THE WEEKENDERS

Outdoor Life - - FISHING - BY BRIAN RUZZO

DON’T LOOK NOW, but school is about to let out, and as the cal­en­dar ticks to­ward the first un­of­fi­cial week­end of sum­mer, all fish­er­men need a plan for Me­mo­rial Day and be­yond. Don’t have one? Don’t panic. Whether you’re look­ing to take a fish­ing va­ca­tion with the fam­ily or go on a week­end ad­ven­ture with a bunch of bud­dies, we’ve vet­ted some awe­some fish­eries that might be a tad hard to get to, but are worth the ef­fort. The re­ward is sim­ple: fish-filled days.

KAYAK THE FLORIDA FLATS

ONCE NAMED AMER­ICA’S TOP BEACH by Trip Ad­vi­sor, Fort De Soto Park at­tracts mil­lions of vis­i­tors each year. But it’s much more than just an­other Florida beach. Ac­cord­ing to Jose Chavez, who has camped at Fort De Soto and fished this prop­erty for more than 15 years, the flats sur­round­ing the park are loaded with red­fish, trout, and snook dur­ing May and June. Be­sides an in­cred­i­ble flats fish­ery, there are also full-ser­vice and prim­i­tive camp­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Made up of five in­ter­con­nected bar­rier is­lands just south of St. Peters­burg, Fort De Soto in­cludes Made­laine Key, St. Jean Key, St. Christo­pher Key, Bon­nie For­tune Key, and the largest of the five is­lands, Mul­let Key.

Be­cause of the park’s size—it’s the largest within Pinel­las County—an­glers will find plenty of grass flats to probe in the wa­ters that cut through these is­lands, in­clud­ing Mul­let Key Bayou and Bunces Pass. How­ever, Chavez warns an­glers not to over­look sev­eral qual­ity flats to the east along Jack­ass Key and Con­cep­tion Key.

An­glers can set up base camp in two dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions. For those look­ing for a real ad­ven­ture, Shell Key has prim­i­tive sites avail­able. You can only reach them by boat, and you have to bring your own privy, wa­ter, and sup­plies. Cur­rents can be strong, so trav­el­ing to and from Shell Island via kayak or ca­noe is not rec­om­mended. How­ever, once you’re there, you can probe the sur­round­ing flats with a smaller craft, such as a kayak.

An op­tion for overnighters is to stay at the full-ser­vice, 243-site camp­ground in Fort De Soto, lo­cated on St. Christo­pher Key. There is a boat ramp just north of the camp­ground on Made­laine Key that can be used to launch small boats. This ramp can also be used to launch ex­cur­sions to Shell Key. Kayaks and ca­noes are also avail­able for rental on the south­ern tip of Mul­let Key.

Reservations can be made on­line (pinel­las­county.org/park/camp­ing.htm#fortd) or by call­ing 727-582-2267 up to six months ahead of ar­rival. A free per­mit is also avail­able on­line.

GO WILD IN OHIO

AMERICAN ELEC­TRIC POWER Re­cre­ation Land, lo­cated in south­east­ern Ohio, is a good­news an­gling con­ser­va­tion story. This re­cre­ation area was built on 60,000 acres of land that had once been strip-mined. To­day, an­glers can en­joy the re­claimed wilderness, which in­cludes 350 lakes and ponds and 380 camp­sites.

Ac­cord­ing to Matt Hangsleben, who has fished the AEP ponds for the past five years, you can ex­plore these wa­ters for many sea­sons and still never cover all of them.

Most of the lakes sup­port healthy pop­u­la­tions of bluegills, re­dear sun­fish, and large­mouth bass. Bass den­si­ties are high in most of the wa­ters, and in 2013, the Ohio Divi­sion of Wildlife in­sti­tuted a 14- to 20-inch slot limit. An­glers are al­lowed to keep two fish un­der 14 inches and one fish over 20 inches. While bass in the 6- to 7-pound range are not un­com­mon, the goal of the slot limit is to re­cruit even more qual­ity fish. Bluegills in the 8- to 10-inch range can also be found at many of the ponds.

Ponds av­er­age 2 acres in size, how­ever there are sev­eral larger wa­ters rang­ing from 5 to 25 acres. The largest tops 37 acres. Sev­eral small roads in­ter­sect the en­tire re­gion. Some of the wa­ters can be found just off these roads, while oth­ers are more re­mote, re­quir­ing 45 min­utes or more to reach by foot.

“Google Maps can be a re­ally good tool for find­ing lakes that are not vis­i­ble from the roads be­cause of the hilly ter­rain and dense un­der­story,” says Hangsleben. “Some­times you will dis­cover hid­den lakes that you can’t see while driv­ing by them.”

By May and June, shore­line veg­e­ta­tion can be thick, mak­ing ca­noes, kayaks, and belly boats the best way to nav­i­gate.

Maps of the Re­cre­ation Lands show­ing the ponds and lakes, in­ter­sect­ing roads, and camp­sites are avail­able on­line (aep.com/en­vi­ron­ment/con­ser­va­tion/re­cland/maps.aspx), at the District Four of­fice of the Ohio Divi­sion of Wildlife (360 E. State Street, Athens, OH 45701), or by call­ing 740-589-9930.

SHARK TREK ON A TEXAS BEACH

TRUCKS, BEACH CAMP­ING, kayaks, and shark fish­ing are the mak­ings of an ad­ven­ture we could not leave off our list. For­tu­nately Richard Woehl, a South Padre vet­eran, could pro­vide the scoop.

“We had al­ways heard about this place called PINS, which stands for Padre Island Na­tional Seashore,” says Woehl. “Every­one talked about this in­cred­i­ble fish­ery.” Span­ning some 60 miles, Padre Island Na­tional Seashore is the largest un­de­vel­oped bar­rier island in the world. Lo­cated just south of Cor­pus Christi, Tex., the island has one road that pro­vides ac­cess to the north side. From this en­trance point, ac­cess is lim­ited to four-wheel-drive ve­hi­cles.

Woehl has fished from mile marker 0 to 60, and rec­om­mends the stretch from Big Shell Beach (mile mark­ers 23 to 25) down to mile marker 60.

“Trav­el­ing out there is part of the ad­ven­ture,” he says. “I’m run­ning 4,000 to 5,000 rpms— through loose sand—just to nav­i­gate por­tions of the beach.”

Woehl sug­gests mak­ing the trek with mul­ti­ple ve­hi­cles, tow ropes, flat fixes, shel­ter, an­chors for your shel­ter, first-aid kits, lots of ice, and cool­ers to keep the ice cold for sev­eral days. Kayaks are also nec­es­sary to get the bait to deeper wa­ter.

Af­ter ar­riv­ing, the first or­der of busi­ness is to set up camp and catch bait­fish. Cast nets work well in the pools be­tween the beach and the first sand­bars. Mul­let and la­dy­fish are the best bait.

Next, set your rod hold­ers and start run­ning bait to the deeper wa­ter. Woehl’s group usu­ally spa­ces their rods about 20 to 25 yards apart. He em­ploys a three-way rig uti­liz­ing three 5-foot, 150- to 200-pound plas­tic-coated steel lead­ers. One end ter­mi­nates with a large cir­cle hook and the other features a spi­der weight. The third is tied to a sec­ond in­line swivel so that the main line can be tied to the rig. Us­ing kayaks, they pad­dle the bait 300 to 400 yards out be­yond the third sand­bar. Be­sides sharks, you can ex­pect to pick up king­fish and bull reds when you fish the gulf side in May and June.

You can plan your visit by check­ing out the park on­line at nps.gov/pais/plany­ourvisit.

SOME­WHERE OVER THE RAIN­BOWS

DISCOVERING A WORLD-CLASS rain­bow trout fish­ery doesn’t al­ways re­quire back­packs and ca­noes. Some­times you just have to be will­ing to drive farther or take al­ter­nate routes. Wash­ing­ton State’s Ross Lake—which can only be reached via a gravel road from Hope, Bri­tish Columbia, or by travers­ing Di­ablo Lake—falls into this cat­e­gory.

Af­ter mak­ing the long trek to this wild and re­mote lake along the United States and Canada bor­der, an­glers will find more than just big rain­bows. The lake also yields qual­ity brook­ies and cut­throats.

While the south­ern edge of 23-mile-long Ross Lake is vis­i­ble from State Route 20, you can’t get to the wa­ter from the high­way. Boat ac­cess is lim­ited to ramps along the north­ern shores at the Ho­zomeen Camp­ground. These ramps are us­able from mid-june through Septem­ber. The camp­grounds can be reached by fol­low­ing a gravel road ap­prox­i­mately two hours south from Hope. Once you ar­rive at Ross Lake, there are 19 boat-in sites avail­able.

Di­ablo Lake is the south­ern gate­way to Ross Lake; how­ever, there are sev­eral op­tions for ad­ven­tur­ers com­ing through this en­trance. The first is to launch por­ta­ble craft, such as ca­noes or kayaks, at Colo­nial Creek Camp­ground. From here you have a 5-mile pad­dle across Di­ablo Lake and then a 1-mile portage into Ross Lake, where you can make use of the boat-in camp­ing sites for your stay.

If you do not have your own boat but would still like the do-it-your­self ex­pe­ri­ence, you can rent equip­ment, in­clud­ing ca­noes and kayaks, from Ross Lake Re­sort. To reach the re­sort, catch a ride on the wa­ter taxi, op­er­ated by Seattle Power and Light, across Di­ablo Lake. The wa­ter taxi can be ac­cessed via Di­ablo Dam Road be­tween mile mark­ers 127 and 128. The re­sort will then pick you up at the end of Di­ablo Lake and take you across the portage to Ross Lake. A third op­tion is to stay on the re­sort prop­erty. Will Shields, a Ross Lake fish­ing vet­eran, rec­om­mends pack­ing min­now im­i­ta­tions.

“We all use sink­ing fly lines be­cause we are trolling the shore­line with stream­ers, Clousers, and Woolly Bug­gers,” says Shields. “The trout are feed­ing on red­side shin­ers.”

Trolling with fly­fish­ing equip­ment may not seem nat­u­ral, but the key is get­ting the fly to the right depth.

For in­for­ma­tion about Ross Lake Re­sort, go to ross­lake re­sort.com. For in­for­ma­tion about boat­ing or boat-in camp­ing, check out the na­tional park website at nps.gov/noca/plan yourvisit/boat­ing-on-ross-lake.htm. For more in­for­ma­tion on Di­ablo Lake, go to seattle.gov/light/dam­tours/sk­agit.asp.

Hooked up in the surf off Padre Island.

Clock­wise from top: Tail­ing reds in Florida; an Ohio strip-pit bass; a surf-caught Texas shark; a rain­bow caught on a fly.

Ross Lake yields hefty rain­bows, along with brook­ies and cutts.

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