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PostPosted: April 16th, 2014, 10:23 pm 
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Joined: October 16th, 2006, 12:00 am
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Location: Harrison
Notice: This is a long post with many pictures!


In my first legitimate attempt at saltwater fly angling, I couldn't have expected anything better than what I experienced on the Florida panhandle this last week.
After spending a week in the budget vacuum of the Orlando parklands, I had travelled with my wife and two children, my mom and her boyfriend to visit my brother, Matt, and his family in Panama City, where Matt is stationed at Tyndall AFB.
While there, I caught fish way up in the bayou, in St. Andrews bay, and out on the open beaches of the Gulf. Speckled Sea Trout dominated the charts, but I also landed Blue Runners, Spanish Mackerel and Whiting. The razor-toothed macs were mostly a quick tug and gone, easily slicing through my light mono tippet, though I managed to land a couple small specimens who couldn't fit the whole fly into their mouths. Steel leaders proved very hard for my casting ability and the macs seemed shy to steel anyway. Over half-a-dozen expensive flies lost to the macs soon had me avoiding them altogether.
I also lost many fish of unknown origin and as far as I know was UN-successful hooking into my most sought-after target, Redfish, although I'm quite certain I had a few interested reds give chase only to spook without taking a bite at my fly. Tough customers they are.
My fishing adventures began in Cook's Bayou, a smaller arm of large Laird's Bayou which connects directly to sprawling St. Andrews Bay. Cook's was a five-minute drive from my brother's home and during my first outing there I hooked and lost two heavy fish that I never saw, and landed one small Speckled Trout, all on a 1/0 green and white deceiver that would prove to be a deadly fly wherever I fished it, all week.
Cook's is a murky, shallow backwater estuary lined with tall grass and short, mossy Oak and Pine, where largemouth bass and channel catfish mingle with specks, Reds, Lane Snapper and Mullet, along with the occasional alligator and water snake. Wading in those brown waters with their mixture of mud and oyster bar bottoms was a bit nerve-wracking at first, but once I started to catch fish all that was forgotten.
My second attempt in that bayou was a blast from the get-go, with specks hitting hard just after sunrise on the green/white deceiver. They hit hard and run strong in short spurts before tiring quickly. I found if I held them past the first thirty-or-so seconds they were an easy land. But with their relatively delicate mouths, I lost many just after hookup.
Sunrise over Cook's Bayou:
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Fish on!

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Specks:
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Cook's was plenty of fun, but I was determined to case the whole joint. My next stop was a very nice park on the shores of St. Andrews bay, adjacent to Tyndall AFB. Despite promising-looking grass flats, I was skunked. So on day four I joined the family and hit the open beaches of the Gulf of Mexico.
Our spot was Crooked Island, and it proved to be one of the most beautiful Gulf beaches I have ever seen. Pristine, soft and creamy white sand reminiscent of a butter/sugar mix one would prepare for sugar cookies, lapped by the teal/blue crystal clear waters of the gulf. And also sweet with fillets of gulf Whiting:
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But Whiting wasn't the only game in town...and it was a few hours before I had even figured them out. I started my beach casting with a floating line and clousers/deceivers. Large schools of bait were popping just beyond my casting range, which was limited by my lack of a stripping basket. The line just was too hard to pull out of the boiling surf for more than a 60-foot, or so, heave. Also, scores of surf casting fishermen were hammering whiting on heavy sinking rigs baited with live shrimp or cut bait. Small yet barely sub-legal (33" minimum) cobia were being landed as well which had my heart a-racing. But I couldn't draw a strike.
Until I made a change. I discarded my floating line for a reel lined with a full-sink, and switched from clouser/deceivers to shrimp flies. Bounced SLOWLY along the bottom was $$$!
Besides the Whiting, I had a few VERY impressive hookups with fish who introduced me to my backing, which was a first for me. One very large silver specimen threw my fly while leaping WAY out in the distance. I have no idea what it was.
Another fish bulldogged me into my backing before taking my fly into the depths. The leader did not appear to be shortened, which told me my knot was a crappy one.
That day ended in typical Florida glory:
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My next mission was on to the bay, looking for Reds. Told the fam to drop me off on a sprawling grass flat aptly named "Redfish Point" while they cruised the bay in a pontoon boat. My wife just shrugged her shoulders as they pulled away I hopped overboard, thinking I had lost my mind:
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After stowing one of my outfits in my backpack, I used the other to launch the green/white deceiver among the grass and on the very first retrieve TWO large fish that I identified as Redfish followed it very deliberately about twenty feet in front of me. The hair stood on the back of my neck and I hyperventilated thinking I was about to BE ON (!) but they turned quickly away and never re-appeared. Two hours of casting on that gorgeous flat and not another fish showed. I enjoyed the company of more than a dozen other flats boats which drifted past, casting vigorously, with no discernible hookups. I was also in the company of much better fishers:
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A steady flow of Air Force fighter jets also kept me plenty entertained. There were f-15's, f-16's, f-22's, f-35's and t-38's all in maneuevers overhead. A couple of 22's:
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Two hours on the flat without a fish was fine with dolphins and jets for entertainment, but I eventually had enough and called on the pontoon boat for a recon mission.
The following day, I decided I would just wade the shore of the bay adjacent to Tyndall AFB again, and this time I hit a speckled trout bonanza.
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The action was simply blistering with the deciever and before long I began to think about adding to the whiting fillets I had cooling in the fridge. I ended up taking my limit of 5 trout that day (deceiver on display):
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And they fried up NICELY with the Whiting:
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One final picture of St. Andrews bay with Panama City Beach in the distance, taken from the cockpit of my brother's C180 (Cessna) Skywagon.
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A satisfying trip in the absolute, and one I hope be developing into a habit.

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PostPosted: April 21st, 2014, 9:44 am 
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Location: Brunswick
Looks like a helluva trip Jon, great pics as usual.

Peter

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PostPosted: April 21st, 2014, 5:44 pm 
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Joined: October 16th, 2006, 12:00 am
Posts: 1322
Location: Harrison
Thanks, Peter. Thanks also for helping my wife pick up that G Loomis Crosscurrent 9 wt from Stagger Lee last summer. Not only was it an awesome birthday gift, it performed very well for me on this trip.

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PostPosted: April 22nd, 2014, 5:41 pm 
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Joined: April 30th, 2002, 12:00 am
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Location: Pownal
Looks like a fun time. Thanks for posting.


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