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Collin Ross

heaven’s gate………………………

There are places in life that present unrivaled settings. Some of these sceneries are strictly seasonal while others continue to visually enchant year round. While it’s hard to articulate what others mental image might be of this mystical place, it is likely that each person’s perception varies immensely.

Yet in examination of historical literature or discussions with those that claimed to have seen the “light”, there is no proof of what this spiritual place looks like………………..however I know what is looks like to me

A place where fading sunsets and ebbing tides breed golden tails…………..

A place where even the toughest palates cut a guy a break every once in a while……………………

A place where creatures that evolution has long since avoided are bountiful all months of the year……………..

A place where fair weather, clean water and swimming fish are the norm………………..

A place where tackle has no choice but to be tested………..

A place where leaving a scared friend by himself is not an option………….

A place where late afternoon showers sometimes are not what you envisioned…………

A place where beaches are barren of development and left for their natural intentions……

A place where showing up unannounced is not often welcomed…………

A place where mother nature whispers to all generations……..

A place where teaching your deepest respect for what has been provided is easily passed to the next generation…….

And while the hustle and bustle of everyday life leaves you often deflated……………………when I close my eyes I am here. There is a lot to be Thankful for.

the winter that never was……

As common with the theme of recent winters, South Florida had limited exposure to any cold northerly wind during this waterfowl season. I told myself last year that I would fish more and spend less time pursuing birds, but as with all vaguely written plans, neither came true and sadly within a few muzzle flashes, the duck hunting season was behind me.
Nonetheless, we made best with the days we had and enjoyed all that accompanies your typical waterfowl shake down. As I only touch this gear but a few months a year, this involves lots of pulling boxes and gear bags out, going through all the dekes, generally getting shit in order which typically throws my wife into a panic as she cannot believe how much “junk” is required for a few days hunting. Like many wives she is typically quite happy when late January roles around and the “junk” hibernates for another 10 months.

While I would never claim to be a golfer (or at least a respectable golfer) the same plays part for wing shooting. I am but a rookie in the intertwined network of hardcore waterfowlers whose great granddads showed their granddads who showed their dads who showed them, there is a lot of rich history in duck hunting similar to that of fly fishing.

There is something to be said about arriving early to watch the marsh come alive………………undoubtedly my favorite part of the hunt.

first light and birds buzzing the spread gets your nerves set straight for a good hunt……..

The smell of the first few burnt shells of the season have their way of bringing you back where you left off many months ago.

Some mornings were better than others…………….(birds working the dekes)

arts and crafts…………………………………………..

first storm widgeon……………………

I have received a few questions over the last years how I protect my camera gear while standing knee deep in the muck, in my opinion nothing suits my needs better than the Simms Dry Creek bag. It is soft on the skiff and waterproof with the exception of dunking it.

It was a short but sweet season with quality over quantity as the general theme…………………all the “junk” is now packed but out comes much more with tarpon season and gobbler stalking around the corner.

where it all started…………..

They say that the ability to recall memories from early childhood varies from person to person. Some are able to remember events from when they were three years old, while others do not. In many instances certain images of one’s childhood evoke memories that would have otherwise been forgotten. Personally I am not certain where the vague events of childhood have secured their roots in my memory. Unfortunately I do not seem to remember much before the age of 4 or 5.

Yet naturally, I do have quite fond memories of growing up fishing/boating. I am not sure where this fishing infatuation started for me, a box of squid and endless bent rods on patch reefs catching grunt after grunt? Maybe it was the mosquito ridden trips to the interior of the glades with a bucket of 10 dz. shrimp and a popping cork? Or possibly the first bonefish that melted the line off my reel like nothing I had ever seen before?

Nonetheless the memories are there, somewhere not easily evoked, however fishing with my daughter brings up a lot of them and as she gets older our explorations have grown as well. Back in late Fall we had quite a strong run of memorable fishing trips, each day seemingly better than the next. Many permit tagged for Bonefish Tarpon Trust, our first slam, some afternoons filling the cooler with snappers/lobsters, some journeying in the flooded cypress forests………….…we were sharing many good vibes which is easy to overlook with so much hustle and bustle going on around us.
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The flooded cypress forest always brings some smiles for a lazy day in the sweetwater……………

Yet even at 3yrs old, her and I think a lot alike, and when the weekend rolls around she persistently requests to head out on the skiff in search of “fishies to kiss”. Who am I to deny a little girl? And on one notable late September day we set out to fulfill her wishes.

Despite the fact of working quite hard to find some fish, by mid-day we still were battling the ‘ol goose egg as no “fishies” were kissed and we almost threw in the towel. Convincingly I persuaded her to take a long swim then we could attempt the afternoon tide. As luck would have it over the course of a few hours we had many opportunities to fulfill her request………..

Tag # BTT05129

Tag # BTT05135

Tag # BTT05145

She was down with the plan…………….

Not all fish were greeted with kisses…………..

By late afternoon we had left them biting on the best day we have shared on the water yet, hooking 4 permit tagging 3, catching 3 tarpon jumping lots, and 2 bonefish losing our third and last fish next to skiff…………..our first double (almost triple) slam.

With little time for myself these days I am making due with my only alternative to getting out on the skiff. Unfortunately my requests to fish with the guys are getting more often denied as my wife reminds me I catch more fish with the kids, there are worse things to complain about I guess…………….

Good luck to everyone fishing the Salty Fly this coming weekend…………..Sam’s tireless efforts clearly produce a great event!

instilling the passion….

While I have been asked on a few occasions, with animated concern, if I have been fishing much since minimal content has been pushed through the meat grinder………………….rest assured I have still been conducting my regularly scheduled research of mother earth’s bounties.

However over the past many months I have had the luxury of a 2.5 year old shadow while engaging on many pursuits. Primarily because my wife is near the end of her pregnancy and her days of wrestling a toddler are temporarily behind her. Now I always knew that one of my greatest joys as a father would be exploring the pastimes I have a tremendous amount of passion towards with my children. I just NEVER realized how much work it would be.

Keeping a toddler entertained in a 17ft skiff for hours at a time takes strategy, particularly if you are by your lonesome. Such efforts are commonly unrewarded by the fish gods but it is really the meaningful time spent that is the goal, right? Anyone that knows me well understands days on the water are strictly only classified a success if fish came to hand. It is a rather unfortunate attribute of mine. Many amazing days on the water have ended in flames…………just because a few silly ass scaled demons.

I wish I could change but I cannot.

So many days of training have taken place over the past many months, things are progressing slowly but surely. Patience (which I have none of) have been tried and pushed beyond all recognition. Our adventures have taken us to the lower keys, the glades, camping, and beyond. Each having an interesting lesson learned and a few select images burned to memory

Lesson one: Screaming at your kid, PERM 3 o’clock! to only have her stare into space at 11 o’clock can be frustrating………….particularly since she can barely stand with a rod in her hand.

Lesson two: Understanding what parts of the fish that can be touched are sometimes delivered through trial and error…………………

Lesson three: Toddlers no matter you think are always trying to manipulate you……………………

We have since found a very good rhythm and many of our travels have been quite copasetic………..

Lucky for her she has some decent mentors…………………………….mommy 7.5 months pregnant and still getting it done on the bow

Lava sunset…………………….

baby bone and my baby…………

Of course my last day on the water, before our first son joins the crowd, was spent with my shadow in tow. As I mentioned previously, there is a lot of strategy involved in keeping a kid entertained while trying to tackle a few fish. For instance a box of raisins typically provides about 10 minutes of uninterrupted time on the poling tower, new squirt gun (best bang for the buck I have found thus far) about 20-30 minutes, shrimp in a bucket about 15 minutes, etc etc. Generally keeping them involved from spotting birds to counting mangroves on the shoreline is critical. I suppose I am just trying to provide some background on the complexity required to keep a kid entertained on a tiny skiff for hours at a time in the heat of the day. There is commonly a 75% chance that about the time you get comfortable on the tower you hear, “daddy pee pee”, or a “daddy water please”, “daddy I need a shrimpy”………..frustration typically sets in around the tenth request all while you can see a few fish in the distance or pushing off the bow, however, I still consider myself lucky to have a water girl.

On this particular day the weather was slick, 95 degrees and generally cloudy. Usually the hotter days are the most difficult as I have come to find out when dealing with my shadow. Lots of time in and out of the water, beach combing with intermittent spurts of fishing time, and after a few shots we brought a few bones to hand, losing one whopper before I could get on it with the skiff.

Not many small tarpon around right now but somehow we got lucky and when that fish came to say a quick hello I knew it was within our reach……………….

and after some conversation with my sidekick we agreed a long run was required given the approaching weather and our only chance at catching a slam………………….

We only had one shot after many hours of fishing in the heat of the day…………………………but we made it count and our first solo shared slam came to hand at 2.5 yrs old. We were both pretty damn pumped.

We gladly showed our mutual respect……………………

Still presently content being someone’s hero…………………an embarking on a new journey with the addition of a new fishing partner

Merry Christmas to the Saltyshores folks and many thanks to Sam for his tireless efforts to this website!! Collin

where shadows occasionally become reality………………

Needless to point out the obvious, but the dog days of summer have long since arrived, and with them came the typical permeating heat waves and contrasting dark clouds. I enjoy this time of year as I do with many of our seasonal cycles…………………….they each have their special place in my annual fishing calendar.

For the most part I find that when you finally get in your seasonal groove, mother nature changes it up. Nothing drastic per say, but enough to change the habits which you thought you had previously dialed in. However, fish are fish, simple creatures generally, and they act instinctively and in time, new patterns gather shape. Typically by then honey do’s add up and I am landlocked once again.

The summer slick clear days can turn to illustrious displays of sparking lighting and puffy marshmallow clouds in but a moment’s notice. Days of dealing with in & out clouds, particularly in the afternoon, is quite common

Clouds are not always shunned this time of year as they typically ease the heat and provide some interesting disparity from your typical clear sky horizon. Then, there are those days that the extreme radiating heat provides a myriad of summertime illusions that appear and disappear with ease, like a mirage in a desert, fish push in shallow for a quick snack to simply haul ass back to the deeper cooler water.

Fishing these overcast skies certainly keeps one on their game, fish are all of the sudden at your feet and instantaneous scrambling occurs. Sometimes your left with curse words while on other occasions your left with a bent rod.

Although not condoned on pointy end of my skiff, some bites even evoked uncontrollable fist pumping…………………….

A damn good fish for my buddy to end his season on

While other days are spent on different, often more complicated, pursuits…………………………..

…………………..and some days lady luck is on your side

Adios tarpon season………………………….

………………………..and back to the norm

Biscayne Bay Estuary deep dredge threat

The Biscayne Bay estuary which provides Miamians and tourist alike a miraculous salty backdrop is fighting a war regarding the dredging (600 days of structured unwater blasting!!) and extension of our seaport. Please watch this video and sign the petition. It is simple and the very least we can do to support this conservation effort. Collin

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/3/stop-the-deep-dredge/

survival of the fittest………….a hell’s bay glade skiff adventure

While I am not typically a fan of poky clichés, sometimes mother nature wipes the salt spray from your shades long enough to realize that this big blue marble is nothing but a circle of life…….and naturally where there is life, there is most certainly death. While not always accepted, it is a function of reality.

To say we have witnessed a mild winter in South Florida is quite misleading, we have only had 19 days with temperatures less than 60 degrees, by comparison to this time last year we had approximately 48 days. Old man winter has generally passed us by. Yet on a few occasions the weather has cooled enough that I had the urge to check out of my own reality for a bit…………nothing like a few days in the glades this time of year, not seeing another soul to cleanse the mind.

It has been a busy few months for me and escaping the more common morning commute was a welcomed relief…………..

The cooler weather brings about many changes in the glades, many welcomed, others not, but regardless it is a nice change of pace for many of us Floridians that spend the other 9 months of the year sweating.

An early morning purple sky deep in the everglades will make you forget about any trouble you had……………………….

As we pushed deeper into the mangrove labyrinth that is the Everglades, the sun began to break the horizon and gently warm the cool breeze on our faces. The monotonous right and left turns through narrowing creeks finally slowed and it was becoming more obvious that it finally was wintertime in the glades.

Pretty hard mistaking the curvy pink silhouettes in the backdrop of a Everglades sunrise.

It is sights like this that really remind me of how lucky we truly are. I hope to God that the habitat doesn’t go through more drastic changes, and that my kids get to see, touch, and experience some of the things I have. It had been some time since I had seen a natural Flamingo in the glades. Perhaps they just arrived from the Yucatan, Bahamas or were just stopping by for a bit. Unlike my previous encounters I have experienced, this one was different, there seemed to be 4 mature birds with 14 fledglings accompanying and they were spectacular………..and at 6:45AM my day could have ended right there and I would have been perfectly content.

By that afternoon, many fish had come to hand before we set up camp and watched the sun melt into the mangroves. Trips to the glades seem to have the ability to unwind the most complicated of lifestyles.

Catching a few fish on these is always good damn fun…………

As we pushed deeper some changes in the lineup were required………..

The soggy coastal prairie might seem desolate, but rest assured you are never alone as the Everglades is synonymous with insects, and where there are insects, there are spiders……by thousands I might add…….

Naturally we ate well. No such thing as camping with poor eats in my book. Glades Skiff kitchen made due……really love fishing this skiff during the winter

First class accommodations of course…………..

The short lived cold front a few days prior unfortunately left some looming evidence………….

muerte……..

I used to spend a good amount of time chasing these yellow finned bastards, and it pains me to see them so sensitive to the cold, particularly after the devastating cold front some years ago. While they seem to be making a respectable rebound, it is without hesitation that I would tell anyone that we are years before a true recovery can be claimed.

Lucky for us, we did happen to find a few survivors willing to reward our exploratory efforts………

Say, you seen my fly little buddy?

Not all fish were as hard to convince of our offerings…………….

Exploring new areas of the glades is not characteristically analogous with catching quality fish, but on some occasions things work out as one would have hoped…………regardless you can never be certain to what sights may be met around any hidden corner……..

What the hell was that?

“remain on the walkways” I think not………………….

In route back to reality knowing what’s ahead, and the landscape you just left behind, is serious motivation to return… …….that is the grasp of the glades in the winter

Adios river of grass…………..

Good luck to all the folks fishing the Saltyfly…………

in the cone of death………..

With the hurricane season officially behind us and the more common northerly winds filling our days I had a chance to reflect on a few memorable afternoons back in September. I reckon as we get older those days where school is called off because the prospect of an approaching storm are simply no longer welcomed. Hell, many of us Floridians burdened by excessive windstorm premiums feel blessed another season flew by unscathed. These parts ain’t a cheap place to call home and that is with certainty I say this.

While we avoided the cone of death (which can be defined as the only justification necessary for Miami TV stations to go into non-stop hurricane coverage and scare the crap out of South Florida residents) and the general BS media hype associated to it, the repercussions of nearby misses did have some effects. Typically the late summer months into October are characterized by extreme high water on the flats. Combine this with a near miss swell or surge and what we have is extremely high water, i.e. zero tailing fish for days.

I suppose every once in a while those days that you expect the least are the ones that end up surprising you the most and on one particular day this would prove quite true. When your day starts with doubled over fly rods, a pair of nice bones and an old friend…………it’s hard to get better but it did.

And while we barely saw any water low enough for tailing fish it did prevent our common late afternoon boiling water temps and the fish were on the feed……………and we gladly welcomed them

fish kept coming to hand……………..

we were damn blessed and we knew it………….

by day’s end we had tagged 8 fish for Bonefish & Tarpon Trust http://www.tarbone.org/ after nearly a dozen bites.

Needless to state a good day of fishing always provides some motivation at the vice……….

Somethings never get old or ever lose their luster, particularly bonefish with a fly rod…………………..guess when that happens time to take up golf

Back to regularly scheduled wintertime exploring I guess.

Happy Thanksgiving……………lots to be thankful for that is for sure.

blue-collar bonefish

While I do not consider myself, by any stretch if the imagination, a “red fisherman”. There is a time and place during the year to yank on a few of these fish when the opportunity presents itself. I have minimal experience hunting these fish beyond the Florida Bay and over the last many years, for the most part, avoided fishing them religiously. Most of the “channel drum” in the Florida Bay take the fly with ease and then typically just roll in the mud. Hell if they even clear your stripping line it calls for a celebration. Probably a function of warmer water temps who knows they are simply lazy bastards. I would guess it to be comparable to snagging a nurse shark just ask Honson.

I would have liked to think that once you caught one redfish you have caught them all but with a range from Massachusetts to Northern Mehico redfish are simply not created equal. Even in the Glades they can simply just turn their nose on just about everything you put in front of them, I suppose this is fishing and to be expected but getting refusals from a fucking brainless redfish can perplex even the most seasoned of anglers.

Don’t get me wrong about these “spottail bass”, I do enjoy catching them, from aggressive bites, to occasional table fair, to sometimes forgiving the worst of casts, they are good fun to hunt. I am told that they can even live to be 60 years old……….pretty incredible if you ask me.

On a recent family adventure I had the chance to fish out of my old skiff (no floor original Hells Bay Waterman made when Tom Gordon had a full head of hair, simply a badass poling skiff) in the low country for the first time, not sure what I expected but I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty of these grassy mud flats………………….

While I say the derogatory “blue-collar bonefish” stuff the fishery could not be farther from the truth. The Charleston fishery is legit and the numerous estuaries could keep the most local of folks hitting a new area every outing. Hell the 50 or so free local ramps in enough to make anyone happy. Needless to say the flooded spartina grass was a welcomed change of pace.

I can see how this wading to fish in the grass can get addicting………….

fish kept coming to hand……………….

And on the last afternoon with a long drive ahead of me with crying babies and all, we saw one last fish tailing hard in the grass, deep in the thick shit. Feeding them deep in the grass is not done with ease and definitely takes some experience but the fish came up and moved across some open water and I laid the fly out in front of her. It was a nice sized fish and as I stripped the fly in position the damn thing got stuck on a heavy blade of grass. In attempt to not spook the fish I lightly jiggled the fly when all of the sudden the 32inch fish blew up and ripped the fly from the grass…….I am told this is called the “dangler”

apparently this is all the rage in these parts (fish takes you into your backing)

one of the better reds I have seen in a long long time….

definitely hope to be back soon just not in the cold………………….

better to be lucky than good………

While it does not come as a surprise to most of my fishing peers, I have remained pretty local the last many months which did not bode well for my uneasy feeling of fishing this year’s Herman Lucerne Memorial Backcountry Championship . I did no partaking in the epic redfishing Flamingo had this summer and on the few rather infrequent visits I made over the last 6 months nearly all were in search of big tarpon. I suppose I was having trouble adjusting to the summer/early fall fishing pattern, which mind you can be incredible in the Park. Maybe the prospect of 3.5 hours on the road on my only given fishing day just was not in the cards this summer, maybe I was just being lazy. Regardless when the time came to start thinking about this tournament that we have added to our annual calendar of must do’s, I was concerned.

Everglades National Park can be spectacular this time of year, from slick winds and cloudy ornately ominous sunrises, to sights of early migratory birds, to cool mornings………….needless to say this is typically my favorite time to fish the here.

Those unfamiliar with the format of this tournament (concocted by Dr. Lloyd Wruble & Capt. Rick Murphy) there is a lot of strategy that goes into planning your day. Which of course can be and usually is influenced by tides, weather, recent fishing experiences, and in our case shots in the dark.

It is a two day event where anglers must fish within the Everglades National Park Boundaries and attempt to catch seven species on fly, spin, or general (bait) divisions. The total inches are then added up and the folks with the largest total inch count wins. However total species supersedes total inches, for instance you could have caught the largest fish but if someone happened to catch one more species than you, well you’re out of luck. The eligible species include bonefish, tarpon, snook, black drum, redfish, trout, and mangrove snapper. Fish caught on spin get an additional 25% total inches, and fish caught on fly get an additional 50% total inches. Naturally the rules lend themselves to the fly fisherman but on most cases the tournament is won by lure chuckers & bait fisherman.

While I choose to spend little to no time pre-fishing I did spend a few evenings at the vice relaxing wondering where we might look to fish and what the past many years of fishing the park could be drawn upon to formulate our strategy………………………

for da blackies……………

world famous mad mike golden crab….

another cool fly I used to use often on cruising fish in the skinny (has a strip of foam under the rabbit)…….

And on the morning of the tournament we found ourselves deep in the glades after a long run to areas we had not fished since high school. You see, the Park is a magical place that captures even the most subtle of observers. Areas that have only remained a burned image in the back your mind for the past many years are somehow still how you left them. This is the lure of a place like this. Of course this is attributable to the hard work by the underpaid pupils of mother nature, formally known the National Park Service.

Our day started much like I expected losing a few little tarpon on fly (little bastards never stay glued I swear), then my 8wt. snapped in two, and shortly after that our 9wt. splintered into pieces. Given the fact we were intending on fly fishing the whole day I was really setback. This type of stuff can only happen in a tournament, I swear to god. While I was shaking my head in discontent the humid morning blur of mosquitoes buzzing in what felt like the inside of my head sharply stopped in time, the undeniable slurp of a top water plug is enough to make anyone weak in the knees. Soon a oversized snook erupted from the surface with the text book “hey fellas watch me throw this plug” head shake………….our disappointment eroded immediately to pure panic which quickly lead to some serious high fives. With a big snook in the net we knew one of the hardest of the seven species was on paper for the team.

To be honest the rest of the tournament was a blur unfortunately with minimal pictures taken. Everywhere we looked fish swam to our bow and I’ll be damned if we did not immediately stick some steal in them……………beyond the first morning debacle everything seemed to go our way. While I cannot typically be overjoyed by our fish finding ability in the Park given our everly decreasing visits, I can tell you we are simply some very fishy folks. I have literally been fishing with my best bud Ross Reeder one day a week for over 18 years if not more and typically if we can see the fish there is a damn good chance we are slipping a hook in its mouth.

The 17.8 Pro still keeps me guessing, 30 gallons of gas, full livewell, more tackle than I can to reveal, three guys, basically a full tournament load………….and still has the ability to chase black drum with their backs out of the water. Captured on our new half 8wt half 9wt shoved together buggy whip….

the weather was not always perfect……….

While we didn’t need another tarpon on fly, It was hard to ignore a few large laid up fish…………

And on the last day after missing what I felt was going to be our only shot at a bonefish at 8:15AM (I was quite verbally abusive shortly thereafter)…………our Charleston native Chris Wilson spotted a huge plume of mud at 1:30PM which was made by one of the largest bonefish I have seen in the last few years. Lucky for us the big girl had a few smaller followers that want to play.

We immediately made our way to closest bar for a few rumski’s……

Tourney tally…..
Grand Champion Angler ( Tim Borski original)
Largest Snook
Largest Bonefish
Hell’s Bay Top Skiff & Angler (15% off coupon on our next skiff & cool fish hook mount)
Team Grand Champions with 221 total inches and the only team to get all 7 species……………..

I highly recommend anyone looking to fish this tournament do so. The event is truly top notch as Linda Denkert literally spends the ENITRE year rounding up sponsors and silent auction items (which are incredible and all proceeds are given back to the park, from half off guided trips with some of the area’s best captains to paddleboards to anything you can imagine). In terms of what I got for a $350 entry fee, two full meals for me and wife at the Islamorada Fish Company, two evenings of top shelf open bar (I am a pretty thirsty dude), a angler bag that included a high quality lightweight fishing shirt, grubs of all makes, sunscreen, and more stuff that I can even recall. There are awards for EVERYTHING, from the guy that had the most cast in the trees to junior anglers to amateur anglers to professional anglers. You compare this to any other Keys tournament and you would agree for many of the $1,000 plus entry fees something just ain’t right.

maybe I will give the Park a few more shots before the cooler weather moves in……..