Monday, September 16, 2013

The Beautiful Swimmers by Mike Conner

Every fly tyer I know claims to have been an outdoorsy kid, which is hardly surprising. And when most kids go to the seashore, to either frolic or fish, which marine animal most fascinates them? Crabs!

They fascinated me, and nothing else in the water came close. Where I grew up in South Florida, a trip to a bayside public “beach” meant driving down a rough asphalt road cut through the mangroves. My dad did his best to maneuver our wood-paneled station wagon
(hold the age jokes please) around marching battalions of land crabs. I can still hear the crunching under the tires. Once there, wading knee-deep along the hard sand meant more careful maneuvering, but this time around defensive baby blue crabs that delivered one hell of a pinch. Little did I know then that one day I would be lashing yarn, fuzz and fur to hooks to make imitations of them to catch fish. 

Read the whole story and more The Beautiful Swimmers -- Fish a crab fly from top to bottom
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GEAR 1.4

New products highlighted in issue 1.4 of Fly & Light Tackle Angler

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Monday, May 6, 2013

On the Line

On the Line

Tie by the Trip

by Mike Conner, editor

It always seems to come down to rigging and tying flies at the last minute, though I do like to plan ahead. May is here, and in Florida, it seems that everything with fins comes on strong from May until mid June.

Running a publishing company and editing this iPad magazine demands carving out time to fish, and as I write this, tarpon are calling me to Florida Bay. So today I'm doing the office chair shuffle, wheeling  my chair across the "track" from my Mac to my flytying bench and back, about a hundred times so far today.

My host in Miami has found a nice bunch of fish, in the same places they were last May, and baitfish patterns on the small side, and white jigs for spin, are usually the ticket. Luckily, I have a few that I use for snook in my home waters, but its going to take another half dozen, or more like a dozen, to be on the safe side, before I drive south for the day. And it's a long day that means driving 250 miles in 15 hours if I don't spend the night. And that drive is across Palm Beach, Broward and Dade counties on a weekday. Thats a daunting gauntlet, among the worst traffic in the U.S.

Just testament on the spell that big Everglades tarpon put on me, and it's understandable, if you've ever done it.  So I'm on a roll here, and passed a dozen 'poon flies as the noon hour passed. I'll keep tying until I empty this spool of thread. That way, I'll come back with a few flies, but I hope most of them make a one-way trip, and end up, as Billy Pate used to say, "garbaged" by some silver kings.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

On the Line 

by Mike Conner, FLTA editor

'Yak Immersion 

Regardless of the relative explosion in kayak fishing in the last five years or so, I never got around to trying it. Just too much skiff fishing, wade fishing and surf fishing I suppose, and there are just so many hours in a month to fish.

But I decided it was high time take a few trips early this month, and then followed it up with a 3-day media trip hosted by Hobie Kayaks, in Port St. Joe, Florida. I had the chance to fish day and night, and in the company's impressive Pro Angler 12 boat. This one, like all Hobies designed expressly for fishing, has a a pedal system called Mirage Drive. I can't imagine kayak fishing without it, particularly where it is too deep to wade, and you have to battle wind and tide. And, big fish. You can always pedal into position for the optimum angle to make a presentation, and bring a fish to hand. That's big. Though paddling is a great way to cover ground, with or without pedals.

Kayaks are relatively stealthy, and during my kayak "immersion" tour, I managed to land a few quality fish: a 15-pound snook, 27-inch seatrout and a redfish pushing 20 pounds. So, I can see myself joining the Kayak Nation. In fact, during a few especially good fishing days, I didn't want to stop, though I had no choice in the photo below.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

On the Line

Lure Allure and the Test of Time  

By Mike Conner

Who among us hasn't tried a new lure with near-miraculous results?

What do you take away from a few hours of off-the-charts fishing with said lure?

Well, I have learned that it is the "sample size" that counts in just about everything in life, and that applies to everything from public opinion to effectiveness of a fishing lure. This week, I headed to a neighborhood bass pond that I fish a couple of times a week. It's normally good for a half-dozen small to medium bass, nothing too spectacular. It's "new" manmade water, so that factors into it.

On this day, however, I left my fly rod at home, picked up a baitcasting rod but left my usual topwater plugs and jerkbaits at home. Instead, I carried along a few new soft baits, called Airheads, that my neighbor and DOA Lure company owner, Mark Nichols, gave me to test. It is a "wakebait" for lack of a better term, that motors along on the surface when retrieved "buzzbait" style. The previous day, Mark landed around 10 bass on it, and trout and snook before that. So I was confident, and knew how to fish it.

An hour before sunset, I fished a stretch of the pond and I could not keep the fish off of it! Not only did I catch a dozen fish out of 15 or more strikes, they were bigger on average than any I had caught there before. Three went over 4 pounds, and that's the biggest three I have caught there to date. Not only that, the strikes were downright explosive, so loud in fact that a man walking his dog about 50 yards away called out and asked, "What the heck was that?"

I was still getting blow-up strikes well after dark. "Man, this lure has some allure!" I thought to myself.

But could it be that the fish on that particular day were out for blood? A cold front was closing in, and just maybe they were juiced by the falling barometer? Hard to say.

It's a common thing I find. You show the fish something new, and they lose all caution. But I credit the lure with the results, and now will begin the test of time, a test that my all-time favorite lures and flies passed with flying colors. 


A Good Omen for our Fisheries

By Terry Gibson, Senior Editor

Last week, Mike Conner, John Kelly and I left the Jensen Beach boat ramp a little after sunup, for an ambitious day of fishing and filming offshore then inshore. Success depended hugely on the weatherman being right. He called for northwest winds to 5 knots, increasing to 10 to 15 knots in the afternoon, with seas one to two feet.

That fool didn’t just get it wrong; he got it “bass ackwards.” But in a way I’m glad he did. Thanks to float plan B, we saw something none of us had ever seen before, something that I’m taking as a positive omen for our fisheries along the Eastern Seaboard.

The plan was to cruise the beach and hit some nearshore wrecks in search of cobia, big jacks and tarpon. We’d stop by the mackerel hole on the way to catch dinner, plus a few for the smoker, and then we’d run inside the Indian River Lagoon in search of pompano and trout.

There was already a one-foot chop in the river as we headed south, with shrinking optimism, toward the inlet. As soon as I broke through the inlet and turned north my 23-foot Bay Ranger north, I realized that fishing the beach was a no-go. It was two to four, short and sharp, with filthy water. So, we ran south to the mackerel hole, which is somewhat protected from swells by the north end of the Great Florida Coral Reef Tract.

It was rough enough to keep me at the helm for safety’s sake, but I enjoyed watching Mike and John put a dozen jumbo macks in the boat. It’s nice to have two guys onboard that can sling a sinking line a country mile, and who pay attention not to snag each other, or me. Despite a rocking boat and gusts to 20-knots, the only things they hooked were fish.

We ran inside and began an almost fruitless day of inshore fishing. Lots of things were working against us: a bright moon, high pressure and cold water courtesy of the cold front that had passed through two days before. The small jacks we caught felt like they’d come from a freezer. Mike caught one nice trout mid-afternoon, and we skipped a handful of small “pompa—no.” We threw every jig and fly known to fly and light-tackle anglers without earning so much as a bump. Most frustrating of all, though, was the fact that the wind dropped to nothing early afternoon, once we were 10 miles from an inlet.

About 4 pm, we decided to head back to the ramp. A couple miles back down the Intracoastal Waterway, we approached a metal channel marker. We were about a long cast away from it when a fat tripletail came clear out of the water, through a shower of glass minnows and menhaden. John put the fly on the fish, but it took softly as it sunk and the hook didn’t find home. The fish never showed again. As we idled past the marker, we looked down at a tight ball of small menhaden.

None of us could recall ever seeing a tripletail jump that didn’t have a hook in its mouth. I thought about how rare it is to see menhaden here anymore. As if reading my mind, John, who spent most of his life fishing for stripers and blues in New England, said it was just plain nice to see a school of menhaden again.

“Up north, we just don’t get ‘em anymore. Bastards catch ‘em all,” he growled.

Complaints about the dearth of Atlantic menhaden echo throughout the southeast, Mid Atlantic and New England. That’s why, right before the holidays, FLTA encouraged anglers to tell the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to conserve menhaden immediately. The Atlantic population has been reduced, pun intended, to about 10 percent of healthy levels, largely by one company, Omega Protein, which uses giant seines to remove billions of what scientists call the most important fish in the ocean fish from the ecosystem. The fish are ground up at a plant in Reedville, Virginia, and used in a variety of products ranging from dietary supplements to feed for foreign aquaculture.

I attended the historic December 12 ASMFC meeting in Baltimore, along with more than 200 other fishermen and conservation activists. I have been to hundreds of fisheries management meetings, and some of them have really tense. But nothing like this one.

At several points, when it seemed like the ASFMC would cave to political pressure and kick the proverbial can down the road, we had to stand literally over the seated commissioners raising yellow signs saying, “Conserve Menhaden Now.” This after sending more than 120,000 public comments to them with that exact message.

We won a significant reduction in the harvest—25 percent—and many of the commissioners deserve huge credit for standing strong for our marine ecosystems. Still, many of us maintain that 75-percent reduction would have been appropriate, and that number is supported by at least one technical document. But for the first time, the fishery will managed in modern ways, according to the best science, instead of by the industry for the industry. A coast-wide cap was also set on the fishery for the first time.

No scientist I’ve spoken with will say specifically when signs of recovery will appear. But they pointed out that menhaden begin reproducing early in their lives, are quite fecund, and should rebuild fairly quickly. Hopefully, if environmental factors line up, we’ll see big schools of menhaden, and really cool things like a tripletail vaulting through a pod, on a regular basis, within a few years.

Many thanks to all of you for weighing in on this crucial issue for our fisheries.

            --Terry Gibson

Saturday, January 5, 2013

On the Line

Texas to Clamp Down on "Fish Herders"

By Mike Conner, editor-in-chief

Ever since many flats skiff builders touted the shallow-running capabilities of their boats, a lazy breed of angler has surfaced, and please don't count me among them.

Sight fishing to me involves stalking the fish the classic way--with a pushpole. Now there are quiet electric motors that allow for stealthy stalking, too. Anglers running their outboard motors over shallow grassflats to take shortcuts is bad enough. What's worse is running the flats to spook schools of fish before shutting down to cast to them. In many cases, props badly scar the grassflats, and in general, the practice puts fish on high alert and ruins things for anglers who work hard to pole the flats. In many regions, the fish no longer venture into the shallows as they normally would.

Happens a lot in Florida. In Everglades National Park, resource managers established a vast Pole and Troll (motor) Zone near Flamingo, the popular fishing outpost on Florida Bay. It works. Boaters don't run roughshod over the flats there to reach redfish anymore, attributed partly to peer pressure and partly to enforcement.  In my observation, the fishing has improved. Many agree. A similar pole-and-troll zone is established in Florida's famed Mosquito Lagoon.

In Texas, the "fish herding" practice is all-too-common, so the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is looking to clarify language in state regulations regarding "fish harassment."

Here's the current law (TAC Rule 57.972) : "It is unlawful for any person to use any vessel to harass fish."

Announced Jan 3, rule clarification is up for vote, and is as follows:

"It is unlawful to use any vessel to harry, herd, or drive fish including but not limited to operating any vessel in a repeated circular course for the purpose of or resulting in the artificial concentration of fish for the purpose of taking or attempting to take fish."

 Texas can't make it any clearer than that, right? I just hope the lazy fish-herders can read, or even care.