Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Mullet Snatching and Summer

Well, I've almost made it. I'm currently halfway through exam week of my toughest college semester yet (and hopefully ever). Two more exams and I'm home free. I'm having a relatively hard time focusing on studying as I can't seem to get my mind off of the upcoming fishing trips.

Summer is, by far, my favorite time of the year. Even though there's almost no hunting to be done, the amount of fun I get out of fishing during summer makes up for it. One of the things I'm -really- looking forward to is getting to go mullet snatching again. Just like it sounds, snatching mullet just consists of throwing a weighted treble hook through a school of mullet and foul hooking one. Obviously, the school needs to be pretty thick and the sharper and narrower the hook, the better. Last summer wasn't great for snatching mullet. I think it had something to do with the hard freeze we had. I heard reports two winters ago that there were frozen mullet washing up on shore. Hopefully this summer they'll have bounced back a bit. Hooking and fighting a mullet might not sound like much fun, but these fish fight surprisingly hard. Enough to rip out some drag actually. And really, a bunch of fried mullet at a fish fry is tough to beat.

I had my best luck snatching mullet the summer before last. My dad and I waited until high tide, and then waded out to an area near Pensacola to try our luck. The mullet were schooled up in the hundreds and we started casting across the schools in hopes of snatching one. If I had landed every one that I hit with the hook, I wouldn't have been able to carry the stringer. After every hit, I'd retrieve my hook to find a clear/silver mullet scale. I kept every scale and counted them at the end of the trip. Over the course of a few hours, I hit 68 mullet by myself and my dad had similar results. Luckily, we did manage to land a few and had a nice fish fry afterwards.

Now I'd just like another repeat of that summer. I (finally) got a call about a possible job near Ft. Walton beach studying beach mice. Due to the logistic nightmare of commuting from Pensacola and only being able to work part time, it's looking like I may be camping on the beach for a few days at a time this summer if I get the job. If I'm lucky, I'll just have to bring a surf rod and see what I can't catch while not working. Once it's set in stone, I'll be good to go.

Kayak fishing tournament is a week and a half away. Still debating about fishing the oil rigs in Alabama for King Mackerel. Depends on the weather, my (hopeful) job, and how daring I'm feeling the night before.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Look Back: Everglades Fishing, 2008

The following is a report from an Everglades trip during the summer of 2008. 
I've also made a link to this page as an "Action Photo Prompt" through the Outdoor Blogger Network. I misunderstood the directions for the photo prompt so to actually see the 'action' shots, scroll to the middle of the story :)

It amazes me how far one can drive in Florida and never actually leave the state. I blame the its goofy, dog leg shape. It's especially far if one drives from Pensacola to the Everglades. In fact, the only possible way to make a longer trip within the state is to keep going to Key West. Bottom line, the drive sucks and lasts anywhere from 11 hours to an eternity.

In the summer of 2008, my dad and I drove the grueling 11 hours down to Homestead, Fl to fish for exotics, Tarpon, and Snook. Our first stop while down there was Holiday Park, just south of Alligator Alley. The place was a nut house when we arrived. Airboats, motorboats, and people everywhere. We drove to the back of the park near the RV campground and noticed a small canal running due south out of the park. The best part was that there wasn't a soul in it because there was no boat launch. So my dad and I unloaded the yaks from the truck and proceeded to launch the kayaks from the near vertical bank...snapping a rod tip in the process.

After launching and fighting our way through a thick mat of Lilly pads and Hydrilla, my dad and I had the canal to ourselves. Luckily, at this point in my life, I had yet to be bitten by the fly fishing bug. Yes, I enjoyed fly fishing, but only for a few minutes at a time and I didn't have the overwhelming urge to catch -everything- on a fly rod. After about 20 minutes of no luck with the fly rod, I brought out the bream buster and began drowning live worms.

To my surprise, I was having very little luck even with live bait. Fish were few and far between but after a few hours I had managed to put a decent amount of bluegill and exotics in the cooler.

The primary exotic fish caught in this particular canal was the Spotted Tilapia. It's not an actual tilapia. In fact, its another form of cichlid. But just like all other cichlids, it fights like a fish weighing 10lbs heavier than it really does.
Spotted Tilapia

With almost no success on the fly rod the first day, my dad wanted to head into the Everglades National Park to try our luck with Tarpon or Snook. The park is located just a few miles outside of Homestead and we arrived early the next morning. We parked at the visitor's center and my dad wandered inside to use the bathroom. Being bored and curious, I stepped out of the truck and walked over to take a look at a large map of the park that had been put up on a display sign. I hadn't been outside of the truck for more than 30 seconds before I realized I had made a mistake. One look down at my legs confirmed my fears: my legs were black with thousands of mosquitoes. They proceeded to reduce me to a mixture of a screaming 10 yr. old girl and a shriveled husk from blood loss in just a few seconds. I made it back to the truck, slammed the door and set about killing the few hundred I'd let into the cab in the seconds the door was open.

As I sat in the truck and set about hooking up a blood transfusion, a family of tourists parked next to me and hopped out of the minivan to look at the same trap I had just fallen for. I wanted to warn them...tell them to at least keep their two little girls in the car as I feared one of the blood sucking pterodactyls might be able to carry one off...but I was too afraid to open the door or roll down the window. Instead, I watched with mild anticipation as the family realized they'd fallen into a trap.

A few seconds passed and the mother slapped her leg, but continued looking at the map. Almost immediately afterwards the father slapped a bug on his neck, then his arm. The little girls began slapping bugs on their legs in quick succession. Then the mom began slapping her neck, arms, face, back, legs and started screaming and bolted back for the car. The rest of the family followed right behind her, slapping themselves and screaming the whole way. Then they made a near fatal move. Instead of rushing into the car, they opened the back of the minivan and whipped out a can of bug spray. They quickly sprayed themselves down while doing a very unhappy dance. A few seconds passed with the family still spraying, stomping, yelling, and dancing about like their hair was on fire before they realized it was futile and possibly fatal to remain outside and then slammed themselves shut in the van.

Moments later my dad came casually strolling out of the visitor's center. Why mosquitoes rarely bother him is a mystery to me and I envy him every time I have to apply a thick coat of bug spray. He walked up, looked at the sign, and headed back to the truck. As soon as he hopped into the cab with me, another car drove up and parked. "Watch this", I told him as a young couple hopped out of their car and walked over to look at the death trap.

"What am I watching?" my dad asked.

"Just watch these two", I told him as I wide grin came across my face. Sure enough, the couple began slapping themselves, and were sent screaming back to their car. It's hilarious to watch when it isn't happening to you. A few minutes later, another car full of people showed up and stepped out to look at the sign. Once again, they were nearly carried off and slapped and cussed their way back to the car. I wish I had thought to video tape it. Watching this was almost better than fishing....Almost.

We drove into the park and stopped at a lake a few miles in. It looked fishy, so we launched and proceeded to try our luck. Every once in a while, I could see tarpon roll in the distance, but I couldn't get anything to hit. After paddling around for a while, I noticed a small opening in the mangroves and paddled over to it. The opening led to another pond. I slipped my yak through the narrow opening and drifted out into the middle of a deep pond. I cast my top water lure along the edge of the pond and began working it back toward me. Suddenly, the lure exploded and a tarpon was sent skyward underneath it. I watched in shock as my lure landed a few feet ahead of where it had been and the tarpon landed with a splash. I immediately kept up the action of the lure. Another explosion, and the lure went flying again. A few more twitches, a third hit and then the sound of my drag peeling out. The fight was on.

I yelled at my dad in the other pond to come over and kept the tension on the fish. I was nervous the whole time of breaking the fish off on the 12lb test I was using but I bowed every time he jumped, and let him drag the yak in circles in the pond. My dad finally showed up to see the end of the 20 minute battle.
Bow to the King
The fight continues

I finally got the fish close enough to lip and pulled him into the kayak.

This fish made my trip. It was my second Tarpon ever and weighed close to 30 lbs.

I revived him for a few minutes and let him go. Not 5 casts later, I hooked yet another one. This one was much smaller, and it proceeded to drag me into a bunch of mangroves and almost to my death from mosquitoes. One can see from the picture that I'm busy wiping them from my face with my other arm.

We also caught several bass in the pond and missed a few more tarpon. After a while, the bite stopped and we loaded up the truck for the day. The following day, we went back to the Park, but this time fished a different pond. I caught one HUGE Myan Cichlid on a lure, and missed several bass and tarpon. My dad managed to land a very nice Snook as well.

The last morning we were there, we headed into town and bank fished for exotics. I caught my very first Peacock Bass and certainly broke no size records:

A bit later in the morning, we stopped at a different spot and I noticed a big Peacock Bass sitting in the shallows. I began casting everything in the tackle box at it, but it wouldn't take a thing. The last thing I had in the tackle box was a chartreuse double-tailed grub. I tied it on, and cast to the bass in one last hope of at least catching its interest. I was shocked when I did far more than grab its attention...the bass absolutely clobbered it. After a very good fight, I landed the fish and threw it in the cooler.

My 2008 Everglades trip was certainly worth it. I had a blast and found several places to fish in the future. The Tarpon also made the trip for me and I can't wait to go back year after year.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Turkey Hunting, Ft. White, Fl

I recently got invited to hunt a piece of private property in Ft. White, Fl that is owned by a buddy of mine. My friend told me that he and his grandpa had seen several turkeys on the property and he was kind enough to invite me along for a hunt.

Got up at 0530 and drove over to my friends house to meet him. We then loaded up the car and headed up to Ft. White. We ended up getting out there quite late. It was 0700 by the time we were set up underneath a few large oaks and it was already light enough to see everything. With it being my second time ever hunting turkeys, I still had no idea what I was doing. So my friend set up about 15 yards behind me to call, and I set up near a clearing that faced where the turkeys were supposed to come from.

The last time I went turkey hunting we called and called and I think I heard one turkey gobble somewhere in the next county. We certainly didn't see anything. This trip started to pan out about like that. In my typical good judgment, I found possibly the smallest diameter tree to lean against and it was busy giving me a spinal realignment while I looked for any movement. We hadn't heard anything walking in and after calling for about 15 minutes, we still had yet to hear anything. I was still staring out across the clearing when I thought I heard something behind me. I turned to see two jakes walking up from behind. I was rather afraid to move because I knew turkey have such good eyesight. But because of the way I was facing, there was no chance for me to take a shot without moving.

Carefully, I waited until the turkeys moved between myself and a large oak and I quickly turned myself underneath the twig of a tree I was leaning on. I raised my 12 gauge, popped the safety off, and waited for the birds to move into a small opening that was now directly in front of me. My friend had told me prior to this that often the larger of several turkey will hang out in the back and wait for the younger ones to go first. I tried to remember this, but watched as the two jakes switch positions several times as they worked their way through some thick brush and toward my opening. At this point, I picked what I considered to be the biggest one out and got ready to shoot. He stuck his head up, looked around, and just as I was about to pull the trigger, he ducked and turned to walk off. Not wanting to miss my chance, I decided that if even the -slightest- chance was offered again for a shot, I'd take it. Almost immediately, the turkey stopped, facing away from me, stuck his head up again, and I fired.

For a split second, I thought the bird was running off after I fired. Turns out it was just knocked backwards from the shotgun blast. Almost immediately after shooting the jake, I heard my friend begin firing at the second turkey with his 20 gauge. I quickly stood up, chambered another round, took aim on the bird he was shooting at, and squeezed another shot off. At this point, the second bird was way out of range and my shot missed anyway. We looked for blood, but only found one little drop and searched for the second bird for nearly an hour before giving up. Luckily for me, my turkey was dropped in its tracks. Buck fever has never bothered be prior to a shot and this morning was no exception. However, I was a complete and total wreck moments after I downed my bird and could barely stand because my legs were shaking so hard. Guess its better to get it after a shot rather than just before.

Looking at our watches, it was 0730 in the morning and we'd already had a successful hunt. I could certainly get used to having 30 minute hunts. I told my friend he'd ruined me on turkey hunting now. In the future, I might find myself sitting under a tree for 20 minutes and think about giving up because I'd yet to see a turkey. We didn't weigh the turkey, but I kept the beard (which was a whopping 5 inches long), almost ever feather and all the meat. I thanked my friend repeatedly and set about cleaning the bird. I'm truly grateful to have gotten such an awesome opportunity and experience and it will certainly be one that I will never forget.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Spring Update

Sadly, I haven't had much time for hunting or fishing the past few weeks. School has been absolutely brutal and this weekend was the first weekend in a long time that I've had off.

A few weeks ago I was looking around Gainesville for possible ponds to fish. I noticed from the imagery that there was a pond in the middle of an apartment complex right across the street from where I live. I walked over to the pond soon after and found it to be almost accessible around its entire edge. To make things better, there's tons of room to cast a fly. There's also a large fountain in the middle of the pond. I wasn't 100% sure there were fish in the pond until I noticed a dead bluegill on the bank and after seeing that, I decided to fish it.

Yesterday was my first chance to fish the pond so I grabbed my 3 wt. and walked across the street to see what I could do. I fished for maybe an hour and caught 4 bluegill (1 keeper) and a warmouth. I was rather shocked that I caught any fish at all. I hadn't been out there 5 minutes before there was a huge splash next to me and I look to see a dog swimming out into the middle of the pond to fetch a tennis ball. I'm not exactly used to having people all over the place when I fish. But...I moved, and began catching fish again, so I suppose it was alright (the dog tired out after about 20 minutes anyways).

Nothing would touch a surface fly so I changed to a little bead head nymph and began getting hook ups. I did manage to miss a nice strike from a decent sized fish. Upon inspecting my fly, I noticed that the hook had actually broken in half. Certainly a first for me. I'll probably be spending a bit more time down at the pond in the next week now that school is winding down.

As of right now, the plan is to head back to Pensacola when school gets out and get down to some serious fishing. There's a kayak fishing tournament I'm thinking about entering when I get home. It should prove interesting. Especially if I can manage to land a king or cobia in the yak with me.