SaltyShores Close-Up: Anna Maria Island, Florida
Jan S. Maizler
Like so many things in life, meeting good folks is a combination of persistent effort and favorable opportunity. In recent years I heard more and more about the exploits and angling successes of Captain Jason Stock in the Sarasota/Bradenton/Tampa area. The reports and pictures of his kayak and wade-caught snook, sea trout, and redfish were truly impressive. I also liked the unpretentious enthusiasm his fishing pictures conveyed: clearly, this was a guide that loved to catch fish and even more, loved the thrill of battle on his angler’s faces. His non-migratory game fish were taken on lures- which is my favorite kind of fishing. And I’d discovered that Jason had added a flats boat to his charter operation, a bonus that would certainly add to fishable waters. I would also learn that after our fishing together, Jason obtained a Hanson center console boat, which not only furthered his offshore ability but also provided a mothership for kayaks to fish longer and more remote waters. But our day-or, perhaps, two- would be out of his skiff.
I couldn’t hide the fact that Jason plied some of my favorite fishing waters. I contacted Jason last summer to fish a day or two with him in the Sarasota area. Fortunately, he had an open date or two for me in a few weeks and I committed to it. While I’d be staying down in Siesta Key, we agreed to meet at the boat ramp at the northern end of (and across the bridge from) Longboat Key. I was more than happy to take that wonderful drive up 41 through downtown, and then to Bird, St. Armands, and then, Longboat Key. What makes Sarasota so special is that the superb angling is matched by beaches, stores, restaurants, art galleries, and the kinds of attractions that all travelers are compelled to love. I am proud to say I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been to Sarasota. Three places I planned on dining at- and in fact, did- were the Café L‘Europe and Columbia on St. Armands Key and Ophelias on the Bay in Siesta Key.
Flats Fishing with Jason-
As dawn peeked over the horizon to the east, I arrived at the boat ramp and could see that Jason was waiting for me. As I climbed aboard, he fired up his engine and told me we’d be heading over to the flats in this early morning stillness to try for seatrout on topwater plugs and soft plastic swimbaits. It did not take long to reach for us to reach our spot. Jason pulled out two spinning outfits from the racks. They both featured stiff graphite rods and reels with braided line finished with a light fluorocarbon leader and a “Zara-style” topwater plug. I knew from past experience that with the tackle we were using, mere finessed sweeps of the rod were sufficient to get the plugs dancing.
All it took were a couple long casts for both Jason and I to get solid strikes and hookups on seatrout. As we reeled them in to the boat, they appeared to be around two to three pounds-nice respectable sized fish. After we got some photos, we released the spotted gamesters and resumed fishing. And, again, the hookups were almost immediate! It’s a rare pleasure to cast plugs into a flat-calm bay in soft light and have your lure exploded on…kind of like a firecracker in a library or sanctuary. No doubt, Jason had us on the trout, one after another. After I had the necessary photos, I was careful to limit all the hookups, lest I grow spoiled with all the action- or worse, forget that these frenzied moments were the exception, not the rule.
Battle in the Channel-
Still, we wanted a catch as many species as possible, so Jason cranked it up and pointed his skiff towards the northern end of Anna Maria Island. While we were underway, Jason explained that he’d be fishing the edge of Passage Key Inlet for gag groupers which lately had been stacked up and striking live baits.
When we arrived Jason got out his Sabiki rods so we could catch some live pinfish. After we had about a dozen lively baits in his ample livewell, Jason idled into the deeper section of the channel. He pulled out two of his heaviest tarpon rods and tightened down the drags on the reels. Jason warned me that the strikes would be fierce and drive like freight trains back down to the bottom.
I got my pinfish to the right depth and waited but I had no idea how strong the strike would be. After losing two good fish to cutoffs, I succeeded in “fast stroking” my third away from the bottom and marveled how a seven pound fish pull so fiercely. We took some photos and caught three more grouper, while losing the rest to cutoffs.
It was mid-morning and Jason felt we should turn our attention to tarpon. With the sun this high, visibility would be excellent for spotting cruising fish as well as the customary rolling fish. Jason only had to pilot his vessel around the corner of the northern tip of AnnaMariaIsland for our search to begin.
Not surprisingly, we were not alone in our quest. As we began to idle southward off the beach, Jason readied two tarpon rods with live crab baits which would be fished under corks. As we searched, the crabs were carefully (and non-tanglingly) stowed in his livewell in a “pitch bait” mode.
Over the next four hours, we spotted about six schools of silver kings that were running fast and clearly not “happy.” We finally spotted a school of “southbounders” that had not been harassed by other vessels and moving at a non-anxious pace. Jason fired up his outboard and ran his vessel a hundred yards forward so we could be on an intercept path with them. We could clearly see their approach and “lead” the fish with perfect casts.
I had a fish rush my crab and suck it in, so I reeled up the slack so my circle hook could do its’ work. But evidently, the tarpon had blown out the bait before that could happen.
Ending with a Spot-
By this time, it was mid-afternoon and our adventure had only an hour or two left. I was hankering for a more reliable species and let Jason know that. It was not surprising that he would suggest a return to the inside waters to round out our day with some redfish. Jason ran his skiff to PalmaSolaBay and slowly idled over some potholes. He cut his engine and said he was confident that the afternoon breeze would take the skiff over the right areas that we could cast to. Jason gave me a rod with a weedless spoon and told me to cast to either sighted fish or to the potholes. I was really impressed with the numbers of redfish that flushed from our skiff. Finally, I had a solid strike and reeled in a nice redfish of about seven pounds. After that we released a few more redfish. Then it was time to end our day.
As we headed back to the boat ramp, I reflected back on the wonderful action Jason put us on, yet also looked forward to Ophelias crab cakes down south on Siesta Key. Clearly, I’d have to fish with Jason again…and the sooner, the better.
Captain Jason Stock
Web Site- www.jmsnookykayakcharters.com
Most of the technical fishing slows down a bit as old man winter settles on his rocking chair down in at the purple isle. The one track minded individuals wait until the spring time. But until then, there are many things to do to pass the time. The venerable Florida bay redfish is always around to help us through this waiting game.
Sometimes, the moon and stars align for a short window, or rather a sneak peak of the season ahead we look forward to. This fortunate soul was able to experience the short flurry this year, while in great company. We all grew up with heroes we looked up to in the world of athletes. Depending on which sport you are passionate about, your hero could be Micheal Jordan, Bo Jackson, Lebron James, Wayne Gretski, etc… and while most of my friends looked up to names in the world of basketball, football, and other sports, fishing had always been my number one sport and my number one passion so it would be natural that I grew up looking towards the greats in this sport like Lefty Kreh, Stu Apte, Jose Wajebe, Flip Pallot, Tim Mahaffey, and of coarse Andy Mill. Imagine a day of playing basket ball with Lebron or doing laps on the track with Hurley Haywood. An equal effect in my world would be a day of fishing with the man who wrote the book on tarpon; Andy Mill, who’s passion for chasing tarpon has greatly influenced my obsession for this magnificent fish. This is certainly one spring to look forward to.
So until next time… Stay tuned…
Fall has definitely set in, followed by cooling temperatures, lobster sized live shrimp in the baitwell, blue bird skies, and lots of muddy minded fish. Redfish in Flamingo are swimming on the mud in the afternoon heat and hanging off the deep end of mud banks on cool mornings. Bonefish on the other side of this little world in Islamorada are mudding their tails off, fattening up for the winter. The deep backcountry of the Everglades is also teeming with life. On a recent day in the backcountry, we caught snook, redfish, bream (I haven’t caught a pan fish on fly in over a decade), and gar all in the same few coves. As temperatures cool, catches of 40+ redfish are becomming less uncommon in a single day. We’ve been having a ball catching a bunch of backcountry redfish on DOA CAL shad tails in the new Fiji Chicken color fished on a 1/8oz or 1/4oz chartruese CAL jighead. Fall fishing is just straight up fun and relaxing.
Days have been real windy so it has been fun tackling some big chop in big water in my new 18 Maverick Mirage. I recently added a Minnkota Riptide ST trolling motor with iPilot for some of the deeper water backcountry stuff and it has worked amazing. The spot lock feature on the iPilot trolling motor is pretty amazing (thought it does kinda promote my laziness).
This is definitely a cool time of year to fish…
Stay tuned for more skiff fish porn…
Another great short little video from the World Angling group. A little demonstration of the new HB Biscayne and Neptune! Thought you might enjoy if you have not seen it yet.
I was surprised when I began to notice that quite a few people around in the flats skiff scene were not familiar with the term “dry launch trailer”. A dry launch trailer set up consists of a skiff trailer with the ability to launch a skiff without having to dunk it’s hubs in the water. Most of these trailers also incorporate an electrically powered winch with a clutch to launch and pick up their skiffs off the water. The bunks are set at a higher front, rear downward sloping angle and carpets are drenched in some sort of lubrication so the skiff slides on and off easily. Without having to dunk the hubs on your trailer, you greatly prolong the lifespan of both your hubs and the rest of the trailer. This is definitely the way to go. The two top manufacturers of such trailers are Ameratrail (Maverick) and Ramlin (Hells Bay/ECC). Thing is that some of the people own one of these trailers and don’t even realize the dry launch capabilities of it.
Here’s how it works:
When launching, you simply back the trailer up to the water’s edge, stopping where the tire is barely wet and the roller is about to barely touch the water. Then you loosen up the clutch on your winch and push the skiff to let it slide off the trailer into the water. You now walk down the integrated walk boards on the trailer down to your skiff and detatch the hook from your bow eye. Your boat is now ready to be docked.
When picking your skiff up out of the water, simply back up the trailer so the roller is just above the water line, drive the front of your skiff up on top of the roller, trim your motor up, and attatch the winch hook to your bow eye. You then walk up the walk boards on the side of the trailer and use either an electric winch or manual winch to crank the boat completely out of the water and onto the trailer. It is that simple.
The setup I currently have on my Maverick Mirage HPX-V is a custom Ameratrail aluminum trailer with just about all the options ordered. This particular all welded trailer is of OEM spec and was custom ordered with a zero degree torsion axle, which helps to make the trailer sit lower in the rear. I have added a Powerwinch RC30 electrical winch to the trailer to complete the perfect skiff trailer setup. I have owned this trailer for over half a year now and have nothing but great things to say.
I really wanted to take the new Hells Bay Skate for a spin today but Tyler didn’t want to take it out in these terrible condtions. I did get a chance to check it out for a little bit. The skies were so overcast and crappy taking photos would not have been very photogenic. I did take a short walk around video clip of it though. This will give you an overall look at what the boat is all about.
Draft–3 1/2″w/engine & fuel
Mfr Recommended Power
Chittum Skiff, photos and specifications by Jan:
With current economic trends to downsize and “do more with less”, cautious souls might be inclined to hunker down and wait ‘till things improve a bit before exploring new ventures. Not Hal Chittum, world-renowned guide and founder of Hells Bay Boats. Nope, Hal does a 360 from conventional wisdom and starts a new boat business with an ultra high-end skiff – the Islamorada 18 — that, according to Chittum, raises the bar for flats skiff manufacturing technology and on-water performance.
From the surface, the Islamorada 18 looks like a typical flats skiff: length 18’, beam 80”, and 12 degrees of deadrise at the transom. It’s when we looked under the surface that we began to realize something is drastically different about this boat.
For example, the dry weight of the complete hull is around 400-pounds. This isn’t an empty shell weight, this is every laminated component bonded to the hull. This includes the hull, deck, top cap, hatch covers and console. To obtain these numbers required a radical change in the typical process of building a skiff. Hal and George Sawley looked to racing sailboats and offshore powerboats for the technology to build their skiff.
To take the skiff from concept to mold Hal hired a team of naval architects from Vectorworks Marine. With their experience designing everything from luxury yachts to sophisticated Special Forces crafts, a flats skiff should be a no brainier. Yet with their design prowess, 5 axis mills and experience with advanced composites, Hal put them on task for months of trial and improvement. Every linear foot of the hull was sliced and modeled in the computer, greatly streamlining the plug/prototype/tooling process.
Most skiffs start life in the mold as a layer of gel coat, then layers of glass and core materials with vinylester or polyester resin wetting out the sandwich. Modeling their build from racing Unlike traditional pleasure boats that frequently use a variation of a vinylester/polyester mat/woven construction, the Islamorada 18’s layup schedule reads like a Who’s Who of high-tech composites: E-Glass, S-Glass, Kevlar, Carbon Fiber, Core Cell, S-Core, Airex, Nomex, pre-preg epoxy laminates that are vacuum-bagged to reduce excess resin before the hull spends the day in a low-temp oven to ensure an even cure.
Why use aerospace grade epoxy resin? According to George, a quality epoxy resin is stronger than vinylester by a factor of almost 5 to 1. The result is a much stronger skiff using less resin, resulting in a lighter stronger product. Epoxy is also nearly impervious to moisture absorption, an added plus for boats. However, working with epoxy resins requires highly skilled technicians thus costs much more. An added side benefit epoxy resins have lower VOC output than vinylesters, making it a greener build.
The boat is then sanded, faired, and shot with DuPont Imron for a memorable finish. The entire build process takes up to three times longer to complete. According to George, “Only about 10 builders in the US work with these materials and most of them build sailboats”.
After paint the skiff is moved to rigging and finishing. One interesting feature added during rigging is the fuel cell, a 30 gallon rubberized ballistic grade nylon fuel container with an open core foam insert to completely eliminate fuel from sloshing around. Easy to install and service, this fuel cell is lighter than a comparable aluminum gas tank.
With all the work, technology and pedigree, does it live up to all the hype? I got two separate opportunities to test the skiff. Both times were impressive. Ride quality is surprising superb, especially in a chop. Extraordinarily deep spray rails keep the occupants dry. More amazing is how such a light boat rides when the conditions go foul. Conventional wisdom says that heavier boats ride better. I have espoused this wisdom from time to time. A ride on this skiff requires rethought of said traditional wisdom. The combination of hull design and lightweight allows the boat to slice from crest to crest in a chop. What makes the skiff ride so well? I got a polite smile and “no comment” from George.
Performance with a Yamaha 60hp four stroke was good. Top end was recorded a few tenths of a MPH under 41. Recent testing with the new Honda 60HP four stroke recorded 43.5 MPH. Both tests were with two persons and 15 gallons of fuel. One unique test I performed was a time to plane at 3400 RPM. To do this test I trimmed the motor all the way down but retracted the trim tabs all the way up. From a dead stop to plane took less than six seconds with the motor never exceeding 3400 RPM.
The overall layout of the skiff is good. The center console with cooler was very comfortable for either standing or sitting operation. A nice plus is the toe kick area built into the console. LED lighting is standard along with quality helm controls. Mil-Spec aircraft switches, which are waterproof, sealed in epoxy with sealed breakers and rubber boots finish off the console. Storage space is open and usable. Six forward and two aft rod tubes per side allow for up to 16 rods total. Lastly, access the all pumps, electrical and other maintenance items is open and well thought out.
Running to the fishing grounds is one thing. Stalking them is another. Once I settled into my office on the poling platform, it was time to really put the skiff to the test. The skiff with a light load, two anglers and 15 gallons of fuel draws 8”, a respectable amount for a skiff with 12 degrees of dead rise. The boat poles and tracks very well for an 18’ skiff. Turning the skiff it rotates as close to center as any quality skiff. Hull slap is virtually non-existent. Even on the stern, which is one of the Achilles heels of many skiffs, Hal designed the skiff with a slight roundness to the transom to reduce the square on slap.
If stalking fish with fly rod in hand is not on the agenda for the day the skiff supports the live bait enthusiast with a 30 gallon live well. Adjustable valves allow the water height to be set for everything from shrimp and crabs to pilchards. Or in tournament mode it will keep your catch alive and kicking for the weigh in.
Is this the absolute perfect skiff? Not exactly. A flaw I noticed was the water line beam is significantly less than the top deck beam. This causes a bit of a cantilever when standing on the extreme edge of the skiff. While it’s I would not characterize it as “tippy”. I would say the stability is not as pronounced as other 18’ skiffs. There were also some aspects of the build like switch layout I would change if the boat were mine, but these alterations are simply part of the customizing process for each client’s tastes.
Hal and George set out to raise the bar for what defines a quality poling skiff. Have they succeeded? The Islamorada 18 is a very capable quality skiff with quality components and innovative features and well thought out amenities. Fit and finish is on par with highend yachts. From a build standpoint, they have certainly proven that there are possibilities untapped in the skiff market with epoxy resins. The bar has been raised.
phone: (386) 589-7224 or (954)224-1740
web site: chittumskiffs.com
SPECIFICATIONS AS SUPPLIED BY MANUFACTURER
* Weight: 400 Pounds Includes Hull, Deck, Cap, Hatches, Stringers and Console unrigged
* Draft: With Engine + Fuel: 6 Inches
* Length: 18 Feet Over All
* Chine Beam: 56 Inches
* Overall Beam 80 Inches
* Dead rise: At Transom 12 Degrees
* Maximum Horse Power: 90 / Less than 325 Pounds
* Fuel Capacity: 30 Gallons
* Bait Well Capacity: 30 Gallons
* All engines come with stainless steel prop, premium shifter and tachometer
* New Patent-Pending hull design with massive high volume built in spray rail, a staggered split chine below waterline for silent polling and radius transom. No sponsons.
* Custom Trailer- Stainless Steel and Aluminum with walk boards, 3 aluminum mag wheels with Good Year radial trailer tires and LCD lights.
* All surfaces painted with Dupont Imron Aircraft Paint, Choice of any standard Imron color.
* All Stainless Steel 316 grade + Electro Polished
* Center Console / Ice Chest / Seat Forward: with storage up to 4 – 12 volt batteries
* Over sized hatch gutters with rubber gaskets
* Sea Star Hydraulic Steering: High Speed 2.5 Lock to Lock / Flush mounted pump under console
* Stainless steel 13” yacht steering wheel with ball bearing suicide knob
* 2 – Large dry storage boxes out board and aft with easy access hatches from boat or trailer
* 1 – Anchor / Dry Storage / Trash Compartment, center aft.
* 1 – Large dry storage unit under forward deck
* All Hatches fitted with Gemlux Stainless steel flush mounted positive tension latches, Gemlux stainless steel hinges and stainless steel gas shocks
* High capacity rod racks under gunnels with 16 large diameter, flush fly rod tubes running forward and aft. With under gunnels and rod racks covered in water resistant carpet
* Fuel Cell: 30 Gallons rubberized ballistic nylon, forward of the forward bulkhead
* Bait Well / Release Well / Dry Storage: 30 gallons, plumed for three levels, custom thru hull pick up with Rule Pump
* Aluminum Polling Platform: Carbon fiber cored deck with Sea deck pad
* LCD Lights in all compartments lockers / hatches / console / bait wells / gunnels
* LCD Navigation lights: Billet aluminum shark eyes from Livorsi.
* Stiffy Push Poll Holders
* Racor Fuel Filter / water separator
* Mil-Spec Switches: water proof / sealed in epoxy / sealed breakers / rubber boots
* 1 – 12 volt Odyssey Battery
* Rule 1100 gph bilge pump
* All hatch undersides carbon fiber, clear-coated epoxy for straight and esthetics
* Lectrotab high speed trim tabs 12” X 12” / 316 Stainless Steel
* Seat cushions custom formed from 1 ½” Ensulite foam / UV protected vinyl with laminated in nylon
The streets of Miami will be adorned with Christmas decor shortly. Halloween pumpkins are being made into pie. Grocery stores are having mega sales on Turkeys, bread, gravy, and potatoes. Then all about, there are talks of the great deals that are to be had on Black Friday. We are headed towards another Thanksgiving. In a few days, we will be as stuffed as the turkeys we put in the oven as we waddle our way onto our skiffs for another day of fishing. There is certainly a lot to be thankful for, but that list will be left for another day.
As some of you may have noticed already; I am a fly gear junkie. I can go on for hours on end discussing different flies and the gear we chuck them with. Maybe it’s the engineer in me that keeps wanting to improve upon what is already good. Whatever it is… unless you have lots of time to spare, don’t get me started on conversations of such nature.
It was real cool having innovative fly tier Peter Smith (www.ssflies.com) and film maker Dave Teper (www.worldangling) down for a day of testing flies on bonefish of all sizes this past week. While throwing an old standard at some smaller more erratic moving bonefish, we found it tough to put the fly anywhere close to them or figure out which direction they would shoot at next. The situation called for a fly that we could throw close without spooking these weary fish, but something they could see, that would catch their fancy and entice an aggressive bite. Enter the IP Bone. After a few failed shots with the old standard, we switched to the SSFlies creation and were able to put this fly extremely close to these crack driven schoolie bones only rewarded by watching the entire school pile drive on top of each other to eat this fly. This same reaction went on every time the fly was presented. The quiet entry and fast sink rate made for a perfect presentation in this scenario. We accomplished what we had set out to do at the end of the day and I learned a few new tricks in tying flies.
Moving from the clear waters of the Florida Keys, over to the darker waters of Chokoloskee, I met up with Capt. Bill Faulkner (www.gulfcoastguidingservices.com) to test out the new style hull Hells Bay 16 Whipray as well as try feed a few reds and snook a few new fly patterns I had been working on. We fished redfish with their entire backs sticking out of the water, snook laid up in water almost too shallow, and big tarpon floating around. Fishing was pretty good to say the least as we stuck a couple of redfish, over a dozen snook, and a big 100lb tarpon. The fishing was only bested by both great company and the serenity that the deep Everglades has to offer.
I was very impressed with the Whip to say the least. This little skiff was nimble, rides pretty dry, fairly soft, and poled with ease. It definitely drafts slightly more then the older style Whipray hull, but there would be no scenerio I’d encounter while bonefishing that the new hull’s draft couldn’t handle. Though not your most versatile Key’s skiff (especially not during Tarpon Season nor long range in open water), it is the ultimate bonefish/redfish poling skiff.
There is more to come next week… stay tuned…
We were continually blessed with bluebird skies this past weekend. I walked outside in the morning to look at my boat and immediately noticed a difference… a slight chill was in the air, winds were out of the North, and dew had formed on the deck of my boat. This was a definite sign that things are changing as we transition from Fall to Winter patterns.
I joined my buddies Tony and Juanki the first day of fishing as we took out Tony’s new Hells Bay skiff. This new skiff in our arsenal will change the way we fish as well as give us that edge we need when having to pole down a school of speeding bonefish. Today’s mission was to break in the new skiff so we decided we should take the day of fishing more seriously (yeah right). Our seriousness on the water extends only to the point in the day where we start busting each other’s chops. It is always a gauranteed fun day on the water amongst this company. We started out our day with a first shot at a quadruplet of very big bonefish. Tony makes the perfect presentation and gets the eat, only to loose the fish while clearing line. The day was then filled with more exciting moments from, hooking and loosing big bonefish, poling down wads of fish, missing some bites, loosing balance and making a watery entries, and finally breaking in the skiff with Tony’s new signature move… the Islamorada bonefish toss and plunge. There was never a dull moment out on the water this day. I look forward to our next day on the water…
The next day on the water was a definite eye opener. Tim and I decided to take my Mirage out today for a change. Have you ever heard the superstition about your day being over after catching the fish on your first shot of the day? Well, besides only having less then half the bonefish shots as the previous day, both Tim and I caught a bonefish on each of our first shots. This sealed the deal for us as we delt with loosing fish, mising bites, and having to work harder to find fish. These are days you learn a bunch about the bonefishery…especially when you have a bonefish guru (Tim) on the boat with you. Winter is definitely on it’s way. Skies are becoming less cloudy, the water levels are slowly dropping, the air is becoming drier and cooler, fish are starting to get into a transitional phase, and bonefish are getting FAT. Life is good indeed…
Let’s change the pace up a little the next week… until next time…