When a old friend tells you the weather is steaming like a tropical jungle, you thank your lucky stars some cool mountain air is just a few hours drive. But when they describe their fly fishing spots using terms such as habanero and reactor core, you drop your socks and grab your…fly box.
I went home for the July 4th holiday. Saw some family and a whole bunch of friends. Placed multiple orders for popsicle stick/colored yarn art with my eight year old, Picasso-esque niece. Consumed too much booze, and way too much food. And I caught up with a old fishing buddy, who showed me his semi-secret haunts.
We spent two days on the water, cruising grass flats at varying tides, and missed a third outing by a hair and a storm. We had fast times and slow times, water times and snack times, but mostly beer times and fun times.
Tonight we eat ribs
A knock-down drag out party forced us to pre-plan a late start, but there were no worries. Low tide was expected about the same time the sun hit its peak, bettered by Captain Holt’s watch always being set back two hour. And he was right ‘on schedule’.
Cruising the grass flats and accompanying oyster beds is one of my greatest loves, and the day did not disappoint because there was already food in the fridge. We banged every nook and cranny along a several mile stretch, tossing crab and shrimp patterns along the drop-offs in front of beds and points. The fishing was by no means slow, but it did lack size. Crystal shrimp and spoons produced some strikes, but a little green/blue Idylwilde crab pattern I was testing for a friend turned out to be the hit of the afternoon. It’s called the Karnopp’s Something Suspicious, and even the smallest of fish went hog wild over it. I’ll further emphasize smallest because the biggest fish ‘taken’ was 17 inches, meaning we couldn’t take it (the tape is 18″ to 27″ in Florida). It wasn’t the fly’s fault – the bull reds just weren’t around.
That night we ate smoked baby-back spare ribs.
If you’ve fished the incoming tide from dead low in the middle of the day and done well, the next course of action, if you’re a “variety is the spice life” sort of person, is to hit a falling tide from its peak, and at dawn. I’m a boring, one-dimensional, single-minded person, so change for change’s sake had nothing to do with it – we sought higher, cooler water during the wee morning hours because that’s when and where we now thought the big fish would be. We were right too, only now they were eating something different.
It took us a while to figure out what was going on. We started off throwing small spoons (and that bad ass crab), but forty-five minutes of hard work produced nary a strike. Meanwhile, every now and then we’d see a few stirs and some minnows haul butt into the grass. Here a splash, there a splash, and next thing you knew I was tying on a size 2 red and gold crease. After that, we found fish stacked up at the mouths of feeder creeks – they were rolling around, stirring up bait, and proceeded to do the same to the flies. At one point I had several fish in hot pursuit, swatting at the slim profile chugger from all angles. The bulls humped the fly, testing it. But they wouldn’t do the dirty deed (i.e. eat, you perverts).
The action soon slowed to a crawl, and we’d forgotten the cooler to boot. Now hungry and thirsty, we were running out of time. With the sun rising higher and the tide starting its rush back out, we resorted to [um...uh...hmm...err...eek...ugh] spinning rods and [um...uh...hmm...err...eek...ugh] aw hell, live bait. As we pulled the boat out of the water two hours later, the well was full of happy, healthy mud minnows and not much else. Deem it a day written off early if you must, but I call it nothing but a good old fashioned skunking.
Rinse, repeat replaced by spin cycle
Our third scheduled outing was a bust, and that’s pretty bad considering the previous attempt. The plan for the day was to get out even later, fishing the outgoing tide down to its low point, and feel things out as it came back in. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t cooperating – there were severe storm warnings coming in, and a quick look at NEXRAD radar showed a swathe of low pressure bands moving directly our way.
There comes a point in your fishing life when you have to decide if it’s worth risking life and limb to execute new strategy, and if we hadn’t had leftovers in the fridge and a 60″ plasma in front of us we probably would have thrown caution to the wind. Comfort and laziness won out, and we made the wrong call to boot. About the time low tide was upon our grassy haven the skies had turned from downright ominous to a shade of guest room gray. Still, the two man crew had evening commitments, and the window of redemption had closed shut.
Things I’ll do differently next time (or, an actual, and hopefully helpful, fly fishing analysis)
Northeast Florida had seen a lot of heat the week prior to my arrival. Water temps in the flats were in the mid-80s, which likely kept the bigger fish down, and the trip was around full moon too. There’s not much you can do about the temps, but Solunar tables be damned – I never have much luck around full moon. I’ll avoid it like the plague.
Fishing tactics should, however, change with the heat. I should have run longer leaders and weightier flies (bigger spoons, big-eyed minnows, heavily dressed clousers, etc.) and probably spent more time dredging the middle of the channels instead of bashing the banks and beds. Tossing a camo or clear intermediate line may help there too. With respect to the early morning topwater action, I won’t wait around to see if curious fish will finally eat (argh!!!) – instead I’ll toss trailing deceivers or other small sub-surface patterns behind those creases. I’ll carry more creases too – more sizes, more colors, and more varieties of tail dressing – along with digging through the bass box to see what big ugly might be re-purposed for such occasions.
Next time I’m out I’ll take the weather report with at least a half-grain of salt, and scrutinize the radar loop much more closely (within 30 minutes it was already showing dissipation, but we were too busy bullshitting to keep our eyes on the screen). I’ll also make sure Captain Holt doesn’t forget the cooler.
MG signing off (to plan the next trip)