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

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Goals for 2016: more fly fishing and a lot of different species

There are permit in Sarasota Bay, and my goal for 2016 is to catch one.
With the new year upon us, it's time to set some realistic  -- and attainable -- goals.

One goal that immediately comes to mind is to do more fly fishing.  I love to fly fish, but don't do it nearly enough. I've made a concerted effort to do more and have done so since last summer. I've only spin-fished on a few occasions.

With that in mind, here are my fishing goals by species:

Spotted seatrout: 500
Redfish, 50
Snook, 100
Tarpon, 10
Pompano, 20
Flounder, 25
Jack crevalle, 30
Shark, 20
Cobia, 1
Spanish mackerel, 10
Bluefish, 20
Permit, 1
False albacore (little tunny), 1
Tripletail, 1
Kingfish, 1

Largemouth bass, 100
Oscar, 150
Mayan cichlid, 50
Bluegill, 500
Shellcracker, 15
Stumpknocker, 30
Channel catfish, 20
Speckled perch, 20
Sunshine bass, 1
Suwannee bass, 1

As I catch different species, I will keep count and remove them from my list as I reach each goal. I think my goals are realistic and not too difficult.

I will write about my progress or lack thereof from time to time through this blog.

All of my fishing will be done via kayak or wading.

Wish me luck!

December was a contrast in fishing, wind and weather

With the advent of colder weather, Myakka River snook should be cooperative.
December was marked by contrast: strong wind and calm, unseasonable warm and sometimes cold, good fishing and not so good.

Fighting a hefty Manatee River channel cat on fly.
Best action took place in Little Sarasota Bay out of the Vamo launch. Fishing there didn't produce quantity, but it did result in quality. First trip of the season there resulted in  five snook to 35 inches, redfish to 27, spotted seatrout to 20, jack crevalle and ladyfish. Most of the fish were taken on MirrOlure Lil Johns on light jig heads, but we also used MirrOlure MirrOdines and Zara Super Spook Jrs.

We fished out of Vamo on several occasions and managed a Slam (snook, trout, redfish) all but two outings.

I also took an ovesized redfish while using a new rig: Pop-N-Fly Rig. It's basically a foam cylinder that is tied between your fly and fly line. It's used much like a popping cork. You use strong strips which makes the cylinder gurgle. That "calls" the fish (it imitates feeding fish or baitfish). When a snook, red, seatrout or other fish hears the commotion and comes up to investigate, it usually will eat your fly.
First fish on Pop-N-Fly, an over-sized redfish.

My first time out with the rig wasn't disappointing. I caught and released a 30-inch redfish that inhaled a synthetic Clouser Deep Minnow.

I was impressed.

Realize that redfish are out most difficult fish on fly rod. They're extremely tough to catch in most situations.

I can't wait to try the Pop-N-Fly in good conditions. You can watch a Pop-N-Fly video at

Sid Whitsell, an accomplished fly fisher from Montana, opted to fish Lake Manatee with me on a blustery day. We caught large bluegill on nymphs under strike indicators and popping bugs. Sid did hook one of Lake Manatee's famous large channel catfish, but couldn't keep it out of the vegetation.
Vinny Caruso battles a south Florida big fish.

The next day, Lake Manatee produced great action, but mostly in the afternoon. By noon, we had nine bluegill. When we got back to the boat ramp at 3 p.m., our total included 50 bluegill (mostly large), two channel catfish, two gar and a 4-pound bass. My little No. 12 Snymph (simple nymph) accounted for most of the fish.

Two more Lake Manatee outings resulted in 110 mostly large bluegill.

Back in the salt, Dwight Meade of Siesta Key joined me for an outing out of Vamo. He wanted to learn that area. Dwight picked a good day to learn, because (for whatever reason) the action was slow. We landed two snook and a 19-inch trout. We also lost a sizeable redfish on a Johnson Silver Minnow Spoon.

Vinny Caruso of Bradenton fished the Manatee River on a fairly slow day. We landed seven bluegill and three channel catfish on No. 12 Snymphs.

I fished Roberts Bay on a scouting mission out of Blackburn Point and a very blustery day. I was prepping for scheduled fly-fishing trips. Fishing was very tough because of strong easterly winds, but I still managed six large ladyfish and a couple of decent spotted seatrout.

Because of continued strong wind, Jules Sisk of Ottawa, Ontario and I headed to Venice to fish a tidal creek off the Intracoastal Waterway. We totaled 22 small snook, a jack crevalle, ladyfish and spotted seatrout on baitfish imitations and MirrOlure MirrOdines. Jules not only caught his first snook, but also totaled five.

The spot is very good if you're looking for your first snook.

John Mallia of New York and I headed to Venice to fish that same spot on another windy day. Using MirrOlure MirrOdines, we landed 17 snook, three mangrove snapper and a spotted seatrout.

That spot usually results in mostly small snook, but will give up larger specimens on occasion. We've also taken redfish, flounder and small barracuda.

Mallia and I headed for a lake just east of Naples the following day. I've fished the lake on many occasions this year with decent success. My last trip to the location with Vinny Caruso  (Dec. 16) was slow, but we did manage seven peacock bass and a couple of Mayan cichlid. We also lost three large fish on fly to broken leaders and straightened hooks.

Mallia and I weren't so lucky. John had five or six blowups from decent peacock bass on a topwater plugs, but didn't hook up. He also had a few hits on a D.O.A. Shad Tail on a 1/16-ounce D.O.A. jig, but only managed one decent largemouth bass.

For whatever reason, that particular spot has slowed down tremendously since late summer and early fall.

Caruso and I drove to Alligator Alley which should be prime this time of year. When we arrived at our favorite spot, we were greeted by high and flowing water. That's not supposed to be the case this time of year.

Fishing along Alligator Alley is best during extreme low water. And that's usually the case from mid-December through May. Looks like we'll have to wait a month or so to return.

I'm excited by a new product I ordered from Rexfly ( It's a casting system for fly fishers that I can't wait to try. The Rexfly casting guarantees that you'll cast farther or you get your money back.

I will let you know how it works as soon as I give it a few tries. I'm excited by it. Without going into detail, I will just say the system makes a lot of sense.

JANUARY FORECAST:  Colder weather has shown up, so that will change things dramatically as the fish enter the winter period. Snook should move up creeks and rivers in search of warmer water. I usually fish local tidal rivers this time of year and have done extremely well until that last two years. Redfish and spotted seatrout action should be good on the shallow flats. Pompano, jack crevalle, bluefish and flounder should be on the increase. In fresh water, I anticipate decent action on bluegill, channel catfish and speckled perch. If the water levels drop, I anticipate strong action on oscar, Mayan cichlid, largemouth bass, bluegill and stumpknocker along Alligator Alley.

I offer 4-hour, 6-hour and 8-hour trips in fresh and salt waters. We fish from Tampa Bay to The Everglades. I also offer trips for spinning enthusiasts and fly fishers. I supply all tackle, leaders, flies and lures.

I also supply bottled water on all trips. On all-day trips, I provide lunch.

I recommend anglers wear a long-sleeve shirt, cap or hat and sunglasses. We don't wade on all trips, but you should wear flats boots or wading shoes. If you don't have any, then wear shoes that you don't mind getting wet.

We like to "layer" this time of year. Mornings can range from cold to chilly. But things typically warm up by late morning.

This is our busy time of year. If you're thinking about book a trip, please do so at your earliest convenience.

If you have any
questions, please call me at 941-284-3406 or email me at

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing