April 14th, 2008

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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2008 Florida Fish-In
By: Dr. Hugo Gibson (Thunderthumbs)

Reading Gnu Bee Flyer's article on attending the Washington Fish-In didn't help lessen my excitement and the anticipation I was feeling. It was only a few weeks till the Florida Fish-In, and I'd already been packed for a while. Last years Florida Fish-In was my first. I had such a great time I planned to attend the next one before I left.

Last spring, or maybe it was late winter, I got a call from my former neighbor from Michigan, my friend, Dan. He wanted to know where he could find a rod building kit for a fly rod. In order for you to understand the strangeness of the question at hand you must first understand that in the almost two years that I lived there, Dan never once fly fished. In fact, he told me, more that once when we were fishing off of his pontoon boat out on the lake we were living on, that if I hit him with my fly, I'd be swimming back to shore.

So, you see, it was a bit of a strange question. Hook and Hackle was of course my first choice... actually, it was the only one I knew of. And then, thinking there was only one obvious answer to why he wanted to build a fly rod, I asked him who it was for. His reply caught me a little off-guard, he was building it for himself!

You could have just about pushed me over with a size 26 dry fly hackle. I was sure I'd misinterpreted his answer, because he didn't fly fish, but sure enough, he wanted to build himself a 4wt fly rod for chasing bass, bluegill, and crappie.

My next question was, "When did you start fly fishing?"

"Last summer," he said rather matter-of-factly.

Unbeknownst to me, Dan used to take great pleasure in watching me attempt to teach another one of my neighbors to fly fish. Dan would get a cup of coffee or pepsi, and sit down in his porch and laugh himself silly watching my neighbor, Ray, try and cast. It was for me, an exercise in futility, you'd have to know Ray to understand, and when it was all said and done, Dan came to the conclusion that fly fishing couldn't possibly be as hard as it looked...all he had to do was exactly the opposite of what Ray had been doing. It worked.

After some time on the phone talking about all sorts of different related subjects, we had a trip planned to do some saltwater fly fishing in a state who's name I shall refrain from using.

I refrain because it was by far the worst vacation experience I've ever had, Dan as well. Never in all my life had either of us been treated so rudely. I was expecting the "Florida" experience that I'd received at last years Fish-In, but was sorely disappointed, and in an effort to redeem myself, I suggested Dan come with me to this years Fish-In. He agreed to come, but not before he informed me that if it was anything like our last trip, he would never fish with me again. A promise I believed he would keep.

As time passed and plans were made, the excitement started building. I'd called Kevin at Casey Key Anglers and Outfitters, Gill, and even Captain Tony Petrella who'd hosted the Fish-In last year. I was primed and ready.

My flight got in a few hours late because of Delta grounding all the planes that were associated with the electrical problems they were having. Not a big deal really, but it cut my fishing by several hours. When I got down there the first thing I noticed was how bad the weather was while I was waiting for Gill (FLskibum) to pick me up. 80 and sunny...pretty much the entire time I was there. It was tough, but I made it through.

Dan had a campsite reserved at the Mayaka River State Park, so Gill and I drove straight there to meet up with Dan, relax for a few minutes and then head to the fly shop, Casey Key Anglers and Outfitters. When we got there, Dave (Saltydancindave) had left packets of information about the area along with maps and directions to several places for us to fish. Kevin was again, kind enough to point out a few places for us to try, and showed us some pictures of some of the fish that had been caught recently. We also met Bill (reload556) who wasn't going to be able to fish on Friday, but wanted us to let him know about Saturday. I told him I'd call and let him know what we would be doing.

With my non-resident license in hand, we made the short drive to Blind Pass to try our luck. It was pretty late in the evening, prime time to fish the flats and mangroves for snook, redfish, and speckled trout. Mullet were schooling everywhere, but somehow all three of us managed to catch nary a redfish. The only one of us who had any luck that night was me, with a gigantic 5 inch pinfish.

Night snook fishing was next. Last year, Kevin had told me about a bridge where you could fish by the lights at night from shore. I had an absolute blast there several nights in a row, so that's where we went. There was already one fisherman there, he had a spinning rod, and a fly rod handy, but told us the fish had lock-jaw. Try as we did, we couldn't get a thing to eat any of our flies. Dan and Gill walked up onto the bridge to get a better vantage point to look at the fish in the lights, where they saw some, as they described, "three footers" waiting in the shadows, but well out of reach of any of my casts. I didn't dare go up there to look, it would have been too much temptation. I had one of them on last year, for just a second. It shot out of the darkness as my fly drifted through the bridge light, swallowed it, and then shot back to the shadows from whence it came. I pulled for all I was worth, but it was no use. It broke me off on the pilings only a few seconds later...I wanted revenge...it's illegal to fish from the bridge, and I don't think Dan or Gill would have bailed me out of jail. I think they would have divided all my gear equally, and left me to sing the 'Fulsome Prison Blues' as I wasted away dreaming of big snook.

We packed up, and went and ate a hearty dinner from McDonalds, and then drove the 24 miles back to the campsite, where I think it might have taken Dan and Gill a combined total of three minutes to fall asleep.

The next morning we were up with the rest of the snowbirds, I think it was about 9:30 am when we finally managed to rouse Gill. We loaded everything we needed back up, and then hit the trail.

We stopped in at the fly shop where Kevin gave us directions to a favorite honey hole for some speckled trout. Let me tell you about a long paddle in a canoe. I'm not sure how far it was, but it felt like 5 miles...one way. Gill fished his way there, Dan and I paddled straight there because we wanted to get into the fish as soon as possible.

Having never been there, we were a little unsure of where to position the canoe, but we dropped anchor anyway and started fishing. On his second cast, Dan hooked into a 21" speckled trout! That thing was fat and long...and delicious, there was no doubt that we were in the right spot. After quite some time without so much as a bite I noticed that we had drifted out quite a ways on the outgoing tide. We paddled back and fished it again, but only caught a ladyfish. By then Gill had caught up with us. With the tide going out, we drifted back in the direction we came, fishing all the way, catching ladyfish after ladyfish, tearing up 30lb fluorocarbon like it was dental floss and cussing at how the little buggers can tear a fly to shreds...but we had fun. As we rode the current we fished across one little area that held several trout for Dan that were just under the slot limit, but he also got one that was legal...dinner for sure!

A few hours later we were back at the boat ramp, tired and hungry, the sun was on it's way down, so we headed off to a local seafood joint for some oysters on the half shell, finished with a cold beer (pepsi for Dan), and then a huge platter of food that hit the spot just right. I called Dave (Saltydancindave), and Bill on the way to see where and when for Saturday.

We met at the Kingfisher for breakfast followed by a walk on the beach for snook, and whatever else we could run into, followed by fishing Blind Pass and the surrounding area. I also called Captain Tony Petrella to get his latest fishing report. When I told him what we were planning, he said forget walking the beach, he wanted us to meet him where he would be meeting his clients, and he'd show us where to fish from the kayaks, out from Indian Mound boat ramp.

Of course, we got up late, and had to cancel on breakfast in order to make it to meet up with Capt. Tony. I called Bill and Dave to apologize, and told them what Capt. Tony told me, so they decided to fish across the intracoastal waterway from us at Blind Pass. Dan and I each got into some ladyfish, lots of them. Dan also caught a big puffer fish on a clouser. As we drifted across the bay, both Dan and I caught a few more trout, all legal, dinner AND breakfast! After paddling around and fishing for a few hours we thought it proper to paddle across the waterway to say hi to Dave and bill, and to see how their fishing had been going. Neither one had had so much as a bump. Bill had to leave, and Dave had some running around town that he wanted to do, but agreed to meet Gill at the Indian Mound ramp to join him in his canoe. We fished around the area for several more hours boating a few more ladyfish, and then packed it all in so we could make it to the BBQ at Capt. Tony's house.

We all got to Capt. Tony's at just about the same time. His new puppy, Heart, was straining at his collar as Kate, Tony's beautiful bride, held him back to try and save us from being licked to death. Ghost, as she did last year, took it all in stride. In all it was a great evening, the company, the food, the drinks, and the stories. We ate till we just about couldn't move, well, I did, and then Kate came out with some brownies that were still warm...heaven...beer and chocolate brownies.

The next morning we met Bill at the Blind Pass beach to walk the beach to some rocks that were on the far side of two miles up the beach. The water was almost glass calm, the wind at our backs. We fished to sheepshead, snook, and I think there were even a few pompano in the mix as well. When we finally got to the rocks, and I mean finally, there were only two other people fishing, slinging bait, but they were catching. Dan and I eased in next to them and were into fish almost immediately. Blue runner's, and small skipjack (as the locals called them). It is flat out amazing how hard those little fish can pull. Every time I hooked one and saw the bend in my 8wt, I would be anticipating something a bit bigger than what popped out of the water. If you haven't experienced the salt, you definitely need to take a trip to do so.

Shortly after we got there, Bill let out a whoop with a nice bend in his rod as his first ever saltwater fish on a fly tested his tippet, a nice Spanish mackerel. I don't think I could have wiped the smile off of his face with my 12 wt, it was great to share that experience with him. He landed several more fish while we were out there. As did Dan and I. Gill had slept in a bit and made the hike a bit later. We all caught fish that day. For me, it was the highlight of the trip. I'd been dreaming of walking the beach and surf fishing since my trip down there the year before. We had so much fun that Dan and I did it again the next day, and the next and the next.

Gill and Bill had to go back to work, which left me and Dan with nothing to do but fish, so we did. We hit the beach every day, and caught fish every time. I'd been searching for a 6wt rod for a while, and found a nice Temple Forks 4pc. I liked at the fly shop. Kevin let me cast it, and home it went. I used it the last day we fished, and broke it in on several very nice ladyfish, skipjack, and a small pompano.

My only regret was leaving Dan down there for another week to fish by himself, I would loved to have joined him, but work was calling. I suppose I'll have to wait for next years Florida Fish-In to see if I can get in range of some of the feeding frenzies we witnessed just out of casting range off of the beach. I hope some of you join me/us too.

I'd particularly like to thank everyone who helped make this years trip a success. Kevin, Captain Tony, Gill, Dave, Bill, and Dan. I had a fantastic time with everyone, thank you guys for making some special memories with me...I propose a sunburn contest for next year to see who can come up with the best 'emblazoned V'...lol.

For more information on fishing the Venice, Florida area please contact Kevin at Casey Key Anglers and Outfitters (941) 483-1115, or check them out on the web at www.caseykeyanglersandoutfitters.com Or you can call Captain Tony Patrella at (941) 496-4289. ~ Thunderthumbs


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