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Bonefish off Starboard Bow

Afternoon Bonefish

It isn’t often I get bow time on my skiff but a quick afternoon trip with my buddy Jason was exactly what I needed to scratch that itch. It started out like any successful afternoon does, light winds, sun, cigars, and a little bourbon in hopes of a celebration cocktail. We started off with a long run with a plan to work our way home on a few different flats. The feeling of having everything to yourself is hard to put into words.

Our first stop we were into fish almost immediately. To say they were uncooperative is an understatement. Fish came and went for the first hour with no connections, so we needed a change.

We didn’t have to go far and were back in the fish. This stretch offered two shots, one at a quick moving permit and another shot at a pair of bonefish. Surprisingly the permit seemed to cooperate more than the bonefish but he just wouldn’t commit. Sometimes you get lucky with a bonefish and other time the permit are well, permit.

Bonefish Reward

Stop number three started slow but we were rewarded with persistence as it just felt right. I thought about moving two separate times over the course of 30 minutes but something told me to stay. I must admit it might be a case of being lucky rather than good but either way, I will take it. A pair of bonefish creeped in from my off-hand side and since we had good vison the way we were facing, I opted for a backhand presentation rather than spinning the boat. I was a little short but since the fish were coming right to me they were on it as soon as it entered their field of vision. One hop and the lead fish pinned the fly and I came tight. It was an impressive first run for the fish of this size. I like a bonefish with a little attitude. After a little back and forth, the fish came to hand. Quick photo and off she swam.

Bonefish No. 2

I had barely enough time to get back on the platform and line stripped out before Jason called out a group of fish. This small group was crossing from right to left and appeared happy. They were meticulously picking their way across the flat and my fly was exactly what they ordered. Two fish broke from the group, tracked the fly for maybe five feet before pinning my shrimp imitation. I was tight and on cloud nine. Jason landed the fish, I unhooked her and grabbed a quick photo right before she swam away.

After seeing a good number of fish and bringing two boat side it was time for a little nip of bourbon, light the stogies and take it all in before breaking for home. Cheers to a successful afternoon of bonefish in Biscayne Bay.

Thankful for a little bow time and cooperative bonefish. Just what I needed before a few upcoming trips.

From The Endless Flat,
Capt. Chris

Trophy Hunting

In search of Trophy Bonefish

We have had a stretch of bad weather for at least a week. Rain, wind, more wind and clouds. Pretty much par for the course this time of year. Mother nature is fickle, we know this, and never more so than during her transition from winter to spring. Often we go from Winter to Spring to Summer in one week but March has been different. Finally, we got what seemed to be a small window and we just had to go. Jason joined me for a trip in which we had one goal, a trophy class bonefish.

We decided to take a later start and fish more banker’s hours since we knew there would be very few boats on the water, we were right. The wind was blowing, and it was going to be a bibs and jacket kind of day. I prefer less than perfect weather, less people on the water. Due to the wind direction Foss and I put together a game plan while we idled out. Once we reached that last marker, we battened down the hatches and let her eat.

Small Bonefish Warmup

Or first stop put us into fish. It was a little slow going but the numbers increased as we expected throughout the tide. Sadly, many of these fish were small but we are not about to turn our nose up at any fish. Jason used two of these smaller bonefish as a hopeful warmup of sorts. It is always nice to see smaller, active fish.

We pushed on. Approaching from a distance was a giant fish. It was one of those fish you think, no way, for a split second while your brain catches up to what your eyes see. Even Jason who is a cool customer was a little puckered up. I can’t blame him. If this doesn’t get you going, find a new gig. Jason takes his shot. It is on a dime, but the big bonefish just isn’t interested. Another 15 minutes and time to move.

Cigar Break

The middle of the day was slow. We made several stops and had a few shots but not exactly what we wanted. Nothing a little break and cigar can’t fix! I knew we had a limited time and only a few stops left so we had to pull out all the stops.

The next stop did not pan out, so we pushed all our chips to the middle of the table and made a run.

Tailing Bonefish

We pulled up to the last flat and began to pole. Almost immediately we were greeted by a pair of tails. They were crossing our bow but out at a distance, so I did not want to race up to them. We had a few close shots at little fish, but Foss really wanted his shot at the big bonefish, so we carefully worked around the smaller fish. There really is nothing like seeing tailing bonefish over lush grass. It is certainly one of the harder shots but worth it when it all comes together.

Three big fish approached, backs out of the water at 11 o’clock. “Foss, you got to play the wind on this one a little.” His first shot was a little too cautious, so he burned it back to set up his next one. A little side arm to keep the jig low was all he needed. The jig landed softly in front of the inside fish and with a bit of commotion, he was tight. All three fish lit of that flat. Exit hard stage right. The sound of line cutting in the water across the bow is just incredible.

I’m hoofing now, trying to guard against that fish leaving the flat. Thankfully, he stays up and Foss has his hands full. One long run followed by another. The cool water kept this fish energized and I closed the gap before hopping to assist with landing her. I grabbed the tape measure so we could get a length x girth on her while in the water. One quick photo was all we needed and off she went.

Big Bonefish in Hand

Foss got it done with a walk off. I still had half a cigar to properly celebrate on the way back to the ramp. The Bonefish Tarpon Trust calculator put her at 11.44lb which is Jason’s biggest to date.

A great day in less-than-ideal conditions really made for a great memory.

From The Endless Flat,
Capt. Chris

 

Easy Sunday on Mosquito Lagoon

Mosquito Lagoon Redfish on Fly

The last couple weeks prior to the 4th of July were busy. Between filming for work and runs to Miami chasing bonefish and permit, hectic was the word of the month. Typically, the day after a Miami run is more of a lay-day. Although, with the weather being right the wife and I took advantage to make a few relaxing, afternoon trips to Mosquito Lagoon.

As long as the weather holds Saturday and Sunday afternoons are wonderful times to be out on Mosquito Lagoon. Usually, most everyone has headed home and the crowds have greatly diminished. It can feel like you have the entire place to yourself.

The wife, bird dog and I set out that afternoon to look at some new water. She just wanted to relax so I brought the fly rod and the stripping bucket to try and stick one from the poling platform. It is always a song and dance getting one to eat from up high, but very rewarding when it all comes together.

The first stop we found water that was off-color due to being exposed to the wind from that day. I was really just poling that shoreline to reach a pocket I had fished before in similar conditions. The water was up a little and this area was protected from the wind so I had my fingers crossed.

Redfish Eat

The first fish caught me a little off guard as he was on the corner at the entrance and I was just out of position. It happens. The next shot was exactly what I had hoped for. Bank crawling, back out of the water and jumped all over a well placed fly. As the wife relaxed on the bow she got a cool shot of the fish eating and coming tight. Well done babe.

Redfish Eat!

Redfish Eat!

A quick photo and another beautiful mosquito lagoon redfish was safely on her way.

Mosquito Lagoon Redfish

As the wind began to shift a little we decided to make one more stop before calling it a day. This water was a bit cleaner but it took a little bit before we started to see fish. I’m pissed. This area had it all, except fish. Finally as we came to the end of the stretch I bumped a fish off the bow. Although can be maddening I have to laugh it off and be glad the Chittum can get that close to fish without spooking them.

As I set up for what felt like the last shot of the day, it was a left to right, on the shoreline. Perfect, except I was a little long and decided to take the chance of the fish swimming under the leader that was on a mangrove root. As I held my breath and the line came tight, lifting the line off the water, the fish calmly carried on. I was shocked. That never happens. I just knew I had buried the hook in the root but a quick flick of the rod tip set it free.

I knew this would be my last shot at that fish. Just before I made my cast, I saw another fish coming right at me. This was going to be an exact replica of the previous shot. Thankfully, I landed it short of the mangrove root and with a slight move of the fly, the fish was on. Two short runs and a few clicks of the drag and she was boat-side. Beautiful fish and beautiful afternoon.

Mosquito Lagoon Redfish on Fly

Moral of the scene…never panic. The more frustrated or panicked you get on the bow, the more will go wrong. It is just one of those hard lessons in fly fishing.

As I throttled up and headed for home, I just can’t help to take it all in and be thankful for a wonderful afternoon with the wife and dog. Fly fishing is a beautiful thing.

From The Endless Flat,
Capt. Chris

Double Digit Quest

Everyone likes to set goals for themselves, it drives us on the water, in our careers and personal lives. Some do it to get better or to push out of your comfort zone.  I really love to fish, like really really, but even more I love the how and why. I truly find my happiness on the poling platform rather than the casting…  

One day while on the water almost two years back Foss and I were talking about our future trips and goals. He mentioned he wanted to catch a 10lb Bonefish and a 10lb Seatrout.  Ambitious goals to say the least but we have been close a few time.  Recently, we were talking about the chance at the 10lb. trout after a number of excellent days on the water.  For those that frequently target large trout and chase records the pre-spawn is a window of opportunity as those fish are feeding and gaining weight to prepare to spawn. 

The last two years we have been researching, following those who routinely chase big fish as well as actively searching for where these fish congregate during these prime times.  We wanted to be sure when this opportunity presented itself, we would be ready. 

The 2019/2020 fall and winter were proving to be excellent for trout fishing.  With the numbers up we were optimistic for our shot at that double digit fish.  A couple months ago, we found an area that I previously neglected due to recent poor water quality.  As winter came the Mosquito Lagoon water levels dropped, the water cooled, it began clearing and with a mild winter we started seeing seagrass appear. That was the sign I was waiting for to revisit an area I had all but given up on. 

The first time in we saw good numbers of laid up fish that were not as spooky as other areas of the lagoon. Whether it was new found habitat or lack of pressure, it was promising.  The problem was the way these fish were setup. We were forced to approach this area in a way that was pressuring them and they got uncomfortable very quick.  We put our time into finding out when they would come and go so we had to beat them to the punch and make them come to us. 

Whether in the field or in the water I am much more of a spot and stalk rather than a sit and wait. It was killing me but felt it would work. 

I forget how many times we went in, passed on shots at fish and then moved on empty handed. We made it to a point, where we felt it wasn’t going to happen. Their pattern was changing and we were unable to get a shot at the right fish, so we expanded our search. 

We were exploring new areas as the next New Moon was approaching quickly and wanted to be ready for our next good shot.  The day it happened we were actually catching snook as the weather and wind began to change. It dawned on me the conditions were setting up for that spot to be right but was worried we were a little too early.  The New Moon was 3 days out but everything else felt right and we had to make the run.  

Mosquito Lagoon Snook

As we were approaching the area, I began to see a few fish in an area we had not seen initially them. That was the tip we needed. We took the long way around and as we were approaching a fish we felt might do it, I caught a glimpse of a “log” on the shoreline about 20’ feet out to Jason’s 11 O’Clock.  The fish was laid up in very skinny water and I told Foss he had to pitch it past the fish into the roots to have a shot.  One quick underhand pitch into the roots, a soft hop into the water and we see her gills flare and the lure disappears.  We both froze in disbelief for a split second (that felt like forever) before I called out, “She ate it”. 

Not only was it a great eat, it was on such a short string. To see it go down, that close, was something special. She tore off in a tornado of mud.  Went under the skiff twice and after a quick game of cat and mouse, she was safely in the net. (Another reason I carry a net) We handled her carefully.  Weighed her as she barely eclipsed the 10lb mark on the certified Boga, shot a photo and sent her on her way. 

Mosquito Lagoon Seatrout

No, it wasn’t a record fish but we put in the work and accomplished a goal we had set almost two years prior. 

The Season of Seatrout

For a number of months now the larger trout have been a blast. We have had tons of smaller trout in the area, more than I have seen in a while, eager to jump on a paddle tail or fly and it has been a welcome sight for a number of reasons. Ask anyone around and you will hear the same lack of redfish stories in the area. We do go in spurts but all in all, the redfishing has been down for January. We all know why but only some want to publicize the poor condition the lagoon is in.

I get it, most depend on it for their livelihood but I have been in the game of guiding, booking and hosting trips since 2007 and the number one rule is never lie to clients. It will bite you in the ass every time. I have seen it plenty of times from different outfitters and guides. They are incredibly shortsighted and feel they have to paint a glorious picture to get that client to book to then provide a poor experience. Guess what, they won’t be back. That was a one and done. I was always taught you want repeat clients. Do the right thing, work hard and you will have clients for many years to come.  You might even make lifelong friends in the process.

Speaking of the hard times on the Lagoon, thankfully we have a number of dedicated individuals who are fighting very hard to bring Mosquito Lagoon and many other parts of Florida back from the hard times. Check out Tailer Trash fly fishing podcast and their Dingy Derby coming April 4, 2020. It is to benefit the New Smyrna Beach Marine Discovery Center and Mosquito Lagoon. Check out the event: The 2nd Annual Dingy Derby and RSVP for the Pre-Party Thingy before the Dingy the Night before. Participate or Donate, it is a great time and a great cause that raised over $5,000 last year.

Let’s not be all doom and gloom. Mother Nature and her estuaries are very resilient and have been fighting man for many years. For the rough times Mosquito Lagoon has seen, we still see fish, have excellent days and make memories with friends and clients. So, if you are in the area, do not hesitate to reach out for a trip with myself or if I am unable to take you, I have a few fellow guides I am happy to reccommend.  They are not only super fishy but good people who will shoot you straight and provide a wonderful trip.

We were talking about Seatrout at some point, right? We had a few trips around the end of the holiday and the beginning of the new year that were stellar. Those larger Seatrout will begin to spawn in the Spring March – May and just like Largemouth Bass and other species, the pre-spawn feed it a blast.

Indian River Seatrout

Jason and I ventured out to a few areas we have seen larger fish during times and moon phases that usually have the trout active. Although we had some cloudy days which can make stalking these weary fish tough, we had a few short windows and were able to capitalize.

Mosquito Lagoon Seatrout

Foss who is typically armed with the trusty DOA Shirmp, was putting on a clinic.  We were stalking some larger ones, but blind casting into groups of the smaller fish, was almost too easy. I had enough watching the show and Foss was kind enough to give me some bow time. I pulled out the long rod and had a fly I grabbed from Flymen Fishing Co. and was rewarded quickly. There is just something about a big trout on the fly rod, it is a blast and hard to pass up the opportunity when presented.

Seatrout on Fly

Bonefish with Foss and Johan

Winter Bonefish

Before all this COVID-19 fun began, Foss and I were due to make a Miami run and the weather was lining up to be a solid day.  My good friend Johan, had a few open days and said “leave your boat at the house and just ride down and I will push”.  Did not have to twist my arm to get a little bow time.  Foss and I loaded up at 1am and we were southbound and down. 

It was a typical day for this early in the year, winds from the northeast  and plenty of sun. Thankfully there was a warming trend from a light cold snap so the fish were back to being happy. The excitement is palpable as we begin to see the guitar shaped Hard Rock hotel. Not far behind are the high rise building of downtown Miami. A quick phone call to Johan, “Hey boys, y’all are early!” he said. “Naa we are just ready”, I replied.  

We load up our stuff, catch a few of the boat ramp antics as we idle out before Johan puts her on plane. There is nothing like feeling those emerald waters beneath your feet as the warm South Florida sun hits your face. Love our Florida winters.  The run across was easy.  Just a slight roll and a tiny bit of chop. We were planning on hunting tailing fish early in the day and then move as the tide changed. 

Two is a crowd

Foss and I have spent countless hours on a skiff, panga, bass boat.  You name it, we have fished it. So although Johan was a little hesitant, he was impressed we could simultaneously fish on the bow. I took the high post on the casting platform as Foss hanged ten on the nose. 

My first shot at a large tailing fish was a no go. First cast was good but a little off the mark as I didn’t trust the wind.  A quick pickup and put back was right in the zone, “I don’t think he saw it”, Johan barked. I felt the same. The fish just never reacted, just kept on his way as he moved out of range. 

The next fish came in at our two o’clock.  Rather than spinning the boat, Foss took his shot with the spinning rod.  Good cast, two hops and the fish blows out. oh well. We stalked a few more fish over the course of the next hour or so and as we approached the edge we saw a small group of fish patrolling an old prop scar.  I passed the backhand shot to Foss and with a great cast he was hooked up.  Two strong runs and the fish was boatside, unhooked and on his way safely. 

Good time to move.  We made a short and an adjustment to the plan with the shifting winds. I was on point and had a nice shot at incoming fish. The fly lands, a fish shoots out of the group, pins the fly.  I come tight but only for a split second and he is gone. My follow up shot, went ignored. Shit.  No time to sulk.

Tailing Bonefish

A small pair are approaching just as the last group. It was an exactly replay of the last shot but once I was tight, he was mine. Certainly not the size we were looking for but just a little singing of the reel before a quick boat-side release and I was all good. 

Early Bonefish

After sticking a few fish we decided to go look at some new water we had been eyeing. It was a little bit of a run but no one seemed to care. We exchanged a little time on the poling platform just looking and getting a feel for the area. It is always nice to see how the water moves across the flat, the sun angle, bottom topography.  It all matters and something you have to see in person. 

We did start seeing some larger singles and once we got Foss in range it didn’t take long.  This was a little better fish and had the attitude of his big brother. Jason was pulling away at this point but no one is really keeping score.  

The last stop of the day gave me two shots at really big fish.  Admittedly, I botched the first one. Just misjudged it. We were nose to nose and as we were both closing in on one another.  The cast long and leadered him right down his back and the fly just past his tail. I wasn’t happy.  That was the big fish I wanted and blew it.

Thankfully I did get another chance but this one wasn’t to be either. It all lined up right, cast, angle, fly swung in and he just wasn’t having it.   As the sun was getting a little low we decided to make our way off and see if we could get one more shot.  As I mentioned earlier, Foss had been on, and this final shot was no different. Same shot, 2 o’clock moving to twelve…good cast. Great eat!  

As he was fighting the fish I call out a shark, he was a little ways out but knew something was up.  Thankfully, we were able to keep the boat in between the two and as Johan hustled to close the gap between us and the Bonefish, Foss added a little extra pressure that would either bring him in or break him off safely.  This is one of the reasons we carry a net. We got just close enough to net him before he decided to make another break for it which could’ve done him in.

We supported him in the net as we pushed off the flat to the point we could lower the motor and idle away. Once we moved to an area that was all clear Foss hopped out and got a quick photo before releasing him.  

Bonefish to end the day

Just another great day with even better friends. A long ride home but reminiscing about the day on the water guides us home safely. 

From The Endless Flat,
Capt. Chris