Sunday, October 30, 2016

Wind, rain, red tide and high water slowed things down in October

I've always said October is the best month in Florida.

Light breezes, low humidity, comfortable temperatures and great fishing.

Usually it is. But not this October. It was windy and rainy. We had a hurricane (Matthew) push up the east coast. That storm didn't affect us much here on the west coast, but we did get a lot of wind and rain.

Snook fishing has been consistent throughout the area.
I can handle most anything when on the water: rain, heat, cold. Wind is another matter. It makes fishing quite tough. It's not that you can't fish in the wind, but it make controlling the kayak a problem. It doesn't allow you to fish areas slow and thoroughly  as you'd like.

Still, we were able to get out and catch fish.

Early in the month, we spent a few days fly fishing local fresh waters. We fished Upper Myakka Lake and Benderson Park. We did well.

The first day at Myakka, we launched the kayak and paddled to the dam. There, we floating over the dam and spent a few hours casting flies for whatever might be lurking in the depths. We caught hand-size bluegill, shellcracker, largemouth bass, tilapia and channel catfish.

We returned a day or so later, but high wind prevented us from getting into the lake. So we opted to fish the protected boat basin. We were surprised when we caught a bunch of hard-fishing, hand-sized bluegill.

We wanted to target Clay Gully, a creek that empties into Upper Myakka Lake. But high water caused by recent heavy rain made that impossible. We'll keep that in mind and plan a return trip in a month or so.
Snook gather in a dock light.

For most of this fishing, we used a TFO Finesse 2-weight rod, floating line and a No. 10 Gibby's Snymph (simple nymph) under a strike indicator.

Our trip to Benderson Park was quite surprising. The lake is a former pit that was given to Sarasota County. It now serves as a world-class rowing facility. I'd fished the lake a couple of times previously, but not in about 15 years. I launched at the boat ramp on the south end of the lake and paddled up the east side to the Cooper Creek spillway. There, I caught several bass to 15 inches on Clouser Deep Minnows.

I drifted along the east side and cast Snymphs to the edge. I caught 25 bluegill, four shellcracker, five bass and a hefty channel catfish. I also hooked another channel cat, but lost it after a short battle.

I was at the lake in the spring of 2000 when the State of Florida stocked it with 10,000 channel catfish. After my outing, I would say the lake has a good (and hungry) population of channel cats.

Sarasota Bay has been battling red tide, so most of my salt water outings have been in other areas. I fished a couple of days in a tidal creek south of Venice. I was scouting for the 12th annual Fall Fly Fishing Challenge. The creek paid off for me last year when I caught enough snook to win the Snook Division of the tournament.
Speckled perch action should perk up in November.

This time was different. First trip, I didn't see a snook. John Weimer and I returned a week later and totaled five snook to about 20 inches.

I decided I would fish somewhere else in the tournament.

I also fished Sarasota Bay off Stephens Point. I've had memorable days off Stephens Point, but not this time. Usually, it's a spot where I can always catch 20 or more spotted seatrout. I caught none on this trip. I only managed a couple of ladyfish and a jack crevalle.

To make matters worse, two underwater lights in the Stephens Point basin were turned off, making night snook fishing impossible.

Scratch Stephens Point as a tournament spot.

We waded the flats near Vamo in Little Sarasota Bay and caught seven snook on Rainey's Bubblehead Poppers. That was encouraging. However, we didn't find any redfish or trout. That eliminated the spot from tournament contention.

John Weimer and I drove to Palma Sola Bay and did so-so. We found several underwater lights that held a bunch of snook. We left them alone, preferring to catch them during the tournament.
We paddled out onto the nearby flats and found a few seatrout.

We returned on tournament day. Things started out pretty decently. I caught five snook and lost another at the side of the kayak.

We then headed out onto the flats. I caught a small trout. Now, I had the rest of the day to catch one redfish.

Didn't happen. In fact, the wind started blowing and we had to abandon our outing.

Fortunately, Weimer managed four trout that totaled 53 inches to win the Trout Division.

Congratulations, John!

We're hoping the wind finally settles and that red tide dissipates.

If so, things should pick up in November.

NOVEMBER FORECAST: We look for improved snook, spotted seatrout and redfish action in Sarasota Bay and surrounding waters. Water temperatures should drop, causing gamefish to begin a feeding assault in preparation for winter. Night snook fishing should remain strong. In fresh water, we look for improved action on bluegill, bass, speckled perch, shellcracker and channel catfish. Best spots should be Lake Manatee and Upper Myakka Lake. Also, we're anticipating a couple of trips south to the Land of Peacock Bass. We've got a small lake just east of Naples that holds a decent population of peacock bass, plus monster bluegill, shellcracker, largemouth bass and Mayan cichlid.

Steve Gibson
Southern  Drawl Kayak Fishing


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Tournament success has little to do with luck

Redfish are our toughest fish on fly, but I got this one early.
Had to pick my wife up at the Orlando airport last night and got home late.

So, I didn't fish today. Instead, I've been tying an assortment of flies in preparation for the 12th annual MCFF/CCA Fall Fly Fishing Challenge, an event that Rick Grassett and I founded.

Now in its 12th year.
It's a pretty decent little tournament. Though the stakes aren't all that large (grand champion in each division receives an Orvis fly rod and reel), there certainly is some good competition. If you win the overall prize or a division, you've accomplished something against many of the best fly anglers in southwest Florida.

Although I'm not a tournament angler per se, I do enjoy competing. First, it's a day on the water doing what I like to do. Second, I like formulating a game plan and implementing it. I like the focus and concentration it takes to succeed.

I've done decently over the years. In the event's history, I've won a division nine times. I've won the Snook Division five times and Spotted Seatrout Division four times.

I fish in the Open Division. If you're a guide or license charter captain, you have to fish in the Open Division. If you think you're pretty good, you can opt to fish in the division. It's open to anyone. In the Open Division, eligible species include snook, spotted seatrout and redfish.

The tournament's other division is the Angler Division. No guides or charter captains are allowed.

This pits weekend anglers against other weekend anglers. Nearly all inshore saltwater species are eligible.

We usually hold the tournament on the last Saturday of October. So, I spend portions of the last two weeks of that month preparing for the event. I try to formulate a game plan that gives me the best shot.
Add caption
First, I want to win the event. I want to be grand champion. To do that, you must catch, photo and document a Slam (snook, trout, red). I've done that three times in the tournament. Twice, my slam simply wasn't large enough. The third time, I forgot to place the required tournament chip in the photo of my first snook. I landed the fish, placed it on the measuring board, snapped a quick photo and then released the snook.

As soon as I let go of the fish, I realized my blunder.

And, as luck would have it, my next fish was a 25-inch redfish. I caught more than 100 inches of trout that day to easily win the Trout Division. However, that mistake on my first fish cost me the overall title.

Mistakes happens. So do errors in tournament strategy. Two years ago, I caught a lot of trout and three snook. I decided that since the snook were small and shouldn't be a factor I would enter 10 photos of trout. Even though I had nearly 150 inches of trout, I was a distant second to a friend of mine.

Had I entered my three snook (49 inches total), I would have won that division.

Oh, well.

Though I place a premium on pre-fishing and coming up with a game plan, things rarely go as you might you envision.

Five years ago, I found some pretty good action in southern Tampa Bay between Bishop Harbor and Port Manatee. As I was paddling out the Bishop Harbor channel into Tampa Bay a couple of days before the tournament, I noticed a couple of things: 1. The nearby flats were void of water on the negative low tide; 2. There were loads of trout in the channel. The trout had nowhere else to go on the low tide. The was no water on the flat, so they had to fall into the channel.

I beached my kayak, got out and began casting Clouser Deep Minnows into the channel. The trout were more than cooperative. In 20 minutes, I must have caught and released 15 trout to 18 inches. In addition, I coaxed a small snook into hitting. Now, all I had to do was find a redfish.

If you've ever fly fished along southwest Florida, then you understand redfish are our toughest fish on fly. If you go out and catch a red, you've had a good day. If you catch two or more on fly, you'd better buy a lottery ticket on your way home.

There are sand bars that run for great lengths between Bishop Harbor and Port Manatee. Redfish and other species will swim onto the sand bars as the tide rises to feed. I was able to catch and release a couple of decent reds.

So, I had a pretty decent slam. With an 18-inch trout, a 22-inch snook and 28-inch red, I had accumulated 68 inches. I'll take my chances with a 68-inch slam any time!

The next day, I paddled to the channel just to make sure the trout were still there. They were. At this point, I paddled back into Bishop Harbor to a hole in the mangroves where a creek led to a decent-sized saltwater lake (Mose's Hole). I have caught some nice snook and reds there, so I wanted to find out if it might be a tournament spot.

In just 20 minutes, I caught and released three snook and two reds.

Game. Set. Match.

I was ready for the tournament.

As I wrote earlier, things rarely go as you plan. A front had moved through overnight and the wind was cranking when I launched the next morning.

Luckily, the trout were still jammed into the canal. I caught 10 trout in about 10 casts and documented each with photos. There was no water on the adjacent flats and it was too windy to fish Tampa Bay, so I headed for Mose's Hole.

I caught fish there, but no snook or reds. I caught several more trout, including an anchor fish that was 24 inches in length. My 10 trout totaled 178 inches. I won the division with room to spare.

The weather came into play another year. It was predicted to be bad, and it was.  With the wind supposed to blow 20-25 out of the north, my plan was to fish the Buttonwood Harbor area of Sarasota Bay. I would paddle to just north of the Buttonwood channel, anchor and fish the deep water slowly. With a super low tides, I expected snook , redfish and trout to be in the channel.

The wind was cranking when I arrived at the launch. But it wasn't  out of the north. It was straight out of the east -- not a good wind to fish Buttonwood. I sat in my truck for about 10 minutes and decided to drive to the east side of the bay and fish Stephens Point. There I would get a little relieve on the lee side.

It was still dark when I launched my kayak. I paddled out to a nearby lighted dock and saw several snook. I hooked up on my first cast and landed a chunky 24-incher after a strong fight. By the time I landed the fish, photographed it and released it, the sun was up and the light was off.

I made a few "just-in-case" casts, but didn't get a hit. So, I paddled out of the basin and into Sarasota Bay. There are several docks along the bayfront, so I set up to make a few prospect casts.

Long story short: I caught and released nine more snook from one of the docks. My 10 snook were all that large, but I had slightly more than 200 inches -- no doubt enough to win the division.

When the snook bite ended, I paddled out into the bay. The wind was now blowing hard out of the north. All I could do was anchor on grass patches and blind cast. I spent three or four hours doing this and caught 30 or more trout. My 10 best went  160 inches. Again, that should be plenty to win.

With two hours remaining in the tournament, I paddled to the shoreline, anchored the kayak, got out and began casting for redfish. I didn't get a red, but I was confident I had done well.

When I got back to tournament headquarters, I decided to enter 10 snook photos. I won the Snook Division quite easily. I also would have won the Trout Division easily. However, tournament rules restrict all competitors to winning just one division. That spreads the wealth, so to speak.

As you have probably surmised, I fish the tournament out of my kayak, the last three from either a NuCanoe Frontier or NuCanoe Pursuit. Realize, this isn't a kayak tournament. I'm one of the few competitors going against powerboaters out of a kayak.

I realize this could handicap me -- if I allowed it. However, I actually think I have the advantage. If the fish don't know you're there, you have a pretty good chance at getting them to hit.

And that's where tournament strategy comes into play. It certainly would be a different story if I didn't have the foggiest idea of what was going on when I launched on tournament day.

Here's an elementary tournament strategy. Since the tournament begins at 6 a.m., I suggest camping out at a lighted dock at which you know there are snook (you can see them). Arriving early stakes your claim and assures no one else will fish it. There's a great chance you'll catch at least one snook -- and maybe more. At daylight, your redfish quest can begin. You can spend several hours in pursuit of reds. Remember, redfish are usually the toughest of the trio on fly rod. I suggest getting out of the boat and wading. You can cover the water slowly and completely.

If you get that red, you're in business. Saving trout for last makes a lot of sense because the species is pretty easy to catch.

If you live in southwest Florida or will be in the area in late October, you might was to fish this fun event. For tournament information and registration form, visit
You can also call me with any questions at 941-284-3406.

We'd love to have you. You'll not only get to spend a day on the water, but you'll have loads of fun, too.

We have a pre-tournament (captains' ) meeting scheduled Oct. 28 at 6:30 p.m. at The Meadows Community Center, 2004 Longmeadow,  in Sarasota.

The tournament begins at 6 a.m.. Oct. 29. The tournament ends at 3 p.m.

We'd love to see you there. You won't regret it!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Gibby's Snymph is a an effective, easy fly that catches fish

Snymphs are easy to tie and  effective in most any color.
Fly fishing is a great way to catch fish. It's not only deadly on such species as rainbow and brown trout in this country's colder fresh waters, but for most species of fish.

I'm going to share a technique that I began using about 10 years ago that has increased my catches in fresh waters around Florida.

Monster shellcracker on Synmph.
Flashback to 1975. In those days, I cast popping bugs and only popping bugs. When the topwater bite ended, it was time to go home.

Fast forward to 2006. I discovered nymph fishing. Nymphs are small flies that are usually used in colder streams for freshwater trout.

I'm here to tell you they're deadly on a variety of fish in Florida. Now, when the topwater bite is done, my day is usually just beginning.

For starters, I use a No. 10 bead-head nymph that I tie on a White River (Bass Pro Shop) WR-396 No. 10 hook. It's a 1X long classic nymph hook.  You can tie the nymph on any size hook you want, but I've found No. 10 is very versatile.

The fly is so simple and easy to tie that I've dubbed it Gibby's Snymph.

I tie the fly with tan dubbing, brown dubbing, olive dubbing and a number of other colors. I use a 1/8 gold bead.

Gibby's Snymph (simple nymph)
Hook:  WR-396 No. 10
Thread:  8/0 Uni Thread (color to match dubbing)
Head:  1/8 gold bead
Tail:  Small bunch of squirrel tail to match dubbing
Body:  Hare's Ear Plus Dubbin Hare's Ear
Ribbing:  copper wire
Nice peacock bass and a Snymph.

The fly is not only deadly on a variety of fish, but ultra-easy to tie.

Add bead to hook and place in vice. Tie in thread and wrap back to point of hook. Tie in a small clump of squirrel tail. At this point, I tie in a short length of copper wire. Now, I twist on dubbing to the thread and wrap forward. I start with about a 2-inch noodle of dubbing. I keep going forward and build up the dubbing toward the head. After I'm satisfied with the shape, I wrap the wire forward, tie it off and cut it. I then whip finish the thread.

Voila! You're ready to fish.

I've caught a variety of fish on the Snymph. I've caught big bluegill, huge shellcracker, stumpknocker, channel catfish, largemouth bass to 4 pounds, golden shiners, Mayan cichlid, oscar, peacock bass, speckled perch, sunshine bass, snook and tarpon. I might have caught a couple of other species, but I can't remember.

I fish the Snymph under a strike indicator. I adjust the strike indicator according to the water depth. It might take a couple of adjustments to get it right.
Diminutive tarpon on a Snymph.

I fish out of a kayak, so I don't have to make long casts. The beauty of kayak fishing is that the fish don't know you're there (if you're quiet). So, I set up about 20-25 feet from my target area.

When it comes to kayak fly fishing, there's no doubt in my mind that the NuCanoe Pursuit (  is the best. It's roomy, spacious and features and uncluttered cockpit that makes a perfect stripping basket. Additionally, it has four rod tubes into which you can stow fully assembled fly rods. I normally carry at least three fly rods on most trips, so two are stowed safely out of the way when I'm not using them.

I cast to my target area and allow the nymph to sink. I don't "work" the nymph much, and I believe you can overdo  it. I give it a twitch or two and allow it to sink.

Channel catfish love the Snymph.
A majority of my hits take place as the Snymph sinks or when it's just suspended under the indicator. Sometimes I'll just let it sit there. If there's a little chop on the water, that's usually enough to give the fly life.

Detecting a strike comes with experience. The indicator (think of it as a miniature bobber) might go under. Set the hook! But it might just "twitch." Set the hook. It might not move at all. I advise watching your line and responding if it moves.

With experience, you'll get the hang of it.

Just the other day, I launched my Pursuit at a local spot which I hadn't fished in years. It's a lake within a county park that has been fished hard over the years.

The fishing was pretty darn good.

In just a few hours, I caught nine largemouth bass, 25 bluegill, four shellcracker and a decent channel catfish. I also hooked another sizeable cat, but broke off.
Bluegill are suckers for the Snymph.

That's 39 fish.

Most came on the Snymph.

I have caught bass to nearly 5 pounds on the Snymph. I've caught loads of hand-size bluegill. It's deadly on shellcracker. Speckled perch (black crappie) love it. Ditto for stumpknocker, channel catfish and tilapia.

The best thing about the Snymph is it meets my criteria for a great fly: 1. It catches fish; 2. It can be tied in five steps or less.

Quick, easy, out the door and on the lake. What more can you ask?

It's my opinion that many (most?) flies are designed to hook fly fishermen. They're intricately designed, beautiful and take more time to tie than they're worth.

I received a new fly-fishing/tying magazine to which I subscribe and saw an article written by one of the young guns of fly tying. He wrote about a new fly that he had designed.

Now, nowhere in the article did it chronicle the fly's effectiveness on any particular species. The fellow simply wrote about how to tie it.

It was a good-looking fly, for sure.

But it involved 62 tying steps! That fly would take more than an hour to produce.

The only way I'm going to spend that amount of time on one fly is if fish jump out of the water to hit it or it's a fly that will catch a species that won't hit a fly.

Take a look at the Clouser Deep Minnow, if you will. It's perhaps the best fly in the country for both freshwater and saltwater species. In addition, the Clouser is one of the simplest flies of all. You can crank them out to the tune of 12 or more an hour. Four tying steps and you're ready to fish.

That's my kind of fly. And, by the way, I do use the Clouser successfully in fresh and salt waters.

The Snymph is quite similar in that it's easy to tie and catches fish -- lots of fish.

When the topwater bite is over, I no long head home. I start casting the Snymph. My day is just beginning.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Freshwater fishing was the ticket to September success

John Weimer of Sarasota shows off a beautiful peacock bass that fell for a Clouser Deep Minnow.
Let's just call it "Freshwater September."

With red tide rolling into Sarasota Bay, we switched things up in September and spent most of our time in fresh water.

Hefty shellcracker 
We located a bunch of Mayan cichlid in a small lake within South Gulf Cove in Charlotte County and spent a couple of days there.

We drove south a couple of hours and fished a small lake east of Naples and did well.

We didn't forget about salt water. In fact, we launched near Buttonwood Harbor and had two pretty good outings.

First, let's address red tide. It's a pesky algae bloom that can kill fish and makes things uncomfortable for humans. However, it doesn't mean you can't catch fish. When red tide enters a body of water, it doesn't cover it like a blanket.

The worst red tide that I can remember took place in 2005-06. It lasted a little more than a year. We were able to catch fish throughout its stay.

Fish will seek clean area, and you can often have some pretty good days.

When the wind is out of the east, you usually can find decent action along the east side of Sarasota Bay. In addition, others local areas haven't been affected. I expect Little Sarasota Bay to offer strong action as the weather and water cools.

Rick Grassett's tarpon that was caught on a nymph.
I found out about the spot near South Gulf Cover from a friend. It is supposed to contain a healthy population of Mayan cichlid, a non-native species that found its way into Florida's waters in the mid-1980s. It had a whole bunch of cichlids. This is the farthest north I've encountered appreciable numbers of Mayan cichlid.

John Weimer and I visited the lake and did well. We caught more than 50 of the "atomic sunfish" on No.  bead-head nymphs under a strike indicator. The cichlids ranged from hand-sized to 12 inches in length.

These fish are great fun on light fly rods. They can fight about as well as any fish you'll encounter in fresh water.

Next time out, I took local charter guide Rick Grassett. It was his first fly-fishing venture in a NuCanoe Frontier. We caught a bunch of Mayans to 12 inches. But the highlight of the day was a 14-inch tarpon that Grassett caught while casting a nymph along a fallen tree.
Stability? No question in a NuCanoe as Rick Grassett shows.

I told him at the time that he might be the only fly fisher ever to catch a tarpon on a nymph!

Back to Sarasota Bay, I had a couple of decent outings. First time out, I fly fished docks along Longboat Key and landed two of the four snook I hooked. I saw a few tarpon, but didn't hook any.

At daylight, I paddled to a nearby flat where I have experienced good redfish action in the past. A funny thing happened this time out. Couldn't find any redfish, but I caught several snook and spotted seatrout on topwater plugs and MirrOlure MirrOdines. I caught snook to 28 inches and trout to 24.
Next time out, I found good numbers of snook on the same flat, but smaller. I caught and released eight snook to 22 inches. I also landed a couple of decent trout.

Paddling north, I found some decent trout action toward White Key. I caught trout to 25 inches on MirrOlure MirrOdines and the new D.O.A. 2 3/4-inch shrimp.

I fished southern Tampa Bay and caught six trout, a jack crevalle and a lookdown on topwater plugs and MirrOlure MirrOdines.

Tampa Bay lookdown.
Two trips to Naples proved enjoyable. First time out, I landed three peacock bass to 3 pounds on nymphs. Now, I would never have expected to catch decent-sized peacocks on nymphs! John Weimer and I also caught jumbo bluegill, Mayan cichlid, large shellcracker and largemouth bass on nymphs, Clouser Deep Minnows and popping bugs.

Another trip to Naples resulted in a variety of peacock bass, bluegill, Mayan cichlid, shellcracker and largemouth bass. Largest peacock went 3 pounds and was caught on a Clouser Deep Minnow. Nymphs accounted for most of the other fish.

I spent a day on the Myakka River just below the dam at Upper Myakka Lake. I caught good numbers of hand-sized bluegill, a large shellcracker and small bass on nymphs. I also found several rolling baby tarpon, but didn't hook up.

I bought an annual pass, so I can now get into Myakka quite early. I can be on the water and catching fish by the time the park opens at 8 a.m.

OCTOBER FORECAST:  I look for the best bets to be spotted seatrout and snook. Trout will hit jigs, MirrOdines, D.O.A. Deadly Combinations and D.O.A. shrimp over deep grass along the east and west sides of the Sarasota Bay. Snook will be around dock lights and on the flats at dawn. Shark fishing should be good in Tampa Bay. I also expect decent trout, snook and redfish on the flats around Joe Bay. In fresh water, I anticipate strong action on peacock bass, bluegill, Mayan cichlid, largemouth bass and shellcracker south of Sarasota. Closer to home, Upper Myakka Lake, the Myakka River and Lake Manatee should produce decent bluegill, shellcracker and largemouth bass.

The "season" is beginning to book up. I anticipate a good year based on the interest I've received . If you know when you're going to be in the area, please give me a call or email me to book your trip.

And remember, the best time to go fishing is any time you can!

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing