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Weather Offers a
Since my last report we have experienced a wide range of weather changes. Hurricane Gordon brought us 20 hours of sustained winds over 30 mph. A tropical depression passed us well offshore, yet managed to kick up the waters. A depression formed in the Yucatan and a strong high settled in over Bermuda creating a squeeze play that has brought us strong northeasterly winds at 20 mph the past 4 days.
The tropical storms saturated us with lots of freshwater. While catching bait 4 miles offshore on Saturday, I caught a 4-ft. freshwater gar in my cast net. Catfish that are normally non-existent in our gin clear saltwater flats have too showed up in the strike of the net. The waters are cloudy most of the time and seem clearest when the tide is at its lower stages. While northeasterly winds are the favorable winds in helping clean the flats, the fact that they continue at 15 to 20 knots creating all-day whitecaps has not served to help anything.
Despite the weather, I have continued to run my trips and have fished the past 10 days straight. Fishing has been a real roller coaster ride over that time. Immediately after the storms the fishing was tough with a few snook, reds and jacks making the bag. The keyword is a few. The days were long and ugly.
The winds went southwesterly last Sunday and things changed for the better. For Bob Greenwald of Kentucky, his timing was perfect. For three days, great numbers of reds, snook, jacks made the day. A tarpon jumped off on one day leaving him that short of a flats grandslam (snook, redfish, trout, tarpon). The eye opener of the trip was the size of the some of the snook. Several fish at 15 lbs. were taken over the trips, but nothing topped the 20lb.+ monster he took on his first day (see photo). In todays world of hi speed flats boats and publicity that has educated every Tom, Dick and Harry into a fishing guide, these are rare snook catches anymore on the Gulf Coast. Bob is a regular client of mine who has lucked into snook of this quality of in the past. For him, it was just another day.
Things fell apart mid week with winds clocking around the northeast. Places that held fish in the days prior we null and void. Horse-eye scaled sardines became hard to attain. Using the abundant mid size crickets failed to get seen by snook in the milky waters and it was back to square one. Nothing kills fishing in the Northern Hemisphere faster than east and northeast winds. With that flow over a period of a few days and things go from bad to worse. The gusty winds prevented us from fishing the exposed waters of Tampa Bay for giant tarpon. We settled for flats fishing on three of these days.
Yesterday the James White party on holiday from Scotland settled for flats fishing in lieu of giant tarpon fishing due to the strong winds. Based on the results of two days prior, I advised James that we were in for a long day the night before on the phone. While we did not kill them anywhere we went, we ended up having a great day considering. We took several snook, reds , jacks, grouper, and snapper. We jumped 3 tarpon and landed one. While the silver king was just a baby at about 15 lbs., it served as the goal of the trips original expectation. James friend Jim fell short on a flats grandslam when his only snook cartwheeled of the hook. The winds were brisk out of the north with gust over 20 knots, but for whatever reason the fish chewed anyhow. Go figure.
The reds are broken up as far as the schools we normally see at this time of year. 2 miles offshore a 27 incher came up in my net while gathering whitebait. They are around in many places for sure. However, in this area you may have to work to find them, only get a few off each stop and are rarely in the same place two days in a row.
Snook are back in the usual fall hangouts. It will not be until we experience water temperatures below the 80s until we find them in larger pods. The fish on the well known outside spots are seeing daily pressure. I have done best by going into the backwaters where the fish are fewer, of better quality and bite best. Each year I learn more of these most prized fish. This movement far into the back has more to do with the ticking of their biological time clock than of the water temperature. I too believe now that the natural survival instincts and the relationship to the harvest of fishing pressure has too played a role in sending these fish back to where they are not easily found by the army of flats anglers. I am not exempt in sharing the information that has resulted in boom of snook fishing in this area and I too have learned my lesson. In attempt to spread out the pressure on these fish, I will go as far to say that many of these fish over the past week have been taken in spots well inside of the flats in traditional winter areas. As a matter of fact, Bob Greenwalds 20lb.+ snook was a "moss back" female. That is a fish that has been in very low salinity for a very long time and actually had "moss" growing on it.
The flats have cooled a few degrees, but we have a few to go before fall flats fishing will peak. In most years this occurs between now and Christmas. There is a limited amount of availability open in that time frame. If you are considering a trip, now is a good time to get it.
Screaming Drags and Tired Arms!
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