South Carolina, commonly known to us sportsman as the “lowcountry”; is a part of the world rich in history, good food, great fishing, and that good ole’ southern hospitality of the true south. I had an opportunity to make my first visit to the lowcountry this early Fall. This was a great opportunity to live all the great things I had always read and heard about via old writings, bayside discussions, and social media. I spent a couple days in Beaufort and then in Charleston, taking part in some flood tide and lowtide fishing, cast and blasting, and without a doubt the best southern food this foodie has ever tasted.
The floodtide was a completely new experience itself. I witnessed the giant tides flush into the spartina marsh and fill in the once dry fields of spartina grass teaming with fiddler crabs and snails.
As the water rose, redfish began to snake their way into the grass, subtlety pushing over blades of grass like ninjas, sneaking into clearings and tailing on fiddler crabs.
And as the tide rose up and covered up the tails of redfish, it marked time to stow away the fly rods and replace it with a shotgun in hand. Shooting birds out of a flats skiff was a definite first and definitely won’t be the last. Rather then be stealthy, the name to this game is to make your presence known, flushing marsh hens (clapper rails for those curious about what they actually are) out of the grass, allowing us to take the shot. This is a practice rich in history to itself.
The cast and blast experience in the lowcountry was greatly complimented with some of the most beautiful coastal scenes I had ever witnessed.
Special thanks to my hosts for making my first visit really special:
Capt. Owen Plair (http://www.redfishbeaufort.com/)
Will Abbot (http://www.floodtideco.com/)
Andy and Connie Villacres
Len and Jeannie Villacres
Tarpon Tested Gear Review: Echo Prime 11wt Fly Rod, Nautilus NV G10 Fly Reel, Cortland Tropic Plus Fly Line
Technologies in Tarpon fishing have come a long way as demands in this fishery have changed since the days of the old Great Equalizer. Tarpon are without a doubt becoming more and more demanding of that perfect presentation. So there comes the give and take compromise between a fly rod labelled as a casting stick or a fish fighting stick. Finding that happy medium between the two is what makes a tarpon stick the best one in your hands. It is true that in most cases it is the indian, not the arrow, but it helps if the bow and arrow are fine tuned to make it easier for the indian to shoot/cast it into the wind, into a side wind, or lay down a presentation soft down wind.
Most tarpon fisherman I know who chase these fish with a fly rod prefer a 1 piece rod. There are many choices on the Market today offered from companies such as G Loomis (2 models), Echo, Hardy, Clutch, Orvis, and Biscayne Rod. There isn’t a best 11wt or 12wt rod, but rather one that fits you best. Choosing the right one for you means going out and casting each one before deciding on which one works for you. I am not on any pro-staff for either one of the aforementioned companies but I do fish rods in different weights from these companies mentioned. The opinions of this reviewer are completely unbiased.
Today I review one of the new comers to the 1pc market; the Echo Prime 11wt. The Prime is the least expensive off all the 1pc fly rods but don’t let the price tag or lack of brand exposure fool you. This 11wt is truly an awesome tarpon stick. It is the second best casting 1pc 11wt I have fished thus far. While not as fast as the Hardy Pro-Axis 1pc or G Loomis NRX Pro-1; the Echo Prime 11wt is fast enough to punch through all but the extremely windy days. It’s got a softer tip, which actually allows it to load fast for quick casts when fishing in the mud and fish float up unexpectedly. One remarkable thing about the 11 Prime is how smooth it casts and how tight the loops you can form with it with minimal effort. Weight and swing weight-wise, the Echo Prime feels very comparable to the Crosscurrent Pro-1, perhaps a tad bit lighter. The action on this rod is comparable to the older Sage RPLX-i. When the steel sinks into meat and a tarpon is attached, that is where this rod out-shines most. It is virtually indestructible, even at high stick angles. Another good remark I’d like to mention on this rod is the use of ceramic guides for the stripper guides, but one thing I’d like to see changed are the cheap clunky oversized snake guides. I feel the Echo Prime lineup of rods could benefit from lighter better quality snake guides. I’d gladly pay another $60 for this rod with that.
Because the Prime has a slightly slower tip then the faster Hardy 11 Pro-Axis 1pc that I am all very familiar with, I went ahead and paired it up with the lightest 5″ fly reel on the market. This would be the Nautilus NV G10. Pairing up with a lighter reel with any rod gives it a faster perceived feel. I’d wouldn’t even be afraid to go as far as dropping down to a NV11/12 or CCFx2 1012 to give this rod a faster feel. Yet, I’m a fan of chasing a tarpon down basically on plane so a 5″ reel is what I prefer on all my tarpon rods. The Nautilus NV Monster G10 sits on a NV Monster frame but has a larger diameter spool, reducing the need for excessive backing. I was able to fit 100yards of gel spun with 150 yards of 30lb dacron with an 11wt Cortland fly line. Without line and backing, the G10 weighs in at 9.9oz, making it truly the lightest fly reel in it’s class. The drag on the G10, as with all the NV lineup is completely sealed from the elements and uses carbon fiber and cork disks to apply the brakes. Most important to a tarpon reel, the drag is smooth and an absolute zero startup inertia. I have fished straight 60lb butt section to a fly and pulled on some very big tarpon with drag cranked down on the Nautilus NV Monster and it has proved more then strong enough to handle the extreme pressures. Obviously, this isn’t common practice in tarpon fishing, but I just wanted to see how the reel would hold up. Strength, light weight, and good looks; I would go on to say the Nautilus NV Monster and NV G1o are my preferred go to tarpon reels.
My fly line of choice with the Echo 11 Prime and Nautilus NV-G10 setup was the Cortland Saltwater and Cortland Tropic Plus Saltwater and Tropic Plus 9′ Intermediate tip lines. Unlike most other popular saltwater lines on the market that are oversized in grain weight, these Cortland Tropic Plus lines are true to grain weight and feature a 7-27-7 WF taper. It is not necessary to fish an extremely long leader with the Cortland lines. The Cortland Tropic Plus has a soft enough presentation so that longer leaders are not necessary (The purpose of longer leaders is to allow the fly to lay down a softer presentation). On the calmest of days, I am fishing a 14ft leader maximum but have been able to get away with a 10ft to 11ft leader on windier days. The Tropic Plus 9′ intermediate tip really allows for great control on your presentations to fickle FL Keys oceanside tarpon when the chop is up and current is strong.
Those with a more aggressive casting stroke who have a heavy push may prefer a rod like the G Loomis Crosscurrent Pro-1 but this Echo/Nautilus/Cortland setup would definitely be preferable for those who enjoy casting a rod with a softer tip, and those who can throw tighter loops without having to push hard. Enjoy your time on the water and may you all have a great remainder of the Tarpon Season.
A Compilation of Poling Skiffs
Recently I spoke with Sam about my doing a compilation of poling skiffs for Saltyshores, and he was all for it. This would be the kind of undertaking which could never be exhaustively thorough or even necessarily uniform in content. Boat builders are extremely busy, live in a highly competitive world and it is not always easy to get images and specs from them. In addition, my own editorial schedule is tight and at times, feverish. Shortly after our talk, I gave a callout to the skiff builders on the Saltyshores Facebook page and the response was impressive. After forty years of flats fishing under my belt, the results confirmed for me once again that there are so many wonderful skiffs and flats boats available at all levels of market niches. This “survey” does not include what are referred to as micro-skiffs.
As to the ordering of the vessels, a rough alphabetical method seemed the most neutral. All of the spec notes I received or processed are not identical in format or scope but a simple web site visit to each skiff builder will give you all you need. I hope you find all these marvelous vessels as impressive as I did- there’s room for everyone ! Additionally, this is just a peek into the wide world of Florida and Caribbean flats boats. There may be more !
Action Craft 1720SE FlyFisher
*7-8.5″ draft depending on load
*Can also be made of Kevlar Carbon Fiber
*Top Speed 59mph with 135HP
*6 person capacity, 2 large wells
*Exclusive Qui-Dry Hull Design (with full liner)
Action Craft 1890SE FlatsMaster
*9-11″ draft depending on load
*Can also be made of Kevlar Carbon Fiber
*Top Speed 66mph with 200HP
*6 person capacity, 3 wells total in bow and stern
*Exclusive Qui-Dry Hull Design (with full liner)
The Ankona Cayenne
375 Lbs Hull Only
60 Remote Steering
The Ankona Native
14’ 8” and 17’ 2”
250-320 Lbs Hull Only
25 for 14’ 8”
40 for 17’ 2”
Ansil Saunders Bonefish Skiff-
Beavertail Skiffs (Aeon Marine)-
Beavertail Elite- 2 images
Length – 17’8″
Beam – 72″
Draft 7.5″ (90 E-TEC, 2 anglers, gear & fuel)
Power 70 – 90HP
Full Cored Carbon Kevlar Hull
Bohemian Skiffs-Bonefish – Bohemian 17′ (www.bonefishboats.com):
Transom Height 20”Max Horsepower 90hp
Max Persons 6
Fuel Capacity 25 gallons
Baitwell 15 gallons
Please see www.chittumskiffs.com
Dolphin skiffs-This is the forward cockpit of the Dolphin Super Skiff. This flats boat has long been a staple of guides and lodges all over the Bahamas and the Yucatan.
East Cape Skiffs-
The East Cape Vantage-
Max people rating: 4
Available in: tiller, side, center, off-set console
Hell’s Bay Boatworks-
Hell’s Bay Boatworks – Marquesa
•Length – 18′ 1″
•Beam – 79″
•Recommended Power – 90 hp – 150 hp
•Length – 16′ 4″
•Beam – 70″
•Recommended Power – 70 hp
•Length – 17′ 8″
•Beam – 70″
•Recommended Power – 70 hp
Transom Height 20″…
Max Horsepower 150hp
Max Persons 5
Fuel Capacity 30 gallons
Baitwell 15 gallons
An Image Roundup of Recent Story Trips
Jan S. Maizler
Here are some images of trips that took place through the late Winter into early Spring and stretched from Florida’s Space Coast to the Keys.
Some of the guides involved were Justin Price, Butch Moser, Butch Constable, Hai Truong, Gus Montoya, Rob Munoz, David Accursio and Martin Carranza. Thanks to all !
Punta Gorda, Florida Winter Fishery
Though our first angling day was besotted by frontal winds and rain this past Friday, Saturday dawned calm, clear, and with a bit of fog. Thanks to Captain Ralph Allen of King Fisher Fleet for some great guiding. As always, Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands, Florida came through for our efforts with superb support. Here’s a few images of our adventure.
There are those experiences in life that can’t be completely explained simply with words. These experiences are only truly taken in by being there. Whether from the bow of a flats skiff or behind a palm from in a duck blind, you take a step back and watch nature take it’s course, then become part of nature’s scene; be it watching a big laid up tarpon creep up on your fly cross-eyed about to slurp it or watching a flock of ducks with wings spread and landing gear deployed swooping down on a spread of decoys. The moments lead up to climax as you strip set steel into a dragon’s mouth or pull the trigger on your 12 gauge as a duck is directly down the sight atop your gun barrel. 2013’s end made way for a new type of inevitable obsession. The sport of hunting fowl that had passed me in childhood has come to my reality today. The crossroad I had taken at an early age to pursue Fly Fishing rather then hunting had finally merged into the same road. Admittedly, there are a few influential people in my life that helped encourage this final push. This is the beginning, the first pursuit all over again as I spent some afternoons at the trap/skeet field honing my shot, learned to distinguish between the different types of waterfowl, read up on regulations, and researched the type of gear used to travel down this path. As with most things you become passionate about, the more you learn, the less you realize you actually know. The journey down the road to become a better hunter or fisherman is always most exciting when you are just starting out. The new road ahead is clear… 12 weights and 12 gauges.
The few photos shared below from my most recent duck hunt can only partially describe the experience.
Recollections of Fish Past
As the year draws to an end, it seems fitting to dwell awhile on special fish and moments that gave me a recent past I could be thankful for as an angler with fond passionate memories. To paraphrase Thoreau, in the deepest sense, fishing has nothing to do with fish. But perhaps on the other hand, it certainly does. Here’s a small fraction of those memories that often appear on the stage of my mind.
TarponTown Anglers-Campeche, Mexico Reprise
Jan S. Maizler
“Every effective angling travel trip begins months before departure”-
I’d been hearing about the discovery and unfolding of a prolific baby tarpon fishery on the west coast of the Yucatan peninsula for about 2 years. I was anxious to experience what all the buzz was about and so I made arrangements to visit the epicenter of the fishery in Campeche, Mexico. Since tarpon behave consistently- be it in Florida, the Caribbean, or central America, I booked my dates in June, a month that would assure me water temperatures over 75 degrees, relatively calm weather, as well as a time of year when the threat of hurricanes and tropical storms was not at its’ peak.
The pre-trip research I always did revealed that most of the fishery involved grassflats as well as mangrove canals. Therefore, I was sure to time my visit during the quarter moon neap tides- this would insure that the low tides would not be so extreme as to drive the fish completely out of the mangrove forests and into the expansive Gulf of Mexico. Conversely, it would also insure that the high tides would not be so extreme as to flood the mangroves and give the tarpon and rest of the game fish an overabundance of water to spread out in.
Amongst the guides and operators in Campeche, I chose Raul Castaneda of Tarpon Town Anglers. I got a distinct impression from his web site (in contrast to one or two other operations) that his fully licensed charter service had a multi-species and multi-tackle orientation. This would be important for at least two reasons. Firstly, it would give me the widest opportunities to search out and experience the broadest possible facets of a new fishery that I’d be covering. Secondly, it might also predict how open-minded the operating philosophy of his charter service would be as to welcoming light tackle anglers and flyfishers alike as well as the species they could pursue.
When I spoke to him on the phone, his friendly efficient demeanor and response to my questions indicated his obvious broadmindedness as to scope of anglers and fish species alike. I was convinced that I’d chosen the right man. He made it clear to me that while he and his five guides generally targeted tarpon, they were also open to catching snook, jacks, snapper, grouper, barracuda, and seatrout (locally called corvina). In fact, Raul’s willingness to experiment with my friend Art and I would result not only in confirming the excellent light tackle tarpon fishing, but it aided in my discovery of the finest spotted seatrout fishing I had ever experienced! My thinking even went so far as to discuss with Raul the three species that could constitute a “Campeche Slam”, but the fishing was so good, I never got around to it.
Given that the primary target species were tarpon, it was no surprise that the fishery was a boat-based experience. With that feature in mind, I asked Raul about the vessels that comprised TarponTown’s charter fleet. His charter service offered four pangas with either center console or tiller layouts. Two of the engines were modern Honda four-stroke engines. The other two skiffs had dependable Yamaha two-stroke motors. All of the fishing to be done would be by motoring to the outskirts of our target area, and then by poling the pangas into and through the fished areas, which were either open grass flats, mangrove edges, or canals that ran through the “bush.”
All of his skiffs had VHF radios, cell phones, GPS units, loads of drinking water, ice chests full of sandwiches, cookies, and fruit, and notably, extra gas tanks, which gave the vessels additional running range needed for searching out baby silver kings in this huge habitat. In addition, for family group fishing and/or offshore operation, Raul had an excellent 28-foot center console vessel with a tee-top on hand.
The research I did about the city of Campeche itself indicated that it was a delightful destination for anglers and non-anglers alike. The city itself had about 250,000 residents, which gave it a “big enough, but not too big” quality.
Campeche city is the capital of the Mexican state of Campeche and it lies on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. The city was founded around 1540 by Spanish conquistadors right on top of the pre-existing Mayan city of Canpech. The city nowadays is graced with a beautiful historic district that is replete with excellent restaurants, arts and crafts galleries, and entertainment complexes. In addition, the countryside- which lays in the Yucatan interior- features some breathtaking and splendid Mayan ruins. For the manicured sportsman, the city offers golf, while anglers and their friends and family looking to go “green” have a number of kayak operations to choose from.
Platformed on top of all these exciting prospects was Raul’s plan to have us stay at the beautiful Ocean View Hotel. As the name implies, it sits right across the Gulf of Mexico shoreline. I was informed that we would take an early yet sumptuous breakfast at the hotel before leaving for the close by marina where his pangas were moored. When we returned to the Ocean View, a dip in the pool would be a welcome prospect, as would a massage at the hotel’s modern state of the art spa. With all these wonderful features, Art and I decided this was definitely a “with-spouses” trip.
The Campeche Fishing Begins-
The first day of fishing began with Art and I fishing with our guide Juan, whose facial features and eyes gave him the nickname, “Chino.” Fernando followed us around in another panga for use as a camera boat. Though we were pleased to see it was a fair weather sky, the obvious brisk northeasterly winds were sure to give us a challenge in terms of spotting the tarpon as the grassflats off Campeche were carpeted with countless wavelets just past the mangrove “wind shadow” all the way out to the endless Gulf horizon. Also, it had been our experience that tarpon in the shallows are generally less reluctant to roll compared to their frolicking in bathtub-calm seas.
Nevertheless, with two great guides, two pangas, and Juan’s ever-present hand-held GPS, we were able to find tarpon- and lots of them! Our guides carefully scanned the “down-wave” seas with fair success by splitting up by 100 yards and double-teaming their spotting by talking on their VHF radios. We were able to get off about 20 casts to these outside fish, but managed only a few light strikes on our ¼ ounce white Spro bucktails and 3/8 -ounce red and white Backbone lures. Art employed 8-pound spinning tackle and I used 10-pound plug tackle.
We decided to move into the mangrove canals for more windless conditions. I pared down my fluorocarbon leader from 40-pound test to 30-pound test. We spotted a few fish deep in the forest, but they, too, seemed reluctant to strike. After 6 hours of fishing, we decided to pack it in and head south to Campeche. I have to confess I insisted that Juan stop the skiff a few miles from port so we could cast to a school of big jacks and some huge houndfish that were savaging a massive school of sardines. The jacks were locally called “corel” and ran to 5 pounds- they were great fighters! The houndfish ran to an incredible 7 pounds and fought like baby sailfish. Juan found these fish amusing, but his expression went to careful caution when he had to unhook these writhing monsters. We then headed in with some of our hunger for action sated.
Day #2- Success Both Early and Late-
Raul joined us this day in the second skiff. We were pleased to see that the conditions were overcast and flat calm. We ran north for over an hour to one of Raul’s secret spots. As soon as the two skiffs came off plane in unison, both guides pointed to a huge area that seemed coated with rolling tarpon- the fish were so numerous I felt like I was in a dream!
My first cast was about 10 feet in front of and past a slow moving school of small tarpon. After the second sweep of my rod, I had a solid strike and drove my hook hard as I struck back. Seconds later, a 15-pound specimen went flying into the air. I made short work of this fish on my plug tackle. It felt good that my first tarpon release came on my first cast. We spent that magic morning jumping lots of fish and releasing a few more.
But midday meant a change of venue, as our plans called for us to experience as many species and methods as possible in Campeche. Juan and Raul discussed our next move and they decided to run south-southwest to a reefy area in 6 feet of water that they said was ideal for casting lures on light tackle. After a 1-hour run to the spot, we had a few hours left to fish. Juan told me to cast my white Spro bucktail to the light areas on the bottom. As long as we kept our casts accurate and started our jigging on the bottom, we were rewarded with grouper, small cubera snappers, and barracuda topping 15 pounds. As the sun began setting, we got underway to head back to the city after an excellent day of fishing.
Day #3- A Seatrout Extravaganza
Since we had reached an agreement that we would devote one morning to seatrout, and this morning’s flat cloudy conditions replicated yesterday’s weather, today would be the day. Raul agreed to an even earlier start this day so we had the maximized low light hours seatrout often like.
Today, Raul, Juan and Fernando would be joining Art and I as fellow anglers: it was clear that they were looking forward to doing some fishing themselves. We all hopped into Raul’s big center console vessel and got underway. The total time from the marina to the grass beds was 5 minutes and right off downtown.
While the other anglers started out casting bucktails, Juan gave me a wink and rigged my plug rod with a ¼-ounce jighead rigged with a yellow and orange soft plastic grub. Almost immediately, everyone hooked up with seatrout, yet I observed that the biggest fish-, which almost ran to 5-pounds-, were caught on my colorful grub. In three hours we had released over 65 trout and had kept another half-dozen for the table.
After we’d caught our fill of trout with a frequency and size I’d never experienced in my home waters of Florida, we called it quits even though we were deep in the middle of an ongoing trout bite. My afternoon was to be taken up with Raul’s driver, Nacho, taking my wife and I inland to visit the spectacular Mayan ruins at Edzna.
Day #4- Fishing, Then Farewell-
The last morning was arranged for Art and I to sample the tarpon fishing south of Campeche along the rocky beaches. We were in 1 panga that day, as Juan ran south from downtown for about a half hour. Juan slowed down and cut the engine as we could see some gulls working a sardine school close to a shoreline. As he poled closer, we could see tarpon rolling in the midst of the bait school.
I hooked up a small tarpon on my second cast and released it. Art and I jumped a few more baby silver kings in the next hour. When we saw another melee down the beach, I asked Juan to take us there. All that action turned out to be a big jack attack and those wonderful fish hit practically anything we threw at them!
Since we had an afternoon plane to catch, we reluctantly headed back to port. During our farewell with Raul at the airport, I was quick to make it clear this was not “goodbye”- it was only “until next time.”
Web site: http://www.tarpontown.com/
Sweetwater Sanctuary with Captain Alan Zaremba
My trip this morning with Alan was perfectly-timed. Besides offering a refuge from the recent high winds, the trip was still during a time of moderate temperature- which in my opinion was more peacock-friendly. Alan reported that his recent freshwater canal fishing offered a chance of gamesters with an Everglades backdrop. Since Alan only fishes lures and flies, I looked forward to an added dimension of fun and challenge. I was disappointed with the poor lighting that the day afforded for photos but equally grateful that there was only a little drizzling under threatening skies.
Almost minutes after Alan launched his Gheenoe until four hours later, we had reliable action. Our tally was a mixture of about thirty fish comprised of largemouth bass, peacock bass, and mayan cichlids.
All of our fish were taken on either topwater or lipped swimming plugs.
Captain Alan Zaremba
Curacao, Netherland Antilles Retrospective
Curacao is part of the Netherland Antilles. Specifically, it is part of a three-island group (Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire) off the coast of Venezuela. I have traveled there many times and experienced some very good snook and tarpon fishing, but this fishery is at the mercy of industrial pressures. The three major languages spoken are Dutch, Papiemento (the local “creole”), and English. The diving in Curacao can be quite good, at times rivaling Bonaire. The climate is dry and the island is full of melodious birds. Curacao is perhaps best known for the colorful Punda section and the floating bridge in Willemstad, the island’s capital.
Here are some images of a recent trip I made to Curacao.
CLICK ON THE IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM-