Friday, September 28, 2012

Flamingo Fishing

The longer I've kept up this blog, the better I've gotten at taking pictures while out on the boat or in the field. However, every once in a while, I fail miserably at taking pictures. My Flamingo trip happened to be one of those instances.

The strange part was that we actually caught fish. The fishing was great to be honest. Once again, the wind wasn't cooperating, so the first thing my dad and I did after launching was motor over to a key that was out of the wind. While using the trolling motor to ease around the mangroves, I noticed the obscene amount of mullet schooled up along the edge of the trees. There were literally thousands. Had I brought the cast net with us, I doubt I would have been strong enough to pull up the net once thrown.

The best part was that there were big schools of Reds mixed in with these mullet, and it wasn't long before both my dad and I had a double hook up.

Unfortunately (and I still don't know what happened), these are the only two pictures I took that day. We caught more Reds, and even a few Snook. But for some reason, I just forgot. In hind sight, I'm kind of glad I didn't take more pictures.

It's often always difficult for me to just -stop- fishing and take out the camera for snap shots. I get into that "zone" where taking pictures, or even thinking about anything but my next cast would just throw me off. I was having a blast, and catching fish. So in all reality, my lack of pictures is a good sign. Sometimes I just like to keep the memories upstairs rather than have a picture. It makes the experience that much sweeter.

Later in the day, the mullet started to move farther from the mangroves and out onto the flats. I kept hearing something big splashing, but could never lay eyes on it. We finally rounded the corner on a key and I saw what was making all the splashing: Dolphin. But they weren't just frolicking. They were feeding. But feeding doesn't quite give what they were doing justice. It was a total National Geographic moment.

I sat in awe for a moment as I watched this. I'm usually violently angry mildly perturbed when dolphin show up. But this was just amazing. It was something I wanted to get a picture of, so I turned around in the boat to get my camera...

To see a 70lb Tarpon right off the bow.

It's amazing how quickly priorities can change while out fishing. One second, my mind is completely focused on the dolphin show, National Geographic, and taking pictures. The next, I'm double hauling my 8wt. for all it's worth at this Tarpon. Dolphin? What dolphin?

Amazingly, I managed to put the fly right where it belonged. However, with the way the fish was angled, my fly line landed right across his back, and he quickly disappeared into the milky green water.

And that was the end of my excitement for the day. The tide rips out of Flamingo and if you aren't careful, you'll end up with a boat stuck in 6 inches of water for half the day. We called it quits once the tide really started to dip low, and headed back to the launch. Much like the backcountry, the area around Flamingo is huge. It would take forever to figure it all out. What makes one flat, or cut, or key better than another is anybody's guess as far as I'm concerned. We were lucky enough to find fish, and have an awesome time doing it. So really, you can't ask for much more. I'll work on my picture taking, but if I fail again, I don't think it'll bother me -too- much. It just means I was catching fish.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Everglades Backcountry Part II

I believe I left off in Part I with the loss of a behemoth Snook.

I wasn't really even upset that I'd lost this fish. After all, the chances of landing it on such light tackle were slim to none. But nevertheless, I wish I had at least gotten to fight it for longer than 3 seconds.

It was getting late and my dad and I were both pretty tired. We kicked up the trolling motor, and started making our way back to the boat ramp. On the way back, however, we decided to make one more stop just to see what we couldn't catch.

The area was out of the wind and the mangroves butted up against some fairly deep water. After lowering the trolling motor and cutting the engine, I proceeded to launch a flawless cast approximately 30 feet up into the mangrove swamp. I honestly don't think my DOA shrimp had even the slightest chance of finding water with such a cast. Since we were running so low on DOA's for the day, it was decided that the best option was to use the trolling motor to get up into the mangroves and try to free the lure.

After several minutes of maneuvering, ducking, pulling, cursing, and swatting at mosquitos, the little shrimp was finally free. We were now pretty deep in the mangroves, even underneath some. I noticed that there were several small pools of water around the base of some of the mangrove roots. These, however, we about 5-6 feet away from the boat. I still don't exactly know why...maybe just for gits and shiggles...but I underhand tossed my shrimp into one of these pools and watched it sink. Gave it a twitch...and BOOM. A snook inhaled it, turned with it, and broke me off on the roots.

We couldn't believe we'd gotten so close with the boat and still managed to hook a fish. I proceeded to tie on my last DOA, and give it another try. This time, in a different little pool, but still just as close as before. Sink. Twitch. Boom. Snook.

We did this for the entire stretch of shoreline, stopping every few feet to drop a shrimp into the hole. I desperately wanted to toss a fly to these fish, but it would have never worked. Even the fly rod itself would have been too long to wield amongst the limbs and roots. We made the choice to back out of the trees just a bit, and I gave the fly rod a go. By this point, cloud cover had moved in, and it seemed like the fish were readily leaving their cover in the shade of the mangroves to hunt a little farther out.

After casting half of my rod into the water, getting my fly line tangled on the trolling motor, and casting my deceiver into the mangroves countless times, I was on the verge of just throwing the whole fly rod into the water. It amazes me how fly fishing can look so relaxing and elegant at a distance, yet once up close, it can give even the most seasoned angler an aneurysm from pure frustration. But once again, the fishing god's smiled upon me, and my troubles were rewarded.

Having eventually had our fill, we ran back to the dock and called it a day. That evening we stocked up on DOA's and heavy Florocarbon for leaders. We awoke even earlier the next morning, and took off for Flamingo well before light.

One thing I had noticed on our first day was that I never saw a single Snook striking or chasing bait on the surface or underneath the trees. We got out onto the water about an hour earlier this day and the -very- first thing I see is Snook striking bait all over the place. First cast of the day resulted in a Snook and the bite kept up like that for about 30-40 minutes. My dad and I both caught Snook and hoooked and lost baby tarpon. I always seem to forget just how hard one must set the hook on a Tarpon, so we failed to land any of them.

The sun got just a little higher in the horizon, and it was like someone flipped a light switch. The bite completely stopped. No more bait being chased. No more Snook and Tarpon hitting the surface. And no more hook ups. It seems that it was once again a prime example of how game species keep horrible hours. Early early, and late late.

With the bite now completely off, we decided to just go explore. We took off into Whitewater Bay, and just worked various shorlines that were out of the wind. I did manage to convince a nice Red to come out from under the mangroves and chase my DOA, but I wasn't paying attention and worked the shrimp to the boat before he could grab it.

After a few hours we made our way back to the ramp, stopping at a few spots along the way. We saw a manatee that, like always, scared the crap out of us (we don't exactly see a lot of them in Pensacola), and we even managed to land a few small Snook on the way back.

Overall, the Everglades Backcountry was an amazing fishing trip. I was pleased that we actually managed to find fish to catch. The place is giant and depending on the time of day, year, and tides, one can either do great or get completely skunked. I think that like most places, being able to consistently catch fish just requires the angler to put in the time and do his/her homework. A lifetime honestly isn't enough time to learn the Everglades. It's just too big. But I'd still love to try.

Stay tuned. Florida Bay/Keys fishing report, right around the corner!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Everglades Backcountry Part I

The days approaching my 2012 Everglades trip seemed to crawl by. It was relatively difficult to actually focus on anything but the upcoming trip. I had plans to land my first Snook and my first Tarpon on the fly rod. But this year was going to be a lot different than previous years. It would actually be my first trip without kayaking.

That's right...The Flying Kayak would from a boat. A brand spankin' new Gheenoe to be precise. My dad recently purchased one and we would be putting it to the test in Hell's Bay.

The night prior to our first backcountry trip was practically sleepless. I'd roll over and check the clock appoximately every 12 seconds. Five O'clock finally rolled around and since I couldn't stand it any longer, I got out of bed and started getting ready. Almost simultaneously, my dad walked out of his room, ready to start the day as well.

Even after waking up earlier than need be, we got off to a purposeful late start. Since neither of us had ventured into the backcountry from Flamingo before, we opted to wait until it got at least light enough to see. Our objective for the day was to make it into Hell's Bay and the surrounding area. Well, that, and to lay into the Snook and Tarpon.

I honestly don't know much about Snook fishing. Since we don't have them where I'm from, my limited experience has been just flipping jerk shad underneath mangroves and hoping for the best. If I intended to actually land one on the fly, I'd have to come up with something a bit more productive than just "hoping for the best".

Using the GPS and my vague memory of google-earth satellite pictures, we wandered our way into Hell's Bay. I found the layout of the creek bottoms to be pretty interesting. The bottom wasn't a uniform depth, but rather there'd be channels that butted right up against the edge of the mangroves. These deep sides held the current from incoming and outgoing tides. The opposite side of the creek would be much shallower, around 1 ft deep. We fished these deeper sides in hopes of finding the Snook, but it wasn't working. I did have a small Black Snapper come up and strike my lure, but he failed to get hooked.

After wandering around for a few hours, we began to stumble into small bays that were choked up with thick aquatic vegetation. We fished these bays with no luck as well. And as if we needed any more difficulty catching fish, Mother Nature decided to send her sure-fired method of preventing anglers of success. Dolphin
Time to leave
The question then came up: "Now what?"

The Everglades Backcountry is enormous. It'd take a lifetime to even get to know half of it. We opted to work our way back out into Whitewater Bay and try to fish an area out of the wind. I should note that there wasn't a breath of wind on the water until I picked up my fly rod. The resulting gale forced us to find places to fish that were out of the wind.

Once back in Whitewater Bay, we started working along the edge of a shoreline. I had switched from a jerk shad to a DOA shrimp. My confidence in the DOA's had risen slightly after my most recent trip to Port St. Joe, so I decided to give it another try. It didn't take long before I had my first hook-up of the day.

Just a few casts later and I started catching Black Snapper in the 10-12 inch range. A little further down the shoreline and I had another strike. This one practically underneath the boat.

Another few casts and I landed a pretty little Speckled Trout.

Apparently these fish were enjoying the DOA's. Since we only had a few in the tacklebox, I made sure to maneuver the boat into the mangroves to retrieve the lure after every bad cast (which happens on a near constant occassion).

It was getting long past mid-day now and the bite seemed to be slowing down. My dad and I decided it was getting to be time to head back, just after we fished one last little stretch of shoreline. I cast my DOA shrimp right up along the edge of an old dead tree and let it sink. After a few twitches, I felt a strike, set the hook, and began reeling in about a 10 inch Black Snapper. What happened next, I could have never been ready for. The fish fought his way to the surface and in an instant, disappeared in an explosion of water and foam. I saw a giant tan Snook tail disappearing back into the tannin stained water, and my drag began to sing.

But only for a second. I was broken off almost immediately by a Snook big enough to swallow a Snapper...whole.

Part II soon to come. Stay tuned!