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Fisherman’s Paradise: The Florida Everglades

July 1st, 2019

DSC 0693 1024x683 Fishermans Paradise: The Florida Everglades

Capt. Ruby Delgado with the first snook of our trip caught on a Savage Gear topwater. Photo by Kelly Groce

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This is the view surrounding each key island in the Everglades. A school of tarpon swam by shortly after this photo was taken.

By Kelly Groce

The Florida Everglades is a dream land for any angler. Its pristine waters, remote location and wide range of wildlife will have any fisherman questioning their flight back home before the trip is even over. With no cell phone service and miles upon miles of crystal clear flats glistening with shark fins in the distance, the opportunity to catch a bucket list or fish of lifetime are around every corner. I left that day with a new species to add to my list; my first tarpon.

Cindy Nguyen, Capt. Ruby Delgado and myself spent the first few hours of the day catching snook and speckled trout on a variety of Savage Gear topwaters thanks to Sam Root who poled us around on his Maverick skiff. The sloppier we worked our topwaters, the more the snook couldn’t resist it. Fishing with a topwater has to be one of my favorite approaches, especially when it’s for snook.

Sam Root had to get in on the snook topwater bite from his poling platform.

After eating lunch with a breath taking view of gin clear water, Sam poled us around a small key island. I pitched my small swim bait next to the grass beds. As my bait starts to drop down, a couple of 30 inch tarpon emerge from under the beds. I slowly start reeling it in and one takes my bait. He did an acrobatic dance for me as I shouted with excitement and high fives ensued. The silver king is a stunning fish to see.

In one day we saw schools of tarpon, manatees, snook, speckled trout, redfish, grouper, mangrove snapper, barracuda, stingrays, alligators, lemon sharks, nurse sharks, and more. Exploring the Everglades is like something out of a Hemmingway book; pure adventure. Its untouched beauty should make it a top place for any fisherman to visit.

Cindy Nguyen’s first cast of the day resulted in this beautifully spotted trout.

Our morning greeting to the beautiful Florida Everglades.

Ruby suggested I work my topwater a little sloppier and immediately I caught this snook.

Max Conner

June 29th, 2019

max conner snook Max Conner

Max Conner with a TANK of a snook.

The young tournament winner on what it’s like growing up on Galveston and what’s next for the future

Where did you grow up and how did fishing become a big part of your life?

I have grown up with my grandfather; just two of us. As long as I can remember, we’d commute from Houston to Galveston EVERY weekend to go fishing.  Often, we’d fish all night on 61st Street or Jimmy’s Pier on the Seawall and travel home again on Sunday night.

In 2012, my grandfather changed careers and accepted a job on the island so we could move here and I could pursue my passion for fishing!  Our first Christmas after relocating, he bought me a kayak. I waded, yakked, and surf fished year round. Saltwater is truly in my soul.

max tarpon Max Conner

Do you have an all-time favorite catch or fishing moment?

I will always remember my first tarpon. I was 14 and had been fishing Bob Hall Pier in Corpus all weekend.  We went all night without a bite so I was set to fish the morning. I had a group of kids tell me that they saw a couple of fish roll in the morning, so I was determined. I was on the pier by 6 a.m. and hooked my

first fish by 6:15 a.m. but it jumped the hook. Shortly after, I threw at another one and hooked it good. I fought the fish for 10 minutes or so before netting it. It measured around 42 inches.

What’s your favorite species to catch?

Setting the hook on big trout will always be the best feeling. However, this past summer we fished for snook in Southern Florida for about a week and that definitely sealed the deal. We caught a dozen fish in the 35” to 43” range.

Favorite place you’ve ever fished?

Without a doubt my favorite place I’ve ever fished was Sanibel Island, Florida. The snook bite was incredible and we got to fly fish for tarpon in the mangroves, which has always been on my bucket list.

If you had to have only one lure, what would it be?

I’d say Down South Lures with no hesitation. It’s the most universal bait on the market. You can throw them in any kind of water and in any weather condition.

Tell us about your sponsors.

At age 14, soon after our move to the island, I met Hunter Welch of Fishstix.  We just hit it off and he began to build my rods.  Louis Thomas, of Black Marlin Rods, has built my shark rods.  Jason Paul with Stinky Pants fishing began to support me early on too.  Michael Bosse with Down South Lures has been a tremendous friend and sponsor too.

What are you studying in school and what are your plans after graduation?

I will be a Freshman at Texas A&M Galveston beginning in July. My degree is Maritime Administration. I’d like to either have my own business or work on the rigs when I graduate college.

Aside from fishing, what else are you passionate about?

Bird hunting is my second passion. Last year we added a beautiful black lab puppy to our family.  She’s now 11 months old, 70 pounds and loves to be on the water and bird hunt.

What else should we know about you?

I am thankful for my grandfather and the opportunities that he has provided for me.  He has sacrificed much for me to live near the water and chase my dreams.  I’ve been blessed and would like to always pay it forward.

Winter Redfish Patterns

January 1st, 2019

sheward Winter Redfish Patterns

Capt. Clay Sheward with a chunky 28″ redfish on the fly.

By Capt. Steve Soule

It’s cold, damp and dreary: the kind of weather that makes it hard to find motivation to get up and going. We are deep into daylight savings time, with short days and not nearly enough sunlight to fuel my tank, but somehow there is still some motivation to be found for winter fishing.

The bright sunny days are often few and far between. Cloudy skies and damp conditions seems to dominate our weather patterns between December and February. Where is the “upside” to this? Well, fortunately for all of us fish heads, they still have to eat.

By no means does this cover the entire weather pattern spectrum of winter, but for the shallow water enthusiast, we can start with two basic condition sets that we must learn to contend with: sunny skies or cloudy skies. With these two basic conditions, there are other trends that tend to coincide with them.

Bright & Blue

Sunny skies are typically the trend after the passage of a front, and with the bright skies an initial strong wind flow and tide movement. Sunny skies are great for the sight fisher, allowing the angler to see and target the fish. Aided by the clearer waters of winter, fish can be much more easily spotted in the shallows with bright overhead skies. This is not always an indicator of our ability to catch them, but the ability to see them is the first step when sight casting.

A Stealthy Approach

Light wind, sunny skies and clear water will require a very stealthy approach from the angler as these conditions make fish much more vulnerable and aware of potential threats to their safety. Stop well short of the areas you intend to fish or believe are holding fish and work slowly and methodically until you locate them. Loud noises, boat wakes and other pressure waves that we create can alert fish to our presence. Keep in mind that when you get a bite its definitely time to slow down and work the area more thoroughly. One of the greatest parts of winter fishing is that when you find one fish, you have likely found an area holding many fish.

Dark & Stormy

So, if sunny skies and light wind make for great sight fishing, but likely only happen once every 3-5 days, what do you do when the clouds and cooler temperatures roll back in? You must learn where the fish move as the temperatures and tides drop. It may require a fair amount of knowledge of the area you’re fishing, but falling temperatures and falling tides actually generate a fairly predictable pattern from fish.

It is important to understand about how changing temperatures effect fish movement. As a general rule, during the cooler months, if the air is warming and the water is cold, fish will move shallow as soon as the air temperature exceeds the water temperature. Much the same, when the air temperatures drop below the water temperature during cooling periods, fish will tend to move towards deeper water. Knowing this basic principle will help guide you during the winter months.

Cloudy skies have settled in, seeing the fish is virtually out of the question. Temperatures are cooler and the tides are low; where have the fish moved? Here is when you need to understand the structures in the area. Contour depth changes, reefs, and bay floor make up all play a big role in where fish will move during these conditions.

Typically, open water adjacent to the shallow marsh is the first depth contour change that will allow slight insulation from cooling water. This is also where you are likely to find some added structure like oyster reefs. Look for areas with dense dark mud as it will not only hold many small food sources, but will maintain a slight advantage in warmth as well.

Sunny vs Cloudy Days 

There will be other notable differences in these two primary patterns. Periods of sunny skies, light wind and clear water will dictate the use of smaller lures and flies, stealthy approaches and much more subtle presentations to catch fish.

When the skies are cloudy and wind has returned, and especially when temperatures are falling, it often pays off greatly to increase the size of your presentation. This is when mullet imitations can bring huge catches, not just in numbers, but often in the size of the fish. Topwater “dog walking” lures and slow sinking, suspending finesse lures and twitch baits can provide rod jerking strikes that you won’t soon forget.

catch2000 Winter Redfish Patterns

MirrOlure’s Catch 2000 is a great subsurface bait for winter.

For winter sight fishing my go-to lures would be a dark colored small swim or paddle tail soft plastic rigged on 1/16th to 1/4 ounce screw lock jig heads or a hand-tied Buggs lure. When the clouds roll in, it’s tough to find me not fishing a top water like a Super Spook or Spook Jr., or a She Dog or She Pup. I like natural colors like white, bone and chrome for clear water. Use darker colors for dirtier water or cloudy conditions.

When it’s time to drop below the surface, the Catch 2000 or Corky series are hard to beat. Pink, Texas chicken and chartreuse/gold are my go-to colors. Some interesting fun can also be found with shallow running twitch or crank baits. Again, all I can say is hang on! The strikes can take your breath away.

Putting It All Together

There is so much more to winter fishing than I can possibly cover here, but understanding the basic temperature change and fish movement will get you started. Digging deeper, you will start to notice that barometric pressure also plays a huge role, and understanding tides and structures are like the interlocking pieces of the puzzle.

Don’t let winter fishing intimidate you! It’s like any other time of year and just requires a different knowledge base to create success. As an added bonus, fishing during the clear water and low tide periods during winter may also provide you with the best education you will get all year.

Take this opportunity to learn more about bay floor structures, such as shallow areas, reefs, guts and deeper channel flows. This will help your overall understanding of where and how fish move around the bays.