Archive for the ‘flyfishing’ Category
Between traveling and bad weather (including 100 degree temps, which I consider bad weather) I haven’t been on the water much since July, but the recent cool spell meant it was time to get back to finding some fish. I did manage to fish in Naples during the annual Florida Outdoor Writers Festival in the 10,000 Islands with Capt. Phil Deville and Sue Cocking, veteran sports writer for the Miami Herald. A fascinating place….miles and miles of mangroves, through cuts barely as wide as the boat. We were there when Irene was passing just on the other side of the peninsula so we got some bands of rain during the trip (in spite of the great sky in this pic). We fished the mangroves and avoided the gulf, which was stirred up by several days of high winds. Saw lots of tarpon, caught a nice snook on topwater, and we bagged a few small reds, some trout and using jigs with shrimp sweeteners, Sue got a number of small mangrove snapper. We also had a few tarpon to play with, but never managed to jump any.
This weekend, I had several trips fall through, but I needed to get out and look around so I went by myself (and left my clamp tripod at home). Went out at daybreak on Saturday morning, to find Deadman’s Bay on a low tide and full of whitebait, rainbait and varying sizes of mullet. I fished in 2 feet of water with my usual nickel SuperSpook and found several nice slot reds in the first hour, along with a number of trout of varying sizes. A little later in the morning I found one nice 22 incher that avoided the camera.
I ran to a bunch of my usual spots but after around 10 there were no baitfish, and no trout or reds. Water temperature was 77 degrees, better than it has been, but still about five degrees too warm. But early, there were tons of small fish hitting the schools of small whitebait, so that sounded like a good excuse to try some flyfishing on Sunday morning for a few hours. It always takes me about an hour to get my casting chops back (especially given that even at their best, they are novice in nature). Sunday was exactly the same, and I found a lot of action with smaller fish, catching a number of jacks, trout, and several decent sized ladyfish, which are always fun on a fly rod. This trout was gorged on whitebait.
There are still plenty of scallops present, although the traffic was minimal. School starting and a Gator football weekend kept lots away, but the scallop meats are huge and everyone I spoke to was limiting in an hour or so. The season is open until the 25th, and gag grouper season opens on the 17th. I anticipate some great fishing ahead. Even Michelle, the maitre ‘d at the Tiki Bar, knows the fishing is about to get better.
Been a few weeks since I’ve been on the water. We’ve all been waiting for the water to warm up as things have been pretty inconsistent for the past month. The recent warm spell should have turned them on so there were a variety of attempts planned this weekend. While the fishing was marginal on Saturday, we did find some bluefish and mackeral and I managed this Spanish on fly.
On Saturday I fished by myself and found, for the first time this spring, a good consistent topwater bite. I caught 6 trout over 4.5 pounds anchored by this 5.5 pounder, which was full of roe. I rarely ever keep fish; this one inhaled a topwater plug so deeply that the lower trebles were hooked around the gill rakers, but the fish wasn’t bleeding. I worked as fast as I could to get the hook out which was not easy, but managed it and put the fish in the livewell for some oxygen. I really didn’t expect her to survive. Amazingly when I got back to the marina she was doing well so she posed for this picture and was put right back in the water. I’m expecting things to pick up rapidly now; while trout are easily available, redfish have been a little harder to find. That should change within a week or so.
So for fishing folks, there isn’t a less appealing month than February. Notwithstanding the fact that it’s cold and the weather is challenging, the feds have made it a horrible month for those who make their living associated with recreational fishing. The closures in February include speckled trout, red and gag grouper, red snapper and amberjack. Since kingfish and Spanish mackeral have moved to the south, there isn’t much left….except redfish, sheepshead and other bottom fish like black seabass. For many years, I actually winterized my boat in January and February…but there are some positives. First, even though trout season is closed, catching them is legal…it’s keeping them that’s the problem. Since most of the people I fish with are catch-and-release anyway, there are still fish to be caught. In fact, mid-winter is about the very best time to catch the largest trout of the year, and in good numbers. You just need to handle them carefully and make sure they are released in good shape. Along with Valentine’s Day, February is also the month of the Steinhatchee Fiddler Crab Festival. This year, the Second Annual festival took place over Valentine’s Day weekend. There were lots of vendors selling everything from jewelry to mounted lobsters, including homemade jams and jellies, hand-knitted items, and great food. One of the highlights is the annual Swamp Water Cooking contest. Visitors can buy a mug and then sample the competitive offerings…soups and stews.
Friday night kicked off with some fine music, and on Sunday there was a small redfish tournament with only one prize…whoever caught the redfish with the most spots won a rod, reel and tackle box. My buddy Capt. Tommy Thompson (http://www.saltwateranglersguide.com/) donated the rod and reel, and the Tackle Shop in Jena donated a tackle box full of fine tackle. Even though Tommy donated the prize, we figured we would be supportive and enter the tournament, in spite of frigid temperatures. We didn’t leave the dock until around 11, with the weigh-in from 1 to 3. The water temperature was 45 degrees, and the wind was blowing….but the sun was out. The fishing was not that good, and that is an understatement…but Tommy did manage to catch one redfish, about 6.5 pounds and with only two spots. We figured for sure someone would have caught a redfish before us, or one with more spots, but when we showed up, Tommy had caught the only redfish….this one.
So seeing that neither of us really needs another rod and reel….he is now going to donate the combo to the upcoming Doug Johnson/Donny Young Reeling for Kids tournament. We encourage everyone to participate May 14th and 15th to benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Alachua County.
My other fun trip was taking my old fishing buddy Doug Fertig out on the 21st. Doug finally retired a few months ago and we’ve been waiting to get a chance to get out, but the weather and schedules didn’t cooperate. Doug actually got me involved in fishing Steinhatchee many years ago, and showed me many places I fish on a regular basis now. We finally got a break with reasonable winds, slightly warming temperatures, and mutual availability.
We left the Sea Hag around 8 with a soft breeze from the southeast and a warming sun. We ran south of the river to one of our old favorite spots that has held good numbers of trout and redfish during winter months. We were fishing suspending baits, primarily Corky mullet and soft-plastic unweighted Texas-rigged jerk baits. It didn’t take very long for us to find some fine trout.
Although we never found any redfish, we did find the usual winter pattern…large schools of large trout. We worked the general area for a number of hours and caught somewhere around 15 trout, all but one over 20 inches, and several flounder. The biggest fish of the day was this beauty, a bit over 6 pounds.
We also did some kayak explorations this month when the weather allowed. One of the great things about our area is that there is almost always something to do, even in closed seasons with marginal weather. What do we have to look forward to? The sheepshead run is right around the corner, and some of the best fishing of the year, and many of the year’s best tournaments, are coming up in April and May. Given the unbelievably cold winter we’ve had, we’re all looking forward to some more comfortable fishing in the near future.
There we were, ready to get on the water and NOAA was telling us we were due for 20 knots from the east, with 3 to 5 foot seas and chop. Running anywhere in the gulf is going to be wet in a flats boat; baitfish are tough to see and so are schooling redfish. But luckily we’ve got the kayaks, and the tides seemed just about right…a late morning significant low tide with a quick rise. This works out pretty well to paddle out with the outgoing and in with the incoming. Easy, right? So we launched at our usual spot, the Pine Log Island ramp in the Jena Wildlife Management area. It was blowing, but reasonable.
We headed for the gulf. The creek system widens out near the mouth of Pine Log Creek. When the creek is very wide, the water flow can spread out and it can get shallow. In narrower creeks the water has to find a way to flow and there are usually deep cuts through the bars, or more likely, around the sides. Well, in this case, it got shallow. The 3 days of strong east winds had blown water out and we were dragging bottom in heavy weeds….and the water was still heading out rapidly. We obsessed for…oh, about 10 seconds and changed plans. So much for trying to get out into the gulf. We poled our way back to deeper water, managing to avoid having to get out and pull the boats through nice muddy bottom and grass. Adding to the problem was the fact that the wind was keeping the water out….so while the tide was supposed to be at peak low at 11, at 3 in the afternoon it was still going out. We see this. Remember that when there’s a strong wind for several days, the tide tables are nothing but an estimate. So we found a few nice sand bars with some deeper water alongside.
We were fishing topwaters and Tommy scored with a ladyfish and a keeper trout. I worked the kayak up to a creek mouth with rock grass patches and caught two keepers, also on topwaters. Tommy then switched to a DOA shrimp fished slowly along the bottom and caught a number of smaller trout. After the bite slowed we worked our way further up the creek to an area with several nice oyster bars, a shell bar near a dropoff with deeper water, and lots of small mullet. We just could not find any redfish. We fished topwaters to no avail, and suspending lures as well with no takers. The redfish were not up these creeks. We parked our kayaks and got out and walked around one of the shell bars.
Tommy flipped his DOA shrimp into a cut near the bar and immediately caught a trout. Then another. I felt obligated to wander over and try a soft jerkbait and immediately caught another. We had an observer….fella named Jason from Jacksonville who drove up near the shoreline in an ATV and watched us fish for a while. What caught his eye was that we were literally catching trout on every cast. We caught approximately 100 trout. Now the careful observer will note that there aren’t any pictures of trout….just Tommy Thompson, which is not quite as appealing. There is a reason. This motherlode of trout included specimens that ranged from 6 inches to 13 inches in length. They were in a school packed into a small cut around ten feet wide and fifty feet long. I was longing for a 5 weight fly rod. We finally got bored and tried for some larger fish, but that wasn’t working, the wind was picking up, and we were hungry from all the exertion spent catching 12 inch trout….and paddling for our lives out of shallow water. At the ramp we ran into some interesting folks who all wanted to learn about our kayaks. One of them told us that the Sink Creek ramp had recently been updated….so we developed a plan that laughed in the face of the 25 knots forecast for Sunday. We weren’t even going to use kayaks. We were going exploring and wadefishing. Didn’t really work out, but the best thing about the day was visiting the Sink Creek ramp. After a 2 mile drive through marsh and a little scrub, we came upon this scene….completely sheltered from the wind, with nobody there but us…
There were some schools of mullet moving around the points, and the area was spring fed by a large spring right next to the ramp. I pulled out my trusty 5 weight and had a school of small trout that were so small they couldn’t even take the fly, although they made a few valiant attempts. We threw some topwaters as well, but found nothing in the area.
So the take home message from this weekend with few keeper fish and lots of effort? That’s the way you learn. We both learned a lot this weekend, about what tides to start a kayak trip if you have specific locations in mind, we learned that you can have fun up a creek catching lots of smaller fish, I learned a few nice ways of keeping a kayak in place in the strong wind so you can fish forward (backing into the shoreline works well), and that cigars are hard to light in a strong wind. And possibly most importantly, we found a great place for our next kayak trip. Sink Creek is a great place to fish from the water; can’t wait to get there in a kayak. So when you can’t get out in your boat, there’s no home game worth watching, spend time looking around for alternatives. It’ll make you a better fisherman in the long run.