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

How To: Fly Fishing for Grass Carp

Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a series of “How To” guides created and published by Find the Fishing.
Proof positive that the grass carp can be successfully targeted on the fly rod!

Proof positive that the grass carp can be successfully targeted on the fly rod!

The long standing debate in the fly fishing world: Is a carp a trash fish or game fish? We’ve really seen a trend towards game fish, lately, as we see more people try for the carp, and more people realizing the prize once they hook their first one. Plenty of articles are out there on fishing for carp, and there are even many guides that now specialize in fly fishing for carp. And there isn’t much reason not to – they willingly take a well presented fly (think like a bonefish, not a sunfish), they grow to significant size for a freshwater dweller, and they can even put up a few drag-eating runs. The vast majority of carp people target, though, is the common carp. A much less frequently targeted species on the fly rod is the grass carp, or white amur.

About the Grass Carp

The grass carp is not a native species to the United States. It was imported from eastern Asia as a method to control aquatic weeds. Like the Common Carp, it is also a member of the minnow family, and shares the appearance as well. Just way bigger. They can now be found in 45 states throughout the US, but generally, cannot reproduce naturally in our waters – because few areas have spawning conditions that meet their needs, and most stocked species are sterilized. There have, however, recently been confirmed reports of the Grass Carp reproducing in the Great Lakes Basin. Grass Carp are mainly vegetarian, but will occasionally munch on other animals. These fish can grow BIG (the IGFA World Record is 87 pounds, 10 ounces), and they grow fast. In the ponds I fish, a 5 pound specimen is small, and 10-15 is normal. There are a few bruisers that likely push 20 pounds.

Where to Find Grass Carp

If you’re fishing for Grass Carp in the US, they’re almost certainly stocked. You’ll often find them in man made lakes and ponds, such as community ponds or golf course ponds, to help control the weed population. Make sure you have permission to fish these waters, though, since they’re often private. Some states or localities also stock them in public waters, too.

Once you’ve located a body of water with grass carp, it’s time to find the fish. I’ve found the fish in all parts of the pond – the mud flats, weed/tree lines, the edge of grassy banks, and cruising the depths. When fly fishing, you’re fairly limited to targeting the fish you can see. The fish in each pond tend to develop habits, so you can quickly figure out the best place to find them depending on the time of day. I prefer fishing mud flats and edges of the bank, since the fish tend to be most willing to eat when they’re holding in those areas of the pond, and they’re generally the easiest to see.

Grass Carp Flies and Equipment

Whatever set up you use for Common Carp is fine for Grass Carp. I use a 7 weight Orvis Helios 2 with a Mirage reel, but I’d be just as happy throwing a 6 or 8 weight. A good drag will be very useful. Going lighter than a 6 weight could get you in trouble with some of the bigger fish if you need to apply much muscle to keep it out of thick weeds or obstructions. I typically use a flourocarbon leader, but a floating mono leader will work too. You can go light if you like, but I prefer 0X tippet. 3X broke too often on the hookset.

Despite their primarily vegetarian diet, Grass Crap will eat bugs – both your typical subsurface nymphs and insects that fall into the water. I really prefer fishing on the surface. I generally have a much easier time convincing fish to eat and fly visibility is much less of an issue on long shots or overcast days. Some of my favorite flies:

  • Boogle Bug – this fly can catch almost anything. It’s a surface popper that’s killer for most warmwater species like smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, and sunfish. I’ve also caught crappie and perch on it. Bigger versions have seen success in saltwater, and there’s even several accounts of these flies catching trout. Add Grass Carp to the list of species. I’ve had success with their “popper” style in “Solar Flare” (chartreuse), “Electric Damsel” (bright blue), and “Mossy Green.” I prefer smaller sizes for grass carp since despite being bigger fish, their mouths aren’t huge. They have a propensity to “miss” the fly, and I’ve found if a part of the fly touches their mouth before it’s completely eaten, they’ll abort the strike.
  • Terrestrials: Beetles, Ants, and Hoppers – Grass Carp have a hard time resisting a well placed bug that “fell” into the water. I haven’t had any luck with a dragon/damselfly on the surface yet, though. Whatever you do, make sure the patterns are tied on an extra strong hook. You aren’t going after 12″ trout. I’ve had several fish straighten the hook on a small beetle. My favorite fly is a beetle pattern from Orvis in size 12.
  • Soft Hackles: I prefer fishing these without beads so they stay higher in the water column and can be fished much slower.
  • Damselfly Nymphs: These work better in the summer when damsels are actually present. For most species, I like bead chain eyes, but I like lighter weight eyes (like burnt monofilament) again to fish it slower and stay higher in the water column. My go-to damselfly nymph in general is the Rob Snowhite Damsel Nymph.
  • “Grass” flies: These are really simple. In community and golf course ponds, people will cut their lawn, and the Grass Carp will feed on the grass clippings. Tie a piece of fake grass (like from a sushi platter) to an extra-strong dry fly hook, and cast it among the feeding carp after the lawns are mowed. This is kind of cheating though.
  • Nymphs and bugs: Try a scud pattern, a Hare’s Ear Nymph, or my favorite, the Steelhead Hammer in chartreuse. I use the bright color for ease of visibility. The carp don’t seem to mine. Most other aquatic “bugs” have the potential to draw interest as well.

I’ve personally never had success with bonefish-like flies typically used to target Common Carp, such as a “Headstand” or “Tickler.” Most of those imitate a small crayfish. I’m not sure if the Grass Carp just don’t want to tango with a crayfish or if there aren’t any in the ponds I fish, and therefore look unnatural, but I’ve never even had a second glance. Or, maybe I’ve just never presented those flies well enough…

Presenting the Fly

Grass Carp on the FlyYour presentation starts before you even think about your cast. Grass Carp are probably some of the spookiest fish I’ve ever targeted. You need to creep around like you’re a lion stalking its prey. If I see a fish near the bank, I don’t walk closer than thirty feet. Keep this in mind with every cast you make and every fish you approach. I’ve found fish are more spooky in the winter – or at least what counts as winter in southern South Carolina – than in the spring, summer, and fall, but all still require adequate caution. We’ll break down the presentation into two sections: topwater and subsurface.

Topwater Presentations

I limit my topwater fishing to spring through fall. The fish just seem way too spooky in the winter to put up with the splash of a popping bug landing on the surface, and there just isn’t that much terrestrial or surface activity in the winter either. I prefer not to cast to tailing or mudding fish when doing topwater. They’re rarely looking up, so are less likely to see your fly.

The ideal fish to target with topwater is one that is slowly cruising along near the surface. You have a narrow window to present the fly, so accurate casting abilities are crucial. I’ve found the ideal placement is between 2 and 3 feet in front of the fish, but not on the exact line of travel. I believe the placement of the fish’s eyes on the sides of its head makes it more difficult for the fish to see things directly in front of it, and my unscientific studies of hours targeting them seem to support my theory. Drop the fly 6 to 12 inches closer to you than the path of the fish. You can usually do this by using refraction of water to your advantage. Aim to where the fish appears it is, since it will actually be a little further away due to the wonders of physics. I avoid casting to the far side of the fish for a couple reasons – he’s less likely to see the line, and if you miss on your cast, you have less of a chance of spooking the fish. Similarly, I try to avoid casting to a fish swimming away from me.

Sometimes I like a little bit of splash when I drop a popper – you don’t always need to cast it like it’s a size 26 midge. It seems to get their attention, but definitely isn’t a requirement. Good luck with getting a size 16 beetle to make much of a splash. You have to walk the fine line between a small splash and throwing a boulder in the water, though. Once you’ve hit the water, just let the fly sit and don’t twitch it. You’ll know pretty quickly whether the fish is going to take your fly. They seem to make their decision on whether they will eat almost immediately, so you can’t give them any time to consider whether it is really food. You’ll see the fish slowly angle itself upwards and open its mouth to engulf the fly. Nothing is quick about this strike. I’ve never had a fish take topwater after the fly has been in the water for more than 5 seconds, and I’ve never had a strike on a fly that has been moved.

If you miss your cast, it isn’t always the end of the world. Just wait for the fish to swim past before you pick up and try again. The colder the season, the longer you should wait before you pick up. Once the fish is a two or three feet past the fly, it’s usually safe to start stripping it in a few times to make another throw. The only exception to waiting until the fish is past is if you are in danger of “lining” the fish. If the fish feels the leader or line hit its body, it will definitely spook.

Subsurface

Presenting a subsurface fly isn’t significantly different than topwater. You’ll have a little more luck casting at fish that are tailing, since they often are looking for things that got rooted up by their nosing around. You still want to drop the fly about 2-3 feet in front of the fish, but accuracy is less important. If you throw too far ahead, you can wait for the fish to swim closer. Imitate the natural movement of whatever nymph pattern you are using, but slow it down. I have never seen a grass carp chase down a meal. They seem to like to just stumble upon them.

Unlike my topwater presentations, I like casting across the fish when fishing subsurface patterns. Giving the fish the opportunity to see the fly with both eyes seems to help. Bring flies of several weights so you can more easily match the place in the water column where the fish are swimming. I’ve never had one pick something up off the bottom, but that doesn’t meant it won’t happen. I’ve never used an indicator with a nymph since I only sight fish, they might help in lower light or lower visibility situations. The strike is all visual for me, and once again, does not happen fast.

Setting the Hook

Yes, setting the hook requires its own section for no reason other than it took me at least ten strikes before I was able to actually hook a fish. These fish eat S-L-O-W-L-Y. Remember that. Drive it into your head like it is all that matters. Unlike a bass, their food rarely flees, so they don’t need to close their mouths quickly to make sure it doesn’t get away. Remembering that tidbit becomes extremely challenging to remember when you see a fish engulf your fly, particularly on topwater strikes. When you see the take, the key is to count to two or three and slowly and steadily strip in the line. When you feel contact, give it a little bit of a harder tug while being careful not to rip the fly out of the fish’s mouth or popping your leader. Depending on the angle of the fish, you can help make sure it gets into the corner of the mouth by slowly lifting the rod in the direction opposite of the fish’s path. The fish will often hook itself, but not always. If you react as soon as you see the take, you’ll simply pull the hook out of the fish’s mouth.

Once you’ve come tight with the fish, be ready for the battle. Some fish will act like a big roll of paper towels until you try to land it, then it’ll make a drag pulling run. Others will take off immediately and even jump a bit. Make sure you’ve got a good sized net with you, too, because these fish are not easy to land by hand.

Now that you’re ready to get out there, send us pictures of your success!

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!

Another Shenandoah Float Trip with Albemarle Angler

Earlier in June, I went on a float trip with Albemarle Angler. Despite the tough conditions, I had a fantastic time, and caught some great fish. Last time, the conditions weren’t right for topwater, so I booked another trip with hopes we’d have some better luck. After all, there’s no better fishing than topwater. I had such a great time with Scott on the last trip, I called Albemarle Anglerback up and scheduled another trip with him.

Luckily, we were met with much better conditions this time. It was a bit overcast with a light sprinkle every now and again, the water was fairly clear, and the flow was on the lower side. There was a new challenge for Scott this time though – I brought my girlfriend, Susanna, along with us. Susanna had been fly fishing only a couple times before with about a year spanning the last time she even picked up a fly rod. Scott was up to the task, though.

Scott sat Susanna in the front of the boat and pushed us off. Scott had tied on a streamer for me, and a small popper on Susanna’s line to make casting a little easier. Scott reminded Susanna of the basics of her cast and made sure she was able to get the line out. With both of us getting flies in the water, the trip was on.

A few minutes downstream, I’m working my streamer along some cover, just itching to feel that bump on the end of the line. Suddenly, I hear Scott say “Here it comes… OK, SET IT!” Confused, I looked at my fly and didn’t see anything. That’s when I turned my head to see Susanna’s rod doubled over, with about a 18″+ smallmouth attached to the other end. Scott walked her through the fight, and she managed to keep the line tight. Not only was this the first fish of the day, this was Susanna’s first fish that wasn’t a sunfish. The fish made a last ditch effort at the side of the boat as Scott went to net it, and evaded the mesh. Susanna brought it the fish back to the boatside, and Scott made another attempt at putting it in the net. Unfortunately, the fish had just a little bit of fight left in him, and managed to toss the hook as Scott swooped in. The smallmouth swam free, narrowly evading the horrors of a brief photo shoot.

With the excitement already starting, and Susanna preparing for her next cast, I had two thoughts in my head: how proud I was of my girlfriend for getting into such a giant bass, and “Oh crap, my girlfriend may have just hooked the biggest fish of the trip.”

20130803_103055Not too much later, Susanna hooks into a rock bass and a sunfish while Scott had me continuing to try some streamers. At that point, Scott decided topwater was where it was at today, and switched me over to a gurgler. Soon after, I was on my first smallmouth. It didn’t have the size of Susanna’s, but was still as fun fight. We continued to see great action on smallmouths for most of the morning. Quite the difference a great guide can make – Susanna went from hardly being able to cast to consistently catching smallmouths in a matter of a couple hours.

In the midst of all the smallmouth action, Scott floated us past some slow water with lots of cover that just screamed largemouth bass habitat. The Shenandoah has some BIG largemouth hiding in it, and I figured I’d try to pull one out of it.

Shenandoah LargemouthI laid out a nice, long cast with the green gurgler. I gave it a quick strip to make some commotion, and waited for a few seconds. I gave it another rip, and the fly made the perfect splashing action. Another pause. I watched a mouth devour the foam and fur, and set the hook. “Just an average largemouth,” I thought… until the fish made a run. I realized I had a nice one on the end of the line. The bass gave me a few shoulder leans and tried running for the cover. My Orvis Helios 2 had the backbone to turn him, but I started getting a little worried if my 3X tippet would withstand the stretching. I let him have a little line back before coercing him to the boat. Scott netted him up, and I admired the nice 20″ – 22″ largemouth sitting in the next. This fish wasn’t only long, he was fat. Scott snapped a few pictures of me and the quarry, and we let the fish swim back off into his home. I’m sure the fish let out a huge sigh of relief, but it unquestionably wasn’t as big as my sigh of relief. “At least this fish was bigger than Susanna’s,” I said to myself.

We kept on fishing, with the bite starting to slow a little as the sun started coming out. Even still, we continued getting nice reactions from the average size (12″-16″) smallmouths and some giant sunfish. We stopped on a beach for a great lunch. Scott brought along some fantastic sandwiches from a deli near Charlottesville. After scarfing them down, we continued our day.

The afternoon bite was a bit slower than the morning, although we had pockets of frenzied activity. I was still hoping for a trophy smallmouth of my own. The 16″ fish sure are fun – heck so are the 12″ fish – but bigger is definitely better. Hopefully the big fish would cooperate like his younger cousins had been. The fish were so eager to bite, I even had one fish come at my fly three separate times after I pulled the fly out of its mouth the first two times. All this pointed to a good shot at a big guy.

Big Shenandoah SmallmouthBy late afternoon, we were drifting past a bank with a nice grass patch along the edge. Scott had me casting up to it to try to coerce a fish to bite. No luck. Scott had a feeling about that section though, and rowed us back up stream to do one more float past it. I laid out my cast, popped the gurgler, and just as I was about to pick up and throw again, a flash of bronze engulfed the fly. At first I thought it was another average sized smallie, but the fish quickly set me straight with one heck of a run. The battle continued as the bronzeback put my 7wt to work. A few jumps and several hard runs later, the fish came boatside, and Scott swooped in with the net. This fish wasn’t quite as big as the largemouth, but it fought a heck of a lot harder. It even rivaled the size of the fish Susanna lost at the boat.

We took a few more fish to the boat through the rest of the afternoon, but nothing else that rivaled the size of our earlier fish. Nonetheless, Scott once again proved his ability to put his clients on fish consistently. This time, the topper was proving he can do it with inexperienced fishermen (and fisherwomen!), too.

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.

Float Trip with Albemarle Angler

This summer has been pretty busy, so when I realized I had a spare weekend day to hit the water, all I wanted to do was head out to the Shenandoah Valley and catch some fish. I started calling up some guides, and luckily, despite only having about a week’s notice, Scott from Albemarle Angler was available for a full day trip this past Saturday. As the trout season was dwindling down, Scott suggested we do a smallmouth float – which was fine by me since Smallies are one of my favorite fish to catch, period. We decided on a several mile stretch right out of Shenandoah, VA.

In the days before the trip, I started getting a little nervous. A big storm was supposed to roll through Thursday, and I began suspecting the river would get blown out. Luckily, it tracked just far enough to have a minimal impact on the water levels. Scott called me the day before the trip for finalize details, and he said the water would be high, but fish-able. Disaster averted.

Muddy Water

I met up with Scott at the boat launch and discovered the water had a bit more color than we were expecting. We didn’t think we’d have crystal clear water (and frankly, didn’t really want it), but the water had maybe about a foot of visibility. Yikes. It looked like I was going to have a challenging day ahead of me. We got our rods rigged up – two with floating lines, and one with a sinker – and Scott pushed us off and down the river.

The morning was tough. We threw almost everything in our collective fly boxes and couldn’t get so much as a strike. We tried clousers, worms, hellgramites, hogsuckers, small flies, big flies, purple flies, black flies, green flies… and the fish just plain ignored it. Or didn’t see the fly. It was a rough first few hours, but at least I was outside and relaxing. The morning grew older, and I still hadn’t gotten a strike. Trying to find something that would work, Scott found a nice feeder creek, and anchored us up at the confluence. It had everything we could want – clearer water, an eddy, and some dead water too. Scott pointed out exactly where to toss my fly, but my luck still didn’t change.

Largemouth Bass

We spent a good 10 minutes on this spot changing out flies, but I just couldn’t convince the fish I’d give them another day to live if they just bit my fly. Scott was certain this was the spot though. He picked up his rod, rigged up with a Kreelex, and tossed it out as well to double our odds and find what the fish were biting. A couple casts later, and he connects! He quickly hands the rod over to me, and I pull in a BIG sunfish. It wasn’t a smallmouth, but at least we got the skunk off the boat. He tells me to keep fishing that fly now that we got a bite. I make my next cast, and WHAM! Another hit – this one a lot stronger. After a nice battle, Scott netted a great size largemouth bass!

Shenandoah Smallmouth BassWe kept on that spot for another 20 minutes or so. I ended up connecting with our first smallmouth of the trip, and a second one shortly thereafter. We left the confluence shortly after I nailed another big sunfish. Armed with our knowledge of the recipe for success, we moved on for some new water. It wasn’t too long before I felt that tug and set the hook on another smallmouth. This guy struggled, danced, and tried to jump his way off the hook, but he was no match for us. A few photo ops, and he was off to swim another day. I was really hoping he’d tell his buddies to come play.

Scott and I started to feel our stomachs grumble a bit, so we pulled over for lunch – which was included in the cost of the trip. Scott brought the coolers on shore broke out some chips, and opened the cooler. I expected something nice and simple, like a deli sandwich. Next thing I know, Scott is breaking out a portable gas grill! The menu was not ham sandwiches today. We were talking gourmet, freshly grilled burgers topped with cheese, bacon, sauteed onions and sauteed mushrooms on ciabatta! It tasted just as great as it sounds, too. Normally, I wouldn’t even write a sentence about the lunch on a one-day fishing trip, let alone a whole paragraph, but I felt it was important. It can often be difficult to differentiate good guide services from great ones, or great ones from the best – but to me, such a specialized touch makes it tough to parallel. Sorry, Scott, hopefully I didn’t set the bar too high for you for the future!

Shenandoah SmallmouthAfter lunch, we set off for more battles. We kept the Kreelex on the line, and that kept the smallmouths on the line. Scott did great work constantly picking out the eddies and pockets he wanted me to fish. Each time, I would drop a fly in and get a hit. Scott even put up with me occasionally casting into the trees. He’d dutifully row the boat over for me to free up my fly. Of course, I would always pick my opportunity to get the fly caught up when we were in the fastest water and it was toughest for Scott to row. Our fears of a slow day turned into Scott commenting on the great numbers we put up – at least for the conditions. I didn’t really count, but I would guess we had at least 15 smallies to the raft by the end of the float. Add those on to several bruiser sunfish and the largemouth, and it was plenty to keep me entertained! I had a great experience with Scott. He has quite the fishing background having spent a significant time both out west and in the Shenandoah area. I’m already determined to get out with Scott and Albemarle Angler for another float this summer, and am looking forward to giving them a try when the trout start biting again.

View on the ShenandoahShenandoah Redbreast Sunfish

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 wasn’t enough, they also coordinate fly fishing trips across the globe.

2 Days of Islamorada Tarpon Fly Fishing with Randy Stallings

Over Memorial Day, I did two days of tarpon fishing on the fly with Captain Randy Stallings. My trip got off to a pretty rough start. Storms rolled through the east coast, and I was faced with severe delays. After several hours of sitting at the airport and wondering if my flight was even going to take off, I finally heard those magic words: “We’re now boarding the flight to Miami.” We touched down a little after 1 AM, and by the time I grabbed my rental car, drove to Islamorada, and checked in to my hotel, I was getting to sleep a little after 3 AM.

Islamorada Flays

After a brief nap, I met Captain Randy at 7 AM at the docks. He was all loaded up and ready to go, so I hopped aboard his 18′ Hell’s Bay flats skiff, and we headed out to the fishing grounds. Although I’ve read as much as I could find about tarpon fishing, this was my first time out of the flats, so I had no idea what to actually expect. It was an absolutely beautiful day. Calm seas, clear water, and blue skies. A short trip to the flats and Randy cuts the motor and breaks out the flats pole. I immediately look straight down off the side of the boat and see two giant tarpon just cruising right past us. I’m blown away by the size and stealth of these fish. Randy tells me those 80-100 lb fish I just saw are about normal size. My adrenaline starts pumping, and I can’t wait to get in on the action.

Randy grabbed a rod, and gives me a quick demo on using the stripping basket and the proper retrieve. He hands me over the rod, and I toss out the line to get it laid out nicely in the stripping basket. We’re ready to go. Randy starts scanning the water from his platform and calls out “We’ve got a line coming in, about 1 o’clock!” I get ready to cast, wait for Randy’s go ahead, and start double hauling. I lay down my third false cast, and shoot the line at the fish. My fly laid down about thirty feet wide and ten feet short. Woah. Let’s chalk that up to high adrenaline throwing me off. I quickly pick back up and toss a mildly better second cast. A bit long this time, but at least a little on target. I strip in the fly, but don’t get so much of a mention. I didn’t really have a third shot at this line of tarpon. Randy spots a second line and gets us in position. I managed a bit more accuracy this time, but still overshot and spooked the line. I could already feel the lack of sleep starting to hit me, and slinging around a 12 weight was no easy task when all I wanted to do was take a nap.

The fish were running pretty good, but my casting just wasn’t up to par. About the 7th or 8th line of fish in, I finally laid down a perfect cast. I start stripping in and a tarpon breaks for my fly. He followed it about 10 feet before quickly spinning back around and joining back up with his school. No luck that time. Off to find the next fish.

Thinking of the boat as a clock face becomes incredibly more challenging as you get more tired. I can’t tell you how many times Randy would call out “3 O’Clock” and I’d look left, prompting a “Your other 3 O’Clock!” The day continued on, and while I did get a few follows, most of my casts were just poorly placed. I’d either lead the fish too much, throw way too short, or throw over the fish and spook the school. Randy did his best to work around my challenges. He got me as close as he could to the fish and even switched me over to a 10-wt rod with a clear line to help keep the fish from getting spooked if (when) I overshot the line. Even still, I could hear the frustration in Randy’s voice as I cast off target time and time again. I understand that it can be frustrating as a guide to work your butt off to get your client in perfect position over and over, only to have them completely miss so many shots, but I still would’ve hoped for a little more patience. After all, the client is the customer.

The day was wearing on, and I had yet to stick a silver king. I’m beginning to think I’m going to come up empty handed. Randy calls out that a line is coming straight at us from 12 o’clock. “Just toss it straight ahead!” That’s my wheelhouse right there. Straight line, no worrying about getting down the right distance to lead the fish – just straight down the pike and retrieve. I lay out the cast and start stripping in the fly. I see one heading right for my line. My heart begins racing and I loose track of where the fly is in the water! I’m still watching the fish, then I hear Randy call out “Holy sh*t he ate it!” At the same time, I felt my line go tight on my retrieve and I strip strike the fish like my life depends on it. IT SET! The fish was stuck, and luckily for me, didn’t go skyward and throw the hook immediately.

The battle is on. The reel is screaming as the fish pulls off line at will. Within seconds, I’m into the backing. The prehistoric beast starts dancing on the surface. Randy happily reminds me to bow to the fish as he jumps. I remember on jump number two. We’re still hooked up. He already has about 100 yards of backing out. Every maybe thirty seconds, I get an opportunity to reel in some line, but for every ten feet I get back, he takes out 50 more. Another jump, another bow, and the fish is still hooked. This is the biggest fish I’ve ever caught or even hooked on a fly rod, and the battle was unlike anything I’ve experienced.

We’re close to five minutes into the battle and the fish leaps skyward one more time. I bow, but then the dreaded feeling comes over me. A sudden slack in the line. I reel quickly in hopes the fish was just running at me, but I soon come to the realization it’s gone. I bring in the line with an ear-to-ear grin despite losing my first tarpon. It was an incredible experience. I finally get the line reeled up and go to inspect the fly, only to realize it isn’t there. The loop we used to tie on the fly was severed. Our only guess is it somehow got caught up in the eye of the hook and the sharp metal cut it free. As it was pretty late, we took a few more shots – no follows – before calling it a day. I grabbed a quick dinner at one of the local restaurants and headed back to my hotel to catch up on sleep.

We headed back out on day 2. I felt well rested (finally!) and was looking forward to getting another shot at one of these monsters. It was fairly clear again, but an onshore wind picked up. Luckily, my casting ability came back now that I wasn’t about to nap on the boat. The first shot I had was perfect, but no interest. That morning, a missed shot was the rarity rather than the norm. I had several great follows that we were sure were going to take the fly, but we could just never coax the fish to inhale. The wind started blowing even harder, casting became more and more challenging, and one by one, the other boats started leaving the flats. A little after noon, and casting became almost impossible with the wind. Randy offered to end the day early and call it a half day. I appreciated Randy offering that rather than keeping me out there to “run up the tab,” particularly because we both knew it was extremely unlikely to get another shot at the fish.

I enjoyed going out with Randy. He was easy to talk with, and REALLY knew his tarpon fishing and how to give someone the best possible chance to hook up. If you’re experienced on the flats, I wouldn’t hesitate to give Randy a call. I have no question you’ll put up some great numbers with him. If you’re a flats fishing newbie, though, you might be wise to save Randy for your second or third trip.

Ready to book with Captain Randy Stallings? Captain Randy can be reached by email at info@randystallings.com or by phone at (305) 587-0307 or (305) 453-9854. Rates start at $400 for a 4-hour half day trip.

Trophy Striped Bass Trip on the Chesapeake Bay with Dancer Sportfishing

Last Saturday, I gathered up several of my friends and headed off to Annapolis for a full day fishing trip aboard Dancer Sportfishing with Captain Joe Richardson. Our goal was trophy Striped Bass, or Rockfish as they call it locally. We met up with Captain Joe and our mate, Dorothy, at 5:45 AM to get our day started. Joe didn’t have the best news to start the day – the weather was pretty iffy. He gave us the option of cancelling, rescheduling, or giving it a whirl and see what we could do. My buddies and I figured we’d made the trek out there and got up early, so we may as well give it a shot. We packed up the boat and left the docks. Leaving the docks was a fairly impressive task in itself – the 37′ Sportfisher had less than 6 inches of clearance on either side between it and a couple sailboats, yet Joe somehow managed to extract the boat without even so much as a bump. Having piloted several boats that size and bigger and smaller, I know how tricky it can be to precisely navigate a boat in tight quarters when fighting both current and wind. I’m sure the neighboring sailboat owners greatly appreciate Joe’s skill!

Outrigger

One of the planers at work

We cruised out to the fishing grounds and Joe and Dorothy set out the planers and the lines. A planer is a device that replicates the functionality of an outrigger. It allows you to run lines the follow the boat, but are well outside the actual path of the boat – in essence, you can run more lines and increase your chances at a hookup while minimizing the risk of a tangle. We ran a spread of six alewife rigs, a couple bottom rigs, and a spoon. The waiting game was on as we trolled through the Bay, just waiting for one of the rubber bands to pop, letting us know our fish had been hooked. Joe and Dorothy told us the fishing so far this trophy season was typical spring fishing. One day would be on fire and you’d limit out in an hour, the next you wouldn’t even get a bite. We had no idea what to expect on this cool, overcast day. The first hour was quiet. Between that and the early start to the morning, most of us caught a quick power nap. I’m sure enjoying the Annapolis nightlife had nothing to do with our heavy eyelids either.

A little while after our quick refresh, we’re standing around the deck chatting, when suddenly we hear the POP! we’ve been waiting for. Two of our lines went down, and we scrambled for the rods. Unfortunately, the battle ended shortly after it started. I’m not sure if we didn’t keep the line tight enough, if we just didn’t have the fish hooked well, or if we pulled the hook, but that fish was lucky enough to see another day. Our other line never really had anything hooked that we could tell. It either popped when the first line went, or got fouled by a school of alewife. Dorothy reset our lines, and we went back to the waiting game.

Fighting the fish

The battle is on between us and a striped bass

A little later on, another pop. This time, we were determined not to let it get away. I grabbed the rod, and knew this wasn’t a small fish. The fish made a run and the drag started screaming. I kept the line tight and began gaining ground on the fish with the standard lift up/reel down tactic. The fish made several runs before I handed the rod off to one of my friends. Since it had been a bit of a slower day, I wanted to be sure we all got a chance on a fish. Charlie took over and wrangled the fish into submission like a pro. It may have been one of his first times fighting a fish like this, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell by watching – and luckily, neither could the fish! Charlie got it to the side of the boat, and Dorothy netted our catch.

Striped Bass

This striped bass hit the scales at 36 inches and 21 lbs – and sure tasted good too!

We won the battle against a very nice sized Chesapeake Bay Striper. We did a quick photoshoot and stopped for measurements before throwing this 36″, 21 lb fish into the icebox for a good meal later on. Dorothy reset our lines after the excitement was over. As the day grows old, we’re hoping for another shot as we enjoy a beer on the deck. Just as these thoughts cross our mind, the rod with the spoon doubles over, and the reel starts screaming. We’ve got another fish on! Unfortunately, this fish was a little better than we were that day, and freed itself shortly after we hooked it. It turned out to be our last shot at a fish that day. Joe slowly brought in our lines and headed back to port.

Fishing with Joe and Dorothy was a ton of fun. Even though the fishing was on the slower side, we still had a great time. We got to trade some fishing stories with some seasoned pros, and Joe and Dorothy did everything they could to make sure we were comfortable and having a great experience. We got back to the docks, and Joe cleaned and packaged up our fish. Dorothy recommended a few recipes to cook our catch, and we excitedly went home to fire up the grill. Our total trip time was around 8.5 hours even though we were only scheduled for 8. Hopefully we’ll be able to get back out with Joe and Dancer Sportfishing soon!

Cleaning Fish

The expert at work

Filleting fish

The fillets start to take shape

Ready to book a trip with Dancer Sportfishing? Captain Joe can be reached by email at captjoer@verizon.net or by phone at (410) 570-4632. Rates start at $400 for a 4-hour evening trip.

Guides: Take Control of your Find the Fishing Page!

When Find the Fishing was created, we had one purpose in mind – make it easier for a fisherman to find a fishing guide, and to make it easier for a guide to connect with his clients. With nearly 500 guides in our database, we think we’re off to a pretty good start! We scour the internet for charters and guides, then we gather all the information about the service: contact information, social media presence, boat details, trip rates, species fish targeted, waters fished, and regions served! All that is laid out into a straightforward information page unique to that guide.

But what happens when you get a new boat? A new phone number? Change your rates or the trips you offer? We do periodically revisit your website to make sure your listing is up to date, but sometimes it may take some time to discover the changes. With the new functionality we’ve just rolled out, you can make those updates on your own! Your page stays up to date, and your prospective clients don’t miss out on that new trip you have to offer! And let’s put all our cards out on the table – it makes our life easier too.

It is easy to get started, and using our update system is very intuitive. As the guide or charter owner, simply register for a free account, go to your guide page, and click the link to “Own this Company.” If you have access to your web servers, we’ll provide you with a file to upload to your website (so we can confirm the person requesting the page is actually the owner). If not, simply email us, and we’ll take it from there! If you aren’t listed yet, either email us at fish@findthefishing.com with your website, or use our Get Listed page to submit yourself!