Category Archives: Misc.

My Quest to Catch Bass on Fly

how to catch bass on fly

Debbie Hanson with a nice bass from a kayak. (Photo Pamela Mess)

My story from Hatch Magazine.  This is an unedited excerpt from the original piece.

By Mike Hodge

It’s the start of summer in Northeast Florida, a tad too early for tarpon and a bit too early for flood-tide redfish. Given the break in the angling calendar, it’s time to take inventory of every species I’ve caught with a fly rod.

So far, I’ve conquered three types of freshwater trout along with a handful of bluegill; in the salt, I’ve landed reds, seatrout, snook, jacks, bluefish, ladyfish and tarpon.

I’ve caught a few bass, but none of them were worth bragging about. True story: The biggest bass I ever caught was more than 40 years ago on a small mountain pond in North Carolina. The fish probably weighed 5 pounds or so. Catch-and-release was not part of my young, boyish mindset back then, but the bass had the last laugh.

I put my quarry on a stringer and pushed the stake into the muddy shoreline. Big mistake. Moments later, the sturdy green fish gathered enough strength to pull the stringer out of the muck and swam off — along with two panfish destined for the frying pan.

I’ve yearned for redemption ever since that summer day. But I’ve never mustered a big bass on a fly rod. To help fulfill that quest, I called upon two anglers who have kicked a little bass: Debbie Hanson, a guide, women’s sport fishing advocate and blogger (; and Shaw Grigsby, Jr., a professional bass tournament angler. Hanson has caught more bass than I’ve dreamed about, on foot and out of a kayak near her home waters in Fort Myers, Fla. Grigsby, from Gainesville, Fla., has surpassed more than a two million dollars in career earnings with conventional gear, but his true passion is topwater bass on fly. Below are a few of their tips that should help you land a big bass on fly.

For more info check out the link below.

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Gombert Prepares to Defend Title in 45th Bluewater Tournament

Here’s my story on the 45th Annual Bluewater Tournament in St. Augustine.  I’m covering it for this weekend.

By Mike Hodge

One fish won it last year. That probably won’t happen again.

At least that’s the thought process of Mark Gombert as he prepares to defend his Billfish Division title in the 45th Annual Bluewater Tournament this weekend in St. Augustine.

Gombert braved high seas last May as an unexpected tropical storm grazed Northeast Florida and caught the tournament’s first sailfish, fortunate timing that allowed him to win a tiebreaker against several other competitors.

All told, the Billfish Division generated just four sailfish, an acceptable total given the lousy weather. However, this year Gombert expects tighter lines during the photo-release affair.

“We’re going in with the intention of trying to win it again, if we’re lucky enough and maybe upgrade a bit,” Gombert said earlier this week during a telephone interview. “Last year was a really tough year for everyone. The weather was really horrible. There were very few fish caught. This year will be a lot better, though.”

The forecast calls for a seasonable spring temperatures and wind for the April 28-30 event, a scenario that has left Gombert optimistic, so much so that the St. Augustine angler passed on an opportunity to compete in this week’s Offshore World Championships. The winner of the Bluewater qualifies for the Costa Rica tournament, but Gombert decided to compete close to home.

“To be honest, going down there we wanted to have more of a solid win than just a one-fish win,” Gombert said. “One of the guys down there who fishes with me is down there fishing it. My normal crew is just starting to get out for billfish. We’ve been doing kingfish, wahoo, tuna-type stuff. We’re adding the billfish stuff to our profile, if you will.”

Last year’s Bluewater was driven as much by perseverance as skill.

“It shrinks the playing field when you’ve got bad weather,” Gombert said. “You limit the people who are willing to go out and be abused by the conditions in the boats that are able to handle those conditions safely. This tournament is traditionally a big-boat tournament. You’re dealing with guys who are willing to get beat up for two days in six, eight foot seas. Last year, unfortunately, the weather was really snotty.”

Gombert, who is from St. Augustine, enters the Bluewater with a smidge of momentum, finishing second in last weekend’s local Mahi Madness tournament on his boat, Preventive Maintenance, a 39-foot Yellowfin, which is powered by four 350 HP Mercury engines.

“You’re always pumped if you’re doing well,” Gombert said. “Any tournament series when you’re getting accolades, it always makes the morale better with the crew and team. You’re always striving to do the best you can, but if you’re winning tournaments or placing well in tournaments, you always have that feeling, whereas if you get out and get browbeat tournament after tournament, you get disheartened. It’s hard to keep everyone pumped up.”

Teamwork, as expected, is crucial to a boat’s success. Everyone has a role, the captain, the angler and crew. The first fish to the boat often is the tournament tiebreaker.

“It’s not as intense as NASCAR,” said Northeast Florida Marlin Association President Paul Raudenbush, whose club is hosting the Bluewater. “But it’s certainly a team sport.”

The format is captain’s choice, meaning anglers can pick two of the three days to fish. Points are awarded on a sliding scale. For instance, a blue marlin merits 500 points, a white marlin 200 and a sailfish 125 for the $35,000 event.

“It’s a catch twenty two,” Gombert said. “What do you do? Take a shot a blue marlin and get hooks in one. … I think it’s a 500-point fish. Sailfish is 125. Let’s say you catch six sailfish over one blue marlin, you’re actually higher in the points.”

Gombert prefers using ballyhoo on a circle hook for bait and big plastics when it comes to artificials.

“The weather was so bad last year, it was hard to pull big plastics trying to chase blue marlin, so we opted to go with smaller baits and go with sailfish,” Gombert said. “We’re hoping the conditions will be good enough to make a big run and pull some big plastics trying to find some blue marlin a little bit deeper, offshore.”

Guided by Simrad navigational technology, a run of 60 miles is the plan.

“What we’re looking for are hard edges, not so much water temperature,” Gombert said. “We’re looking for hard, defined temperature breaks, edges and color changes where you have higher nutrients. Clean water versus dirty water.”

Last weekend’s pre-fishing yielded additional insight for formulating a strategy.

“We covered a lot of water,” Gombert said. “We were fortunate enough to find a couple fish. We actually missed a couple marlin. Our game plan is to pick up where we left off and find the edges and get after them.”

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A Tribute to Great Sports Writing

Dave Kindred was one of the writers I most respected when during my 25, 30-year newspaper career. It’s great to see him still writing. He writes because he loves it, not for the money or fame. Something to think about. Quite refreshing.

Jeff Pearlman interviews him with a nice Q/A:

Dave Kindred




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Yachts, Anyone?

My story on Bertram Yachts for

Bertram Yachts is under new ownership. The venerable boatbuilding company that fell under hard times in recent years has new owners and is focused on the company’s rich tradition to define its future.

When Beniamino Gavio bought Bertram in April 2015, the new owner said he wanted to return Bertram to its roots. Little translation was needed: Think American-made classic. Think Harley-Davidson. Think Chevrolet.

“I’ve heard of a lot of analogies,” said Tommy Thompson, Bertram’s Product Development Manager. “A sport-fisher is an American product. It needs to be utilitarian. Bertram was always at its best when it was built and designed by Americans, for whatever reason.”

The Gavio Group expanded its list of nautical assets last April when it bought Bertram from Ferretti Yachts, an Italian boatbuilder that has a long tradition in yachting circles, but struggled to capture the essence of the Bertram brand. Also in the Gavio yachting fold are Cerri Cantieri and Baglietto.

In September 2015, Lyman-Morse Boatbuilders, located in Maine, signed on to build Bertram’s prototypes. In October 2015, Thompson and Susan Davids, General Manager, were brought onboard to lead Bertram’s management team in its Fort Lauderdale, Florida, office.

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Get Ready for Buccaneers and Bones

A new season starts soon.

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Life on the East Coast

It’s been a month since I’ve written a single word for this blog and I apologize for the delay. I just finished moving from Tampa to Palm Beach County and it’s still not over. Boxes off stuff have made the new house a maze of obstacles. The excess clutter makes me want to throw away everything that’s not unpacked because, in reality, how much do I really need it? The scary thing is, I actually tried to cull stuff BEFORE I actually moved.

Enough about the move. As far as the fishing, I haven’t done much of that.  I hit the beach a couple times and caught the tail end of the mullet run. Saw lot’s of mullet. Not many game fish. A few weeks later, I hit the docklights off Jupiter Island for snook and jacks and landed a nice jack.

My timing is off. In Tampa, the fishing is just starting to get good. The tides get lower. The water cools and clears up, and the redfish tail like clockwork on a north wind in the Bay. In Jupiter, the fishing gets good in the spring and sizzles in the summer.  While Tampa Bay redfish seek shelter from summer’s swelter, big snook and tarpon hit the beaches here from May through September, give or take a month. Because the mullet cruise so close to shore, the tarpon are within casting distance with a fly rod from the beach. A friend of mine here jumped 20 last year and actually landed one. Needless to say, a new 11-weight rod and reel is in my future. Meanwhile, I’ll hit the night docklights and dabble in the Loxahatchee River to stay out of the winter wind. Summer can’t get here soon enough.

A nice day on the beach, rare for November.

A nice day on the beach, rare for November.


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Kentucky-Florida football

In honor of this weekend’s Florida-Kentucky game,  I write about C.T. Ayers, my grandfather, who was Kentucky’s starting quarterback from 1933-1935. He never said much about his football career before passing away in 1982. However, I can’t imagine living in Gainesville and watching your alma mater get bludgeoned year after year — Florida has won an NCAA record 27 straight in the series and has dominated the Wildcats for decades. I used to think that my grandfather got some measure of redemption during basketball season, but my grandmother told me he despised Adolph Rupp because the legendary UK coach was an overt racist and made the football players sweep his beloved basketball court. For the record, Kentucky and Florida only played once during my grandfather’s time Lexington. As a senior, he led UK to a 15-6 win over the Gators. I’m sure he was proud of that.


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Why We Need Amendment 1

Funny story.

In 1981, Sports Illustrated ran a scathing article about environmental degradation in Florida.

“The sad fact is that Florida is going down the tube,” the piece asserted. “Indeed, in no state is the environment being wrecked faster and on a larger scale.”

No, that’s not the funny part. Just hold on a sec.

Turns out that the piece ran in Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue. And when the edition hit the stands in Tallahassee, it fell to a trusted aide to break the news to his young governor.

“There is some good news and some bad news here,” Eustus Whitfield, environmental adviser to then-Gov. Bob Graham, told his boss, “and the good news is on the front, Christie Brinkley in her swimsuit.”

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Sometimes Less is More in Casting

Why is the fly line wavy on my casts?

While conducting an intermediate to advanced casting clinic, the above question was frequently asked. The cure in most cases was to point out that the caster had a ‘death grip’ on the rod. Combining this with too much power created shock waves in the rod; these were then transmitted to the line. Remember, the fly line follows the rod tip. The result was a cast with unwanted waves. Concentrate by casting with the rod tip, especially at shorter distances. Start slow, pick up speed and then stop. You will see an immediate improvement. A good caster can intentionally create line waves, where they are needed, to help control drag.

Pat Damico, MCI

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Red Tide On the Way?

Officials have targeted a Red Tide north of Tampa Bay. It’s reportedly moving south. Hopefully, it stays offshore. Here’s the story from the Tampa Bay Times.

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