As June bleeds into July, it’s hot in Florida. The heat rises from the earth, hour by hour, as if you stepped into a sauna. Relief comes early or late, before the first cup of coffee or an after hour after the last glass of iced tea, as the sun eases below the dunes.
I measure the seasons by my fly-fishing calendar. Each season brings a new species. It’s now too hot for redfish and seatrout. Pretty soon, the tarpon and snook will arrive.
It was the same with freshwater, when I lived in Virginia. March is perfect for brook trout in the mountain streams. The brown trout of the spring creeks begin to stir when the grasshoppers stir in August.
As I reflect upon three decades with a fly rod, I learned lessons from each species. … For more, go to http://www.hatchmag.com/articles/what-i-learned-beach-snook/7714402
Category Archives: Fly fishing
My story for Hatch Magazine on wading. Enjoy.
When I first started saltwater fly fishing, I waded the flats out of necessity. I had no choice, because I had no boat. Now I have a boat. But I still wade because I want to, not because I have to. Here’s why.
ConvenienceThere’s no easier way to fish. It doesn’t matter of if you live in Florida, Texas, Alabama, South Carolina, New Jersey or Massachusetts. Wadeable water is nearby—particularly up and down the East Coast and Gulf Coast. And you can be on the water in a matter of minutes. Have an hour to spare on your lunch break? Or after work before heading home? You can fish. Gone are the days when you need an entire day off from work to fish.
You will fish more, and as a result, you will become a better angler.
I admit it. I love redfish. Pictures of them adorn my living room wall and kitchen. It doesn’t matter where or when, I will try to find them.
I’ve caught them on the flats and in the river; on high tide and low tide; in spartina grass and turtle grass. Last summer, the surf became my focus.
I heard rumors of reds in the Northeast Florida surf for years, but most of my buddies scoffed at the notion of fishing for reds on the beach. But as it turns out, redfish do indeed make their way to the surf and yes you can catch them on fly.
It’s not easy, but, if the conditions are right and the stars align, it’s very doable. Here’s how:
What You Need for Redfish in the Surf
Break out your heavier fly rod, at least an 8-weight; a 9 or 10-weight is better. You will have to throw heavier flies, and the redfish in the surf can be bruisers. Given that the current can be swift, landing one is not as easy as on the flats. Even though reds are the primary target, big jacks can show up and take you into your backing in the blink of an eye.
For more go to http://www.hatchmag.com/articles/redfish-surf/7714387
I have never caught a largemouth bass. Well, that’s not exactly true. I’ve caught a few yearling-sized largemouth, but nothing worth bragging about. Hell, these fish weren’t even big enough to warrant lying about to my buddies over a beer.
Not that I’m a bad fisherman. I’ve caught a tarpon, three or species of freshwater trout, bluegill, seatrout, redfish, jacks, snook and even a peacock bass or two. All on fly.
The closest I came to catching a respectable largemouth was 40-something years ago when I was youngster summering in the mountains of Western North Carolina. On friend’s farm pond, I landed a nice, fat largemouth, probably in the neighborhood of 4 pounds. Using a small spinning reel, a bobber and a mealworm, I pulled the big green fish up to the edge of the sand and heaved him over toward the grassy bank. As far as smooth landings go, it was not pretty. Turns out, the bass got the last laugh.
I had also caught two bluegill. I had them on a stringer, which was loosely staked to the muddy bank. I unhooked my quarry, put him on the stringer and mashed the stake of the stringer into the sand.
I thought the fight was over, but it wasn’t. Moments later, the big bass pulled the stringer — stake and all — out of the soft ground and swam off with two bluegill.
Technically you could say I caught that bass, because I unhooked him and had the fish under my control, but since the fish left under its own power on its own terms — and not mine and evaded the frying pan — I consider it a draw. That’s the last decent bass I’ve caught and I’ve spent brief stretches of each fishing season trying to attain some measure of poetic justice, but I’ve never caught a largemouth that bent the rod quite like that fish.
Given that bit of unfinished business, I’ve decided to spend part of this summer trying to catch a bigger-than-average largemouth. My quest is largely personal, but there are some darned good reasons to spar with the largemouth.
You can find them in just every piece of freshwater in Florida. And if you don’t catch a largemouth, you’ll catch some sort of species of bass. Florida, after all, is home to seven different species of native bass — the spotted bass, shoal bass, striped bass, sunshine bass, Suwanee bass, white bass and the venerable largemouth. For see the link below.
My story on the Thomas & Thomas Exocett for the Blackfly Outfitter in Jacksonville.
Thomas & Thomas’ motto is “the rod you will eventually own.” Their belief is by the time you try other fly rods, you, the customer, will want the Thomas & Thomas brand.
T&T’s quality consistently shines brighter than the competition. After all, the Massachusetts-based company has been making fine fly rods since the late 1960s. They do so one rod at a time, with painstaking attention to handcrafted detail, from the butt section to the tip.
So it is with the Exocett saltwater series. If you want a rod that’s sensitive enough to cast well for all skill levels, but strong enough to handle everything from tarpon to tiger fish, the Exocett is for you. Trouble turning over those bushy tarpon patterns?
The Exocett can help you punch through that afternoon wind — without wear and tear on your shoulder. Furthermore, the Exocett has proven its durability world-wide, slaying giant trevally and monster tuna in the Seychelles.
The Exocett is known for its performance, but it has a sleek, sexy design as well. The 9-foot, four-piece setup features a matte blue, low-friction finish.
For more info, check out http://www.flyfishingworldheadquarters.com/?p=1496
We all want what we can’t —- or don’t — have. It’s human nature. I thought fly fishing would quench my thirst for more. It didn’t.
One fly rod always leads to another. I started with one. I was up to a dozen at one point before I finally culled a few. Flies? I have boxes, stacks of boxes. A dozen spoon flies isn’t enough, I guess. Apparel? I still have a 30-year old vest hanging on my living room wall — a few feet above TWO sling packs — one from Orvis and another from Patagonia.
About the only thing I didn’t have to complement all of my fly-fishing stuff was a boat. I have a Native Ultimate kayak and a BOTE paddle board. When those two avenues of paddle power didn’t fit my needs, I waded.
More than twenty-five years of fly fishing without a boat, I must admit, is odd. Part of that stems from pure pragmatism. I’ve lived in places I could wade or paddle. Part of the delay, I have to say, can be attributed to pure fear originating from my days as a student at the Orvis Guide School. I was in my early 30s back then, but had never been in a drift boat, much less rowed one and barely knew the difference between the bow and stern. Predictably, I smacked every rock in the Big Hole River during our on-the-water training. Once we returned to dry land, I swore that if I ever got in a boat again, someone else better be in charge.
Fast forward 20 years or so, and I’m in St. Augustine, Fla. Great place to fish, but it helps to have a boat. Mud flats are not for wading. A kayak is fine, but paddle power makes it tough to cover ground when the reds are schooling in the winter or bunched up during the summer flood tides.
Thanks to my father, who decided to down size, I finally have a boat — a 13-foot River Hawk that he dropped off at my beach bungalow one summer afternoon. This little canoe can fish two and runs on a 5HP Tohatsu or a 2HP Honda. At first, I was elated about the concept of going faster and farther.
Then the learning curve set in. Boats are a hell of a lot of work and I have no mechanical skill. None.
One Step at a Time
With new owners, the path to progress is steep. First, I had to get a hitch on my Jeep. That took several trips to the mechanic and the dealership. Memo to all Jeep owners: If you get a non-Jeep hitch installed, you need to get the electronics calibrated — at the Jeep dealership. Then there was the adapter for the hitch, to ensure a proper hookup with the trailer’s wiring. Needless to say, neither of these two nuggets of info were in either owner’s manual.
Electrical problems continued to beckon. I had to get the tail lights fixed. Neither worked. Fortunately, a fairly handy friend helped me with this. Still, this project took several weeks of trial and error, mostly error. We tried to work with the original wiring, even replaced the bulbs and the running lights. Bit by bit, weekend by weekend, we eliminated options and simply decided to re-run the wires with a direct connection as possible. At that point, I was all for simplicity.
So, the boat was ready to go. But there was one problem. I didn’t know how to trailer the damn thing. My first couple attempts at backing up were absolutely brutal. It was a like a kid learning how to parallel park when he can barely turn the ignition key.
It took a half dozen or so lessons, but eventually I got better. The pivotal moment came when I took a solo trip to the local police station to practice backing up and parking. I thought I had it all figured out because I had been earlier in the fall and the place was vacant. I went in early November, and the parking lot was packed during the week and on the weekend due to early-election voting.
I turned down a side street in search of open space, but that option yielded an abrupt dead end when I realized there was no place to turn around. With a car, turning around is no biggie. With a trailer, even a small one, it’s a big, big deal. You better plan it out. Stop at a gas station? You better stop at a place with enough room. But I digress…. I was forced to back down a long stretch of pavement and back the trailer into a nearby yard to right myself and get back home. I did it twice, on separate trips.
But I was not done with obstacles. I live on the beach, which means I have a great view of the ocean, but a lousy dirt driveway. It’s not just any dirt driveway. It’s a soft, sandy dirt driveway.
After backing down the long straightaway near the police station, I was feeling confident when I returned home. That optimism was short lived, however, when I tried to back up and got stuck — twice. This was not the first time. It was an ongoing problem all summer and fall. Backing up my driveway without four-wheel drive is an invitation to call your local Triple AAA service.
I figured I had the problem licked with two loads of gravel and rock. Not so. The rock buys time and a bit of firmness, but not much, particularly after a rainstorm. I can power the Jeep up the narrow curves that lead to my cottage, but going slow ensures bogging down. But go too fast and you can’t position the trailer where you want. The solution: Take one shot at backing up and re-position the trailer by hand. Simple.
Time on the Water
Once I got a feel for trailering, a surge of pride washed over me. I was ready to hit the water. I figured I had conquered the world by learning to back up in a straight line. Little did I know land presents one set of problems, but a day on the water can yield a slew of other obstacles.
Like engine trouble. Leaving nothing to chance, I cranked the engine on dry land about once a week or so to make sure everything was on in order. Once on the water, however, the little Tohatsu would crank, run for a moment, just enough to tease you, and sputter into submission. I barely got past the ramp before heading home in defeat after months of planning and preparation went for naught.
I called one of my buddies that night. He diagnosed the issue immediately: “Gas in the carb,” he said between sips of cold beer. “You gotta let it run out when you flush the motor or it gunks up the engine.”
Fifty bucks later, I got the carb cleaned up and learned the value of using ethanol gas. Meanwhile, I switched to my 2HP Honda. It has an internal gas tank and weighs half as much as the 5HP Tohatsu. A lighter boat is easier to pole, and fewer moving parts lead to fewer mechanical problems.
A Measure of Redemption
Although I damn near tossed the boat and trailer off the Vilano Bridge after motor issues ruined the last trip, I rallied and somehow found enough resolve to make plans for another outing.
I set expectations low with a short, quick trip to a swath of water known as Salt Run, which is just a roll cast away from my house. Worst case scenario: I could walk home if things got rocky.
As I pulled into the ramp, I felt surprisingly calm. Part of me wondered if there was anything that could go wrong. However, I knew there wasn’t much else that could go wrong and even if it did, I could handle it. Somehow.
Turns out the trip went well. The only setback was minor. My trolling motor quit, but after dabbing the connection with anti-corrosion spray (a must for any boat owner), I was back in business. Thing is, I really didn’t even need the trolling motor. My boat is so light poling is a breeze, particularly with the little Honda.
All in all, it was a good trip. After I got home, I cracked open a beer and took inventory. Six months ago, I didn’t even know what a transom is. Or how a winch works.
Now I can fix a boat, run it, pole and fish from it. It was a lot of work, but worth it.
My story in Hatch Magazine on the honeymoon in a marriage of fly fishing and boat ownership. Enjoy.
Here’s a late winter/early spring fishing report from Oyster Creek Outfitters/Saltwater Flytyers:
Captain Tommy Derringer of Inshore Adventures reports that an unseasonably warm winter has left the water a bit murkier than usual for late February, making sight fishing a bit problematic. The reds are still schooled up , but they’re tough to see because of the lack of water clarity. A word of advice: Hit the creeks and blind cast the holes to produce double-digit fish outings. Capt. Tim Boothe visited the middle section of the Mosquito Lagoon and says he saw a number of nice schools, but the fish were fickle. Oyster Creek staffer Bill Stalcup said he’s heard reports of baby tarpon and snook in the southern part of St. Johns county. With March winds on the way, it never hurts to get out of the bluster and find a secluded pond.
Winter is here in Florida, which means more wind and less time for fly fishing. All you can do is fish between the fronts. The best-case scenario is one day a week to set up a trip. Needless to say, work, family responsibilities and short winter days yield a lot of time indoors.
A few restless anglers in Northeast Florida got a welcome break from cabin fever recently when Bruce Chard spoke at the First Coast Fly Fishers banquet at the Jacksonville Marriott. A noted guide from Key West, Chard was gracious with his time and put on a first-class presentation where he spotlighted the top places in the world for shallow-water fly fishing. It was worth the hour drive from St. Augustine.
Chard is also a fantastic caster. Fittingly, he gave a morning casting seminar. I didn’t have time to go, but the man can flat out toss a razor-sharp loop. Here’s a clip of his technique.
Yes, sometimes even the staff at Oyster Creek Outfitters find a little time to get out on the water. Of course, it helps to have a good guide. Capt. Tim Boothe of Old City Guide Service is one of the best in Northeast Florida. It’s been a while since I’ve fished. With a move, a new job (or two) and a boat to tend to, time on the water has been limited. Part of that issue is my fault. Sometimes you have to make time. I aim to do better in 2017.