A Year of Memories and Fishing
The middle of December is upon us and I wanted to take a few moments to say Merry Christmas and Thank-You to everyone that joined me on trips this year. It is hard to believe that 2022 is almost gone. It has been a mixed year, with some great fishing, some not so good fishing, of happy days, and of tragedy from a rather nasty hurricane season. Through it all, I have felt blessed to have spent some wonderful days with clients from around the world; the one thing that made it all better, and brought us all together, the love of fishing and of the water. So, before I move on to current topics, I again want to say Thank-You to all of those that spent days on the water with me.
It seems amazing that we are in the middle of December and we are still dealing with issues from Hurricanes Ian and Nicole. As I sit here writing this, I am happy to say that just today, we received our funding so that we can repair our home
from Hurricane Ian. It has been a long 10 weeks, with several hoops to jump through and now we play the game of trying to find contractors to complete the work. However, I am one of the lucky ones, as we can still reside in our home while the repairs are completed. Many folks in our area have been displaced completely, and some maybe even permanently. The two storms did quite a number to our beaches and our waterways. We've had unusually high tides, we are still experiencing some coastal and river flooding, and even the shorelines have been dramatically changed. While on a few recent trips, we discovered entire spoil islands that were missing, being swept away by the winds, high water, and strong currents. In other areas, sand bars have either been swept away or they have extended and grown extensively. Perhaps the worst part is the loss of seagrasses as a result of the storms. I had been really excited at all of the new seagrass growth we saw all year long. We had what many of us considered the best year in over a decade of growth. However, this grass was young, with shallow roots. The winds and currents from the hurricanes ripped most of this new growth from the bottom, leaving them barren once again. Now, we will have to wait and see what winter brings and pray that it is good for the return next year. The good news is that seagrasses in protected areas and along shorelines survived in several areas, which should help with faster replacement next year.
Fishing in recent weeks has been just as questionable as the return of the seagrasses. I have a feeling it is for the very same reasons: high water, destruction of habitat, and some strange weather in recent weeks. One day fishing can be on fire, where we find fish at every spot we go to. The next day, with the same exact conditions, it can take half a day to locate just a few fish. The usual patterns have been interrupted and I have a feeling that it will take a month or so for the fish to start to return to any semblance of "normal". Normal for us during the winter would mean later launches, waiting for the sun to come a little, giving us better visibility and letting the water warm up a few degrees. It would also mean changing our tackle to lighter, finesse gear. For conventional tackle, that means throwing much smaller jigs, with lighter leaders and lighter rods, so fish do not spook. The same theory goes with fly anglers, where we will go from 7 and 8 weight rods, down to 5 and 6 weight rods. Leaders also get lighter and longer, with smaller and lighter flies. All of this has to do with clearer water that is typically at lower levels than during the summer. Right now, the water is clearing up nicely, but it has yet to drop like it should. Only time will tell if it will, or if the higher waters will become our new normal due to beach erosion and other issues from the storms.
During uncertain times like this, every angler should be as prepared as they can be. That may mean carrying a couple of extra rods, so you can cover the entire spectrum of sizes and weights. It may also mean carrying a large assortment of jigs, lures, and flies. Additionally, every angler should have a leader material to build whatever leader the situation demands. Trying to carry the extra can be a little bit of a pain, but if you are prepared for every possible scenario, then you will have a better chance of success. Fortunately for me, and my clients, I always carry more than I think will be needed, and on more than one occasion, it has paid off with successful catches instead of getting skunked.
The vast majority of my recent trips have focused on redfish. Like I stated above, some of these trips have seen plenty of shots, while others were difficult. The fish are moving quite a bit during the day, so there are times you just have to cover quite a bit of water, With the cooler temperatures coming, there will be mornings when the fish are laid up or moving extremely slow. Taking your time and moving slow during these times is critical. Too often, people cover the flats so fast that they push up on fish and see them too late. Even moving slowly, this can still happen, but the chance of spooking fish by water displacement or noise is greatly reduced the slower you go. If you pole you skiff, there is also something else you can do: replace your plastic push pole fork with a wooden one. Flip Pallot talked me into this after the first time I used his. The wooden fork is lighter, but more importantly, it makes a natural sound when crunching against the bottom or when hitting rocks and oysters. If you don't believe it, here's a simple test. Take your underwater camera and video the two next to the boat. The difference in sound is pretty astonishing. But, if you think about it, mangroves routinely make noise in the water, when prop roots are moved by predators or water current. There aren't many plastic mangroves in the water.
While pushing the flats over the last couple of weeks, the water has been clear enough, that we have been able to spot some really nice seatrout. Summer is usually when I do my best on these big girls, but the water was just too high this year. So, they will be targeted over the winter. These fish are not easy to target during this time of the year, as the water is clear and their eyesight and wariness is unsurpassed. While you can target smaller, schoolie seatrout on drop-offs, the big girls love the shallower water, where they will lay up in sandy areas and warm-up, while awaiting prey to come by. It's amazing how well these fish blend in with the bottom. Again, take your time. Instead of looking for the actual fish, which can be nearly impossible to see, look for their shadows reflecting off the bottom. Presentation is everything to these big girls and it requires precise casting with offerings that enter the water without making a huge splash. Of course, there's also another method, that I absolutely love too; making long, searching casts over the flats and working a topwater plug or popper fly. This is an extremely productive method in the early morning or late afternoon, when you don't have enough sunlight to see fish. Please remember, these big girls are the future of our seatrout, as they are prolific spawners. Handle them with great care, take time to properly revive them, and release them. This will insure that we continue to have great seatrout fishing for future generations.
There are two other fish that can be targeted this time of year, and they make great table fare, for those looking for a fresh dinner: Mangrove Snapper and Flounder. Both of these fish can be found on the flats, and along the river channels. The number of flounder we have seen bouncing across the flats has increased quite a bit over the last few weeks. These fish, when leaving the area, leave tell-tale mud puffs as they bounce along. These mud puffs are a lot different than other fish that leave a single puff or a long muddy trail like a stingray. They will be individual puffs that appear in a trail, each one separated by a length where the flounder left the bottom. Soft plastic jigs like the Z-Man Ez-ShrimpZ, Scented ShrimpZ, or MinnowZ work great for flounder; especially if you get a color with a highlighted tail. Mangrove Snapper will take artificials too, but the best luck will be live shrimp on a circle hook. These fish can be bait stealers, but patience and some practice will have you catching more than enough for dinner. Personally, I free line my shrimp without any weight, allowing the shrimp to escape smaller snapper and pinfish. I also use 20 pound fluoro leader, which sinks, to help get the shrimp down and will keep cut offs from happening if you happen to hook a snook or something else lurking in the area. Just remember, check the regulations in your area, prior to keeping anything. Ignorance is no excuse and illegal fish cost you at least $125, plus a misdemeanor conviction on your record.
Well, that's just about all of the news for now. I will be posting my "year in review" video and letter later this month. I try to highlight as many of my clients as possible; so, if you took a trip and want to share a photo, please email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org . I'll make sure it makes the highlight video!
If you happen to be looking for that last minute gift, for your favorite angler, or someone that is looking to learn, I have gift certificates for fishing trips, eco-trips, and fly casting lessons available. They can be sent digitally, so you can have them within minutes. I also still have my snook and redfish performance t-shirts available. Right now, I have small through x-large sizes available in both shirts. They are $25/each or 2 for $40, plus shipping if I have to send them out.
As always, thank you for taking the time to enjoy the blog! If you have any questions, or there is a topic you would like to see covered, please let me know!
Until next time, Tight Lines and Screaming Drags:
Captain John Tarr