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The games we play - Float-n-fly for crappie

Alabama crappie guide Lee Pitts refers to crappie fishing as a game you play with the fish. He often plays the game on Neely Henry Lake near Gadsden, AL. “Some days you go out there and you can’t do any wrong,” said Pitts. “Other days you get out there and they show you its not that easy. Nevertheless, it is always fun. With crappie fishing I can take someone that’s never even fished and they still catch crappie. They get to enjoy the feel of the fish hitting the line and see the rods load up. I get a kick out of seeing them have fun.”


Neely Henry is a 11,235-acre lake on the Coosa River. It was built in 1966 by Alabama Power Company to provide hydroelectric power and recreation. “Neely is mainly a river system,” explained Pitts. “There are several little rivers that hook up with the Coosa. Canoe Creek and Shoal Creek are good examples. Both are great spawning areas for crappie. Not only spawning spots, but crappie will also summer there too because of the good deep water. Those creeks will hold crappie in the spring and fall, year after year.” 

The day I fished with Pitts the weather threw us a curve ball by turning cold and windy. “Don’t worry,” advised Pitts. “One of the benefits of Neely is the wind breaks that exist naturally.” The main body of the lake is narrow and it meanders through the countryside creating numerous areas to hide from windy conditions. 

We motored down river and found a small protected bay just off the main channel that was relative smooth despite the high winds. The shoreline was lined with residential docks and the bay varied from 4 to 6 feet deep. “I’ve caught em’ here before,” counseled Pitts. “We will use the float-n-fly technique and see what we can raise.” 

“There are a couple of times a year we like to use the float-n-fly,” instructed Pitts. “One is a cold water situation like we have today where fish are not wanting to chase something down to eat. Using the float-n-fly techniques allows you to slow that presentation down and keep it in the strike zone longer.” 

“It’s not a presentation that raises up and drops down in front of them,” continued Pitts. “Because the bait is suspended on the cork it is going to drop right in front of them and stay there. We want to give them the best opportunity to eat it without having to chase it.”   

“Another time we use it is towards the spawn,” explained Pitts. “When they’re really holding tight to cover, shallow stumps and things like that. The float-n-fly allows anglers to cover a lot of water and keep it in the desired depth with that float.” 


Mixed bag possible in February 

El Nino has brought us a wetter than normal winter so far creating elevated water conditions on the Mosquito and Indian River Lagoons, which seems to be the norm here lately.  I haven’t had a chance to visit the St Johns River since Tuesday, but according to the Lake Harney water gauge, the river is up just under a foot in the last four days due to the three inches of rain received this week.Van Horn Kingfish

Offshore, kingfish are still present along the inshore reefs and wrecks, and they will remain there as long as the water temperature stays above 68 degrees. When targeting kingfish this month focus your efforts on the areas of 8A Reef, Pelican Flats, and Bethel Shoals to the south for best results. Look for cobia and amberjack to be present on the inshore wrecks like the Carol Lee, Dutch, and Sub Wreck out of Port Canaveral. Additionally, live bait is tough to find this time of year, so always carry a box of frozen Spanish sardines with you as backup. 

Near-shore, look for tripletail concentrations to improve greatly along the Port Canaveral buoy line and under floating weeds and structures, and for cobia to move in shadowing manta rays if the surface water temperatures reach the upper sixties. Now is also the time for shore fisherman to target pompano, bluefish, weakfish, small black drum, sheepshead, Spanish mackerel and whiting in the surf and larger redfish and flounder around the inlets and jetties. 


Trout bite picks up in February 

While winter is still around the Treasure Coast and weekly cold fronts will continue to bring cool nights and lots of windy days to the area, fishing will still be good out on the water.  It has been a tough winter so far with all the rain, winds and cold.  Water temperatures can dictate where and how you might fish on any given day this month.  January was a much warmer month this year.  When the water is cold, fish the deeper cuts and drop offs of the river.  Sunny days will bring fish up in shallower waters to feed and the bite can really get hot out on the flats. Conner-Forecast-Redfish

The trout bite picks up very nicely in February.  2015 proved to be the year of big trout in the Fort Pierce area.  I anticipate that 2016 will be another big fish year around the area.  CAL jerk baits and Deadly Combos are exciting ways to trout fish with artificial lures, while live shrimp on popping corks are the ol’ standard way to trout fish out on the river.  Redfish can be found in shallow flats around mangroves and islands.  

We had a fantastic winter bite in 2015 around the docks and mangroves for redfish.  On warm sunny days, the reds will sit around the mangroves and soak up the sun.  Finding some along the mangroves will bring some good rod bending action to anglers this month.  DOA shrimp and CAL jerk baits can find some hungry reds hugging the mangrove lines when fished very slowly.  Docks are a great way to find plenty of fish waiting for something tasty to drift under them. 


The Confession of a Passionate Angler 

Reflecting back on over six decade of fishing in Central Florida, I must confess I’ve been blessed by the countless passions driving my life.   Our passions propel us through life like the prop on a boat, pushing us faster and harder in the realization of our goals and accomplishments.  Like the distant shoreline and our anticipation of reaching our favorite fishy flat, passion drives our desires, excites us, quenches our thirst and sooths our souls.  VanHorn Forecast-Boat

Compelled by a love beyond explanation, the passions within can please us, or in some cases break our hearts. My passions in life are many, and as I get older and a little wiser, I’ve grown to realize my passions are often driver and shared by others who feel the same and care alike. 

Surfing through a decade of fishing photos now posted in the gallery of my new website has served as the inspiration for this blog and for once in my life I can physically visualize how my passion for fishing and guiding anglers has touched the lives and hearts of many who’ve shared time on the water with me and graced the deck of my trusted Maverick flats skiff Three Quarter Time. 

My passion with angling began at a very early age when a passionate angler, my Uncle Joe, took me fishing for my first time. It was Uncle Joe who gave me my first fishing rod, a Zebco 202. It was love at first sight and a memory I will forever cherish and never forget.   


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