Vol 6 No. 43 - July 19, 2006
Tails of Matlacha
SUN PHOTO/RUSTY CHINNIS
Rusty Chinnis caught this nice redfish, right, while
working the flats around Matlacha.
By Rusty Chinnis
sun staff writer
The early morning summer sun was struggling to break through
the layers of mist that hung over Matlacha Pass on the
eastern flanks of Floridas Pine Island. When it
finally broke through, slanting rays of gold panned over
the waters mirror smooth surface.The intense light
suddenly illuminated the mangrove forests and opened a
window to the vast verdant grass flats. Standing on the
bow, fly rod in hand, the scene was so elemental I could
imagine an Indian dugout appearing from one of the myriad
mangrove lined creeks in the distance.
The Calusa Indians were the first inhabitants of Pine
Island. Legend says they were towed there by whales they
enchanted with secret songs. Early European settlers followed,
attracted by fish and shellfish which they harvested from
the sounds rich, clear waters
In the more recent past, generations of commercial fishermen
made a living by netting mullet, sea trout, pompano and
Spanish mackerel from these waters. Its an area
that today represents one of the finest examples of Old
Florida, a place rich in the resources that attract fly
anglers to destinations worldwide. The waters that surround
Pine Island have become one of my favorite Florida destinations.
I have been fortunate to explore them with two of the
areas premier guides, Captain Rick DePaiva and Captain
The sun lifted free of the clouds as Captain Rick DePaivas
whispered words, "Tails, two oclock, one hundred
and fifty feet," broke the mesmerizing spell. Focusing
to my right, I saw a trio of copper colored tails waving
in the sunlight. Widening my gaze, I noticed no fewer
than 30 tails spread out over the flat. My pulse quickened
as I checked to see that my fly line was clear and ready
to cast. I fidgeted with the fly positioned between my
thumb and forefinger and visualized a presentation to
the lead fish.
As we closed the gap to about 50 feet, I raised the rod,
made a roll cast and released the fly. Two quick false
casts helped me measure the distance, and on the third,
I shot line parallel to the water's surface, floating
the leader and fly two feet past a furiously waving tail.
As the redfish dropped down to move, I gave the fly two
short strips and watched as the red bored a hole through
the water to intercept it. On the third strip the line
came tight and I set the hook. The redfish bolted across
the flat as I concentrated on clearing the line. When
the fish was on the reel, I gave two more strip strikes
and enjoyed the smooth bend of the rod as fly line morphed
into backing. This redfish must have thought it was a
bonefish, showing no sign of stopping until it was 50
feet into the backing. Five minutes and three runs later,
we landed the 31" red and released it after a couple
I switched places with DePaiva and mounted the poling
platform looking for more tails. It didnt take long.
In less than 10 minutes we were in range of two big fish
that were working a shallow hump. He made a perfect cast,
and only had to strip twice before the fly was attacked
by both fish simultaneously. The bigger of the two reds
somehow managed to get to the offering first and reacted
instantaneously with a long, head shaking run.
After the first two fish, the tide died and the tails
mysteriously disappeared. We realized that the fish had
stopped feeding with the change of tide and poled to another
area waiting for the tide to change and start back in.
It was just like someone had thrown a switch when the
water began pushing back over the flat. As if on cue,
the redfish began tailing again, but with a higher sun
and a lack of any wind, they became extremely spooky.
We had to work hard to get a fly to the fish without alerting
them of our presence. It took a while, but a stealthy
approach and a long cast finally produced the largest
(32) fish of the day. For the balance of the morning
we had numerous shots at redfish and landed a number of
trout. When the tide was nearly high, and too deep for
tails, we decided to call it a day and return to the dock.
Captain Rick DePaiva runs Fly Nutt Charters, and fishes
the waters from Charlotte Harbor to Pine Island Sound.
While he fishes for all species from triple tail to tarpon,
hes made it a mission to master tailing redfish.
DePaiva has what he calls a 1-2-3 formula for finding
feeding redfish. First and foremost the tide must be moving
and the water less than one foot deep. He then looks for
flats with feeding wading birds and finally for baitfish
action, primarily mullet. He has good action yearround,
but has identified conditions that usually equate to excellent
opportunities. During the warmer months, the late incoming
tides have proved exceptional. He discovered that the
water flooding in from the Gulf passes is cooler and well
oxygenated. This gives redfish the perfect conditions,
the safety of a rising tide, comfortable water conditions,
and access to the small crabs and crustaceans that find
refuge in the shallow grass.
The cooler months are also very productive, but in the
fall and winter he prefers the early morning when low
tides are more extreme. The fish move up with the water
in anticipation of feeding as well as warmer conditions.
The autumn and winter tides rise and fall more slowly,
giving DePaiva and his clients a longer period of time
to find tailing reds in the one foot depth range thats
optimum. He generally gets a fix on an abandoned crab
trap or other obstruction to gauge the height of the tide
and determine how much time he has before the water gets
too deep. It has been DePaivas experience that redfish
dont like to tail on windy days. He finds the redfish
in as skinny water (6"-8") as he can access
with his Maverick HPX flats boat.
Tailing redfish can be extremely spooky and as wary as
bonefish. DePaiva finds it requires a special fly to take
them with any consistency. The ingredients of a successful
fly demands that it casts well, lands softly, and sinks
relatively fast. Thats a tall order for a fly, but
DePaiva ties a bend back fly, with a chartreuse or light
orange estaz body, a bleached squirrel tail wing and gold
crystal flash. Bead chain eyes and a two prong weed guard
help it sink and repel weeds. Its his number one
fly for tailing reds. His second choice is a Puglisi style
baitfish fly tied to look like a small mullet. For very
calm days, when the fish are extremely spooky, DePaiva
uses a small Sea-ducer tied on a #2 hook. He ties them
with a purple grisly hackle, an earth tone grisly body
and gold flash. DePaiva fishes both sides of Pine Island
but favors the eastern flats near Matlacha.
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