Thursday, April 9, 2020

Lake Manatee is a jewel that shines bright and is lightly fished

This Lake Manatee largemouth bass fell for a Myakka Minnow on a 2-weight TFO Finesse. (photo by John Weimer)

The other day, I told a friend of mine that I was going to head out to Lake Manatee the next morning. I told him he could join me if he'd like.

Must not have appealed to him because he decided to fish a private lake in Venice instead.

No big deal.

He'd fished Lake Manatee one time a year or so ago with little success. So, I doubt he was too excited about the prospects of another trip. Surely a chance to fish a private look had significantly more appeal.

I get it. Most folks who fish Lake Manatee leave unimpressed. She's a tough nut to crack -- to say the least. I'll bet there are more Lake Manatee one-timers than any other lake in Florida.

That's a shame.

I experienced perhaps my best day ever on the lake. And I've had some good ones over the years.
A hefty Lake Manatee shellcracker

I first fished Lake Manatee in the late 1970s. And I'll admit I certainly wasn't very impressed.

"Lake Manatee is very tough to fish," said Bob Popp, who at the time was manager of the old Bass Pro Shop on the north Tamiami Trail in Sarasota. "But she has some impressive bass."

He was right. The old gal can be extremely tough. Reason is the lake isn't your typical Florida "dishpan" lake, with vegetation-covered shorelines. The lake was created in 1964 when a dam was constructed across the Manatee River. The lake/reservoir is used to provide drinking water for Manatee County residents.

Most of the shoreline is not really shoreline at all, but a facade created by vegetation that grows out into the lake. The edges can be 20 to 75 feet from the true shoreline. And under the vegetation is nothing but empty water.

Another factor that affects fishing is the lake's water level. I find it best when the water at the dam (where the measurement is taken) is at 39 feet. That means there's plenty of water at my favorite spots to cast popping bugs for bluegills and bass or nymphs for bluegill, speckled perch, shellcracker, stumpknocker and channel catfish.

When the water drops, that often means spots where I had been catching fish are now only 12 inches or less.  The fish move offshore into deeper water.

You can determine the lake's water level by visiting: 

The lake's level  is controlled by flood gates on the dam, which is located on the western end of the lake. I'm not sure what Manatee County's philosophy is when it comes to determining the water level?

Certainly rain and drought have influence, but who knows what goes on when it comes to the lake's water level?

Although low water can be a pain, it doesn't mean fishing will stink. Witness a trip John Weimer, a Sarasota retiree, and I had in May of 2017. We launched  our NuCanoe Pursuits at the ramp in Lake Manatee State Park. I hadn't fished that part of the lake very much and really knew little about it.

So, we headed across the lake and found some fish feeding in a shallow cove. We cast small popping bugs and had a pretty good bite for about an hour. We caught largemouth bass, bluegill, sunshine bass and a feisty channel cat (a rare catch on a popper).

When the bite ended, I wasn't sure what to do? However, I noticed some disturbances along the shoreline and paddled closer to see what was going on. Turned out, it was big channel catfish "tailing" in the shallows. While they were grubbing along the bottom, their tails would pierce the water's surface. It was then an easy task to present them a fly. We connected on quite a few before the fish left the area.

We found more "tailing" activity just west of the cove. At the spot, we found it easier to "beach" the kayaks, get out and walk along the exposed beach (it was normally under water). Casting Squirmy Wormy flies under a strike indicator, Weimer and I caught and released 17 channel cats from 2 to 6 pounds.

My latest trip was one of my best ... ever!  At dawn, I found some bluegill feeding along a grass edge and caught an half dozen on popping bugs. When that died, I paddled along a grass edge and found an area of deeper water. I expected bluegill, but encountered largemouth bass to 3 pounds. I caught four or five bass, plus a handful of bluegill and a large stumpknocker.

At that point, I decided to give Speck Cove a try. It's an area that has been yielding some really big bluegill and shellcracker. But a funny thing happened on the way to the cove.

I found some "busting" fish and decided to give them a try. I wasn't sure what they were, but what the heck? I was expected bluegill, but found more bass. First cast resulted in a plump 3-pounder. By the time the topwater bite ended, I had caught and released a half dozen bass to 2 1/2 pounds.

That's when I finally head to Speck Cove. I caught a half dozen nice bluegill on a Gibby's Simple Nymph under a strike indicator, but they certainly weren't jumping into the kayak.

This huge channel cat was taken on a 1/2-weight fly rod.
So, I paddled back to a spot  where Weimer and I had done well the week prior. It's a long grass line, but only a third of it had been productive.  The strategy was to drift the productive area and then  paddle back and drift it again. As long as the fish were cooperative, we'd gladly make another drift.
The pattern was the same on this outing -- only better. In addition to some really big bluegill, I caught 10 speckled perch (northerners call them crappie), bass to 4 pounds and a 13-pound channel cat.
All of the fish were caught on nymphs.

And to complicate things, I was using a TFO 1/2-weight Finesse. You're reading that correctly. It's a half weight. Smaller than a 1 weight fly rod.

I've caught a lot of fish on that rod, but I never expected to catch my largest channel cat ever.

Fortunately, when I set the hook after the big cat inhaled the No. 12 nymph, the fish decided to head out into the middle of the lake. If it had headed into the grass, there's no way my 4-pound tippet would with survived.

Still, it was an epic battle. Not only was I taken deep into the backing, I was also close to being stripped. I've developed the ability to paddle and fight a fish at the same time, so I could follow the fish and regain some line. I was able to prevent the big cat from stripping me.

The battle took 15 minutes. It didn't take a genius to figure out it was a big fish, but my eyes widened when I saw the channel cat for the first time. It was the largest I'd ever hooked on the lake.

I netted the monster, removed the tiny nymph and weighed the fish. Slightly more than 13 pounds.


I've caught quite a few noteworthy fish from Lake Manatee.

John Weimer with a Lake Manatee speck
In March (2020), Weimer and I were drifting the north shoreline on our way back to the launch at Lake Manatee Fish Camp. We'd had another remarkable day, with loads of bluegill, shellcracker and largemouth bass. We really did expect much, but the light westerly breeze was moving us along shoreline beautifully.

Weimer was casting a Gibby's Rudy J; I was casting a No. 12 Gibby's Myakka Minnow on a 2-weight TFO Finesse.

We each caught a couple of small fish, but nothing exceptional. I cast the Myakka Minnow, a fly I developed in 2005, to within a inch of the grass line and began to retrieve it. The line tightened and I swear I was hung up on a log or the bottom. I knew that wasn't the case when I felt movement on the end of the line.

"Big fish," I yelled to John, which is our signal to get the camera ready.  "I don't know what it is, but it's big."

I began paddling backwards with one hand and fighting the fish with the other. My goal was to (hopefully) get the fish away from the grass and limbs. I saw the fish flash and really thought it was one of the lake's huge tilapia. But when it made its first jump, I knew it wasn't.

It was a huge bass. It was the largest bass I'd ever taken on fly. It was beautiful.

But how could I land it on such diminutive tackle? Would the tiny, No. 12 hook hold? Would the 4-pound tippet be strong enough?

I didn't know, but I would give it my best effort.

The fishing gods were with me that day. The tiny hook and light tippet survived six jumps and a 10-minute fight. When I was finally able to net the bass, I was amazed.

I've caught a pair of trophy bass in my life. I caught an 11-pound, 9-ounce largemouth from a pond in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., in 1975. I caught a 10-4 bass from Sarasota's Cowpen Slough in 1979. But those came on spinning and baitcasting tackle.

This bass was my largest on fly rod. I'm not sure how much it weighed, but I'd guess 7 pounds or more.

Other memorable Lake Manatee outings include the day Weimer and I combined for 30 big speckled perch on nymphs (our record). 

And there's the time I caught a 6-pound tilapia on a 1-weight TFO Finesse (also on a nymph).

I got to video Weimer fighting and landing a huge tilapia that he got on a Myakka Minnow.

Noted fly fisher Joe Mahler of Fort Myers and I had an unforgettable day when we didn't land a big one. It was Mahler's first trip on Lake Manatee. We paddled under the State Road 64 toward the south shoreline. I'd been getting some nice bluegill there.

We started casting along the shore, but our plan was interrupted by some big bass feeding on golden shiners behind us. You could see shiners frantically leaping from the water, trying to escape the big bass in pursuit.

We cast what we had in our hands as quickly as we could. I was using a No. 10 popping bug. I don't remember was Mahler was casting, but I'm sure it was equally as ridiculous for big bass as my tiny bug.

We both hooked up immediately. I don't know how large my fish was, but I couldn't stop it. The hook didn't do a good job, either. It pulled. I hooked three more huge bass (and lost each one) before the melee ended.

It's my opinion that Lake Manatee isn't a great bass lake. At least that's what I've found. I think there are some huge bass in the lake, but they're not easy. I believe you have to be opportunistic.

During spring and fall, you'll often find schools of hefty bass busting shad in the afternoon. Shad will rise to the surface to feed on plankton when the water warms up in early afternoon. You can often witness the blowup from the bass.
The author with a nice tilapia taken on a 1-weight TFO.

I've found it's tough to get close enough to cast. My strategy has always been to paddle to the general vicinity, then sit and wait. Sooner or later, fish will move close enough for you to make a cast.
These usually aren't trophy bass, but solid 3 to 5 pounders.

The lake also has some hefty shellcracker (redear sunfish). I was told years ago that you can't catch shellcracker on popping bugs. The Lake Okeechobee guide who gave me that sage advice probably should have told me that I couldn't catch very many shellcracker on popping bugs.

On a recent trip, I caught two nice shellcracker in a row poppers. Later in the day, I caught four more shellcracker, including one that weighed more than a pound, on my Gibby's Simple Nymph. Most of my shellcracker are caught on nymphs.

That leads me to my freshwater strategy. I'm like most other fly fishers; I love to catch fish on the surface. So, I usually started out with a No. 10 popping bug. And I'll fish it as long as I'm catching fish. That can be from 20 minutes to several hours. I let the fish tell me what to do.

When the topwater bite ends, I usually switch to a Simple Nymph under a strike indicator. This is my go-to combo on Lake Manatee and other lakes around the state.

When I first started fly fishing, all I used in fresh water was popping bugs. And when the bite ended, it was time to go home.

That all changed when I discovered nymphing.  That discovery took place while fishing for trout in northeast Georgia with guide Rex Gudgel out of Unicoi Outfitters in Helen, Ga. We were doing well on nymphs, catching rainbow trout to 27 inches. That's when the proverbial light bulb started glowing in my head.

"If trout love nymphs, why wouldn't Florida panfish?" I thought.

My plan was to give it a try upon return to Sarasota.

I ordered a dozen Hare's Ear Nymphs from Orvis and the odyssey began. Not only did the nymphs work, but they worked wonderfully! I started catching more fish than ever. And I caught some large fish.

After a while, I start tying my own. I didn't tie Hare's Ear Nymphs, but an adaptation that I created for myself. I call it the Gibby's Simple Nymph. It's a bead-head nymph with a pheasant tail and dubbed body.

It's quick and easy to tie. And it catches loads of fish.

The best fishing at Lake Manatee takes place fall through spring. I don't fish it much in summer because that's the time I'm usually walking the beaches, sight-fishing for snook in the surf.

Lake Manatee is located off State Road 64 west of Bradenton in Manatee County. It's nine miles east of Interstate 75.

It's close, easy to get to and, most importantly, lightly fished.

If you haven't fished Lake Manatee, you're missing out.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A new species on fly rod is always a memorable occasion

Author Steve Gibson shows off a first, a sailfin catfish from Lake Manatee. (John Weimer photo)

I'm a little different. I think.
While most people I know don't give a hoot about catching a new species, I'm all over it any time I get the chance.
I've been that way since the day I started fishing.
I remember a trip to Costa Rica in the early 1990s. My hosts wanted to pursue snook and tarpon -- species I catch all the time while angling around my home in Sarasota, Fla.
I've caught more snook and tarpon than any angler has a right to catch. With that in mind, I opted for Costa Rican native species.
During my stay, I caught guapote, roncadore and mojarra -- three species that were new to me and unavailable in my home waters. I didn't catch any snook or tarpon, but I was quite happy with the results.
Just the other day, I caught a new species near my home. I had been trying to catch a sailfin catfish around the boat launch at Lake Manatee. They are pretty easy to spot around the launch. However, I had tried a couple times without success.
After a fun day fly fishing for bluegill and other species with John Weimer of Sarasota, I decided to try my luck on these prehistoric catfish once again. Only this time, I would pursue them with a No. 12 Gibby's Snymph, a tiny nymph pattern which usually produces good numbers of fish.
I didn't expect much. Why should I? I'd never had a sailfish cat show even the slightest interest in anything I cast in front of them.
But they apparently loved the Snymph. The cats were plentiful in the shallows along the shoreline just north of the launch. I waded along slowly and look for them on the bottom. When I'd spot one, I would cast the fly in front of them and let it sink to the bottom.
I hooked and lost two fish quickly. The third fish wasn't so lucky. I was solidly connected to the 2-pound fish on my 1-weight TFO Finesse.
The fight was unremarkable. The fish was slow and sluggish, but nothing the 1-weight rod couldn't handle. After a couple of minutes, Weimer, who was wading beside me, was able to net the dark-colored catfish.
I was extremely happy. Not because of the battle. Not because they're good on the table. But because it was my first on fly!
Actually, according the Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, they're pretty decent on the table. Sailfin cats are not indigenous to Florida, but have been in state waters since the 1950s. They were probably introduced by tropical-fish enthusiast who dumped the contents of his/her aquarium into a backyard canal or pond.
The rest is history.
Over the years, I 've caught a number of first-time species on fly, including oscar, peacock bass, Mayan cichlid, Midas cichlid, blue tilapia, spotted tilapia, sheepshead and others.
Every time I catch a fish on fly rod that I've never caught before is a memorable occasion!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Weather, wind and dirty water putting a damper on beach snook season

John Mallia of Buffalo, N.Y., landed the snook of a lifetime while sight-fishing the surf off Longboat Key.

This summer has been challenging -- to say the least.

West wind, dirty water, rough surf and other problems have made this the most trying beach snook season in years.
Big snook prowl the surf in summer.

And it appears now that the season just might be over when you add red tide into the fray. Places where I've had some success are now unfishable because of deadly bloom.

We did have some beach snook success in July. Sara McKenzie of Oregon joined me for a day of sight-fishing in the surf. We encountered plenty of snook at our first spot, but the fish were uncooperative. We switched locations, heading south to mid-Longboat Key. There, Sara hooked nine snook and landed five. She also had a large snook quickly inhale the fly and spit it out.

Mike Cline of Bozeman, Mont., an accomplished trout angler, joined me for two days. We fished north Longboat Key with moderate success. Mike hooked three snook on the first day and landed a small one. Next time out, he cast at 30 or 40 monster snook without a hit.

Sara McKenzie of Oregon connects with a beach snook.
John Mallia and Don Lenda of  Buffalo, N.Y.,  fished two days with me and had fair success. First day out, John landed a pair of pompano. Don had a monster snook take his D.T. Variation, but the fish (we estimated it at 25 pounds) broke the leader.

Next time out, John landed another pompano and hooked a big snook. He was able to land the fish after and challenging battle that took him deep into the backing. We estimated his personal -best snook at 15 pounds.

Typically, July and August are the prime months for beach snook. Not this year.
I might be jumping the gun a bit, but I'm think it just might be over as red tide has invaded Sarasota and Manatee counties.

Fortunately, red tide has no effect on freshwater fishing. And we have been having some pretty decent results in local fresh waters.

John Weimer, a member of the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers in Sarasota, and I fished Lake Manatee and did well. We landed 15 mostly large copperheaded bluegill on Gibby's Snymphs under strike indicators, popping bugs and Myakka Minnows. We also landed bass, channel catfish and a hefty tilapia (John's personal best). We fished the Gilley Creek area of the lake.

Key to fishing this time of year is to get out early to beat the heat.

AUGUST FORECAST: I'm thinking fresh water is the way to go. With red tide making things difficult in salt water, a switch to the sweet side is in order. Top spots locally include Lake Manatee, Benderson Lake, Myakka River, Upper Myakka Lake, Shell  Creek and Webb Lake. Popping bugs should work good early, but we usually switch to nymphs and Myakka Minnows by mid morning. If the red tide stays out of Sarasota Bay, I look for decent snook action at night around dock lights. Small tarpon and spotted seatrout also are possible around dock lights. We use small minnow and shrimp imitations for dock snook.

It's not too early at least begin thinking about peacock bass. We've had pretty good success over the last two years around Naples on peacocks up to six pounds. We also encounter oscar, Mayan cichlid, largemouth bass, tarpon, bluegill and shellcracker. When targeting peacock bass, we use 5 or 6-weight rods, floating lines and Junior's Craft Fur Minnows. It's a blast when the peacocks cooperate.

September through mid-December are prime months.

If you're interested in book a trip, please give me a call (941-284-3406) or email me (

I'd love to take you fishing!

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Wind and rough water couldn't stop us from catching fish

Bonnie Hickey of Bozeman, Mont., battles her first beach snook.

We were able to catch a decent number of fish during May -- despite strong wind, rain and rough and dirty water.

Weather certainly has been a major influence on fishing throughout southwest Florida so far in 2018.

 We're hoping things settle down and we can get back to "normal."

This unusual brown peacock bass was impressive.
Early in the month, we made a number trips to The Everglades where we walked in and did quite well on peacock bass, largemouth bass, bluegill, oscar and Mayan cichlid. Despite our success, those trips are over until the next dry season. High water, heat, thunderstorms and mosquitoes will keep angling action in The 'Glades to a minimum for a few months.

That being said, it could be the time to think about an Everglades trip down the road. If you've never caught a peacock bass, you might want to seriously consider this trip.

Over our last four outings down there, we caught and released more than 200 peacock bass. It's some great fly fishing, for sure.

Most of the fish were caught on Junior's Craft Fur Minnow, a creation of Junior Burk, an Indiana fly tyer. We also caught peacock bass on Gibby's Myakka Minnows.

Gibby's Myakka Minnow was effective on peacocks.
I did get out on a couple of beach snook trips in May. Conditions were not good, but we still encountered snook. Mike and Bonnie Hickey of Bozeman, Mont., joined me on a marginal day. We first tried Manasota Key, but encountered rough water and quite a bit of red algae (not red tide) in the surf. We drove north to Casey Key and found better conditions.

At Casey Key, Bonnie Hickey landed a 23-inch snook (the fish broke loose as I was holding the leader). She and Mike also hooked a few others. In all, they got maybe 15 shots at snook, including one fish we estimated at 10-12 pounds.

Jeff Marshall of Venice and Sherri Soper of Arizona spent a day with sight-fishing the surf in trying conditions. The water was calm enough, but the sky was overcast  which resulted in extreme glare on the water, making spotting snook pretty tough.
This over-sized redfish was sight-fished in 18 inches of water.

Still, Sherri  hooked a 24-incher and had a couple of other s take her fly. Jeff landed a decent spotted seatrout and lost another.

John Weimer of the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers in Sarasota joined me on a trip to Lake Manatee. We launched at the Verna Road Bridge on the east end of the lake. The results were fair. We landed 25 mostly hand-size bluegill on popping bugs and Gibby's Snymphs under strike indicators.

Weimer also fished with me late in the month around Buttonwood Harbor off Sarasota Bay. We caught and released five snook, two redfish to33 inches, a number of spotted seatrout and a few ladyfish. Snook were caught on Gibby's Snook Shrimp, while the reds went for MirrOlure Lil Johns on light jig heads. Fish of the day was one we didn't land. While casting for trout over deep grass, I jumped a 60-pound tarpon that put on quite a show before I lost it!

Marshall  Dinerman of Atlanta caught spotted seatrout to 18 and ladyfish on MirrOlure Lil Johns on light jigs around Buttonwood Harbor. We also landed a fine, late-season pompano on a MirrOlure MirrOdine.

JUNE FORECAST: I can tell you what it should be. Snook should be plentiful in the surf  and willing to hit a Gibby's D.T. Variation. This is the best sight-fishing around when conditions are right. All we need are a light easterly breeze, calm surf, clear water and sunshine! Around Sarasota Bay, I look for decent snook action at night around lighted docks. Spotted seatrout should be plentiful over deep grass. And I think redfish action is beginning to (finally) pick back up after four sub-par years. I've already caught and released more reds this year than in the last four years combined.
If you want to get in on some of this exciting action, please give me a call (941-284-3406) or email me (

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Despite the wind, April produced a variety of fish

Marshall Dinerman of Atlanta had a reason to smile after landing his first redfish in nearly six years.

April continued where March left off -- windy.

Extremely windy.

John Weimer shows off a fine peacock bass.
In fact, I have yet to walk the beach in search of snook in the surf. I hope it's not too long before the windy subsides and conditions get right for my favorite form of saltwater fly fishing.

That doesn't mean we didn't fish in April. Au contraire! We got out many times and did pretty well.

In salt water, we fished Sarasota Bay, catching a variety fish. Marshall Dinerman of Orlando caught a 28-inch redfish on a Live Target pilchard in Buttonwood Harbor. He said it was his first redfish in nearly six years! In addition, we caught snook, spotted seatrout and ladyfish.

Dave Marshall of Port Charlotte caught a pair of snook on MirrOlure Lil Johns on light jigs from a Longboat Key canal.  Later, he added his largest redfish ever -- a 30-incher. He used Lil John on a jig. We also landed another snook and one of the largest mojarra I've ever seen.

Todd Dawson of Bradenton fished Sarasota Bay off Stephens Point and did well. We caught 25 spotted seatrout to 17 inches and a small gag grouper, using D.O.A. CAL Jigs and gold grubs.
Dave Marshall and his Sarasota Bay redfish.

I got out on a solo trip and had a very good day. Using an 8-weight fly rod, I bested five snook to 26 inches around dock lights. I used a small, white shrimp imitation. After daylight, I caught a pair of redfish, six spotted seatrout and four more snook to 30 inches on a MirrOlure topwater plug and MirrOlure MirrOdines.

I fished Buttonwood Harbor on another occasion and caught 12 snook, 10 spotted seatrout and two redfish on flies, jigs, MirrOdines and topwater plugs.

Peacock bass action was extremely hot in April. John Weimer of Sarasota joined me for two trip to The Everglades . We walked in to a small lake and caught 130 peacock bass to 4 pounds on Junior's Craft Fur Minnows and Myakka Minnows. We also caught largemouth bass to 3 pounds, oscar, Mayan cichlid, hand-size bluegill, gar and tilapia.

The walk-in trip (the walk is easy) is one you won't want to miss. However, I expect conditions to be right for the trip for only a few more weeks. Once the rainy season (June through August) begins, the walk will be impossible because of high water and mosquitoes.

I also fished Lake Manatee on a couple of occasions, catching bluegill, largemouth bass, shellcracker, speckled perch and shellcracker on popping bugs, nymphs and Myakka Minnows.

MAY FORECAST: I look for beach snook action to take off once we get conditions conducive for sight-fishing the surf. For this, I used 6-8-weight fly rods, intermediate sinktip lines and 20-pound fluorocarbon leader. My fly choice is my Gibby's D.T. Variation, a creation I've used to catch more than 5,000 snook in the surf over the years. Bay fish should remain good for spotted seatrout, snook, redfish, ladyfish and jack crevalle. We'll continue to fish The Everglade for peacock bass, largemouth bass, oscar, Mayan cichlid, bluegill and other species until conditions get too tough. Locally, Lake Manatee, the Myakka River and Webb Lake should produce good results (largemouth bass, bluegill, speckled perch,  channel catfish, sunshine bass).

My beach snook trips are filling up quickly. So, it might not be a bad idea to book ahead of time. Call me at 941-284-3406 or email be at

As always, thanks to my generous sponsors: NuCanoe, Aqua-bound, MirrOlure , Temple Fork Outfitters and D.O.A. Lures.

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Junior's Craft Fur Minnow great for fresh- and saltwater fish

Junior's Craft Fur Minnow is easy to tie and very effective on fresh- and saltwater fish.
Every once in a while, I stumble upon an idea so simple that I wonder why I didn't think of it?

Joe Mahler, a fly-fishing guru in Fort Myers, Fla., turned me onto a fly created by Junior Burke of Indiana. It's a classic takeoff on the Clouser Deep Minnow created by Bob Clouser of Pennsylvania. 

The original Clouser is tied with bucktail.
Peacock bass are suckers for Craft Fur Minnows!

Burke's minnow is tied with select craft fur that's readily available in most fly shops. In my hometown of Sarasota, I purchase craft fur at The Compound (4063 Clark Rd., The Compound arguably has the best selection of fly-tying materials in this area. (Note: The Compound will be moving into its new building in Sarasota in late February.) You can call The Compound at 941-923-0430.

Back to Burke's amazing minnow!

The fly is easy to tie. I'd estimate I can crank one out every couple of minutes. So, as you might imagine, I have a good supply.

The fly was originally designed for smallmouth bass in Indiana. Burke advises to fish it on a sinktip line with a fluorocarbon leader.

The fly paid big dividends for John Weimer.
It's his "go-to fly."

Mahler, a good friend of Burke's, advises letting the fly sink, then use short, sharp strips with long pauses.

While Mahler uses the fly to fool largemouth bass, I've found it's an incredible fly for peacock bass. Over our  last four trips, we've totaled 125 peacock bass  to 5 1/2 pounds. In addition, we've caught largemouth bass, monster Mayan cichlid and oscar.

While driving home from a peacock bass trip in south Florida, I began to think about using Junior's Craft Fur Minnow in salt water.

Why not?

If I tied it on a saltwater hook, there's no reason it shouldn't work.

Tying a few on No. 2 Mustad  S71SNP-DT hooks, I set out to find out how marine species liked the fly.

I can't say I was surprised. They loved it!

For freshwater fishing, I tie my Craft Fur Minnows on a No. 6 White River 004 that I get at Bass Pro Shops. Most any strong freshwater hook will work.

Tying the Craft Fur Minnow is simple.

Hook: No. 2 Mustad S71SNP-DT (salt water); No 6 White River 004 (fresh water)

Thread: White flat wax nylon

Eyes: Bead chain (your choice of size and color; I like black)

Body: White extra select craft fur

Flash: 2-3 strands pearl Krystal Flash

Beard: I like red, but Mahler prefers pink. Your choice!

First trip out in the salt with the Craft Fur Minnow was remarkable. I tied a few on No. 4 hooks so that I could use them on my 5-weight TFO BVK rod. I caught several trout from 20 to 24 inches before the wind came up. When that happened, I switched to a 7-weight TFO BVK. I caught trout up to 28 inches.

Next trip, I took John Weimer of the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers in Sarasota. We had another good day. In fact, Weimer beat his personal best trout seven times! His largest trout went an impressive 27 inches. He also added a 5-pound bluefish.

The shallow-water pattern ended, so I opted for a TFO BVK 6 weight with an intermediate sinktip lne the next outing. I caught trout to 26 inches. In one spot, I caught 15 from 16 to 22 inches.

The fish of the day, however, was a 5-pound blue that I caught when I cast into a school of breaking jack crevalle. I hooked a jack on my first cast, but lost it after a few seconds. The fly was immediately eaten by a healthy blue!

On another trip, I caught several trout from 20 to 26 inches and a 28-inch redfish.

I have no doubt the fly will appeal to a variety of saltwater fish. I believe the fly is easy for the fish to see and ever-so-sexy in the water, with the craft fur forever pulsating to entice predators.

Junior Burke may have designed his fly for smallmouth bass, but I'm not sure he realized the wide appeal of this easy-to-tie fish-catcher!

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