Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Sight Casting to Redfish

Fishing fixes have been in scant supply lately, but I did experience a nice flashback the other day. Business brought me to Tampa a few Octobers ago. It was for a conference on coastal habitat restoration and I was excited to go, but I was even more stoked to sample the local fishing down there. Never having visited the west coast of Florida before, I did some research and booked a highly touted guide, Capt. Nick Angelo of Shallow Water Fly Fishing

Nick knows Tampa Bay like the back of his hand and will dial-in on different species depending on the time of year. I learned that October on Tampa Bay is a transition time, but it can be very good for sight casting to redfish and snook, and that's what we set out to do. Nick pulled his skiff right up to a dock within walking distance of my hotel and after a few minutes, the Tampa skyline was our backdrop as we plied mangrove shorelines and sandy flats.

I was all about sight fishing since getting a good taste of it between bonefish in Hawaii, stripers in Cape Cod, and carp and trout locally. This was my inaugural trip with my first pair of Costa sunglasses--the difference between a cheap pair and quality pair of polarized shades is like night and day, and if there is one thing you don't skimp out out on with this type of fishing, it's sunglasses! I put them to the test right off the bat. Nick set me up with one of his rods and a fly of his own creation and hopped on the poling platform. Just as he began explaining what to be on the lookout for, I pointed to a shadowy figure grubbing on bottom. He was pumped that I spotted the first redfish and I was pumped that I spotted one period. Nick coached me on where to drop the fly and I led the fish just a hair and it ate after a few short strips. It put up a great fight on the long rod in shallow water, but we barely had time to bask in our glory.

As soon as I released the fish, Nick sees an unmistakable blitz about 50 yards off the bow of the boat that was closing in fast. He knew straight away that it was a school of crevalle jack heading right for us. I was a little caught off guard yet managed an ugly cast into the fray next about a rod's length from the skiff. I'm guessing these fish would have attacked just about anything put in front of them at that point and within seconds I was tight to a bulldog that dumped line off my spool at a crazy rate of speed. With no disrespect to the beautiful redfish I had just spotted, caught and released, this jack fought a hell of a lot harder. I was having a blast, but my guide was screaming at me to horse the fish in so we can get another crack at the school that was quickly getting away.

After a few wild minutes, I eventually boated the fish but we never got that second crack at the blitz. It was long gone. We did find more reds, nothing huge, but still fun as hell to sight fish for. I also landed my first ever sea trout, which was cool, and spooked a few big snook before I could get a respectable cast off. I was thoroughly impressed with the quality and diversity of the Tampa Bay fishery, which was very close to the bustling downtown area. I was equally impressed with the local knowledge of my guide and would recommend him in a heartbeat to anyone traveling there. It was an awesome day on the water that is still providing me great memories through fishing dry spells three years later!