Monday, December 27, 2010

Green Herons on the Turner

While the northern states are getting buried in snow this most southern area of Florida in the Everglades is getting some of the effects with some fairly cold weather. I skipped going fishing today and went and checked out the Turner River area in Big Cypress. The area usually doesn't disappoint with the amount of activity with wildlife and today was no exception. There is always a chance of seeing otters, a mink, deer and maybe black bears in the area. Being as cold as it was many of the different bird species of the area were there this morning and hunkering down trying to stay warm. The only bird that was somewhat active and feeding were the Green Herons. They are probably my favorite heron around here. Maybe it's because of the fisherman in me but I've watched many times these birds fishing by standing on low overhanging mangrove branches dropping insects in the water to lure a fish for their dinner.   

Friday, December 24, 2010

Begining of Winter in the Everglades

Weather patterns are somewhat predictable during summer in the Everglades. Typically most everyday there are the rain storms in the afternoon and you try to be off the water by early afternoon. Getting into the winter season it's considered the dry season and there is a slim chance of rain.
My son Rich Jr had just returned from Vermont and along with another friend, Mike, we headed into some back country waters to do some kayak fishing. Launching early we headed in with a beautiful sunrise and calm waters.There was a chance for some rain and by late morning it clouded over. We were a couple of miles from where we launched when the rain began and then... all hell broke loose and we were in the middle of a torrential downpour. We all had our rain gear and decided to stick it out and continue to fish (along with having to bail out our boats every couple of minutes). The monsoon lasted for about an hour. The real incentive I think was the bite was on and during the course of the storm we had a lot of fun catching a bunch of snook (maybe two dozen or so) and five redfish among us. There were some tarpon there but they ignored us as they appeared to be feeding on the small ladyfish that were around. The storm passed and the bite slowed so we worked our way back. A crazy and wet but awesome day! 

During the course of the week I fished a couple of other areas in the back country. The water temperatures have dropped considerably with these cold fronts that have come through and the catching  has slowed a bit but I still hooked up a few times fishing for the juvinile tarpon along with catching a few snook.
With the cooler nights there have been many birds around in the protection of the back country where they can sun and find protection from the cooler winds. 

 Standoff ?

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Early Bird gets....

...An awesome sunrise and a few nice fish !

Checking the weather forecast for the week on Saturday it looked like Sunday would be the best day to get out and do some kayak fishing. There was another cold front coming through on Monday and it would be pretty cold and windy for the following couple of days. I proceeded and headed to the backcountry and had fun for a few hours catching a couple of nice juvinile tarpon and a bunch of snook, the last one of the morning measured a little more than 30". I was back home by late morning making breakfast.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Everglades Winter Fishing

Traditionally I would always go trout fishing on opening day of the season during April in Vermont. The weather didn’t always cooperate with freezing temperatures, maybe it was snowing and there still might be ice blocking access to many of the mountain streams and creeks. Not as drastic down here in the Everglades, but there are cold fronts that come through and it can cool things down quite a bit. This was one of those weeks. I didn’t bother going out across the bay or any other areas where there is open water because of the cold winds and headed to a couple of places I kayak fish up in the backcountry where it is much more sheltered. The first day right after the cold front came through where it was in the 30’s early on and yesterday which was a little bit warmer but it was also raining.

It probably wouldn’t have mattered where I went but there were slim odds of seeing anybody else out, which I didn’t. The first day out I went to one area that offers a lot of protection and found a nice sunny spot where I found some snook and tarpon feeding. I caught a few decent size snook and played with a few smaller tarpon (actually, I think they were playing with me). Probably comical to watch, but early on my fingers tips were numb and it was tough to make any kind of accurate cast. Moving on later I paddled to and checked out a different spot and I’m not sure if it was some kind of fluke but I actually caught a few smaller largemouth bass where I have never seen them before. The area I was in had previously been inhabited by exotic Mayan Cichlid fish where most died off during the drastic cold spell we had last winter.

Yesterday was a bit tougher fishing. My buddy Mike joined me and we went to a different area in the backcountry and we played around with the fly rods. It was slower with the catching but I caught a redfish, we both caught a couple of snook, jack and ladyfish. Again I think the tarpon were playing with us but if anything it was a new place where I hadn’t seen them before and I will be returning there soon again.

I am still seeing a lot of different migratory birds back in these areas. More uncommon I’ve seen quite a few American Bitterns and also a couple of Short Tail Hawks. Pictured at the bottom is a photo of a Short Tail hawk I had previously taken.

Fairly common Green Heron

Short Tail Hawk

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Everglades Chill

This turned out to be a fairly exciting week. The first real cold front has come through and temperatures have dropped considerably, day temps in the low seventies and at night into the forties. I fished two days this week, one day in the backcountry and one day in the bay. Fishing in one of the backcountry areas I go I happened upon a spot, the mouth of a small creek that I had never fished because it is so overgrown with roots and overhanging mangroves. The tide was very low at this point. Passing by I noticed there was some activity with baitfish and figured I would try and skip one of the small plastic swim baits I use. Getting the bait in there was easy but getting it out was another story. On the first cast I immediately hooked up with a large snook that proceeded to break me off as he took off into the mangroves. I knew it would be pretty difficult to get a fish out of there but I re-rigged and stepped up the leader to the largest I had with me which was 40lb. It was still to no avail and for one reason or another, whether getting cut off or just getting wrapped up in the roots I think I maybe lost a half dozen or so larger fish. I did manage to get a couple of smaller size snook out of there. It was pretty exciting to know that more larger fish are up in these areas. By chance if I’m at this spot in the future when the tide is higher I think I will have a better chance to catch some of these fish.

I kayak fished the bay the day the cold front came through. The day started out with it being dead calm but around midmorning the front came through a lot earlier than predicted. If anything it was a nice (hard) workout paddling the mile and a half back across the bay directly into the twenty plus mph winds. Fishing was pretty good while it lasted with some snook, trout and a couple of smaller redfish. I caught a few snappers and a gag grouper also. There seemed to be more sharks around than usual.

Two different articles I had written were published this month so please check them out. Native Watercraft one of my main sponsors published a short article I wrote about the Everglades and you can read this at Native Watercraft. I am now writing a monthy article on kayak fishing for Coastal Angler Magazine, a Florida fishing publication both online and printed copies and you can read my first article for them at Coastal Angler, page 35, Thanks

I joined up with Ranger Bob Martin and Joseph Taboada to test paddle one of the trails, Halfway Creek, to see if it was passable through Big Cypress Preserve. We did the whole trail from Hwy41 back to Glades Haven marina in Everglades City. It was a real nice trip through that area and it ended up being around a 12 mile trip. I didn’t have time to fish much but there are many opportunities along the way.

Yesterday I met up with Ira Silverman visiting from Cape Cod. The plan was to paddle the other main trail through Big Cypress, The Turner River. The original plan was to paddle the whole trail back to Everglades City also (which is also 12 miles plus) but we spent too much time in the upper area of the river and there wasn’t enough time to do the whole trip. This trip was the highlight of the week. This trip was one of those “magical” trips. I don’t remember Ira’s exact words but he spoke of in all the years of coming and going to different places in Florida he has never experienced or seen anything like this and I agree, it was one of those days. It was incredible to see all the different wildlife, especially the many different birds and to be in that environment with them.

Ranger Bob and Joseph leading the way

In the Turner River Tunnel

Everglades Banded Water Snake (non venomous)

Local Anhinga

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Everglades Seasons

The seasons are changing in the Everglades... Summer fishing season to Winter fishing season.

A photo of a very nice snook I caught late last November in Chokoloskee Bay, this one was around 38”. A somewhat of a rare catch and for many it would be a catch of a lifetime. Add to the scenario of catching a larger snook as this out of a kayak and well, it’s even more of a rare occurrence. For those who have fished for snook know what I’m talking about and for those who haven’t you will only know what I’m really talking about when you get the opportunity to experience it for yourself. With all the time I spend on the water I still only get the opportunity a few times a year. I’ll never forget catching this fish, using light tackle as I normally do standing drifting and fishing an oyster bed shore line in the shallows. I knew instantly when I hooked up with that fish that chances would be slim getting it in the boat. I had previously just caught a couple of other snook so my 30lb leader was somewhat worn and may be nicked along with only having 10lb power pro braided line, not a good scenario around the sharp oysters let alone the razor sharp gill plates of the fish (I’ve been cut off by snook even when using 50lb leader). Anyway, I got lucky, kept her away from the oysters and was able to turn the fish somehow as it freight trained away and worked it back to the boat.

I’ve missed a few larger snook over the last couple of weeks fishing the backwaters, the last a couple of days ago. I’ve been spending time up in the backcountry doing a lot of exploring and kayak fishing. Fishing an area I know fairly well I was looking for tarpon. It was pretty windy and there were no signs of them feeding or rolling so I was just making blind casts with a plug as I covered a large open area. This is the second or third time this has happened recently and around 10ft from the boat hooking up with a larger fish as I retrieved my plug. She never surfaced but I saw it was a large snook as it passed by the side of the boat. Thinking I had a good hook set the fish ran giving me a good (sleigh) ride only to throw the hook with a violent headshake. So be it... I will be back soon. This happened in the same place a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been spotting more larger fish in the backcountry but without a real cold front to cool the outer bays and gulf waters I don’t believe many fish have migrated yet still. I have been catching  fish in the back, mostly smaller snook (up to around 22") and baby reds and an occasional juvenile tarpon. I got out and fished the bay (Choko) yesterday and when the tide changed to incoming the fish began feeding, I caught a few snook, a couple of trout and smaller redfish and also many ladyfish and a couple of gag groupers.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Jurassic Park ?

It looks like today, Tuesday, would be the only day that I would be able to get some fishing in this week, at least until the weekend. Saturday I skipped going fishing because it looked like the weather was going to be crappy (which it turned out to be a nice day) and I did an early morning road trip and did a little exploring through a part of Big Cypress Preserve and then over to Fachahatchee Strand. I didn’t realize hunting season for deer was open in Big Cypress where I was and there wasn’t much activity except for the hunters so I made my way over to Fachahatchee. Ironically not very long after driving into Fachahatchee where there was no hunting allowed, a nice 6 point buck came out and crossed the road just up in front of me. There wasn’t a heck of a lot of other activity here either, a few different birds but just being here in the early morning is awesome. The morning mist with being in the jungle makes me think of Jurassic Park as a good description. I didn’t see any dinosaurs but a few more miles up the road I had the rare opportunity to have walk out into the road ahead of me this time a good size Florida Panther. He walked out on the dirt road, stood there for a minute and then casually walked back into the jungle. Of course I wasn't ready with my camera.

I finally made it back out in Chokoloskee bay today. The north - northeast winds have really died down only today they shifted to the south. If they were stronger persistent south winds they could have the tendency to shut down the bite in this area. Also today the tides would be fairly slow being in the middle of the moon phase. With saying all that I didn’t expect much success today but surprisingly I caught quite a few fish. My goal today was to find some larger redfish. For the last couple of weeks all the reds I've caught along with the reports that I have gotten are everybody is catching smaller (rat reds) fish. Well I never did find any larger redfish and only again caught a few of the “rat” reds which was still okay. I also checked out a couple of my trout spots and caught a few of those. When first fishing in the morning looking for the reds I caught a couple of smaller snook but my highlight of the day on a top water plug I caught a very nice snook. Close to 30", and very healthy. She gave me a real nice fight with the light tackle I was using. As I was getting ready to take a photo of the fish it slipped out of my hands and off it swam. It was an exciting catch as there are not as many larger fish around so now every time when catching a bigger snook it shows there is promise when so many died during the freeze last winter. I also caught a couple of jacks, ladyfish and a weird looking lizard fish.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Backcountry Everglades

This past week turned out to be a great time to be out in the Everglades. Cool mornings warming into the upper seventies and hardly any bugs. A couple days were a bit windy so I spent all my time up in the backcountry where there is more protection. I fished a couple of days and also got a couple of requests from people to show them some of the areas I explore. Each time going into these areas is different but on the two different trips where I brought people they got to see and experience for themselves some of the wonders of the Everglades as there was a lot of activity with the wildlife this week. There have been a lot of different bird species around, the different resident birds like herons and egrets and also many migratory birds from large flocks of ducks to a lot of different species of raptors.

I kayak fished two different days and concentrated on fly fishing for snook in the mangroves. A bit of a challenge casting into openings and under the mangroves but I managed to catch a dozen or so smaller fish. None larger than around 20” but was a lot of fun with the fly rod. There were some tarpon around and I could see them rolling in a couple of different places. I made a few casts but never could hook up with one.

As I mentioned above there were a lot of different birds around this week. Trying to photograph a lot of the different bird species can be a real challenge and almost impossible a lot of times, especially when my strongest lens is only a 200mm. Pictured below are a couple photos of two young black crowned night herons that tolerated me getting fairly close to them, kind of a rare opportunity. I was back in the area where I had seen that group of Grebes again and saw that there were only two of them there. I figured the rest of the group must have moved on when one being near some mangroves starts this crazy squawking and out from the trees comes a large hawk, I believe was a Red Shouldered hawk and goes after and attacks that little bird. Somehow this Grebe got away but I think I have the answer as to where his other friends went.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A New Day

We have our first real cold front of the year coming through the area as I write this. It’s nice for a change to have some cooler weather but hopefully in a couple days it will warm back up. Forty degree temperatures would be t-shirt weather when I lived up in Vermont but here after months of ninety degree days it may be time to dig out some warmer clothing. The fish here will be making some changes also and a few species, like snook, will start to migrate up into many places in the backcountry. Many fish will spend the winter months in these protected areas that will generally stay warmer and will harbor bait fish through the winter season.

I had the chance to kayak fish a couple of days this past week in the bay. I got out last Sunday to catch a couple of nice trout to bring back for dinner as it was the last day of the season to keep them and the season will not open back up till January. Along with some nicer size trout I still have been catching some snook and redfish although they tend to be mostly smaller fish. I will fish out there as I can but should these cooler temperatures and winds continue I will start spending more time up in the backcountry.

One day during the week I paddled up north of the bay near the Ferguson River and West Pass to do a little exploring. It’s a good paddle (3 miles +) from Everglades City but there are many places to fish along the way and I plan to head back to the area soon to explore more.

A pair of Raccoons swimming along who apparently must have misjudged the fast incoming tide and got stranded on an oyster bar. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Changing Seasons

Even in The Everglades the colors change with the seasons. With the daily rains pretty much ended the land will begin to dry and will make for easier access to many of the places I frequently fish and explore in the winter. With every trip lately I’m seeing more varieties of the migratory birds that spend the winter here. The spectacular White Pelicans are beginning to arrive in the bay and a couple of times in the backcountry this last week I’ve seen a few woodland species that pass through from the north such as small flocks of Cardinals. There also appears to be more of the raptors around and even though a few species of these birds inhabit the area others of the same species with migrate to the area for the winter. I’ve spotted Peregrine Falcons a couple of times over the last week athough I’m not sure that these are migratory birds. On one lake in the backcountry there was a small group of Pied-Billed Grebes, a strange small duck like bird that dives to feed much like a Cormorant would and also dives to hide when alarmed.

A couple of weeks ago it seemed to be pretty barren of fish in some of the backcountry areas I visit but this week I’ve seen a big change. There has been a lot of activity with the schools of baitfish that are around with Snook and Tarpon feeding on them. When I’ve been there many of the fish have been far back in the hard to reach mangroves feeding. It is still awesome to hear the distinct popping sound snook make as they feed on the schools of baitfish as they pass by. The baby tarpon make a similar sound under the mangroves where they appear to be a lot of times with the snook. I haven’t caught any of the larger snook yet but I know that it’s just a matter of time as more of the larger fish will make their way into these backcountry areas to spend the winter. I’ve been catching a lot of snook but most of the fish are smaller but still a lot of fun to catch. The same thing goes for the Tarpon, a lot of smaller fish but a blast to catch (or try to catch), especially on fly!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Chokoloskee Bay Week

I went out and kayaked and fished Chokoloskee Bay three times this past week. As we’re getting towards winter fishing conditions have improved immensely. Each day I went out I visited different parts of the bay and had similar results. Getting to the full moon the tides have been strong and each day launching the water was very low with the outgoing tide and I had to push through the mud in a couple of places. (For those that don’t know this area well there are large tides here compared to a lot of Florida and especially in the winter there can be a change of up to seven and even eight feet at times) One of the mornings I found a school of nicer size snook working bait schools and it’s been awhile since seeing this in the bay. I fished with a top water plug, a zara spook Jr and had a bit of fun with them. The largest I managed to get in the boat was 33” but hooked up a couple times with fish that were a bit larger. That’s all I’ll say about it except that this is a very exciting situation to be in and the only way to really know what it’s like is to experience something like this for yourself. It was awesome to see these larger fish around again. I couldn’t find any good size redfish around this week but it seems we were invaded by the little guys. Lots of rat reds, very small up to around 18”. Around midmorning each day as the tide would change to incoming the trout bite was on and I fished a few of the different places I fish for them and it was non-stop with almost every cast a hookup. Some schools were real small fish also but in a couple of places they were a good size from 16’ to 18”. I caught one that was 20”. Conditions change so often here in the bay but right now it’s looking real good for our winter fishery. Other fish caught this week were a couple each of black drum, flounder and groupers, lots of lady fish and a few jacks.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Way in the back Fishing

The forecast was for scattered rain Thursday and maybe thunderstorms but it wasn't enough to deter me from going fishing and I headed for the backcountry.

I started to make my way in early when there was just a hint of light going through the opening in the mangroves. My incentive was finding some snook feeding at sunrise when I reached my destination. It was anything but easy getting there and I questioned my motives a few times. A lot of the waterway was too narrow to paddle and I had to pull myself through using the grass and mangrove branches along with at the same time brushing off the spider webs that crossed the trail most of the way. It was a relief when I made it to more open water. First thing was to clean off all my gear and get all the debris out of the boat including all the little critters and a few small tree frogs who were hitching a ride. I laugh to myself as to what I put myself through sometimes to get to some of these places to fish. Later in the cooler season this will all change and it will get easier to access.

There was a light rain but I could see some activity and started fishing throwing a top water plug. I’ve been in these kinds of areas a few times over the last couple weeks and hadn’t been able to locate some of the larger snook who usually will spend the cooler months in these areas. Today was not much different but I had a couple of nice follows by bigger fish who would not commit. It will probably take a good cold spell before more fish start to migrate to these areas. I caught a few smaller fish on the top water plug and a few fishing with a small swimbait. I had one nice unexpected hookup with a smaller tarpon on the top water plug along a shoreline.

I knew the tarpon were around as I would see them rolling here and there as I made my way through a couple of the different small lakes. After working my way back to the lake where I began I switched gears and got out the fly rod to see if I could have some fun with them. The fish I had been seeing were mostly smaller size around 5 to maybe 10 pounds. After setting up and anchoring around where I was seeing them I made a practice cast. Catching me off guard as I stripped appears a huge wake following my fly at around twenty feet away and then turns off near the boat making a good wake and disappears. In the excitement and the reflection from the water I couldn’t tell if it was a tarpon, I want to think that it was a large snook. It took me a few minutes to recompose myself... When getting back at it I made casts to the rollers and hooked up three different times but none to the boat but still lots of fun having these crazy fish on the end of your line. Before I called it a day I made some casts with a plug on the spinning rod and caught 2 nice fish both maybe around 7- 8lbs. It wasn't too bad getting back to where I launched. At least I could see what was ahead me.

Here's a couple examples of the unnamed fly's I used today tyed by a friend, Auston.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Passion

After a long and very hot summer the weather is finally making its change to cooler days and much cooler nights. The last week it’s been real nice starting out the day launching with temperatures in the low 70’s. I took the opportunity and did some longer paddles to places I had been planning on exploring and fishing. Two trips were around a 15 mile round trip. I wouldn’t put anybody through what it took to get to these areas but I found a few awesome places to kayak fish and these will be a couple of great places to go with a fairly easy access from a couple of the islands that I camp on. I again got into a couple of schools of smaller tarpon this week along with some snook and reds. It looks like the trout are coming back to a couple of spots I fish for them in the winter and if the water continues to stay cooler the trout fishing will only continue to get better. One other thing I did this week was take an ACA course in paddling and rescue’s from a sea kayak. I’m not a sea kayaker and I feel naked without a fishing pole with me but it was actually interesting and I think it will help when I paddle longer distances correcting my bad habits I’ve developed over the years and to help others showing them the proper ways to paddle in different situations.

A friend of mine sent me a link to this awesome video and if you want to get a taste of fishing here you must check this out. I’m asked so many times what it’s like to fish here or why would I even do it with the heat, bugs, etc. well this video shows the passion and addiction that these guys have also with fishing in the Everglades.