Saturday, November 12, 2016

Fast and furious peacock bass action at its best

John Weimer of Sarasota admires a chunky peacock bass he caught on fly.
In the United States, you have to choices when it comes to fly fishing for peacock bass: 1. travel to an exotic destination; 2. visit south Florida.

The author got in on the action, too.
I choose the latter. It's convenient and productive.

A little history here. The state of Florida stocked butterfly peacock bass into south Florida waters in 1984. The original stocking was in waters of Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Waters anywhere north of that area could be too cold in winter for these tropical cichlids.

Somehow the fish have found their way to Florida's west coast and can be found just 100 miles down Interstate 75 from my home in Sarasota. In just 90 minute, my clients and I can be fly fishing for peacock bass.

I will not reveal the name or location of the lake to protect the fishery.

I have fished the location many times in the past four years. At first, peacock bass were somewhat of a mystery. I didn't catch any on my first trip, but a friend of mine did. Joe Mahler, a fly-fishing guru who resides in Fort Myers, caught a chunky 3-pounder on his famous fly, the Straw Boss.

It took several more trips for me to start figuring out how to catch peacocks.

First trick I discovered was to find peacock bass on nests and sight-fish them. I'd stand up in my NuCanoe Pursuit ( and slowly pole along the shoreline. When I'd spot a peacock on a nest, I'd anchor nearby and cast to the fish. Note that peacocks will hit the fly virtually every time it enters the nest. But hooking them is another matter. They have an uncanny ability to spit your fly out quicker than you can react.

So, it becomes a game of guessing and timing. You almost have to "set" the hook before you see the bass take the fly.

I caught some very nice peacocks with this method.

But peacock bass don't spawn year round. So what do you do when they're not on the nests?
I began "blind casting" along the shoreline with No. 6 Clouser Deep Minnows, using a fairly quick retrieve.

For this fish, I use a 5-weight TFO Finesse rod, floating line and 9-foot (8-pound test) leader.
This method has paid the biggest dividends. I've had several "double-digit' days using it.

My best fly is a No. 6 Clouser in orange and chartreuse. I tied it to resemble a baby peacock bass. The fish are cannibalistic and will often eat their young.

Last trip to the lake was very productive.

John Weimer of the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers and I made the trek and did extremely well. We combined to catch 23 peacocks to 4 pounds. However, we didn't catch our first peacock until 12:30 p.m.

Up to that time, we had nine largemouth bass, one bluegill, one shellcracker and two stumpknocker on poppers and on Gibby's Snymph.

The action was much slower than normal. At that point, I pulled out the 5-weight and set up a drifter along a shoreline that had produced peacock bass in the past. I was quickly rewarded. I caught a trio of peacocks, including a pair of 3-pounders in about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, Weimer was casting a tiny Clouser that was producing nothing. I gave him an orange-and-chartreuse Clouser and suggested he give it a try. It wasn't long after that he connected on a solid 4-pounder, the largest peacock bass of his life.

We hit several spots, but really found some fast action at a location that has paid off in the past. I was drifting down the bank when I saw a peacock chasing minnows. I made a quick cast and immediately got a hit. I missed that one, but hooked up on a chunky 2-pounder on the next cast.

After I released that peacock, I began casting again. I noticed some action underneath a nearby tree that was hanging over the water and began to cast around it as I neared. I had the rod nearly jerked out of my hand on a ferocious hit. I was solid into another fat peacock.

I caught and released nine peacocks along that stretch. Weimer also caught a fatty.

The day started slowly, but ended beautifully.

"That's why you have to keep at it," said Weimer, who relocated to Florida from his home state of Oregon. "Your days wn't always start out quickly. But if you keep at it and keep a fly in the water you have a chance."

I love fishing south. I love catching fish that I can't find in local waters. I fish south a lot during the year. And it won't be long before I start fishing along Alligator Alley where I target oscar and Mayan cichlid.

These great fisheries are simple too good -- and productive -- for Sunshine State anglers and others to ignore.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Nymphing is a productive fly-fishing technique in Florida

Gibby's Snymphs (simple nymphs) are quick and easy to tie and are very productive for a variety of freshwater species.
A few years ago, I traveled to northeast Georgia to fly fish for trout.

After a frustrating morning on Noontootla Creek, I asked guide Rex Gudgel for a little help.

"I know where the trout are, but I can't catch them," I said. "Why don't you show me what you would do?"

The author shows off  a hefty Mayan cichlid
Gudgel, who was working at the time as a guide out of Unicoi Outfitters in Helen, Ga., surveyed the spot, then tied on a nymph and added a strike indicator. He cast upstream and allowed the rig to float down with the current.

He explained the nuances of nymphing to me. While doing so, he caught rainbow trout of 12, 17 and 26 inches.

I was amazed.

After he left, I caught and released a 27-inch rainbow, the largest of my life.

But that wasn't the highlight of my life. Don't get me wrong. The trout was great. But nymphing lit the proverbial lightbulb in my head.

I thought the technique would pay handsome dividends back home in Florida where freshwater trout were little more than a dream.
John Weimer's peacock bass sucked in a Snymph.

Rather than trout, I envisioned big bluegill and shellcracker. I could see these panfish sucking up nymphs with reckless abandon.

Now, I'm not going to tell you that I'm the first person ever to use the technique in the Sunshine State. I'm sure others have done it. However, I have fished in Florida for more than 45 years and I've never seen anyone use the technique.

For me, freshwater fly fishing was simple. You'd cast a small popping bug for bluegill. You'd cast a larger popping bug for bass.

There was no in between.
Lake Manatee speckled perch on a Snymph.

When the bite ended, it was time to go home.

Sometimes, the bite lasted all day. Often it didn't. We would usually head home by mid-morning.

That all changed when I began nymphing.

I started out using a popular trout pattern: a bead-head Hare's Ear. It produced pretty consistently. 

Later, I began developing simpler patterns that could be tied in just a couple of minutes.
Hefty shellcracker on Snymph.

I first began nymphing on Lake Manatee, a  body of water nine miles east of Interstate 75 in Manatee County. The lake can be tough, but if you invest the time to learn it you'll find it's loaded with fish.

I've used a number of different strike indicators over the years, but I've settled on  Lightning Strike Round Foam Strike Indicators (  that I purchase at Bass Pro Shop. They're simple and do the job nicely.
This is no fancy system. I tie on my Gibby's Snymph (simple nymph) and set the strike indicator according to the depth of the water. Usually I set it between 18 inches and two feet.

I cast it out (usually toward the shoreline structure), allow the nymph to sink, and then twitch it during a slow retrieve.

When the strike indicator twitches, moves or goes under, it's time to set the hook.

What could be more simple?

I've used the technique in lakes and streams throughout Florida, and it has rarely failed. I have used it in Lake Manatee and caught hand-sized bluegill, large shellcracker, impressive speckled perch, largemouth bass to 4 pounds and channel catfish.

Capt. Rick Grassett used a Snymph to fool this tiny tarpon.
In a small lake east of Naples, I have caught gargantuan Mayan cichlid, hefty bluegill, shellcracker, largemouth bass and peacock bass.

It has produced in The Everglades, the Myakka River, Upper Myakka Lake, Hillsborough River, Manatee River and other bodies of water.

A month ago, I launched my NuCanoe Pursuit at Benderson Lake near my home in Sarasota. I had only fish the lake a couple of times and not in the last 15 years. I caught a few bass near a spillway on Clouser Deep Minnows, then begain drifting down the east side of the lake. I started nymphing. I caught 25 bluegill, five shellcracker and a hefty channel catfish. I also lost another large channel cat.

I've also caught small snook on the Manatee River on the Snymph. Capt. Rick Grassett of Sarasota fished a small lake in Charlotte County with me and landed a small tarpon.

The Snymph has now become my "go-to" rig in fresh water.

The beauty of the rig is its simplicity.

It is quick and easy to tie.

Most of the time I use a White River 396 No. 10 or 12 nymph hook (Bass Pro Shops).

Slide the gold bead on the hook, then place it in the vise.

Tie on the thread just behind the bead and wrap back to the bend of the hook. Then tie in the tail. You can use pheasant tail, squirrel or whatever.

Tie in a short length of copper wire, then began dubbing with Hareliine Dubbin' Hare's Ear Plus. Build up the body. Finish by wrapping the copper wire toward the bead and whip finishing the thread. The wire serves two purposed: 1. It segment the body; 2. I secure the dubbing.

I usually use tan, olive, brown and rust dubbing. I'm not sure color makes much difference, though.




When I head to a lake or stream to fly fish, I'll still start out most of the time with a No. 10 popping bug on a 3-weight fly rod. I'll stick with it until the bite slows or stops.

When that happens, I'll pull out my 2-weight TFO Finesse rod and begin nymphing.

What I've learned over the years is when the topwater bites stops, your day is just beginning.