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