Tilapia Fishing or Watching Paint Dry.... Your Choice

Scott's Blue Tilapia on FlyIf a title like that doesn't catch your attention then nothing will, but trying to fool a fish that for the most part is unwilling to take any type of bait can be a true test of will, sanity, and patience.  Each year during the spring we'll hit the local lakes and ponds looking to hook into one of the regions more successful invasive species, the Blue Tilapia.

Blue Tilapia have expanded their range to include just about every waterway imaginable across the state and their spawning beds make for a pretty conspicuous clue that they're in the area.  Tilapia spawn right after most of the bass and their beds can make the sandy shallows look like a moonscape.  Each bowl-shaped nest is about the size of a truck tire and during the peak of the season there will be a single, fiercely-aggressive, and meticulously-cleaning, tilapia parent.  Their aggressive nature and obsessive compulsive cleaning is what we use to our advantage when trying to catch one on fly.

Unfortunately though, this is a waiting game with very limited casting followed by extended periods of standing as still as a hunting heron, and then impossibly light strikes. The normal scenario includes finding an active bed with a fish on it, the fish spooks, you cast into the bed, the fish eventually returns, it stares at the fly for a while, it picks up the fly and tries to move it out of the bed, fight on.  I've actually stood over a single bed for upwards of 15 minutes waiting for the fish to return after fleeing the bed, only to have it spook again or come to rest in the bed without noticing my fly.  That can be more than a little irritating.

Five or six weight rods with fairly light leaders and smallish and lightly dressed flies are the tools of the trade when chasing tilapia because they aren't overly powerful nor are the flies so large as to require a heavyweight rod.  About the only trick to hooking up is using a fly that's large enough to get the fish's attention but dressed sparsely enough that the fish gets the hook in its mouth rather than a bunch of fluffy material.  A simple wooly bugger or something similar should work pretty well if you find cooperative fish.  Bowfishing is another popular method of taking tilapia during the spawn but there's no way to practice catch an release with an arrow so it's only a method to explore if you have a way to dispose of your catch

So why would anyone go through all this for a very low likelihood of success?  Because it's a fish, there's a ton of them around, they'll eventually bite, and are a lot of fun on a fly rod.  Scott and I are in an informal competition to catch the most fish species on fly so he just had to get one since I've already checked that one off the list.  Living in a place with as many fish as Florida means that we throw a fly at anything that swims no matter how tough or uncooperative it might be.  Being well-rounded and flexible allows us to extend our season through the entire year, with very little down time.  We might even come home with something for dinner on occasion.

Brian "Beastman" Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

 

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The Road Less Traveled

Central Florida Google Map Shot

Ever since cars became available to the average consumer, we’ve all taken to the road as part of our everyday lives whether heading to the grocery store, the movies, or on a family vacation.  I can remember spending hours on the road with my family in Pennsylvania as we trekked to one place or another along the back roads and side streets my dad chose to follow rather than getting on the major highways.  He loved just driving along through the country side looking for critters and searching out the next best hunting spot that he would later ask permission to access.

Growing up,  I continued this tradition of just wandering the back roads, so much so that I’d rarely take a direct route to my destinations, choosing instead to “take the scenic route’ even if I was just going home from work just to keep from getting bored.  I know I’m not the only one that likes to wander around a bit while driving but my wife and kids never quite got the hang of enjoying the journey as much as the actual arrival at the final destination.  My wife never appreciated the skill required to spot a drumming grouse, a strutting turkey, and grazing woodchuck, or gallivanting whitetail fawns while tooling along at 50 miles an hour. 

I think we all reach a point in our lives when getting home, or to work, or even to granny’s house quickly is more important than anything we might experience while on the road.  So we start taking more interstate highways, and expressways in order to get where we’re going in the shortest amount of time and with the least amount of headaches.  But what are we missing by always taking the quickest path?  We could be miss out on seeing the world’s biggest ball of twine, the oldest living tree, or even the artistry of a tree made of discarded mufflers.  You just never know what surprises await you in those little towns with a single stop light and an equal number of bars and churches.Florida Atlas & Gazeetteer

I recently had two occasions to travel across the state from the west coast and each time I used some of the less direct paths, rather than getting on the toll roads and hustling along at 70 miles an hour.  I discovered little out of the way towns and burgs I didn’t even know existed, beautiful rolling hills, swamps, creeks, and forests just begging to be explored on foot or by kayak.  I’ve always had a thing for “Old Florida” so finding these little gems reminded me of the road trips I planned on taking with my wife when the kids were old enough to take care of themselves.  Now we have the time to explore and enjoy ourselves without needing to travel too far from home.

So grab a Florida Gazzeteer and hit the road to discover something new that might be quite old.  You never know what you’ll find whether it’s a new place to eat, a hiking trail, a fishing hotspot, or just a favorite stretch of road to cruise along.

 

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orland

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Watch Your Speed

Winter Florida LargemouthNo, I’m not talking about your speed on the roadways, although that’s a good idea to keep in mind unless you just want your insurance rates increased and your license suspended.  Winter time fishing can be some of the most productive of the year but the one thing I keep forgetting to keep in mind when I hit the ponds or the saltwater flats, is the speed of the retrieve and how fast to work the fly in general.  There isn’t another single time of the year when this is so important and we’re constantly getting questions about how quickly to work a fly through the strike zone for various species.  Unfortunately there isn’t any one single solution but rather a batch of questions the angler needs to ask while they’re out there casting away.

The first consideration is what am I trying to imitate and how quickly does it move through the water when relaxed and how much faster when frightened.  The dry fly fisherman is going to say that his bugs only move as fast as the current it’s riding while a barracuda fisherman will respond that a needle fish can truly haul the mail when a giant is tight on its tail.  There isn’t any single correct answer but instead it’s key to keep the prey in your mind and what frame of “mind” it’s in at the time.

Secondly, I take a look at the species being pursued and the type of feeding it generally does.  A large bass is primarily an ambush feeder that doesn’t chase anything further than a foot or two (similar to giant snook, and gator trout), while a smaller specimen of the same species may actively chase down its dinner from time to time.  Speedsters like mackerel, bonita, barracuda, ladyfish, and others, are relentless and amazingly fast; chasing down and devouring their meal like they may not get another.  Trout like brookies and cutthroat rarely chase anything, they rely on the current to bring dinner to the table, at which time they can dine at a leisurely and easy pace, sipping or grabbing their food as it passes.  The retrieval rates vary greatly depending on species and size as you can see.

Thirdly, am I appealing to the fish’s hunger, territorialism, or shear anger?  Bedding fish are not really in the mood to eat and therefore don’t often pursue things that aren’t passing relatively close to their location.  Objects that pass by closely, but too quickly don’t get chased either, so you need to slow it down, and sometimes stop the retrieve so the fly lies still in the bed, before eliciting a strike out of anger and the need to protect the brood.  Striking or highly predatory fish are often more willing to chase or follow prey, or your fly, over greater distances and at higher speeds.

Lastly, we need to consider that the same species will likely change its feeding habits due to a slowing or speeding up of its metabolism as a result of changing seasons and varying water temperatures.  Bass are a prime example of this and the reason I wrote about the topic in the first place.  Experiencing a slow and deliberate bite on the drop into a deep pond left me amazed and frustrated by my inability to slow down enough without losing total concentration on the task at hand.  I awoke from a daydream at one point, realizing I’d been struck only because the line was swimming away at right angles to where I had originally casted.  The bit was so subtle that I hadn’t even noticed it.  I invariably lost that fish because of an ineffective hook set.  My inability to slow down may also be the reason behind my lack of success with black drum on the flats as well.

There are a lot of things to consider before making that first cast of the day if you want to have some semblance of success, not the least of which is the speed (or lack thereof) in your retrieve.  Pace, pausing, long, short, jerky, call it whatever you want because there isn’t any single answer to the question.  Only more questions.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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The Ultimate Guide to Fishing South Florida On Foot

Ultimate Guide to Fishing South Florida On FootDoing the research for any trip abroad is a very important part of any preparation in my household and the farther the trip, or the more unknown the species, the more resources I’ll look for.  Thank goodness we live in the information age when access to maps, species profiles, fishing reports, fly recipes, and hatch charts are nothing more than a finger click away.

Putting in the time before enjoying stellar success is a big part of growing as a fisherman and I really think that everyone should spend a few “less than successful days” on the water in order to truly appreciate what they have when all the parts start falling in place.  We can’t all jump right in as experts, and not every day is going to be worthy of a syndicated fishing show, or a spot on the Fly Fishing Film Tour.  Fishing our region can be a humbling experience for a guy that thought he knew what was going on in the fishing world.  And there’s just so much darn water!

Much of Florida was nothing but swamp back in the day but as civilization expanded and our desire to tame the wilderness meant that dry real-estate was at a premium, canals were built to control, drain, and route ground water and storm-water runoff out of the settlements, unknowingly creating some of the best fishing opportunities anywhere in the United States.  Retention ponds, lakes, ditches, canals, and other water control measures provided ideal habitat for many of the indigenous fish species of both fresh and saltwater varieties; and the introduction of non-native species (both accidental and on purpose) helped to make this region a superb fishing destination with nearly limitless possibilities.  Bass, tarpon, peacocks, snook, jacks, ladyfish, oscars, and many more inhabit every wet corner of the area and they'll all take a bait or fly of some type.  All those locations and all those fish can make for a very confusing fishery but now you know there are resources to make finding a place to go a little simpler.

Well Steve Kantner “The Land Captain” has written and published the quintessential authority on fishing South Florida… on foot no less.  He realized that a great number of fishermen, whether locals or visitors, don’t have ready access to watercraft of any type but would still like to experience and enjoy everything that Florida has to offer the adventurous individual.  “The Ultimate Guide To Fishing South Florida On Foot” has brought everything together an angler new to the area, or just getting started, might want to know before hitting the water, or the road as it were.  Since the guide is geared towards spots you can reach by foot, you really can just hit the road and explore with some sense of where you’re going in the first place.

Peacock EyeMr. Kantner has consolidated so much information and insight that it’s nearly impossible to explain how in depth and thorough this guide proves to be.  I’ve been fishing the area for about ten years and I’ve quickly learned a good number of things just in the moments of browsing through the pages between customers in the shop.  Species profiles, tackle requirements, techniques and tactics, along with maps (reproductions of those available on the FWC website along with others) and personal insight complete a package it would take years, if not lifetimes, to accumulate.  This book will open up South Florida to many people who just wouldn’t otherwise be willing to venture beyond their comfort zone of the water immediately surrounding the homestead.

Stop in and check out Steve Kantner’s new book, load up the car or bicycle, and be ready to start finding fish with regularity.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Sling Pack, Waist Pack, or Vest? So Many Options.

Fishpond Gore RangeTech PackFishermen have been trying to answer this conundrum ever since Orvis brought out their first catalogue and we started believing there just had to be a better solution than the one we already carried.  I'm not sure there really is a single answer to which is best and sometimes we just have to let the color of our fishing shirt determine the type of pack we're going to carry on the water.  Just kidding.  Each one has it's uses and it'll just take time to figure out which one you like. I've personally gone full circle, beginning with a simple waist pack I used for many years of wading the saltwater, but I've found that it isn't large enough for some endeavors afield or far too big for others, and it makes wearing a stripping basket at the same time all but impossible.  But what's the ultimate solution and should new anglers agonize over getting it right the first time?

Vests like the one shown are great for carrying just about everything short of the kitchen sink, and I've found that there's a reason trout fishermen traditionally chose this type of system.  The pockets are spacious and numerous so you can hide things away never to be found again, except at the beginning of the next season when you take stock of what you need to purchase before hitting the water again.  Some even have integrated backpacks wherein you might carry enough supplies to spend extended period on the water rather than just a few short hours.  There are obvious benefits to wearing a vest but you do have to watch out for the tendency to carry everything, including the kitchen sink, the potential heat retention issues due to the type of fabric the vest is made of, and the need to compensate for clothing worn underneath by wearing a fixed size vest larger than your normal.  Keep an open mind and plan ahead.

LL Bean Sling PackSling packs and chest packs are perfect for the person that's able to scale down the amount of equipment they carry to the water for a days adventure and are a great way to keep yourself from becoming overly weighted down by things you probably won't need anyways.  These options force you to look at your tackle needs and storage systems with a more critical eye towards limiting waste and clutter.  Sling and chest packs are the perfect options for those short jaunts around a neighborhood pond, a nearby creek, or along the beach looking for cruising snook.  All you need is a small box of flies, tippet material, pliers, and a water bottle to have a great adventure.

Fish N Hunt Waist PackWaist packs are somewhere in between the two and continue to be a favorite of mine because of how well they distribute the load low on the body where I don't even notice the burden.  Many of them have back support built in which greatly increases the amount of time you can spend wandering the waterways in search of fishing opportunities. Water bottle holders, box storage, plier keepers, and even rod holders have been included in their designs so the angler isn't left with much to desire.  About the only issues I've ever had with waist packs is the need to spin them around to the front in order to get anything out of it, which results in a pretty twisted up wardrobe; and as I mentioned before, troubles with using a stripping basket at the same time.

Another possibility I've experimented with is using a backpack whether intended for fishing or not.  It works well when carrying both spinning and fly equipment because it's large enough to securely carry multiple large Plano boxes full of tackle, water bottles, Boga Grip, and other essentials.  Simms, Patagonia, Orvis, Fishpond and numerous others have included backpacks in their product lines, both in traditional and waterproof materials.  Backpacks are an accessory worth looking into if you have a bunch of equipment to carry.

New anglers shouldn't get too worried about their first choice of carrying accessory since they'll likely have half a dozen different ones within a very short time, very much like myself.  I've been around the block a few times and thrown in a few wrong turns over the years but each one was a learning experience and now my choices are based on experience rather than fashion.  Comfort, practicality, and versatility are the main criteria we should be using to find our next bag so keep the lessons I've learned in the back of your mind the next time you go looking for something new to schlep around your tackle.

Brian "Beastman" Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

 

 

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It's Not Always About the Fish

It’s obvious that fishermen hit the water with the intent to hook into and land something each trip down the driveway but I’m here to tell you it just doesn’t happen like that and if everyone were to consider the day a success only by counting the number of fish, there would be way more failures and less people on the water on a daily basis.  I’ve learned to look at each day with new optimism since it’s full of unknowns and potential surprises.

Every time I venture into the outdoors I’m looking for something to cap off the day and make it more than just a little memorable whether it’s hooking into the first fish of a particular species, hooking another person, hooking another species….  You get the picture?

A few of us ventured to Crystal River this past weekend hoping to luck into a bunch of snook, maybe a tarpon or two…we kept out options open by carrying enough tackle to open our own tackle store right there on the water.  Well I hooked into something that made the day memorable, if not quite up to our dreams and expectations.

We had found a bunch of cooperative ladyfish holding off the corner of a nice little flat and we were all working to find the bigger ones that had to be somewhere around all the short striking little dinksters.  Although catching small ones is fun and all, they tend to tear up a fly and make the fruitfulness of the endeavor a bit questionable.  Either way though, it’s fun and sometimes you just have to land some fish.

So, I’m in the middle of fighting a fish when all of a sudden it seems to get a lot heavier and fights with a little more vigor than what was originally on the line.  I’m trying to figure out if I have a problem on my hands when all of a sudden a Cormorant surfaces about thirty feet away from my kayak, with a fish in his bill.  That’s a little strange, I thought to myself, they normally don’t feed right next to boats, but he’ll leave me alone once he’s done eating his fresh fish.

Now I know everyone reading this has already made the connection that took a while to sink into my thick skull.  Yes, he was eating my fish.  And yes, I was going to have a problem if he actually succeeded in hooking himself.  Well eventually I figured out what was going on and attempted to extricate my quarry by playing a game of tug-of-war with the bird.  Let me say this about the cormorant, he had tenacity and absolutely no intention of letting go of that fish.  He dove, swam, pulled, and otherwise refused to relinquish his hold, right up to the point where I had him landed.  It appears he had no desire of getting in the kayak with me.  He coughed it up and then paddled circles around me for the next fifteen minutes looking for a handout he didn’t have to fight for. 

The saddest part of the whole story is that my fishing partners saw the bird coming when I had that fish hooked and they failed to warn me of his intentions.  It’s great to have buddies like that!  I got them back by “Failing” to call them over when I discovered a nice school of tarpon rolling around just off the channel about two hours later.

I’ve caught many different things over the years but a cormorant hadn’t been added to the list up until that point and I’m not thinking of hooking another one any time soon.

This trip proved to me once again that it isn’t always about the fish….  It’s about the about the friends, the snakes, manatees, gators, dolphins, and sometimes the cormorants.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

 

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Lord Stanley's Cup

Lord Stanley's CupBefore anyone starts questioning why a guy in Florida is making such a big deal about touching a big piece of Sterling Silver, let’s keep in mind that I’m originally from Pennsylvania and hockey sits right alongside football and baseball when it comes to having dedicated fans who are fiercely loyal to their team.  I may not have been raised in a hockey-loving family, but I sure grew to appreciate and respect the game and its players over the years.

Having a chance to put my hands on a treasured part of sports history is a dream come true that I only wish had been longer so that I had enough time to fully revel in the moment, but alas, our moment with Lord Stanley’s Cup was fleetingly short.

The Cup is one of the oldest sports trophies in existence, tracing its history back to 1892, when it was commissioned as the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup in honor of Lord Stanley of Preston, who at the time was Governor General of Canada.  That’s 122 years of competition, rivalry, and history which makes it very hard to accurately describe what this single silver bowl and its accompanying rings means to a sport, its players and coaches, as well as the fans.

Part of the mystique surrounding this particular trophy, and what truly sets it apart from all others in the sports world, is the fact that the same authenticated “Presentation” cup is awarded to the winner of the National Hockey League Stanley Cup Finals and they get to keep it for 100 days after winning, as well as having the names of the players, coaches, managers, and club staff engraved upon it.  A new trophy is minted each year in most other major sports.  So to hoist the cup overhead as part of the championship team means you are following a tradition started by the true pioneers and legends of the sport.

One of my favorite traditions surrounding the cup is when the captain of the team raises it for the first time after the presentation ceremony.  You can just feel the excitement and joy when a player regardless of age and number of years in the league, effortlessly lifts the cup overhead and skates around the ice, celebrating along with the fans.  My absolute favorite cup moment was when Joe Sakic (Captain for the 2001 Colorado Avalanche) declined raising the cup, and instead handed it to Ray Bourque, a 22 year veteran who had spent 21 years with the Boston Bruins without winning the cup.    That seventh and final game of the 2001 Finals was to be his last time on the ice wearing a jersey.  The look on Ray’s face and those of his teammates said it all and I along with scores of other fans had tears in my eyes and a newfound respect for the Joe Sakic.

So you see, hockey is more than just fights and missing teeth.  Its legendary trophy embodies everything good about the sport including its traditions of sportsmanship, respect, and playing for the love of the game.  You can see those attributes displayed by the players when they hoist it, and you can feel it living within the sterling silver bowl and rings of Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Christmas Tree Time Machine

Christmas Tree 2014It’s Christmas time once again and the decorations have all been hung with care, the lights (understated but effective) are brightening the eaves of the house along with the Sago Palm in the front yard, and the tree has been erected and bedazzled with every bit of attention an obsessive compulsive can bring to bare.  I stopped just short of measuring the distance between ornaments to make sure they were evenly distributed.

That’s right folks, I put up the tree and lovingly placed every decoration myself this year, proving that I AM capable of doing it, and that the world won’t stop spinning if I get into the Christmas spirit just a little bit.  My ladies are normally in charge of putting up all the decorations and I just take care of the outside lights since no one else likes to get on the roof (I feel like a mountain goat running from peak to peak), but this year, I decided to lend a hand by doing a bit more than normal.  I’m glad I did!

Up until this year, I’d never looked at the Christmas tree for everything it is, beyond just being a symbol of the holiday under which we pile gifts and gadgets each year leading up to Christmas Eve.  I discovered that our tee is actually a time machine, filled with memorabilia from years past, that transport me to days long gone.

I found ornaments from our first Christmas together way back in 1991, Theresa’s stocking ornament from 1971, and any number of special decorations that were lovingly created by each of our girls over the years.  There are snowflakes, crocheted trees and angels, plastic globes full of sand and shells, miniature picture frames, and any number of creations my two girls brought home from elementary school over the years.  Each one is signed and dated so we don’t forget who made it and when, which is particularly important as we get older and our memories start failing………What was I saying?.....

I never knew which long-forgotten memory was going to resurface every time I reached into the box of glittering objects to select the next one to be added to the tree.  Of course it’s tough to maintain a balance by hanging an equal number of treasures from each girl but I think I pulled it off amazingly well.  And it wasn’t just ornaments created by my children that made the cut.  I unknowingly included gifts from numerous family friends, things my mother-in-law made with the kids when they were young, and even some that my wife had made back when she was young.  They all helped make the tree a unique and personal part of the Christmas season.

So, rather than decorate the tree with all those store-bought globes, and icicle shaped shards of glass and plastic, dig through the boxes in your attic or basement and look for those forgotten boxes of memories.  Make your next tree one for the ages and I’m sure visitors will comment on how beautiful it looks with all the handmade decorations you’ve collected over the years.  Take a moment look at your tree for what it really can be….a vehicle to past years and memories.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Decorating the Trees.....Fly Shop Style

Betsie River SnagFly fishing is a greatly satisfying sport once you've figured out how to lay a fly somewhat close to the target zone, but for beginners, it can be quite frustrating and expensive.  Equipment costs seem to be way out of reach when greenhorns first look into it but most soon figure out that things can be quite realistic if everyone keeps their wits about them.

The only thing the angler needs to be worried about are the consumable costs like those for leaders and flies once the major purchases have been made, and tying your own can slightly mitigate the issue.  But it only softens the impact slightly when it seems the only things you can catch are trees, logs, rocks, bridge supports, dock pilings, power lines, and other miscellaneous tackle grabbers.  The most innocuous little twig can be an absolute hook magnet when positioned right over the best run or hole along the stream or shoreline, and you can just about figure out where the fish are without ever having seen one.  Just look for all the tackle above a regularly productive hole .  Can you imagine how many other anglers have felt the exact same urge to tuck a nearly impossible cast right up under the same overhanging branch?  It seems that God's sense of humor was working overtime when he gave us beautiful fish in spectacular locations but surrounded them with impossible casting situations.

I sometimes joke with customers that I consider the day to be a success when I can return home with half my fly selection intact and the rods in the same number of pieces as when I left.  I also mention that as a matter of good taste and style, they need to spread their lovingly-selected flies around and avoid sticking them all in the same piece of foliage.  My own advice is sometimes hard to heed once I actually set my feet in the water and spy a tantalizingly perfect piece of water just begging to be probed.  I recently donated a complete rig (two flies, split shot, and strike indicator) to the cause in a particularly nice tree along the "Fly Only" section of the Pere Marquette River in Michigan.  There was a beautiful pod of salmon working a gravel bed 3/4 of the way across the stream along with a  half dozen steelhead lying in wait for the salmon eggs to drift down to their waiting mouths.  It was too good to pass up so I gathered my thoughts, entered a zen-like trance, and with a prowess and finesse rarely demonstrated by mortal men, deposited a magnificently tied egg and bugger tandem straight into a tree branch hanging from a most superbly positioned tree behind me.  Lest you think I was the only one skilled enough to find the only obstacle to success within a hundred yards, I'm here to tell you that branch was nicely populated by a wide selection of flies tied in every color of the rainbow.  It was wonderfully decorative although not a terribly effective fishing technique.  I was frustrated at first but eventually resigned myself to the undeniable fact that these things are bound to occur when participating in the sport of fly fishing.  We often say that you aren't really trying if your aren't losing a fly to the bushes and bottom structure every so often.

The thing to glean from this all too obvious lesson is that you can't get too frustrated by these issues since it's part of the game,  and you just have to pay attention to your immediate surroundings before rearing back to launch a cast.  Also, be sure to take pictures of any flies purchased while on a trip because you might not possess them long enough to enjoy their company.  Besides, without a picture you won't remember what patterns to tie when you return to the vise in preparation for the next adventure.

Remember that Christmas is coming up so be sure to decorate with a sense of balance and style....  The wildlife will appreciate it on December 25th.

Brian "Beastman" Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Let Them Live To Fight Another Day

Peacock BassJust about anyone that knows me is likely to tell you that it takes a bit to get my dander up and participating in an emotionally charged discussion just isn’t in my nature.  That’s not to say that I don’t have deeply held beliefs and the passion to back it up, but rather I can judge when the conversation has degraded to the point where two folks should stop shouting at each other and just agree to disagree.

All that being said, I was dragged into a debate on the proper way to handle fish while taking a picture or just releasing them in general.  The other person insisted that holding large 30+ pound redfish vertically (by the mouth and/or the gill plates, while trying not to actually injure the gills) causes little or no harm to the fish.  He claims to have photographic proof that he’s caught the same fish multiple times over a several year period, “proving” there’s no harm done.  It’s his opinion that holding other fish that way is bad for them and could increase mortality, but redfish, being a fairly robust species aren’t as fragile.

I disagreed whole heartedly, insisting that all fish (big and small, regardless of species) should be supported at the head and mid body as recommended by most conservation groups.  But I quickly figured out that neither of us was going to change the other’s mind, and tried to back out of the argument by pointing out that we had reached an impasse.

Not being one to let things go, I did a bit of internet searching on the subject and found exactly what I expected.  Most professionals agree that holding any fish vertically could cause damage to:  a) the jaw, its muscles, and connective tissue due to the fact that they’re not designed to support the weight; b) internal organs as they shift around in the body cavity because their mass is normally supported horizontally by the water.  Only one site recommended holding fish vertically and that instance was limited to bass under three pounds.  The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a very in depth section on its website dedicated to proper techniques for handling fish in general and it’s well worth taking a look at if you get a chance.  The industry by and large recommends that certain steps be taken if you plan on practicing CPR with your catch.  These steps include:

  • Use tackle that’s appropriate for the species and size of fish you are pursuing.

  • Have a plan of action for hook removal and picture taking before actually hooking your trophy.

  • Remove hooks quickly and cut the line rather than trying to remove hooks that are so deeply engaged that removal would cause further injury.

  • Wet your hands before touching fish to help prevent excessive protective slime removal.

  • Use a rubber mesh net instead of those made of coarse nylon or other abrasive materials.

  • Avoid laying your catch on the ground or any other surface.

  • Use two hands to hold the fish, one at the head with the other supporting the body.

  • Only keep the fish out of the water approximately 30 seconds or only as long as you can comfortably hold your breath.

  • Support the fish in the water for as long as it takes to resuscitate and swim off normally.

So, as you can see there are accepted practices related to handling our aquatic friends, but as always it’s a matter of personal conviction and attitude; and each of us has to determine for ourselves how we’re going to conduct business on the water.  Personally, I’ve a great deal of respect for the fish I pursue and make it part of my modus operandi to do as little harm as possible.  We’re participating in a blood sport for sure but we can do our part to limit unnecessary fish mortality by taking a few simple steps and eliminating the traditional “Grip-and-Grin” photographs of improperly handled fish from our angling routines.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Wolverine State Steel

Rogue RiverI’ve wanted to fish for steelhead in Michigan ever since I hooked my first one in Pennsylvania on a cold early winter day in November, but it took almost two years of dreaming, planning, and pouring over books and maps before I would finally be able to board the plane, bound for the wolverine state.  A fishing buddy and I had it figured out and were going to catch loads of fish, or so we thought.

We crisscrossed the state hitting seven different and beautiful rivers over the course of seven days but the fishing wasn’t quite as productive as either of us expected with fish numbers being a bit lower than optimal, but a few were landed and the scenery was absolutely spectacular once we got out of the city and into the country side.  Famed steelhead rivers like the Pere Marquette, Manistee, Little Manistee, and the Grand, were but a few of the waterways we trod in search of cooperative fish.  The Platt, Betsie, and Rogue added a flavor of their own, delivering some of the most unique topography, and streambed variety I’ve ever experienced. The Pere Marquette and Little Manistee were my favorites because of the intimate nature of the waterway and the sheer beauty they each exhibited.  I’ve never taken so many pictures of trees, water, rocks, and leaves in my life, but it seemed like there was something else to capture every time I turned a bend in the river.

The fishing its self was tougher than any I’ve done, both mentally and ……..  well, just mentally.  The conditions and weather were perfect and the physical aspect of the trip was fairly manageable, but casting for hours without result can make you question your sanity.  However, fishermen being what they are, will continue to cast into the abyss while hoping something worth catching happens to be living somewhere in the depths.  I found myself drifting off while the rod seemed to cast with robotic regularity at some times but then I’d move around the next bend and start casting with new energy and optimism.

We each did hook into a good number of fish over the seven day period but I was the only one lucky enough to land anything better than a tree branch.  A king salmon, steelhead, and rainbow each came to hand fulfilling a longtime dream of fishing a new and legendary location with even a small measure of success.  Sure, we could have taken a guided trip but there’s something greatly satisfying about doing it on your own with limited help other than a few tips from local shops and what you’ve read in books and magazines.

Pere Marquette SteelheadEach fish provided a special ingredient to what became a successful trip in anyone’s book, and I’ll always remember the steelhead’s first jump as it erupted from the crystalline depths, the kings shear power and weight as it surged into the rolling riffles, and the rainbows hidden hues I could only get a glimpse of when I turned the fish “just right” in the sunlight.  Truly amazing and awe inspiring!

Do yourself a favor and head north in the near future and experience the sights and sounds of Michigan by visiting its streams, forests, and lakes.  You won’t believe how easy it is to get lost as you explore what’s around the next bend, and the next, and the next, and the next…

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Viewing Florida By Airboat

Airboat WakeThere are a quite few things everyone owes it to themselves to try once if they’re coming down to Florida for a visit and taking an airboat tour should rank high on the list.  Surprisingly though, a great number of natives or full time transplanted residents have never taken the time to enjoy what tourists go out of their way to experience.  Maybe we take too much of what our state has to offer for granted.

Hitching a ride on an airboat is quite easy since there are tour locations all across the state.  Just about anywhere there’s water and swamp will create a perfect backdrop for an experience you and your loved ones will never forget.  Zipping across the grass, through creeks and slews, into the cypress forests, and cutting a wake across open water gives you the sensation of gliding across ice with limited control.  The ride is a series of coordinated skids and slides, skillfully executed by gentle increases of power and steering inputs.  Animals of every variety pass by the gunnels as you seek them out in their watery haunts.  Alligators, herons, ducks, turtles, eagles, spiders (very large and creepy), egrets, and many other wild and domestic critters stand by for a few clicks of the camera before heading out for more private hiding spots.

My family and I were able to take a ride with Midway Airboat Rides with some close family who are in town for a visit, and let me tell you that everyone aboard gained a new appreciation for our St. Johns River system and the wildlife that inhabits the waterway.  We were greeted by a vast body of water swollen by the large amount of summer rain so we knew the animals would be scattered to the four corners of the world in search of dry ground, but our optimism was rewarded by a good number of animals that hung around long enough for some photographs.  It’s hard to comprehend the variety of landscapes within the river basin until you’re able to experience them for yourselves and the airboats are the only means of transport that make it possible year round.

There’s so much to see out there besides the theme parks (I’m not knocking them by any means), that I truly believe everyone should take a break from the crowds and get out there with the critters and the water.  There’s nothing like being pushed across the open water and grassland by a giant roaring fan, except the quiet solitude of the cypress forests where the creaking of the trees themselves is the only sound you can hear.  Both are unique experiences you won’t find any other way and in very few other places on earth.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Trash Fish or Day Savers?

BluefishFlorida residents are quite lucky when it comes to fish to chase and the destinations to visit in this pursuit.  We’ve got so many different species of fish that sometimes we forget that even the lowliest of them can be worthy of our efforts.  In fact, they can prove to be the best game in town when nothing else wants to come out and play.   Tarpon, snook, bonefish, permit, redfish, and seatrout may be what people think of when they contemplate fly fishing around the coast but it’s players like ladyfish, bluefish, mackerel, jacks, and catfish that account for more bent rods than we all want to admit.

The fall bait run is a giant fish magnet that draws anglers and fish with equal power and with the exception of some tarpon and snook, people are chasing after some of the others on the list.  Their numbers are mystifying and they have appetites and attitudes well beyond their diminished status among anglers.  They may not be a premier species but they’re plentiful and widespread at this time of year.

The best thing about chasing these lesser desired fish is that you don’t have to be fancy with your equipment to have a great deal of success.  A moderately sized rod and a pocket full of Clouser Minnows will be the ticket for a day full of fun and excitement when you hit the tide and location perfectly.  Hundred fish days are quite possible when things come together.  Oh yeah, don’t forget to carry plenty of spare leaders and tippet material since many of these guy have teeth that’ll wear through lightweight mono pronto.Ladyfish

Trash fish, by-catch, whatever you want to call them, they’re well worth taking time to catch while you can, and stock up the memories before the winter hits and things slow down.  These species are tailor made for kids and the uninitiated who just want to catch a lot of fish in a short period of time.  Just be sure to keep everyone’s fingers safe and sound when handling these wonderful but toothy and slimy critters.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Get Your Ducks In A Row

Fall has always been my favorite time of year for many reasons, not the least of which is the increased opportunities to get out in the woods chasing squirrels, grouse, rabbits, pheasants, and maybe if the weather was bad enough, some migratory ducks.  I loved hunting for them all but I never quite got the hang of duck hunting despite my father’s efforts to take me under his wing so to speak.

He was a member of the Northwest Pennsylvania Duck Hunters Association and those guys took their ducks pretty seriously, and believe me when I say they loved each and every one of those feathered wonders.  It wasn’t like they had a secret handshake or anything, but it was obvious that they had a passion for the sport and the game they pursued.  I can remember hanging duck boxes for woodies in the dead of winter when the beaver ponds were frozen over and then studying flash cards of birds in flight so we could identify our game when the time came to bring my shotgun to bare.  They did things to help sustain populations along with other organizations like Ducks Unlimited and to provide hunting opportunities for handicapped outdoorsmen as well as children.  So growing up around a bunch of conscientious hunters means I try to toe the line in my own hunting and fishing efforts.

But speaking about duck season would be incomplete if we didn’t mention some of the unusual byproducts of the industry and that would be the collectable decoys, calls, guns, shell boxes, and other equipment from “back in the day.”  Even though these artifacts were designed and built with the intent that they be used, and used hard, in the field, they have now become collectable antiques that can fetch a pretty hefty price on the market.  I actually had two gentlemen offer me $800.00 apiece for a pair of mallard decoys sitting on a shelf in the fly shop.  I doubted that they had all their marbles in one basket right up to the point where they correctly identified the manufacturer from over ten feet away.  I subsequently found three more mallards by the same company and have since moved them to places of high visibility and prominence.  Do you have any old decoys sitting in your garage?

Duck hunting has a history that many people would like to forget, especially when you figure in the meat hunting days around the great depression, but conservation efforts across the country coupled with stricter waterfowl regulations have allowed my generation to see great success as compared to 50 years ago.  Recently though, duck hunting has moved a bit more into the mainstream due to popular TV shows and everyone’s realization that proper game management includes some hunting and not a total “hands off” approach.  One of my favorite vacation destinations has always been Easton, Maryland for the Waterfowl Festival, where we used to marvel at the paintings and carvings crafted in a common theme.  Outdoor enthusiast owe it to themselves to visit the festival and maybe even join in on the calling contests.  You just might know how to speak “Pintailese.”

The season is almost here, so now is the time to check out your decoys, tied new anchor lines, gather up all your calls, and hit the skeet field for some practice.  Go through your collection to see if you have anything collectible worth putting on the market to bring in some money for a new shotgun.  Look up a local organization and lend a hand with their conservation effort and ensure that there are ducks around for years and years to come, so that your kids have something to chase when their time comes.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Why Fishing Rods Break

Anyone who spends a lot of time on the water is eventually going to utter words that we’ve heard many times over while working in the fishing industry.  “I don’t know what happened, the rod just broke while I was casting it like I’ve done a thousand times before.”  For the most part, people don’t really know what actually caused the break and are quite likely to want to put the blame on the manufacturer rather than just chalking it up to “Things happen.”  But let’s be honest here for a second, the rods are pretty well made and breakages are rarely due to a manufacturing defect or something the companies are responsible for, but rather we do it to ourselves most of the time.  I’ve broken three rods while fishing and every one was my fault, while at the same time I’ve seen numerous rods broken by customers while “demonstrating” a rods capabilities.  All of these were avoidable if we follow a few simple rules.

Rule #1.  Do not “demonstrate” how much a rod can flex by bending the tip over by hand.  Rods are only meant to bend in a curve determined by the placement of the rod guides and the tension of the line running through them (from the reel all the way to the tip of the rod).  Few rods on the market today can do the “Ugly Stik Bend.”

Rule #2.  Never high stick a fish.  This means don’t lift the rod tip too high when the fish is close at hand because it creates too sharp a bend in the top quarter of the rod.  Remember that power is generated through the butt section of the rod rather than the tip.

Rule #3.  Don’t assemble rods in rooms with ceiling fans.  Seems pretty self-explanatory but everyone does it at some point.  Eventually the fan is going to have your rod for lunch.

Rule #4.  Avoid hitting the rod tip with weighted objects during a casting stroke.  Clouser Minnows and the like will score and gouge the rod blank creating minute cuts in the material.  Eventually the rod will snap right at that score mark, kind of like cutting glass pipettes in high school chemistry class.

Rule #5.  Don’t swing fish into the boat or onto shore with a fly rod.  This type of rod was not designed nor intended to carry the free-hanging weight of a fish.  Try doing it too many times and you’re bound to have a snapped off tip.

Rule #6.  Set up your system to sacrifice a fly or lure before breaking the rod.  Leaders and tippets are there to protect your investment as well as provide an element of challenge so don’t set them up so strong that they won’t break when the need arises.

Rule #7.  Never set a rod on the ground or anyplace where it may be crushed.  I try to listen when my inner voice screams “That’s a bad idea!”

Rule #8.  Store conventional rods in a rack that adequately supports them, store fly rods in a rack or in tubes designed for the purpose.

Rule #9.  Avoid jamming the guides against hard objects because either an insert will pop out or the guide frame itself will break.

I could go on and on about a thousand and one ways that rods get broken but in the end they’re tools made of millions of graphite/glass fibers, stainless steel, aluminum, and cork; that are subjected to a great deal of stress and abuse.  And then we wonder why they break occasionally?  Use the rods for as intended and protect them while not in use and they’ll provide years and years of service.   They’re well-made but not indestructible.

Brian “Beastman”

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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IFFF Florida Council Conclave October 11 & 12, 2014

Set aside some time during the second week of October to visit with folks that have truly devoted themselves to a hobby that soon becomes a way of life for those with a bit of dedication and perseverance just like you did.

The Florida Council of the International Federation of Fly Fishers is holding its annual conclave October 11th and 12th in Crystal River, Florida and you owe it to yourselves to take a day away from the pressures of every day life to see what's going on with the sport and explore what the council is doing to promote it and the opportunities we sometimes take for granted here in our home state.  Bob Clouser (arguably one of the most innovative tiers of our generation) and Wanda Taylor headline the event but there are so many other things going on that you'll quickly lose track of time while exploring all the exhibits and visiting with other anglers with similar passions.

Here are a few of the seminars and exhibits taking place at the conclave: 

  • "IFFF-certified fly casting instructors and fly tiers teaching their skills."
  • "Hands-on clinics, demonstrations and workshops include instruction for beginning through advanced fly casters, outdoor photography classes, fly fishing techniques, building first-aid kits for boat and trail, tying effective new fly patterns, fly casting accuracy and distance and much more."
  • "Florida Fly Fishing Expo also offers resource-awareness exhibits and indoor and outdoor and displays of the newest fly rods, reels, lines, clothing, kayaks, and other gear."

 

As you see there should be more than enough to keep you and your family entertained while possibly teaching everyone a thing or two.  I think every fly angler can agree that they never stop growing and expanding their horizons, and the council is here to help along the way.  Saver your pennies between now and then so you can join everyone at this year's event.  Maybe I'll see you there.

 

Brian "Beastman" Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Riding In Cars With Dogs

Drive down the highway in any metropolitan area across the country and you’re sure to see something that’s an increasing trend and hazard on the roadways according to many experts and lawmakers.  I’m talking about drivers who allow their pets to roam freely around the car while driving, or even worse, letting them sit in their lap as they try to keep their attention on the road.  We have to admit that it’s highly unlikely that those drivers are much better off than those that still insist on texting whether it’s at 75 miles an hour on the interstate or in bumper to bumper traffic.

I did some research on the subject and found that it’s actually illegal in a couple of states to have a dog on your lap/unrestrained in the car, and a good bunch of other states will issue “Distracted Driver” citations if they notice you driving erratically and they suspect that your “attention” is more focused on the animal than the road.  I did find where it is illegal to have a dog in the bed of a truck unless it’s restrained (tethered to the bed) by at least two attachment points, or in a crate or box that’s affixed to the bed.  Now you tell me how many times you’ve seen some pooch running from rail to rail in a truck bed while the driver rolls down the highway.

I know we all love our dogs and want them to be free to move around but most of these same people wouldn’t even consider letting a child ride unrestrained, yet they allow another member of the family to do the same.  The laws of physics are pretty straight forward on the matter, turning Fifi or Fido into a furry missile when involved in a collision, potentially causing injury to themselves or the other passengers.  I was once involved in a rollover accident wherein our young Beagle “Brandy” was ejected through a side window.  Let me tell you that the mental scars were just as bad if not worse for her as a result of being unceremoniously thrown into oncoming traffic on I-79 in Pennsylvania.  We should be protecting our pets by restraining them the same way we would any other member of the family.

There are a great many products available to provided restraint or control while our pets are riding in the car with us and it’s in everyone’s interest that we investigate the options.  Crates, carriers (even crash test proven), harnesses, leashes, barriers, and all kinds of other things meant to protect our pet while in the car, keep them out of our laps, and our attention on the road.

I wish I could issue citations to drivers that allow their dogs to sit in their laps or roam uncontrolled in the cars, but since that’s not possible, maybe this little essay will get people to spread the word about the dangers to both themselves and their pets.  I’ll do my best to make sure my girls come up with a travel solution for their animals since I know my wife and I would be very upset if anything happened to our “Grandpuppys.”

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Practice Makes Proficient

Coaching new casters has provided a great deal of satisfaction for all of us in the fly shop but as anyone could guess, there are days when nothing seems to go right with the student’s casting other than their aptitude for tying the neatest and tightest wind knots humanly possible.  Eventually someone has to ask “How long does it take to become a good caster?” 

I truly believe that skill with a fly rod is one of the most rewarding endeavors I’ve ever taken on and even after nearly 20 years with a fly rod in hand at least a few hours each week, there’s a long way to go to reach the level of skill I hope to ultimately achieve.  I tell everyone that you never stop getting better (given a certain level of dedication) and your stroke is constantly evolving, for better or for worse.  But there is one absolute when it comes to casting that it took quite a while for me to figure out.

Practice Makes Proficient!  Not “Perfect” mind you because perfect doesn’t leave any room for further growth or improvement, and besides, I don’t think anyone is perfect no matter how talented.  Every one of us will occasionally chuck a fly right into the tightest tangle of bushes, just like the number one golfer in the world is bound to shank one into the woods.  The best we can hope for is to avoid doing it on a regular basis.

Practicing off the water or at least with the fish removed from the equation is the only way to gain skill and build the muscle memory needed to be able to put the fly where you want it in more than a random manner.  Accuracy, distance, control, and stroke variety need to be practiced without having to worry about what the fish are doing while the fly is in the water.  Actually fishing instead of practicing is what kept me from excelling quicker as a fly angler and I only wish I had spent more time on grass in combination with time on the water.

In order to get the most out of your casting sessions, focus on specific skills you’ll need or situations you might encounter.  Place particular emphasis on the situations that provide the greatest amount of difficulty like roll casting in cover, reaching back under mangroves or docks, threading the needle between trees, landing the fly within inches of your target, or even reaching out there and touching a distant fish.  Just be sure to focus your efforts on a particular outcome and don’t just throw the fly.

Evaluating ability can take the form of competition if you create some obstacles to cast around or some targets to hit.  Hoola Hoops, traffic cones, Frisbees and other household objects can provide some variety to your time on the lawn as can PVC piping glued together to form interesting casting situations.  Ultimately, there are organized (yet low key) tournaments put together, like the Tampa Bay Fly Fishing Club’s “Big Gun Shootout,” where you can test your abilities to the maximum. The simulated situations they create will eventually occur on the water if you stick with it long enough so putting some pressure on yourself to perform on the grass will give you a sense of  “Déjà vu” when you try to hit the mark on the water.

Skill of any type comes with time and not just from having equipment capable of performing the task, although that is part of the game.  Hit the water with all the weapons ready to go and your time will be better spent.  More fishing will be possible even under less than favorable conditions, and more fish will come to hand in the end.  I promise that your level of satisfaction will continue to increase as does your ability, and pretty soon, newcomers will be saying to their buddies, “I sure hope I can cast like him some day.”

 

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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Sometimes Size Does Matter

People say some interesting things when they stop in the fly shop like “They pay you to work here?  I’d do it for free” and “What’s the best fly for carp?”  But one of my personal favorites happens when folks pick up one of the size 20 Zebra Midges and exclaim “What do you catch on these tiny things?”  That inquiry normally comes from bass fisherman who’ve grown accustomed to hooking fish with a mouth large enough to swallow a softball or a small duck, depending on which one its overly large appetite can handle.  It doesn’t seem to occur to some that you don’t need an overly large fly/hook to land some truly gigantic fish.

Flies come in all different sizes depending on a couple different factors including 1) The size of the quarry, 2) the size of the prey you’re imitating.  But you don’t necessarily need to throw gigantic objects to catch gigantic fish since many times going smaller can lead to bigger results.  All you need to do is look at the diet of the predator, the prevalent food items, and then match it to a hook capable of holding onto the fish once you’ve hooked up.  It might have taken a monstrous hook to hold onto a fish weighing over 200 pounds back in the day when hooks were made of weaker, less robust metals, but today with the modern forged and chemically sharpened hook materials, we can go lighter and smaller; leading to smaller and more lifelike and imitative flies.

Just take a look at the two flies in the picture above.  They are the largest and smallest flies currently in my fly collection.  The streamer (tied for near shore shark fishing) is on a forged 7/0 Gamakatsu Inline Octopus Circle.  That hook is more than large enough to grab hold of and remain latched to the sharks I’d chase off Cape Canaveral provided I can get them to eat in the first place, hence the large and colorful material.  You need to get them interested in a pretty substantial meal in order to entice a strike.  The size 14 Wired Caddis on the other hand is meant to imitate as specific size and species of bug that trout would be snacking on regularly, so as a result, the material is lighter and less bulky; and the chosen hook is appropriate for remaining attached after the strike.

Although the 7/0 fly is quite large in the grand scheme of “normal” fly fishing, a size 14 isn’t even considered “small” by trout fishing standards.  Dry flies are routinely tied on hooks as small as size 22, while nymphs and emergers like a WD-40 that imitate midges may be tied as small as size 24 (and possibly smaller).  Now THAT is small indeed.  Tippet size must be decreased down to 7X or even 8X just to thread through the eye, and I don’t even know if I could tie a knot in material that light. Rigs of this diminutive size are obviously meant for small trout, light rods, and highly technical presentations.

What about throwing small flies for big fish?  Tarpon well beyond 100 pound can be caught on flies tied on hooks as light as #1 or 1/0 depending on the material so don’t be afraid of lightening up.  You don’t have much choice but to find a lightweight but strong option when the prey item is small like a Palolo worm in the Florida Keys, or a glass minnow along the east coast beaches.  Scale the hook size up as you approach mullet, pinfish, or herring size imitations, using a model that offers just the right amount of shank length, strength, and weight so as to make an effective fly presentation. 

Fish will eat (or at least “try” to eat) just about anything small enough to fit in their mouths so it’s quite likely that your target’s diet is quite diverse whether you know it or not.  Seasonal favorites provide variety and you need to be ready if you expect to enjoy success year round.  Tie flies in numerous sizes and see what works.   Make sure the lifelike imitations are scaled to match the real thing and use a hook that provides a good platform for fly construction and the strength to land the big one.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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The Reel Florida Boys of Summer

Summer’s truly here and with the coming of the heat, whole bunch of premiere species rise to the top of the heap when it comes to fun and excitement.  Specifically Snook and Tarpon!  Even though they’re available somewhere in Florida year-round, summertime means that those of us in the central part of the state don’t have to travel too far from home to find and catch them.

Snook are one of the most sought after species available to the inshore angler and people travel from around the world to chase something we sometimes take for granted.  I’m sure some folks have changed their attitudes after the winter freezes of 2010 and 2011 when hundreds of thousands of snook died due to the plummeting water temperatures.  I think a lot more people appreciate the fishery we have close to home.

Although they really don’t “migrate” in the traditional sense of the word, snook do move around a bit as the seasons change.  They range from the backcountry creeks to the flats, then passes and beaches, and ultimately returning to the backwaters they call their winter home.  Hitting them along the beach is absolutely one of my favorite fisheries of the year.  And let’s get one thing straight, Florida has a lot of beaches to fish.  True snook anglers prefer the beaches from Cocoa Beach south on the east coast and Honeymoon Island south on the west.  These waters are warm enough to sustain a healthy population and they have deep-water brackish creeks for the snook to find shelter in the winter.  Nothing beats walking along the beach in Sanibel on the lookout for some baitfish or a yellow fin, black lateral line, or conspicuous black eye.

Finding the tarpon can be a pretty easy deal but the catching on the other hand can be quite difficult even for folks that know exactly what they’re doing.  I’m not one of those guys so I count myself lucky each and every time I hook into on land one of the most acrobatic fish in the sea.  Tarpon are near the top of my list of favorites so when they start surfacing you can bet your last dollar that my phone will be busy searching them out.

The big boys start showing up sometime in May as they migrate north along both coasts, hot on the heels of the baitfish schools, and in preparation for the spring spawn.  They may or may not stop for very long so guys have to be prepared to hit the water quickly when the word hits the street.  West coast sandbars are favorites among fly anglers, while bait and artificial anglers do pretty well along the east coast.  The summer fish that we chase though are the little guys that live here year-round in the ditches and canals lining the intercoastal waterway islands and peninsulas.

Those little guys can range from about the size of medium largemouth to a thirty or forty pounds so a wide range of tackle can be used depending on the anticipated size and location.  Five weights through nine weights seem to cover the range well enough so it can be kept pretty simple.  Getting one to eat is the trick though since we all have a tendency to throw flies that are much larger than necessary, but we’re learning to down size accordingly so the success rates are pretty good when folks hit the water on the right day.  Jumping (hooking, catching air, then losing a fish) five or six fish in an afternoon is quite possible, while landing two or three of those is considered a good day.

We all look forward to summer and the fun and increased fishing opportunities it brings, including the tarpon and snook.  It would be great if they stuck around in fishable locations all year but kind of like Christmas, it wouldn’t be special if it happened year round.  We’re quite lucky to have them at all so take care of them and enjoy the sport they provide while the time lasts.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando

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