Florida - Tampa Bay Area June 4-7

Discussion in 'Trip Reports with Pics' started by bjgavin, Jun 16, 2009.

  1. bjgavin

    bjgavin Member

    Aug 8, 2007
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    Gig Harbor, WA
    Warning: This report contains both fly and gear fishing. Purists proceed with caution.

    Other Warning: Apparently I'm awful at skimping on the details... so this is loooooong.

    Went down to my family place on Anna Maria Island, FL. The island sits at the point where Tampa Bay meets the Gulf of Mexico. Between Tampa Bay, the Gulf and the intercoastal, the fishing is pretty much always good for at least one species of fish. This was my first trip down there in June, in the 25+ years I have been going down there it has always been around the school holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas and spring break), and after spending a long weekend down the I have decided that I will undoubtedly be making an annual June trip to Florida.

    Technically the trip was a bachelor party, but my preference is to skip strippers for fish... although I'll take both if the opportunity presents itself. I flew down on a red-eye through LA on a Wednesday, got bumper up to first class for the LA to Tampa leg which made sleeping easy, and landed in Tampa at 5:30am and was at the house by 7:30. I gave myself an extra days before my buddies came in to get all my fishing gear together and scope out the fishing so the when my buddies came down I would have a better chance at getting them into fish. They are all midwest guys that probably haven't caught a fish since they went bluegill fishing at the age of six. I ran down to the local tackle and bait shop (a great place that is always friendly and helpful with information for non-locals). I asked the guy at the counter how the conditions were and he said "pretty much anything you want to go after you can catch right now", a good sign. After getting my license and some tackle I headed back to the house to start fishing.

    From the house I walked out to the beach with my cast net to load up a bait bucket for a quick trip to the other side of the island to fish the intercoastal. As soon as I entered the water I saw baitfish swimming, and swimming fast like something had spooked them. Immediately I looked behind the fish and saw four snook gliding along the beach in about two or three feet of water. I had read reports that the snook were pretty thick along the beach and this seemed to confirm it. Over the course of the next five minutes and a few casts of the net I loaded up the bait bucket... and saw about another 10 snook (more on those in a bit).

    I hopped in the car and made the two minute drive to the other side of the island. I had my fly rod and spinning rod but only used the spinning rod as the tide was extremely high and the water was pretty murky due to recent rains. Sight fishing wasn't an option and I wanted to cover some ground to see if there we fish in my familiar sandy holes. I waded out onto the flats and began covering the holes with the setup I was using, a bobber above a 3 foot leader with a live shiner on the hook. The bobber is necessary to keep the bait out of the eel grass that covers most of the flats. After about 45 minutes and little action I came up on my favorite hole. I had taken my biggest redfish out of the hole and was hoping for something again. A casted the bait out to the right side of the hole and let the tide slowly pull the bait through the hole. As the bobber drifter to within 5 feet of the left side of the hole I watched it submerge and begin to move quickly to the right. I set the hook and immediately felt the head shakes of a solid fish. After the shakes the fish took off about 75 feet of line with two quick runs. A couple of minutes later I had a nice redfish to hand. I would have liked to have kept him for dinner the next night with the guys (I love blackened redfish tacos) but I forgot my ruler at the house and he was pushing the upper end of the 18-27 inch slot limit, so after a couple pictures I revived him a bit and watched him glide off over the eel grass. (I marked the length of the fish on my rod and measured when I got back to the house... 26 inches, oh well).

    At that point I decided I had scoped out the intercoastal enough and wanted to try for my first snook on the fly. Walked down to the beach to see the most 20-somethings I had ever seen on the beach. Now, this is a quite island with a lot of old people and never have I seen the beach filled with more than 10% of the people in their twenties. Now it was 50%, where was this when I was in college? I walked out into the gulf just to the inside of the small break, about two feet of water and started looking up and down the shoreline. It was awesome, I was seeing snook at least every minute or two. I had seen snook along the gulf beach before but never in number like this (I learned the next day that Florida closed the snook season from May-Sept starting 3 years ago. You can still target but they have to be released. The restriction has taken most of the pressure from the guides off since their clients typically want to keep fish. The reduced pressure has brought them all the way back up to the beach and they literally move up and down the beach inside of the people swimming). I started casting my self-tied schminnow in front of cruising snook. On the first cast I started getting follows (it is an awesome sight watching a 30-inch snook close in on your fly).On the fourth cast I had my first fish on. The fish was easily over 30 inches, he made one roll after a few seconds and my line went slack. I had a 16 pound leader on not knowing what I was in for and the snooks teeth went through that with no problem. At that point I threw on a 30 pound bite tippet and hope they wouldn't be able to slice that (not knowing how easy the fishing would be I only tied 3 schminnows prior to my trip). At this point the wind started coming up and the fish were getting difficult to pick out from more that 10 feet or so. I began blind casting parallel to the beach in the trough I knew the firsh were cruising in. Over the next our I hooked and landed four smaller snook, I didn't get a chance to sightcast to another fish like the first one I had on.

    My buddies got into town that night and I got them up early the next day to get them into some snook. I figured as easy as the fishing one these guys could at least get some fish on even if they had no idea what they were doing. The wind had built up a bit overnight and fly fishing was out for me for the rest of the trip. I spent the morning getting bait and giving the guys pointers on what to look for and where to cast. They were all free-lining shiners, again with 30 pound leader. About 5 minutes in the best man in my wedding, a 6'4", 180 lb redhead who has no idea what he is doing when it comes to fishing starts yelling. I look over and he his first snook on, he also has this wide stance that looks like he is fighting a marlin and is reeling as fast as he can while the drag is engaged and the fish is pulling line out (it's funny to watch people reel in a fish whose only reference is Bassmasters). I got next to him and talked him through the fight and he got the fish to the beach. I told him next time he has a fish to say "fish on" just so I know he's yelling about having a fish and not a stingray or some other problem. I start walking back out toward one of my other buddies and as soon as I get to him I here "FISH ON!", it sounded like a 6-year old screaming with excitement on Christmas morning when he finds his first Nintendo under the tree. This time my buddy goes over to help him land the fish. When they get the fish to the beach they both stood over it and just looked down at it. Chad, the buddy who didn't catch the fish looks up at me and points down at the fish. It was the "yeah... you need to come unhook this look". My buddies had seen my hand after the teeth of the redfish got into my thumb a little the day before and they had no interest in having the same thing happen to their hands. At that moment I realized my guys trip had sort of turned into a girls trip. Over the next hour or so we caught a few more fish and another one of my buddies caught his first snook. For both of these guys it was the biggest fish they had ever caught (even though they were small for snook). I wasn't fishing because I wanted to make sure these guys had fun and got into fish, but the looks on their faces after their catches was far better than catching an average snook myself.

    That afternoon we went back to the intercoastal. Again, we started covering the sandy holes and got pretty spread out when I hear, "hey BJ... is that a shark?". Now I haven't seen a shark on that side of the island yet but I do know they are around, but so are dolphins so I looked the were he was pointing. I didn't see the round back of a dolphin breaking the surface and going back under. I just saw a good sized fin slowly cruising along, something I hadn't seen in this water before. I yelled to my buddy that it could be a shark and he should start backing up toward shore (at that point he was a little more than waist deep and it wasn't too far to get to a reasonable depth), although he was so nervous he basically just stood there crapping his pants. I kept my eye on the fin and watched it turn away from my Jack and toward myself and the two other guys with me. I was trying to look for the vertical tail of a shark breaking the surface behind the dorsal fin but couldn't see that so I still didn't know what it was. We were close enough to the mangroves that I wasn't concerned about safety as the fin in questioned continued toward us and away from Jack. Finally the fin went under, after a few seconds it came back up about 40 feet closer to us and then I heard a most soothing sound... the air being pushed out of a blowhole. At the point the dolphin started bobbing up and down along its path, the more standard swimming pattern of a dolphin, and the shark scare was over. So, we get back to fishing and Eric, the only guy who hasn't caught a fish, pulls his rod back and points out to us that he has on. The fish makes a small run and Eric is reeling a little aggressively but I wasn't really concerned because it seemed like a smaller redfish. Then, the fish just start taking line at will with the biggest run I have ever seen a redfish make. As this is happening I tell Eric to let the fish run and try to keep all his movements smooth and patient. He listened and actually did a great job at keeping the pressure on with the rod but letting the fish take the line it wanted. At this point, Jack looks over to Chad and says "Hey Chad, you know what that sound is?... Dinner" Eric began to get a little line back on the reel when the fish made another run. Another few seconds of reel screaming and then ... nothing. I thought it might has cut the leader but once Eric reeled in the line he had out the hook was still there, that was officially the first redfish I had seen come unhooked during a fight. Even though Eric didn't land the fish he still had this huge grin on his face. "What did you think of that?" I asked him, "Dude, I have never felt anything like that on a fishing pole before, that was awesome". For Eric's sake I wish he could have seen the fish, I know he wanted to see what pulled so hard even if he couldn't land it.

    On the third and last day of fishing we again started in the Gulf, and again the wind had built on the day before. Now the surf was high enough that fishing the shoreline close for snook also meant getting pounded by waves. I had the guys get out chest deep past the breakers and cast out a little farther to see what else we could get on the line. Right away we started hooking up with mackerel. Eric caught his first fish, and then a few more. Over the course of a couple hours we landed a bunch and lost just as many to cut leaders. We kept a few for fish tacos and then headed to the intercoastal.

    This time on the intercoastal we made it down the mangrove line to my "big redfish hole", I explained to the guys the luck I had on the hole and we started cover the holes drifting four baits through it at a time. After about 20 minutes I was about ready to move down to the next hole. I couldn't remember how far to the next hole so rather than take my bait out of the water until the next hole I opened my bail and started walking. I made about 75 feet of progress when I heard my buddy Chad say "Uh... BJ" and I sensed some urgency in his voice. I turned around and looked at the bobbers "1...2...3... no fourth bobber". I closed the bail and started picking up the line I had let out as fast as a could. After some quick turning of the reel I had the slack out and set the hook. Immediately a couple of head shakes, good sign, then a couple of small runs, better sign, the a run that put the fish that Eric had on to shame. The fish steadily took out a couple hundred feet of line, I began to question whether it was something bigger than a redfish and if it would spool me as line just kept winding off the reel. Finally it started to slow. I slowly picked up some line, the fish took it back, I got the line back, he took it out again, this repeated about 5 or 6 times. Finally I started to get the upper hand and was making progress. My arm was dead at this point, and I still had 150 feet of line to go. After 5 more minutes I finally had the fish in front of me, I dipped my arm in the water, slid my forearm under the belly of the fish and pulled out the biggest redfish of my life. The guys were blown away, and I was exhausted. The fish measured out at just over 32 inches. After a few pics I revived the fish and he headed back into my favorite hole. Shortly after we called it a day, and that concluded the fishing for our trip. All in all, it was a great bachelor party.
  2. johnnyrockfish

    johnnyrockfish Member

    Nov 30, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Kitsap County, WA
    Nice! Fat Red. Good colors on that one tail, love that. Excellent trip. Better to be catching fish on spinning gear than not at all on a flyrod in that wind.

    USF Grad