Friday, October 6, 2017

Photos of dead fish should be a thing of past

Three oblivious charterboat anglers pose beside their bounty of dead fish lined up on the cleaning table at the dock.

I realize I'm not all that smart.

Perhaps that's why there are many things in life I don't understand.

Like meanness. Cruelty. Insincerity. Rudeness.
This fine redfish was photographed quickly, then released.

I don't understand why some people who enjoy the great outdoors don't respect it. They throw trash out of the windows of their vehicles. Cut across shallow, fragile grass flats in their boat, gashing out ugly prop scars with their outboards.

Daily, I see people driving down the road smoking cigarettes and flipping them out the window when they're done.

There's a common thread here: selfishness. They want to so therefore they do.

What's the big deal?

One of my pet peeves is photos of dead fish. I don't mean photos of fish killed by pollution, red tide or some other natural disaster.

I mean fish that have been caught by humans, deposited in an ice chest and then later hung up, lined up or held in front of a camera.
Actions photos are better options than dead fish.

In most cases, the fish corpses are colorless and stiff.

What I see when I view photos of these dead fish is people saying, "Hey, look at me. Look at what a big man I am. Look how many fish I killed."

It's all ego-driven.

While littering, destruction of natural resources and other acts are illegal, taking photos of dead fish is perfectly legal.

But here's the rub: Sometimes what legal isn't necessarily right. It could fall under the auspices of outdoor ethics. If you make your living off the great outdoors, then you have an ethical responsibility to respect it and protect it.

If you want to see what I'm talking about, you'll see it on most any social media if you have any outdoors friends. I see it all the time on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

I was a professional outdoors writer for 35 years. And over the last 25 years of my career, I did not use a photo of dead fish. That practice was quite common in outdoors publications around the country in prior to 1985. But it slowly changed over the years. And you'll rarely see a dead-fish photo in any reputable outdoors publication these days.

I like to think I was ahead of the game.

Just recently, I saw a photo on the Facebook page of a local charterboat guide. His party of three smiling anglers posed beside 14 dead spotted seatrout and two Spanish mackerel lined up stiff and colorless on a cleaning table at the dock.

I also saw two local charter guides in a photo on television each holding dead snook. The fish were long dead, stiff and had their throats slashed.

I am offended by these pictures. They make me sick. They show no respect whatsoever for the fish, fisheries or great outdoors.

Why in hell are people still focusing on catching and killing limits of fish? Some might argue that I am against people catching fish and taking them home to eat.

Not so.

I am against the philosophy that you have to kill all or the majority of legal fish you catch.

It doesn't make much sense. It especially doesn't make economical sense. You pay $700 for an all-day charter to take home five pounds of filets. Care to figure out how much that 80 ounces fish flesh costs you?

If eating fish is the main goal, save the charter money and take your significant other out to a fine seafood restaurant.

You'll come out way ahead.

With that in mind, I don't mind if an angler wants to take a fish or two home. No big deal. But rather than posing with a fish corpse back at the dock, take a photo of the fish right after the catch while it's alive and vibrant.

I was watching an outdoors show on television recently where the host and guest were fishing for redfish in shallow water. They did pretty well, too.

They released most of the fish, but kept a 25-incher.

"That one's going in the skillet," the host grinned as he lifted the lid to the color and dropped the red in.

That didn't have to be in the video. It could have been edited out and no one would have be the wiser.

One practice that really annoys me is gaffing. I watch fishing shows on TV and they'll stick a gaff in a large fish, then haul it aboard. We as viewers have to watch as the fish struggles and bleeds.

I don't watch many fishing shows any more (especially those who seem to delight in killing fish), but sometimes you can't avoid it.

I'm just amazed at the number of dead-fish photos I see today. They're on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other media.

They annoy the crap out of me. I hope you feel the same way?

There are many things that were common practice 40 or 50 years ago that aren't cool today.

Some day photos of dead fish will be a thing of the past.

I certainly hope so.

We survived Irma and even got out a few times to catch fish

The author lands a nice peacock bass on fly rod while fishing a small lake near Naples. (Photo by John Weimer)

We are alive and well after Hurricane Irma. The nasty storm devastated a good portion of Florida.

Irma did heavy damage in the Florida Keys, Chokoloskee, Everglades City, Marco Island and Naples. When she hit the Keys, Irma was a Category 5 storm. She was still quite a bitch when she hit Chokoloskee and Everglades City.

Fortunately for our area, Irma moved inland and started to lighten up a bit. She was a Category 1 hurricane as she passed Sarasota.

Kathy and I evacuated the Wednesday prior. Our thinking was that if we waited, we might not be able to get out because of traffic and a lack of fuel. Still, it took us 18 hours to get to Atlanta, a drive that normally takes about eight hours.

We stayed until the following Wednesday, and we weren't certain we could back then. Even though it had been three days since Irma wreaked havoc on Florida, there was little gas available along Interstate 75, and the traffic reportedly was terrible.

I decided to take U.S. 19 back.

Good decision.

We had no problem finding gas. And traffic was light along the way. It took 14 hours to get home, but I think it was quicker than it would have been on I-75.

When we got home, we had a lot of debris in the yard, but no damage. Even our electricity was on!
I did get out fishing a few times in September. I spent a day around Buttonwood Harbor on the west side of Sarasota Bay and did well. I started fishing a couple of hours before daylight and targeted snook around dock lights. I caught and released five snook to 30 inches on my Gibby's Snook Shrimp.

At daylight, I paddled to Redfish Key where I encountered several schools of mullet -- normally a good sign for redfish.

However, redfish have been scarce for the past year or so around Buttonwood Harbor. So you can imagine my surprise when I hooked into a feisty red. I knew it was larger than average, but we impressed when it measured 32 inches.

I paddled north to Crabclaw Key and caught three more reds on five casts. They were all 27 inches or larger.

After that, I targeted spotted seatrout to complete my Slam. In addition, I landed bluefish, ladyfish and mangrove snapper.

John Weimer of Sarasota accompanied me on a trek south to Naples where we hoped to target peacock bass and large Mayan cichlid. We did well. We caught six big Mayans to 15 inches, six bluegill to 12 inches and eight peacock bass to 17.

We caught the bluegill and Mayan cichlid on popping bugs and Gibby's Snymphs under a strike indicator. We caught all of the peacock bass on chartreuse-and-white and olive-and-white Clouser Deep Minnows.

It will be interested to see what the look likes like following Hurricane Irma.

I fished Fort DeSoto on a shark trip and had fair success. I landed four small blacktip shark on ladyfish chunks. I'm hoping to get back up there soon and try catching a shark on a fly rod.

John Weimer and I fished Lake Manatee late in the month and caught 43 mostly hand-sized bluegill, a nice speckled perch and a 6-pound channel catfish. We used popping bugs and Gibby's Snymphs.

Interestingly enough, I caught most of my fish, including the speck and channel cat, on my new TFO Finesse .5-weight fly rod.

OCTOBER FORECAST: Should be great. October is the best month of the year as far as weather goes. Not too hot. Not too cold. Just right. In salt water, I anticipate good action on snook, spotted seatrout and redfish around Sarasota Bay. I predict Buttonwood Harbor and Little Sarasota Bay to be the hot spots. There also should be some good action off Stephens Point. I like to fish southern Tampa Bay this time of year.  Snook, spotted seatrout, redfish and flounder will be the featured fish. Shark, jack crevalle and ladyfish should also make their presence known. In fresh water, I anticipate good action on bluegill, bass and channel catfish in local lakes. Further south, I anticipate good action on peacock bass, Mayan cichlid, largemouth bass and bluegill.
Looks as if the fall is shaping up to be for great fishing. I'm starting to book up, so get in touch and secure your outing.
Call me at (941) 284-3406 or email

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing


Monday, July 31, 2017

Beach snook cooperated for fly-fishing anglers during July

Beach snook action hit high gear in July after a fairly slow start.

Stewart Lavelle shows off a fine fly-rod snook.
I had several clients fishing with me who caught their personal best snook on fly. Top of the chart goes to Stewart Lavelle of Sarasota, who bested a 28-incher. Ironically, Stewart hooked and lost a bigger snook on his next outing, losing the estimate 38-inch behemoth to a straightened hook.

In two trips, Steward hooked 28 snook and landed 18 -- not bad for his first two beach outings!

John Mallia of Buffalo, N.Y., isn't a fly fisher per se, but he did well on a beach snook trip in early July. John hooked 18 snook and landed 11 to 27 inches. Not only did he catch his largest snook on fly, but also his first snook on fly!

John Weimer joined me for a beach walk and a slow day. However, we found the fish late in the morning and landed five out of nine fish.

I got out by myself on July 11, and the stars were aligned. I hooked 30 snook and landed 22. I had an estimated 35-incher eat my D.T. Variation, but was only tight for a second.

I attended ICAST (International Convention of Allied Sport Fishing Trades) in Orlando and had a very good time. I worked the NuCanoe booth most of the time, but did get to tour the show for a few hours.

A lack of fly-fishing experience didn't hinder John Mallia.
NuCanoe unveiled a pair of new products. First up is the new Flint, a lightweight kayak that is less than $1,000. The new kayak is slightly less than 12 feet in length and has a myriad of features. It drew raves at ICAST. NuCanoe also debuted its new H2Proped Pedal Drive system. The system fits both the Pursuit and Frontier lines.

John Kis, a regular client from New Rochelle, N.Y. experienced his first day on the beach and did well. He landed two of three snook he hooked. There were very good numbers of snook on the beach, but they weren't exactly in a feeding mood.

For beach snook fishing, I use a 6-weight TFO BVK Rod, BVK Reel and an Orvis clear intermediate sinktip line. My fly of choice is none other than my D.T. Variation.

John Kis battles a snook on fly rod.
I have put together a couple of videos on beach snook fishing. You can check them out on YouTube: and In addition, I did an instructional video on how to tie the D.T. Variation:

 There are plenty of snook in the surf and they should remain there for the next month or so. All we need is weather conducive for sight-fishing.

I spent a couple of productive days fly fishing in fresh water. First time out, I launched at Benderson Park and caught 30 bluegill, four bass and a hefty channel catfish. All fish were caught on Gibby's Snymph under a strike indicator.

John Weimer and I headed out to Myakka River State Park, but found little going on. So, we loaded the kayaks back on the trailer and drove to Benderson Park. We caught a few fish  on Gibby's Snymphs, but things didn't get hot until we tied on tandem, No. 12 and 14 Myakka Minnows. We ended the day  with more than 180 bluegill and five bass. We caught two at a time on about 12 occasions. John lost the fish of day. We're not sure what it was, but speculate it was a fairly large bass or channel catfish that was able to get back into the vegetation and break his tippet.

We also discovered hand-sized bluegill in deep water and were able to get them to hit our tandem Myakka Minnows. This lake is not heavily fished.

AUGUST FORECAST: I anticipate very good beach snook action as look was the weather cooperates. August normally is the peak month for this exciting activity. Large fish have been pretty common throughout the summer. In Sarasota Bay, look for decent action on spotted seatrout, snook, ladyfish and mangrove snapper. In local lakes and rivers, expect good bass, bluegill, channel catfish and shellcracker action.

If you'd like to experience some of the best sight-fishing Florida has to offer, please give me a call or email me:

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing


Monday, June 12, 2017

Trout and good times abound on the Oconaluftee River

The Oconaluftee River is not only beautiful, but also filled with rainbow and brown trout.
For a Floridian, few things are better than driving north and getting the opportunity to fly fish for cold-water-trout.

The author and a nice rainbow trout.
When my wife informed me that we were going to spend a week in Gatlinburg, Tenn., with family, I was thrilled. Not only would I spend quality time with family, but also (hopefully) get a chance to wet a line.

I was correct on both counts.

There are numerous streams around the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge area of Tennessee. But they might as well be scarce when you're a warm-water angler and unaccustomed to fly fishing for trout. There's a learning curve there.

I succeeded, but not without help.

I spent a day on the Little River which was just a short drive from our mountain-top cabin. Though the stream is picturesque, it's also heavily fished. Access points are plentiful along the road that parallels the river. Because the accesses are plentiful and easy, the stream gets fished quite a lot. So, you can bet trout in the Little River have seen every fly and every tactic.

Guide Travis Williams
Still, I caught and released three small rainbows -- quite a feat for this humble Floridian. But I knew to really figure things out, I needed the expertise of a local guide. I found that guide at The Smoky Mountain Angler (, a quaint little fly shop in Gatlinburg. There, I connected with Travis Williams, a Gatlinburg native who also is a Gatlinburg Police officer.

When not patrolling the city's streets, you can find Williams on one of the many streams around the area.

The morning of our scheduled outing, I met Williams at the shop where I put on a set of waders and a pair of felt-soled boots. We then jumped in his GMC Yukon for the 45-minute drive to the Oconaluftee River in North Carolina, just a stone's throw from Cherokee, N.C.

We began catching fish almost immediately on tandem-rigged pheasant-tail nymphs under a strike indicator.

Most of the rainbow trout were small, ranging from six to 12 inches in length. However, we also managed to land a few of 15 inches or more. And we had a couple of fish from 17 to 20 inches before the hook pulled or they broke the 5X tippet.

We also caught a pair of small brown trout.
Another beautiful rainbow trout.

The bigger trout that we encountered were "dumb stockers," according to Williams, who explained they were stocked into Cherokee Reservation waters and made the short swim upstream.

At mid-afternoon, we opted to spent the rest of the outing targeting native brook trout, a species that is usually small and found high in the mountains. We drove to a stream that cascaded down a mountainside at about 6,000 feet. The stream was maybe 10 feet wide in places with pools located along the way. Targeted each pool with a dry fly-and-nymph combo. We hooked a couple of the colorful and wild brookies, but didn't land one. We were able to land a couple of small rainbows that also are fairly plentiful in the diminutive streams.

We didn't get out Slam -- a rainbow, brown and brook trout in one day.

There's always next time.

Successful trout fishing is knowing not only what flies to use, but also being able to identify where trout likely are hiding. It was easy with Williams there to assist. By mid-morning, I was able to figure out where the trout likely were.

For most of the morning, we used a 10-foot, 2-weight fly rod.

"We use the 10-footers because they make it easier to keep line off the water," Williams explained.

Most of the time, we had little more than a foot of fly line outside the rod tip. That allowed us to fish the small holes correctly and with the right drift.

I was amazed that we could be so close to the spots and catch fish.

Most of our fish seemed to home in on the nymphs. Although we tried a dry fly, we only caught a fish or two on the surface.

I told Williams a couple of times during our outing that I can see how trout fishing in those beautiful waters could be addicting.

Don't know when I'll get back. I hope it's not long.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Despite the drought, freshwater fishing still produces

John Weimer of Sarasota admires a colorful oscar he caught on a Myakka Minnow. (Photo by Steve Gibson)
Wind and heat were the culprits of May as far as fishing is concerned along Southwest Florida.

With that in mind, most of our attention was focused on freshwater fishing throughout the region.

We visited a variety of spots, including Alligator Alley, The Everglades, Webb Lake, Tenoroc  Fish Management Area and Lake Manatee. We also spent some time fly fishing the surf for snook.

Let's cover the freshwater efforts.

Webb Lake is a long body of water located in the Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area just east of Punta Gorda in Charlotte County. John Weimer of Sarasota accompanied me for a fly-fishing endeavor. I've fished Webb Lake on a number of occasions over the years, but this was the first trip of 2017.

We were greeted by extreme low water, something that's quite common through this state that has been in a severe drought. Still, we were able to catch a few fish. We totaled seven largemouth bass, 21 mostly hand-sized bluegill, a shellcracker and a gar.

We ventured to Miami-Dade County along the Tamiami Trail and had a blast. We launched the NuCanoe Kayaks amid a flurry of mosquitoes (bring your bug spray!) and began catching fish immediately. We started out casting popping bugs and caught Mayan cichlid, largemouth bass and oscar. When the topwater bite ended, we switched to Myakka Minnows and continued our assault on the same species. At mid-day, I grabbed a 6-weight rod and cast a No. 6 Clouser for peacock bass. I broke off one peacock and caught a bunch of Mayan cichlid, oscar and largemouth bass.

I'll definitely hit this spot again!

Jim Snyder of Naples joined me for an outing along Alligator Alley. Fishing was slow compared to previous trips, but we still managed 50 Mayan cichlid, 30 oscar, 10 largemouth bass, five bluegill and a bunch of stumpknocker and warmouth perch. All fish were caught on Myakka Minnows.

I donated the trip to the Naples Backcountry Fly Fishers. Snyder bought the outing at the club's annual banquet.

John Weimer and I visited the Tenoroc Fish Management Area near Lakeland. We fished Lake No. 2 and experienced slow action. We combined to catch two largemouth bass on No. 4 popping bugs and a bluegill on a Gibby's Snymph under a strike indicator. Water was extremely low.

Despite slow action, we'll definitely return to Tenoroc in the fall.

Late in the month, Weimer and I decided to do something different.

"Why don't we fish Lake Manatee, but launch at the state park?" he said.

Launching at Lake Manatee State Park would give us access to water that normally out of range. The park is a couple of miles west of our normal launch.

I have an annual state park pass, so I'm able to get into the park after hours. State Parks don't open until 8 a.m., but we entered the park at 6:15 a.m. and were on the water by 6:30.

It was like fishing a new spot. We had no idea where to go and the water was extremely low. We paddled directly across the lake from the boat ramp to the north shore. We pulled into a small cover and were greeted by breaking fish over a wide area.

I cast a No. 8 popping bug and missed a fish. I hooked and landed a hand-sized bluegill on my second cast. I then caught a decent sunshine bass and a 1 1/2-pound largemouth bass. Weimer caught the first sunshine bass of his fly-fishing career.

When that action slowed, we noticed several tails piercing the water's surface. Closer inspection revealed they were from channel catfish grubbing along the bottom. We caught a half dozen on popping bugs. Later, we beached out kayaks and walked along the shoreline, casting to tailing fish.

We ended up with 17 channel cats to six pounds. We caught a majority them on bead-head Squirmy Worms on No. 12 scud hooks.

We also did a number of beach snook outings during May. For some reason, numbers were down from the previous month. We saw an average of 15 snook per trip. We hooked a couple and landed one.

JUNE FORECAST: Look for increased numbers of snook in the surf along area beaches. I you like to sight-fish with a fly rod, this is for you. Bay fishing should result in decent numbers of spotted seatrout, snook, ladyfish and jack crevalle. Redfish numbers have been down, and I don't anticipate any change. Night fishing around lighted docks should produce good numbers of snook. In fresh water, Lake Manatee is the best bet for bluegill, largemouth bass and channel catfish.

Gibby's Tip of the Month:  In order to have success when sight-fishing, you must be able to see the fish. To see the fish, you must have a pair of quality sunglasses. Most fly anglers will spend several hundred dollars on a fly rod. But without a good pair of sunglasses, the most expensive fly rod won't help you if you can't see the fish. A good pair of sunglasses is just a piece of equipment that will help you do the job. The money spent is up front. You'll enjoy the benefits of your sunglasses for years. Don't cheap out. You'll regret it.

I'm heading up to Tennessee for a week where I'll cast a few flies for rainbow and brown trout. When I return, my battery should be recharged and ready to go. I expect beach snook to be in the spotlight.

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Lake Manatee rarely disappoints intrepid anglers

The author shows off a sight-fished channel cat that hit a fly in 12 inches of water in Lake Manatee. (Photo by John Weimer)
On the way out to Lake Manatee, John Weimer and I were discussing the lack of sunshine bass in the popular Manatee County body of water.

"The state used to stock them in Lake Manatee, but I don't know if they do anymore?" I said. "I caught a small sunshine bass three years ago, but none since."

John Weimer holds his first sunshine bass.
Sunshine bass are hybrid fish. They're a cross between a white bass and a striped bass. They grow fast, are strong and put up a great fight on appropriate tackle.

On this outing, we launched at Lake Manatee State Park off State Road 64. We normally launch the kayaks a couple of miles up the lake at Lake Manatee Fish Camp. But Weimer suggested we try the ramp at the park so that we could fish some new water.

Sounded like a good idea. And since I have an annual state park entrance pass, we could launch any time we wanted. State parks don't open until 8 a.m., which is a little late to get started when you're an angler.
Weimer battles a channel catfish on fly rod.

With an annual entrance pass, park officials give you the gate code so that you can enter the park after hours.

We launched at 6:15 and paddles directly across the lake. We had no idea where to fish, but the some striking fish made the decision very easy.

I got a hit on my first cast, but missed the fish. I connected with a feisty bluegill on my second cast.
The third cast resulted in a small sunshine bass, my first from Lake Manatee in several years. Weimer connected with a sunshine bass a few casts last. It was the first he'd ever caught.

Weimer shows off his channel catfish.
The scenario changed shortly thereafter. I caught a pair of decent bass, but the highlight of the day was channel catfish. They were cruising the shallows and actually tailing.

I caught four on No. 8 popping bugs. We then beached our NuCanoe kayaks and began walking along the shoreline, looking for tailers. It was a productive afternoon.

Using a bead-head Squirmy Worm on a No. 12 scud hook, I added 12 more cats to my tally. Weimer connected with three more. The cats ranged from two to six pounds.

For the uninformed, channel cats are highly sought throughout this country's fresh waters. They're strong, speedy fish that can take you deep into your backing. They readily take flies and will make you wonder if you should be using a heavier fly rod.

A sold catfish takes the author into the backing on his fly reel.
I've caught them over the year from Lake Manatee, but usually on Myakka Minnows or bead-head nymphs under a strike indicator cast blindly along the lake's vegetated shoreline. I have never encountered them tailing nor sight-fishing for them in shallow water.

I have been fishing Lake Manatee for more than 30 years. I think it's one of the best lakes in the state for bluegill, speckled perch and channel catfish. It's a pretty good bass fishery, but I rarely target them. My bass are largely bycatch when targeting panfish.

This past spring was great for speckled perch (black crappie). They run larger than average in Lake Manatee, often exceeding two pounds.  They hit nymphs greedily and put up a good battle on light fly rods.

This sunshine bass fell for a popping bug.
For nymph fishing, I use a 2-weight TFO Finesse fly rod, floating line and 7 1/2-foot leader. I usually about 18 inches of 8-pound fluorocarbon tippet. I believe the key to success when nymphing lakes is to not be too aggressive. I'll twitch the nymph slightly, then let it sit. Many of the hits take place when the nymph is just sitting there.

It's not a bad idea to start the day with a small popping bug. I prefer chartreuse, but I'm sure other colors with work. I like poppers with a distinct cupped face. I cast them out, let them sit and then give them a significant "pop." That's about all I do. Most of the hits take place with the popper just sitting on the surface.

My Myakka Minnow also works well on Lake Minnow. Again, the key is to not be too aggressive with it. A slow, deliberate retrieve works best.

Lake Manatee isn't the easiest lake to fish. I've put in more hours than I care to admit over the years. And that effort has paid off nicely.

I like to fish the lake in October through May. I'll fish in the summer if the water level is decent.
Lake Manatee is located in Manatee County nine miles east of Interstate 75 off State Road 64. It's not heavily fished, and you'll likely have much of the lake to yourself on any given day. Outboard engines are allowed, but maximum horsepower is 20.

I've had many memorable days on Lake Manatee, but my latest outing may be atop the list. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Snook are in the surf and hungry for a fly

Pat Martin of New York battles his first beach snook on fly rod in the Gulf of Mexico.
You never know when you'll be surprised. That happened early in April when my wife and I drove down to Nokomis Beach to spend a leisurely few hours in the sun.

While there, I decided to take a walk. Of course, I would have to see if there were any snook in the surf.
John Kis shows off one of six snook he caught on topwater plugs.

Most years, I don't worry about snook in the surf until about mid-May. But this year has been extremely warm. So, I figured there could be a fish or two in the surf.

Wrong! I spotted more than 50 on my short stroll. I saw singles, doubles and schools up to 15 fish.
That was good news because I had Pat Martin scheduled for a trip the next day. He had originally inquired about fly fishing the surf for snook when he booked the trip a few weeks earlier. At the time, I told him it was a little early to hit the beach. I suggested instead that we fish Sarasota Bay from the kayaks and target snook around dock lights before dawn.

He agreed.

When I called to touch bases prior to our outing, I mentioned the snook in surf.
Bill Koenaman of Indiana brings a nice trout to the kayak.

"I think it's doable," I said.

Martin was agreeable and we met the following morning at 7 and drove south to the beach.

We arrived, grabbed out fly rods and walked to the surf. From there, we began walking north, eyes glued on the surf.

Didn't take long before I spotted a pair of snook 10 feet off the beach, swimming south. Martin didn't see them, but followed my directions and laid down a perfect cast. Two strips later, he was into his first beach snook.

Martin hooked three more snook that morning, landing two. We saw 80 snook over the morning.

This curious manatee decided to check out the kayak.
I usually don't start walking the beaches until May. I've found the prime months to be July and August.

These fish are made for fly fishing. They cruise the surf just a few feet from the dry sand. All it takes is the ability to see them and the ability to put a fly front of them.

Last season was the best in more than five years. I'm hoping this season is as good.

Required gear includes a cap or hat, polarized sunglasses, sunscreen, water, 6- to 8-weight fly rod, floating or sinktip line, leader and flies. I also like to wear flats boots when walking the beach.

On this first outing of the year, we used my new High Intensity Minnow, a glass minnow imitation that has proven deadly on a variety of fish in Sarasota Bay. I tied up a bunch on No. 1 hooks with beach snook in mind.

We weren't disappointed.

You can find snook in the surf from Anna Maria Island to Marco Island. Some beaches are better than others. You'll just have to figure that out. And you'll find that a beach that is hot one week won't have as many snook the next.

We spent the rest of the month fishing from our NuCanoes. Repeat client Bill Koenaman of Fort Wayne, Ind., had a good day fishing around Buttonwood Harbor. We caught and released more than 50 spotted seatrout and a snook. Most of the fish were taken on MirrOlure MirrOdines.

John Kis of New Rochelle, N.Y. had a fair day while fishing topwater plugs and jigs in Buttonwood Harbor. We landed six snook to 26 inches, one redfish and five spotted seatrout. I have been fishing John for nearly 10 years.

Repeat client Kirk Klingensmith of Corning, N.Y. caught four snook to 26 inches, a couple of spotted seatrout and a ladyfish of poppers while fly fishing around Buttonwood Harbor.

Milton Cheney of Sarasota joined me for an outing around Buttonwood Harbor. Action was slow, but we managed eight spotted seatrout to 19 inches on MirrOlure Lil Johns on light jigs.

A solo outing to Buttonwood Harbor produced a 28-inch snook, six spotted seatrout to 18 inches and a ladyfish. All fish were taken on High Intensity Minnows.

John Weimer of Sarasota and I fished a small lake near Naples and had a really slow day. The lake normally produces good numbers of peacock bass, Mayan cichlid, bluegill, shellcracker and largemouth bass. However, the last year's drought has resulted in extreme low water and excessive aquatic vegetation.

The drought has had an effect on Lake Manatee, too. The lake is down and places where we normally catch fish are now nearly dry.

MAY FORECAST: I look for improved beach snook action, with improved numbers as the days go by. Keys to success include calm conditions and clear water. As long as the wind if from the east, conditions are usually good. Night snook action should remain good around lighted docks. Spotted seatrout action should be good over deep grass and along the edges of the flats in Sarasota Bay. Snook also should cooperate on the flats and around mangrove islands.

My beach snook trips usually begin to book up in May. To assure you get the day(s) you want, please book early by contacting me. Email is Phone number is 941-284-3406.

As always, we couldn't do this without the help of your sponsors: NuCanoe, TFO, Peak Fishing, Economy Tackle, MirrOlure and D.O.A. Lures.

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Tiger Lake offers fantastic fly fishing for bluegill and other species

John Weimer of Sarasota battles a bulldog bluegill on fly rod at Tiger Lake in Polk County.
Thank you, Chuck.

Weimer shows off a fine bluegill.
The late Chuck Collins introduced me to Tiger Lake more than 25 years ago. I'll never forget Collins telling me about the population of large bluegill in the 2,200 lake located in Polk County near the small city of Lake Wales.

I don't fish the lake often, but it doesn't let me down when I do.

When I first started fly fishing the lake, I used only small popping bugs designed to catch bluegill and bass. Since then, I've added nymphs to me arsenal.

I drove to Tiger Lake recently with John Weimer of the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers in Sarasota. Weimer had never fished the lake, but came away very impressed.

"What a great lake," he said. "I don't know how many fish we caught."

We launched our NuCanoe kayaks ( at Bud's RV Park and Marina (1700 Tiger Lake Road, Lake Wales, 893-696-2274). Launch fee is $5 and there is ample parking. The lake is just a short paddle from the ramp.

This speckled perch fell for a Gibby's Snymph.
Weimer and I paddled into the lake and began fishing immediately. He caught a 3-weight fly rod with a Gibby's Snymph under a strike indicator. I cast a No. 10 popper on a 3-weight rod.

We caught a few fish (bluegill and shellcracker) around Kissimmee grass and reeds,  but the action wasn't what we had envisioned.

"Last time I was here, we caught a bunch of fish along the north shoreline," I told Weimer.
We fished that shoreline for the next five hours and caught more fish that we could count. We caught bluegill to 10 1/2 inches, plump shellcracker, feisty largemouth bass and chunky speckled perch (black crappie). I'm not sure if the fish quit hitting or we ran out of time.

I'm sure we caught more than 100 fish.

Tiger Lake has plenty of fly-eating shellcracker.
At one point, Weimer, who moved to Florida from his native state of Oregon, caught 10 bluegill in row from a small opening in the lily pads.

We caught a few fish from grassy areas and around reeds. However, most of the fish were concentrated in the vast fields of lily pads.

I'm sure poppers would resulted in plenty of bluegill. But I'm not certain we would have caught any shellcracker or speckled perch on poppers.

I've been using Gibby's Snymphs (simple nymph) since I created the pattern a few years ago with great results. The nymphs work well on most freshwater lakes, ponds and streams. I usually tie them on No. 10 hooks, but I'm sure you could tie them on larger and smaller hooks and do well.
I used a brown Snymph; Weimer an olive.

Bass fishing can be quite good on Tiger Lake. A few years, we shot a TV show at Tiger. We planned to video the excellent bluegill action, but bass kept getting in the way. Took an hour or so (and a half dozen 3-4-pound bass) before we hooked a bluegill. Bass just wouldn't leave our flies alone!

It's interesting to note that Tiger Lake rarely is mentioned among Florida's top spots for bluegill. Yet, fly fishing for bluegill on the relatively shallow lake consistently is very good to excellent.
I can't imagine another lake being any better.

Bass, speckled perch and shellcracker, as you might imagine, are likely bonuses.

If you're thinking about fishing this hidden gem, you might want to take a 7- or 8-weight fly rod with floating line for bass. Try poppers early, and then switch to worm-like flies, Clouser Deep Minnows or Joe Mahler's Straw Boss.

Also, carry a 3-weight for smaller poppers and a 2-weight for nymphs. I'm sure my Myakka Minnow will result in a bevy of big bluegill.

Next time we get a prediction for light wind, you can bet I'll be heading for Tiger Lake. That's the body of water that Chuck Collins introduced me to more than 25 years ago.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Terry Byce of Lakewood Ranch, Fla., shows off a fine spotted seatrout caught on a Clouser Deep Minnow.

I really enjoyed March fishing -- both in fresh and salt waters.

Saltwater action picked up nicely, with spotted seatrout, snook and pompano leading the way. Oh, and for you fly fishers, there usually were plenty of ladyfish around to stretch lines and make acrobatic leaps.
Micah Breckenridge, 17, is a snook master.

In fresh water, we fished a number of places including Lake Manatee, Alligator Alley and Shell Creek.

Dr. Mac  Steiner of Ohio joined me for an outing on Sarasota Bay and Buttonwood Harbor. He caught snook to 22 inches, redfish to 20, spotted seatrout to 24 and flounder on Gibby's Glass Minnow and MirrOlure Lil Johns on light jigs.

Len Tavormina of Sarasota caught snook to 24 inches, spotted seatrout to three pounds, pompano and ladyfish on MirrOlure Lil Johns on light jigs around Buttonwood Harbor.

Dr. David Breckenridge and son Micah had a good outing around Buttonwood Harbor, catching eight snook to 25 inches, 25 trout to 23 and ladyfish on MirrOlure Lil Johns on light jigs and MirrOlure MirrOdines.
Big bluegill no problem for Melvin Johnson of New Mexico.

Terry Byce of Lakewood Ranch had a fairly slow day, catching only a few trout and ladyfish on Gibby's Glass Minnow and a Clouser Deep Minnow. However, one of his trout was a 5-pounder which was caught on the edge of a grass flat in Buttonwood Harbor.

Melvin Johnson of New Mexico and Tom "Gator" Kayser of Ohio joined me for a pair of trips -- one in fresh water and the other in the salt.

First day out, the two professional trout guides (Tom guides in Montana; Melvin in New Mexico) faced tough conditions but did well on Lake Manatee. They caught a dozen speckled perch to two pounds, 15 hand-size bluegill and several largemouth bass to three pounds on Gibby's Snymphs and Ruby-Eyed Leeches under strike indicators.

John Weimer battles a Lake Manatee largemouth bass.
Second day, they did well around Buttonwood Harbor, catching 30 spotted seatrout to 22 inches and loads of ladyfish on Gibby's Glass Minnows.

John  Weimer of Sarasota joined me on several freshwater outings. We fished Shell Creek and had a fair day, catching six largemouth bass, 18 bluegill and 10 stumpknocker on Myakka Minnows, popping bugs and Gibby's Snymphs under a strike indicator.

Next time out, we fished Lake Manatee and caught 12 oversized bluegill, eight largemouth bass to two pounds, four speckled perch to 2 pounds and a four-pound channel catfish on Gibby's Snymphs under a strike indicator.

We had one banner day at Lake Manatee, catching a record (for us) 30 speckled perch to two pounds, 20 hand-sized bluegill, five largemouth bass and a stumpknocker on Gibby's Snymphs under a strike indicator. Our previous best day on specks was 17.

I did some scouting trips and had good action. On one trip, I caught 35 spotted seatrout to 24 inches and four pompano to three pounds on MirrOlure MirrOdines and MirrOlure Lil Johns on light jigs. On another, I used Gibby's Glass Minnows to catch snook to 26 inches and spotted seatrout to 25 around Buttonwood Harbor.

APRIL FORECAST: After experiencing pretty good action in March, I can only predict better fishing April. Spotted seatrout should continue to hit a variety of lures and flies around Sarasota Bay. I also anticipate good action on snook before daylight, ladyfish and pompano. Redfish action hasn't been the best, but could improve in April. In fresh water, I look for good action in Lake Manatee on bluegill, channel catfish and largemouth bass. I think speckled perch action will slow down and the popular panfish move back into deeper water. Fly fishing along Alligator Alley should continue hot until the rainy season on oscar, Mayan cichlid, largemouth bass, bluegill and stumpknocker.

April can be a fun month, and I anticipate it being busy. Please book your trips early to assure you of the days you want.

Book trips by calling me (941-284-3406) or email (
I look forward to leading you on an exciting kayak-fishing adventure.

As always, I want to thank my sponsors: NuCanoe, TFO and Mirrolure. 

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Gibby's Snymph opens up a whole new world in Florida freshwater fishing

Gibby's Snymph is very effective on a variety of fish and amazingly easy to tie.
Nymphs aren't just for trout.

I found that out a few years back after a productive trout trip to northeastern Georgia. Fishing out of Unicoi Outfitters in Helen, Ga., we caught an impressive number of rainbow trout on nymphs in the Chattahoochee River, Soqui  River, Chestatee River and Noontootla Creek.

The Snymph resulted is this fine speckled perch.
While drifting nymphs in the current, the proverbial light bulb went on in my head.

"I'll bet nymphs would  be great on panfish back in Florida," I thought to myself.

I was only half right.

Not only are nymphs great for bluegill, but also speckled perch (black crappie), shellcracker, largemouth bass, channel catfish and other species.

Unlike nymphs used to entice trout, they don't have to be fancy or complicated. In fact, the pattern I tie and use is quite simple. It's so simple that I've dubbed it Gibby's Snymph (a combination of the words simple and nymph). It's a bead-head nymph, with a squirrel tail, dubbed body and wire ribbing.

Four steps and you're done. Four simple steps and you're ready to fish -- and catch fish.

Big fish also eat nymphs.

Hook: Bass Pro White River No. 10 396 nymph

Thread: Uni

Head: 1/8 Gold or copper bead

Tail: Squirrel

Ribbing: Fine gold wire

Put bead on hook and place in vise. Tie in thread and wrap to hook bend. Tie in sparse bunch of squirrel hair. Dub body, building it up toward the bead. Wrap ribbing forward and whip finish.
Voila! You're ready to fish.
Hefty shellcracker eat nymphs.

I tie Snymphs is several colors: tan; brown, olive and rust. Those colors have all produced. I'm sure other colors also would produce.

I fish the Snymph under an strike indicator. I like Lightning Strike 1/2-inch fluorescent yellow strike indicators. I've found they're the best and simplest to use for what I do in Florida.

Fishing the Snymph is pretty simple, too. I cast the Snymph to the edge of the structure (grass, lily pads, trees, rocks, etc.) and allow it to sink. I don't work the Snymph too much. I use a couple of one-inch strips in succession and then allow the Snymph to sink again. If there's any chop on the water, that usually is enough to give the Snymph all the action needed.

One thing I've found important is to point your rod tip straight down the line toward the strike indicator. With the rod tip in the water, all slack is removed from the fly line. That is important when the indicator goes under and it's time to set the hook. With no slack in the line, setting the hook is easy and usually effective.

You might think the Snymph is only good for small fish. Not so. I've taken bluegill to 12 inches, speckled perch to 2 1/2 pounds, large shellcracker, bass to 5 pounds, channel catfish to 7, Mayan cichlid, peacock bass, gar, tilapia and oscar.

This large tilapia inhaled a Gibby's Snymph.
Back when I first started fly fishing in Florida's fresh waters, I used popping bugs. I used popping bug for bluegill. I used larger poppers for bass. I caught mostly bluegill and bass. On rare occasions, I caught shellcracker and speckled perch.

It was fun when the topwater bite was  going on. When it slowed, it was time to go home.

That all changed after my trip to northeast Georgia to fly fish for trout. That opened up a whole new world.

I found out that when the topwater bite ends, the day is just beginning when you switch to subsurface flies.

In fact, the subsurface bite usually is much better!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Snook action was the strong point of February

Dr. John Lacy of Kentucky shows off one of the eight snook he caught on MirrOlure Lil Johns.
With unseasonably warm weather, it was no surprise that snook ruled during February. Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing clients landed snook to 30 inches on fly and spin gear while fishing around lighted docks and in the Longboat Key rim canal.
Jon Freyer battles an Alligator Alley oscar on fly rod.

We also encountered good numbers of spotted seatrout on fly and spin gear in Sarasota Bay over deep grass patches off Whale Key.

Tim Foster, a winter resident from Montana, caught 20 spotted seatrout and a few ladyfish on my new glass minnow fly. He also lost a couple of snook on a very windy day.

I spent a day at the Florida Sportsman Show in Fort Myers, helping out NuCanoe. I demonstrated how to fly fish from a NuCanoe Frontier. The NuCanoe Frontier and Pursuits are no doubt the best kayaks for fly fishing on the market.

After fishing with me, Foster sold his paddleboard and bought a NuCanoe Pursuit from West Coast Kayaks in St. Petersburg. One outing is all it took to convince him that the Pursuit was the boat he needed for fly fishing!

I spent a day fishing around Buttonwood Harbor with good success. I caught 10 snook on fly and jigs. In addition, I landed 30 trout to 24 inches, pompano and ladyfish.

Annie Ewert puts the pressure on a big fish.
I accompanied about 20 members of the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers on an expedition to Alligator Alley for a two-day outing. Fly fishing was great and everyone caught more oscar, Mayan cichlid, largemouth bass, stumpknocker and warmouth perch than they could count.

After we got back from Alligator Alley, I demonstrated how to fly fish from the NuCanoe Pursuit at the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers Casting Clinic at The Meadows in Sarasota. Members were very interested in the boat.

Tim Foster fished with me again and did fair despite strong wind. He landed two snook, five spotted seatrout and ladyfish.

Repeat clients Al Ewert of Connecticut and daughter Annie of New Hampshire caught 25 spotted seatrout, ladyfish and flounder on fly and spin around Buttonwood Harbor.

Fly fisher Tim Foster stands and battles a spotted seatrout.
Tom Biondo of Bradenton fished with me at Lake Manatee and had an interesting day. New to fishing, Biondo caught large bluegill and speckled perch on nymphs under a strike indicator. In all, we totaled eight specks, 15 bluegill and a largemouth bass.

Jim Doughton of Gainesville and Dr. Pete Gearan joined me for a windy day of fly fishing around Buttonwood Harbor. They managed spotted seatrout and ladyfish on my new glass minnow fly. In addition, they used the outing to test out the NuCanoe Pursuit and Frontier.

Dr. John Lacy of Kentucky fished with me again and had an exceptional  day. He caught eight snook to 27 inches on MirrOlure Lil Johns on light jigs. He also landed spotted seatrout to14 inches, flounder to 15 and ladyfish on jigs and MirrOlure MirrOdines.

Longtime fried Jon Freyer of Ludington, Mich., visited Alligator Alley for the first time and came away impressed. He caught the usual: oscar, Mayan cichlid, largemouth bass, bluegill and stumpknocker on Myakka Minnows. He caught more fish than he could count.
Fly fishing along Alligator should remain strong through May.

MARCH FORECAST: We anticipate continued excellent action on spotted seatrout and snook. In addition, redfish activity should be good on the flats around Sarasota Bay. Night fishing for snook will continue to be excellent on fly and spin gear. In fresh water, Lake Manatee should produce decent amounts of hand-sized bluegill, large speckled perch, largemouth bass, shellcracker and channel catfish. Expeditions to Alligator Alley will result in oscar, Mayan cichlid, largemouth bass, bluegill and stumpknocker.

As usual, I'd like to thank my great sponsors: NuCanoe, MirrOlure, D.O.A. Lures, TFO Fly Rods and Peak Fishing. They all play an important part in the success of Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing.

If you'd like to spend a day on the water, please give me call (941-284-3406) or email me (

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing