Wednesday, January 3, 2018

December was a potpourri of action: peacock bass to large spotted seatrout

John Weimer of Sarasota shows off one of the may large spotted seatrout he caught from Sarasota Bay. 
For the past two months or so, we've been concentrating our efforts around the freshwater lakes and streams of southwest Florida.

First, we like to catch fish. And we've found that the state's lakes and streams result in bent fly rods!
Second, there's much more to Florida than salt water.
The author and a fine peacock bass caught on 5 weight.

We've been fishing the state's salt waters since 1971. We began fishing the Gulf of Mexico and Choctawhatchee Bay around Fort Walton Beach. I was in the Air Force then, and stationed at Eglin AFB.

We moved to Sarasota in 1975 and have been here ever since.

What we've discovered is that the region's lakes and rivers often are overlooked and underfished. That's a good combination for those who want to catch fish on fly.

For the most part, we target hand-sized bluegill, shellcracker, largemouth bass and channel catfish. That's particularly true when we're fishing around Sarasota. Our favorite spot to fish in Lake Manatee, a 2,400-acre reservoir located 9 miles east of Interstate 75 on State Road 64. This lake is lightly fished and chock full of bluegill, speckled perch (black crappie), shellcracker, largemouth bass and channel catfish.
John Weimer's bluefish put up quite a battle.

We also fish the Manatee River, Myakka River, Upper Myakka Lake and Benderson Lake.
For this, we use .5- to 6-weight fly rods. I like to cast No. 12 Gibby's Snymphs  (simple nymphs) under a strike indicator on my .5-weight TFO fly rod. I'll rig my 2-weight with tandem Myakka Minnows. I'll cast a small popping bug on a 3-weight TFO.

Best time of year to fish Lake Manatee and other nearby waters is November through May.

I also love to travel south to fish Alligator Alley and the waterways around Naples.

At Alligator Alley, I target oscar, but also catch bluegill, largemouth bass, Mayan cichlid, peacock bass and stumpknocker. I most often cast a 3- or 4-weight rod loaded with floating line and 8-pound fluorocarbon leader. My fly of choice is my Myakka Minnow in gold, copper, brown or black. If you don't get cut off or lose your fly to a snag, often you can fish all day with one fly.

When fishing Alligator Alley, we often catch more than 200 fish each. I estimate that 60 percent of the catch will be oscar, an exotic that was unintentionally introduced into south Florida waters in 1954. Oscar are extremely strong and readily take a fly.

The waterways around Naples can be even better -- not in terms of numbers, but in quality. All species (oscar, peacock bass, bluegill, shellcracker, largemouth bass) seem to run a little larger than average.

I fish Naples from May through December. I've found the colder months to be a little slow.
Peacock bass there range from just a few inches to more than 5 pounds. My largest on fly is a 5 1/2 pounder that I caught in November . We usually cast 5- or 6-weight rods, floating lines, 8-pound fluorocarbon leaders and JR's Craft Fur Minnows or my Struttin' Peacock Fly. I've also caught plenty of peacock  bass on nymphs, Myakka Minnows and popping bugs.

Peacock bass are very strong and will test the skills of any fly angler.

Butterfly beacocks were introduced into south Florida waters by the state in 1984 and have thrived. Maximum size of butterfly peacocks is about 10 pounds, but the average size is 2.

I've found peacocks like to hang out around docks, rocks and aquatic vegetation like hydrilla.

Saltwater fishing shouldn't be overlooked. After the onset of cooler weather, the pattern changes and fish can actually perk up.

One of my favorite spots to fish this time of year is Palma Sola Bay. I find spotted seatrout to 4 pounds will pile up in holes and canals. I've had some fantastic days there over the years. We average 40 fish per outing, but have topped the 100-fish mark on several occasions.

For this fishing, we use 6-weight fly rods with an intermediate sinktip line, 10-pound fluorocarbon leader and a variety of flies. Clouser Minnows and Bob Popovics Jiggy Fleyes are good choices.
In addition seatrout, we also encounter snook, redfish, ladyfish, jack crevalle, flounder and pompano.
Around Sarasota Bay, spotted seatrout are the main catch, but snook, pompano, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, flounder, ladyfish, black drum and (occasionally) redfish also are available.

We like to get out an hour or so before daylight to target snook around dock lights, using an 8-weight rod, floating line and 20-pounding fluoro leader. Fly choices include Gibby's Snook Minnow or Gibby's Glass Minnow.

At daylight,  we will target snook,  redfish and black drum in canals with fly or spinning tackle.
We'll spend the rest of the day on the flats or over deep grass, targeting redfish, snook, spotted seatrout, flounder, pompano, bluefish, ladyfish, jack crevalle and Spanish mackerel.

When fly fishing, we'll use Clouser Deep Minnows or baitfish patterns. On spinning tackle, we like the mini MirrOdine by MirrOlure. We also like to cast MirrOlure Lil Johns on 1/16-ounce jig heads.

We encountered some very good spotted seatrout action during the month. In fact, John Weimer of Sarasota obliterated his personal-best seatrout several times during one outing, catching and releasing trout to 27 inches. Fly of choice was Junior's Craft Fur Minnow.

I did a solo trip and caught a bevy of trout to 28 inches on Craft Fur Minnows. In addition, I managed bluefish, pompano, snook, redfish and jack crevalle.

Jesse Ehrlich of Sarasota joined me and a great tide, but we didn't have a great day. We caught about a dozen spotted seatrout to 23 inches. In addition, we lost a decent redfish that went for a Craft Fur Minnow.

Another solo outing resulted in a bunch of trout to 26 inches. Most were taken on chartreuse-and-white Clouse Deep Minnows. I also caught jack crevalle, ladyfish , bluefish and pompano.
Marshall Dinerman of Atlanta, Ga., caught a pair of snook from a Longboat Key canal on Clouser Minnows.

JANUARY FORECAST: Usually this is the month for big snook in the Myakka River. The action hasn't been great the past two years, but then again the weather hasn't been cold. And cold is the key to pushing the big snook up the river. We'll see what the month has in store. We look for excellent night snook around lighted docks, plenty of spotted seatrout in deep holes and canals and along the edges of the flats. In fresh water, we anticipate good action on bluegill, speckled perch, channel catfish and largemouth bass in Lake Manatee. Of course, Alligator Alley is a prime spot for oscar, Mayan cichlid, bluegill and largemouth bass.

We're approaching "The Season." That means the demand will be high for kayak fishing services. Be sure to book your trips early to assure you get in on the action!

You can call me at 941-284-3406 or email me at
Happy Holidays!

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing

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