Sunday, January 10, 2016

Year's first river trip yields decent action and lots of optimism

Author Steve Gibson battles a Myakka River snook on fly. (Photo by Vinny Caruso)
I have a hunch fishing on the Myakka River will be better this year than the past two years.

I really can't get much worse.

Vinny Caruso nears the battle's end.
In years past, I usually began fishing the Myakka in mid December. I'd often fish the stream exclusively until the middle of February.

There were some glory days.

Big snook were common. We've taken snook up to 44 inches during winter on the Myakka. We've had trips where a 28-inch snook would be the smallest. On one outing three years ago, Dave Robinson and I totaled 12 snook, ranging from 35 to 42 inches. Dave caught the big girl. I had a 39 1/2-inch beauty.

We also caught two or three small tarpon on that trip.

There were days where we caught a Myakka River Slam: snook, redfish, tarpon and gar. Only a bass kept us from the prestigious Myakka Super Slam. We've come within one fish of the Super Slam on at least three occasions.

Typcal snook from three seasons ago.
The last two years have been difficult. Last year, my best day was nine small snook. The largest snook maybe went 23 inches.

I'm hoping this year will be different.

Vinny Caruso and I headed to the river last week and did decently. We didn't catch any large snook, but we did combine to land 12. In addition, we landed  decent largemouth bass.

Vinny caught all of his fish on a MirrOlure Lil John and light jig. I used Clouser Deep Minnows and baitfish imitations on my 8-weight fly rod.

I managed to land eight snook and three bass.

It was a fly-fishing epiphany for me. Typically, I use spinning tackle on the river. I've guided many fly anglers, but none have had much success. Even during the great years. fly anglers struggled to produce.

I don't know if it was them or what? The fly rod out produced spinning tackle on the latest outing.
Myakka River tarpon.

I'm hoping it's a fly-rod year.

One thing I did was add the Rexfly Casting System to my 8-weight TFO  BVK outfit. With the Rexfly System, your fly reel is attached to a chest mount and not on your rod. You're actually casting the line and fly with the rod only. Makes a lot of sense and lightens the rig up noticeably. Casting all day is no big deal. And if you hook a large fish that takes line, you can attached the rod to the reel in less than a second.

The Rexfly Casting System sells for $85 plus shipping. You can check it out and watch video at

Yes, the Myakka has some hefty alligators.
I did notice that all of the snook we landed were dark. That means they're resident fish. Fresh fish are light and silvery. It's cold water that pushes snook from the bays and estuaries up the river in search of warmer water. We're due for some cold weather this week which should drop the water temperature and jump start the river migration.

Fishing the river is not easy. It's not for those who simply want to go through the motions. It's a game for veteran, savvy anglers who actually enjoy working for their fish. You have to be as focused on your 500th cast of the days as you are on the first.

Many anglers think they're up for the task, but I can tell after an hour whether they're into it or not. 

Most aren't.

The rewards, however, are great. There's a decent chance you'll be rewarded with the largest snook of your life.

Just remember, you're always within one cast of a 30-pound snook.

That's a fact.

The river is picturesque. It meanders through Sarasota County and empties into Charlotte Harbor at El Jobean. Its banks are line with cabbage palms, live oaks, pine trees and palmettos. Typically, anglers will float the river, targeting the banks and any fallen trees or other structure.

Certainly, that strategy will produce. But the big fish like to hang out in the deeper water of the outside bends. So, that's where we focus most of our attention.

When spin fishing, I like to use a MirrOlure Lil John on a 1/8-ounce Norton Jig. I allow the rig to sink to the bottom and jig it slowly. Most of the time, snook and other fish will hit it on the fall. So, most hits are subtle; nothing more than a slight tap or twitch of the line. It doesn't hurt if you're a line watcher.

We lose a few lures every trip. The bottom is line with rocks and trees.

For river fishing, we use medium spinning rod, 3000 Shimano Stradic reel, 15-pound Power Pro line and 20- or 25-pound fluorocarbon leader.

When fly fishing, we like an 8-weight rod, floating or sinktip line, 20-pound leader with 25-pound fluorocarbon shock.

The Myakka is a tidal river. With that in mind, we prefer to fish the outgoing tide. We have found that you can catch fish on an incoming tide, too. But outgoing seems to be the best.

We don't like chamber of commerce days: blue skies and bright sun. We would rather fish on a foggy, overcast morning. That's perfect snook weather.

While it's snook that we target, we also catch redfish, largemouth bass, gar, tarpon and ladyfish. We have also caught spotted seatrout, black drum and channel catfish.

You just never know what's going to hit your lure.

I offer six-hour and full-day charters on the river. We use NuCanoe Frontier kayaks ( which are great for fishing, easy to paddle and maybe the most comfortable on the market.

On a typical day, we'll paddle a mile downriver from our launch at Snook Haven. During the day, we might cover two or three miles. It's a pretty easy paddle. While the tide moves, it's really not very strong or noticeable.

Our day usually begins at dawn or just before.

On all-day trips, I provide lunch and drinks. I supply bottle water on all trips.

I also provide all tackles, rods, reels, lures and flies.

If you're a hardcore angler, this is the trip for you.

You can contact me at (941) 284-3406 or email

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