February 11, 2015

Fly Fishing The Florida Shad Run

The following post is republished from my primary blog, Troutrageous.com.
I thought it appropriate to post here as well.

I lived in Philadelphia for 35 years, and outside of one aborted attempt, I never tried to go shad fishing. Not once. Many do, and look forward to the annual event, to the point that there is even a Shadfest in not-too-distant New Hope (PA) & Lambertville (NJ) that celebrates the rite of spring.

When I moved to Florida, I learned that shad also run all the way down here...who'd a thunk it? Not me at least. I thought Florida was redfish, speckled trout, and snook. I also discovered that the same guide that took me out for flood tide redfish in kayaks last fall, Captain Rich Santos of First Coast Fly Fishing Unlimited, also ran guided trips to go and catch them...well, that was an immediate no-brainer that I decided to address come the new year.

Unfortunately, due to whatever Mother Nature had up her sleeve (mostly high water levels) the shad decided to run a little later this year, so our January trip turned into a February trip, which happened to be last Saturday.

Captain Rich & His 16' Mitzi Skiff

Being a total newbie to this type of fishing, I learned 4 things about shad.

1.  They are camera shy
American Shad don't like to be caught. It's not that they won't hit your fly once you find them, actually quite the opposite.  It's that they have no tolerance for being netted, nor do they like to be in your boat as you remove the hook. They are pretty much one solid muscle that freaks out nuts until you get them back in the water. At least if you don't exhaust them to death during the fight. Which leads to...

2.  They are sharp
Captain Rich warned me about their bellies being sharp.  He said bring gloves, but I didn't have any other than thin solar gloves. But we had to of course get at least one grip & grin photo to validate the trip...

Grip n' Grin
Photo by Rich Santos

I'm smiling through the pain in this picture, my left pinky finger is hamburger. (Actually, it's not that bad, nothing a quick band-aiding couldn't fix). Let's just say that I don't need another photo of a shad in hand and "keep 'em wet" will largely apply from now on.

3.  They are slimy
Like incredibly slimy. Like Ghostbusters slimy. Like imagine if your fish came out of the water drenched in an inch thick layer of KY jelly. I tried to hold the one above and it started going into convulsions so I tried to brace it against my chest instead of having it flop around the deck of the skiff. Um, yeah...not the best idea.

Cleaning up after the "money shot"  :)
Photo by Rich Santos

4.  They are also darn good fighters on a 6-weight fly rod
What a blast!  The biggest one of the day was just above 19 inches long, and very thick.  Awesome fight, complete with acrobatics! Shad like to run, jump, all that fun stuff.

Fish On!
Photo by Rich Santos

Shad are pretty awesome, and I'll be back for more. Even though I'm kinda mad because I now know what I was missing up in Pennsylvania all these years...

But enough about the shad. The experience of fishing is always about more than the fish you're chasing.

The area of Central Florida that Captain Rich took me to was very interesting. It's the headwaters of the St. Johns River, so the waterway is far more narrow than up north where I live just outside of Jacksonville. It also happens to run through some fields, pastures, whatever you want to call them, that houses an incredible amount of animal life.

Livestock such as cows and horses graze the banks (under the shade of palm trees of all things...which is kind of a foreign concept to a Yankee), while flocks and flocks of different bird species are everywhere. We even saw a camera-shy bald eagle. White pelicans were in especially high concentration while we were out...because, they like to eat shad...and they're not stupid. While they winter in the South, there's no better place to be than "Shad Alley."

A Bunch Of Pelicans Standing On A Flooded Bank
Photo by Rich Santos

Oh, and did I mention the alligators...it's Florida after all, right? We saw two on the day, this one was somewhat cooperative when it came to taking pictures, although it really didn't care for us bothering its sunning.

The Tolerant Gator
Photo by Rich Santos

And I won't even get into the local "wildlife" piloting the multiple airboats and gyrocopter (yes, gyrocopter) zooming all around and about all over the place. Let's just say it was an amazing display.

Overall, the day was a huge success.  I scored my first 4.5 shad on the fly (the .5 is for the long distance release on the final one of the day), explored a very new and unique area to me which I'd recommend to anyone, and got to learn some new tricks from one of the best guides in Northeast Florida. Oh, and it was 70 degrees with beautiful blue skies the first weekend of February. It'd be real hard to top that again if I tried.

If you happen to be in the Jacksonville area and want to get a rod bent, a full list of Captain Rich's guide services (as well as many other resources) are available on his website flyfishjax.com.

August 25, 2014

Blackfly Outfitter's Inaugural Floodtide Festival

A great line up of "Floodtide" fly fishing events are scheduled for this Saturday, August 30th at Blackfly Outfitter on Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville.  A can't miss event for local anglers!

Read Original Article / More Here:

August 22, 2014

FWC Requests Tarpon Data From North Florida Anglers

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is asking North Florida anglers to participate in the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute's Tarpon Genetic Recapture Study.

Image Courtesy: FWC

The Tarpon Genetics Recapture Study uses the analysis of tarpon DNA to establish a DNA "fingerprint" of tarpon in Florida. DNA samples are collected and submitted by volunteers eager to protect the silver kings through better understanding of tarpon biology. The FWRI especially needs DNA samples from fish larger than 30 inches hooked in northeast and northwest Florida.

This study, ongoing since 2005, relies on data collected by anglers who submit samples and information about their catches using a free, easy-to-use tarpon DNA sampling kit. Volunteer anglers have submitted more than 19,600 samples to date.

For more information on how to participate, please visit the following links:

August 20, 2014

The Wife, The Guide, & The Redfish

The following post is republished from my primary blog, Troutrageous.com.  
I thought it appropriate to post here as well.

My wife is a wonderfully observant woman.  Not only can she tell me if the clothes I'm wearing match in the dark of our bedroom before sunrise, but she can spot a tiny bug in the house from over 30 feet away and smell things I try to sneak past her while we're on the sofa watching TV at night.

As such, she also knows that I've been struggling making the transition from freshwater fly fishing to the salt.  We don't talk about my fishing much, but it probably wasn't too hard to ascertain, as many of her innocent inquisitions following my recent outings have resulted in unenthusiastic responses.  

Sure, I could probably make it a little easier on myself by tossing bait like everyone else down here, but I pigheadedly insist on sticking to the fly rod and reel.  Not standing for any more of my floundering (or should I say lack thereof) the wonderful woman that is my wife arranged a guided kayak outing as a birthday present.

I was able to cash in on that thoughtful gift this past weekend when I met local guide extraordinaire, Captain Rich Santos at an undisclosed location in a top secret part of town.  We'll call it the Kurger Bing Larking Pot.

Blindfolded and whisked away to yet another secret location, Rich informed me that the plan for the day was to find tailing redfish in the flooded Spartina grass flats.  As we waited for the water to rise and come in enough to launch our kayaks, he explained the window of time we had to fish and how the tides impacted the marsh, where to walk (and more importantly where not to walk), kayak rigging, local wildlife...fiddler crabs, snails, grasshoppers, marsh hens, etc..., what flies we were going to use, and how to approach and cast to the fish.  Much like the marsh itself, he was flooding me with a fountain of quality information, and I tried my best to drink up every drop.

I have to say, Captain Rich was an excellent guide...patient with my slow paddling, encouraging despite my inaccurate casts, extremely personable...an engaging story teller who put me at ease quickly.  I know guiding is a service industry, but I never once felt like a "customer."  Not once. 

Now this story is supposed to end where I tell you that I caught a redfish, maybe a dozen.  Alas, I didn't...but it certainly wasn't Rich's fault.  He found three (as well as a sheepshead), and I was able to cast to two of them.  The first I outright spooked, the second just didn't want to play, and the third went into the thick stuff before I could get a cast off.  I might have had a few more shots had some scary weather to our south (i.e. lightning in the distance) not chased us off the best flats of the outing...as we were unable to spot any others in the shallower water on the way back in.

Here comes the weather!

You might think I'd be bummed after coming up short, especially considering my recent run of luck.  Actually, it's quite the contrary.  I'm feeling enthusiastic & rejuvenated!  I learned more in the half hour before we actually paddled out than I had in the past year!  Seeing tailing redfish...knowing a bit more about how to approach them and with what...heck, just pushing my limits in my kayak (Rich encouraged me to stand in it for the first time) was a big win.  I know, baby steps.

Who's the big boy standing in his kayak?

I'm also feeling thankful for having an awesome wife who knows just what I need to get out of a rut.  Thanks K.C.

If you happen to be in the Jacksonville, FL area (you know it's on the way if you and your family are driving the I-95 corridor South on the way to visit "The Mouse") and are looking to do some inshore fly or light tackle fishing, Captain Rich Santos is your guy.  Really, I couldn't recommend his services more, no B.S.

Check his site out at First Coast Fly Fishing Unlimited for more information on availability, rates, & packages (as well as some great photos and video).