Autumn is normally a great time to be an angler in Southwest Florida — but we have some questions to be answered, don’t we? Even though my summer fishing was very good, we don’t know what the lasting effects of the red tide might be on our fall and winter fishing.
Despite the loss of fish life caused by the red tide, the fishing this summer and early fall has been pretty good. The fly rods on my boat stayed bent with tarpon ranging from 10 to 80 pounds, snook to 38 inches (with lots of little ones), scattered reds, and of course jacks and ladyfish. Now we should be adding the Gulf travelers — Spanish and king mackerel, bull redfish and bonito (false albacore) — to the list, but I guess we will just have to wait and see.
I have been out in the Gulf a few times lately and have seen lots of bait with ladies, jacks and birds busting it (which was so refreshing to see after the months of dead zone on the beaches). So far I have not seen the macks and bonito yet. However, I have heard good reports about bonito catches coming out of Sarasota, so maybe they’ll be here soon.
How do you know when they get here? There are really three ways to find them. The easiest method is to look for birds diving into bait that the fish are pushing up and feeding on. The bird activity can be seen from great distances, so when you see this put the hammer down on the throttle and run to them. Shut down far enough away so you don’t put the fish down. Try to make your approach upwind so you can drift to the school, or drop the trolling motor and try to sneak within casting distance.
The second way of finding these fish is a little harder. If you don’t have the birds circling and diving, then you just have to see the fish busting and throwing water. On calmer days you can see this a long way off too, but with swells and or wind chop on the water, spotting fish breaking becomes more difficult. Once you do see them, approach them the same way as before.
There is a third way to find them, but fly fishermen rarely use it: Trolling. You can use a spinning rod rigged with a spoon, or a fly rod rigged with your fly of choice, and just slowly cruise until you get hit. Then simply stop and cast.
The leaders for these guys can be as easy as a seven-foot piece of 30-pound, or you can tie your leaders with tapers and wire to turn over better. Just remember you will almost always get more bites without the wire. The presentation doesn’t have to be “dry fly” perfect here; you are normally casting into bedlam. Just get it there, strip it out and hang on.
If you are mackerel fishing, a 6 weight with a large-arbor reel is great — but if you hook a 10-pound bonito, you may be in trouble. So, have an 8 weight on board. Mackerel are fast and fun, but bonito are basically small tuna that can reach speeds up to 40 miles an hour. Oh, yeah — it’s finger-burnin’ time! Keep your flies small, maybe 2 inches long. Clouser and anchovy patterns tied on No. 1 or No. 2 hooks are great.
If you need to let the blisters heal, head to the Harbor and backcountry. Despite our water problems, we have had plenty of fish to catch there all summer — snook, reds, trout, jacks, pompano, ladies, etc. An 8 weight will handle the snook and reds.
Tarpon will be in the Harbor until the cold fronts get too strong and frequent, then the residents will head up the rivers and the migrators will hit the Gulf and head south. For the most part, an 8 or 10 weight will handle these fish. Baitfish patterns 3 to 6 inches long tied on No. 2 to 2/0 in black and purple, tans and white, or olive and white have done the trick. You may find these fish rolling or busting bait, so keep your eyes open as you travel.
As our water gets cleaner and clearer through fall and winter, sight fishing is high on the list. Look for fish up along the mangrove edges in moving water. As it cools down, smaller baitfish, shrimp and crabs will be your flies of choice. In each my last four trips, we have had slams (trout, redfish and snook caught by one angler in one trip) on the boat, and a couple of grand slams (add a tarpon to the previous list) also.
We have had a huge batch of water problems this year, but we still have a lot of fish to catch. Mother Nature will heal herself if we give her a chance and help her out. We can start helping out right now by voting. Election time is here!
But don’t vote blindly. Study the track records of these people who say they are the “ones for the job.” You can research at VoteSmart.org, Ballotpedia.org and OpenSecrets.org (these are considered Florida legislative scorecards and money tracers). There are many different unbiased sites out there to choose from. Please choose a couple and just look at what these people have done, who they have taken money from and how they have voted on amendments or issues. It’s time we vote for what we want and need, not for a certain party.
Stay fly, and #WaterVoter.
Capt. Rex Gudgel is a fly fishing guide in the Boca Grande area and an International Federation Of Fly Fishers Master Certified casting instructor. If you’d like to get casting lessons, book a trip or just need more fly fishing info, contact him at 706-254-3504 or visit BocaGrandeSlamFlyFishing.com or CastWithRex.com.