Butch, our captain and guide, met us at 7:00 am. He had the boat in the water at the ramp. We had changed the time from 6:00 because Bonnie and I didn’t want to work that hard. In our 25 years of marriage, we have fished together all over south Florida from the keys, through the 10,000 islands, around Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island and even yellow fin tuna in Hawaii. I’m sure that Butch would accommodate you younger and eager ones at almost any time.
Butch and I had already established a repore by email and phone. We understood that any jabs were friendly fire and both had plenty of ammunition. It’s all part of fishing. Bonnie doesn’t take a back seat in this either.
It was one of those crisp south Florida mornings, about 65 degrees. For you folks from Wisconsin, that would be just right or warm, but for a Florida born and raised, it was just plain cool and I wore my jacket over my long sleeved shirt. I used to fish in 55 degrees but age has cut the flow and I don’t benefit from my wife’s hot flashes. She thought it was wonderful boating weather-she’s a yankee from Ohio.
The sun was up with just a few clouds and a slight 10 mph breeze from the east; a beautiful morning. After a little running to find live bait, we headed to the back country for snook, redfish and trout. It appeared to us that Butch’s boat was running in about 8 inches of water: There was grass sticking up over the top of the water. Oyster bars were out of the water everywhere. I remarked that it sure was skinny and he said, “you ain’t seen nothing yet”. He has one of those 20’ flat bottom tunnel boats with a 150 hp Yamaha for power. I heard him raise the jack plate and knew that we were headed for even shallower water. I couldn’t believe it and I felt the boat surge up and down and the engine rev a little. I’m not ever sure that there was water under us and I grabbed the side of the seat. I could feel Butch smiling behind me. We were just flying low over the flats.
Butch turned towards a couple of islands and shut it down as we approached a hole between them. It was beautiful. There was not a boat in sight. The water was running between the islands and the hole was about 6 to 8’ deep and 20 to 30 yards in length, sweeping around the islands. You could not see the bottom of the hole or the fish.
Butch baited up and Bonnie and I threw the live white bait so that it would drift downstream, along the edge of the mangroves. I saw my line straighten out, took up the slack, struck and found nothing. Butch advised that with this live bait, you have to take up the slack in a hurry, wait for the fish to pull some line off the reel, and then strike. He reminded me that he had gone through the procedure as he was baiting up. Well, excuse me, but I have been fishing for 50 years and I really don’t need to be told how to hook a fish. So, out we go again, letting the bait drift along the edge. I saw Bonnie strike and come up empty and once again Butch gave instruction about hooking a fish using live bait. My line straightened out again, I waited, felt the weight of the fish and struck. Nothing, I had pulled it out of its mouth. Butch said “you struck too fast” and this time it had a little tone to it. I said “OK” and let it go. Bonnie repeated the exercise and came up empty also. Butch said “you struck too fast”. I was determined and sure enough, Butch was right and I landed a snook. Bonnie got the knack and we started catching fish. The tide was now coming through the pass very well and Butch said he wanted to go to another spot.
So off we go over the tops of sand bars and grass. We headed for a larger island with a very small creek in the middle. I figured that we were going to fish the mouth of it but instead kept right on going into the creek, took a hard right, shut it down and idled towards a turn to the right. As we rounded the corner, there was another guide boat. I don’t know how this flats boat got there, certainly not the way we did. He definitely knew a deeper path. Butch knew the guy and asked if we could go through. This would have been a courtesy for most boaters. Unfortunately, there are those cowboys who would have washed the other boat into the mangroves with many different consequences, some not too gentle. Many of the boats in the back country have artillery and while I don’t know of any injuries, I do know that guns have been drawn. Unfortunately, it is a sign of the times. With more and more boaters moving to south Florida, there has become a greater need for education and courtesy on the water. There is already too much “mine is bigger, faster and you’re in my way”. You might call it “boat rage” but I believe that it is pure machoism.
Anyway, we moved a respectable distance from the other boat and proceeded to catch as many snook as we wanted. For over an hour, we caught snook, some even when we “struck too soon”. Enough is enough and we headed out again to look for redfish.
A five minute run brought us to a large flat with exposed oyster bars. The tide was still coming in although the east breeze had slowed it a bit. Many birds were about, pelicans, osprey, gulls and shore birds and we had spotted an eagle on the way. Butch poled us towards an exposed oyster bar. An engine in here would have cleared the flat of any fish. We baited up several different lines with live and cut bait and it wasn’t long before were had a run. Guess what? I “struck too soon”. We did catch a snook and missed a few other pickups. The fish just were not hungry on the bar. But that is fishing. All in all, we had a great fishing day-lots of action and some beautiful Pine Island country.
On the way back to the ramp we stopped at Butch’s favorite waterfront restaurant for some of the best peel and eat shrimp that Bonnie and I have ever eaten. We will definitely do this again and I would recommend that you do it also. “DON’T STRIKE TOO SOON”….