After a long break from fishing, I kicked off my 2019 saltwater “campaign” with a trip to Florida. It would be a quick trip: Two days in Naples fishing the 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge and the Everglades, and one day in West Palm Beach fly fishing for spinner sharks.
The weather could not have been more perfect (highs each day touching 80 degrees and sunny), but the fishing in the glades was tough.
On day one, we kicked off the morning hunting baby tarpon. In shallow, tight quarters, the micro-tarpon popped bait all around us, and refused to take a fly. We did not see any larger tarpon, and after an hour of trying, we departed. From there, we poled what felt like miles of low tide flats, seeing the occasional tiny puppy drum, as well as spooking a couple monster snook in the 30-40″ class that we floated over. We managed to catch a few baby snook blind casting, but overall it was a slow, grinding type of day.
The oddest experience of the day: Finding a 15 lb triple tail on a flat deep in the back country. Unfortunately a less than workable cast sent the triple tail scooting away, and we could not get the monster to eat after that. Lesson learned here: Make sure your sunglasses are polarized (as my friend on the bow found out days later that his glasses weren’t).
Day two was better. We spent the morning poling our guide’s favorite redfish flat, and seeing nothing in the murky water. To keep spirits up, our guide tied one of my shrimp patterns onto our rod (at least if we caught something, I could say it was on my own pattern). From there, we poled our way into a tiny creek, and in clean, tannin stained water, began to see snook after snook. We caught many, blind casting and (one or two) sight casting, and spooked/had shots at another 4-5 really large snook that will haunt my dreams. It was a relief, and my friend and I cycled on and off the deck with each caught fish.
As the tide came into the creek, we left to fish the gulf beaches. We cast along stretches of dead jagged mangroves, coral, and sand, still scoured from Irma over a year ago. The goal was seatrout, but we came up empty. We did catch a couple nice ladyfish in the 3-5 lb class that really impressed me – very cool fish that leapt and fought for everything they were worth.
After getting off the water around 4PM, we hopped in our truck and drove across Florida, through the Everglades (and seeing an alligator every hundred feet along the side of the road) until we were in West Palm Beach. The weather for the next day was brutal: 20knot winds blowing onto the beach, which meant spinner fishing was out. Instead, my guide offered to take us night time snook fishing. I jumped at it (my friend, however, elected to eat dinner and go to bed early).
I met the guide at Phil Foster Park in the dark, and we quietly motored off into the dark, clear night. The weather was wonderful – a cool 75 degrees and a light breeze. We cast to underwater lights, dock lights, boat lights, and mega-yacht lights (irritating the ultra-wealthy’s security teams) and caught fish. My guide described the fish was picky and tough, but I ended the night with ~8 snook to 7 pounds (which took me into my backing) and another 10-15 jacks, lookdowns (moonfish), and a beautiful and fat mangrove snapper. We fished an Eatme fly most of the time on clear floating and intermediate lines, and the fish needed to be teased into the eat. Often casting ahead of piling, letting the current sweep the fly past it, and then beginning a steady twitch retrieve did the job.
We fished from 8:30PM to 2AM, and had the waters of the intracoastal all to ourselves.
If you want to fly fish the Everglades or West Palm, check out Aron Blaisdell of Southwest Florida Fishing, and Quintin Hall of TKF Charters. I’ve fished with both multiple times, and they are good coaches, very fishy, and enjoyable to spend a day (or night) with.