Good friends, grass flats, and the wrong kind of heat

[singlepic id=341 w=160 h=120 float=left]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

[singlepic id=347 w=240 h=180 float=left]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’.

[singlepic id=345 w=180 h=120 float=right]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.

Dawn patrol

[singlepic id=343 w=240 h=180 float=right]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

NEXRADOur 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.

strip miss-a-strike pickup

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)


Salt water…one of these days I’d like to give it a try. I miss the ocean something terrible (I spent 15 of the first 22 years of life in southern Cal, Seattle, Guam and New Zealand), so getting back is always on my list, but fly fishing the salt hasn’t been. But it’s getting there.

Spinning rod? Live bait? Gracie, no need to feel ashamed–anyone who uses nymphs or streamers with a fly rod is already 3/4 of the way to spinning rod/live bait purgatory anyhow. Just embrace it. “Hi, my name is Michael. I’m a live bait fisherman.” Make a little tick mark by Step 1.

Sounds like you had a lot of fun, regardless of the fish outcome.

-scott c

(BTW – I’ll be happy to be your sponsor as you come back to dry fly purism.)

Jim Holt says:

Mike had a great time and I am glad you made it down. We did have some tough conditions with the heat and the moon, but I think the big fish were there they would just not eat. I am not a fan of the full moon but we had to take what we were given. It was great seeing you and that trip cost me a few dollars because I will have a fly rod now. Look forward to your next trip down, this time we will plan it around the best fishing time. I will keep you informed.

Jim Holt

@Scott – The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, but I don’t have a problem 😉 Had I pulled out bait from the start, there would probably be a need for intervention. However, as Holt himself will attest, I could barely cast that spinning rod, and I won’t touch one again until it’s teasing roosterfish close to the beach. That’s a good use for a spinner, and I’m surprised more people chasing roosters aren’t using the tactic – maybe it’s because I’m “old” and we were doing the Los Frailes thing over a decade ago. It wasn’t popular, or video taped, back then – heck, we didn’t even have affordable digital cameras. Blame everything you read here on age!

@JHH – Yes, it was a hoot. I’ll be back down before you know it.

tom says:

Maybe picking up some skills before you head down there might be a good start. And give credit where credit is due, trailing clousers was your boy toms idea. Lets float the blue tommorow, drag some 3x tippet with some strike indicators and huge golden stone nymphs in front of some 12lb bows. And leave the 16 inch rainbows and Deckers for the dry fly purists. The only problem with being a dry fly purist is you never catch big fish, unless of course you count a 2/0 mouse pattern on the Henry’s Fork as a dry fly. Call me when you get back you [REDACTED] [REDACTED] [REDACTED].

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