Fishing and Remembering a Legend
My last blog talked about the apparent early arrival of spring to Florida. Well, nature decided to prove us all wrong, including those animals and fish who thought spring had arrived. Instead of continued warm weather, I recently woke up to ice on the skiff and temperatures starting in the 30's and only making it to the 60's. It seems like Old Man Winter just doesn't want to give in to spring. That's okay though, just have the right clothes and go fishing anyway! The cool weather has kept our waters clear, with many areas as clear as museum glass. The only down side, if there is one, is the snook and tarpon, which were showing up, have moved back to deeper and warmer water locations. It shouldn't last for long though, as the future temperatures are showing a trend toward 80 degrees and higher by the end of this week.
The weather has made sight fishing conditions spectacular. The clear water enables you to see redfish and seatrout as they prowl the flats for potential targets. The last week has seen redfish returning to the flats, backing and tailing across the shallow waters. The seatrout are also in the shallows, hunting through the seagrass beds and picking off unsuspecting mullet and shrimp. This makes both of these fish perfect targets for the fly rod and light tackle with soft plastics. Whichever method you prefer, it is all about being ready, keeping your eyes open, and making sure you don't land too close to spook a fish. This can be the difficult part. For fly fishers, I recommend dropping to a six or seven weight rod and using a minimum of a 12 foot leader. The lighter line size and longer leader makes for softer landings and reduces the number of fish you spook. If you prefer spinning or casting gear, it means casting beyond the target and then bringing the lure back to the fish. Even a jig as light as 1/16 ounce can spook the fish if it lands too close. On one recent trip, that is exactly what happened. The casts were too close and every fish kept spooking when the jig would hit the water. Finally, after convincing my client to throw past the fish by at least 15 feet, and then bringing the jig back, we got our eats.
The freshwater side of Florida fishing has also been pushed back just a little. The shad run and crappie fishing are still hot; the cooler weather seems to have extended the season. Ultralight spinning gear has been working great on both of these species. We are using 6' ultralight spinning outfits, with 3 pound braid and small crappie jigs. The fish have been unable to resist these rigs. Shad have been relatively easy to locate; just watch for busting fish on the surface. Crappie can also be located this way, but we have also located them near brush piles or drop offs. We have located several bass beds and tilapia beds. It seems they were just getting ready to start spawning when this last cold weather pushed in. More than likely, this will push the beginning of spawning back a couple of weeks and make it more in line with the typical season. The big bass will start bedding and it is a great time to target them with topwater. There are few things more exciting than a huge largemouth bass crashing a topwater lure. The tilapia will also start their mating ritual and that means it will be time to start bowfishing. I've described this as the closest thing you can get to hunting, while still considering it fishing. Stalking these fish is an art and taking them with a bow is tougher than most people think. But, it is still one of my favorite things to do and will start taking a lot of my time in the upcoming weeks.
The upcoming months will also bring the start of tarpon season. My area usually starts seeing a good number of tarpon beginning in late May. The numbers will increase throughout June, July, August and September. The tarpon we target range from a couple of pounds to well over 100 pounds. It all depends on what you want to chase. Personally, I prefer the fish from 15-50 pounds. They offer a lot of fun without taxing your body too much. They also like to take most of the fight to the air, making for quite the show and photo opportunities. Snook fishing will improve over the next few months too. As I previously reported, the cold weather did not eradicate our snook fishery. We have been taking fish from Ormond Beach to Titusville and I have seen more large snook since the cold weather this year than I did last year. I am expecting the srping and summer months to continue this trend and look forward to the best snook fishing I've had in decades.
This year's snook fishing will have special meaning to me. Last year I had another opportunity to teach a fly fishing school with Flip
Pallot and Lefty Kreh. During lunch, I was sitting with Lefty and a few of the students, when they asked what my favorite fish was to target on fly. I didn't hesitate and stated snook. Lefty, sitting net to me, smiled that charming smile and chuckled; if you know Lefty, you know the chuckle I'm talking about. The students asked me why. I explained how I think snook are the street fighters of the fish realm; they are strong, dirty, street-wise fighters. They hit hard, fight harder, and know every nook and snag in the area. They readily take flies, but can be so picky it can drive you nuts. It takes accurate casting and skill to fight them out of structure, all while trying to keep them from cutting your line with their gill plates. Forget fly I said, snook are my favorite fish to target no matter what I'm using. When I got done, Lefty was still smiling and his eyes were focused on me. He said snook held a special place in his heart too and that he agreed with everything I said. He said he couldn't have expressed it any better and definitely couldn't add any more passion or excitement to the way I said it. He said he could tell I truly loved them by how excited I got, the passion in my eyes, and the way I described their beauty. For me, hearing that from I man I admire so much meant the world to me. The students sat back, started eating lunch again and you could tell they were dreaming of snook fishing. Unfortunately, Lefty recently passed away. The fly fishing world, hell the fishing world in general, has lost a true legend and a man who taught me what it was to be a teacher and mentor. Every snook I catch this year will be a memory of the times I got to spend with him and will be dedicated to his memory. The one thing I do know; right now he is looking down on us all, smiling at the legacy he helped create in the fishing world.
As a parting reminder in this blog, I still have a few openings left for the Bahamas trip to Abaco Lodge. The trip is October 1-5 and is all inclusive, with the exception of airfare. The trip is limited to 12 people and 1/3 of those spots are already filled. This will be a trip of a lifetime and one that I guarantee will give you plenty of memories. Bonefish, tarpon, permit and more are awaiting our arrival! Add in some awesome food, plenty of story telling around the fire, and maybe a drink or two and it will leave you wanting to return as soon as you can. Check out my earlier blog for full details! Questions, call or email me and I'll answer them.
Whatever adventure you are looking for, I am here to give it to you! Book your trip now!