Tag Archives: Artificial fly

Summertime in Hell

Contributed by Alex Vail of The Flying Kayak

Hell’s Bay in the Everglades backcountry of southern Florida is one of the best, and most diverse fisheries in the southeast. With summer right around the corner, the temperature isn’t the only thing that’s beginning to heat up. The fishing is, too. Before you go racing off into the backcountry, keep in mind a few helpful tips that will make your trip safer, more enjoyable, and hopefully more successful.


Though I’m a big fan of kayaking and paddle craft, I have to advocate the use of power boats in Hell’s Bay and the surrounding areas. There’s simply too much water to cover. With the closest kayak launch being over 12 miles away at Flamingo, you’d end up spending your whole day paddling. Instead, shallow drafting flats boats, or the ever popular Gheenoes are perfect for this area. You can cover a lot of water much faster and they’re overall safer than a kayak. Why, you may ask?

Sunset over Hell's Bay, Florida [Image Credit: Alex Vail]

Image Credit: Alex Vail

Summertime storms. South Florida’s rainy season is already underway and when these big thunderstorms boil up in the afternoons, you have to be prepared to dodge them. That’s something that is very difficult to do while paddling a kayak, especially when you’re 10 miles from safety.


Hell’s Bay and the entire surrounding area is a massive mangrove swamp. Twists and turns, bayous, creeks, and small bays are what make up this place. And it all looks the same. Exactly the same. You absolutely need some form of navigational tool. I will not go out on the boat with at least a nautical map of the area, a compass, and a GPS. Preferably, more than one GPS with spare batteries. Getting turned around out there is a real possibility.

Glimpse of Hell's Bay in Florida on a sunny day [Image Credit: Alex Vail]

Image Credit: Alex Vail

In addition to that, sun protection is your next top priority. There’s no shade anywhere, so long pants, long sleeve shirts, and wide hats are a must. During the summer it’s oppressively hot. So sun gloves and sun buffs make that necessity list, too. And with it getting hot, the bugs begin to become a very big issue. Early morning and late evening is obviously the worst time, but simply being out of the wind or in the mangroves can be a one-way ticket to losing gallons of blood from mosquitos. Definitely bring plenty of bug spray.


So why suffer through all of this? Well for the fishing of course!

Angler holds a snook at Hell's Bay, Florida [Image Credit: Alex Vail]

Image Credit: Alex Vail

Snook, tarpon, and redfish all call Hell’s Bay and the backcountry home over the summer. Flipping weedless jerk baits or DOA shrimp alongside the mangroves can be a sure ticket to some of these fish. Just be sure to bring plenty of extra tackle as losing fish in the mangroves is a harsh reality of this place. Also take special note of the tides. These fish need tidal movement to begin feeding and the more movement, the better the bite. Look for drop-offs and creek outflows to land some of the bigger fish. Like most fish, early morning and late evenings are the best time. Just be sure to give yourself enough daylight to navigate back to Flamingo where the only boat ramp is.

So, if you find your way down in sunny south Florida this summer, don’t hesitate to give the backcountry a try. It’s a fantastic fishery that shouldn’t be overlooked at any time of the year, especially not summer. Just be sure to plan ahead, bring plenty of tackle, and maybe just an extra can of bug spray.

Springtime Cichlids

Contributed by Alex Vail of The Flying Kayak

With the weather heating up, and summer right around the corner, now is the best time to fish for some of my favorite fish: Exotic cichlids in South Florida.

Fisherman holds a cichlid in swampy area [Image Credit: Alex Vail]

Image Credit: Alex Vail

Many of these fish were originally introduced into the canal systems throughout South Florida as far back as the 1960’s. Cichlids are primarily aquarium fish. You know, the kind you might find in your local pet store. Oscars, Mayan Cichlids, Jaguar Guapotes, etc. All these fish are loose and reproducing in the South Florida freshwater canal systems and are there thanks to irresponsible pet owners. Pet releases from home aquariums actually led to the establishment of many of these species.

The good news? They’re an absolute hoot to catch. Many of them fight as aggressively as some saltwater species and to make matters even better, they’re good to eat. And if that wasn’t good enough news, the state of Florida has waived any size or bag limits on them. You can keep as many as you catch.

Cooler full of cichlids [Image Credit: Alex Vail]

Image Credit: Alex Vail

Cichlids prefer warm waters (hence them being loose in South Florida), but even the winters down in Florida are enough to make them lay low. However, spring is here, and the water temperatures are heating up. That means that the cichlids are out in full force and ready to feed. Small diving lures, flies, and even earthworms are favorite bait for this ferocious species.

There is, however, a little bit of a time limit for these fish. Summer is closing in and that means rain for South Florida. Water levels will soon rise and most of the canals will flood into the surrounding areas. That means that the cichlids (as well as other fish) won’t be restricted to just the canals and will spread themselves out considerably. You can, of course, still catch them during the summer months, but don’t expect to find them in such high volumes during that time of year.

A ruddy-colored cichlid [Image Credit: Alex Vail]

Image Credit: Alex Vail

It’s important to note, however, that the small cichlids aren’t the only thing to target this time of the year. Their predator is, too. The smaller cichlids pose a big problem to some of our native fish species. They out compete many of Florida’s species, like Largemouth bass, bluegill, shellcrackers, etc. Realizing that the cichlids were an issue in the South Florida canal systems, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission purposefully introduced a predator of the non-native cichlids: the Butterfly Peacock bass.

Reaching sizes of up to 5lbs, these fish are just as ferocious as the small cichlids, but pack an even bigger punch. With their prey out in force this time of year, they’re actively hunting and feeding. On top of that, they’re beginning to bed as well. Anglers can catch them on live minnows, diving lures, and even flies. Since they’re spawning right now, look for them to be guarding their beds in the shallow waters lining the edges of the canals.

Butterfly Peacock Bass [Image Credit: Alex Vail]

Butterfly Peacock Bass [Image Credit: Alex Vail]

The rules and regulations for Peacock bass differ from their cichlid counterparts, though. They do have a size and bag limit set in place. The reason behind this? They were purposefully brought in to help control the cichlid problem. If they start to get over-fished, the already present issue of too many cichlids will become much more serious.

So if you find yourself in southern Florida this time of year, be sure to bring a rod. There is almost no roadway around the area that doesn’t have a canal nearby. And there is almost no canal that doesn’t have these aggressive and fun fighting fish in them. Just don’t forget the cooler!

Great Gifts for Hunters & Anglers

Hunting for great gifts for the hunters and anglers on your list? We’re here to help! After scouring the Pocket Ranger® Gear Store inventory, here are some thoughtful (and useful!) gifts that are sure to make any outdoorsy person merry this season.

Winter Gear

Winter gear gifts such as red hat, black mittens, work boots

Image: pocketrangerblog.com/gear-store

Winter hunting? Ice fishing? Hunters and anglers need all the help they can get staying warm out there this winter. Hats, gloves, masks, socks, snowpants, jackets: we’ve got it all in our Gear Store. Our favorites include this classic red Coal Harbor Beanie and these supremely packable Glacier Glove Angler Mitts. We also love the Wolverine Marauder Boots that are both waterproof and insulated with 400-gram Thinsulate Ultra insulation. These boots have the kind of all-day warmth and comfort you need when out in the woods or on the ice.


Fly-fishing gear such as dry flies, balaclava with fish pattern, and gear carrying case

Image: pocketrangerblog.com/gear-store

Not all rivers and lakes are frozen this time of year, but anyone fishing right now will want to have a balaclava like the Airhole Drytech one we have in the Gear Store. We have plenty of flies in our Gear Store, but giving fly assortments may be the best gift of all. Since there’s nothing like reeling in a largemouth lunker, we recommend the Umpqua Largemouth Bass Selection. Instead of your typical gift bag, why not tuck all those fly-fishing goodies in the Fishpond Stowaway Reel Case. Just put a red bow on top and you’re all set!


No outdoorsman or woman can have enough flannels. From Woolrich to Pendleton, Horny Toad to Hurley, we’ve got a few more to add to their collection this season.

Six flannels in holiday colors and checks

Top Row: Men’s Loser Machine; Woolrich; Pendleton
Bottom Row: Women’s Hurley, Horny Toad, Discrete [Image: pocketrangerblog.com/gear-store]

Camping Gear

We have so much camping gear in the Gear Store, and it was hard to choose just a few things. This Primus C7H Food Vacuum Bottle is a favorite of ours; its wide mouth makes it easy to fill, eat from, and clean. After hours spent in the stand or in the bobhouse, there’s nothing like opening up this thermos and having a hot lunch. If you’re looking to give a big ticket item, look no further than Brunton Eterna Spotting Scope. This mid-size, waterproof scope has a magnification power range of 20-45x, with a multi-step eye relief system and a durable ergonomic body. Since it’s glass will never fog, you can be sure that this will be their #1 scouting tool.

Camping gear, including black thermos, scope, and wooden-handled hunting knife

Image: pocketrangerblog.com/gear-store

We hunters and anglers go through so many knives. They get jammed, beat up, lost, or borrowed and never to be returned. This is exactly why SOG’s Woodline Large Fixed Blade Knife will be a welcome sight under the Christmas tree. It’s the best of both worlds: beautiful and functional, fitted with a rust-resistant, stainless steel blade and a wooden handle with thumb and forefinger grooves for optimal dexterity.

Trophy Case® and Pocket Ranger® Fish & Wildlife Apps

Strapped for time? The most thoughtful gift of all may just be a download away! Download our free Pocket Ranger® Fish & Wildlife apps onto any mobile device, so the lucky recipient will have complete access to great features, like state regulations, license & permit information, species profiles, and our Advanced GPS Mapping technology. And don’t forget to join Trophy Case®, our free social networking site created just for hunters and anglers. Trophy Case® users can share photos and tips, and earn points towards great prizes!

Happy Holidays!

5 Tips for Fall Flatfish

Contributed by Austin Orr of Salt396

Identifying the differences between fluke and flounder may be tricky, but one thing you can count on – they’re both delicious! Fall and early winter is the time to get after those tasty flatfish, and a few simple tips will go a long way towards filling both your stringer and your plate.

1. Watch That Tide

Knowing your local tidal conditions is crucial. Flatfish are ambush predators, lying in wait in camouflaged beds waiting for an unsuspecting meal to swim by. This behavior means that both flounder and fluke tend to concentrate in areas where water will channel food to them. Tidal creek mouths, guts in the surf, narrow spots in a channel and even culvert drains have been known to hold these fish. Both incoming and outgoing tides can spark feeding behavior, but many flatfish enthusiasts prefer a falling tide.

2. Low and Slow

Flatfish have been perfectly designed for their role, laying on the bottom and waiting for food. Wise fishermen will use this knowledge to their advantage. Use heavy jigs, spoons and fish-finder rigs with enough weight to get down into the strike zone and stay there. Moving the jig or bait with a slow drag or hop is often the tactic to use, although sometimes a faster retrieve will help trigger strikes. Heavy spoons are useful for fluttering along right above areas where bottom rigs would hang up. In snaggy situations, bait users often prefer a drop-shot rig with the weight on the bottom and the hook tied a few inches up the line.

3. Pick Your Poison

The good thing about flounder and fluke is that they’re usually willing and able to strike a wide variety of lures. I personally know anglers who have caught big flounder on topwaters, but that’s rare. Soft plastics, bucktail jigs with and without teaser, plugs, spoons and bait have all caught their fair share of flatfish. If you aren’t sure where to start, I would recommend a white bucktail jig with a chartreuse curly tail grub or scented soft plastic trailer. Your local tackle shop will have more recommendations for what works in nearby waters.

Flatfish caught with bucktail grub

Bucktail Grub [Image Credit: www.stripersonline.com]

4. Double Up

Another tactic that is commonly used by flatty enthusiasts is to use a double rig. Use a heavy ‘dropper’ jig to get to the bottom quickly, and a few inches up, tie another lure on the line so it undulates enticingly. This is a great way to stimulate a strike from fish that might be feeding on smaller bait than you can imitate with a heavy jig. It’s also an excellent way to target other fish species that might be in the local area, such as striped bass or redfish.

Flatfish caught by Dropper Rig

Dropper Rig [Image Credit: John Skinner]

5. Night Moves

Regardless of whether you’re targeting flounder or fluke, this next tip is all about timing. When night falls, both species of flatfish move from deeper water to the shallows. During this time, flatfish can be found in shallow waters that may barely cover their backs. Commonly targeted at night with lights and gigs or fish spears, these fish are actively hunting and can be caught! Successful anglers move slowly down productive shorelines, casting just a few feet from the shoreline with light jigs or bait rigs.

Five Tips to Catching More Fall Trout

Contributed by Austin Orr of Salt 396

My fly hit the water with a soft splat near the far bank. I waited a moment, then began twitching the minnow imitation along, as much like an actual injured fish as possible. Suddenly, a flash; my line came tight and a strong fish surged downriver! After a stiff battle, I held a handsome male brown trout, known as a ‘buck’, in my hand. A quick stretch of the measuring tape put him at 22 inches, a great fish by anyone’s standard.

Alight with Fall breeding color, the fish sported iridescent blues on his cheeks, with buttery gold flanks and black speckling. His wicked kype signaled that the time for spawning was near. As he swam off, I took a deep breath and smiled as I looked down the river bank at the beautiful patchwork of leaves. Ah yes – I love Fall fishing.

Hands holding Brown Streamer

Image: www.moldychum.com

During the Fall months, trout are especially geared up to eat; after all, winter is coming. The biggest fish of the year are often caught during September, October and November. Take advantage of this excellent window of opportunity by following these simple tips for success.

5 Tips to Catch More Fall Trout

1. Show up early and stay late.

It’s no secret that trout, especially large trout, are most active during periods of low light. They are excellent predators and prefer to spend as little energy as possible catching their meals. Big trout like eating meat – minnows and young trout are staples on their menu. By being active during low light conditions, they can get closer to prey which gives the trout a better shot at a meal. Make sure that you’re on the water when the action is going down. That often means arriving and leaving in the pitch black, but when that big trout slams your fly, the extra time is worth it.

2. Don’t be scared to throw big.

With the hard times of winter breathing down their neck, Fall trout of all sizes are hunting whatever they can fit in their mouth. This is when I recommend breaking out the big guns – flies that sometimes seem as big as stocker rainbows. From a fly fisherman’s perspective, large flies are a catch-22. They’re easier to see and tie on than the tiny bug imitations we sometimes use, but casting large streamers can be a real pain in the neck. Literally. You don’t have to go crazy, though. Throwing streamers as big as the baitfish that live in the body of water you’re fishing is a great start.

Streamer trout-Fall trout

Image: www.rsmflyfishingdelaware.blogspot.com

3. Try speeding up your retrieve.

Due to the enhanced predatory nature of trout during the Fall, fishermen are often able to provoke more reaction strikes this time of year. Fishing flies on the swing (casting cross-current and letting the moving water drag the fly down and across the flow) is a popular way to trigger these fish to bite, as is casting across or upstream and stripping quickly back. It’s not a magic technique, but putting some zip in your strip can trigger strikes when nothing else is working.

4. Work smarter than the other guys

This time of year there are plenty of fishermen on the river, at least until the major hunting seasons start up. You may feel like all the water has been trampled, but with careful observation, you will start to notice water that the other guys consistently pass up. For instance, even in high traffic areas, swift riffle water often hold trout that most people skip over. Think outside the box; everyone wants to fish the deep pools and most obvious lies, but there are plenty of fish to be had in between the popular wades.

5. Don’t tread on them, please.

This last tip isn’t so much about catching Fall trout as it is about making sure that there are plenty of trout to catch in the years to come. Fall means spawning time for brown trout, and it can be easy to find pairs of big, tempting fish hanging out in plain sight in the shallows. During this time, the female scoops out her nest, called a “redd” (Scottish for “basket”), and a male will usually join her. During this time they will ignore food and the only way to catch spawners is by snagging them, whether intentionally or not. Please keep this in mind and don’t harass these fish; they’re in the middle of making more trout for you to catch. Anyway, how would you like it if someone disturbed you like that! The redds need protection too; they’re easy to see, plate sized or larger patches of different colored gravel that’s been scooped out. Eggs are deposited in the redds, and a single human footstep could crush dozens of the embryonic trout. Just watch your step as you move down the river, which of course you should be doing anyway. The local fly shops will know when trout are spawning, and will probably be able to tell you areas where you’re likely to encounter the amorous fish so you can plan accordingly to avoid them.

Stream with log

Image: onlinefishinglog.com/images/blog/redds/slide-7_bull-trout-redd.jpg