OK, I’m confused. It’s February — the dead of winter — and we are having record heat here in Southwest Florida (last year, the same thing in February). The rest of the country is preparing for yet another snow and ice storm moving across from the west. My sister in Arizona has 18 inches of snow on her deck. Someone needs to build an ark because of all the rain and flooding up in Georgia.
What’s going on? El Niño, La Niña, global warming, global cooling, snow moons? I don’t know. I don’t have time to check the Farmer’s Almanac, and neither do you. If you aren’t already, get outside and enjoy the weather we have right now! You know it’s going to change as another cold front pushes down across us. In the meantime, the water is warming up and the fishing should do the same thing.
The last couple of weeks I have been trying to hide from the wind in the backcountry. It’s been a little tough getting in the back though, because of the low negative tides we’ve had lately. Be patient, because when I’ve been able to get there, I’ve been able to get on fish. Lots of snook … and believe it or not, redfish! Yep, lots of rat reds with a few 30-inchers mixed in. I have seen some tarpon scattered around also, not just up in the rivers but actually in the backcountry, and have even connected with a couple.
While I’m waiting for the tides to come in and the water to rise I have been fishing the deeper flats and channels for mackerel, bluefish, ladyfish and the occasional pompano. If you don’t find them at first, be patient — keep casting you’ll find them. If it’s not too windy, I try to get my clients casting a 6 weight for these fish. I tie on a Clouser (chartreuse and white of course) rigged with a piece of wire maybe 6 inches long and have the clients cast as far as they can, strip quickly and hang on.
We all know how much fun these fish can be on light gear and the drag on a 6 weight will sing! When you find the macks, ladies or blues you know you are going to catch several because they are never alone. This is a great way to spend some time waiting for the water to come up.
Spanish mackerel are one of very few fish that I will harvest once in awhile. It only takes a couple of nice ones to make a meal or great hors d’oeuvre. I love to fillet them, smoke them and then make a fish spread out of them. In fact, I’m snacking on crackers and smoked mackerel spread as I write this.
As the tide continues to come in, you can start moving farther into the backcountry. That means that you will have to break a cardinal rule: You will have to leave fish to find fish. Put the wire and the Clouser away. Tie on an EP baitfish pattern, gurgler or shrimp fly and get ready to go to work.
It seems like I shouldn’t have to bring this up, but be patient and wait for enough water to run your particular boat. Every day I see people, guides included, running their boats over very shallow grassflats and cutting swaths that won’t grow back for 10 years. Just because you think your boat can run over a certain area doesn’t necessarily mean you should.
People, we can’t keep tearing this resource apart or it will never recover. Use your head and be conscientious. Know where you are going and where you are going to come off plane. Make sure you have a sandy hole deep enough to sit the boat down into; not the grass itself. If you need to, get on the pole and push your way in or use your trolling motor. Please! We all need that grass!
Keep being patient as you look for fish. Using the push pole is the best way to sneak up on these targets in shallow, clear water. If you are by yourself, use the trolling motor if you must but drift as much as you can. The sound of the trolling motor will scare them, and some of the water is too shallow to use it anyway.
With this low water, the fish can’t always get to the mangroves. Look for them out in the deeper water and holes along the islands. As the water comes up, so will the fish. They will push on up closer to the mangroves to cruise and feed.
This is also a good time to get out and wade. There are plenty of good hard sand bottoms to walk on as you stalk some reds and snook. Give this a try and you can ditch the boat for a little while. Wading adds a new dimension to your day and can be very productive. Throw a pair of wading shoes in the boat and you’ll always be prepared when the opportunity arises.
It’s better not to blind cast right now with our low clear water. The more we cast, the more we will spook fish. Again, be patient. Look carefully and scour the water for your target. Set up so you can make your longest accurate cast. You won’t be getting too many shots at these guys right now, so make your first cast your best one … and be patient.
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.