Saturday, January 23, 2016

New Orleans to Punta Gorda

Bri and I flew to New Orleans to explore that city for 3 days and then drive across the Florida panhandle to explore coastline, fish and visit friends for another 5 days.

New Orleans is a place that I always want to return to and Bri had never been.  I really wanted to show her some of the things I had seen there and wander into a few new areas as well. Neither one of us had ever been to the Florida Panhandle....

First Stop:   New Orleans    -    French Quarter, The Marigny and Garden District 

Casting on Bourbon Street at 7 am. Photo credit Bri. 
We wandered the streets pretending to be artists. 
and wandered through the charm until we were hungry.
We ate oysters at a few different places in the French Quarter.  Felix's ended up being our favorite. 
Felix's has a less fancy atmosphere than both Acme and Bourbon House Oysters - which are right across the street. But we really liked both the size and quality of the oysters here. And the staff was great. 
Oysters coming in to the French Quarter.
 I got us lost trying to find a certain thrift/junk store in the Marigny and we stumbled into this art studio -
 -  Dr. Bob's art studio and shop 
One of Dr. Bob's paintings
A Dr. Bob decorated guitar.  He is kicking my ass at art. 
Glass decorations on top of a gate in the French Quarter.

The Mississippi rolls by behind the levee generally just out of sight - in the French Quarter.  I jogged off a portion of my debauchery along the river. I imagine back many years ago when the river was a more integral part of the French Quarter. 
St. Vincent's Infant Asylum in the Garden District.  Built 1864.  Margaret Haughery - the amazing woman who founded this place is very much worth reading about. 
A sign painter's shrine in the Garden District

Second Stop:            Destin and Panama City, Florida on the Panhandle.  
Bri put up with a lot of windy and cold inlet fishing. She was a really good sport about it. Probably the sun helped. 
We hired Jason Stacy of Shallow Water Expeditions and hit the Shell Island area of the St. Andrews Bay complex near Panama City - with both fly and spinning rods. We rolled out on a morning in sub 40 degree air. Check out Shallow Water Expeditions on Vimeo for some very nice videos. 
Really tough to actually hook and then land this fish .... if you have ever been around Sheepshead.  They shred bait or lures with a very hard set of teeth and are almost never hooked. I bet the ratio is about 20 hits to 1 fish in the boat.  Though Bri managed to land 2 on this trip.

Jason put me on some big redfish on fly.  I had no idea the panhandle could be this good in January and my sight fishing skills were really not up to the task. We saw a lot of dolphin and had a lot of fishing action. Bri hooked and lost 2 really really big redfish on spinning and could hardly hang onto the rod. 
Blind casting along the beach with an 8 weight rod and connecting. Shell Island is the 20 miles of undeveloped beach in the background. 
Bri with a small redfish. She actually outfished me. The objective of the trip was to put her on some saltwater fish as she has only done freshwater fishing.  
Releasing the big redfish of the day.  
A stop in Tallahassee to visit my cousin Ian and his wife Karen.  They can really eat  - and drink -  and are always up for a good time. Ian was a bit disappointed that Bri and I crashed right after dinner but us fish people have to get good sleep.

3rd Stop:  North Port and Punta Gorda, Florida

My best friends Luis and Deanna just moved to North Port, Florida only about 10 days prior..... 
And we descended on their new place for some DIY canoe and wade fishing.  Amazingly their new place was already totally set up to have guests. 

Heading out in the new canoe from Ponce park near Punta Gorda. 
The first fish of the day! Deanna snaps a photo as Luis hooks a sea trout in a residential canal. The trout were slow to get going and the bite did not start until noon. It was cold the whole time we were there by Florida standards - with mornings in the 40's. 
Getting out of the canoe to wade fish.  
Luis finding fish.  Seatrout aggressively feeding in a boat channel just off a flat on a rising tide.  Luis and I each had a really good day - with 20+  Seatrout landed each  - in a totally new area.  The sea trout seemed to love the cold weather. Other species were more elusive. Though there were a few mullet around and we did spot at least one huge basking redfish. 
Bigger Sea Trout. About as good as fishing ever gets. Standing in one place over sand and having a sea trout slam your lure every few casts....
We had seatrout going crazy for over an hour. Not a true trout at all - Sea Trout are in the Croaker family and very closely related to Redfish - and Gaspergou or Freshwater Drum for that matter. Though with their slender toothy appearance they look totally different than other groups of fish in that family.

Underwater shot of one of the Speckled Sea Trout.  With the head in profile you can see some resemblance to redfish. 
Bri's second Sheepshead of the trip. 
Headed into the mangroves for some snook fishing. And maybe see a laid up redfish as well. 
Another cool thing about Florida - the bird life and reptile life is off da hook.  Photo credit - Deanna 
Luis Campos - AKA "Snook Troll" - for his prowess at catching Snook under the Port Charlotte city bridges. Wading as deep as we are comfortable with. Skipping soft plastic lures under the mangroves and often into the branches. Funny the more fish you catch the deeper you are willing to go.  And in winter risk of gator or bull shark is very minimal. 
Connecting with some juvenile Snook in intimate mangrove creeks. 
Releasing a bass-sized Snook 
The great women  - Deanna and Bri - who sometimes come along on our fishing adventures.

General flats fishing assemblage for Florida. I cant say enough good about the lures in the left portion of this tackle box - the "Texas rigged" soft plastic lures.  Phil Knoll showed me his hybrid style of fishing on Long Island, NY back in 2006 and it is my go-to style for saltwater flats now.

My last fish of the trip. Wading the big wide open flats at Ponce De Leon Park I got a really pretty flounder.
What happens completely inside of a giant novelty $14.75 margarita falls well outside of the confines of that margarita.
We hope to return someday.

Well i guess now it is Goodbye. Gad dangit Florida why you gotta be like that. The water of West Bay gets the final word in this parting shot. If you look closely you can see Hernando De Soto and some other men in armor struggling through the palmettos along the shore there.

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