Often I am asked how I can be so focused on my flats fishing passion. My usual response is that I grew up with a passion for fishing and during the last decade, I was able to shift my focus from battling on the ice to gliding through the backwaters in my Hobie. Instead of bombing slap shots, I redirected my efforts to stalking trophy redfish, snook and trout. In retrospect, I probably spend so much time on the water for another reason. Now, I realize that the cathartic experience my time on the water provides me with is the root of my obsession.
When fishing from my kayak, I am truly part of my surroundings. I tend to absorb every little nuance of the areas I fish. My choice of vessel prevents me from making long runs to other fishing grounds when the bite is slow in the locale that I chose to launch, but that is OK. This restriction forces me into detailed, slow moving explorations on those days when the catching is not up to par. These days spent hunting for clues have revealed some true gems. Hidden creek mouths stacked with snook. Potholes barren during high water summer months but teeming with redfish and trout on winters low tides. Out of the way coves and basins not always visible if you are riding along at 40 MPH, but extremely productive due to the lack of pressure put on them. These are just a few examples of what you might find if you are not consumed with how many fish you can bring to the boat every time out.
While it is important to do your research and planning off the water, it is equally as important to continue your research and learning while on the water. Don’t get discouraged and head home every time the fish are not biting, take the time to document your surroundings. Take the time to note the contour of the flat, the amount or lack of bait present, temperature, wind and the time of year. It is great to keep a journal, especially if you are new to the sport or the area. It can be as simple as a small note book in which you can scratch a few notes. There are also some great web sites that will help you document and store your trip information.
This summer, I was really able to draw from previously gathered information to save my summer. If you frequently follow my column, you know of my passion for catching snook while walking the beach during the summer months. Well, this summer was pretty much of a washout on the beach. Once Tropical Storm Betty sat on us for four days, it not only washed away most of the Manasota Key beach, but it severally hampered the snook fishing. I still had snook on the mind, so I had to reach back through some past experiences to help me as my quest for snook shifted from the beach to the bay. It was time to draw from my mental archives and target the habitats that would provide the linesiders with the prime ambush spots that they are programmed to inhabit. My first thought was of narrow creek mouths where the bait would flush past their snouts during the high water stages. Since the tides flip weekly, I also needed spots for those mornings when the tide was low. I decided to work areas that had deeper drop-offs just off the mangroves, as well as, the steep edges off the flats that I was able to locate drifting through the gin clear waters of winter. There was no guarantee that my plan would pay off, but based only on intuition, I liked my odds. While I pedaled to my chosen starting spot, I was hoping for that ever helpful telltale, the “happy” frolicking mullet. Yatzee! The mullet were home along with a bonus round of popping shrimp and fry sized sizzle bait. Confidence was high. I turned to my trusty Spook jr. and began to pepper the area as my Hobie Revolution allows me to fish hands free. I have to say that this summer’s snook bite was the most consistent that I have ever experienced in the bay. The majority of the snook were cookie cutter 22 to 24 inches, but there were also plenty over 30 inches and a few that pushed 40 inches. By going back into my archives, I was able to take the proverbial lemons and turn them into lemonade.