Friday, December 2, 2016

Anticipating strong action in fresh and salt waters as we head toward winter

The author shows off a fine peacock bass caught on fly near Naples, Fla. (Photo by John Weimer)
Freshwater fishing has been much better than saltwater fishing.

But that's subject to change any day.

We're moving into the winter pattern and that means several things.

In salt water, it means bluefish, pompano and , hopefully, large snook.

In fresh water, it means wonderful trips to The Everglades for tackle-busting exotics.

We fished the salt a few days in November and did so-so. Fishing Little Sarasota Bay around Vamo, we encountered snook, spotted seatrout, jack crevalle and ladyfish. Snook were plentiful around the islands on the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway and were a blast on topwater plugs.

Trout, although somewhat scarce in most areas, could be found along the ICW. We caught sseatrout to 20 inches on MirrOlure Lil Johns on 1/16-ounce jig heads.

The best action took place around and under docks just south of the launch. Using skip casts to get jigs well under the docks, we caught snook to 30 inches, jack crevalle and mangrove snapper. The most effective bait was the new D.O.A. 2 3/4-inch shrimp in gold flake.

John Lacy of Kentucky joined me for a trip on Little Sarasota and did fair. We caught three snook, two jack crevalle, six spotted seatrout, a mangrove snapper and a ladyfish. We also lost a snook estimated at 15 pounds while skipping D.O.A. Shrimp under docks.

Highlight of the day was the number of manatee we encountered. We probably saw at least 18 manatee over the six-hour outing.

In fresh water, we fished a variety of spots, including Lake Manatee and a small lake east of Naples in southwest Florida.

Lake Manatee, located in Manatee County just 10 miles east of Interstate 75 off State Road 64, is one of my favorite places to fish -- especially during fall and winter. It's a spot where diversity rules and you'll likely catch a variety of fish.

I really don't target any species in particular. I used popping bugs, nymphs and my Myakka Minnow. I catch bluegill, speckled perch, shellcracker, tilapia, stumpknocker, shellcracker, largemouth bass and channel  catfish.

Our best day in November was an outing in which we caught big bluegill, two huge speckled perch (black crappie) and five nice channel catfish. All of the fish were taken on my Snymph (simple nymph).

The following day was much tougher. John Weimer of Sarasota and I combine to catch 26 bluegill, one speckled perch, one bass and a golden shiner on Snymphs.

A few days later, I took John Freyer of Ludington, Mich., and we had to work extremely hard. We combined to land 17 bluegill and a gar. The interesting thing was we couldn't catch anything on Snymphs. Most every fish came on my Myakka Minnow.

John Weimer and I drove 105 miles south on I-75 and had a wonderful outing. Fishing a small lake east of Naples, we caught a variety of fish, including peacock bass to 4 pounds. Interestingly, we had few fish by 1 p.m.

It was at that point, I decided to pull out the 6-weight TFO fly rod and cast an orange-and-chartreuse Clouser Deep Minnow  in areas where I had caught some nice peacock bass. I wasn't disappointed. Over the next two hours, Weimer and I combined to land 23 peacock bass to four pounds. We lost several others.

Peacock bass were introduced in state waters in 1984. Because they can't tolerate cold water, they were stocked only Miami-Dade and Broward county waters. Both barred and butterfly peacocks were stocked, but the bigger barred species couldn't tolerate the cold. Butterfly peacocks thrived.

Somehow, they made their way west to Collier County. And, through a friend, I found out about a small lake and adjoining canal system that holds a good population of these colorful, hard-fighting battlers.

It took me a while before I began catching them with regularity. I found out you don't have to get up too early to catch them. Best action takes place from mid-morning on.

I've caught them on a number of flies (even tiny nymphs), but I've discovered the best action takes place on orange-and-chartreuse Clousers.  I use a fairly quick retrieve.

I also keep my eyes open for peacocks chasing bait or nesting along the shoreline. If you pay attention, you'll be rewarded.

The lake is also home to mega-bluegill, giant shellcracker, monster Mayan cichlid and largemouth bass.

DECEMBER FORECAST: I look for good numbers of spotted seatrout, jack crevalle, ladyfish, bluefish and pompano  in Sarasota Bay over deep grass off Stephens Point and Whale Key. Night fishing for snook should be good around lighted docks. Late in the month, we'll start probing local rivers for monster snook -- especially if we encounter cold weather. In fresh water, Lake Manatee and the Manatee River should yield good numbers of bluegill, channel catfish, largemouth bass, speckled perch and shellcracker. For those interested in non-stop fly-fishing fun, Alligator Alley should yield good numbers of feisty oscar, Mayan cichlid, largemouth bass, bluegill, stumpknocker, warmouth perch and an occasional peacock bass.

I'm booking up fairly fast, so contact me to make sure you get in on the action. You can call me at 941-284-3406 or email
Happy Holidays!

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing