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A Snook Recovery?

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Over the past couple over years, catching a snook has been a real challenge for many recreational anglers. After all there were nearly one million snook that perished from that brutal winter in 2010 and it likely diminished the entire snook population of Florida by an estimated 40% or more!  But now nearly four years later, I’ve begun to notice some improvement in the snook stocks along Florida’s west coast.

Since the spring, in my travels up and down the state both fishing and filming, I have witnessed good numbers of snook in many areas. But I’d be remiss if I told you every region had improved significantly. In some areas the recovery is still lagging behind a little bit… some of that is due to a diminished habitat (especially in metro areas). And, I’ve conversed with a number of other professional guides that are noticing the same progress with the snook in other popular fishing locales within the state. The snook now seems poised to make a comeback but only with a little more help from those of us who revere them the most!

With the snook getting some relief from season closures imposed by the FWC for three consecutive years between 2010 & 2013. And “Mother Nature” taking care of it’s own, banking on the snook’s unusual hermaphrodite qualities, the snook are starting to rebound and maintain breeding populations. But caution should still be the rule with these sub-tropical brutes of the shallows, we can’t take it for granted that the snook are all the way back… far from it.

photo 1 (3)There will always be the threat of another unseasonably cold winter freeze and the “red tides” that plague our state in the summer months; both scenarios take their toll on most snook populations. But with a little self-restraint by anglers on harvest numbers and the continued stock management that is currently in place, the snook should recover to pre-2009 numbers in just a few more seasons barring a catastrophic natural event. Again, the one factor we can control as anglers when it comes to the snook’s overall comeback, is to practice responsible catch & release of all snook!

Even though snook are fair game within the slot 28″to 33″ during the Fall (September through November) and then again in the Spring (March through April); I would encourage prudence to all anglers and simply treat snook as if the seasons are still closed. It’s the only way we can guarantee the fastest recovery and future of Florida’s most prized gamefish. I believe that the old days of catching snook so that they can be brought to a filet table is in the past… snook are way too valuable to Florida’s fishing economy! Anglers from all over the country & across the globe travel here to south Florida, to chase these unique and powerful gamefish because their numbers are relatively sustained here. Other than the very southern tip of the Texas coast, Florida’s is the recognized snook capital of the country and a highly valued commodity we have to protect!

My clients in particular have been catching snook with more regularity on charters in areas where just last year we caught none. These prominent predators add something to every fishing outing, often the highlight of the day. The snook’s aggressive ambush behavior and unpredictable runs once hooked is what draws anglers to the challenge of battling these “lions of the flats”. It’s exactly for that reason we need to put a higher value on the snook, there are plenty of other “fish of opportunity” that anglers can bring to the grill!  My charters are catch & release only… hopefully others will feel this way to ensure more snook for our future. Remember, a snook’s  lifespan is nearly 20 years… that’s a pretty damn big snook!  And with a little help from all of us it’s going to be possible to catch more of these big linesider’s moving forward. In closing, the lesson we should have learned from the devastating snook kill of 2010 runs parallel to a lesson learned from this last serious economic recession which hurt so many of us financially. We need to employ some “good old” common sense to re-build a healthy sustained snook fishery and protect the estuaries where these fish thrive.

If you want to learn more about snook, or how you can get involved in securing the snook’s future; visit www.ccaflorida.org, www.mote.org and www.snookfoundation.org or better yet become a member of these organizations that respect our gamefish.

From Capt. C.A.Richardson’s poling platform…

Suspending Plugs Pay Big Dividends

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Frequently, fans of Flats Class ask what is your favorite hard bait?  A top water or maybe a lipped plug?  That question, simply can’t be answered with one bait choice. But, if I widened the possibilities to include an entire bait category… it would definitely have to be suspending plugs for me.  The versatility of these lures in relation to the realism of their profiles and their swimming action always pays big dividends!

Suspending plugs come in a variety of sizes and profiles for inshore anglers trying to imitate finger mullet, pinfish and pogies or any other “fin fish”for that matter. And some manufactures re-create these baitfish with unbelievable realism and detail in appearance. But in my opinion, the bait doesn’t have to be a perfect duplicate of the “Real McCoy”, it does however need to be similar in profile and base color!  For instance, I often choose my bait profiles (look) based on either seasonal forage or the size of the bait currently present in the water on that trip. Once profile and size has been determined,then color is founded on water clarity first and “match the hatch” second for me.  By in large, once the profile, size and color is narrowed down the only other important consideration is retrieve tempo.

photo 2 (2)The lure action and tempo imparted by the angler is generally the “real trigger” of the bite not just the realistic look of the plug. That’s the beauty of the suspending plug category… the angler plays a prominent role whether or not the fish accepts or refuses the lure!  It’s why I enjoy this category baits so much because it provides me the opportunity to coax the fish into striking by varying the tempo of the retrieve. Having control over the plug to simulate a fleeing or a wounded bait and being able to evaluate how the targeted gamefish reacts to it… is priceless!

In most inshore regions, all of the typical littoral zone predators love to smash well presented suspending baits without hesitation!  These baits routinely fool the most discriminating snook, redfish, trout and even tarpon in the hands of a skilled angler. Gamefish are susceptible to this category of baits mostly because it’s  natural for predators to have a primarily “fin-fish” diet, this makes suspending plugs an all-purpose option for anglers.

After much experimentation with sink rates and lure actions, I’ve come up with a few suggestions for our fans who originally posed the question “What’s your favorite lure?” When it comes to selecting a suspending plug for depths in the 1′ to 2′ range, I favor Mirrolure’s Catch 2000 and the entire Mirrodine line-up. I found that these two offerings not only “match the hatch” but re-produce both natural & erratic swimming motions better than all the rest. A close third suspending lure that I do consider a sure fire bet, especially in cooler water temps, would have to be the Paul Brown Lure!  The Paul Brown Lure has been a popular twitch bait in Texas for big trout for decades and now is getting quite a cult following in Florida and the Carolina’s.  There are several other suspending plugs that I enjoy employing in some deeper water scenarios but the above three lures are unquestionably my preferred choices that often pay big dividends for my clients and myself!

Just another suggestion from the poling platform from Capt. C.A.!

Why Lure Color Can Make Fish Bite!

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Over the years, I consistently am asked one question over and over from viewers and students. “What lure color should I choose”? In my opinion, there is truly no one homogenized answer to this relatively simple question. Of course, most anglers roll with the consensus, that light colors work in clear water while darker colors tend to fair better in off-color water conditions. But, I tend to answer this question with a little more in-depth perspective.

I generally consider five pieces of criterion when trying to determine lure color; target species, preferred seasonal forage of target species, water clarity and temperature, plus light penetration. Naturally, different geographic regions tend to have “tried & true” color favorites that have been popularized by guides and lure manufacturers over time but that thought process can be a counter productive on occasion if anglers don’t factor in all variables.

Your target species will play a significant role in choosing lure color because species such as Sea Trout and Snook tend to be more visually oriented predators that ambush prey and take advantage of low light scenarios. So with that in mind, colors that silhouette or contrast (two tone baits for example) might be solid choices at dawn and dusk. Whereas, Redfish likely utilize olfactory and lateral line senses to a greater degree and feed with their eyes looking into the sea bottom. That makes earthy organic colors more preferable especially during daylight hours for “forage rooting” redfish. This mindset lets you play to the strength of these target species when lure color matters!

When I’m speaking of the preferred seasonal forage, I’m actually inferring to the “match the hatch” theory. Throughout the year, there are going to be periods when shrimp are overly abundant or a major baitfish hatch has taken place. These natural phenomenons may dictate lure color choices because gamefish get locked in to a particular color tone and profile during these periods. An example, might be an area where the fiddler crab population is relatively dense. The redfish that feed in that same zone should respond positively to lures that incorporate colors like New Penny or Rootbeer Gold because they (the redfish) associate those color hues as a primary food source.

Water clarity is the one common denominator that most anglers can agree on when making lure color decisions. It’s long been accepted that clear water has most inshore anglers reaching for natural or translucent colors. Meanwhile, turbid or tannin water often bring fluorescent or darker colors out of tackle bags. But there is another factor to contemplate in the water clarity equation… such as water temperature. When the water chills down over the flats most of the bait fish evacuate the shallows, leaving only crustaceans and creatures that live near the bottom for fish to feed on… darker colors prevail here regardless of clarity in these scenarios. The inverse is true, in regards to warmer water temperatures, that frequently flood many shallow flats and bays with thousands of baitfish. This rise in water temperature and presence of minnow bait, by and large,means that lighter colored lures,such as white, silver or bone, are more likely to incite strikes over darker choices. But,predominantly water clarity is still the principal element when selecting lure color!

2014124redAnother essential consideration is available light. Light penetration is dependent on several components like the angle of the sun, cloud cover, water clarity, depth, and even wind! It’s typical and wise for anglers to select darker, fluorescent or two-tone colored lures when available light is very low, or in choppier sea conditions that diminish light penetration. And on those days when the sun is high and the sky is blue, which is often the case in post front conditions; it’s then more conforming to tie on natural colored or translucent baits in smaller profiles to ensure success. The role “light penetration” plays in fishing also has an effect on feeding behaviors of certain species. Many predators are able to adjust visually to changing light conditions much faster than their prey; this happens primarily at dawn & dusk and gives predators such as “gator trout”a tactical advantage.

It may seem like an awful lot of circumstances and information to interpret just to choose the perceived correct lure color. But, for those anglers willing to educate and adapt to conditions where color can leverage an advantage… it’s worth the time invested!

Just another great tip from Flats Class and please remember to keep conservation and ethics in your future fishing adventures…

By Capt. C.A. Richardson

Tide Height & Gamefish Relationship on the Flats?

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troutTidesThe height of the tide is one of the most critical factors when it comes to locating gamefish consistently. Ask yourself this simple question; where is my favorite fishing area and when does it produce the best for me? Is it high tide, low tide, or somewhere in the middle? Once you understand this elementary concept of “fish positioning”you will be well on your way to patterning gamefish based off the height of the tide… and likely duplicating your success in your “favorite fishing hole”in new areas.

In many of my experiences, “high water” often sets up good fishing along mangrove shorelines, oyster bars, pockets in coves, and points where structure is present. I believe these high water zones are regular gamefish producers because prey such as mullet, glass minnows, and a variety of crustaceans seek refuge in these habitats during the higher water phases. What can be challenging about targeting the higher water phases, is that gamefish can spread out over a large expanse so it’s best to develop a secondary pattern (windy or lee shorelines for example) to have more steady results.

On the other hand, “lower tidal” phases concentrate game fish in areas such as: the deeper zones & edges of a given flat, deep creek mouths,and any large sandy troughs, basins, or potholes within the grass flat itself. This lower tide height scenario is by far my favorite as a shallow water skiff guide. Simply due to the fact, that the gamefish that I’m targeting are much easier to locate and generally catch since they’re all bunched up. If you avoid the lower tide phases, because you are concerned about being stranded or trapped on the flat… you are missing out on the best opportunity of all the tides you could fish!

mapTides

Click image to enlarge.

Lastly, the “middle tidal” movements can be a little trickier to figure out. The reason why,more or less,is the familiarity on how the game fish access the flat from the low tide zones to the high tide zones and vice versa. If you look at a satellite overlay of a typical shallow flat, you will invariably notice deeper egresses where gamefish can comfortably traverse from the edge of a flat to the crown of the flat through the middle tide phase in either direction. When you discover these pathways within the flat, you greatly put the percentages in your favor! At this point it’s just a matter of finding the secondary pattern (what they eat) and your results should be predictably good.

Examine the satellite map image above and notice the typical high, middle, and low water tide height zones plus also take note of the pathways that gamefish might utilize to move about the flat.

Bottom line, if you are not taking “tide height” into serious consideration when surveying a shallow flat, you just might be putting yourself at a significant disadvantage.

Another great tip from Flats Class!

Product Review: Falcon Rods launches new “Backcountry” 3000 & 4000 spinning reels!

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falconReels

When I left the 2013 ICAST Show in Las Vegas last July, I left armed with a new advantage from Falcon Rods. It was the latest addition to the Falcon spinning reel line-up, the new “Backcountry”. What separates the “Backcountry” model from its predecessors the “Volt” and “Moxie”, is that it’s been specifically designed for the inshore light tackle angler. My mission this summer was to field test this new Falcon spinning reel and make sure it would measure up to some of the fiercest predators cruising the shallows.

The first venue I challenged the new “Backcountry” spinning reel in was the marshes of Louisiana. There I had my clients land over 450 fish in just 30 days; many over 20lbs. This extreme tackle test really impressed me with the overall durability factor of this new reel. More or less, because I did not anticipate an economically priced reel, such as the “Backcountry”, to perform at such a high level when pitted against marsh monsters like big black drum and hefty redfish in the Bismarck class!

The next big test was to go down to Everglades National Park and evaluate how the “Backcountry” would handle the blistering runs of South Florida snook. I traveled down there with an old friend and fished two long days and caught several snook and nearly a dozen redfish skipping soft plastics underneath the low hanging mangrove limbs. Close quarter, guerrilla fishing that would max test any drag system on an affordable spinning reel. And yes once again, the “Backcountry” reel answered the challenge!

After putting the reel through the rigors of charter fishing in some of the harshest conditions… I’m convinced the Falcon “Backcountry” reels are going to remain a staple in my guide business for years to come. The “Backcountry” 3000 comes with an extra shallow (braid) spool that’s designed for the angler who does not want to use mono backing, which I really liked. This new offering is also very smooth featuring 11 stainless bearings plus one roller bearing… giving the reel a silky feel even discriminating anglers can appreciate. The reel body is sturdy, corrosion resistant and the bail hardware is overbuilt… it’s tough! It has a 5.0:1 gear ratio that gives it some teeth when the drag is locked down and the drag system is of the micro click variety for subtle adjustments. Line capacity is more than adequate, the deeper spool holds 200 yards of 8lb. line and/or 160 yards of 10lb. line; more than enough even for the hard running bonefish enthusiast.

Overall, I was very pleased with my findings on the performance of Falcon’s new “Backcountry” spinning reels during field testing. But I believe what is more remarkable is the affordable retail cost of just $109 for the 3000 model and $119 for the 4000 model… that’s a bargain in this economy. These reels should be available at retailers that are authorized Falcon Rod dealers by January if not sooner. In my opinion, a big thumbs up to the guys at Falcon Rods, they have a real winner here with the “Backcountry” spinning reels!

For more info about Falcon Rods products, please visit www.falconrods.com

Review by Capt. C.A. Richardson

Tag/Keywords: capt carichardson, falcon rods, backcountry reels, flats class, big improvement, inshore tackle, reels for saltwater.

Capt. C.A. Richardson
Flats Class TV
carichardson@flatsclass.com
727.647.9356

The Art of Poling the Shallows

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The reason why light tackle & fly anglers have so much more success throwing the fakes that catch trophy game fish is directly related to their ability to pole their skiffs quietly into range without alerting their quarry.  The advantage to push poling a skiff is that you minimize your footprint on the flat…that ultimately equates to a reduction in noise and practically a zero pressure wave emanating from the poled hull.  And I’m personally convinced that a quiet boat that can’t be detected… just “flat out fishes” any other type of boat that is making preventable sounds within the same shallow zone. Read More

The Crustacean Pattern

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Dropping water temperatures often force light tackle anglers to reach for a good crustacean imitator from their tackle bag.  Colder water also dictates slower presentations that appeal to game fish not willing to expend the energy to chase down the faster paced lures utilized during the warmer months.  For this reason, a good shrimp or crab imitation is generally well received by snook, redfish, and sea trout when there is a good chill in the air. Read More

Tackle Review: “Ohero Braid”

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Over my career I have had the opportunity to use dozens of brands of fishing line; some I like, some I dislike, but finally I have found one fishing line that I love… it’s Ohero Braid made from 100% Dyneema!  The Ohero Braid has several user-friendly qualities that I have found to be ultra beneficial to my style of inshore fishing.   Read More