Month – February 2013

Gills and Gators – Florida Farm Pond Fishin’

“Sure, just watch out for the gator.”

The words resonated in my head as I walked toward the pond that reportedly held some bass and panfish. Moments earlier, my ears perked up when I heard the owner of the small citrus-picking operation mention a little pond in the corner of the grove – and a gator. I couldn’t help myself. I just had to ask.

“Any fish in that pond?”

“Yeah, there are some bass, and a few tilapia,” she replied.

“Mind if I fish a little?”….

An orange grove was the last place I expected to be tossing a fly in southwest Florida, but the prospect of catching a big Florida bucketmouth sent chills of excitement down my spine. Only about a hundred feet long and half as wide, the pond was small, if not tiny, easily in range of casting a fly to the other side. A little grove of palm trees hung over the water, breaking up the grassy bank. I imagined a largemouth lurking in the shade, waiting for a helpless baitfish to wander by.

Then I spotted her. Eight feet of massive gator was sitting on the opposite bank sunning herself — out of reach, but still far too close to be comfortable. With one eye on the beast, Braden grabbed a #4 rusty brown Meat Whistle and tied it on with a Rapala knot.

I was on gator watch while Braden probed the depths. The murky water was full of tiny minnows. Occasionally, something would erupt on the surface, sending the minnows scattering and fueling our excitement even more. One restless corner of our minds was always on the gator, no matter how much we focused on the fish. Braden ran the Meat Whistle through the middle of the pond and along the shore, but nothing showed any interest. After a few minutes of fishing, he decided to shift gears and switch to a panfish fly. He tied on a #12 Flash Bugger and repeated the process, hitting every little fishy spot in that corner of the pond.

A few minutes later I took the rod and headed over to the other side of the pond. The gator kept an eye on us as she lazily sat on the bank. The uneasiness was beginning to wear off, but it’s hard to be completely comfortable (or at least it should be) with an apex predator staring you down. I cast my flash bugger deep into the shade, and started stripping it back. The line tightened up, and I set the hook on a fish! As soon as the gator saw the rod bend, she launched herself into the water and started cruising right at us…I stripped in line and yanked the 6-inch bluegill onto the bank, using the backbone of my eight weight to my advantage. The gator was getting closer with every moment. Braden snapped a quick picture before I fumbled with unhooking the fish, chucked it back into the pond, and took off in a hurry! We tried to fish some more, but every time Braden started casting, the gator would slowly sneak toward us, forcing us to get out of there before she got too close. Today was an awesome experience that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

Tight Lines,

Conner

SW Florida Pics

Mangroves

We kayaked and fished a little in Charlotte Bay. I caught a baby snook, my first on the fly.

One of the many bass-filled canals that cut across Florida's inland. Cold water put the bass in a mood the day we fished it, but I managed a small bass and Braden got a bluegill.

Seatrout with Norm's Crystal Schminnow in his upper lip. Definitely the hot fly of the trip.

 

Sanibel Seatrout on the Flats

Saltwater fly fishing has always been a bit of a challenge for me. I’ve fished the salt three times in the Florida panhandle and South Carolina, but only hooked a redfish that popped off after a minute of powerful runs. I was completely out of my element on those first couple trips, staring across a vast bay and into the pounding surf, not having the least idea of where to start or what to tie on. After battling that red, I was hooked, and landing a fish in the salt became a goal that I was bent toward reaching.

Sanibel Island sits about a mile off southwest Florida’s Gulf coast. The long, skinny island is known for its healthy population of snook, but spotted seatrout, redfish, and tarpon all swim the waters around the island. We fished Sanibel twice on our week-long adventure in southwest Florida hunting anything that would inhale a fly.

Before hitting the water, we stopped at Norm Zeigler’s Fly Shop on Sanibel Island. Norm runs a great full service shop with lots of gear and fly tying materials, along with bait and tackle. I picked up a few materials to tie his Schminnows, a fly he invented seventeen years ago that is deadly on the island’s fish, especially snook.

Our first stop was a tiny causeway island between Sanibel and the mainland. A shallow, grassy flat extended from the beach out into deeper water, a perfect spot for seatrout.  Within minutes, Braden had a fish take his #2 Schminnow, but no hookup. I waded knee-deep out into the grassy flat, and the cold, gentle waves lapped against my legs as I searched for signs of life. My six-weight flexed with the strain of the fly line, and I became absorbed in catching a fish, oblivious to the surrounding world.

After a few minutes of pounding the water without any results, I pulled my fly in and started moving down the beach. I noticed a baitfish come flying out of the water, not more than ten yards away. I quickly ran down the beach, stripping out line in preparation to cast.

I double hauled into the cold, ever-present Gulf wind, landing my fly about fifty feet into the bay. I started a slow, rhythmic strip-pause retrieve, swimming my Schminnow across the grassy flat, hoping that a trout or snook would intercept it. My line tightened slightly, and I strip-set into a fish. I played the small trout for a moment before beaching it, my first fish in the salt! His spots glowed in the gentle surf, and I admired them for a minute before sending him back into the bay. The fourteen inch spotted seatrout didn’t put up much of a fight, but I didn’t care. I was pumped to land a fish.

Small spotted seatrout that ate Norm's Crystal Schminnow

My fly was quickly eaten by another trout of about the same size. I landed the frisky little trout after a short battle and pulled out the Schminnow that he inhaled. I cast my Schminnow back onto the flat, and halfway to shore it got jolted. I hooked into a nice fish, and quickly got him on the reel. I endured a few short runs and headshakes before landing a nice trout around seventeen inches.

Seatrout look almost like a brown trout, but aren’t actually related to trout at all. They are a type of drum, in the same family as redfish. These trout had some cool spots and wicked canine-like teeth. Just like that the fishing shut down. We tried the same techniques and spots but to no avail. One of the highlights of the day was seeing a dolphin cruise along the beach not more than 30 yards out. It was pretty cool to see a dolphin in his own element, chasing the same fish we were after.

A few days later, we fished the estuary along the Wildlife Drive in the J.N. “Ding” Darling wildlife refuge. Nothing took our flies in the hour or two that we fished in the evening, but it was still a great day out in Creation.

Tight Lines,

Conner

CDC Parachutes

I have a ton of CDC on my hands right now from the past duck hunting season. All this CDC has led to some experimenting, and lately I’ve been playing around with CDC dubbing loop hackle. I tied these two parachutes using a CDC fibers in a dubbing loop in place of the standard chicken hackle. It can be a little tricky to get the “hackle” to behave, but I’m pretty happy with the results. These guys should work pretty well on the flat water where the trout demand a little more realistic fly.

cdc parachute tied with a cdc dubbing loop hackle

 
Hook: #16 Mustad Signature Series fine wire dry fly hook
Thread: Olive 8/0 UNI
Tail: Lemon wood duck
Body: Gray “Adams” superfine dubbing
Post: Fibers from a brown wood duck breast feather
Hackle: Natural gray CDC fibers in a dubbing loop

BWO

 
Hook: #16-22 Mustad Signature Series dry
Thread: Olive 8/0 UNI
Tail: Barred mallard flank over cream, gray, or blue dun antron
Body: Olive micro tubing
Post: Cream or blue dun antron
Hackle: Natural gray CDC fibers in a dubbing loop
Thorax: Olive hare’s ear dub with a little bit of Ice Dub 

 

Tight Lines,

Conner

 

 

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