can be a good area in which to sight-fish. Again, I like to anchor the kayak and wade.

When fishing sand holes, the MirrOlure Little John on a light jig works best.

Another good redfish area is on the south side of Red Key, a small island just north of the Buttonwood channel. This area is best a dawn. My lures of choice include a MirrOlure Top Pup or She Dog, Little John on a light jig or gold spoon.

The bay between Red, Crabclaw and Little Whale can be very productive on the incoming tide -- particularly if there are plenty of mullet on the flat.

A couple of years ago, I had Norm Ferris, a fly angler from South Carolina, out in Buttonwood. He wanted to catch a redfish on fly, but fish were few and far between. We fished a number of areas with little success.
After fishing behind White Key, we paddled south toward Crabclaw. As we turned the corner and looked in the bay between the trio (Crabclaw, Red and Little Whale), we saw a load of mullet. Ferris caught a pair of oversized reds in about 10 minutes.

I like to fish behind White Key to the north. Redfish love to patrol the flat at high tide. You'll also find a few snook there. Reds will also hang out on the edges of the flat at low tide.
Pompano, bluefish and Spanish mackerel are often caught in deeper areas just off the flats during fall, winter and early spring.

The main channel leading into Buttonwood from Sarasota Bay holds good numbers of seatrout, flounder, pompano and other species. I like to drift the edges there and cast jigs or MirrOdines.
Drifting any of the edges of many Buttonwood flats on the incoming tide usually results in plenty of seatrout and an occasional redfish.

Oh, there are a few tarpon in the area. About six years ago, I hooked a giant tarpon in front of South Key on a topwater plug. Tarpon often congregate there to feed on ladyfish, pilchards and whatever bait might be around.

I have also seen a few tarpon in the Buttonwood channels and out in front (east) of Whale Key.

I caught two permit along the south edge of Whale Key in the last year.

This past winter saw a remarkable run of pompano in the Buttonwood area. I found them in a large hole at low tide behind South Key and along the southern edge of Whale Key. We caught them on Clouser Deep Minnows (fly rod) and on MirrOdines.

Buttonwood is a large and diverse area. I fish it regularly and probably have more than 50 spots that I fish within an easy paddle.

If you're interested in the Big Two (redfish and snook), you want to concentrate on the flats, around mangroves or along the edges.

I prefer to fish the last two hours or a falling negative tide and the first couple of hours of the incoming.

If I'm searching for reds on the flats, one of the keys is mullet. Find the mullet and you'll likely find reds.
Clients often ask if the redfish are feeding on mullet?


But my theory is that the reds are feeding on whatever the mullet might be stirring up -- crabs, shrimp, worms, baitfish.

Just south of Whale Key and about 100 years off South Key is Helicopter Shoal. I've caught quite a few large seatrout along the edge of that shoal. At low tide, you can find trout and other species in sand holes atop the shoal and along the edges.

The deeper water off the east tip of the shoal hold good numbers of bluefish during the cooler months.
If you're interested in flounder, Buttonwood is the place. You can catch them year round, but you can actually target them in October and November. Just work sandy bottom off the edges of the flats with a D.O.A. CAL Jig and paddle tail or MirrOlure Little John on a jig head.

As you might have surmised, there's a lot of good fishing around Buttonwood Harbor. It's offers a myriad of fishing situations for a variety of species.

Good luck!