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.

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

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!

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.

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.

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!

Offshore Trip with Hot Shot Charters

This past Sunday marked the final day of my trip to South Florida. Having taken care of the backcountry fishing, it was time to do some offshore fishing. I got in touch with Sig Ozols of Hot Shot Charters and set up a full day offshore trip, this time bringing along my old college roommate, Kyle.

We met up with Sig for a 7 AM departure out of Dinner Key Marina in Coconut Grove. Sig’s mate, Chris, grabbed our bag – and more importantly our beer. We pushed off and started off to the fishing grounds. The inshore bite was dead according to reports, so we made the run to the further fishing grounds, about halfway to Bimini. That may sound like it’s really far away, but it was still only a 30-45 minute run.

WahooOnce we got to our fishing grounds, Chris rigged up the rods, clipped them to the outriggers, and we started our troll. Not 5 minutes in, our down bait gets hit. I grab ahold of the rod and start cranking away. A couple minutes later, I have a beautiful 10-15 lb wahoo at the boat. Chris gaffed it and tossed it in the icebox. The morning was off to a great start. Chris reset the bait as Sig kept the troll going. A little while later, we start getting another hit on the down bait. This time Kyle grabs the rod, and brings in a smaller mahi mahi. Chris reset the baits and we readied ourselves for the next one.


Mahi MahiThe morning grew later and Kyle and I were relaxing with a beer (come on, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere), when suddenly we saw a mahi mahi skipping through the air behind the boat. Sure enough, seconds later, it took a bait. I grabbed the rod and started the fight, but it managed to shake the hook. Through the rest of the morning, we put two more mahi mahi in the boat. We were hoping to find a school of the mahi so we could toss a fly line out to them, but no such luck. Sig asked us if we wanted to change things up, which meant it was time to go sailfishing. Sig set course for the sailfish grounds while Chris got the spinning rods rigged up.

With a few hours left, Sig got the Hot Shot into position, and Chris let out the baits. A little time went by with no action, but we saw a sailfish hooked and dancing across the surface behind one of the boats several hundred yards away. We knew we were in the right spot, and it was only a matter of time before it was our turn. Not long after, we could see one of our baits start to get nervous. It was exactly what we were waiting for – a sailfish. It took the bait, and I grabbed the rod and started the fight. While I was grabbing the rod, we realized another bait was getting nervous. About 30 feet behind the boat, my sailfish crashed through the air as Kyle’s rod doubles over. We’ve got two sailfish hooked! Kyle’s starts jumping about 150 feet behind the boat, and his drag starts screaming. All the fun proved to be too much of a distraction for me, and I didn’t keep enough tension on my fish and it threw the hook. Kyle’s was still fighting strong. Kyle battled back and forth, with Sig passing along instructions and controlling the boat, while Chris stood by Kyle’s side to lend a hand when needed.The battle went on for about 5 minutes before our luck took a turn for the worse and our line got caught up, and the sailfish broke off.

SharkAfter we collected ourselves from losing the double, we had about an hour’s worth of fishing left, and we were optimistic for another shot. We reset the baits and began the waiting game again. Another nervous bait, and another fish on the end of the rod. I picked it up, and started battling. It felt like a pretty good fish, but we didn’t see any surface action. After a couple minutes of the fight, we were pretty sure we didn’t have a sailfish, but still knew it was something with decent size. The fish was close to the boat, and we realized we had ourselves a Silky Shark. The shark proved to be our last fish of the day, and while it wasn’t a sailfish, it was still a fun fight.

Hot Shot ChartersBack at the docks, Sig cleaned and bagged our fish while Chris got the boat cleaned up. Sig apologized for the “slow” action, but I never would’ve guessed that action would’ve been considered slow. If that’s supposed to be a slow day, I can’t wait until the next time I fish with Sig and it’s a great day! Sig has a very laid back personality, and loves being on the water and having a good time. He’s your ticket to a great day on the water.

Ready to book a trip with Sig Ozols aboard Hot Shot Charters? You can contact Sig via email at captsig@hscharters.com or call him at (305) 608-3913 or (305) 667-2129. Visit his website at www.hscharters.com for more information. Sig leads trips inshore, offshore, and on the reefs for everything from snapper to mahi-mahi, tuna, and wahoo to sailfish and marlin. Check out all our pictures from our trip on our Facebook album.

Everglades National Park Backcountry Trip with Scales 2 Tales Charters

I had been getting the itch to do some fishing down in Florida lately. Growing up on Cape Cod, I’ve done plenty of striped bass, bluefish, and bluefin tuna fishing, but have never had a chance to experience any warm water saltwater fishing. To solve the problem, I booked a plane ticket and signed up for a full day backcountry trip with Chris Hanson of Scales 2 Tales Charters.

Florida Bay

The plan was to fish the mangroves in Everglades National Park. We took off from the dock in Key Largo in Chris’s beautiful 18 foot Ranger flats boat and made the run over to the park. Since the weather was great, it was a quick trip thanks to the 150hp motor. Along the way, Chris was sure to point out some of the wildlife – everything from the birds to the crocodiles sunning themselves. After we shot across the glassy water, we cruised into the mangroves to our first spot.

Mangroves in Everglades National Park

Never having done this type of fishing, Chris rigged up a shrimp and showed me what to do, and what to feel for as the fish picked up the bait. Not even thirty seconds later, I feel a tap-tap-tap on the rod. I gave the fish enough time to swallow the hook, and started cranking. It didn’t feel big, but still had some fight to it. I had a small jack crevalle on the end of the line – not our intended target. Next cast, another jack. After that, a mangrove Redfishsnapper. You have to weed through some of the small guys before you get the bigger fish. Finally, after another couple snappers, I had a bigger hit. The fish made a bit of a run, as I fought him to the boat. I got the fish to the side of the boat, and Chris grabbed my first redfish. It was too small to keep, so we fired off a couple pictures and release him back to the mangroves. After tossing back a few more jacks and snappers, I got another big hit. This time, I brought in a black drum – another first for me. We got a few more jacks and snappers before things started slowing down a bit and Chris jetted us off to another spot. mangroves to our first spot.

Our next spot was a channel right at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. We were in some faster current with the hopes of some bigger fish. We tossed out another shrimp, and shortly thereafter, another fish was hooked. I pulled up my first saltwater catfish. Chris has one rule aboard the boat – no catfish allowed inside. Luckily, I remembered before I pulled it aboard. I got another couple catfish before hooking into another black drum. I got another couple catfish before we decided there were too many kitties around.

TripletailLooking to give me some variety, Chris took me out to the edge of the national park for some tripletail. We cruised along the stone crab traps until we saw a tripletail hanging out beneath a marker buoy. Chris assured me I’d find tripletail fishing a blast. After driving past a few buoys, we finally saw our target hanging out just below the surface. We circled around, and I tossed out a shrimp. The tripletail immediately swam over to it and ate it. I gave it a couple seconds to swallow the hook and started reeling. The rod had a nice bend, but my immediate thought was “what was all the fuss about?” No sooner than I finish the thought, and the tripletail realized it was hooked, and made a drag screaming run. THAT is what all the fuss is about. I battled it as it made a few more runs. I got it to the boat and Chris pulled it in. I was all smiles as I held my first tripletail. I was astonished to find a fish that fought that hard turned out to be just short of the minimum size! Chris snapped a couple pictures of me, and we set off to search for a few more. My next one was a nice four pounder that put up another heck of a fight. We got another small one and another keeper before heading back into the mangroves.

Anchoring into another one of Chris’s sweet spots, he tied on a jig and topped it with a shrimp, and again showed me the right way to fish it. A mangrove snapper was the first to bite, but shortly thereafter, we got hit by a nice sized snook. Putting up one of the best fights of the day, I had my first snook in the boat after a few minutes. The snook smiled for Snookthe pictures before we sent him off to swim another day. As the tide began to turn, things slowed down briefly – but not enough to stop me from catching my first sheepshead. Once we had some water flowing again, the bite picked right back up. We put another few redfish, some ladyfish (another first for me), and plenty of snappers in the boat. We had one particularly good sized redfish in the boat, but as Chris unhooked it and we were prepping for a picture, it saw an opportunity for escape and took it. The sun started getting low, so it was time to head back to the docks, happy and tired from a great day of fishing. Back at the dock, Chris happily filleted and bagged my keep and threw it on ice.


I really can’t say enough about how great it was fishing with Chris. He’s a fun captain to guide you through the backcountry or on any trip he offers. If you want peace and quiet, Chris is fine with that. If you want to blast some music, have some beers, and joke around, Chris is fine with that too. The whole experience shows how much Chris really enjoys his job as a guide. On top of that, Chris’s knowledge of the backcountry is impressive. He easily navigates the maze of mangroves, and knows exactly how much water will be in each spot at any given time. He has a GPS on board, but I didn’t see him use it to navigate once.

Ready to book a trip with Chris Hanson aboard Scales 2 Tales Charters? You can contact Chris via email at captainchrishanson@scales2tales.com or call him at (305) 522-3772. Visit his website at www.scales2tales.com for more information. Chris leads trips in the backcountry and on the flats for species such as snook, redfish, tarpon, black drum, and more! Check out all our pictures from our trip on our Facebook album.