Even the Tough Days Can Be Great

by

Capt. Doug "Butch" Rickey

I woke up at 5:30 AM on March 14, to rain. It had been blowing 20 to 30 for the last several days, and I was sick of fighting the wind. Now, it was raining, to boot. The plan was to catch my bait around the Sanibel causeway and leave to pick up my party on the north end of North Captiva by around 8:30 AM. Catching bait was going to be a trick.

I was without a trolling motor or a passenger to handle the boat while I threw the net around the bridge pilings. Sunday, as we stood on the bow with baits in a snook hole, we all heard a sort of sizzling sound. I thought it was coming from the nearby mangroves, but didn't know for sure. We looked at each other, puzzled. Suddenly a sense of panic ran through my gut as a cloud of smoke rose from the bow filling our nostrils with the unmistakable odor of burning electronics components. My 712 SS Minn-Kota trolling motor main circuit board was going up in smoke. I snatched the power wires apart with a quick jerk and put a stop to the cloud, but it meant that I would be without a trolling motor for the rest of the week. The motor can be very instrumental in boat control while throwing for bait, and I also use it to make the final approach to the holes when I'm live bait fishing.

Anyway, I was without a motor, and handling the boat in a 20+ mph southeast wind running across a 6 knot current while throwing a 10 foot cast net was almost impossible. But, I knew that bait was be the key to any success that day, so I threw that net for over two solid hours without catching so much as a single pilchard. I was way off schedule calling my party, but decided to stay with it. Finally, I moved to a nearby flat that bordered the ICW channel. I figured maybe, just maybe, I could chum some bait out of the deeper water. And chum I did. And the pilchards and pinfish came. Not it great numbers, but enough for a day of fishing as long as I didn't use any of them for chum. By 9:30 I just couldn't bare the thought of throwing that net one more time and called my party. I finally picked up Joe O'Neil of Billings, Montana, and his daughter Lisa, and her boyfriend Kirk, both going to school in Alaska, about 45 minutes later. They were referred to me by Julie Ryan and Bill Krell, a great couple I took out back in December, who are also from Billings. We had a couple of days of great fun on the water together, and caught a lot of fish. Julie works at a travel agency with Joe's lovely wife Gale. Bill and Julie dug me a hole I figured I'd be buried in, telling Joe I'd take them out for 30 to 40 snook and reds. That's a tough trick to pull off in the winter months, especially when bait is scarce and the wind is blowing 25. But I was resolved to do my very best.

We took a long, slow ride across Pine Island Sound, running almost straight up the wind. Finally, we found relative refuge from the wind on the flats north of Demere Key, where I wanted to fish some holes for snook. We were too late getting there. There was already too much water on the flats, and these are low tide spots. We fished hole after hole for several hours, all of which were exposed to the wind. There was so much wind, often my anchor would pull loose and we'd blow the hole. Finally, I took refuge on the lee side of one of the larger keys where I'd scored the day before. Finally, we got into fish. Through the course of the afternoon we got 10 to 12 snook and reds, with a nice trout thrown in. Lisa got a couple of snook, but also lost a couple. Joe fought a nice red and lost it at the last minute. Kirk caught most of the fish, and lost several, too, and was the star of the day. We had a chance for a redfish triple while we were on a small school, but didn't pull it off.

At the last stop of the day, we put out some of the remaining few baits. I expected to find reds in this hole, but a large snook hit Kirk's pinfish, and headed west for Captiva. As far as I know, he made it to Mexico. Kirk couldn't even get his attention.

As we arrived back at Upper Captiva it was threatening rain again. Kirk proudly took the only fish we kept, a nice speckled trout, to the table to clean it. We hadn't landed any keeping size snook, and the big reds we caught are out of season. But Kirk was happy to have had a West Coast Slam, and on a day when conditions were really tough, everyone had a great time. Joe included a promise to return when the weather is warmer along with his generous tip.

It's certain that as the weather heats up, so too will the snook action. They're already showing up in good numbers, and we've been getting some 27 to 30 inch fish in the last week. Joe, I can't blame you for leaving Billings, Montana, in the dead of winter, but you've got to come fishin' here when it's warm. It's great.

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