Sea, Sky, and Travel – Moments Etched in Image
Though photos got their start for me as support for content in articles and books, they’ve evolved into recording and journaling my passion for travel. Some of the destinations appearing here are St. Maarten, Miami, Alaska, Barbados, Belize, The Yucatan, Sanibel, Flamingo, Sarasota, Curacao, the Florida Keys, Israel, Greece, Louisiana, Italy, and Argentina. When photos are for my amusement instead of commercial requirements, I have no shame breaking all the rules. Focus and camera shake might be tossed to the wind, as will noise and graininess. Sometimes I saturate and boost to diabetic levels. My depth of field approaches are not consistent. I do think photos should be special units of emotions (both good and bad) and cherished memories as well as the traditional representational approach. Sometimes, it’s best not to just think out of the box- it’s best to leave that encumbrance entirely. More can be found at www.flatsfishingonline.com.
In Praise of Permit
Here are some images of the permit I’ve pursued, caught, and released in Florida, Mexico/Yucatan, Belize, Roatan, and Little Cayman Island. In my opinion, they are the planet’s cagiest flats fish when pursued on jigs and flies. Catching them on an artificial is something to be proud of. One of the highlights of my angling career is the release of nine- yes, nine !- permit in one day out of Belize River Lodge. This was documented by Guide Raul Navarette and Mike Heusner, who gave me the magic lure- a white 1/4 ounce Popeye skimmer jig. In balance, these were young eager, fiercely competitive fish in three schools of approximately one hundred fish. The other permit I am most proud of was the (now-EX) World record permit of 23 pounds 15 ounces on 4-pound test.
My first experience fishing with Captain Rick Grassett of Sarasota was in the fall of 2013. About six months prior, he and I consulted about specific dates. The two days that he chose for us to fish landed smack dab in the midst of a huge southerly baitfish migration graced by fair skies and light winds.
Our early predawn start rewarded us with lots of snook under the dock lights of Sarasota Bay. Once the sun rose, we headed out to the Long Bar and continued to catch snook supplemented by chunky seatrout. On this first day we used the balance of our hours to fish the shallow flats to catch a redfish. An hour before quitting time, I caught and released a nice redfish and completed my Sarasota Slam.
The first three hours of day two were a carbon copy of the fast snook and then, trout action as the day before. But Rick and I were determined to meet up with the parade of baitfish schools barely a football field off the beach of Sarasota’s famed Coastal Gulf. Once we entered these grounds from the north side of Longboat Key, we sped over to a wreck loaded with huge Spanish mackerel that exploded our silver topwater plugs. Within an hour of this insane action, the Gulf waters eupted in a froth of action as huge schools of mackerel and big bonito (A.K.A. albies) savaged the terrified baitfish.
And the beauty of these two marvelous days of sportfishing was that it was done casting only artificial lures. Besides the aforementioned topwater plugs, Rick had a veritable tackle shop of D.O.A. soft plastic lures aboard his Action Craft skiff- and they all worked marvelously.
A Year Later-
Almost twelve months later after this marvelous trip, my friend Alan Williams and I were headed back to fish with Captain Rick in the midst of this stupendous fall season. The logistics would be the same. Our lodgings was the Inn on Siesta Key, a wonderful Key West-style venue right across from one of the finest beaches in the world. Each of the next two mornings Alan and I would meet Rick around dawn at CB’s Saltwater Outfitters, his base of operations and an astonishing multi-purpose retail, charter, and boat rental enterprise dedicated to the marine life of boating, fishing, and so much more. As Alan and I headed north along Siesta Key Beach towards the Inn, we noticed a cloud configuration that could a spectacular sunset. And it delivered beyond our expectations.
As Alan and I ate dinner, we both wondered whether this spectacular cloud display did not presage an impending weather system. We checked the weather back at our room at the Inn and the TV weatherman confirmed that a cold front was headed our way in Sarasota. We estimated that our first day of fishing with Rick would not be badly affected by the front, but day number two would indeed feature blowy frosty winds from the north.
By the time we met Rick at CB’s the first morning, he already had a game plan in place that would factor in the approaching front. When we first launched his skiff, The Snookfin-Addict, Rick headed straight for a pass to fish the open Gulf for mackerel and albies. Although the front had not yet arrived, the pass was too churned up to let us through. Rick turned the skiff and headed to a southwestern shore of Sarasota Bay. He slowly idled onto some shallow flats and when he spotted large schools of jumping mullet, he cut the engine. As he poled about a hundred yards towards our target area, he explained that there should be redfish and snook amongst the mullet.
Alan requested a topwater plug and Rick complied. My own feeling was that an approaching front might keep these fish lower in the water column, so I asked Rick to give me a light spinner rigged with a D.O.A. swimbait. While we did see a couple large schools of redfish, they were spooky and on the move. The snook, however were hungry and eagerly attacked my soft plastic lure.
We also caught a few nice trout on the flats but were now hunkering for some variety. So Rick headed for the deeper flats of central Sarasota Bay. The wind was increasing so he put out a sea anchor to give us a perfect drift. It was here that we hit a jackpot with our D.O.A. jigs and caught flounder, grouper, jacks, ladyfish, seatrout, and bluefish.
Day two dawned with 30 M.P.H. winds out of the north and air temperatures in the fifties. This caused Rick to launch in Little Sararsota Bay. This gentleman of a captain fished these conditions all the way down to Englewood to give us some satisfaction. Alan was top rod with a snook and a flounder for the day.
As always, fishing with Captain Rick was a pleasure, I hope to fish with him again soon.
Captain Rick Grassett
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.