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
Tag Archives: fly fishing
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 (SheFishes2.com); 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.http://www.hatchmag.com/articles/largemouth-bass-fly-tips-pros/7714386
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.
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.
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.
Here’s a throwback to the past: A story, presumably in Florida Sportsman, on fly fishing creeks in NE Florida in a kayak at low tide. Jerry McBride is the author. Rick Ryals is the focal point. Timing is key. You’ve got to get the right tide at the right time, preferably in the morning before the wind kicks up. Once the wind picks up, sight fishing becomes a lot more difficult. Ryals obviously has put in his time on the water. He knows where to go and when. I’ve got a call into him for more info. Below is a link to the story, which was posted on the Snook & Gamefish Foundation’s website. Enjoy.
Montauk is one place I’ve always wanted to go. I’m not much of a fan of the Northeast, but Montauk is the one exception in my geographical mindset. Its rugged beauty is attractive enough, not to mention the striped bass fishing. It’s definitely on my fly fishing bucket list. This video came from Dan Dow of Bonefish Tarpon & Trust. Dan posted this on his Facebook page. Check it out.
Caught this nice Peacock last week in Lake Worth’s Lake Osbourne. It’s the second Peacock I’ve caught and third species of bass I’ve landed, along with the traditional largemouth and smallmouth. Peacock generally aren’t found north of Lake Worth. You have to venture into southern Palm Beach County to find warm enough water and climate to support their habitat.
I’ve glad I caught one. They’ll make the winter pass faster. They’re mainly a summer fish, but they’ll feed in the warmer part of the day, once the sun’s up, even in winter. A late riser, my kind of fish!
A video from my good friend Dan Decibel, who is equally adept with a video camera as he is with a fly rod or a push pole. Good guy and a good fisherman.
My story for Snook & Gamefish Foundation
Tarpon season is just about over in Florida. In a few weeks, once the mullet run winds down, the chase for the Silver King will largely be done. Like many of our favorite flats targets, once winter arrives most tarpon will depart for warmer waters.
South Florida fly fishermen have traditionally have turned to two local options close to home: They break out the bass poppers or grease up the fly-tying vise and wait for spring.
But, there’s another possibility: Barracuda. They’re in the Keys, they’ll suck down a fly. Once hooked, they’re ready to test your backing, not to mention your guide’s boating skills.