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