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Winter Speckled Trout Tactics For Fly & Light Tackle

When not chasing after striped bass and redfish in the Pamlico Sound and estuaries of coastal North Carolina, TFO National Advisor Capt. Gary Dubiel (Spec Fever Guide Service) loves to put his clients on large speckled sea trout. Even during the cold winter months, Gary knows how to find speckled trout and has some excellent tips for both fly and conventional anglers.

The Pamlico Sound & The Migration of Coastal North Carolina Speckled Trout 

TFO: Tell us about your fishery briefly and why it’s suitable for speckled trout.

GD: The Pamlico Sound estuary system is fairly giant – 2.1 million surface acres of water. You’re basically looking at a shallow inland sea. It’s very conducive to speckled trout just from an environmental point of view – lots of shallow water, nursery area, and an abundance of food. It will also hold enough ideal water temperatures where the fish are going to be in the area year round.

Speckled trout here in North Carolina are very different then ones you’ll find in Florida, Louisiana, or Texas in that they have a significant migration distance. Many of the fish we have here will migrate out into the ocean and go north into the Chesapeake Bay.

I’ve been involved in a lot of tagging studies and my furthest tag return was 285 miles away from its starting point in Oriental, NC. Another interesting tag return that I was involved in was a fish I recaptured that was tagged in Virginia. The fish was only 13 inches long and was tracked from Northern Virginia to Oriental, NC and was recaptured within 14 days. These fish can move great distances in very short periods of time, which can make it challenging when trying to locate them.

As a rule of thumb in our river systems (Pamlico River and the Neuse River into the Pamlico Sound), typically what you’re going to find is that the cooler the weather, the more the fish move upriver and into the creeks. In other words, the further back into the creeks you go, the warmer the temps get. You’re typically going to see this pattern in late October/November right up into March/early April.

Once the water temperatures warm up into the low 70s and stay there for a short period of time, those fish will move out of the creek systems and back out into the main river systems. At that point, there can be fish that move to North Carolina from Virginia – move back out into the ocean and up into the Chesapeake Bay.

Photo: Gary Dubiel

Spawning & Average Size

TFO: What are typical spawning or migrating behaviors across the seasons for speckled trout?

GD: Our fish here will adjust and typically move out into the lower parts of the river in the Sounds – where their first spawning will be around the first full moon at the end of May/early June. The first spawn is also going to be related to water temperature – somewhere in the low-mid 70s.

The fish will stay in those areas through the summer into early fall. There will be some shifting, but they are in those general area. Speckled trout can spawn 3-4 times throughout the course of the year. Smaller fish typically spawn twice, larger fish might spawn up to 3 times in a year.

TFO: How big do they get typically and what’s an average size for you? 

GD: You can find a mix of fish (size-wise) throughout the course of a year. Typically in the cooler months, bigger fish are more concentrated and more on the aggressive side. They tend to be more willing to eat much smaller baits as the water temperatures drop. Typically, you can catch more large speckled trout (24”-30”) in the cooler months, however, you can still catch big fish all summer long depending on your tactics.

You’ll see a lot of small fish in my area because of the volume of breeding that occurs here – anywhere from 10”-12” fish, right into 20”-24” fish. You’re looking at a pretty significant distribution of fish from one right up about six years old.

Photo: Gary Dubiel

Locating Specked Trout

TFO: How are you typically locating speckled trout in the winter? Where is the best place to target them (river/water location or depth)?

GD: In the cooler months, you’re going to be looking to fish primarily in the creek systems, and the upper parts of the rivers. You basically have two different areas that you’ll find fish during the winter – both are particularly related to water temperatures.

In water less than five feet deep, I can catch speckled sea trout down to about 47.5 degrees (water surface temperature). Typically, in the backs of the creeks (water less than five five deep), the bottoms are dark mud and soft – so they’ll warm up faster in the sunshine. You can get a one to four temperature increase over the course of a sunny day.

In areas that are deeper – around six to twelve feet of water – you can catch speckled trout right down to about 45 degrees (water surface temperature) with your bottom temperature being a few degrees warmer.

The further upriver you go – cities like New Bern or Washington – you’re going to find some of the creeks are much deeper, so you’ll target the fish a bit deeper. Good news for that is that you can fish those with much lower water temperatures in colder conditions – bad news is they don’t warm up. What you have when you start out, over the course of the day is typically what you’re going to have. Those deeper creeks won’t warm up much on sunny days.

Tactics & Set-Ups For Light Tackle

GD: In the winter, you want to fish as light as you possibly can.  Allow your baits to sink very slowly and take advantage of a fish that’s pretty lethargic. You’re fishing for them at the lower ends of their tolerance to eat.

Scaling down in weights is helpful. Typically, I will fish down to a 1/16 oz. jig head with soft plastic bodies. I’ll scale down on soft plastic bodies – 2.5-3 inches.

Another bait that works really well for me in the winter is the Storm Shrimp – which is a composite, keel-weighted shrimp pattern. This mean that the weight is in the center of the hook shank, so the baits will fall flat – rather than head first. This results in a decreased fall rate, which can increase the amount of the bites you get.

In order to fish those baits, I want to have the lightest, most sensitive rod I can have. The 6’9” Light Inshore is ideal for that. Typically I’m going to be fishing a 1000-1500 series spinning reel with 8-10 lb. test braid. Everything is really light and scaled down. Even if you catch a striper or a redfish, the water is cold, so those fish aren’t going to peel line off like when its 75 degrees. In the winter, everything is lethargic.

Photo: Gary Dubiel

Tactics & Set-Ups For Fly

GD: You pretty much want to copy the same tactics used for light tackle, and apply it to fly. Typically, I’m fishing Type 2 to Type 3 lines depending on the water depth. You’ll want a slow sinking line, or a clear intermediate line, with a lightly weighted fly.

Rods that fish this type of setup well are the Axiom ll-X, the Axiom ll, and the Mangrove. 6wt and 7wt are what I prefer, but you can also fish up to an 8wt.

Smaller weighted flies such as Clousers, Half & Halfs work great. I also use a few of my own craft fur patterns. The Lil’ Hayden is one I tie that produces well for speckled trout. The Pop-N-Shrimp is another good one. Flymen has reproduced one of my mine called the Crafty Deceiver.

Ultimately, you’re looking for something that has some weight in it, but that falls about the same rate as those slow sinking lines do. Click here for a video where Gary breaks down some of his go-to patterns for speckled trout.

For a reel, the BVK-SD is the perfect tool for the job. It’s lightweight and has plenty of drag if you need it, too.

I usually use a 3’-4’ straight leader to the fly. Usually, I scale down to 15lb fluorocarbon in the winter to help maintain that straight contact with the line and fly.

Photo: Oliver Sutro

TFO: What retrieval patterns typically work best for you?

GD: Strip and Pause. Strip, Strip, Pause – All your bites are going to be on the pause. Pay attention to your counts on your pauses. If you are getting bites on a certain number (seconds you are counting), take note as it gives you an indication of where the fish are and how they’re reacting.

Anything that feels different – strip strike. Even though it is cold, those fish can spit out that fly pretty quickly.

Make sure that the rod tip is almost in the water and pointed at the fly to maintain as direct contact as possible to help detect any strikes.

TFO: Not many anglers are aware that speckled trout have some pretty sharp teeth. Do you have any advice on handling them?

GD: You’ll want to grab them in the belly right under the gills. Don’t put your fingers in their mouth like you would a bass or other species (laughs). You’ll want to have some plies or hemostats to get the fly out of their mouth once you have them at the both.

 

Why You Need A 7 Weight

Let’s talk 7 weights. Yes, 7 weights.

Wait, so you’re going to stand there calling yourself a fly angler, and you don’t have a 7 weight?

Well, maybe this will open your mind to a different rod weight.

Often skipped over by the fly shop employee for the more commercially popular 8 weight, and not as common in a drift boat as the old-school, six-weight with a half-wells grip.

The 7 weight serves an important purpose for both the fresh and saltwater anglers.

And frankly, they’re a lot more fun to fight a fish on and can deliver a big fly just as well as the heavier rods in the line-up.

By adding a 7 weight to the quiver, you’ll be able to cover just about everything from large trout, to bass and carp. Don’t forget steelhead and a few inshore saltwater species.

With most anglers already owning a 5 weight, the 7 weight is a perfect next rod to have. Already have a little 3 weight for small flies? Boom, 3-5-7, a perfect way to go, and you are covered for about every scenario.

Let’s breakdown some of the current TFO 7 weights, and see which one might make a home in your line-up.

The Blue Ribbon + BVK-SD reel. Photo: Cameron Mosier

7904 Blue Ribbon, (That’s a 7weight., 9-foot, four-piece rod for those unfamiliar with the TFO model lingo):

New to the line up this year, the Blue Ribbon series has been an all around hit, but the focus here is the largest rod in the series.

The 7 weight in particular has the ability to cast a big, air resistant fly repeatedly with minimal work. Paired with a thick diameter fly line, like the SA Mastery Series Titan, big flies are an ease. This series was based off of the popular Mangrove fly rods. Medium-fast action. Medium stiffness. This rod has plenty of power in the butt to pick-up and move heavy rigs, with minimal back casts.

For those considered this isn’t “enough rod,” or why don’t you have an 8 weight?

Believe me, this rod has the power. It can even handle some of this silly-multi streamer rigs thrown out west…Yes, I am looking at you Colorado anglers.

Outside of a great action for repetitive casting and quick shots along the bank, this rod also features the built-in hook keeper. A neat little aid for quickly attaching your fly.

While this was designed as trout rod, I’ve fished it for a few summers with big popping bugs for bass. Carp anglers, here you go. Perfect for those hulking brutes, (in really arm climates, check out the SA Grand Slam line) it’ll move the big flies and not get so kinky when hot out.

Pairs well with the NXT BLK III or BVK SD III.

7wt LK Legacy with BVK-SD reel. Photo: Nick Conklin

7904 LK Legacy:

First, we designed it with stronger top sections.

What does that mean?

For those that get in bad fish fighting angles, (Seriously, keep the rod tip low! They are designed to carry a fly line, the butt section is for fighting the fish!). The reinforced top sections will help fight against high-stick breaks.

The rod also has a faster style action. For those like something with a little quicker response and stouter butt, this 7 weight is for you.

Whether fishing floating lines, or sink-tips the LK Legacy will respond quickly and help aid the angler in an accurate fly delivery.

This rod, with a 10-foot sink tip beat the banks hard this fall in search of Montana trout. It handled the more dense tip and all kinds of articulated and feathery, peanut envy’s, sex dungeons, husker-dos, husker-don’ts and just about everything I could chuck out there.

Salty folks may want to consider this on your next trip. Whether it’s reds or specs, this rod can more than handle bonefish. Rig it up with a RIO Bonefish or Redfish style line, you won’t be disappointed.

Pairs well with the NXT BLK III or BVK SD III.

Axiom ll with the Power Reel. Excellent smallmouth rod. Photo: Jim Shulin

7904 Axiom II:

Looking for a step-up in power, and something a little faster, but still have a little soul to feel the rod do the work?

Enter the 7904 Axiom II.

This rod definitely how the power in the butt section to fight, much larger than advertised for a seven, it also allows the angler to load and unload efficiently, especially with big flies.

The striper folks out in the Calif., Delta have put this rod to test the last few years, with great results. This rod can definitely handle the west coast stripers.

Pairs well with the BVK SD III or the Power II reel.

7wt Axiom ll-X paired with the BVK-SD reel. Photo: Oliver Sutro

7904 Axiom II-X:

This is the big dog in the seven-weight offerings from TFO.

The fastest and stiffest rod in the line-up, this is for the angler with a fine-tuned cast that likes power and quick recovery.

While it excels at distance, maybe you’ve seen the photos of Blane Chocklett laying long, delicate casts, it more than stands on its own with quick shots and big flies.

Another rod that does well with heavier sink-tips and even the super long 20 to 30 foot sinkers. Striped bass anglers should be fired up about this one, long heavy sinking lines and big Clouser style flies are fun on this rod. The SA Sonar series pair very well with the A2X.

Pairs well with the BVK SD III or the Power II reel.

Fishing for Grayling in Alaska with Tessa Shetter

Alaska is downright spoiled when it comes to fishing opportunities. Endless locations, endless seasons (if you count ice fishing), and a wide range of species to choose from. Ocean, lakes, creeks, rivers, we’ve got it all!

As a born and raised Alaskan Native, I find joy from every bit of it. But for me, the one target that stands out from them all, is the arctic grayling.

Photo: Kory Robbins

Otherwise known as the sailfish of the north, grayling are absolutely stunning creatures with an array of vibrant yet translucent colors of blue, red, and silver displayed on their large and prominent dorsal fin.

In Alaska, we have arctic grayling, as opposed to the nearly identical grayling found in Europe and parts of Russia. On average, grayling are a rather small species of fish. Believe it or not, they are actually part of the family of salmon species, Salmoniformes.

Fishing in Alaska is almost like fishing in a whole different world. I often catch myself forgetting that our fishing style is much, much different up here than in the states, almost entirely due to our salmon runs. In Alaska, we use flies that imitate salmon flesh and eggs, all varying colors depending on the lifecycle of the salmon.

However, the thing that skews our very specific style of fly fishing, are our grayling. Sure, every now and then they will eat up a flesh fly or painted bead, but only if its swung in the right spot at the right time. It’s not a very consistent way of fishing for grayling, in my experience. What is consistent with grayling, however, is the type of water they are typically found in most often.

Photo: Tessa Shetter

Alaska, and many of you know, is huge. I’ve lived here my whole live and have only made it as far as Homer and Cantwell, which equidistance from Anchorage is about 300 miles each. Looking at that on a map, not a lot of ground covered. But, even within my “little” area of expertise, I’ve found where the grayling like to hang.

To put it simple, grayling like to be “up”. This means that the further “up” north you are, the more grayling there will be. The further “up” stream you are, the more grayling. If you’re in the southern part of the state, or the peninsula, the higher “up” in elevation is where you’ll find the grayling.

And within the “up”, the grayling will be peacefully laying in a slow, deep pool of clear water, just waiting for one of the bajillion mosquitoes in Alaska to land on the surface, or for a subsurface insect to chase at its level.

So, now that we’ve covered where to find grayling, let’s talk the nitty gritty of how to actually catch one.

TFO Ambassador Kory Robbins with an Alaskan grayling. Photo: Tessa Shetter

A grayling that is considered large is around 18”, giant if it reaches 20”. The largest recorded arctic grayling is 30”, which is big big.

In the areas I fish, the grayling LOVE dry flies, and I LOVE watching them hit top water. Timing is key, since grayling have the tiniest mouths you’ll ever see in a fish and more often than not, will completely miss your fly on its first surface. So, if you miss him the first time, don’t give up. Trust me, he will be back almost instantly.

Photo: Tessa Shetter

Like I said before, Alaska is home to what seems like all the mosquitoes in the world. So, anything that even slightly resembles a small insect usually works for top water fishing. There are some areas that are so remote and untouched, it’s said that a gum wrapper will fool a grayling. My favorites include the elk hair caddis, stimulator, and if I’m feeling wild, a chubby Chernobyl. And with their small mouths, I’m usually using anywhere from a size 8-14 fly.

Grayling on the Purple Chubby Chernobyl. Photo: Kory Robbins

For subsurface, a nymph, bead, and occasionally a flesh fly or leech will get their attention. Spring and fall is when you’ll have the most action with subsurface flies. This is due to the ice melting in spring runoff and releasing old salmon flesh (try a cotton candy/ham & eggs fly), and the releasing of fresh salmon flesh and eggs from the fall spawns.

Summer months are peak grayling fishing, right before and right after the salmon spawns. There are moments when the salmon push grayling out of their normal areas, and the most common tactic for that is to try a painted bead behind the salmon where the grayling are most likely waiting for eggs.

Gear-wise, you won’t need a lot. With the size and appetite of graylings, anywhere from a 3wt to a 6wt set-up is all you will need. There is the common case of catching a grayling while targeting salmon or trout, and in those situations, whatever rod you are using will work perfectly fine.

The LK Legacy & BVK-SD reel. Photo: Kory Robbins
Grayling on the Mangrove. Photo: Tessa Shetter

I would recommend the TFO Blue Ribbon when using small patterns and dry flies, and the LK Legacy single and two-handed rods when fishing subsurface for grayling to give the best presentation. The Mangrove is also an excellent choice.

From my experience, grayling don’t put up too much of a fight. In fact, when I’m not using a dry fly, I can usually sense when it’s a grayling on the end of my line by the fact that it feels like I’m reeling in a wet rag with an occasional head twitch. Totally different story when you’re using a 3wt with a dry fly, though!

The best part comes when the grayling is netted, and you can feast your eyes on that big ol’ fin. Nothing compares to the colors, shape, and overall beauty of the graylings dorsal.

Well folks, that about covers it. I hope my knowledge from experience is helpful in the journeys of seeking out grayling. Though the patterns I see and the techniques I use could be different from others, my goal is to share the knowledge I have personally gained. There’s always something new to be learned in fishing every day!

Photo: Tessa Shetter

Blog written by TFO Alaskan Ambassador Tessa Shetter. Photos provided by Tessa and TFO Alaskan Ambassador Kory Robbins.

 

 

Plotting A New Course – A Film with Flip Pallot

In this uncertain year that 2020 has been, we check in with TFO National Advisor Flip Pallot down in the deep woods near his home in South Florida.

Flip Pallot has been apart of the TFO family as a National Advisor since 2006.

Flip was born and raised in South Florida. An avid outdoorsman for as long as he could remember, Flip began his career as a banker, for “way too long” according to him. After finding the courage to leave the corporate world, Flip began his second career as a fishing and hunting guide. After 12 years Flip moved to television producing and bringing his life’s fishing travels to the small screen for us to enjoy. He is best known for bringing us the Walkers Cay Chronicles, which aired for 16 seasons on ESPN and as a founder of Hell’s Bay Boatworks.

Flip’s keen sense for storytelling and bringing to life the best part of fishing adventures has continued with teaching instructional classes and writing books on fly fishing.

Flip helped us design the Mangrove series of fly rods, and last year, helped us in creating one of our most popular fly rods – the Axiom ll-X (also seen in this video).

You can find out more about Flip here:

http://www.flippallot.com

https://www.facebook.com/flippallot

https://www.instagram.com/flippallot/

 

 

Check Out The Winner & Finalists of the TFO Photo Contest!

That’s a wrap for our first ever TFO Photo Contest! Over the past few weeks we received around 500 entries, and we loved seeing so many anglers enjoying TFO gear on their favorite waters.

This Monday, our team selected our Top Six photos for a public vote to help select the winner of the $1000 in TFO gear.

After almost 1,000 votes, we had a stand out winner – John McCarthy and his shot of the Inshore spinning rod! Second place was Brandon Genova’s shot of the Tactical Elite Bass, but not far behind was Adam Koontz’s shot of the Finesse Trout.

Congrats to all the photographers who made the finals! Check out the poll standing below, as well as stories from each of the finalist photographers about each of their finalist submissions!

 

1st Place – John McCarthy – Inshore 

The picture was taken by the Stonebridge in Onset, MA right by my house. The bigger stripers had just started coming in so I figured I’d throw a few casts before I went to work.

What attracted me to the TFO Inshore Mag XH was the versatility the rod had to offer. It just looked like a lot of fun, and it is!!!

Find out more about the Inshore here!


2nd Place – Brandon Genova – Tactical Elite Bass

This shot was taken at Barr Lake State Park here in Colorado. The clouds and sky that day were amazing. My buddy and I were bass fishing that day. Our first time at this location actually. The rod I had just purchased was this TFO Tactical Elite Bass 7-5 H I believe. I’ve been fishing TFO rods going on for 6 years now.

Being a tournament angler, I’m hard on my gear. I’ve found that TFO rods are by far the most durable, and the sensitivity is unbelievable.

When I started using them, I actually had to take time adjust to them versus my previous rods. They were so sensitive I was actually setting the hook too early!

Find out more about the Tactical Elite Bass here!

3rd Place – Adam Koontz – Finesse Trout

During this shot, I was in Northern New Jersey casting small dries for brookies on one of the many native brook trout streams.

I like the TFO Trout Finesse for its ability to handle delicate presentations and for its sensitivity. There are days that you’re not out searching for a fish of a lifetime, and this rod handles small streams and brooks perfectly!

Find out more about the Trout Finesse & Glass here!

4th Place – Robert Ledezma – Axiom ll 8wt w/ Streamers

This shot was taken on the banks of the Henry’s Fork near Ashton, Idaho. I was after big brown trout looking for a big meal. This is actually the river where I first started fly fishing many years ago so it’s a special place for me. Some of my biggest fish and favorite memories have been here.

A lot has changed since I started fly fishing and I’ve gone through a lot of different rods and gear. I’m not entirely sure when or how this happened but the Axiom II has easily become my go-to rod. There’s just something about rigging this rod up with a big streamer that feels right. We’ve gone through a lot of battles together and it has never let me down. I can trust the rod to do its part as I can only try to do mine.

No matter what adventure I go on the Axiom II always comes with me!

Find out more about the Axiom ll here!

5th Place – Aubrey Breed – Mangrove & Cutthroat

The shot was taken on Yellowstone Lake in the Yellowstone National Park fishing for cutthroat trout with streamers! I absolutely love the versatility of the Mangrove!

It’s great for chucking meaty streamers, and also works well in saltwater. It’s got a really smooth action and makes for great long casts!

Find out more about the Mangrove here!

 

6th Place – Mark Kolanowski – Axiom ll Meets Striped Bass

My image of the Axiom II rod and Striped Bass was made in Texas on the Brazos River below the Morris Sheppard Dam which forms Possum Kingdom Lake above it. When the flows are right, the fishing for Striped and White Bass can be very good! This particular fish was caught by my good friend and fishing buddy Craig Rucker on a pink, purple, and white Lunch Money streamer.

I actually do not own this Axiom II rod – Although I do own 7 TFO fly rods in my quiver from a 3wt Finesse to an 8wt BVK. Craig did let me make a few casts with his new 10wt Axiom II. He had gotten it for an upcoming trip we were taking to Alaska and wanted to give it a try on our local river. It proved to be a great choice. The Brazos River Striped Bass we were targeting like big weighted streamers.  Long casts are needed to get the flies up towards the dam and bigger flows where the Stripers roam in search of shad.

The Axiom II had the backbone and power to deliver the big flies into the wind that is ever present in Texas. The swing weight was comfortable even on a big 10wt rod . The power in the butt section was there to keep a hooked fish out of the underwater boulder field, stiff current, and into the net!

Nice rod ! It’s the next one I’ll be adding to my TFO collection.

Find out more about the Axiom ll here!

THANK YOU to ALL those who submitted their photos to the first ever TFO Photo Contest. As difficult as it was to narrow down to our Top Six, it was such a joy to see how everyone enjoys using their TFO gear and we look forward to seeing more photos down the road.

Keep taking those TFO photos and stay tuned for more giveaways and contests down the rod!

#tforods #fishtheoriginal

 

Snook On The Fly 101, 201 & 301 – History, Tactics & More by Courtney Marie Martin

When TFO approached me recently about writing a piece on snook, I couldn’t have been more excited. This is a species I have targeted, fought for, and been passionate about my entire life. Everything about this species is absolutely fascinating to me; from their habitat, to their aggressive takes, unique spawning abilities, and their ability to survive in salt or freshwater. These fish are just as intriguing to me now, as they were more than 25 years ago, marking my first encounter with the species. If you have never had a chance to target these amazing creatures, you’ll want to add them to your list after this. However, if you have been as fortunate as myself, and had the joy of experiencing these beauties first hand, I hope you enjoy this read.

A brief back story on my roots; I’m originally from Bethune Beach, FL. If you’re not familiar with that area; It’s the southernmost point of habitable land, on a barrier island. There is no access to the mainland at this point, the rest of the island south is home to an incredible, and protected ecosystem, in the Canaveral National Seashore. The Atlantic side of the island contains one of the most righteous surf breaks on the Florida east coast, while located on the river side of the island, is the world-famous Mosquito Lagoon. Needless to say, I had a pretty well-rounded upbringing between these two bodies of water. My once small hometown changed drastically over the years, something I’m still emotional about to this day. This is a problem that is rampant in Florida, a problem that has many causes and contributing factors. With that change, eight years ago I made the decision to move to the west coast and start over on the Myakka River. This place sucked me in, I became obsessed with learning it, exploring it, and now protecting it. It became apparent within a short time, the same issues the lagoon is struggling with, they were starting to feel the effects of here as well. After 5 years of living here I left my career to focus on conservation, art, and fly fishing full-time. We’ll come back to that though, first we’re going to start this off with one of my favorite subjects; a little bit of History.

Age Before Beauty

Bare with me for a minute while I flood your brain with a little bit of Florida history.

The land we now call Florida began to form, via a combination of volcanic activity, and the deposit of marine sediments. The formation took place along northwest Africa roughly 530 million years ago. If you flash back to your middle school Geography days, you’ll remember a brief, but very important time in history, referred to as Pangea. This occurred due to Florida once being part of Gondwanaland, a super continent, that later divided into Africa and South America. Research shows that Florida then separated from Gondwanaland about 300 million years ago. The state eventually found itself wedged between Gondwanaland and North America, where they then combined, to form; Pangea. When Pangea began to separate, Florida remained behind as part of the continent of North America. Florida then began slipping slowly beneath the surface to become part of North America’s continental shelf. The landmass that is now Florida remained shallowly submerged beneath the ocean. Over time; coral, shellfish, and fish skeletons began accumulating. These mass deposits created a layer of limestone hundreds, and in some places thousands, of feet thick. As the Appalachian Mountains began to erode, sand and clay were then deposited all over Florida’s limestone layer. Much of the quartz sand covering the state today came from the rocks of that mountain chain. One of the many things that captivated me when I first came to this area, was the abundance of limestone formations I’ve located all over the river itself. Rock samples taken from the Myakka in the 1880s date the river to the Pliocene Epoch, 1.8-5.3 million years before the present, when Florida was mostly under water. However, according to University of Florida, Ocala limestone samples from the 1920s suggest that the Florida peninsula dates to the Eocene Epoch, thus dating her to be a whopping 25 to 36 million years ago. Deep grooves in these limestone formations began collecting rainfall in the form of rivers. Though there is a huge conflict in these differing data’s, I personally believe the latter of the two theories. The river and its region became home to; mastodons, mammoths, saber-toothed cats, and even megalodon. With research pointing to megs going extinct atleast 20-million years ago, it personally leads me to believe that the river is much older than some documents lead you to believe.

How Man Found the Myakka

  • 12,000 B.C. Humans from eastern Asia cross the newly, but briefly, dry Bering Strait on foot and enter North America, gathering around its deep springs for fresh water.
  • 10,200 B.C. First evidence of human habitation on the Myakka. Skeletal remains that were found, near Warm Mineral Springs, in 1959 were carbon-dated to roughly that time.
  • 1500 A.D. Florida aboriginals separate into four distinct tribes, including the Calusa tribe on the lower Gulf Coast. The Indians that called this land home believed the area to be sacred. On top of the abundant food source, they believed that storms seemed to disappear or go completely around it.
  • 1513 Juan Ponce de Leon’s search for gold treasure, combined with Florida’s legendary Fountain of Youth, led him to Charlotte Harbor and up the Peace and Myakka rivers. He is said, by many, to have found Warm Mineral Springs.
  • 1521 Ponce de Leon not only enslaved the Calusa and sold them off, but also brought an abundance of disease upon them. He ultimately died from complications caused by arrow wounds received in an altercation with the Calusa Indians. Unable to cohabitate with the Spaniards, the Calusa eventually left the area. Followed by the Spaniards departing, because they couldn’t survive without the Calusa. Over the years the surrounding land and water went through significant high water, drought, and weather events that pushed what little settlers and aboriginals were left, to the brink. Only the strong survived.

Wild and Scenic

Myakka River State Park opened for visitors in 1942. Within this now, 37,000-acre protected woodland, are hundreds of bird and animal species; Including 80 listed as endangered species. In 1985, Florida officially designated the Myakka for special protection, as the state’s first “Wild and Scenic River.” The entire river from the Upper lake, to Charlotte Harbor, is 66 miles. Nearly 8 months out of the year, especially during the winter months, the river is so shallow you can walk across it. Marshes, swamps, and sloughs also make up the 550-square mile Myakka Basin. This basin full of vast, spongy areas that hold water during the wet season, slowly releasing it to feed the river over the long months when there is no rain. This fragile body of water and ecosystem is why the Myakka needs our attention and preservation, now more than ever. Over the past 20 years, the Myakka has been laced with industrial waste, municipal sewage, agricultural runoff and untold gallons of gasoline, motor oil, and brake fluid. These pollutants come rushing across road surfaces in search of the region’s lowest point. This is all despite the passing of the Clean Water Act, in 1972. Which was placed in response to the unchecked dumping of pollution into our waterways. At the time, two-thirds of the country’s lakes, rivers and coastal waters had become unsafe for fishing or swimming. This included untreated sewage that was being dumped into open water. The most damaging additive since, ironically, has been water. An excess of water, pumped from underground wells to feed farms and mines, has saturated miles of the Myakka Basin, disturbing the river’s ancient cycle of long dry seasons and killing native vegetation. It has become an international laboratory for the study of river habitats, both how to keep them in good health and what to do when they are ailing, as rivers these days usually are. Water is traditionally low in the winter, making invasive plants and fish also a particular concern. Less water means more competition for food and oxygen. West Indian marsh grass is also crowding out native species of vegetation, eliminating food sources that the native fish are partial to. Those native fish, meanwhile, also have invasives of their own to contend with.

As you can tell, I’m extremely passionate about this place. When I was originally asked to write this article, I was sent a list of 10 talking points they’d like me to hit, so far, we’ve covered just one (insert laughter) …

Knowledge Is Power – History & Biology of Snook

Snook are thought to have originated in Central America, and due changes in the earth’s climate they migrated north to Florida. This migration goes back to a great warming trend after the Ice Age, that moved snook northward along the Mexico shoreline. They then followed the Gulf of Mexico to Cuba and Florida, splitting the state and running up along the east and west coasts. Florida proved to be the perfect environment, because snook are described as an estuarine-dependent fish species.

There are five species of snook that inhabit Florida waters; common snook, small scale fat snook, large scale fat snook, tarpon snook, and the swordspine snook.

Formerly known as excellent table fare, snook are making a huge comeback in our waters due to strict conservation efforts.

Within Florida’s diverse estuaries, juvenile snook are commonly found inhabiting; Coastal wetland ponds, island networks, and creeks. In their juvenile stages, snook show a tendency to call lower-salinity conditions home. Snook are also able to osmo-regulate, giving them the ability to adapt and thrive in both high/low salinity habitats. This is referred to as habitat plasticity, an evolutionary adaptation, expressed primarily through reversible physiological change. Which leads me to the most fascinating snook fact; Snook are a protandric hermaphroditic fish species. — Males can change to females as they age.

This transition takes place when snook are between 1-7 years of age or between 12-35 inches in length. This happens quickly, both male, and female sex cells are present in the gonads. During transition, female gonads mature directly from male gonads, after spawning. Thus, making it possible for snook, to spawn once as a male, and then again as a female within the same season.

Spawning

Spawning season typically runs the months of April-October, with peak spawn occurring during June-August. Near-shore waters containing higher salinity values is where their spawning traditionally occurs. Female snook may spawn every two days, during a new or full moon cycle, and release roughly 1.5 million eggs during each spawn. The high salinity in these locations is important to egg survival rates. Salinity provides buoyancy to the eggs carrying them to habitats more suited for survival, these eggs begin to hatch within 28hours. This phenomenon occurs on both the east and west coasts of Florida. Mouths of coastal rivers, major inlets, and the beaches of Gulf of Mexico are prime spawning locations.

Post spawn, the juvenile snook then migrate to the brackish waters of surrounding estuary environments. Once mature, they make their trek to the high salinity waters of the open ocean to join the breeding population. Snook are opportunistic ambush predators, whose feeding habits are attributed to their size and the size of their prey. Which leads us to the age-old question; “Does bigger bait equal bigger fish?”

In the snook world, the answer is, yes. As snook continue to grow they feed on larger and larger prey. Even though this behavior is rare, they even engage in cannibalism, predating upon their own. During the winter months, when adult and juvenile common snook are in close proximity to one another sharing habitat, is when this typically occurs. A feeding pattern referred to as intracohort cannibalism. Juvenile snook that find themselves in this setting may wind up becoming the largest available prey on the menu, thus proving to be nutritionally efficient to prey upon.

Come Fly with Me

Winding through the Old Florida wilderness, it’s the type of landscape that puts your vulnerability in check, a constant reminder of how small you really are in this world. The area I live in is fabled and locally labeled as snook haven, frankly, it is just that. The history, age of the land, and the species that call it home are all-encompassing pieces of knowledge to carry with you. The Myakka is a truly wild unforgiving landscape inhabited by gators, feral hogs, sharks, bobcats, bears, coyotes, panthers, venomous snakes, and large swarms of mosquitoes. When I began immersing myself into this environment, the closest thing I could compare it to would be the deepest parts of the Everglades. This is not the beach, these are not pristine sand flats, it’s not the harbor or the bay. This is as backcountry as it gets.

Do I wade fish here? Yes. Would I conscientiously recommend it to others? No.

Always research your surroundings before entering any body of water. Have a plan, triple check your gear, pay attention to your surroundings, and respect the environment. You are a guest.

Most of what we do in the backcountry is out of an aluminum jon-boat or skiff. Jon likes to even up the ante some days and throw me into a canoe. A very effective method for getting to these fish, you just have to remain extra cat-like with every movement you make.

Casting & Presentation

My number one piece of advice in the pursuit of fly fishing is; Practice, practice, practice!

Practice your cast, have a solid, confident, single and double haul going into these fish.

The techniques Jon and I both use for snook, are applicable to high or low water, and any water clarity. This is where practicing your cast is important, making that cast count no matter the conditions.

Water clarity changes daily here, some days its crystal clear, other days it can be muddy, and most days it resembles sweet tea. Some days, we encounter super low water conditions, with good water clarity. This tends to flush these fish out of their mangrove homes making sight fishing on the shore line possible. When these fish are out in the open, they can eat just as aggressively as they would in their protective structure, but they can see you just as well as you can see them.

The stealth factor and making a good cast first shot, are very important in this instance. However, one of my personal favorite fishing techniques is pitching up-under and into mangroves.

This is technical, this takes time, this takes practice. This is, however, extremely rewarding and efficient in high water, cloudy, or windy conditions. You can use a regular or weed-less flies for this technique. If you do happen to aim a little too high or snag a root, just take it easy pulling it off and it should come right out.

 

Fly Patterns & Retrieval Methods

Laser minnows, crab, shrimp, varying bait fish patterns and poppers; I’ve thrown all of these for snook and been successful. Now if you’re going to go for the gold on pitching mangroves, be ready to strip hard. The eat is usually very aggressive sometimes launching the fly airborne as if it were a top water plug. Sometimes they’ll eat as soon as it lands, others will ambush it and come out of nowhere, and then there’s the classic v-wake pushing out of the mangroves that then proceeds to finally crush the fly just inches from the boat with half your leader stripped into your rod. In that scenario I hold my breath and there’s usually a lot of praying involved; Praying the line shoots back out as pretty as it stripped through those guides.

These fish will instinctively try to run right back to where they came from, this is where you better stay alert and put the heat to them. 9 times out of 10, this is not a fish you’ll be attempting to get on the reel, most of the fight will be you gaining ground by stripping them in while keeping counter pressure on their head with the rod. The goal is to keep them out of the mangroves and get them to the boat fast. Like tarpon, snook are known for their acrobatics, be ready to fight them the same way when they go for an airborne head-shake.

Knots & Tippet

Much like a tarpon, snook’s mouths are very rough. If not hooked in the very corner of the mouth, or the top of their nose, they can ware through a leader section pretty quickly. I personally use 25-30lb fluoro as my shock tippet for these fish because of that reason. I don’t like break-offs and I really don’t like fish swimming around with gear stuck in their face. I also prefer a simple loop knot for connecting my fly to the tippet, this provides life like action during the retrieve. I’ve seen snook delicately mouth at flies and I’ve watched them smash flies. Every fish is different, retrieval techniques can vary by the fish. I’ve had fish out run my steady “strip, strip, strip” retrieve and end up on top of the fly, completely missing it. I’ve had fish follow-follow-follow, and then all of a sudden turn off, only for the next fish to inhale it. And then I’ve had encounters sight casting where I cast, I give it a couple pops trying to get their attention, they slowly come over, and I was just a millisecond too slow on beginning to work the fly. This results in a fish completely spooking and blowing out due to being able to get too good of a glance at your fly. It can be a delicate dance sometimes with these fish, but they will always keep you wanting more.

 

Don’t Get Discouraged!

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Persistence pays off with these fish, if you happen to totally miff the hook set, pick up your line and fire a cast right back up to the same spot. This technique is extremely effective, this is also why a fast and accurate single haul, is just as important as a clean double haul. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hooked a fish on the second or third try, just from goofing up the initial hook set. I actually had this happen last week, I was on the bow and had a solid follow out of the mangroves. The fish charged it, ended up being on top of my fly, and completely missed it. I fired a cast right back up to the big boil he left, he ate it again on the second strip, right in the middle of the pause. Resulting in a totally goofed hookset and Jon staring at me from the poling platform like, “Really…??” Stubborn I am, I fired up a third cast, this time Jon speaks up and says, “why would you do that?? That fish isn’t going to eat again, you need to be casting ahead.” As fate would have it, whammy! That fish ate it a third time, this time charging the boat, running under it, and breaking me off. This event lasted all of two seconds, but what a cool fish! We were all high-fives and laughs after that fish.

Fly Lines

Another important tool in your box – selecting the right fly line. Of the many innovations that Lee Wulff has contributed to fly fishing, the Bermuda Triangle Taper fly line is my go-to fly line for anything saltwater. I line all of my saltwater setups with the next weight size up. Which brings us to setups..

 

Fly Rods

A typical saltwater fishing day, 7/8/9wt rods are my go-to. My favorite setup to toss on a daily basis is an 8wt BVK or an 8/9wt Mangrove, 7wt class would also my Mangrove, and then there’s the 8 and 9wt Axiom II and Axiom II-X. These setups are laser focused and perfect for the saltwater pursuit of any species, especially snook!

But don’t forget that 10wt! This is an important tool, that will lead to regret if left behind. Your 38″+ upper class of snook will need A LOT of heat to keep them from running to structure. There are snook that Jon and I have both come across, where we just look back at each other and can’t believe what we’re seeing. I highly recommend a 10wt for those fish, with a large bait pattern, and a heavier tippet class.

The coolest thing about really big snook, they do not spook easily. They know exactly how big they are and their opportunistic feeding patterns revolve around that. If you can get it in front of them, they will most likely inhale it, but you have to bring the right tools to the fight! These fish are smart, they know their territory well, and will run to any structure they can to break you off quickly.

If by chance you are looking to wade fish, I don’t recommend that here. My best advice is to follow their patterns. If you scroll back up to the Knowledge Is Power section, hidden in there is everything you need to know about finding beach snook.

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture, is like a tree without roots.” -M.Garvey

Words and photos by TFO Ambassador Courtney Marie Martin. Sunset snook photo (Photo #2) taken by Eric Shaeffer.

Courtney is based out of Charlotte Harbor, Florida.  When not fishing for snook, tarpon and redfish with her partner Jon Lee (TFO Pro Staff) and spending time with her family, Courtney is a fantastic artist, where a lot of her art is inspired by her time on the water. You can find out more about Courtney here.

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Talking Striper Fishing with Blane Chocklett

When one fishing season ends, another one begins for TFO Advisor Blane Chocklett. After a long and successful fall and winter guiding season of chasing large musky in the rivers of Virginia, the warmer days of Spring get Blane prepared to target trout, smallmouth, and striped bass.

We see a lot of material on trout and smallmouth, so we thought it would be fun to switch it up and talk with Blane about striped bass fishing as these fish can get massive and are a blast on the fly.

 

What kinds of signs or patterns lead you to start focusing in more on striped bass fishing in your area? 

When spring arrives in my area it signals migrations and reproduction in many animals and fish. As water temps warm many fish begin their annual spawning migrations. Shad move into our river systems and not too far behind are the predatory species like striped bass. A combination of water levels on the rise with rising water temps in combination with ambient light, all play a part in these annual migrations.

What types of TFO rods (series/weight) do you like to use to go after striped bass? What do you like about these rods that cater to this type of fishing?

I like the Mangrove series when using larger flies and heavy sinking lines when targeting stripers. The rod action in the mangrove helps smooth out the shock and kick over of the heavy flies and line. When using the intermediate and floating lines for this time of year I like the Axiom ll-X as it is fast and smooth and carries the flies to the target effortlessly.

What is the target forage for striped bass in your fishery/area and how do you mimic that? Does forage type change over seasons?

In our waters the forage for striper can range from river Herring to alewives and threadfin shad. All can very in sizes and is important to note as the fish can key in on certain sizes based on what’s available to them. I tie many variations of my Game Changer fly to mimic the sizes and species for this very reason.

 

What line/leader/tippet set up does you like to fish said flies on? Specific knots?

When the fish are in pockets and heavy current areas I prefer the Scientific Anglers “ Frequency Sink Tip” as it has a type 5 10 foot sinking tip with a tapered floating line for the angler to be able to mend the line in the fast water while the fly and sinking head is dropping in the zone. This allows the angler to manipulate the fly in eddies while maintaining control of the floating line in the faster current.

A second line I use is the SA Sonar Sink INT/SINK3/Sink5 for faster deeper runs. This line keeps direct contact with the fly as the line sinks due to its triple density design.

The third set up I like is the SA Sonar Sink 30 Clear Intermediate line. This line fishes well in slower water when the fly needs to hover or stay in an area longer without sinking too fast and getting hung up.

 

Any opportunities for top water?

We get good top water opportunities during low light early morning and evening and even after dark. For this set up I like the Axiom ll-X 8-9wt paired with a SA Amplitude Tropical Titan as it turns over bigger more wind resistant bugs well like big poppers and sliders.

Do striped bass have a certain type of behavior or holding pattern for spring? In other words, are they moving and covering a lot of water at this time, or are they typically a little bit more lazy and stick to one area? What types of water should an angler focus on for targeting this species?

This time of year stripers are on the move so keeping up with locals and being on the water is key. Many of the fish will run to certain areas to spawn and feed and finding these areas is key to success. Look for natural obstructions like water falls, big rapids or dams, these are areas where they will start to bottle neck and back up creating more opportunities.

 

How does striper fishing in your area change over the course of a season?

Striper season is very fluid as they constantly change based on food availability and water temps and ambient light.

 

For the angler that doesn’t have a boat, do you have any tips for wade anglers that would like to take their chances at catching a striped bass?

For those that don’t have boats wanting to target striper, look for tail outs of rapids and pockets. Areas were the striper has to concentrate before moving up the river. For lake anglers look for backs of coves, points and flats adjacent to river channels.

 

Blane Chocklett is an advisor at Temple Fork Outfitters, proclaimed fly fisherman, guide, and innovative fly tyer. You can find out more about Blane here.