On The Fly Saltwater
Featured Photo by Jeffrey Fortuna / Hobie
by Polly Dean
Standing in the cockpit of the Hobie Pro Angler 14, I had a bird’s eye view of the slender silhouette exiting the shaded cover of the mangrove to follow my fly.
Already having a couple of snook turn and swim away, I was reminding myself to stay calm, strip steady and hang on tight for the take. It worked! I strip-set the hook, felt the line pull taut, and raised my 9-weight rod to draw the fish closer. My kayak was pointed toward the mangrove island, within 30 feet or so. Just as I got a good look at the bucket-shaped mouth facing upward toward me, the fly was freed and coming back at me. Darn! That was a good one.
The author casting to the mangroves. Photo by Jeffrey Fortuna / Hobie
As I worked the Puglisi fly, experimenting with the speed of my retrieve, a snook would periodically appear out of the shadows in pursuit. I managed to entice a few takes – as I kept my retrieve steady while holding the line tight with my stripping hand. A few “misses” also occurred as “buck fever” consumed me. Most of these fish were not little guys. Many were upwards of 24 and 30 inches or more.
Tucked between the larger and better-known fishing destinations of Boca Grande and Fort Myers to the south and Sarasota to the north, Manasota Key is the quiet and laid-back neighbor. Located in Charlotte County, the word Manasota is formed from the names of nearby counties of Manatee and Sarasota just to the north.
It is no secret that this portion of South Florida’s Gulf Coast is a fishing mecca, drawing anglers from all over. World-class tarpon fishing along with snook, redfish and seatrout are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to available species to bend a rod. Spanish and king mackerel, pompano, tripletail, cobia, snapper, grouper and flounder are more of the willing targets. With outstanding fishing, often comes crowded waters. That’s true of the area, but not Manasota Key.
The small community of Manasota Key is geographically enveloped in this fine area of fishing, but a world away. More reminiscent of the Florida of years ago it lacks the high-rises, traffic and heavily populated beaches of its crowd-drawing neighbors.
For kayak anglers, Manasota Key provides the ideal conditions, not to mention a bounty of fish. A narrow strip of land flanked by the Gulf of Mexico to its west and the estuary of Lemon Bay to the east, this 11-mile-long peninsula is the perfect launching point.
Manasota Key is surrounded by ideal kayak angling waters. Photo by Polly Dean.
Located on the tapering southern end of the island, the property of WannaB Inn, our angling headquarters. spans shore to shore – from the beach to the bay – for easy fishing access. Mangrove islands, shallow flats, deeper channels and sandy beaches are within easy reach by kayak. A key advantage for kayakers, is that much of the accessible fishing areas are shallow, and many of those that aren’t, are “no-wake” zones for boaters due to the population of manatees that inhabit the area.
Stump Pass, the waterway connecting Lemon Bay to the Gulf is just a short paddle – or pedal – to the south.
Snook seemed to be the most prevalent species for our group of anglers as we headed out in various directions from the docks of WannaB Inn. Fishing around a full moon, the water seemed to always be moving at a good clip, with the exception of the peak high and low of the tides. The moving water along the mangrove edges of the islands provided the ideal spots for snook to be hunkered down waiting on their next meal to come washing out or escaping to the masses of tangled mangrove roots.
We tossed our flies as close as possible up under the overhanging branches. Monofilament weed guards helped in retrieving most of our flies with a strong tug, when we cast too far. For the more stubborn “grabs,” the ability to reverse with Hobie’s new MirageDrive 360 made it a cinch to approach the mangroves, retrieve our fly, and back out.
We succeeded in enticing a number of these linesides to eat, as well as seeing a number of them that weren’t so hungry. One fellow angler had a particularly successful morning in bringing several to his yak, by targeting the pockets of water along “laydowns” or overhanging mangroves along the shorelines. During his early morning success, I overheard him exclaim, “There are some big ones. I mean, some of them are scary big!”
A Manasota Key snook that fell for a fly. Photo by Polly Dean.
Depending on the depth of the water and the stage of the falling or rising tide, the snook may hold tight in the mangroves, or they can be found 10 or more feet out from the edge. Also look for them to be cruising over the shallow flats. Snapper and small grouper occupy the same locations and are quite aggressive in their “takes,” so a lot of fun as well.
Targeting the mangrove edges will also produce a redfish or two. Schools of large bull reds can often be found on sandbars in and around Stump Pass, the inlet at the southernmost end of Manasota Key located just off of Stump Pass Beach State Park. These are ideal for sight-casting, as well as pods of snook also known to cruise the white sandy beach areas.
The “catching” is almost always better with a moving tide. When the water is at a standstill during the peaks of low or high tide, try casting into the deeper channels. There are a number of species that will hold in these areas that are willing to take a fly. Pompano, a favorite for the dinner table, can be picked up this way, along with snapper, grouper, barracuda, or gafftopsail catfish.
A pompano taken from the deeper channel. Photo by Polly Dean.
With the great variety of fish to be found in the area, the biggest challenge can be to know what fly to tie on. Having more than one rod rigged and ready to go is a good idea. And fortunately, since most of the targeted species are feeding on the same bait, a fly good for snook will likely work for a redfish or another species. Both baitfish and shrimp patterns are worth a try. White is a favorite color in the usually clear water. Darker colors are preferred when the water is cloudy.
Grab your kayak, a fly rod and hit the water to see first-hand, why Manasota Key’s locals believe their “Best Side is the Outside.”