Monday, November 2, 2015

October produced plenty of fish in both fresh and salt waters

Author Steve Gibson battles a Lake Manatee channel catfish on light fly rod.  (Photo by Vinny Caruso)
We spent most of the month fly fishing in fresh and salt waters.

In fresh water, we fished Lake Manatee on several occasions. The lake, located nine miles east of Interstate 75 off State Road 64, seems to have rebounded nicely after a few slow years.

On a typical day, we use light fly rods (1, 2 and 3 weights) to cast popping bugs, nymphs and scuds. 

Lake Manatee channel cat on fly.
This method has been producing excellent catches of large bluegill, plus shellcracker, speckled perch, largemouth bass and channel catfish. You just never know what's going to eat the fly.

The bluegill have been among the largest we've ever taken on the lake. I'd say at least 75 percent of the bluegill have been "hand sized" or slightly larger.

We don't catch many bass, but every once in a while you'll hang a decent fish. On one outing, I was fishing a No. 12 nymph under a strike indicator on a 2-weight fly rod when I hooked, fought and landed a 4-pound bass.

Hefty bass on fly.
Channel cats are fun, too. I typically catch one and sometimes more on every trip. I catch them on nymphs and Myakka Minnows. These hard fighters will range from 2 pounds to more than you can handle. Trick is to keep them out of the vegetation -- if you can.

We launch at a dirt ramp off State Road 64 at Lake Manatee Fish Camp. It's safe and well maintained. From there, it's just a short paddle to several productive areas.

If you're into fly fishing for panfish, this is the spot. And it's likely you'll tangle with a feisty, rod-bending channel cat while you're at it.

In addition, November is THE month for speckled perch (northerners call them crappie). Specks at Lake Manatee average 1 1/2 pounds and often push two or three pounds. They're great fun on fly.

In salt water, we spent several days preparing for the 11th annual Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers/CCA Fall Fly Fishing Challenge, an event Capt. Rick Grassett and I founded. This is a catch, photo and release event that attracts up 30 anglers or more annually.

I've done well in the event since its inception. I've won a division nine of the 11 years. This year was no exception.

In preparing for the tournament, I spent several days on Sarasota Bay, fishing both along the east and west sides of the bay.

I launched at Buttonwood Harbor, one of my favorite spots, along the west side of the bay and fished a plethora of spots. I started out just before dawn at a lighted dock and quickly landed a decent snook. Once the sun came up, I headed out into the bay to scout. I was able to find decent numbers of trout.
Then it was time to look for reds. I figured that would be a chore since I hadn't seen a redfish in a couple of months. I wasn't wrong. I poled my NuCanoe Pursuit for several hours over some of the best flats in the area. Those flats have produced good catches of redfish over the years, but not lately.
I also caught mangrove snapper, large Spanish mackerel, bluefish and jack crevalle.

The next outing found me at Stephens Point on the east side of the bay. I caught snook around dock lights and trout over the deep grass. I poled the flats from Stephen Point north to Whitfield and didn't see a red. I did see some decent trout and snook in potholes, but no reds.

As the tournament neared, I wasn't sure where I was going to fish. I remembered a small tidal creek off the Intracoastal Waterway south of Venice. I've always been able to catch plenty of small snook from the creek. I hadn't fished there in a couple of years, but decided to give it a try.

I laughed the Pursuit and began fishing after paddling 200 yards. I wasn't disappointed. In just a couple of hours, I caught 15 small snook, plus some mangrove snapper and ladyfish.

I headed home at the point, confident I'd found my spot.

I didn't fish that area again until tournament day. I launched at 7 a.m. and began casting a popping bug along the mangroves. I didn't get a hit the first hour.

I was somewhat worried, but my luck changed when I switched to a small baitfish imitation that I tied on a No. 2 hook. I caught a limit (10) of small snook in a couple of hours. I photographed each and released them.

Even though we were allowed to fish until 3 p.m., I was heading back to Sarasota by 12:30 p.m.

I won the Snook Division, the fifth time I've done that I the tournament's 11-year history.

Interestingly, I was only one of two kayak anglers in the tournament competing against fly fishers in power boats.

NOVEMBER FORECAST: I'm predicting redfish action will finally pick up. I've been wrong for the past several months, but Novembers (traditionally) is a very good month for reds. I like fishing the last two hours of the outgoing tide and first two hours of the incoming for reds. Spotted seatrout action should be good, along with Spanish mackerel, bluefish, jack crevalle and ladyfish. November should also see a strong influx of large flounder. They like to lie in sand holes and will hit jigs slowly bounced along the bottom. They'll also hit weighted flies. Snook and small tarpon should cooperate around dock lights. In fresh water, I look for very good action on bluegill, speckled perch, bass and channel catfish in local lakes and streams. To the south, peacock bass, Mayan cichlid, giant bluegill and shellcracker should be cooperative.

I will depart the states on Thanksgiving morning and head for Eleuthera in the Bahamas. My target there will be bonefish on the flats. I've spent a few days at my vise, tying assorted bonefish flies for the outing. I will give you details in my next report.

Have a happy Thanksgiving everyone!

The weather in November usually is pretty spectacular in Florida. Come on down and go fishing!

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing