My grandson Gabe, when he was 14 years old, was hit by a car. The car was traveling at 55 miles per hour and hit him as he was getting on the school bus at 6:30 am. The impact of the hit knocked off both his shoes as it propelled him into the stationary school bus. His left Tibia was broken and also his pelvis in 4 places. He also received a bad gash on his scull with a serious traumatic brain injury that left him unconscious. He was rushed to the hospital where he was in intensive care for several days. A Titanium rod was permanently inserted into his femur. He went through rehab for months and although he has mostly recovered, he is unable to do long distance running which was his passion. He also still has some difficulty from the concussion. Great thanks to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, for their fantastic care of him. Once the Dr’s gave him clearance to go kayak fishing, about a year later, I put him in the front of my double seated NuCanoe Fronteer12 and we headed for a hidden lake through a Mangrove tunnel .
Gabe is an avid fly angler and we have been fishing partners since he was a toddler. We hit several spots back in the Mangroves that usually hold numerous Snook. He only caught one small Snook after several hours of casting. I could tell Gabe was getting tired and his energy fading when we came to one last Mangrove shore line where I had caught Snook in the past. I encouraged Gabe to keep casting and told him it was just a matter of time before he got a hook up. The lake was very shallow, only a foot to two feet deep. The afternoon sun was bright but the Mangrove shoreline created a shadow line that I knew could be a safe haven for any Snook in the lake.
Gabe made a long cast back into the shadows. He made several strips of the little minnow pattern and then he got a violent strike in about 1.5 feel of water. Fortunately the Snook ran out into the center of the lake and made a jump instead of heading into the Mangroves. Gabe’s reel was screaming and he got his knuckles knocked from the reel as the fish made several powerful runs back toward the Mangrove shoreline and jumped a second and then a third time. I began paddling hard, trying to keep up with the Snook as Gabe’s whole fly line was out the end of his rod and into the backing. Gabe was able to keep the Snook from going back into the overhanging Mangroves and out of the roots. Finally the Snook, exhausted from the battle, turned over and slipped into the net.
In the shallow water we both got out of the kayak and took a couple pictures and released the giant Snook. It was 30″ long and very thick. Then we hugged each other in the midst of that hidden lake, and filled with joy and awe were thankful to God for healing, for life, for that great Snook, and being able to fish together. A memory made forever!
I love kayak fishing along Mangrove streams in Florida. These are brackish, tidal streams that eventually enter into the gulf or an inshore bay. Many of these streams are so small they can only be accessed by a kayak or small water craft. These are the nursery areas where baby Snook, Redfish and Tarpon grow up. They are also the areas where many Snook and Tarpon spend the winter. Perhaps I love them because for the past 60 years I have been primarily a Western Trout Stream angler and a Mangrove stream is at least a little familiar. After all it is moving water! There used to be many more thousand of square miles of mangrove jungles in Florida, but because of all the building on both coasts, many areas have been cleared out and replaced by cement sea walls, condos, canals, and high rises. Now we are learning how important mangroves are to the environment and it is illegal to cut them. There are still around 555,000 acres of Mangrove covered areas in Florida. Much of these Mangrove areas are in Southwest Florida, from Tampa Bay and south into the Everglades. The largest area of natural Mangroves close to me in Bradenton Florida is in South Tampa Bay, and only a half hour drive. I have been fishing this area and finding some success in catching Snook and Baby Tarpon. There are some similarities between a Mangrove stream and a Western Trout Stream and some astounding differences.
Similarities in Mangrove streams and Western Trout streams include:
Both types of streams have lots of brush on one or both sides. In the case of Mangrove streams the limbs hang down into the water and may extend several feet out into the channel. On Western Trout Streams it’s usually Willows. Many fish like to hide under over hanging branches and undercut banks. You have to get your fly very close or down under them if you want a hook up. You can often hear Snook and Baby Tarpon smacking bait back under the Mangroves, which is exciting to hear, but you may not be able to get your fly to them. Mangroves can actually reach out and grab your fly, or so it seems, and they don’t want to let go. To get your line untangled you often have to pull your kayak over to the Mangrove where you are stuck and untangle the mess, this will definitely spook the fish in the area.
Both streams have current, but the Mangrove streams are much slower than most Western Trout Streams. Both have deep holes, slots, and pools where fish may be concentrated.
In both types of streams, fish will be facing into the direction of the current waiting for food to be washed into their feeding zone. In the case of Mangrove streams it is baitfish, crabs or shrimp. In the case of a Western Trout Stream the food items are nymphs, aquatic worms, terrestrials, emerging and adult Caddisflies, Mayflies, Stoneflies, and different types of baitfish such as Sculpins, Trout and Sucker minnows.
Differenced in Mangrove streams and Western Trout streams include.
Trout streams usually have rock bottoms. Mangrove streams have muddy or sandy bottoms.
Trout streams flow the same direction every day, and all day long and don’t vary as much in the amount of water in the flow. Mangrove streams are really two streams in one and they get larger or smaller depending on the tide. In a Mangrove stream, the water will go out, slow down, stop and then reverse and flow the opposite way. This is the most astounding difference between the streams. Fish hold in different places depending on which way the tide is going. Where fish locate on an incoming tide may be completely different on an outgoing tide. In a Mangrove stream at high tide predator fish leave their ambush points and may cruise under the Mangroves looking for an easy meal.
Western Trout streams are freshwater while Mangrove streams are brackish with a mixture of fresh water and salt water.
Recently I found some nice Snook and juvenile Tarpon in a couple of narrow, deep pools and drop offs in a small tidal stream. It was a mile and a half paddle to get to this stream and it is one of the more remote areas in south Tampa Bay. I had been looking at this area for a couple years on Google Earth and was excited to finally get to explore it. As I arrived at the mouth of the stream the sun was just peeping over the Mangroves.
I tied on a small, white popper and fished a shady area along the outer Mangrove bank. Within a few casts I connected with a small Snook. I was amazed at the fight the small Snook put on, jumping and running under the Mangroves and putting a bend in my 6 weight rod. What a joy to catch a Snook, at any size. The water was brackish and stained. I was fishing an outgoing tide. The next spot I stopped to fish was a deep hole that is formed where the water enters into the bay. I quietly navigated along the edge of the hole to where the water came into a quick drop off. I dropped the anchor up-stream from the upper end of the hole and then slowly let out rope, letting the current position my kayak within casting distance of the upper end of the far bank. I had a feeling the fish would be holding on the drop off as the water comes into the pool, and I was right. Armed with a 9 foot, 6 weight rod with an intermediate, full sink fly line, I cast the fly, a #4 bait fish pattern as close as possible to the mangroves and allowed the fly to sink down and sweep under the mangroves. PaPow, PaPow, PaPow, PaPow, PaPow. One after another when the fly got sucked under the mangroves, a hungry Snook pounced on the fly. I ended up catching 5 Snook, the largest was 26″, without moving from that spot. Hooking a 26″ Snook in the outgoing current and under Mangroves is a tremendous fight. Once hooked you have to try and pull the fish out and away from the many Mangrove roots into more open water. I continues working my fly down the pool but had no other hookups. The fish were obviously concentrated at the upper end of the pool where the current was the greatest, and tiny crabs, shrimp and bait fish were being washed into the pool by the outgoing tide.
Moving on up the stream I came to a long, narrow, deep slot that opened up into a larger open pool. I moved to the upper end of the pool and again dropped anchor. I sat watching the pool for a few minutes, looking it over for fish activity. After 10 minutes or so I saw several large fish moving up the pool, their fins coming out of the water. Immediately I thought, “those are rolling Tarpon”. Quickly, perhaps too quickly, I made a short 25 foot cast that spooked them and they disappeared. After several more casts into the area where I last saw them, and with no response, I paddled on up the stream. I marked the spot and vowed to come back. I proceeded up the river to a bend where the stream narrowed into a deep slot. I got out of the kayak in order to walk closer to an area where the water was deep, dark and came out of a Mangrove tunnel. I heard a large splash and saw where a big fish had busted some bait against the opposite bank. Tiny glass minnows scattered in the air as the fished attacked them. I carefully cast into the narrow pool, close to where the violent splash had taken place. The hole was laden with Mangroves on both sides, and contained numerous dead falls and sticks coming out of the water. “What a tough pace to fish”, I said to myself. I got two hard strikes but didn’t hook up. On the third strike I actually made a strip set with my line hand and the fly connected. A 10 pound Tarpon came 3 feet out of the water, flipping and tumbling in the air and coming down with a splash. What a shock! I quickly stripped in line as it swam towards me and I could see the fly stuck in its upper lip. My 6 weight rod was straining to control the fish from running under logs and brush. It jumped several more times and actually jumped up into the mangrove canopy where my line got caught in the brush. I forcefully jerked the line and it came out of the Mangrove leaves. That was a rare time that a Mangrove ever let go of my line. As the Tarpon ran under a log I put too much pressure on the fish and the fly broke off, parting the 20 lb fluorocarbon . This all happened in a minute or so and left me shaking, but exuberant from a fight like I have never experienced. I sat down in my kayak, took a couple deep breaths, and with my trembling fingers re-rigged, adding 10” of 40 lb shock tippet to my 20 lb tippet. I hoped this would give me a better chance at actually landing a baby Tarpon in such a tight and brushy area. Several casts back into the pool connected on two smaller Snook that jumped several times and put up a nice fight. After numerous casts with no strikes, I headed back downstream to the pool where I saw the rolling Tarpon. As I approached in my kayak, I heard several loud splashes from predator fish, Snook or Tarpon, that were back under the Mangroves. Coming upon the pool I again quietly dropped my anchor and slowly allowed the current to position the kayak at the front of the pool, and in an area where I could make a back cast. While at the head of the pool, I cast across and upstream to the opposite mangrove bank and let the fly sink and swing under the Mangroves. After a dozen casts and 3 strikes, but no hookups, I checked the fly, thinking I needed to sharpen it. To my surprise the hook had broken off at the bend. Grrr! Grrr! Grrr!
I tied on another fly with a loop knot. It was a fluffy, white rabbit strip streamer with a bead chain eye. After several more casts into the upper part of the pool with no success, I got out of the kayak and sneakily walked along a sand bar to the lower end of the pool. I noticed another splash of a feeding fish. Again I cast across stream, let the fly sink and drift under a mangrove out cropping. After several casts, I got a hard strike. I remembered to strip strike with my line hand and up and out of the water, doing flips, was another Tarpon. The fish ran up and then down the pool, jumping several more times. I applied sideways pressure on the fish hoping to keep it out of the Mangroves, not wanting to repeat the last event upstream. Finally the Tarpon exhausted itself and turned over sideways. I got the Fish Gripper tool on its lip. While holding it in the water and waiting for it to revive, I admired its large silver scales and huge mouth. Wow, I finally hooked and landed a Tarpon, not a big one, but a fish that fought harder, and jumped more and higher, than any fish I have caught. No wonder they are called the “Silver King”.After an awkward picture, and a prayer of thanks, the Tarpon was released. It slowly swam around, gulped air several times, and then disappeared back into the pool. Now I have Tarpon fever! I can only imagine what an adult Tarpon in open water would fight like. I hooked three larger Tarpon while in the Keys fishing with my good friend and Orvis Endorsed fly fishing guide Matt Thomas of Riplips.com. Matt guides on the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers in Colorado, in Louisianna for Redfish, and in the Keys for Tarpon. He is the fishiest guy I know. The Tarpon I hooked were only on for a jump or two and then the hook pulled out. Matt put me on 15-20 shots each day. My problem in hooking them was the “trout set”. A “Trout set” is where you lift the rod tip to set the hook. After 60 years of trout fishing this habit is hard for me to break. The “Trout set” usually pulls the fly out of the mouth without it getting hooked. The much more effective way to set the hook in salt water fishing is to keep the rod pointing at the fish while making a sharp pull of the fly line with the line hand, called a “strip set”. With Tarpon, because of their bony mouth, it is best to set the hook several times, and when the fish takes off make sure the line does not get caught around the reel. Perhaps I will catch a mature Tarpon in the spring. For now I am very satisfied with landing a baby Tarpon in a small Mangrove stream. I hear there can be Tarpon in the tidal streams all fall and into the winter. I will certainly be back!
A week later I returned to the mouth of the little stream. The tide was reversed, and now there was an incoming tide that caused some confusion in my mind. I was not used to tide changes that totally reverse the water flow. A change of tide is a true act of nature that still amazes me. I pulled up to the opposite end of the pool where I had caught Snook on the outgoing tide. I again positioned my kayak close to the mangroves and at the head of the pool, which in an outgoing tide was at the opposite end of where I was positioned during the incoming tide. Casting as close as possible to the mangroves, I let the fly get swept by the current down and underneath them. PaPow, PaPow, PaPow, PaPow, one after another, four nice Snook took the fly, straining the rod and jumping. I so love Snook! They like to jump, put up a tremendous fight, and love to eat streamers. Even small ones put up an amazing fight. I continued up the Mangrove stream to where I caught the Tarpon a week earlier. The water felt devoid of predator fish. There were not any fish popping bait fish under the mangroves. I saw schools of Mullet and lots of small bait fish but no predator fish attacking them. I only caught one small Snook in the areas that was loaded with Snook and Tarpon the week before. Perhaps the fish were there but just not eating. One thing I have learned in salt water fishing is that there are many more variables to take into account, such as the moon, the tide, the water temperature, the wind, and if there is bait fish, crabs or shrimp drifting in the current. In salt water fishing, the fish are where you find them, they move around a lot and have distinct feeding times. It has been said, “the salt water has no fences”. In fishing Western Trout streams you can be sure that there will be trout in similar places that you found them yesterday. In salt water fishing the fish move around more frequently and have more definite times when they are on “a bite”. IN SALTWATER FISHING, THE FISH ARE WHERE YOU FIND THEM! SO GO FISHING! OR IS IT HUNTING? OR I GUESS IT’S HUNTING FISH.
It’s been just over a year since Martha and I moved to Florida. It took us a few months to get settled in the house before I could get out and fish. Then hurricane Irma showed up. So its was a rather interesting first year in Florida, with a couple of set backs. But I did get out and walk the beach for Snook, kayak fish the grass flats in the many local bays, fish for Pompeno with kayak guide Neil Taylor, chase Albies in the Gulf of Mexico with Captain Rick Grasset, fish mangrove Islands around Chokilosky in the Everglades, fish the freshwater canals in the Everglades with my new friends in the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers, kayak fish the Falka Union river with Chris Duerksen, and travel down to the keys to fish for Tarpon with Captain Matt Thomas. I did more fishing in the past year than any time in my life. Although I spent years teaching fly fishing and fly tying classes in Colorado, it is like I am learning to fish all over again. For me fishing Colorado was trout, trout, and more trout. Now I love trout fishing, and I long for the cool, clean, mountain streams, high mountain lakes, and the whole mountain environment. I miss the hatches of Blue Wing Olives, Caddis Flies, PMD’s, Green Drakes, Tricos and Midges. I can’t wait to return to Colorado. I had to leave my 6x tippet in my vest next to my box of #22 midges and move on to a completely new environment filled with many new opportunities. Each day here in Bradenton Florida there are literally dozens of options of where to go and what to fish for. I could kayak fish a freshwater lake, fish the gulf of Mexico, walk the beach, float a tidal mangrove stream, explore a hidden mangrove lake, or fish one of the many local bays. There are a variety of factors to take into account such as the tides, the wind, the moon phase, wave height, and water temperature. You never know what you are going to catch. Here is a list of the different kinds of fish I caught this past year: Trout, Snook, Spanish Mackerel, Blue Fish, Jacks, Pompeno, Whiting, Lady Fish, Permit, Bonito, Black Drum, Red Fish, Pinfish, Hound Fish, Lizard Fish, Puffer Fish, Grunts, Sea Bass, Mangrove Snapper, Gag Grouper, Largemouth Bass, Stumpknockers, Blue Gills, three kinds of Catfish, Bowfins, Myan Ciclids, Oscars, Crappies, and Gars. There were also a few fish that I caught that I couldn’t figure out what they were. In Tampa Bay alone there are over 240 different species. While fishing in the keys with my friend and professional guide Matt Thomas, I jumped 3 Tarpon but did not land one. The “trout set” kicked in and I have realized how much I have to learn in order to land one of the “Silver Giants”. Fish that are still on my bucked list are Tarpon, Barracuda, Peacock Bass, Snakeheads, a large Black Drum, a big Gar, and a small Sharks or two. Instead of the list growing smaller, it is expanding. Hope you will stick around for the adventure.
This bowfin clamped its mouth shut and I never could get the fly out. Luckily my fingers were not in there too.
Since the Florida environment is so very different from Colorado and most of the USA, it necessitates living in it for a while before being able to understand it’s seasons and fit into the environment safely. After a year of living full-time in Florida, I have found out by experience that there are some things out there that you should watch out for. Things that can bother you and hurt you while fishing. I am not talking so much about the more obvious enemies like sharks and alligators, although they need to be understood and respected. I am talking about some of the more common things you will almost surely run into on a daily basis when fishing. Things like the heat, sun, rain, hot sand, bugs, fish with teeth and spines, lightning, oyster beds, sting rays, jellyfish and even cold weather.
PROTECT YOURSELF FROM THE SUN, HEAT, LIGHTNING, AND THE COLD.
The first time I went out in my kayak fishing this past summer it was for around 6 hours in June and under direct sun. I have never been one who gets sunburned easily. I have dark eyes and am dark complected. I put on sunscreen in the morning and figured that would be enough. I wanted to get a tan so I didn’t wear a shirt and I had on shorts. I got consumed in the fishing and didn’t reapply the sun screen until the afternoon. By then it was too late. My back, shoulders, and thighs got cooked and I was in pain for several days. It was hard to sleep at night and every tiny movement rolling over in bed was painful, even the weight of sheets on my burned skin caused pain. Eventually much of the burned skin peeled off. It’s been 50 years since I had such a burn. You’d think I would have learned about the sun by now, but I underestimated its danger. In Colorado I never wore shorts while fishing and always had on a long sleeve, sun protective shirt. In Florida it was a temptation to take off my sun protective clothing and I fell for it.When fishing out of a kayak, which is how I fish the most, your legs are horizontal, so the angle of the sun’s rays hit the top of your knees and thighs, tops of the feet, shoulders, ears, and back of the neck. It is easy to get a burn in a short time.
In July one of my friends came from Colorado and we went out on the beach fishing for Snook. We walked about 4 miles. I told him of my experience in getting burned. He put on sun screen but by the end of the day he was also burned, only worse. The sand working in between his sandals and his skin rubbed him raw, plus the sun burned the tops of his feet, shoulders, arms and legs. Walking in the hot sand from the water’s edge to the parking lot also burned the bottom of his feet. He was pretty miserable for almost two weeks. Needless to say, the sun is of major concern, so is walking on the hot sand. In the afternoon during the hottest time of the day, the hot sand or even worse, the hot pavement, may burn the bottoms of your feet. You may have to wear some type of beach shoe when walking the beach. If you are going to be out in the sun in Florida in the summer you are going to sweat. I sweat so much, I actually sweat off the sunscreen. I am covering up a lot more now with quick dry, long sleeve shirts, pants and a wide-brimmed hat, and of course drinking lots of water and reapplying sunscreen. Without water you are flirting with dehydration and heat stroke. When choosing a sunscreen I would suggest you get one that is friendly to the salt water environment. One example is Stream2Sea. Chemicals such as oxybenzone in many sunscreens have been proven to destroy coral reefs.
If you are coming to Florida in the winter you should bring your waders, a breathable rain coat and a good sweater. This past winter in Florida was cool at times. I saw temperatures in Bradenton Florida reach into the 30’s. Early one morning I actually saw ice on the grass. It was refreshing! Northern Florida received some snow this past winter. When it gets below 50 here, with high humidity and wind, you can get chilled very quickly. If you are going to get out and wade fish in the winter, you will find waders are necessary or you will get very cold. If you are fishing out of a boat or kayak and getting wet, I would suggest you wear a slip over breathable pant that will keep you dry. Many years ago I bought an Orvis breathable, pullover wind shirt. All it does is hold in body heat. It has proved to be the most valuable garment I have to keep me warm. It is light weight and packable. I take it everywhere I go. WHEN YOU GET COLD IN FLORIDA, YOU ARE REALLY COLD, AND IT CAN HAPPEN QUICKLY.
Florida is the #1 state in the USA for lightning strikes with around 1.5 million strikes per year. Most of these are in the wet season which begins in the spring and lasts into the late summer. In the winter there is little rain or lightning, at least in Bradenton where I live. Once the rainy season arrives in the spring, rain and lightning will be a daily afternoon experience. When it rains here in Florida it really comes down. A breathable raincoat is a necessity to bring on all outings, walking or boating. The Weather Channel on your phone should be your best friend before and during your fishing trip. It will alert you to upcoming storms and lightning. Storms in Florida come in fast and move out fast. I thought Colorado’s South Park and Cheesman Canyon were bad for lightning, but Florida is worse with around 25 lightning strikes per square mile per year. In the summertime wet season, most anglers will fish early in the am and be off the water as the thunder storms come in during the afternoon and evening.
PROTECT YOURSELF FROM MOSQUITOS, NO-SEE-UMS, AND FIRE ANTS
There are places and times in Florida where the mosquitos and tiny no-see-um will drive you crazy. So far in Florida I have not seen the huge numbers of mosquitos that I have heard about. I have been bothered by the no-see-ums occasionally. Bugs are more of a problem as you move south in Florida down by the Everglades. In the summer months the bugs and heat in southern Florida are almost unbearable. I spent four days fishing around Chokolosky on the edge of the Everglades in mid December but found only a few mosquitos. I fished along Alligator Alley in the Everglades in February but didn’t even see one mosquito. I spent two days in the Keys and two days in Chokolosky in April and was not bothered by bugs. My wife Martha finds a dozen mosquito’s every time she walks the dog. Some people are just bug magnets. It is a good idea to always have insect repellant. Eventually you will need it.
I remember vividly my first and hopefully my last experience with the Florida fire ants. They are very tiny and not an insect that you would think could cause burning and itching that can go on for a couple of weeks. I was bass fishing by one of the many canals on the east side of Florida. As I was walking along the rim of the canal and casting into the far side, I felt a sting on my right leg and looked down to see hundreds of ants, each about the size of a pepper grain, crawling up my pants. I shook them off quickly but it was too late and I received two dozen bites. They made little red welts that lasted for two weeks, often burning and itching like crazy. Not fun! Stay away from tiny ants! The main way to keep them off you is to be observant of your surroundings. They don’t make huge mounds like the red ants in Colorado and they are often hard to spot until it is too late.
Florida also has a host of other insects that could cause irritation and pain such as bees, wasps, and poisonous caterpillars. For the most part if you are in a boat you won’t come into contact with these creatures. Of course if you are allergic to bee stings you should always carry your epi pen. I have seen several paper style wasp nests in the mangroves so it’s best to look out for them if you are very close to mangroves.
PROTECT YOURSELF FROM THE RAZOR SHARP TEETH AND NEEDLE LIKE FINS PRESENT ON MANY SALT WATER AND FRESHWATER FLORIDA FISH.
I have caught thousands of Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout and Brookies in the West. I rarely got a nick from their teeth or fins. I have been cut a few times by the teeth of a trout while removing the fly with my fingers. The cuts were easily avoided if I would have used a hemostat to remove the fly instead of my fingers. The teeth of fresh water trout are small in relation to most salt water fish, and the fins of trout are harmless. Not so with many salt water fish.
Generally speaking, salt water fish have more teeth, larger teeth and stronger jaws that like to “chomp”. There is a reason a Snapper is called a Snapper. Once that jaw snaps shut it is hard to get it open, even with a pliers. If your finger is in the mouth those teeth will cut you badly. I caught my first Blue Fish in Sarasota Bay few years ago. I didn’t know a Blue fish from a Sucker. Blue fish have a row of small, shark like teeth on the top and bottom of their very strong jaws. They have lips that cover over the teeth. You might not realize they have teeth until too late. My fly was engulfed deeply in the Bluefish mouth. Like an inexperienced Colorado Trout fisherman, I reached my thumb and index finger into its mouth to get the fly. Chomp, chomp goes the Bluefish and there was sharp pain in my thumb. By the time I got my fingers out, I was cut pretty bad and blood was running down my thumb and wrist. There was enough blood in my kayak, most of it mine, to attract sharks! My only revenge was that I ate him for dinner. A general rule in saltwater fishing is never put your fingers in a fishes mouth, no matter how big or small. Even little fish can do immediate and severe damage. A pair of saltwater pliers is a necessary investment. Not only will the pliers help remove the hook without putting your finger onto the fishes mouth, most pliers will have a cutter necessary to cut the larger tippet diameters uses in Saltwater fishing. Make sure the pliers you get are aluminum and not stainless steel as they will rust.
I am tying most of my flies on 4x long hooks that are easier to grab onto with the pliers without ruining the fly. Sometimes if your fly is hooked deeply into the fishes throat, the best thing to do may be to just cut the line.
When fishing an Everglades canal I caught a Bowfin. It is an indigenous fish to Florida. It is on top of the food chain. It is very strong, will jump and has the strongest jaws I have ever seen. My fly was deep in its mouth and I couldn’t get the mouth open. I used two pair of pliers but couldn’t open its mouth. I ended up just cutting the line. Later I was cautioned to be very careful with this fish. Once it clamps on to you it may not let go and can cause extreme injury, having rows of tiny teeth and very powerful jaws that clamp shut.
The fins on many Salt water fish are like needles. The saltwater catfish is the most dangerous, as it’s spines have a poison on them that can be very painful and could get infected. This catfish (left) caught me good on my right index finger. I was in pain for several hours and almost quit fishing. He stuck me while I was trying to remove the hook. From now on I will use a FishGripper in one hand and saltwater pliers in the other. I am not touching another one of these critters. Catfish are powerful fighters for their size and fun to catch, but the risk of getting stuck is high. The barb on the dorsal fin is serrated and won’t come out easily once it penetrates your body. Make sure to wear the Catfish out in the water before netting it or bringing it into the boat as they like to flip around uncontrollably. As you begin catching and releasing salt water fish just assume that the fins will stick you and the teeth will cut you. You will soon learn the species that are ok to handle but they are few. Pinching down the barbs of your hook will really help in getting the fly out of the fish and out of your body. Because you will be casting in windy conditions, often with force, it is only a matter of time before you will hook yourself. You will not be using a #18 trout fly with a small barb! Even a small fly can be hard to get out of your skin. You will probably be using at least a #6 salt water hook which has a much larger barb. Best to pinch the barb down. Just remember, “I told you so”.
PROTECT YOURSELF FROM OYSTER BEDS AND BARNACLES:
Oyster beds create homes for billions of small fish, crabs and other sea life and are fish magnet areas for Red fish, Snook, and Sea Trout. Eventually, when an oyster bed gets large enough, a mangrove seed will drift in and get planted among the oysters. Over time, an oyster bed can become a mangrove island, an interesting development to watch over the years. Oyster beds are great to fish around but never get out and walk on one. Oyster shells are like thousands of knife blades and because they are very uneven, can cause you to lose your balance and fall down. You could get seriously injured if you trip and fall down on them. Oyster shells can also cut up your flats boots. If you are fishing around oyster beds make sure your fly line, leader and tippet does not get caught on them, as they can quickly cut though your terminal tackle. If you hook a fish around an oyster bed, be sure to raise your rod up high and try to keep your fly line from touching the shells. Walk around Oyster beds just like you would walk around the spawning beds of trout in a stream. Oyster beds are the homes for billions of sea creatures and they filter and clean the water.
PROTECT YOURSELF FROM STINGRAYS AND JELLYFISH:
I see lots of Stingrays especially if I am wading on the beach or sandbar. Around 1,500 people a year are stung by a Stingray in the USA and many of these accounts are in Florida. Stingrays may lay on the bottom and get covered over by sand. They may also have camouflaged coloring and be very hard to see. If you step on one you can receive a very painful, debilitating injury. You may have to go to the doctor to get the barb out and you will be in great pain. There are many different kinds of rays. The ones you will encounter are usually small but have a very bony, sharp, striated spine that can penetrate deeply into your muscles causing extreme pain and infection. The best way to avoid getting stung is to look ahead in the water as you walk, slide your feet across the bottom, and do not lift your feet so you step down on one. Stingrays can bury themselves in the sand where they are not visible. More on the Stingray shuffle.
There are many types of Jellyfish in the ocean. Some of them can sting you. Some are translucent and very hard to see. The main thing is to just stay away from them. If you wear long pants while wading you have less possibility of contact with a jellyfish.
PROTECT YOURSELF FROM ALLIGATORS, SHARKS, AND SNAKES.
If you are fishing in fresh or brackish water in Florida you will come in contact with alligators. There are over a million of them in Florida, however officials put the odds of someone being seriously injured by an unprovoked alligator in Florida at roughly one in 2.4 million. You are many more times likely to get bitten by a dog than an alligator. There are 8-12 unprovoked alligator attacks a year in Florida. Common sense is the best protection from alligators which means don’t feed them, don’t swim in areas where they are present, don’t drag fish behind your kayak on a stringer, don’t wade fish in areas where there are alligators, don’t bother their nests, pull your fly away from an alligator if it is following your retrieve, and remove yourself from areas where you see babies or an alligator nest. If you want to have an incident with an alligator you can probably create one. If you leave them alone, they will leave you alone. The alligator I met on the Myaka river in the video below just sat there as I paddled by. I didn’t bother him and he didn’t bother me, except for a minute or too when I held my breath!
Sharks are common on Florida beaches, intercostal bays and brackish streams. Sharks that eat your fish once hooked has become a problem in some locations, especially when fishing for Tarpon or Bonito. I have had a shark eat my Sea Trout as I was reeling it in. There was a quick tug, I saw the shark, only a 3 footer, and all that was left on my line was the Seatrout head. I often see sharks when out around sandbars and grass flats in my kayak. Common sense prevails in dealing with sharks. Personally I don’t swim far out on the beaches or wade much past my knees. I don’t have a stringer of fish trailing behind my kayak or with me if I am wading. Sharks can easily be chummed up if you want to fish for them, and they can be caught on a fly. Leave them alone and they will leave you alone.
PROTECT YOURSELF FROM SNAKES
Florida is the home for 45 different snake species of which only 6 are poisonous. My general rule is be on the outlook for them and leave them alone. I have only seen couple of snakes on Florida but I am always on the lookout for them. More on Florida Snakes.
Fly fishing necessitates casting a fly that has a hook and probably a barb on it. Everyone who fly fishes will eventually encounter the hook getting caught in one’s skin. If the barb has been pinched down, the hook can easily be removed. Casting, especially in the wind, requires some type of eye protection to be safe. All anglers should wear a shatterproof sun glass. Because of the power of many salt water fish, I do not advocate using two flies while saltwater fishing. One hook can be in the fish and the free fly could easily get caught in the angler. More on removing a hook
ITEMS HELPFUL WHEN FISHING IN FLORIDA
Salt Water Plier. Used for pinching down barbs, removing hooks from fishes mouth, tightening knots, and cutting tippet and wire. A necessity for Salt Water fishing. Stay away from Stainless steel as it will rust.
A Fish Gripper. It holds a fish by the lip so you do not have to hold it in your hand. It keeps you from rubbing of the protective slime of the fishes skin and keeps your hands from getting pricked by the sharp fins.
A DeHooker. This is a tool that slides down your tippet to the hook and then with a quick snap will remove the hook from the fish, some of the time. It really helps to pinch down your barbs. The hook comes out of the fish much easier and out of your body too when it has no barb.
Hook sharpener and a good snip. Your hooks may get dull by hitting barnacles or bony mouths. Keeping them sharp will insure more hook ups. Most salt water fish have very bony mouths and can dull your point. Best not to use your teeth to cut 20 lb fluorocarbon but I still do it when i can’t find my nipper. Use a nipper and save your front teeth.
Hard bottom wading shoes. Flats booties or salt water wading shoes that will protect feet from barnacles and other salt water hazards are necessary. There can be glass and even used hypodermic needles on the beaches. I don’t go barefooted but may be a little paranoid. Flats booties do not give much arch support so you may want to pay the extra money and get a salt water wading shoe with better support and a firmer sole. If you are going to wade around in a soft, muddy bottom you will want to have a wading shoe that you can lace up tight and not one that zips up the side. It is easy to lose a zippered shoe in a soft, sticky bottom. If you walk the beach fishing your zippered booties will get filled with sand and you may have trouble using the zipper. Best to have a salt water shoe that laces up.
Protective Clothing. A wide-brimmed sun shield hat, long sleeve sunshield shirts and pants, sunshield gloves and face shields help to protect from the sun. A Buff turns your cap into a sun protected garment. Always have a breathable, light weight raincoat nearby. Storms come in fast and leave fast in Florida. In the winter, while kayaking I have on a breathable rain pant the keeps my legs dry from paddle drips.
First aid kit. Just like when you go camping, a first aid kit is a necessity. Bandaids and disinfectant pads are necessary in case of minor cuts. It is possible, and I have done it several times, to cut yourself with the fly line, backing or leader. I carry waterproof first aid tape to protect my fingers if they get cut. Fishing in saltwater with cuts in your fingers can be “a pain.” You can get cut from teeth, fins, spines and may need immediate first aid to guard against infection.
Polarized Sun Glasses are a must. Many prices, styles and types available.
Cell Phone. Almost all of Florida has cell phone access. Everyone I know who carries a cell phone while fishing, including me, has destroyed a phone or two by getting it wet. Just go ahead and invest in a good waterproof phone case. I also cary a small recharger and cord. I use 5 apps on my phone. They are the Weather Channel, Navionics, Google Maps, Windfinder and Tides. The Weather Channel gives daily weather estimates, send out alerts to dangerous conditions, coming storms and lightning. Google Maps is great for road information and driving directions to the fishing location. When in my kayak fishing I turn on Navionics which shows me where I am located in relationship to mangrove islands, grass flats, cuts and streams and keeps me from getting lost when in my kayak. It can map your route and save it so you have a history of the trip. It can give a good estimate on how deep the water is and where access points are located. Many of the fishing spots I go to have been found by using Navionics or Google Maps. Windfinder is an app that shows current and coming wind conditions in relationship to where I am fishing. The wind speed and direction will help tell you which spots you should fish. Tides gives me an idea of incoming tides which is crucial information for Salt Water fishing.
Stripping basket. Striping baskets are not used much in Western trout fishing but I find them very useful in Florida. I use one when wade fishing or walking the beach. You can strip your line in so that it falls into the basket. The basket keeps your line out of the water and keeps the line from getting tangled in weeds and waves. If you want easier casting with less tangles a stripping basket is very helpful.
Sunscreen and insect repellants are a must. Best to use sunscreens that are not harmful to the environment. Some sunscreens actually are harmful to Coral Reefs and fish. Really? If you go to a popular Florida beach you will easily smell the sunscreen. Gallons of it enter the environment every day. Insect repellant are necessary at certain places and times of the year.
Drinking Water. Justlike in Colorado fishing and hiking you will need water. This can not be over emphasized. I take water with me when fishing and have back up water on my kayak and in my truck at all times.
Just like in Colorado where we have powerful sun, a high altitude, lightning, fires, snakes, mosquitos, bears, mountain lions, elk and deer, poison ivy, bees and wasps, Florida has many harmful things you might encounter. I find the Boy Scout motto, “be prepared” is a valuable attitude to have when going outdoors. Nothing is more important than knowing the environment you will be fishing in and having the right gear, so you can go out there and confidently “rip some lips”.
I founded the Blue Quill Angler, a fly fishing retail shop, fly fishing school, internet store, and guide service in Evergreen CO in 1988. I had the privilege of fishing and introducing others to many of Colorado’s great trout streams including the South Platte, Blue, Arkansas, Roaring Fork, Frying Pan, Gunnison and Colorado Rivers, plus a host of smaller high mountain streams and lakes. Over the last 29 years I have had the opportunity to help hundreds of anglers develop skills for freshwater fly fishing, including casting, tying knots, reading trout streams, aquatic entomology, fly tying, and how to fish dry flies, nymphs and streamers. My only regret is that as the business grew I spent less time fishing and guiding and more time running the business. In November 2016 my wife Martha and I sold our interest in the Blue Quill Angler and in May we moved to Bradenton Florida to be close to family and of course explore the multitudes of freshwater and saltwater fishing opportunities available in Florida. It is my hope that this blog will help me share with, and keep in contact with my many friends, and business relationships developed over the past 30 years. For new anglers I have not yet been introduces to, I hope this blog will be a source of encouragement and information about the transformation that takes place in learning a completely different fishing environment. Kayak fishing in a NuCanoe Frontier will be my means of exploration unless I am walking a beach looking for snook!