Vol 6 No. 44 - July 26, 2006

Tails of Matlacha - Part II

Rusty Chinnis caught this nice redfish, right, while working the flats around Matlacha.

By Rusty Chinnis
sun staff writer

Captain Steve Bailey also fishes widely in Pine Island Sound and Charlotte Harbor, but concentrates his efforts on the western side of Pine Island from St. James City to Pineland. It’s a good bet that Bailey knows the sound like the back of his hand.

When Flip Pallot shot a segment of his show, "Walker’s Cay Chronicles," there, it was Bailey he called on to make the show a success. Bailey not only provides access to some of Florida’s richest waters, but also brings a lifetime of fly tying and fly fishing experience to the table. In addition to guiding some of fishing’s great anglers, Bailey has tied flies for Pallot and fly fishing legend Lefty Kreh. He is also an accomplished photographer and has an excellent knowledge of the local flora and fauna.

On a cool morning in November, I fished with him on the southern end of Pine Sound. We met at the Punta Rasa boat ramp at the foot of the Sanibel causeway, and made a fifteen minute ride run north. Bailey took his 16-foot Hell’s Bay Whipray off plane next to an expansive flat and mounted the poling platform. For as far as the eye could see, there was nothing except green seagrass and white wading birds. We were positioned at the end of an immense flat, and poling towards the shallow grass edge as I mounted the casting platform. As I stripped line from my seven weight outfit, tails began to pierce the mirror smooth water and faint shapes spooked at the approach of the boat’s shadow.

Bailey had placed me right in the middle of an amazing concentration of redfish, snook and trout. While the fish created terrific target practice, they were studiously avoiding everything we threw at them during the first hour of fishing. As the tide began to come back into the sound mid-morning, the fish suddenly started to take notice of our flies. I missed several reds before landing a nice 28-inch fish. During the balance of the morning we had numerous shots at reds and trout, getting at least 7 to 8 hook ups.

Bailey and I took turns, landing mostly tailing reds and a couple of sight fished trout. When the water topped the magic one foot mark, we moved a bit farther to the south and began poling a shallower flat that was sandy with patches of grass. This was one of the most beautiful flats I had fished in Pine Island Sound and was covered in tailing redfish and big trout. The water was crystal clear, which made for some challenging sight fishing. We were able to spot redfish when they thrust tails into the air and then track them underwater as we closed in on their location.

Bailey was on the bow when a large tail began waving about 50 feet from the boat. It disappeared almost as suddenly as it had appeared, but as I poled him within thirty feet we could make out the fish’s dark shape against the cream-colored sand bottom. Bailey made a perfect leading cast in the direction the red was feeding and waited a split second as it closed on the fly. With a short strip, we watched as the fish wheeled and consumed the fly. The fight was classic redfish with short head-wallowing runs.

Bailey finds redfish by looking for surface action. His number one indicator is the presence of schools of mullet. In most cases, he will stop and survey a promising flat before poling into shallow water. If he sees no mullet or baitfish action, he doesn’t bother fishing the flat. If mullet are present, and the waters are the right depth and moving, redfish are a distinct possibility. Bailey’s favorite fly is the Clouser Minnow. Lefty Kreh showed Bailey the pattern long before he remembers anything being written about it.

"I was tying some flies for Flip Pallot at the time. Soon, he sent me a letter and told me to tie all the hair on top, as he thought the fly would ride and fish better. That’s the way I have tied this pattern ever since," says Bailey.

He ties the flies using small 1/50 oz lead eyes on a number 2 hook. He also adds a 20-pound, Hard Mason, two-legged weed guard. His favorite color combinations are white and chartreuse and white and tan. When he is fishing for tailing redfish in clear, shallow water and thick grass, the Clouser Minnow doesn’t work. It lands too hard, sinks too quickly, and hangs up even with a weed guard.

These conditions call for a fly that lands lightly, suspends and won’t get lost in the grass. He hasn’t found a fly that works any better than a Sea-ducer under these conditions. He ties the fly on a size 2 hook with a two-legged weed guard and mixed colors. His favorite combination is a white hackle with yellow and grizzly splayed feathers.

"This is a very old color combination but one that is seldom seen today," says Bailey. "It makes a beautiful mottled color fly that could resemble a shrimp or minnow."

He uses thick, webby, saddle hackles for wrapping the hook shank and matches the hackles for size. If he wants a Sea-ducer to sink quicker, he uses hackles with very little web. The fly also appeals to Bailey because it doesn’t take much movement to bring it to life and it’s easy to pickup for another cast. His favorite outfit is an eight weight with a 10- to 12- foot monofilament leader. He builds his leaders with 6 feet of 30, 3 feet of 20, 1.5 feet of 15-pound. He adds an 18- to 24- inch piece of 20-inch fluorocarbon bite tippet, attaching the fly with a perfection loop.

There is no better way to learn about the magic of Pine Island’s tailing redfish than to fish with astute guides who take their fishing seriously. While the waters surrounding Pine Island aren’t as pristine as they were in the days of the Calusa, they still harbor shoals of tailing redfish, as well as snook, trout and a host of other species.

DePaiva and Bailey gave me a terrific introduction to the two faces of Pine Island, an area as close to old Florida as anglers are likely to find on the coast of Florida. The story of the area abounds with tails that will quicken the heart of the most jaded fly angler.

Captain Rick DePaiva can be reached at 239-246-8726 or by e-mail at Flynutt@aol.com. His Web-site is www.saltwaterflyfishing.org

Captain Steve Bailey can be reached at 239-489-1379 or by e-mail at swffishing@aol.com. His Web-site is www.captainstevebailey.com.

When fishing the south end of Pine Island Sound from the Punta Rasa boat ramp, the County Inn & Suites is a mile from the ramp. Call 239-454-9292 for reservations.

When fishing the north end of Pine Island Sound, the Tarpon Lodge is conveniently located next to the Pineland Marina. Contact it at 239-283-3999, or visit the web site at www.tarponlodge.com.

When fishing the east side of the Island near Matlacha, the Sun and Moon Bed and Breakfast is conveniently located a mile from the public boat ramp in Matlacha. Call 239-283-3192 or 888-321 3192 for reservations, or visit the web site at www.sunandmoon.org

For information on the Lee County area, go to www.fortmyerssanibel.com

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