Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fort Myers Beach - A Kayak Fishing Weekend

Last weekend we made our annual visit to catch up with the Hatteras in Fort Myers Beach.  As I discussed in a previous post, Fort Myers Beach is a very cool place for the boring west coast of Florida.  Believe it or not, they even have bars and restaurants which are open after 8pm!  That's amazing for the west coast.

Last year was the first year for the Kayak.  We learned that the fishing in Estero Bay is pretty good given we caught a 27" Redfish.  So this year, we are better fisherman and certainly understand the tides much better.  Our plan was to catch far more fish and add some variety as well.  Well, this certainly was the case, read on......

We arrived late Friday night after a long day of work.  If you are planning to go to Fort Myers Beach, try this trick as the traffic on Estero Blvd. is ridiculous most times of the day.  After arrival, we socialized with Jane & Maynard (Mom & Dad to me) and then hit the sack, planning on a big day of fishing.

5AM wake up call from the 50' Hatteras docked behind us.  They were heading out in the Gulf 30 miles to catch the "Big Ones", more on this later.  Back to sleep after they slowly but eventually leave the dock.  Up at 8am, the weather looks great light NE wind and low 60's.  Quick breakfast and out to setup the kayak.

Weather could not have been better for kayak fishing
With the kayak launched, Vivian and I headed out.  Our eventual location would be the area we caught the Redfish last year.  On the way, we fished a bit along the flats.  First fish is a nice Sea Trout caught by Vivian, good sign for the weekend!  Shortly after the release of this fish which was undersized, I hook up on the Rapala top water with a nice and frisky Spanish Mackerel.  Catching these toothy critters on the Hatteras is one thing, on the kayak, it is a whole different game being at their level during the fight!  In the new cooler this guy went.  BTW: the cooler rig in the earlier post worked like a charm.

Vivian catches the early skunk buster, a very good sign
After catching the Mackeral, we looked around to target a Redfish.  Not really in tune with exactly what they are looking for, we fish with DOA jigs tipped with frozen shrimp.  Even though we were not having much luck finding our target species, Vivian was hooking up with regularity with one of the next best species, the Sea Trout.

Check this one out!  A big 20" Sea Trout, nice catch
Spanish mackerel in the cooler, Sea Trout in the cooler.  It was already a great day.  By this time, we were getting a little hungry.  About the same time, the support crew / lunch kayak arrived with sandwiches and drinks, now this is good service!

How many fishing teams get kayak side lunch service!
After a nice lunch, we continued fishing for Sea Trout and hopefully a Redfish.  Many more Sea Trout, no Redfish.  We head into a small mangrove lines canal to see what it held.  After heading up the canal, Vivian hooks up with a small but legal Flounder!  What a day, Spanish Mackerel, Sea Trout and now a Flounder.  This place holds a lot of varied species and is a blast on a kayak.

So many nice places to fish in this area....
On our way back, we decide to stop off and fish a mangrove island which seems to be home to many nesting pelicans.  Around the island we fish and catch a couple of million Ladyfish.  Fun to catch but not much more than that.  All of the sudden, Viv gets slammed by what looks like a huge Redfish!  The one we were looking for, unfortunately the fish comes unbuttoned and off he goes.  Cant land them all but we are happy we found one and we will return to see what we can catch on another day.  After that, it was in to lay the fish on the cleaning table and have a great dinner.  The 50'  Hatteras had come back as well from their 60 mile voyage with nothing to show for it!  Now there is a comparison for you, a kayak with dinner and a 50' Hatteras Sportfish with nothing....

Not bad for day one.  Lots of fish, great variety and a few keepers for dinner
Day 2 - Both kayaks one the roof of the G-Wagon, it was off to Lovers Key.  This is a State park on Estero Island.  We had no idea what to expect but it looked like a nice place to kayak, especially given the wind was up a bit.

Lover Key, Estero Island FL.  Nice kayaking trails
In we went, great launch, nice marked trails.  Along the way out to the bay there are Manatee everywhere.  Mangrove lined trails with lots of nature and peace and quite.  There were so many Manatee we tended to not troll in fear of catching a poor unsuspecting Manatee.

Manatee sightings in several spots along the way
Eventually you get to an area where you can get out into Estero Bay.  This area is much different than the northern bay and there is a lot more boat traffic in the channel.  Across the channel we went, breeze up a bit.  Along the way, we run into a large pod of dolphins up close (very close) and personal!  This was better than any dolphin encounter someone could experience.

Around the bay we went, fishing a bit but not much to show for it.  With the wind and waves, fishing was more challenging and the area did not seem as good as the prior day.  Almost back to the entrance, we come across a nice flats boat fishing live pilchards under popping corks along the mangroves.  Looking pretty interesting, we head around the island from them and cast the Rapala Skitterwalk under a few mangroves.  Just like in the magazines, a small but nice Snook attacks the lure on the surface!  Even though its only 17"s this baby represents my first Snook which is cool, got that one out of the way as well.

Bad picture huh!  Anyway, photo evidence of my first Snook!
So, it was back into the canals for a nice ride home.  Not great fishing but it was really nice to get the Snook.  Back at the launch we pulled the kayaks, had a quick picnic and then raced back to the Hatteras to catch the "Big M" which is a dinner and gambling cruise.  Had a lot of fun, lost some money....

Day 3, we were planning on going to a wildlife preserve named Ding Darling on Sanibel Island.  In the early AM, we decided it would be better to fish FMB one more time to try to get our Redfish and then hit the road for Miami.

A bit windier than Day 1, we headed out at low tide.  Had to pass the Redfish area as there was not enough water to move along.  We would be back later.  On the way, tossing the topwater, a large Sea Trout slammed me.  In the bag he goes.  After that, a few short Sea Trout, millions of Ladyfish and way too many catfish than I care to discuss.

Ladyfish are everywhere.  They keep you occupied while searching
Once again, the lunch crew pays us a visit and then heads off to the beach for a walk (gee thats a surprise huh!).  Only one Sea Trout in the cooler, the day has been fun but not great.  1pm and no Redfish we start our way back to the Hatteras.  Along the way, Vivian who is always casting catches a REDFISH!  In he comes, likely one of the smallest Redfish which could be hooked but at least we caught one.

How cute is this guy!  Back he went to grow up for next year.
So, there it was a west coast flats slam! A Sea Trout, Snook and Redfish.  Ok, so it took both of us and multiple days but it was still the same trip so it counts for something.  Onward we go, swinging by the Pelican island on our way back.  Spend some time messing around, take one last lap around the island and decide we want to target an oyster bed which we remembered from Saturday.  In Chokoloskee we learned that casting on the edges of these is a good place to get Reds.  Vivian casts and bam, a big fish hits her white jig head tipped with a frozen shrimp (same lure as last years 27" Red).  As quick as it hit, it was gone.  Depressed, she trys another cast in the same spot and this time it hits and its hooked up good.  I paddle the daylights out of the kayak to keep her up with it on her light weight rod.  Eventually it tires and in the boat it comes.  A nice 19" Redfish, legal and going on the dinner table.  Success, two keeper Reds in two years, not bad.  We fished a while longer get one more on but don't land it.  The time comes when we have to wrap it up and head for Miami.

Another good day of fishing leads to some cleaning.
Overall, we feel like we are getting better.  I think we require a bit less luck and are also able to catch a variety of species and learning how to target them.  Our goal was to catch another Redfish which we did along with a number of other species including our first Snook.

Two years in a row for Vivian with Redfish! Nice job...
We really enjoyed the trip.  A lot of fishing and hanging out.  This place is worth the visit if you have never gone.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Kayak Mods - Keeping the Catch Cold

This weekend included no fishing expeditions.  What we did get done was to fit our new kayak fishing cooler which is a soft sided fish bag which will accommodate a much longer fish than our prior igloo cooler.  The challenge with this one was how to fit it in such a way that I can get it open without fumbling the keeper fish (normally done with the ones you really want!).

So,  I rigged a system which mounts the bag with small diameter yacht braid.  In the front, I ran the cording through some fair leads, joined the port and starboard sides and then ran it forward to my cockpit area where I can cleat it off.

Fits nicely on the Hobie Outfitter
The way I set it up was to allow for the release of the line which frees the front of the bag to be lifted up and moved over the side of the kayak.  This should provide enough flexibility for me to twist around and get a hold of the zipper and place the fish in the bag. 

Tie downs released from the cockpit, ready for the next big fish!
We will see, I will let everyone know how it performs.  If it is good, I will post more detailed setup instructions.....

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Annual Hatteras Voyage - Day 3

This day was the last leg of the annual journey to Fort Myers Beach.  After a quite night on the sea wall in front of the Everglades City Rod & Gun Club, Maynard and Jane set out early for a 72 mile journey with the final destination being Fort Myers Beach FL.

Fort Myers Beach - Cool city on Estero Island
So the trip started out with a decision on whether to head out into the ocean around Cape Romano or to head inside through a route via Goodland.   Given the tide was on its way down and the fact that the days weather looked pretty good, they decided to head out.  After a bit of confusion on which light was the Indian Key light, they charted a course with the help of Boat US which routed them safely around the shoals of Cape Romano.  Once around it, they headed North East, back into shore to get out of the seas.  About 2 miles West of Sanibel Island, they started Northwest in very good conditions.

Day 3 - Route from Everglades City to Fort Myers Beach
A following sea and mild temperatures gave them the best ride of the trip.  Arrival in Fort Myers Beach was around 3pm.  Overall, the Hatteras ran really well and other than current fuel prices, the trip is always a wonderful view of nature.

Now they are enjoying Fort Myers Beach and the many things to do.  This is a place much like Coconut Grove with its eclectic vibe and nice people.  There are a lot of good restaurants, bars and the people watching is second to none.  And of course, Jane's favorite, miles of white sand beaches to walk daily!

This weekend will be the Shrimp Festival which takes a place which is always packed and fills it to capacity.  This area houses many shrimpers and believe me, the festival shrimp are great!

The Annual Fort Myers Beach Shrimp Festival - Great Food
The Hatteras will stay here for the next 4 weeks or so.  We will visit twice this time to do some kayak fishing and hanging out.  This place and Estero Bay has some great fishing.  That's all for now, I hope we can catch more fish like we did last year!

Vivian and her 26" Redfish from last year!

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Annual Hatteras Voyage - Day 2

Today was the "long day", not like a working persons long day, but rather a retired persons "long day"!  Today was 11 hours of boating (tough life!), ending in Everglades City at the infamous Rod & Gun Club.

The day started out leaving Plantation Yacht Harbor, heading South.  At Long Key, between Islamorada and Marathon, they made a right turn (West) and followed the Yacht Channel up along Everglades National Park.  This is the first time they have taken this route, typically day 2 was from Islamorada to Marathon and then day 3 was Marathon up to Everglades City.  This route was intended to be more scenic, away from the crab pots, as they are not allowed in the park and in more protected shallower waters.  I believe much of this was true, most of the trip.

Islamorada to Everglades City Day 2
The route was ~110 miles.  The destination was the Rod and Gun Club which was built in the middle of the Everglades in 1864.  Vivian and I visited this place a few weeks ago and its history is really interesting.  The dock out front of the club is very accomodating with a simple side tie for the night.

Everglades City Rod & Gun Club - 1864
The plan for them was to get a great dinner at the club, spend a quick night on the dock and head out tomorrow for Fort Myers Beach, the final destination.  The ride tomorrow is ~70 miles and the weather should be nice with a moderate offshore wind out of the East.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Annual Hatteras Voyage Begins

Today, after waiting out a few days of extreme wind in South Florida, the Hatteras departed on its annual voyage to Fort Myers Beach.  Jane and Maynard (Mom & Dad) set out this AM in moderate winds (12-15) with partly sunny skies and a moderate chop in Biscayne Bay.

Overall, this will be a three day voyage with the first leg being Coconut Grove to Islamorada (Plantation Yacht Harbor).  This marina is one of the only large harbors on the bay side of the keys and has a lot of good facilities including a fuel dock.

Plantation Yacht Harbor is a great bay side large yacht stop
 So the route for the day is a rather interesting ride.  It starts in Biscayne Bay, goes through a large section of Everglades National Park and then runs through Jewfish Creek into Florida Bay.  As you head south, you go through some really shallow water and some great tight and scenic mangrove passages.

The SPOT does a great job of tracking to Hatteras
So that was day one.  Docked the boat, fueled it up and then they headed up to a great little place named Marker 88 for dinner.  Tomorrow is a long run to Everglades City along the bottom side of the National Park boundary.  Weather is supposed to be warm with 8-10mph winds from the NW.  If this is the case, should be a very scenic ride.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Fishing Biscayne Bay with the crew

This past weekend we had the opportunity to have several visitors in from out of town.  Our friend Chris arrived for a few days from snowy Cleveland.  Our other friends Jamie and Stefan came up from Key West where they live during the winter months.

Everyone arrived Saturday afternoon and we had a great barbecue with awesome steak, pasta and salad on the menu.  No fish today as the plan was to catch plenty of fish early the next day.  Weather reports looked favorable so the plan after stuffing everyone with huge rib eye steaks was to hit the water around 7am.

Early morning Sunday, Stefan's alarm on his new iPhone goes off like an air raid siren!  Clearly the most obnoxious sound anyone has every woken up to.  After getting every ones heart back in their chests, the buoy reports are checked and of course, different than forecasts, Fowey rocks reports East winds in excess of 17mph with gusts to 20mph.  This results in a quick call to the other half of the crew sleeping on the Hatteras to delay our departure until 9am.

Coconut Grove from the water
After picking up 2 boxes of Tournament chum from Crook & Crook, we head to Dinner Key to begin our fishing expedition.  Upon arrival, we prepare the boat and leave the dock, moderate winds in Biscayne Bay, sun and 75 or so, we begin trolling the channel.  This channel trolling always seems to be a good indicator of the fishing for the day.  This day would prove to be as the fishing in the channel was, very good.

Stefan removing on of the many fish caught in the channel
Given the wind conditions, we choose to go to one of our favorite Biscayne Bay spots versus heading out in the ocean and beating everyone up.  As we slowly troll across the bay, we enjoy the sights and sounds of the wonderful bay. 
Biscayne Bay - A great place to boat in any conditions
At the spot, we set the anchor and get the rods ready.  Once ready, we bring out the most important part of Bay fishing, the chum!  This stuff drags in the bait fish and the bait fish drag in the hungry predators.  We have noted during our recent trips that the fishing is best when we can call in the Ballyhoo.  This time, the Ballyhoo were thick once the chum had time to work.

Part of the motley crew getting ready for the battle! 
Not long after the bait arrived, we began catching the fish.  One of the first fish in the boat, caught by Vivian on the best lure for Biscyane bay (Rapala Skitterwalk), was a hungry Bluefish.  Shortly after this, the entire team began catching Bluefish and Spanish Mackerel at a crazy pace.  The fishing was fun and athletic at this point.  Two rigs were working, the Rapala and Cajun Thunder corks with salted pilchard suspended underneath. 

Me with a smaller Spanish Mackerel
So the fishing was crazy for a few hours, then slowly the fishermen began to tire.  Notice I said "fishermen" because the girls, Vivian and Jamie, kept cranking.  Eventually, Vivian began to slow twitch the Rapala, resulting in a great strike from a really nice 16 inch Sea Trout!

Vivian with a beautiful 16" Sea Trout
After this great fish, Jamie hooks into a huge Spanish Mackerel.  She fights it like a champ, doesn't get cut off and we swing it into the boat.  No photos for now but I will update later with the shots, great fish!

Vivian then gets back to the fishing with the same slow twitch style, she hooks something which is strong and different than the large Spanish or Bluefish.  This time, she fights and lands a very large 20" Sea Trout.  We swing this guy in the boat and get some nice shots.

Vivian with the crew sporting an awesome 20" Sea Trout!
So, we burned the bait out of the cooler, caught a few more fish for dinner and then packed it up.  Total tally for the day is unknown but we had a big job cleaning the catch back at the dock.

Now that's a day of catching!
Back at the dock, after giving the boat a quick cleaning, we broke out the drinks and fillet knives.  After the fish were filleted, it was time to chill and enjoy the end of the day.  It was a great day with friends and turned out to be a very productive day of fishing as well.

Not a bad way to spend a day!
So that was the day.  It turned out great and our new spot did not fail us.  More to come, next time it will be back to kayak fishing as the Hatteras is heading for Fort Myers Beach!  Maybe there will be kayaking and hopefully some red fish catching from San Carlos pass soon!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Chokoloskee Island Park - A Fishermans Hangout

So we just got back from our first trip to Chokoloskee Island.  This island is just 3 miles from Everglades City and 30 miles East of Naples.  Overall, the island is setup for primarily fishing and other outdoors activities like bird watching and hiking.  The place is just 90 minutes from the house and from what we have heard (more on this later!), there are a ton of fish here.

Vivian at the Chokoloskee Island Park Marina
So, we arrived on Friday and the weather was less than ideal, 65 and cloudy with pretty strong winds 15-20.  We were certainly not going out in the kayak so we setup on a bridge in the middle of the causeway with good current.   Fished a while with nothing to show for it.  Finally, about to leave, Vivian (as usual) hooks into what turns out to be a really nice small but legal Flounder!  Prior to this, she missed another.  These fish are wierd to catch and seem to hang on sandy bottoms looking for food.  She caught it on a jig tipped with a frozen shrimp.

Not huge but the first flounder we have caught and legal!
So we finished up the end of the day with a bit of fishing and a little bit of catching. 

Cold but still giving the fishing a shot!
Off to dinner at the Oyster house where we had Pompano which was extremely good.  After a great meal, it was off to bed in hopes, as the weatherman predicted, of a warmer clear day.  Wake up Saturday AM, hoping the cold front has passed with the early morning showers.  I guess the cold front went through as the air temp was low 50's with grey snow cloud looking skys and 15-20 mph winds.

Early AM Saturday, certainly not a day to check out a new kayak location!
So that was a low point!  On the good side, the accomodations were great and 100 yds or so from the launch site.  The place was clean, comfortable and thank God it had heat!

Simple, clean, reasonable and very nice. Chokoloskee Island Park
So we spent the day exploring Chokoloskee and Everglades City.  Pretty much fishing villages with eco tourism and kayaks everywhere.  It felt like a ski village but for kayaks there were so many.  For dinner Saturday evening, we went to the Rod and Gun Club in Everglades City.  This place was built in 1864 and is very cool.  This is the place where my parents Maynard and Jane have brought our Hatteras 36.  It is beautiful and has a great feeling inside.

Rod & Gun Club 1864 - Very interesting history, you should visit
 Finally the weather turned a bit on Sunday AM.  As the sun came up, the clouds had gone and the wind dropped a bit to 12-15mph.  The only issue was that it was now 48 or so and the wind had blown most of the water out of Chokoloskee bay.  One by one, the flats boats showed up at the ramp only to realize there was absolutley no where for them to go with the water nearly gone.  Good side of a kayak, we just passed them by and launched.  Out we went, still windy and cold but we finally got our kayak out in Chokoloskee!

Vivian out in Chokoloskee Bay with a fresh wind and wierd tide
So, we were out and chasing some of the guys from the forum which helped us understand where to go.  There was very little water but it was coming in slowly.  The most amazing thing here are the oyster beds which are everywhere.  These things hold a lot of fish food which makes the fishing very good but when you hit one, they are not friendly to your kayak.

Oyster beds - you can see them on the right of the mangroves
By this time, the weather was really turning.  Wind dropped to 8-10, moved more easterly which is far better for this location.  The fishing was not great, likely due to the bitter cold temps the night before.  We actually did not catch anything this day but we had a great time learning these waters and experiencing a truely unique place.  Where else can you dodge oyster beds and see dolphins going crazy doing their own fishing while viewing hawks and eagles circling overhead looking for their catch but Chokoloskee, surrounded by Everglades National Park waters.

Everglades National Park on a cold but sunny day
So we paddled around some more and passed many kayakers, all like us, happy to be out on the water finally... 

Fellow kayaks enjoying the day in Chokoloskee
We visited some really cool mangrove rivers and saw many amazing and wonderful sites.  No navigation issues or hard groundings, all in all, a very nice day. With the weather turning even nicer, we headed back to the ramp to pack up and head back to Miami.  Once back at the ramp, we cleaned the kayak, loaded it up and had a great relaxing picnic.

Now this was a nice place to have a cold one!
So, that was the trip.  We had a great time and will definately go back on a nicer weekend to see if we can catch a few of the fish which have made this place famous.