Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Saltwater, Birthday Fishing and Broken Rods

Even though I don't get to do it much I really like fishing saltwater. The reason I like it for the most part is you never know what you'll get. Sure this can be the case in freshwater but never to the extent it is in the salt.
Sharon Chillin' at the Hippie-pod

Writing this I can't believe it's been so many weeks since we were in Florida. We rolled in to Panama City back on may 15th as part of our big adventure. We have children and grandchildren there so the visit was for multiple reasons beside fishing. Over the years I've tried to make a point of fishing every time I go there but the last few visits have been so quick and the family growing so much that fishing hasn't been in the cards. This time I made sure there was time for everything.
Steve With the First Fish of the Trip

A few days in my son Steve and I were able to get out to St Andrews State Park. I've been itching to get out there for years and had been eyeing a particular point of interest using Google Earth. I had also been watching the tidal charts for weeks in advance and we were coming in on some of the strongest tides of the month and some of the strongest of the season. I don't know much about the ins and outs of saltwater angling but I do know tides play a huge part in fish movement with the stronger the better.

I would liked to have been on the water at dawn but without an annual pass you can't get into the park until 8:00 am when the gate attendant shows up. That being the case we didn't hit the water until 9:00........well that and the fact that Steve is rarely on time and insists in carrying his entire tackle collection with him, along with a big cooler. Maybe some day I'll be able to teach him how to lighten the load. I will say the cooler does come in handy 4 hours in under the blazing sun when the blue runners are still biting and thirst has kicked in.
Hooked Up!

We had a good day with what we figured later to be over 4 dozen fish landed. The blue runners were the most cooperative of the species we caught. I had three doubles that day. I started out using a 3" blue and white deceiver. I was getting short strikes quite a bit while Steve was hooking up more regularly on his heavy spinning gear. Thinking back to many days on stillwater trout lakes I put on a smaller fly as a trailer and immediately started hooking up on the smaller fly. Fish are fish after all and there is definitely shared behavior between species no matter where they live.
A Big Sailtop Catfish

As part of his arsenal Steve had brought along a big bottom fishing rig and a tub of shrimp. When things slowed down at one point he baited up and started catching sailtop catfish. After he landed one of the biggest either of us has ever seen I got in on a bit of that action. The ones I caught weren't nearly as big but fun none the less. On one cast I thought they catfish had picked my bait so I started hauling the line into to re-bait when something of great proportion and speed took the rig hook, line and sinker, literally. The instant whatever it was hit the 30 lb. fluorocarbon leader was cut as if with a knife. Steve decided to re-rig but never quite got to it. I picked up my 8 weight again and immediately started catching ladyfish one after the other. He got back into the action with me using his spinning gear.

It was quite some time before it all slowed down. By the time we quit we were both worn out and pretty satisfied with our catch. We had hooked and landed ladyfish, blue runners and something unattractive called a lizardfish. Twice during the day my tandem fly rig had been sliced from my leader by something toothy.
Blue Runner

For some reason we didn't go out again for a few days. Tuesday we hit another location in the afternoon but all we could manage was a pair of lizardfish and I got cut off twice. It was time to do something about those cut offs. I stopped into Howell Tackle for a little advice and as it turned out wire leader material. I did a little more research and found an internet article (which I can't relocate as I write this) about using a 3-6" wire leader for fly fishing the salt. Using the instruction I got from the young man at Howell Tackle I made up some 3" bite guards in anticipation of our trip out on Thursday.
Spanish Mackerel

Thursday we were out on the point at just before 9:00 am and so were the Spanish mackerel. We rounded point and saw baitfish fleeing for life. While Steve unloaded his arsenal I got my deceiver out on the edge of a skittering school and was immediately hooked up. The fish hit HARD and I gave a strip set to make sure the hook went deep. Before I knew it I was looking at backing and worried about being cut off by one of the boats using the pass around the point we were on. The next thing I knew there was nothing attached to my line. Once again the leader had been sliced as if by a knife. It was time to actually use one of those wire leaders.

Quickly I rigged up with the wire bite guard instead of the 30 lb. fluorocarbon. Within seconds of getting my fly in the water I was hooked up again. Before I could land the first Spanish mackerel of the day Steven was hooked up also and so it went for well over the next hour. We followed the schools of nervous baitfish around the point catching blue runners and Spanish mackerel.

As the action started to slow I spotted a school of baitfish scatter within easy casting distance. I hauled the deceiver into the edge of the baitfish, made a quick strip and was hooked into something that made a huge swell on the take. I could tell from that instant it was something huge. Like before it was a matter of seconds before I was looking at my backing quickly disappearing. Desperate I applied more pressure to the reel spool hoping to slow the fish or break the leader above the bite guard. It didn't slow the fish at all so I squeezed down on the spool with my gloved hand finally slowing whatever it was attached to my line. I felt really smug for about 2 seconds. That's when my rod snapped at the ferrule. With no hope of landing the fish I wrapped the backing around my hand and hauled back to break the leader.

Down trodden I had to take a break, have a walk on the beach and snap a few photos. As I walked along the beach it occurred to me I had purchased that St Croix rod around 18 years ago as a replacement for another broken rod. I was fishing the Texas coast and hooked into a cruising redfish of outlandish proportions. Three times I had brought the redfish close trying to land it. Each time it would make a surge and take line. On the fourth attempt to land it I was sure it was exhausted. I reached down to tail the nearly three feet of redfish lying on its' side but it wasn't quite done. The redfish surged again, I clamped down on the line and that rod snapped into three pieces. With two more days of fishing left I searched out the now broken St Croix and finished out that trip. Now I found myself in the same position.

With two more days in Panama City and fishing in the Keys ahead down the road it was time to buy another road on the road. I had browsed the local tackle dealers in the days prior and found very little tackle of decent quality. With high hopes of fishing for bonefish down the road I wanted something of really good quality. Later back at the Hippie-pod Sharon was very sympathetic to my plight. Beside everything else it was my birthday. A quick shower later we were on the road to Bass Pro Shops where I knew they would have a good selection of rods. The rod broken in Texas was a Bass Pro rod so it seemed everything was coming full circle.

Driving west on Hwy 98 Sharon and I were chatting about this and that she called out "There's an Orvis store!" Now there are few things in the English language that elicit the same reaction from me as "There's an Orvis store." Traffic be damned I whipped into the next parking lot entrance and backtracked to the front door. Imagine the sound of angels singing Aaahhhhh!

Inside the store things started out slow where Sharon is concerned. She expected a greater selection of economy priced rods to choose from. I had my eye on a Recon. The store had a selection of Superfine glass, Clearwater, Recon and Helios 2. Trying to be a fiscally responsible shopper I wiggled the Clearwater while eyeing the Recon.

As a side note it is worth mentioning that Sharon strongly encouraged me to limit the number of rods I brought along on our big adventure. When I mentioned the possibility of a broken rod along the way her reply was "There are stores out there. If it breaks you can replace it." Famous last words I say! Another key factor in my favor was this all happened on my birthday.
The New Recon Ready For Action

Still trying to maintain fiscal responsibility I had Sky, the salesman, grab the Clearwater and Recon 908-4 rods for test casting. I have cast both rods in the past and knew which I preferred. First up was the Clearwater which casts good but let's be honest not great. Next Sky strung up the Recon and on first twitch I could tell the big difference. I took my time contemplating whether I could be happy with the economy model. I had Sky restring the Clearwater for another test cast or twelve. While casting the Clearwater Sharon showed up on the lawn having browsed all she could inside. We discussed the merits and cost of both rods until she suggested I cast the Recon again. Sky restrung the Recon and on first Cast Sharon noted with great emphasis the difference in the casting stroke between the two rods. I must say she does have a good eye and I am now the proud owner of a 908-4 Recon rod.

Back on the point the next morning there were mixed emotions where the new rod was concerned. An old familiar rod is like a good dog, very hard to replace especially after so many years. On the other hand a tremendous amount of advancements have been made in rods materials and design over that time. Casting the Recon is smoother, easier and the weight in hand is far better than the St Croix. We caught quite a few blue runners that day and it was a good break in for the new rod. The wind was up and the fish were further off shore. I'm not sure I could have reached them with the old rod.

Happy Birthday to me!