Last week I had the good fortune of leaving the kids with Grandma and Grandpa and heading to the waters of the Atlantic in northern Florida. The primary purpose for getting away, was time with my beautiful bride, but when there is water and sun, we both have our own ideas of fun. She tends to be a sun goddess, while I, well, I think you understand! I need fish!
I had done some homework and came ready to fish for just about anything that I could get a chance at from fishing the surf to fishing the sound. Much to my dismay though, I arrived to find the beaches a very poor option for fishing sport fish of any kind on the fly. It was a good thing I brought the box of surf rigs with the rods to go along with it, because Whiting and small Sharks was all that was available.
With some shrimp, a couple of surf rods, some sand spikes for holding the rods and time to spare, I wore out the small Whiting and occasional shark from the beach. All in all it was really just a way of passing the time until the fly rod could be assembled and flies put into the air.
A Horseshoe Crab shell lays on the beach along Amelia Island.
Prior to coming down, I had made some calls and sent some emails out to see if I could locate any contacts in the area. As I had read, the Amelia Island area was a great fishery for anything and everything given the time of year. What I was excited to hear though, was that Tarpon could be had...and good size Tarpon. As luck would have it, I was able to make contact with a fine guide and new friend, Jeff. Jeff Crumpton operates Amelia Island Charter Fishing and is an Orvis Endorsed Guide in the region. Given the nature of business in the area, he fishes both on the fly and with light tackle. He does however have a lot of experience fishing and guiding on the fly and spent a number of years with operations in West Virginia around the Elk River and Slaty Fork. He is a skilled fly casting instructor and has fished across the country and beyond for both fresh and saltwater species.
Jeff was a great aide in getting me out on the water in search of a few more personal firsts on the fly. If you are ever in the area, give him a shout and have him take you fishin'...you'll have a great time for sure. More on fishing with Jeff in a minute....
Captain Jeff Crumpton of Amelia Island Charter Fishing
poses with a nice fly caught Speckled Trout.
Before I could make it out with Jeff, I had some time to beat around the beach, get some sun, and try my hand at surf fishing with the bait rigs and surf rods. One thing was certain though...it didn't matter what rod was in my hand, all I could do was dream about that one fish that still haunts me....the silver king...the poon...the mighty Tarpon. Well, I guess one of two...can't forget that haunting Permit either.
At any rate, I spent some time on the beach and got a couple of more species of shark under my belt. I never got anything big, but I saw them for sure. Here are a few picks of what I caught within casting distance of the beach.
A small Black-Tipped Reef Shark that hammered some cut bait.
Hammerhead Sharks were also very present and typically
ran larger than the Black-tips. However, this as I have now
learned was not a Hammerhead, but a Bonnethead Shark...
learn something new every day! Interesting creatures to say the least!
The Bonnethead Shark from the front.
Well, every chance that Jeff had (when he didn't have charters booked), he tried to get me out to experience the fishery he has come to love. His bread and butter in the area is Redfish (aka red bass, red drum, puppy drum) and they do abound. But like any fish, they can be elusive and finicky. Jeff loves to fish the flood tides for tailing reds and I can now say I know why. I love fishing flats and the spartina grass flats are awesome when the flood tides show up.
The first night I got out, Jeff took me to fish the flood tide. The problem was that we couldn't find any tailing fish. I had one shot at a Sheephead, but it quickly ended. We covered a lot of water and then at the final hour as the tide was starting to drop back, I spotted tails. With time running out and fish moving to the flats edges so as to not get caught out of water, I made my move. I wish I could say that my moves were well received, but I only had a matter of a few minutes before these fish gave me the fin and moved off the flat. It was a beautiful sight to see that spotted tail breach on the flat, and quite frustrating to have found it so late in the tidal movement. But....that is fishing!
Patrick Robinson stands on a spartina grass flat looking
for those beautiful spotted tails of the hard fighting Red Drum.
The next day was the day I had been waiting on. It was my shot, hopefully, at Tarpon. While fishing the surf a couple days earlier, I had watched as a large "Poon" launched itself from the water a couple hundred yards off the beach. He was large and I had dreams of sticking one just like him.
Much to my dismay, Jeff and I ran miles and miles of beach and jetty looking for rolling fish and we just couldn't find them. Bait was scarce and therefore finding those beautiful fish was that much more difficult. Not to mention that a nuclear sub had just gone to sea earlier totally screwing up the fishing in one of the prime areas (not quite sure how to get around that one). After exhausting all the angles, we had to admit defeat and change tactics if we were to get the skunk off for the day. So, out of the big water and back to the sound we headed looking for anything from Specks, Blues, Reds, Sheephead, etc. If it would take a fly, we were looking for it and throwing to it.
As luck would have it, late in the day as we were looking for staging reds next to the grass flats, some fish moved in and starting cutting bait. I was in the cage on the front of Jeff's Ranger center console and had the fly in hand. All it took was one cast with a mullet imitation and BOOM! FISH ON! A couple minutes later I had a nice Speckled Trout in hand. In fact, it was my first fly caught Speckled Trout, so another species, check...
Patrick with the skunk replacement fish. A nice
Speckled Trout to start the day.
As the bait continued to rocket out of the water to escape the carnage beneath, I quickly returned my fly to the water. As I stripped the fly in, I had a huge swirl appear near my fly...it had been a near miss! I left the fly in the water and pulsed it one more time hoping for the return and sure enough, in a split second, my fly disappeared and the fish bulldogged for the bottom.
I don't know a lot about salt species, but I did know enough to know this was not a Speckled Trout on the end of my line. Instead, we quickly resolved that this was most likely a Bluefish. When the line came up and the fish came to hand, sure enough it was a face full of teeth. Bluefish were breaking bait on three sides of us and you couldn't cast fast enough.
A nice Bluefish slammed the mullet fly and put on
a bulldog kind of fight for me.
Before it was all said and done....actually, before we pulled off to take one more shot at finding tailing Reds, I busted one more nice Speckled Trout...my nicest of the day.
A gorgeous Speckled Trout in the hands of a happy man!
One last time, the flood tide decided to roll up in the spartina grass and we were quick to follow in hopes of finding tails dancing in the waning light. The first flat that a friend pointed us to came up empty. However, fisherman's intuition quickly came into play and Jeff and I agreed that if fish were to be found, we would find them on an adjacent flat across the channel.
As the sun was quickly setting we rushed across the way to check the other flats. We pulled up and within thirty seconds had spotted a couple of tails. I wasted no time jumping out into the water and making my way across the flat. The pressure was on...I only had a few minutes of light remaining and one target out in front of me. With the tail in the air, I tried to get the fly on his nose. Time and again, it was short, left, right, fish moved, fish disappeared. The water was about knee deep, so the fish could disappear with ease...especially in low light. I continued scoping the remaining reflections of light looking for the silhouetted tail and at every sight, fired a cast in hopes of my first Red.
One last shot on the spartina grass flats looking for
tailing Redfish...A very addictive part of our wonderful sport.
Much to my chagrin, that Redfish gave me the fin (again) and disappeared into the night. As I walked across the flat in the darkness, with my head held low in defeat, I realized how fortunate I was to be here...knee deep in water, ankle deep in mud, fly rod in hand, with fish on the flat. How many others would have swapped places given the opportunity? As I get older and experience more of what God has created around me, I am finding that it isn't always about catching the fish as it is the pursuit. I am blessed to have had the shots I had and a new friend to share it with.
In just a short time, Greg and I will be in Alaska looking for Salmon, big Bows, and one of our favorites, Arctic Char. Until then, I will be poking around looking for some Bass in Tennessee.
Get out if you can and we hope to see you or hear from you soon!
Patrick "Flybum" Robinson
Steelhead Alley Outfitters