PANDEMONIUM ON THE BEACH

By

Capt. Butch Rickey

Memorial Day week shaped up to be a busy one for me. Bill Krell, from Billings, Montana, whom I had taken out last Thanksgiving, had booked four days of tarpon and backcountry fishing Saturday through Tuesday for him and his boss, Bob. He'd had a great two days in November, and wanted to chase tarpon. Wednesday I had scheduled a much needed day off. Thursday, I had a repeat with Beverly Kaczmarek, of North Port, whom I'd taken out about a month earlier. She'd had a great time and caught a lot of snook and reds, and wanted to go again.

I left for Ft. Myers Friday afternoon. I would get a good night's rest and be on the water at six ready to catch my bait. My party didn't arrive that morning until almost seven. Bill had run into a nice lady that evening and didn't send her back to her room until after 4:00 A.M. Bait was scarce on the mail run flat, and lots of chumming didn't produce very many shiners. That was O.K., as the plan was to fish tarpon on the beach off Cayo Costa, if possible.

We stopped to fish snook on the outgoing tide at Redfish Pass, but the only thing biting was large jacks. We made our way north looking for tarpon, but didn't find any until we were just north of Captiva Pass. We found a small school of about 15 fish milling around in about ten feet of water. We set up and presented to them time after time, but they just refused to eat our crabs, pinfish, or shiners. We had some real excitement when Bill inadvertently bumped the jackplate switch, which ran the motor for the jackplate. At that instant, our school and tarpon we hadn't even seen bolted and boiled the water as they spooked. Bill and his boss were amazed at all the fish flying past us, and I explained that the noise from the motor must have been very foreign to the fish, and spooked them. But, a minute later I realized I was wrong. I saw more fish fleeing, and saw the back and two-foot tall dorsal fin of a huge hammerhead shark about 100 yards from the boat. It may have been "Ole Hitler," and it was definitely causing panic among the tarpon.

By the end of that first day we hadn't caught much. I suggested that we abandon tarpon fishing for the backcountry and the beaches because of the Memorial Day traffic and the strong onshore winds. My guys agreed.

Sunday was a new day. I decided to hit one of the passes on the way to the beach to fish for snook. The larger snook usually come from the passes this time of year. We anchored and fished our hole for a while, but only caught two snook. Wanting faster action, I headed for the beach off Sanibel. We anchored a long cast away from the shore with a three foot surf promising to make things difficult. And, difficult it was, but we were richly rewarded for our troubles. We had non-stop action until around noon, and caught 50+ snook, and around a dozen blacktip sharks. My guys had a blast.

We still had plenty of bait in the front well as we headed across the sound to the backcountry. We finished up the day with a few reds, more snook, and several keeper trout. As we headed for the Punta Rassa ramp, Bill and Bob decided they wanted more of the same the next day.

Monday, we did a repeat, first stopping in the pass. We only caught one snook there. It was really rough on the outside, and I could tell my guys were very uncomfortable. We were catching snook, but the bite was not as wild as the day before, so I elected to move to the backcountry early. I could tell the boys were relieved to be on flat water.

We fished the area from McKeever Keys to north of Demere Key, and caught 20+ snook, several reds, three keeper trout, and a flounder. All in all, it was a pretty good day, and we had managed to avoid most of the holiday traffic.

Tuesday, I figured we'd have it all to ourselves. The wind was still up, so I suggested we stay inside the sound and work our way all the way to the north end, hitting the holes as we went. The guys agreed. We didn't slam the fish in any one spot, but we caught a few at each stop. I really wanted to get them into reds, but the reds had been hard to find. We'd managed a few each day, but it had been difficult to get them to come out from under the mangroves and eat a bait. Most of the fish were caught when the shiner was thrown under the mangrove edge. Buy day's end we'd caught a respectable number of snook, several reds, several trout, several large jacks, and two large nurse sharks. Back at the ramp, Bill and Bob congratulated me on a job well done during the four days of fishing.

Wednesday was a much needed day off. I had a large bubble develop on the left front tire of my van that I just knew would pop any minute. Tire Kingdom took care of that. Then I spent several hours at the new Sports Unlimited getting some much needed supplies. I took it easy the rest of the day. That evening I called Beverly and told her that I was going to put her on more snook that she could imagine, rather than chasing the reds that had been hard to find. She agreed.

We had two live wells full of pilchards by 7:15, and were off to the pass. We were between tides, and there was no current flow in the pass at all, so I went straight to the beach. We still had a serious surf, and it was rough as hell, but from the time we anchored and threw the first bait it was absolute pandemonium. By 11:30, we had caught, or broken off a snook for every bait in the rear well, and were already into the front well. I'm sure I had eight to ten dozen baits in the rear well. I'd guess that at least 20 of those fish were above the 24" legal size, but it was June 1. Over and over Bev said, "That was a keeper yesterday."

At around 11:30 I called a halt to the snooking. I figured we'd caught more snook than most people would believe, and had more fun than the law allows. I headed across the sound in search of redfish. We caught more snook in the backcountry, as well as several nurse sharks, a couple of legal trout, some jacks, and yes, after losing several, a beautiful 26.5" red with about 14 spots on her body. What a beautiful fish. It was the end to a perfect day, and I don't know what I'm going to do for an encore next time I take Bev fishing.

Copyright 1995, Douglas Rickey Jr.

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