Archive for Destin Florida

Fishing with the ladies…

Posted in Fishing Reports, Saltwater, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , on September 2, 2017 by stflyfisher

My connection with Destin, Florida is an interesting story, one to be revealed in a blog post at a later time. For now, let’s just say I have good reason to frequent this sunny Florida panhandle city – part of the beautiful “Emerald Coast”.

I recently wrapped up a week-long visit to Destin, complete with family and “plus ones” in tow. As busy and hectic as the vacation schedule was, I still had time to fish the early hours while the rest of the house snoozed away.

Destin sits on a long peninsula of land between the Gulf of Mexico and Choctawhatchee Bay – a large saltwater bay, 129 square miles in size, that is fed by the gulf tides and estuary rivers to the north.

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An aerial view of Destin. Picture courtesy of flyfishaddiction.blogspot.com.

In addition to an abundance of places to fish in the salt, the area is dotted with ponds and lakes that hold largemouth bass and panfish. So depending on the weather and sea conditions, an angler has a choice of bay fishing, surf fishing, and pond/lake fishing. There’s rarely a time when a line has to sit dry for long.

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Miles and miles of white sandy beach await the early morning fly fisher…

For most of this visit I chose to fish the surf. I had previously fished Destin in the spring and fall, focusing on the bay. I’d heard summertime had a significant “trash fish” bite, but among that rubble was a gem of a fish that had a reputation as a great adversary on the long rod: the ladyfish…

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The ladyfish is a ray-finned fish also referred to as skipjacks, jack-rashes, or tenpounders. They are coastal-dwelling and found throughout the tropical and subtropical regions of the world but occasionally venture into more temperate waters. Ladyfish prey on smaller fish and shrimp. They can grow to over 3 feet in length and may reach 20 pounds in weight. More commonly, they are found to range from 12″ to over 20″. The body of the ladyfish is a tapered spindle shape with an oval cross-section. Their eyes are very large as are their mouths. Their incredible aerial acrobatics in combination with a hard mouth allows them to throw a poorly set hook quite easily. They are largely silver and white in color but their backs are a light olive to sand color with a beautiful band of pink where their color transitions to silver.

After arriving at our place and settling in, I rigged my 9 weight fly rod with a full intermediate line and took a quick golf cart ride to the beach. I walked east beyond the swimming area and began casting a size 2 chartreuse and white clouser minnow. It wasn’t long before I was hooked up and witnessing first-hand, the incredible high-jumps of the ladyfish.

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Ladyfish are known as the “poor man’s tarpon” due to their incessant aerobatics, as captured here in this picture courtesy of Doug Olander.

I fished the surf for several days and found varied fishing conditions for these surf-side torpedoes. One day the surf was flat as a mill-pond and I spent much of the day running up and down the beach chasing ladies crashing the beach. Their devastating attacks on glass minnows in the shallows reminded me of bluefish blitzes. On other days the surf was up and the ladies were still biting but were spread out and cruising resulting in a slow but steady bite. One hot afternoon I found them on almost every other cast, though they were not showing themselves as they were on the calmer days.

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I’ll estimate I caught at least a hundred ladyfish over a 4 day period and probably lost another 50 in the process. Ladyfish are built for blitzing bait – a long sleek body, deeply forked tail, big eyes, and a big mouth all make for one terrific gamefish for the saltwater angler.

One group of Mississippi fly fishermen respectfully refer to the ladyfish as the Mississippi tarbone and point out that local anglers can experience much of the thrill of catching tarpon and bonefish without having to leave Mississippi waters.

I found the “ladies” to feed very aggressively and take almost any fly I threw at them. While I didn’t try topwater, I’m sure a large popper thrown into their blitzes would have resulted in regular hook-ups. At times they would feed actively in large schools and could be seen porpoising as they chased bait in the shallows. The most effective flies were shiny, silver, or white. A white clouser with some flash combined with a fast retrieve that imparts plenty of action to the fly is all that is needed to catch these lightening bolts of the salt.

While sometimes difficult to hook, ladyfish will strike again and again on the retrieve. Their mouth is very abrasive; leaders should be checked frequently for fraying. On the advice of the local Orvis fly shop, I used a small bite guard of 30 lb mono as ladyfish are not at all leader shy. And I’d recommend not using expensive or intricate flies because they will get chewed up and stripped to a bare hook in no time! A 1/0 stainless hook tied with a lot of flash and some white hackle or deer hair will do the trick. Don’t spare the glue or epoxy! Simple and bullet-proof will work well.

The fish I caught ranged in size from 12″ to over 24″. Any ladyfish will fight hard but when they get over 18″ you will quickly be grinning ear to ear with their blistering runs and spastic leaps. I caught several larger ones that put a serious bend in my 9 weight and made long reel-screaming runs followed by tarpon-like leaps.

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A nice-sized ladyfish caught while wading. Photo by Captain Baz Yelverton.

I fished my 9 weight rod because one never knows what will show up in the surf, including redfish, jacks, and sharks, but I could have gone lighter. A 6 – 8 weight rod would work just as well and reduce arm fatigue from casting. A floating line can be used when the fish are in close but I prefer an intermediate or intermediate sink tip to get down in the water column. A simple 30/20 lb mono leader 5 to 8 feet in length is all that is needed on the business end. Flies do not need to be big, but I found that a larger hook helps increase hook-ups.

Ladyfish are sometimes cursed by anglers because they can aggressively interfere with fishing for other species. Redfish anglers, for example, will stalk a flat only to hook up with a ladyfish and spook every red on the flat. But I welcomed the opportunity to waltz with the “ladies”. I could count on them to join me on the floor with every cast. I could delight in their high leaps from the emerald waters of the Gulf straight up to the bright blue Florida sky. And I’ll certainly be back to ask for another dance with them come next summer.

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Looking back on 2016…

Posted in Carp, Fishing Conditions, Fishing Reports, Rod Building, Saltwater, Smallmouth Bass Fishing, Trout Fishing, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , , on January 17, 2017 by stflyfisher

“To be able to look back upon one’s life in satisfaction, is to live twice”

Kahlil Gibran

The book on 2016 is now officially closed and as most who peruse my blog know, I like to take a look back on each year fly fishing the Southern Tier before looking forward to the year ahead.

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The beautiful West Branch of the Delaware – a classic Upstate New York trout fishery that will hopefully continue to provide great fly fishing in 2017…

2016 was an interesting mix of fly fishing highs and lows for the Southern Tier and for me in particular. I’ll summarize those points with commentary in this post. Look for a “year ahead” post in the coming weeks as well as a review of my performance to last year’s fly fishing goals and a list of what I want to accomplish in 2017.

Weather / Climate Summary – The top story of the year is the drought that started slowly, but hung on through summer and early fall to the point where many small creeks and streams were dangerously low, if not outright dried-up. Owego Creek, for example, was dry in sections, something I’ve never seen in the 24 years I’ve lived in the Southern Tier. What’s often not so good for some fishing, however, can be good for others. The warmwater rivers of our area were low enough for good wading access as early as April and even the mighty Susquehanna was low by late June.

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A large fallfish nest lies exposed on the Susquehanna River. This might be expected in a dry year in August, but to see this in late June is a testament to the severity of the 2016 drought.

By July, one could wade across the Susquehanna in many places! River flows hit a low of 500 CFS in mid-September – making fishing from a boat difficult in some areas later in summer. Note the USGS chart below…

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As can be seen in the next chart, temperatures were on the warm side in February and March, precipitating early snow-melt, but then tracked in a fairly tight range for the remainder of the year. Precipitation, or lack thereof, was the bigger issue. The chart below shows a growing deficit that widened significantly into the early fall.

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BC Flyfisher’s 1st fly rod building class – The BC Flyfishers chapter of IFFF kicked off 2016 with a rod building class taught by expert rod maker, Joe Swam. The class was outstanding – the group small enough to allow personalized teaching from Joe. It was so good I’m enrolled in the second annual rod building class as I write this. The best thing about the class was the knowledged gained on not only “how”, but “why” fly rods are built as they are. As an example, I never understood why the female end of each rod section is wrapped much like a guide. Now I know, thanks to the class, that the ferrule is very weak and the wrap serves to re-enforce the rod. Obviously too, rod building opens endless opportunity to build a rod that is totally your creation, and perfectly suited to your fly fishing needs. I’ll never buy another. Thanks, Joe!

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Rod wrapping with Hemingway.

Visit to Destin – I visited Destin, Florida, and my son Chris, on my way to a business trip destination at the end of January. I’d never been to the “Emerald Coast” of the panhandle of Florida. I brought my 9 weight saltwater fly fishing outfit with me but without much local guidance, I was unable to stir up a bite. Nonetheless, in talking with a few locals, I was immediately impressed with the fly fishing potential, especially when one older angler answered my query on the fishing by saying, ‘the fishing is not good, it is excellent, most excellent…’

April Steelhead – I made it out for steelhead on a very cold and wet, early April day. I once again was able to fish with friend Bob Card and guide Tony Gulisano. Tony is a great guide and is adept in angling for steelhead and salmon in all ways – spinning, centerpin, and fly fishing. Although I did raise one fish, I skunked out while Bob hooked into a number of steelhead and lost a few more. The only bad side to the trip were the repeated disappointing statements from Tony on what he was seeing as we drifted the river. The numbers of steelhead were low according to him – in some places he saw only a few fish where he’d normally see 20, 30, or more. Tony’s observations are based on years guiding the river. What he saw in early 2016 more or less predicted less than a great run of steelhead in the fall.

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Bob Card with a nice spring steelhead…

Owego Creek – I was able to get out on the “lower” Owego Creek with Rick Searles. Owego Creek is homewater to Rick – he knows it well and has caught some true trophy browns from the Owego. Rick showed me some areas to fish but was pretty up front about expectations. The lower Owego Creek is not loaded with trout but when one does find them they can be very high quality fish, including some big holdovers and wild browns as well. While I did not do so well the couple of times I fished it, I’m a believer in this small creek’s potential. Rick and I fished it in the spring but as mentioned above, by June the creek was extremely low. I stayed away from ALL creeks for the remainder of the year. I figured wild and holdover browns had enough to contend with from Mother Nature.

April Visit to Destin – I managed to visit Destin, Florida again in April along with my wife. We flew down to see our son, Chris, but in the process, decided to see what real estate was like. One thing led to another and before long we were hooked on buying. I never pictured my later life as involving the “snowbird migration”, but suddenly the thought of living part of the year in a warm climate where the fishing is both good and different and then returning north for late spring through fall seemed to appeal to me. On top of that, Destin has a strong vacation rental market and buying a property would allow us to own an investment that we could use a bit, letting rental income defray at least some of the cost before retirement. We ended up buying a townhouse on a stocked lake just minutes from the beach and 5 minutes by golf cart to Cowahatchee Bay…

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Early Season Bronze – The pre-spawn smallmouth bass bite turned out to be excellent. With water levels at spring lows, it didn’t take long to break out my smallmouth gear and look for some early season bronze. I had some excellent fishing starting with the smaller warmwater rivers like the Tioughnioga, but eventually even the big Susquehanna dropped to levels that offered exceptional fly fishing. This early season bite is always there, of course, but only when winters are mild and the rivers are relatively tame does it open up for the wading fly angler. I fished the smaller rivers early on and found some “football” smallies and equally stout fallfish in the river braids and shallow eddies…

Later in the spring, the big Susquehanna also dropped to wadeable levels, and the fishing opened up there too. I did my best to get out when the getting was good, and scored some nice bass in the process. I even got a chance to break in my newly made fly rod, dubbed “The Golden Bear” because of its Vestal High School colors of green and gold…

 

Trout & Memorial Day – I didn’t fly fish for trout as much as I’ve done in past years. Blame the low warmwater river levels and my obsession with smallmouth bass and other warmwater river species. I did make it down to my favorite place on the West Branch of the Delaware River a few times, the most memorable and personally rewarding being Memorial Day. A former sailor, Dan, contacted me out of the blue. He had read my Memorial Day blog posts and told me he had worked for Bob Shippee, one of the 37 on board who had died when the Stark was attacked in 1987. The more I read of Bob Shippee and the more I corresponded with the man who first wrote me about him, the more I wanted to write a tribute to Shippee.

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Memorial Day brown – and evidence that Bob Shippe was listening…

Carp – I ran into a few carp this year and fished for them intentionally a few more times. My first encounter was while fishing for early season bass with “The Golden Bear” – a good test of any rod and one that made me smile all the more.

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Big river carp are a great way to test out a newly built fly rod…

I caught another dandy on the Tioughnioga with Singer’s Crayfish in a size 6 – a great little pattern that’s equally good on smallmouth. In this specific case, I sawa at least a dozen carp moving and feeding in a deep hole. A few drifts with my crayfish pattern and I was hit solidly. What a great fight these fish can put on! My other attempts resulted in a few missed hook-ups but these scouting trips proved fruitful in uncovering a number of areas to fish in 2017.

Father’s Day – I spent a very special Father’s Day with a long distance fly fishing friend, Joe Laney. Originally from the northwest, Joe currently lives and works in Manhattan with his wife and daughter, but has connections in the Southern Tier through his wife’s family. He happened to read some of my posts way back when and eventually we met up to fish our local waters. Since then, we usually get out when he’s up our way. Joe’s a very good fly angler. On this past Father’s Day we explored the Otselic River and enjoyed catching some nice smallmouth bass, fallfish, and even a few rock bass. It’s always a joy to fish new water, especially with a good friend…

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Joe releases a nice fallfish on the beautiful Otselic River…

Catfish – I’ve been running into Mr. Whiskers for a number of years, but it seems like my encounters have increased most recently, prompting me to fish intentionally for them while out hunting bass. Counter to general opinion, the channel catfish that populate our warmwater rivers will aggressively hit a fly, especially large buggy streamers and nymphs. Once hooked, hang on for a deep and dirty fight, even on an 8 weight rod. The state record was a 32 lb fish caught in Brant Lake, but I’d bet river cats are tougher, pound for pound, than their laker kin due to river conditioning. I caught a half dozen up to 32″ with just as many missed in 2016 and repeated an early fall pattern where they were feeding on large emerging mayflies! Go figure…

The Fall Float – I’ve made it out on my small and humble kayak every fall for the last few years and these solo floats always prove very productive. The Susquehanna was very low when I launched downstream this year, making for some even skinnier paddling in places. I fished mainly buggers and the bass were hot to play, including several very nice ones. I did not get a shot at musky or pike, but saw a “fingerling” musky – maybe 12″ long holding near some weeds in about a foot of water. That was most encouraging. Also in the mix was a very nice channel cat and countless fallfish, probably one of the most under-rated beginner “fly fisher fish”, but a species that always fights with bravado and readily and heartily takes a fly…

Blues – The fishing for bluefish was pretty damn good this year. That’s something I truly missed the last several years. Fishing seemed to change off Barnegat Light / Long Beach Island ever since Hurricane Sandy decimated the Jersey shore and that change to the fishing (along with regulation changes) took its toll on the party boats. Whereas two boats – Doris Mae and Miss Barnegat Light – ALWAYS ran for blues from spring through fall, day and night, fishing deteriorated so badly that these boats began to cut back on their trips. Sadly, Doris Mae eventually sold out. Theories abound on specifically why the fishing has changed for Barnegat Light – some indicate bottom changes due to the storm – others point to changes in seasonal currents. Whatever the cause, the trip (think fuel expense and time to fish) to reach blues from Barnegat Light did not make business sense. So after reading some glowing reports this past fall, I looked about 40 minutes north to the boats out of Belmar and I was not disappointed. I took a trip aboard The Golden Eagle with my cousin, Mark, and we had a great day. The only disappointment was that the fish mainly wanted bait in the chum slick. I prefer to jig for them, but it was so good to feel their brute power…

Destin – My wife and I returned to Destin in early November to spend a week at our place there. I finally got a chance to meet Ed Greene, a local fisherman and neighbor to our realtor. He was gracious enough to take me out to the expansive Cowahatchee Bay on his center console 23 foot fishing boat. We fished primarily for “trout” as they are referred to in the south. The bay holds a wide range of gamefish, including summer flounder, ladyfish, bluefish, redfish, trout, jacks, spanish mackerel, and even cobia and tarpon. Once I got a handle on the fishing, thanks to Ed’s sage advice, I ventured out on my own, wading the bayside shallows and tidal creeks. I fished a 9 foot 8 weight rod, an intermediate line, a 6 foot leader, and a number of streamers / shrimp patterns, but the best producer was a chartreuse and white clouser minnow. My efforts were rewarded with a number of small trout, a redfish, many lizardfish, and a summer flounder – a great intro to fly fishing, Emerald Coast style, and to think it was only a 5 minute ride in a golf cart to miles of bay fly fishing…

Ed also was kind enough to take me out wreck fishing offshore in a friend’s 27 foot center console boat. Our target species was red snapper. We first jigged up live bait in the East Pass inlet using light spinning gear and tiny sabiki rigs. This was fun stuff in itself. Proper technique could end up with 3, 4, or even 5 feisty baitfish on the multiple hook rigs. After we had a good supply of live bait, we cranked up and headed offshore to wrecks that Ed had in his GPS unit. We fished in water 50 to 90’+ and used pretty stout boat rods with 60lb mono. The rig was classic bluefish stuff – egg sinker (in this case 8 ounces!), swivel, leader, and snelled circle hook. I’d never fished a circle hook and it does take some getting used to. The idea is to just let the fish take the bait and simply tighten up to it without lifting the rod. The circle hook then rotates in the fish’s mouth, rolls, and hooks the fish in the corner of the mouth. I quickly got the hang of it, and in combination with the 3 other gulf-fishing veterans, it wasn’ long before we each had our 2 fish limit in the cooler. These were beautiful red snappers, hard fighting and even better tasting…

Salmon – Another first for me was a trip to fish the salmon run in the Salmon River. I made it up to the Upper Fly Zone – an area I had never fished before but one about which I’d heard good comments. I fished it with angler friend Bob Card on a rainy day. For those unacquainted, the Upper Fly Zone is beautiful water and well worth a full day or days of fishing. I hooked up as did Bob but we did not land one of thee black beasts, primarily due to our position on the river. If nothing else, it was a great recon trip. I’ll certainly be back up there again in 2017.

The Magic of 100 – I’ll finish up this post with a comment on achieving a goal I set at the start of 2016 to “fish and/or engage in fly fishing events and activities 100 times”. Look for a future post on this idea of “100”in the near future, but setting that goal was largely responsible for most of the 2016 memories that I’ve posted here.

And so, I’ll close out 2016 with a wish that 2017 is even better for Southern Tier long rodders…!