Cuban Time Warp

Sometimes, a once in a lifetime opportunity comes your way and you just have to jump on it. When I received an email from Albemarle Angler about some upcoming hosted trips, it was sheerly by chance that I clicked the link to read more about one. At this point, I don’t even remember what the trip was, because I very quickly got distracted by something that was way cooler. A legal week long trip to Cuba for bonefish, permit, and tarpon. To a virgin fishery. Before Americans are generally allowed to go Cuba. I called up Scott (he’s guided me a couple times before for smallmouth bass on the Shenandoah) to ask a couple questions. It didn’t take much before I was booked. Only 9 months on the calendar until it was trip time.

The preparation phase of this trip was probably the worst. I had done one day of fishing for tarpon on the flats, but other than that, never before done any sort of tropical fly fishing. I was no stranger to the flats targeting redfish, but this was a different beast. Other than pictures, I had never even seen a bonefish or permit before this trip. I had no idea what to expect, what flies to tie, or how much gear I really needed to buy (OK, buying the gear was fun). Luckily, Scott and crew were always a phone call away to make sure I came all set up, well stocked, and well prepared. Note: as good as they are, they can’t force you to remember to pack that rain jacket. Brrrr.

20160220_125946Finally, it came time to get on the plane to Cuba. Well, to Canada first, since we still don’t have commercial flights. My excitement really started building as we’re approaching the Cayo Cruz airport. You could see incredible expanses of flats everywhere. Wetting a line was only a day away, but felt like it was still an eternity.To be honest, I wasn’t even sure I was going to make it on the trip. I got a lovely diagnosis of the flu four days before I was supposed to leave. Luckily, that tamiflu stuff is a beast.

We landed, hopped in a couple taxis, and made the two hour drive to the lodge. It quickly became quite obvious that we were not in a place we were used to. There were very few cars – although there were far more new cars than I was expecting mixed in with the classics. Sugar cane fields were absolutely everywhere. And the main mode of transportation for people was donkey carts.  Upon arrival to the lodge, we were warmly greeted by the staff and were quickly fed some mojitos. After dinner, we did introductions, met the guides, and planned out the following day. The fishing area is broken out into 6 zones. Generally, they only have one boat operating in each zone, although they’re big enough that you could never run into each other if you share a zone.

OK, well this one wasn't my first, but close enough!

OK, well this one wasn’t my first, but close enough!

The marina was about a 30 km drive from the lodge, which took a little over an hour due to the terrible roads. We got to the marina early the first day to rig up our rods, then hopped in our boats and went off. This is where my forgotten rain jacket would’ve come in handy. The boat spray and the downpour we had in the first hour made for a chilly morning. The first day, I fished with Carson, the owner of Albemarle Angler and co-host of the trip, and our guide Nelson. Carson knew I had never caught a bonefish before and wanted to get some footage of my first. We waded a massive lagoon (it took us over 6 hours to fish half of it), so I had Nelson and Carson’s eyes helping me look for my first bone. It took a while, but we finally found a school of about 10 bonefish swimming right at me. I dropped my Gotcha into the fray and had one bite, but I couldn’t connect. I kept stripping, got another strike, but couldn’t connect again. A quick recast and I got tight. The bonefish took off screaming, but my Hatch Finatic 7 Plus was no match for slowing it down. Before long, my first ever bonefish was in hand.

After the rush of my first, Carson started fishing on his own as well. It was tough conditions with a cold front having come through and lots of clouds. That didn’t stop the fish, nor stop us from catching them. Carson and I combined for 22 bonefish to the hand by the end of the day – 13 for him and 9 for me. I got one barracuda, which was a blast, and had a lemon shark eat about 10 feet from me, but he broke me off 10 seconds later.

As the week progressed, conditions got better and better. On my second day, I finally got a shot at a permit. I dropped the fly in front of the fish, and heard the guide yell “Strip! Strip! Strip! SET THE HOOK!” A long pull with my left hand and…. I pulled up two feet of slack and watched the permit spook away. Whoops.

There was something about me and my boat that seemed to attract permit. I had by far the most shots at permit, delivering the fly to around 20 fish. I only got two fish to eat – that first one, and the very last one I saw – but couldn’t come tight to either. One of the other guys had a bonefish steal the fly out of a permit’s mouth. But, that was the closest anyone got to catching one that week. It was tough conditions all week for permit and not prime time, but we still go in our shots.

Toward the end of the week, we had a glass-calm morning. The guide said we were starting out looking for tarpon. With the calm weather, we had a good chance at finding some of the resident tarpon rolling. We saw the first roller only a couple minutes after getting to the flat. We pulled up, the guide pointed a fish out, and I dropped in the fly. A fish ate, but I only stung his lip. Next cast, another eat, but I set too soon and pulled it out of his mouth. Nothing on my third cast. Fourth cast brought a mangrove snapper to hand. My fifth cast turned out another eat. I yanked on the line and got solid contact. The guide starts telling me to set the hook again. The tarpon started running directly at me and past the boat. As I’m trying to keep from getting slack, let alone another attempt at a hook set, I get jumped. I turned over the bow to my boatmate after that, but we couldn’t get another shot. Carson ended up landing one the next day.

Barracuda stichedOf all the fish I caught the whole trip, my favorite by far was barracuda. I caught two on the trip, with the second being a pretty hefty specimen. These fish will take 100 yards of backing in about 10 seconds. Apparently, most jump, although I only had my second one jump. He was a feisty one. Once hooked, he started jumping and tailwalking as if he was a sailfish. With each jump, he’d easily clear 40 feet of water before going back to swimming rather than flying.

IMG_2714There were quite a few unique things about the Cuban fishing. First, these bonefish are stupid. You can completely miss your cast, even dropping it 5 feet behind the fish, and it’ll come back and destroy your fly. You can get a bad hookset, pop the fly out, and it’ll pick up the fly again. Even with a couple cold fronts coming through and less than ideal conditions, bonefish were always fairly plentiful. Over the week, I caught about 30, despite focusing on permit several days. The flats are quite unique as well. There are more than a few areas where the flats go on as far as you can see. Some are easily over a square mile. While I have no comparison since this is my first trip, I was told some individual flats are bigger than all of Ascension Bay. Lastly, no matter what flat you’re on, you always have a chance at seeing a permit. In fact, there wasn’t a day where either I or my boatmate didn’t see a permit. Because of that, more often than not, I wound up throwing my 10 weight Helios 2 just in case we ran into a permit. But, that didn’t stop the bonefish from putting up one heck of a fight. Many would take us well into our backing. While the fish weren’t necessarily too long compared to other destinations, they were far fatter. The average fish was 4-5 pounds, with quite a few hitting the 10 pound mark.

So far, the Cuban fishery has been amazing. Hopefully, it will stay that way. Luckily, the Cubans are very proud of their environmental resources and actively try to protect it. However, as things begin opening up with the US, who knows what will happen. Surely, it will get way more expensive. If you want to go, make some moves quick. Albemarle Angler is hosting another trip to Cuba in December 2016. I highly recommend getting in before things start to change!

October Redfish

“This one’s only a baby!”

How many times have you been able to say that in all honesty while fighting a 12 lb redfish? Well, hitting the marshes of Louisiana during October, you can. I joined Captain Greg Moon of Louisiana Fly Fishing Charters for a 4-day trip to the marshes during some prime October fishing. As luck seems to have it with me, weather would not be friendly for the whole trip. A front moving after the first night in was predicted to whip up winds too strong to fish, so we had to make the good weather on day 1 count since it looked like it would be the only day I’d get to fish.

Fish on the flats

Look carefully at this picture. Every light marking in the water is a fish. This particular school was heavy on the black drum, but had plenty of redfish mixed in as well.

This time of year, the fish school up like crazy. And I’m not talking like in South Carolina where you’re getting schools of 5 pound fish. I’m talking about the big boys and girls. Your average fish is in the twenty pound range. Acres of fish, too. Some schools, like the one pictured, were heavy in black drum, but still had plenty of redfish mixed in. Others schools were predominantly redfish. The schools had one thing in common though – they were HUGE. Acres of fish.

Redfish on the MarshThroughout the day, we stopped counting the fish I caught, but it was somewhere in the ballpark of 20-25 redfish and two black drum. I only caught two fish all day under 20 lbs. The average fish was in the mid 20-lb range, with a few creeping close to 30 pounds. There were definitely some 30+ pound fish in the schools, but I missed my shot on them or had a smaller one take it away. Towards the end of the day, I even stopped casting to fish that didn’t have a shot at going 30+. To put it bluntly, this was the single best day of fishing I have ever had in my life. I know if the weather would have held, I would’ve found my 30 lb fish over the next several days. Look below for the rest of the pictures from the day!

Ready to book? Good luck! October dates book up WELL in advance. In fact, Greg already has all of October and most of November 2016 booked already, so check out 2017. Don’t fear, though – the entire year has fantastic fishing! Give Greg a call at (702) 497-1673. Additional contact information is on his website. Don’t forget to check out his photo gallery for some seriously amazing pictures of fish his clients have put in the boat. Half day trips run $475 for up to 2 people, and full day trips go for $600. Once you go, come back and leave a review!

Big school of redfish

Big school of redfish

Beautiful shot of a tail on the release

Beautiful shot of a tail on the release

Nice action shot

Nice action shot

Black drum on the fly

Black drum

Redfish on the fly

One of many redfish

Redfish release

Redfish release

Redfish on the fly Redfish on the fly

James River Smallmouth with Matt Miles

My wife begrudgingly rolled over when the alarm went off at the hotel. We were to meet our guide, Captain Matt Miles, at the boat ramp for a smallmouth float on the James River in about an hour. Like a trooper, Susanna rolled over and looked like she was filled with regret with her decision to humor me and join in on the fishing trip. I’ve fished with Matt a few times before, twice for musky and once for stripers (yikes, I just realized I never wrote about that trip!), but this would be the first time getting out with him to focus on smallmouth.

We rolled up about two minutes early with Matt waiting patiently and strung up our gear. Matt’s dad ran the shuttle with us, saving us an extra trip by car on each side. Matt told me and Susanna that we would be fishing topwater today – but I already knew that. Who would possibly fish any other way in late August?

We got onto the water, and it was time for Susanna to demo her casting skills. Being a novice as-is, this was her first time casting in about two years, and the rust was really showing. Matt was prepared though. After a five minutes of casting lessons, she already was casting better than I had ever seen before.

With everyone’s casts in check, we began the real float. The first stretch would be slow. For some reason, it seems every single float I’ve ever done is terrible through the first and last half mile of river. We get along some shoreline grass, and Matt tells me to be ready for a fish cruising the grass line. Sure enough, I get nailed by a 12-14” smallie. The skunk was off.

Matt-Miles-Smallmouth-On-The-FlyThe next fish slurped the fly like a trout taking in a midge. It barely even left a surface riffle. It was a true sign of a giant. Sure enough, my 7-weight bent hard. We battled back and forth, and I struggled keeping it out of the submerged grass. Matt gave me pointers on properly fighting the bronzeback. Go figure, after 15+ years of chasing smallies on the fly, you can still learn the right way to fish and fight fish. Matt netted my quarry. It measured just over 20 inches – a Virginia citation fish.

The next several fish alternated between the “fun size” 12-14 inch fish and the hefty 17-19 inch fish we were after. We caught so many fish in the 16-inch plus class, we stopped counting. I had another fish in the 20 inch range on the line, but a last second dodge of the net and dive under the boat left him swimming away with the popper in his mouth. I was blown away by the sheer number of quality fish. There was even a huge one that we watched sip the popper. In my excitement, I fumbled the hookset and missed. I said, “Well, that’s OK. It wasn’t quite as big as the first one.”

Matt quipped, “Hey man, whatever helps you sleep tonight.”

Ready to book with Matt Miles? For some of the best fly fishing in southwest Virginia, give Matt a call. Rates start at $300 for a half day float or wade trip.

Sugar Hollow Farm with Albemarle Angler

Moormans River

The scenic Moormans River on Sugar Hollow Farm

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to get out on the water with Cole from Albemarle Angler to target some rainbow trout. We fished a private stretch of the Moormans River that’s on Sugar Hollow Farm just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. Albemarle Angler has access rights to about 3/4 of a mile of this river, and they stock it each year with a hefty number of trout. Unfortunately, there’s really no wild or holdover fish in this river since it’s a tailwater fed with water from the top of a dam, and it just gets too warm during the summer to support the trout. This does make for a hefty smallmouth population, though!

My trout experience is pretty limited in rivers. Growing up on Cape Cod, the only trout you really caught were in lakes, with the extraordinarily rare catch of a sea-run brown trout. Since I focus so much of my time on warmwater or saltwater species, I haven’t had tons of time to learn proper ways to read a river or practice delivering a fly to a trout. I usually only get out for trout once or twice per year, and never in the winter. I was very excited to start picking up new techniques to add to my arsenal.

Rainbow TroutWe suited up and got in the river. It was pretty stained from the previous day’s rain, but wasn’t too muddy. Cole tied on a Kreelex for me, and told me how to fish the first hole. A few casts in, I get my first strike. After a hard fight and some acrobatic jumps, we have about a 14″ rainbow in the net. A few casts later, I was hooked up again with another beautiful, hard fighting rainbow trout.

The trout Albemarle Angler put in the river aren’t your standard stocked trout. They feed on natural river-based food, rather than hatchery food. The fish still readily take a fly, but their natural diet makes them a bit more wily, and much closer to a wild trout than your typical stocker.

Rainbow Trout

Another nice rainbow trout released

I was impressed with how well Cole knew the waters. Despite the stained water, he could tell me exactly where every feature of the river was. He knew where the ledges were, where I could walk out on a sandbar, and where to avoid so I didn’t snag. All I could see was muddy water. This knowledge paid off, though, and he kept me on fish all day. He knew when to switch up the fly, and just how to present it to maximize your chances at a strike.

Ready to book with Albemarle Angler? Be sure to leave a review if you try them out! They can be reached at albemarleangler@gmail.com via email or by phone at (434) 977-6882. Rates for a full day floats are $350 including lunch, and wading trips start at $225 for a half day. Albemarle Angler targets smallmouth bass from mid-March through mid-October, and trout (brook, brown, rainbow, and tiger trout!) from mid-September to mid-June depending on water flows. They fish the Shenandoah and James Rivers for smallmouths, and various rivers, streams, and creeks (including some private water) for trout. Albemarle Angler is also a full service fly shop located at 1129 Emmet St, Charlottesville, Virginia, 22903. As if all that isn’t enough, they also coordinate fly fishing trips across the globe.

Can’t get the Musky off my back

I have my flaws – too many to list here, in fact. But the one that gets me is I get obsessed about things. Fishing, obviously, is one of them. Musky happened to be a sub-obsession. With the weather getting cooler, the musky fishing was picking back up here in Virginia. You might remember from an earlier blog post, my friend Joe and I went after some musky on the fly with Matt Miles Fly Fishing. Joe caught one and had another strike. I got nothing more than a single follow and a tired arm. I felt shunned by the fish. Why didn’t he eat my fly? Mine must have looked just as tasty. I had to have my revenge.

With fall starting to hit full swing, Joe and I set up trip number 2 with Matt Miles on the James River. The weather was crap. Cool and overcast all day. A couple hours of rain in the morning, then misty and a shower or two the rest of the day. It was one of those days where the weather was only good for sipping some bourbon by the fire. And musky fishing.

Matt was determined to put me on my first musky. We hit a different section of the James this time than we did last time. We launched and found the first fish right at the ramp. It swam off as we floated over it, but still made a few throws. I got the follow a couple times, but no strike. Maybe the next hole would be better.

Matt taught us a trick cast, and how to throw a single hand rod with two hands. It was great. I was effortlessly throwing the half a chicken worth of feathers 80-feet plus all day without getting tired. This came in great use working more water with each cast.

It turned out, this wasn’t going to be my trip to get revenge. Instead, the fish just laughed at me. Joe and I combined for over 14 follows the whole day, but we couldn’t coax a strike out of even one of these beasts. We saw some real tanks too – probably some that were close to 50 inches. Even though we never bent a rod on a fish, it was one of the more exciting days I’ve had of fishing. There’s nothing like watching a giant torpedo follow in your fly, then circle around with your figure 8, just contemplating whether it should pounce.

The fish of 10,000 casts is beginning to live up to it’s name for me. I’ll be back out there soon, and hopefully I’ll get one to cooperate. In the meantime, look up Matt Miles and see if you can beat me to the punch and get one of these bad boys to eat your feathers. After you go, come back and tell us about it, then leave Matt a review!

All pictures are courtesy of Matt Miles Fly Fishing.

Fly fishing for Musky

Hard at work trying to coax a musky into taking my fly

James River Tree

A brilliant tree on the James River.

James River

The foliage was beginning to turn on the James. Made for some nice scenery.

The Ghosts of Redfish Past

Ever since my first trip down to Louisiana to fly fish for some of the giant redfish, I haven’t been able to get those pigs out of my mind. I think redfish, sleep redfish, and, well, eat redfish. Luckily, I get down to New Orleans quite a bit and always try to tack a day of fishing onto my trip. But just one day was never enough. Getting great weather on any one single day isn’t a guarantee, and even if it is great, the day goes by WAY too fast. So, I booked a three day trip back down to the marsh with Captain Greg Moon of Louisiana Fly Fishing Charters.

As it turns out, three days isn’t enough either. I booked this past weekend almost one year ago. September and October is historically some of the best weather and fishing conditions you can get, so those months are often 100% booked six months or more out. The best tide days can book more than a year in advance. Of course, booking that far in advance, you have no idea what the weather will be like and if you’ll have seasonally unusual conditions. It didn’t cooperate.

Day 1

The forecast called for high winds and an 80% chance of afternoon thunderstorms. To top it off, the marsh had been dealing with high water conditions for almost the entire month of September. Nonetheless, Greg said we’d be able to get out there.

Morning time came, and we hit the launch, greeted by the predicted high winds and overcast skies. We ran out to where Greg thought the water would be the cleanest and we’d have a little protection from the wind. Not too long after we get out there, we see some fish working, but I couldn’t deliver the casts. Battling the wind and low visibility from the cloud cover made fishing a challenge. A few giants came and went, ignoring my inaccurate casts.

Greg finds me a medium sized fish that was eating and happy, and I finally deliver a decent cast that the fish sees. It chases down the fly as I’m stripping it back to the boat. Just as the fish lunges to eat, I snag a small piece of marsh grass, tricking me into thinking that was the strike. I strip set, only to realize I hadn’t connected and simply pulled away the fly from the fish.

Close to noon, we see a tail waving at us from 100 yards away. We both knew this fish was a monster. We worked the boat closer and closer, Greg doing everything he could to keep the boat on the flats in 20-plus knot wind. The tail looked to be the size of a dinner plate. I got the line ready as we slid into position. This fish was as happy as could be. I knew if I can drop the fly in the right spot, I’ll be battling a 35 pound redfish.

I double haul and shoot the line out. The wind carries my fly about 4 feet left. I pick up and cast again with the same result. One more pick up, but I compensate for the wind this time. I drop the fly, and the wind dies, leaving my fly 4 feet right. One more pick up and lay down, and the tail disappears. I blew it.

We stayed out another 20 minutes or so as the wind kept picking up even more. Finally, we had to call it a day. Casting was near impossible, and holding the boat in position was even more of a chore. The giants evaded me today, but I still had two more days.

Day Two

I wake up at 5 AM to get ready. Ten minutes later, I see my phone light up from Greg. It’s the dreaded call. Winds are even crazier, and water levels are a foot higher than the already high water levels. Rain was certain, too. Greg said he’d take me out if I wanted, but recommended we save up for tomorrow. While you never want to lose a day fishing on your trip, it’s a sign of a great and ethical guide to not take you for an expensive boat ride in crappy conditions with little chance to catch fish.

I hit the hay for a few extra hours of sleep before waking up, watching some football, and grabbing a couple beers and raw oysters.

Day Three

My last day on the marsh was shaping up to be a little better. The forecast called for the clouds to clear and the winds to lay down. We couldn’t shake the high water though. No one is really sure why the water won’t fall. According to the local guides, the only time you see water levels like that is right after a storm – which they didn’t have. But, we were still going to make the best of it.

The morning started off with a few clouds and still a pretty good breeze, but definitely fishable weather. With the high water, fish were more spread out with more places to find food. Most of the fish were laid up on the bottom. Since the water wasn’t gin-clear yet, the low light made it tough to spot most of them until you’re on top of them. My sweet spot for casting on the mark is 30-50 feet – we were getting 10 foot shots at best. I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried casting an weighted fly accurately with little more than a leader, but it is not easy.

I get a shot at a 20 pound fish. Stripping the fly, I can tell it was just far enough outside the fish’s strike zone for it to ignore it. Out of nowhere, a decent slot redfish nails the fly. I put it in the boat, happy to have the skunk off my back for the trip.

The clouds finally start to part, giving us some much needed light. It was still tough seeing some of the laid up fish, but at least we had more shots from more reasonable distances.

We still hadn’t gotten the giant I was hunting. Greg found me another, but I just never saw the fish. It’s pretty amazing how a 40 inch fish can be completely invisible to someone 30 feet away. I put several more slots in the boat over the rest of the day, but that would be last giant fish we’d have any opportunity to catch. One more bull made an appearance, but disappeared before we were in casting distance.

Even though I didn’t get the trophy I was after, I still had a blast. The weather didn’t particularly cooperate, but that’s part of fishing. The difference between a good and great guide is in how he handles the situation. With the high water and tough weather, many guides would either call it, or give up before the day even started. Greg dealt with what he could control – reading the conditions, finding the fish, and positioning the boat for me to get a shot – in the best way possible and gave me as many opportunities to catch a fish as possible. I have learned my lesson though. Next year, I’m doing four days.

If you want to fly fish for some trophy redfish on the fly rod, there’s no better place than the marshes of Louisiana. If you go, look up Greg Moon and let him know we sent you. After you go, come back and leave a review for Louisiana Fly Fishing Charters!

Matt Miles, the King of Musky Fly Fishing

I’ve long known about the musky populations in Virginia rivers such as the New, James, and Shenandoah. Going after them has always been a fleeting thought in my head, but never made an honest effort to try to catch one. That all changed after a post on the message board of my local fly fishing club, Tidal Potomac Fly Rodders, with a picture of one of these beast’s toothy grin caught on a trip with Matt Miles – who I’ve dubbed the King of Musky Fly Fishing – of Matt Miles Fly Fishing. The wheels started turning. At a Tidal Potomac “Beer Tie” (a beer tie is an excuse for a bunch of guys to drink beer while tying flies and trading fish stories and lies), I met Joe and the musky idea came up. It was all but a done deal after that, and we were on our way to try to catch the fish of 10,000 casts.

Our first attempt at going out with Matt was postponed due to a massive rainstorm completely blowing out the James River. Early June brought around our second attempt. This time, a rain storm added a little bit of flow and quite a bit of color, but not too much to call it off for a second time. Our 6:30 AM meeting put us on the river around 7 AM. We’d be targeting musky, but throwing some smallmouth flies in between musky holes.

Matt likes to throw big flies for musky. I don’t mean “big” like 4 inch deceivers. I mean BIG. The flies look like they’re the product of a weird science project to combine a full size chicken and squirrel. We’re talking 10, 12, or even 14 inch flies. Throwing a wet sock is no easy task. Minimizing your false casts and double hauling is a requirement to having a chance of throwing this 11 weight all day.

Matt likes to throw big flies for musky. I don’t mean “big” like 4 inch deceivers. I mean BIG. The flies look like they’re the product of a weird science project to combine a full size chicken and squirrel. We’re talking 10, 12, or even 14 inch flies. Throwing a wet sock is no easy task. Minimizing your false casts and double hauling is a requirement to having a chance of throwing this 11 weight all day. If you learn to water-load, that will really help you late in the trip when you think your arm is about to fall off. My nice long casts from the early morning turned into mustering all my strength for a pitiful 30 foot cast by the last hole.

James River Smallmouth Fly FishingOur day started off pretty slow. There were no musky to be seen. No strikes, no follows, nothing. You shouldn’t expect to see one every cast or every hole, but we were just getting blanked completely. To top it off, we couldn’t even muster a strike or follow from a smallmouths between musky holes. We were starting to get suspicious if fish actually lived in the James at all. Matt changed up my fly to a Tequilly and that woke up the smallies. This section of the James is still recovering from a fish kill and a few poor spawns, so most of the smallmouth were pretty small. That was OK, though, because this river isn’t a place we would have gone to target the smallies. Even still, I ended up with a couple decent size fish that are an absolute blast on the fly rod. Joe wasn’t having quite the same luck and was quick to blame me for stealing all the good holes from the front of the drift boat.

We stopped for a stream-side picnic lunch before picking back up to try to find that elusive Musky. Joe took over the front of the boat (no more excuses from him now!) and we started slinging our water-logged birds. We approached a hole that Matt said was ripe with potential. Joe just about had his fly in the boat when I hear “MUSKY!!!!” and see Joe’s rod doubled over with an angry torpedo taking flight. It must have been his 10,000th cast.

James River Musky Fly Fishing with Matt MilesThe musky tried its best to escape, but was no match for the 11 wt Helios 2. Joe subdued the fish and Matt scooped it up. It was officially the first Musky either of us had ever caught, and the first one I had even seen in person. At about 33 inches, it wasn’t the biggest fish in the river, but was no baby either. Matt whipped out his camera and snapped a few pictures. As you can tell from the photos, Matt definitely has some photography skills as well as fishing skills. Matt got the fish back in the water and release him to fight another day.

About 10 minutes later, we pull up to another hole. Matt points out some fishy water, and Joe tosses his fly towards the spot. BOOM! An enormous musky hits his fly. This fish had to have been at least 50 inches. Unfortunately, the hook point didn’t find its way home and the best view we got was the flash of the fish. Joe and I each got one more follow, but couldn’t coax either fish to eat. By the end of our long day, Joe and I were both exhausted. I’ve never wanted to stop fishing before – and this wasn’t didn’t become the first time – but I just could make another cast to save my life.

For a unique fly fishing experience, be sure to call up Matt. Central and Southwest Virginia has some fantastic fishing, and this definitely needs to be on your bucket list. Matt guides year round for smallmouth and trout, and recommends September through June for Musky. I’m already starting to make plans to get back out there with him this fall. Rates start at $275 for a half day and $375 for a full day. Book a trip with Matt and come back and leave a review! Check out a short GoPro-filmed version of the trip on YouTube.

James River Musky with Matt MilesJames River Musky with Matt Miles Fly Fishing

Offshore Fishing Aboard Bouncer’s Dusky 33

Snowstorms, frigid temperatures, torn up roads, and sluggish fish. That’s the best of what Washington, DC has to offer in late February. It has been a long winter, so the obvious solution was swinging down to Miami to visit my friend from college, Kyle. We booked an offshore trip with Captain Bouncer Smith aboard Bouncer’s Dusky 33. I have always heard such great things about Captain Bouncer, I had to get out fishing with him.

Our day started off with us running a couple minutes late to pick up some sunscreen. Josh, the mate, greeted us and loaded our lunches onto the boat. Captain Bouncer, told me that my sunscreen would be left behind. It was Banana Boat. No bananas on the boat! I guess that’s what happens why you try to get your supplies minutes before the trip. Luckily the Captain was well stocked up with sunscreen for us to use anyway.

Fire Boat

We push off and start making our way off the docks. It doesn’t take long to add more excitement, and we haven’t even wet a line yet. We see a thick plume of black smoke up on the harbor. A sailboat was on fire! Captain Bouncer called it in, and we raced over to the scene to observe and ensure everyone was safe. Luckily, no one needed additional assistance and the fire boat was right behind us, and we got to witness the water cannons at work. After a couple minutes of gawking, we went on our way to catch bait.

Bouncer got us to the bait marker, showed us the proper way to fish the sabiki, and set us on the first drift. Nothing. Second drift, Kyle pulls up a herring. A couple more drifts, and Kyle pulls in one or two, and I don’t even get so much as a nibble. Captain Bouncer demos it again, and gets nabbed immediately. Kyle pulls up another. Bouncer pulls up a double. Kyle pulls up a double. I pull up nothing. The good-natured ribbing begins. I can’t even catch myself bait – how the heck am I going to catch something worthwhile?! Finally, after about 15 herring and pilchards were in the boat, I got my first one. That didn’t ease the ribbing though. We kept bringing in the bait with Kyle often getting a double and the occasional triple. Finally with the livewell full, we reeled in the lines and headed off to the fishing grounds. Kyle easily doubled my numbers, and didn’t let me forget that. Oh well. I guess that just makes him the Master Baiter.

Bouncer brought us a little further south than usual in search of “clean” water – and he sure found it. The beautiful deep blue water looked like something out of a painting. Combine that with the beautiful warm weather and very light seas, and it was a fantastic day on the water. Josh set the baits, and the captain gave us instructions on what to do if and when the lines pop off the wire – count to 4, flip the bail, and start reeling!

Sailfish JumpingNot even five minutes in, the boat rolls, and the line comes off the wire. My immediate thought was that it was going to be a long day if the line is simply going to pop off every time the boat rolls. Just to be safe, though, I grabbed the rod, counted to 4, and started reeling. Much to my surprise, the line came tight and went into a deep bend. We were on our first sailfish for after fishing for only a few minutes! The sail took off on a tear and started dancing at the surface. The sailfish put up quite the fight, and Captain Bouncer did a great job controlling the boat, making sure the fish wasn’t running too fast, and making sure I could keep up with the line if it ran at us.

Sailfish UnderwaterAfter about 10 minutes, I got the fish near the boat. This one wasn’t ready to call it a day though. For another five minutes, we played a game of tug and war. I’d get four feet of line; the sail would take back five. At one point, we got a legal tournament catch, but that wasn’t enough. Captain Bouncer and Josh were committed to actually getting this sailfish to the boat – they knew it was my first sail. You may remember from previous posts that each sailfish I had ever hooked popped off shortly after the battle started. The determination paid off. I finally got the sailfish next to the boat, and Josh was able to grab the bill and subdue the fish. We got the cameras ready, and Josh gently lifted the bill out of the water for a photo op. While Bouncer prepped the tag, Josh made sure the fish was fully in the water. Bouncer estimated this sailfish would weight in around 60 pounds – definitely an above average fish. The captain stuck the tag, and we let the fish swim off to fight another day. This would be the biggest fish of the day, but luckily, not the only one.

Jeff with SailfishAfter the excitement of my first sailfish, we set off for more. The day was still early. The baits were reset, and Captain Bouncer and Josh started chatting with us about what we do for work, what kind of fishing we’re into, and making general conversation. We ended up uncovering from Josh – Bouncer was too humble to admit it himself – that Captain Bouncer had just been recognized in the 2014 IGFA Legendary Captain and Crews Awards Ceremony. While we were chatting, Bouncer spotted a free jumping sailfish.

Sailfish jumping at the boatBouncer told Josh to bait a rod and pitch it out towards that direction. Josh hopped into action and stuck a herring with a circle hook. His first attempt at the pitch was thwarted by some rods in the holders behind him. Whoops. Attempt number two was much better. A few seconds after the bait was in the water, the line started peeling off the bail. With the rod now in Kyle’s hand, he flipped the bail, started reeling, and went tight on the free jumper! The fish put on another great acrobatic show, but tired much more quickly. About five minutes later, we had our second sailfish to the boat for another photo session, and Captain Bouncer tagged in before Josh released it.

Sailfish at the boat

The rest of our day was a bit slower than the beginning – but still a great day. We ended up with three quarters of a blackfin tuna – the rest of it was lost to a shark – and a third sailfish. Through the lulls in the afternoon, Captain Bouncer and Josh kept us entertained with jokes about swollen thumbs and stories of fishing. Listening to radio chatter, Bouncer seemed to always be the one everyone would call to figure out where to find the fish rather than Bouncer needed to call others. It is pretty clear why Captain Bouncer earned his IGFA distinction.

 

 

Captain Bouncer fishes year round for anything from tarpon to mahi mahi to snapper to swordfish. Basically, if it is swimming in the seas off South Florida, Captain Bouncer is catching it. Captain Bouncer offers full day and evening/night trips. Ready to book? Captain Bouncer can be reached by email at captbouncer@bellsouth.net. Have you fished with Bouncer before? Leave a review!

Blackfin TunaJumping Sailfish

 

Redfish on the Biloxi Marsh

Back in September, I tried to go out for some redfish on the flats of the Biloxi Marsh, but the weather conspired against me. Luckily, I found myself needing to get back down to New Orleans for a wedding, so I called up Captain Greg Moon of Louisiana Fly Fishing Charters to get me back out on the water. The perfect timing of the wedding got my Christmas vacation started a little early with a flight down to the Crescent City on Wednesday night just in time to grab a fantastic po’boy from Tracey’s before resting up for my Thursday excursion. The excitement of targeting this bull redfish was already building, and sleep did not come easily.

Captain Greg picked me up from the hotel early on Thursday. Even though my hotel was right on Canal St., I’m not sure how he managed to navigate that trailer through the old city streets. We headed southeast towards the launch, stopping at Penny’s Cafe for a hearty breakfast and to pick up some sandwiches for lunch. I had one of the best ham and cheese omelettes my taste buds have ever had the chance to savor. This was starting off to be a great trip.

We got down to the boat ramp, and Greg pushed us off and started motoring through the bayou. Despite the relatively warm forecast temperatures, I was glad I made the last second decision to pack my Under Amour and sweatshirt. We pulled off to our starting point, and Greg readied the fly rod. Since this was my first time on the flats for reds, he explained what I’d be looking for, what he’d be doing to get me in the right position, and how I’d need to present the fly and set the hook. We weren’t going for slot reds, so this trip would be all strip sets as if we’re targeting tarpon. I stepped up to the casting platform and readied my line. Greg had barely finished the instructions before I look down and see a giant redfish maybe 10 feet off the boat. Unfortunately, this one was too close to really do anything with, and it swam off to the horizon.

A few minutes later, I spot another redfish. Like the first, this one looked enormous – or in Greg’s words, a “donkey.” I laid down a perfect cast, and Greg says, “Strip! Strip!” The bull turned on the fly and inhaled it! In the moment of excitement, I lifted the tip and the rod bent in half. The weight of the fish became quickly apparent, then suddenly, everything went quiet. There was no longer a brick on the end of the line, and no longer a bend in the rod. Remember when I said the fly would need to be strip set? Well I didn’t. The trout-strike just didn’t have enough power behind it to drive the hook point into the tough mouth of the redfish, and it popped the hook out of its mouth. I hope I don’t make that mistake again.

What looked like it was a beautiful day to my untrained eye turned out to be actually somewhat challenging conditions. The past several days had seen nearly perfect conditions – light prevailing winds, bluebird skies, and lots of hungry fish. For my trip, a new weather system came through, bringing moisture in from the gulf. We had some clouds come through, plus slightly hazy skies – which makes it incredibly difficult to see fish. The wind changed from the prevailing northerly direction to coming in from the south, which made water levels change. A full moon likely had the fish feeding all night. All these conditions combined for finicky, spooky, difficult to see fish. Luckily, I had Greg on the push pole.

We kept getting stifled by the spooky fish, or by the time we could even see them, the boat would be on top of them. Greg moved us on to another flat and set up the drift. Shortly thereafter, Greg spots a big “floater” – which is just like what it sounds. The redfish looked like on the surface. “9 o’clock!” he calls out. I peer off the side of the boat, but just can’t pick it up. Greg starts feeding me more location details as I start up a cast blindly. “Give me 30 feet, 9 o’clock! It’s the it’s orange blob!” I still can’t pick it up the fish, but could manage to hook myself mid-cast. Of course, as soon as I do that, I see the bright, jack-o-lantern-like redfish glowing on the surface. It’s simply astounding that I couldn’t find it in the water to begin with, but that’s what comes with experience and bow time for this type of fish. All was not lost, though, Greg kept a bead on the fish while I untangled myself. Sure enough, it disappeared from my sight again somehow. Greg kept trying to give me directions on the fish as it swam off out of reach and permanently out of sight. I guess all was lost on that fish.

Despite my screw-ups, Greg wasn’t deterred. He moved us to another flat, and sure enough he found the fish one more time. This time, every direction we looked, we had some donkeys swimming around us. I cast at one, but it spooked. Greg saw one he wanted me to target and called it out. Once again, I couldn’t find the fish. I cast blindly in the direction Greg was telling me. I somehow managed the right distance, and managed to get it pretty close to the fish. “Pick up and go a few feet left,” Greg instructed. “Strip, strip, strip!” I managed to pick up the fish at this point. Suddenly, I felt the resistance on the end of the line. My instincts still started the lift of the rod, but I corrected myself halfway through and gave the line a good, strong tug.

This time, the hook stuck. The fish took off, immediately cleared the line from the deck, and started peeling off backing. Between my hoots and hollers, you couldn’t wipe that grin off my face. I’d reel in a little line, and lose a little more. I started gaining some ground, finally getting all the backing back on the reel. The redfish must have sensed this and made another blistering run. Greg explained how to “put the wood to the fish” so we didn’t unnecessarily prolong the fight. Sure enough, it worked, and the fish gave up the good fight.

29 pound Redfish

29 pound redfish with Captain Greg Moon of Louisiana Fly Fishing Charters

Greg dipped the net and got the fish. My first redfish on the fly was successfully put in the boat. Always prepared, Greg pulled out his big camera, positioned me with the fish, and snapped away masterful a few masterful photos. That’s right – not only can the man put a first-timer on a big fish, he can take a damn good picture of it too. After the photo session, it weighed in at 29 pounds on the bogagrip before he had me release it to swim another day.

I had another shot or two at fish the rest of the day. Despite a couple well placed casts, we could only drum interest up from the fish instead of another bite. With the lighting challenges being difficult enough, the sun began falling lower in the sky making sight fishing near impossible. We called it a day – a fantastic one at that.

If you’re itching for some of the best redfish fishing in the world, you really can’t beat Louisiana. Combining that with a trip to such an incredible city like New Orleans, and I’m hard pressed to come up with a better vacation. When you go, I highly recommend looking up Captain Greg Moon. Everyone knows the “best” guide for an area, but few that make those claims actually have fished with more than one or two – so I can’t tell you if Greg is the best. What I can tell you is that Greg will work his butt off to put you on a fish. He’s a guide that knows the area extremely well, knows how the fish will react and respond to different weather situations, and knows how to coach his clients. Whether you are a seasoned pro or it’s your first time on the flats, Greg will give you a fantastic chance at putting a bull redfish in the boat.

Ready to book? Give Greg a call at (702) 497-1673. Additional contact information is on his website. Don’t forget to check out his photo gallery for some seriously amazing pictures of fish his clients have put in the boat. Half day trips run $450 for up to 2 people, and full day trips go for $600. Once you go, come back and leave a review!

Full Day Islamorada Trip with Rick Killgore

***Author’s note: Sometimes I’m having such a good time, I’m not very good about taking pictures. This trip was one of those situations. The only real pictures I snapped were while I was snorkeling. Unfortunately, even those are mediocre at best. I had a very difficult time getting my usually reliable underwater camera/housing to focus on the subjects. Please forgive the lack of pictures, and the low quality of those I did include with this post.

I spent the long Labor Day weekend in the Upper Keys with my girlfriend, Susanna – who has made previous appearances in my posts. Our initial trip plan didn’t have fishing in the cards, so you can imagine my surprise and excitement when a week before we were set to leave, Susanna actually ASKED to go fishing. She wanted to do a simple half day and catch some dinner. I started scrambling to find a last minute guide in the Upper Keys that fished for snapper or grouper. I narrowed the choices down and started sending some emails and making calls for availability.

Several guides had trips, but I picked Captain Rick Killgore after chatting with him on the phone. Rick was so easy to talk to and loved to share stories about fishing in general. You could tell this was a guy that loved every minute of his job. I booked the half day trip, planning to meeting in the afternoon. Rick had also mentioned he also leads snorkeling, lobstering, and spearfishing trips – even scuba diving if he can get a divemaster to come along. After talking with Susanna and my friend Kyle, who was joining us for the trip, I called Rick back up to change to a full day combo trip.

Barracuda

Barracuda on the reef

We met up with Rick at the docks in the morning and watched some big tarpon swim under the boat as Rick was putting the final preparations on the boat. Rick pushed off and we made our way to our first stopping point. We were starting off the morning with some snorkeling on a shallow reef while we enjoyed the scenery and looked for lobster. As soon as we jumped in, I was greeted by a barracuda patrolling the reef. He casually looked at us before moving along. Swimming around the sea fans, I finally saw a couple antennae sticking out from beneath a coral head. I dove down to check it out, and sure enough, there was a nice lobster relaxing. I called over Rick who explained what technique we used, then suggested he show me how to catch the first one and he’ll hand everything over for the second. We dove down, and Rick set up the net and used the tickler to coax the lobster out of his hiding spot. As Rick expected, it went speeding out into the net. He was a quarter inch bigger than legal size, so we knew we’d at least have some good eating for dinner!

Florida Spiny Lobster

Hiding spiny lobster

We swam around for a while looking for more lobster, but around this time the purple moon jellyfish started moving in. I spent a little more time in the water, but I felt like I was getting to the point where I was spending more time dodging the jellyfish than I was looking for lobster. Susanna had already bailed on the snorkeling, so I decided to join her on the boat while Kyle finished up looking for lobsters with Rick. Kyle and Rick managed to put one more keeper lobster in the bag before Kyle gave up on the jellyfish too. While I was on the boat watching, I was wondering if I’d regret not staying out there. My mind was very quickly changed when I saw the welts on Kyle’s back from jellyfish stings. Maybe he should’ve taken Rick up on his offer of a spare protective lycra shirt…

After we got on the boat and out of our snorkel gear, we headed off to a nearby wreck to try to pull up some mutton snapper or grouper. Rick hooked on a live pinfish and dropped the bait. Kyle manned the rod as we drifted across the wreck. We see a tap-tap-tap on the rod, then suddenly it doubles over as Rick tells Kyle to reel. Unfortunately, the line didn’t stay tight. Drop number two, however, had different results. The rod doubled over again, and this time Kyle got tight. A few minutes later, the leader broke the water, and Rick pulled up the fish. It was a shark – not our targeted quarry, but still a fun fish. The next drop, I was on the rod with the same result: another bite, another shark. Even Susanna had the same luck. Rick kept us tight on fish the whole time. In fact, we never even had a drop that didn’t result in a bite. Sharks were king that day though and we probably got eight of them to the boat. I pulled up one very good size bonito that made a very strong run, but nothing that we were planning on eating. All our suspected grouper or snapper bites ended up freeing themselves before we could get them to the gaff.

After a little while of fighting the sharks, Rick moved us on to some slow trolling over the reef for some cero mackerel. Almost immediately, one of our baits got nervous. Suddenly, there was a big blow up behind the bait, but the fish missed our hook. Like the sharks, this became a repeated pattern. We’d have the fish blow up on the bait, but would just miss it. Finally, Susanna’s line actually held tight, and she fought the cero mackerel to the boat where it would become dinner in a few hours.

We kept on trolling, and Rick told us a few stories about fish he’s caught on the reef. He said it wasn’t uncommon for him to hook into mahi mahi, blackfin tuna, or even sailfish. Less than three minutes after, I see my bait starting to get nervous. Suddenly, I see what looks like a dark triangle behind the bait. As I’m trying to get the words out of my mouth to describe what I’m seeing, Rick yells, “SAILFISH!!!!!” Rick jumped in to help feed the bait to the sail, sets the hook, and the line stays tight. He immediately handed over the rod, and I started the battle. A big sailfish (easily 6 feet or more) makes his first appearance above water and goes on a tear in the opposite direction of the boat. The reel is screaming as my smile is growing. The sailfish was clearly unhappy being hooked as it unleashed another beautiful tail walk. Unfortunately, the sailfish got its wish and threw the hook, but the exhilaration didn’t go away.

Rick tried to get us on another fish before the light was gone, but the fish just wouldn’t cooperate. After a good 9 or 10 hours on the water, we headed back to the dock. Rick says he always likes to make sure his clients get at least 8 hours actually on the water. It’s a nice differentiation between other guides that consider a full day 8 hours dock to dock. Rick also doesn’t hesitate to stay on the water for some extra time if you are hot in the action, or in our case where he’s trying to get you that one last fish. We got back to the dock and Rick cleaned and prepped the Cero and the lobsters for us to bring off to get cooked.

Ready to book with Captain Rick Killgore? He can be reached at rick@fish-killgore.com via email or by phone at (305) 852-1131. Rick is a versatile captain based out of the Upper Florida Keys (Islamorada) that has both a 23′ Center Console for some reef, wreck, and offshore fishing, as well as a flats skiff for hitting the flats and the backcountry. Rick guides for everything from snapper to bonefish to tarpon to sailfish, and uses either spinning gear or the fly rod. Rick will do everything for you on your trip, or is more than happy to teach you everything you need to know. I’ll be booking Rick again for some flats fishing next time in the Keys. Make sure you leave Rick a review if you get out with him!