Key West

Friday, February 24, 2012 , , , , 3 Comments

Last week I went to Key West to join my family for a much needed vacation and partake in some flats fishing. The weather was beautiful, water was warm, and the scenery phenomenal. Now back in dreary Kansas I can only hope to return soon.

I had a great time. I was able to catch my first saltwater fish, had opportunities for several species, and learned a lot. I fished both on my own and with guide Captain Mike Bartlett. I have linked both his guiding page and blog through this website.

Thursday began my time spent on the water. I teamed up with Mike and headed towards some flats south of Key West. Not long after arriving we spotted a trio of Blacktip Sharks, one of which was super hot on some baitfish. Mike asked if I wanted to go after them and of course I said yes. I threw a tube to them but just as quickly as the action started it seemed to end and the sharks were gone. Had I caught one I am sure I would have shit myself. 

Next we proceeded to another flat in search of Bonefish and Permit. Not too much going on there, and we never did see any bonefish the entire trip and would only see one Permit that day, which was headed 30 mph in the opposite direction. 
We hit one more flat before we needed to go pickup my father so he could join us. There I got the opportunity to throw several flies at Bonnethead Sharks, but my inexperience as a saltwater fly angler shown through and I am certain I made almost every mistake I could. 

After we picked up my father we decided to chase Jacks on Ray's. Meaning Jack Crevalles were holding tight to Sting Ray's as they fed on the flats hoping for an opportunistic meal. What Mike would do was search the water for evidence of a mud, or feeding sting ray and then my father and I would throw a fly at the Ray hoping the accompanying Jack would snatch up the fly. Unfortunately for us, clouds made the visibility poor and the majority of Sting Ray's were without Jacks. I did hook into one Jack briefly but lost him as he charged the boat, dislodging the fly. 

We ended the day looking for Tarpon, but the spot we tried was inhabited by a pod of Dolphins who most likely discouraged the presence of any resident Tarpon. 

The next morning headed to Bahia Honda State Park to wade fish, a place a friend of mine had hooked into a Permit and I had heard stories of Bonefish. As a novice flats angler, and not knowing what to expect, I tied on a small Clouser and headed off looking for fish. Unfortunately, the only fish I saw were small groups of Needlefish, which I always saw too late and made desperate cast towards.

My respect for flats fishing by wading greatly increased that morning. Wading knee to waist deep, your visibility is greatly reduced and as your sight fishing stealth and awareness are keen. However, the scenery was great and water warm, so no complaints from me. Further I did see some crabs and even a pufferfish on my walk back to the beach. 

That evening I headed to White Pier in Key West itself. Talking to an employee at the Saltwater Angler Fly Shop in Key West I learned that often Snook and Tarpon would inhabit that waters at night, hunting the baitfish which were attracted to the light. I did see several large Snook and a small Tarpon but couldn't get anything to commit to the various flies I presented.

Saturday morning I went back out with Mike, hoping to wipe the skunk off my previous attempts. We first went to a very shallow flat looking for Redfish feeding on Mullet. We saw a few Redfish but they were all headed away from the boat rather quickly, but I still made a few casts. In the same area I did get another opportunity to throw a fly at Bonnethead's'. I didnt make the mistakes I made the previous day, but set my hook by lifting on the rod rather than punching the line. I had the fish on for maybe 20 seconds before he got off.

Mike and I then headed in search of Tarpon laying up in the flats. Difficult to see at first, the Tarpon looked like sedentary logs through the water. Mike estimated they were around 80 or so lbs. I was able to cast with a fly to two of them, but my accuracy wasn't as precise with an 11 weight as I would have hoped and the Tarpon didn't seem too interested. 

We then proceeded to the next flat in search of Barracuda and a change of luck. We saw quite a few and they were easy to spot in the crystal clear water and light sand. The first fish I cast into I was able to connect with. Finally! I hooked into him with a yellow tube on spinning gear and to my surprise he took off beyond my field of vision. I couldn't believe how fast my line left the spool or how fast he was. It was beyond my expectations of how a saltwater fish would fight. I am fairly certain I let out a few excited utterances. The fight didn't last too long but its intensity and speed were unmatched by any fish I have ever encountered. He even jumped for me. 

The sound of ones drag is by far one of the sexiest sounds for any angler.

20 lb. Great Barracuda. 

Look at those teeth!

Given my love for Muskellunge, I couldn't help but think of them when I caught this guy. 

Mike with the release. 

You can't imagine how relieved Mike and I were to finally have the skunk off me. This was my fourth outing throwing line in Key West and second time out with Mike. It was great to finally have that line tight. I threw to a few other Barracudas  in around the area without success and then decided to move to another location that would be more promising for permit and Tarpon. 

This is where I have to give Mike a lot of credit. In a flats situation, you have to listen and trust you guide. With their experience and vantage point they can see and detect fish much better than you. Mike called out Permit at my 12, seventy-five feet or so. I couldn't really see anything but made a cast right to that spot and almost instantaneously the line took off. My main remark is that my respect for Permit quadrupled. They are strong and give a long and thorough fight. He came several times to the boat before taking of again. Permit as a species gained enormous respect and admiration from me that day: for their fight, beauty, and the skill required to catch them. 

My very first Black-Tailed Devil. 15 lb Permit. I was truly surprised how beautiful it was. 

Soon after, I spotted Tarpon rolling in the distance. I had seen videos of this, but in person it was extraordinary. The closest similarity I can think of is to Dolphins. By the time we got to where they were positioned they were too deep to go after on a fly rod so I threw on a swimbait and made a few casts. The line went tight, but not too tight.... I hadn't caught a Tarpon but instead a tiny Jack Crevalle. The same species we had been targeting earlier on the backs of Stingray's. This guy was just a runt compared however. 

Well, that was my fishing experience in Key West. Honestly, it was amazing. I was able to cast to Redfish, Needlefish, Permit, Bonnethead Sharks, Blacktip Sharks, Tarpon, Jacks, and Barracuda. Granted I only caught three fish and none on a fly rod, yet honestly it didn't matter. I learned so much, believe I came back a more proficient caster. Yet, most importantly was the experience, the beautiful scenery, and memories for a lifetime. 

Finally, for anyone headed to Key West  I would highly recommend Mike Bartlett. He was great, very patient as I learned the ropes--especially on a fly rod, was able to effectively get me with my range, and was great company. Again for those interested I have posted links on my blog if you want to contact him. 


Blog of Interest

Tuesday, February 07, 2012 3 Comments

A gentleman named Steve Wozniak has spent the past few years traveling in a quest to catch 1000 different fish species. The first time I heard about him was in early 2010, in a report by the IGFA, as he was nearing 900. Two years later he has surpassed a thousand fish and last time I checked he was at #1094. His new goal is 2000.

I love to check into his blog here and there as I am always delighted. Its an angling pursuit that seems rare, to document accurately how many fish species you have caught and specifically target new species rather than trying to catch the largest. Some of the pictures do show large fish, many however are only several inches.

If your interested I have posted a link here and will repost it permanently under my fishing blogs section.
1000 Fish Blog

Just out of curiosity I created a list of my species list. I was disappointed as it is far smaller than I would have liked, as avid an angler as I am. My list was 21....

Now granted, there are fish that I did not count. I know I have caught several bullhead for example, but I am clueless as to which species and so I didn't count them, or for example I vaguely remember catching an eel when I was young, though the memory is so faint and I was so young it very well could have been a gar.

So as a side angling project I would like to expand my own list. Taking care to accurately record and document the species. At the top of my list are ones which should be easy in Kansas: Blue Catfish, Warmouth, Sauger, Longear Sunfish, and Black Bullhead.


Bennet Spring: Disappointment

Tuesday, February 07, 2012 , , 0 Comments

A week and a half ago, Bret and I made the trek through the Ozarks to Bennet Spring. Having heard so much about this trout fishery, accompanied with tempting weather, we had to check it out ourselves. 

First we saw the trout hatchery itself, this is impressive to say the least. If you ever visit Bennet be sure to walk up and down the hatchery. I have never seen so many fish in my life. Thousands of trout ranging from a few inches to a few pushing several pounds. 

Yes, those are all trout. 

After seeing the hatchery, Bret and I hit the water, choosing the least populated spot we could find. There were a ton of people, far too many for my standards, and at an estimated 8000 trout per square mile we didn't think we could go too wrong in choosing a location with less people. The spring itself is gorgeous and the surrounding scenery is quite nice as well. 

That said, the fishing was poor. We saw very few bent rods throughout the morning. Trout after trout looked at our flies, only to turn away inches after inspecting them. All seemed most interested in the initial fall of the fly more than the drift, a trait I believe I came to understand earlier. 

After migrating downstream, we saw a group of guys slaying fish on fly rods. Upon closer inspection we learned they were using glo balls--repeatedly hitting the water, creating a splash, then picking it up seconds later to repeat. These guys easily could have been having 100+ fish days. Finding it much to crowded at that spot we went a few yards upstream. Bret put on a glow ball and I a green hares ear. Bret imitated the pattern we observed and immediately hooked in to a trout. I hooked into one on my hares ear, but had to horse it to prevent it from crossing the lines of the 25+ people not far downstream. Not that they didn't mind crossing my line repeatedly and hanging me up.  That said I lost the fish. 

This is when we began to notice something. Pellets--everywhere. Lining the banks on the bottom of the spring were pellets. These fish were gorging themselves just as they were raised in the hatchery, and the repeated splashing of glow balls tricked these fish into a feeding response. 

Finding it too crowded and with me passing borderline angry at the disrespect shown by fellow anglers we headed to our original location. Both Bret and I tied on Chamois pattern onto our lines and were able to hook into a fish each. Even here though we were only able to get fish interested by dragging the fly along the bottom and noticed pellets everywhere--which we hadn't previously noticed. I believe this explained, in part, why the fish were so interested in the initial fall of the fly, they were checking to see if it was a pellet. 

Overall, Bret and I left with a distasteful experience of Bennet. There were too many people for comfort, which was heightened by their lack of courtesy, and the fact that the fish seemed interested only in pellets and that this could provide so productive compared to traditional patterns annoyed me. 

Now I am far from a trout snob, in fact I am a trout newbie all things considering. I have nothing wrong with stocking trout and am not even willing to participate in the wild v. stocked debate. Given the number of anglers on the water, in some fisheries stocking is required, and I do not have a problem with that. My main issue was the pellets lining the stream. On other stocked waters, the trout have to naturalize quickly in order to survive, resorting to insects and fish as sources of food. Here it remained pellets. I view fishing not as a means to put fish on my table or even to see how many fish I can catch. While no one wants to be skunked, the experience is far more important to me, in other words those moments when you don't have a bent rod. Bennet just seemed unsporting.  

Now I know and have talked to anglers who have fished Bennet and had fantastic dry fly action, or great success on other patterns. I know there are several members from the club which frequent Bennet and I am not one to judge others. Perhaps my experience was an anomaly. However, given the drive and my ever expanding list of waters to explore I do not expect nor desire to return anytime soon. 

First fish of the year, Rainbow Trout, Chamois Fly.