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Double Digit Quest

Everyone likes to set goals for themselves, it drives us on the water, in our careers and personal lives. Some do it to get better or to push out of your comfort zone.  I really love to fish, like really really, but even more I love the how and why. I truly find my happiness on the poling platform rather than the casting…  

One day while on the water almost two years back Foss and I were talking about our future trips and goals. He mentioned he wanted to catch a 10lb Bonefish and a 10lb Seatrout.  Ambitious goals to say the least but we have been close a few time.  Recently, we were talking about the chance at the 10lb. trout after a number of excellent days on the water.  For those that frequently target large trout and chase records the pre-spawn is a window of opportunity as those fish are feeding and gaining weight to prepare to spawn. 

The last two years we have been researching, following those who routinely chase big fish as well as actively searching for where these fish congregate during these prime times.  We wanted to be sure when this opportunity presented itself, we would be ready. 

The 2019/2020 fall and winter were proving to be excellent for trout fishing.  With the numbers up we were optimistic for our shot at that double digit fish.  A couple months ago, we found an area that I previously neglected due to recent poor water quality.  As winter came the Mosquito Lagoon water levels dropped, the water cooled, it began clearing and with a mild winter we started seeing seagrass appear. That was the sign I was waiting for to revisit an area I had all but given up on. 

The first time in we saw good numbers of laid up fish that were not as spooky as other areas of the lagoon. Whether it was new found habitat or lack of pressure, it was promising.  The problem was the way these fish were setup. We were forced to approach this area in a way that was pressuring them and they got uncomfortable very quick.  We put our time into finding out when they would come and go so we had to beat them to the punch and make them come to us. 

Whether in the field or in the water I am much more of a spot and stalk rather than a sit and wait. It was killing me but felt it would work. 

I forget how many times we went in, passed on shots at fish and then moved on empty handed. We made it to a point, where we felt it wasn’t going to happen. Their pattern was changing and we were unable to get a shot at the right fish, so we expanded our search. 

We were exploring new areas as the next New Moon was approaching quickly and wanted to be ready for our next good shot.  The day it happened we were actually catching snook as the weather and wind began to change. It dawned on me the conditions were setting up for that spot to be right but was worried we were a little too early.  The New Moon was 3 days out but everything else felt right and we had to make the run.  

Mosquito Lagoon Snook

As we were approaching the area, I began to see a few fish in an area we had not seen initially them. That was the tip we needed. We took the long way around and as we were approaching a fish we felt might do it, I caught a glimpse of a “log” on the shoreline about 20’ feet out to Jason’s 11 O’Clock.  The fish was laid up in very skinny water and I told Foss he had to pitch it past the fish into the roots to have a shot.  One quick underhand pitch into the roots, a soft hop into the water and we see her gills flare and the lure disappears.  We both froze in disbelief for a split second (that felt like forever) before I called out, “She ate it”. 

Not only was it a great eat, it was on such a short string. To see it go down, that close, was something special. She tore off in a tornado of mud.  Went under the skiff twice and after a quick game of cat and mouse, she was safely in the net. (Another reason I carry a net) We handled her carefully.  Weighed her as she barely eclipsed the 10lb mark on the certified Boga, shot a photo and sent her on her way. 

Mosquito Lagoon Seatrout

No, it wasn’t a record fish but we put in the work and accomplished a goal we had set almost two years prior. 

The Season of Seatrout

For a number of months now the larger trout have been a blast. We have had tons of smaller trout in the area, more than I have seen in a while, eager to jump on a paddle tail or fly and it has been a welcome sight for a number of reasons. Ask anyone around and you will hear the same lack of redfish stories in the area. We do go in spurts but all in all, the redfishing has been down for January. We all know why but only some want to publicize the poor condition the lagoon is in.

I get it, most depend on it for their livelihood but I have been in the game of guiding, booking and hosting trips since 2007 and the number one rule is never lie to clients. It will bite you in the ass every time. I have seen it plenty of times from different outfitters and guides. They are incredibly shortsighted and feel they have to paint a glorious picture to get that client to book to then provide a poor experience. Guess what, they won’t be back. That was a one and done. I was always taught you want repeat clients. Do the right thing, work hard and you will have clients for many years to come.  You might even make lifelong friends in the process.

Speaking of the hard times on the Lagoon, thankfully we have a number of dedicated individuals who are fighting very hard to bring Mosquito Lagoon and many other parts of Florida back from the hard times. Check out Tailer Trash fly fishing podcast and their Dingy Derby coming April 4, 2020. It is to benefit the New Smyrna Beach Marine Discovery Center and Mosquito Lagoon. Check out the event: The 2nd Annual Dingy Derby and RSVP for the Pre-Party Thingy before the Dingy the Night before. Participate or Donate, it is a great time and a great cause that raised over $5,000 last year.

Let’s not be all doom and gloom. Mother Nature and her estuaries are very resilient and have been fighting man for many years. For the rough times Mosquito Lagoon has seen, we still see fish, have excellent days and make memories with friends and clients. So, if you are in the area, do not hesitate to reach out for a trip with myself or if I am unable to take you, I have a few fellow guides I am happy to reccommend.  They are not only super fishy but good people who will shoot you straight and provide a wonderful trip.

We were talking about Seatrout at some point, right? We had a few trips around the end of the holiday and the beginning of the new year that were stellar. Those larger Seatrout will begin to spawn in the Spring March – May and just like Largemouth Bass and other species, the pre-spawn feed it a blast.

Indian River Seatrout

Jason and I ventured out to a few areas we have seen larger fish during times and moon phases that usually have the trout active. Although we had some cloudy days which can make stalking these weary fish tough, we had a few short windows and were able to capitalize.

Mosquito Lagoon Seatrout

Foss who is typically armed with the trusty DOA Shirmp, was putting on a clinic.  We were stalking some larger ones, but blind casting into groups of the smaller fish, was almost too easy. I had enough watching the show and Foss was kind enough to give me some bow time. I pulled out the long rod and had a fly I grabbed from Flymen Fishing Co. and was rewarded quickly. There is just something about a big trout on the fly rod, it is a blast and hard to pass up the opportunity when presented.

Seatrout on Fly

Bonefish with Foss and Johan

Before all this COVID-19 fun began, Foss and I were due to make a Miami run and the weather was lining up to be a solid day.  My good friend Johan, had a few open days and said “leave your boat at the house and just ride down and I will push”.  Did not have to twist my arm to get a little bow time.  Foss and I loaded up at 1am and we were southbound and down. 

It was a typical day for this early in the year, winds from the northeast  and plenty of sun. Thankfully there was a warming trend from a light cold snap so the fish were back to being happy. The excitement is palpable as we begin to see the guitar shaped Hard Rock hotel. Not far behind are the high rise building of downtown Miami. A quick phone call to Johan, “Hey boys, y’all are early!” he said. “Naa we are just ready”, I replied.  

We load up our stuff, catch a few of the boat ramp antics as we idle out before Johan puts her on plane. There is nothing like feeling those emerald waters beneath your feet as the warm South Florida sun hits your face. Love our Florida winters.  The run across was easy.  Just a slight roll and a tiny bit of chop. We were planning on hunting tailing fish early in the day and then move as the tide changed. 

Foss and I have spent countless hours on a skiff, panga, bass boat.  You name it, we have fished it. So although Johan was a little hesitant, he was impressed we could simultaneously fish on the bow. I took the high post on the casting platform as Foss hanged ten on the nose. 

My first shot at a large tailing fish was a no go. First cast was good but a little off the mark as I didn’t trust the wind.  A quick pickup and put back was right in the zone, “I don’t think he saw it”, Johan barked. I felt the same. The fish just never reacted, just kept on his way as he moved out of range. 

The next fish came in at our two o’clock.  Rather than spinning the boat, Foss took his shot with the spinning rod.  Good cast, two hops and the fish blows out. oh well. We stalked a few more fish over the course of the next hour or so and as we approached the edge we saw a small group of fish patrolling an old prop scar.  I passed the backhand shot to Foss and with a great cast he was hooked up.  Two strong runs and the fish was boatside, unhooked and on his way safely. 

Good time to move.  We made a short and an adjustment to the plan with the shifting winds. I was on point and had a nice shot at incoming fish. The fly lands, a fish shoots out of the group, pins the fly.  I come tight but only for a split second and he is gone. My follow up shot, went ignored. Shit.  No time to sulk.

A small pair are approaching just as the last group. It was an exactly replay of the last shot but once I was tight, he was mine. Certainly not the size we were looking for but just a little singing of the reel before a quick boat-side release and I was all good. 

Early Bonefish

After sticking a few fish we decided to go look at some new water we had been eyeing. It was a little bit of a run but no one seemed to care. We exchanged a little time on the poling platform just looking and getting a feel for the area. It is always nice to see how the water moves across the flat, the sun angle, bottom topography.  It all matters and something you have to see in person. 

We did start seeing some larger singles and once we got Foss in range it didn’t take long.  This was a little better fish and had the attitude of his big brother. Jason was pulling away at this point but no one is really keeping score.  

The last stop of the day gave me two shots at really big fish.  Admittedly, I botched the first one. Just misjudged it. We were nose to nose and as we were both closing in on one another.  The cast long and leadered him right down his back and the fly just past his tail. I wasn’t happy.  That was the big fish I wanted and blew it.

Thankfully I did get another chance but this one wasn’t to be either. It all lined up right, cast, angle, fly swung in and he just wasn’t having it.   As the sun was getting a little low we decided to make our way off and see if we could get one more shot.  As I mentioned earlier, Foss had been on, and this final shot was no different. Same shot, 2 o’clock moving to twelve…good cast. Great eat!  

As he was fighting the fish I call out a shark, he was a little ways out but knew something was up.  Thankfully, we were able to keep the boat in between the two and as Johan hustled to close the gap between us and the Bonefish, Foss added a little extra pressure that would either bring him in or break him off safely.  This is one of the reasons we carry a net. We got just close enough to net him before he decided to make another break for it which could’ve done him in.

We supported him in the net as we pushed off the flat to the point we could lower the motor and idle away. Once we moved to an area that was all clear Foss hopped out and got a quick photo before releasing him.  

Bonefish to end the day

Just another great day with even better friends. A long ride home but reminiscing about the day on the water guides us home safely. 

The Magic City Hustle

We are going to do a little flashback for this post. So for the past 18mo. or so I have been trailering down to Biscayne Bay in a little move I call the Magic City Hustle.

Alarm is set for 12am and departure from Oviedo is typically 1-130am, which puts us in Miami somewhere around 545a to 615a depending on time of year and sunrise. We typically fish 8-10hr day unless storms cut us a little short and head for home around 4pm with an approx. 9pm arrival home. It is not for the faint of heart or those that value a good nights sleep but I always enjoy a good adventure, so The Magic City Hustle was born.

Our first run down about 18mo. ago with with Foss. He has traveled to Mexico and Belize with me to chase bonefish and permit so he was a natural choice for the inaugural run.  Jason is my choice when I need to explore new fishing areas.  Our friendship goes back years and born through tournament fishing, so he possesses two of the best qualities in a fishing partner. He is an excellent angler and he keeps his mouth shut!

Our research was done via google earth and drawing on past experiences from times spent in Mexico, Belize and The Bahamas. We had a game plan and were just going to go for it. Weather looked good, winds appeared to be light(the Bay can get nasty quick)and Foss was armed with the famous Jig. #nochum #nobait

Upon our arrival is was about a 2 out of 10 at the ramp, thankfully we were there early as we know this ramp is famously featured on the Qualified Captain quite often and we wanted no part of that.

We idled out and hopped on plane and made our way to the first stop. It was what we had hoped for, the look and feel of a beautiful flat in Mexico. Honestly, I was good, I did not even need a fish at that point, to be able to be in that moment, the 12am wakeup call was worth it.

Being our first time in the Bay we surveyed the flat and the way the current moved across it from a distance before making an approach. Too many times people be anxious in a new fishery and run right up to a spot and hop up on the platform and start poling. This usually ends up with spooked fish and missed opportunities because of being too impatient to survey the location. Or, some just rely on others to show or give them spots and exactly how to fish it so they can look like a hero on Instagram. Such a shame.

After we had a quick look I noticed we were going to have to circle around and approach from a different angle due to the sun and current. This gave Foss a few minutes to get situated, check the drag and tie a fresh knot.

We had not been on the flat 15 minutes and here they come, a group of those black tailed devils that so many have nightmares about. The best part about them showing up virtually out of thin air is you have less of a chance at making a mistake. We have all been there, seen a group or single approach and as you are trying to get into position, they change direction, put you in a pinch and poof, they are gone.

Admittedly, I froze for a split second as almost in awe of seeing them plus, I had no where to go. We were in position, I called them to Foss and he seemed to seem them right when I did and his cast was on its way. Jason, who is excellent with the spinning rod was right on target.

He hopped it twice, the permit moved on it to take a better look and he reeled it in feverishly thinking we was off target. The part of the school he was looking at was slightly more to the right and didn’t see exactly how many fish were there. As the jig was on its way back to the boat I began to holler as there were five fish chasing it, and he was late to see them. Thankfully, his second cast was on target and those fish that had chased the jig to the boat, shot back towards the school just as Jason’s second cast landed and a permit ate it immediately.

 

It was 8am and we already had a permit on, life was good. His first run was impressive and although I probably did not need to get off the platform I hopped down and fired the motor just to be sure. We slowly worked closer as Foss fought his first “domestic” Permit, he caught one in Mexico on a trip we had the previous summer, coincidentally one year ago to the day. The fight was a nervous ten minutes and each blistering run is a shot to the heart and shortens your breath. The last 20 feet seemed to be the longest as they can use that wide body and just not budge. I typically 12 pound Fluorocarbon as a leader so we can pull pretty good but popping one off at the boat would just be heart breaking.

 

Finally, we ease her into the net and it is high fives all around! The long morning trip and early wake up call was all worth it. We took a few quick photos sent the beautiful fish back on her way and had a celebratory “nip” of bourbon! With the strong current we had drifted a pretty good way but we needed that idle back to catch our breath before moving getting back up on the platforms.

We made another pass but to no avail. Honestly, the next target was one of the other two slam fish, Bonefish and Tarpon. I had a few other flats to stop at that I had marked but tarpon really were not on the target list when we were planning this trip so that was going to be found on a whim. We certainly we not prepared for any tarpon over just a 8-15lb fish due to our equipment but Jason and I are only luke warm on tarpon anyway so we elected to worry about the bonefish first.

Our next stop was not too far but turned out to be a bust, the flat looked good but I believe we were just there at the wrong time. The next flat was the same, the tide had backed off and was about ready to change so we covered some water in anticipation of that switch. Our fourth stop paid off and found a few bonefish that were eager to eat. It was decision time, do we go look for baby tarpon or keep after bonefish. It was a quick decision and we kept looking for bonefish and wanted to look back at the first flat we caught the permit to see it on the opposite tide.

One more bonefish for Foss and the day was getting late. We had a bit of a bumpy ride in and as we were idling in the channel back to the ramp Foss says, “You know if you just want to drive home on this day’s high and not stay tonight and fish a 1/2 day tomorrow, it would be fine with me”. I hadn’t made any reservations as the place we were planning on staying had plenty of rooms. Thought to myself, today was great, if we strike out tomorrow, man it would be a long drive home.

We put it on the trailer and reminisced on the fish from the day the entire way home. It was a long day down and back but it was worth it.  Truthfully it means even more that we did it ourselves with no outside help.

The Magic City Hustle was born.

There have been quite a few more runs since this one.  Successful and not so successful but those that know me know, if I had to chase only one fish for the rest of my life, it would be Bonefish. Still maintaining my dream to expand into South Florida one day.