Capt. Doug "Butch" Rickey

On May 7, Terry Bair and Kevin Chamberlain and I decided to check the beaches off Siesta Key, Casey Key, and points south for tarpon. Although tarpon don't usually show up on our beaches until around mid-May, I figured that they may be here early because it's been so warm.

Crabs weren't available at the local bait shops, so we were on the water with our ultra-lights at the crack of dawn catching sabre-toothed pinfish for bait. Even catching bait is fun when you're using the appropriate tackle. After eight or nine pins we headed out of Big Pass.

The gulf was almost flat, and absolutely beautiful. It was a perfect morning. We hadn't run long before I spotted the first school of fish headed south. I positioned the boat in front of the fish, being careful not to get too close, but the fish were real boat-shy. They changed their heading. We set up on them a several times with the same result, then they just vanished.

I headed further south and it wasn't long before we were on another school. We made a couple of perfect setups on these fish, but had no takers. I decided to sit and wait and watch, and it wasn't long before we spotted more fish headed south. I didn't line up quite right, or the fish changed course. In any case, they oved off just out of casting range to our west. I let them get good distance between us before lighting the motor to make the next attempt.

I set up on the school again. Perfect! They were coming right to the boat. I ordered the guys down on their knees as low as possible and turned off the bait well pumps and anything else that might make noise. As the fish swam into range I instructed Terry and Kevin to cast. Terry cast a large white bucktail jig in front of the approaching fish, and was immediately struck. He missed the hookup! Kevin, using my Shimano Baitrunner 4500 on a 7 ft. Kunan rod, cast his pinfish to the tarpon. I heard him utter several profanities just before I heard the sharp crack of gunfire. Actually, it was the sound of his 17# Silver Thread parting. He had managed to get a loop tangled in the reel somehow. He couldn't explain. But he knew instinctively that he would have an immediate take. Murphy's Law, you know. Well, he did, and the rest is history. I didn't get a take on that pass.

We chased the fish further south and set up on them again. Another perfect intercept. Again to the silent mode. Terry failed to hookup. Kevin had another immediate take, but somehow missed his fish. I had dropped a big pin right in front of the approaching fish, and lifted the rod and retrieved every few seconds to keep the pin from racing to the bottom. I was looking to break in one of my two new Shimano Calcutta 400's this morning. It took a while to get it set right for the pinfish, but once I did, it cast long and easy. My line went tight. As the last of the slack disappeared I struck the fish hard three times with the Diawa rod. The fish charged toward the boat. I got line back and struck her two more times. By this time I figured she was mine. I'd stuck her hard five times and she hadn't even gone airborne yet. But she charged toward the rear of the boat again. As I went to the stern with her I realized that something was pulling my line the other way. It turned out to be Kevin's line caught in mine. Terry had reeled in as soon as I announced a fish on, but Kevin hadn't. I though he knew better, because he's been tarpon fishing before. The pressure of his hook on my line soon parted the line. Oh, well.

The fish disappeared after that, and we decided to call it a day. It had been fun and exciting, even though we didn't get a fish to the boat. I have a hunch this will be a good tarpon season.

I had to cancel a couple of trips during the week because of the persistent south winds feeding the front passing to the north of Florida. Saturday, Terry invited me on a flats trip in his 15 ft. Key West.

I showed him a hole I've been pulling large snook out of, but there were no snook home. We did get a couple of nice reds from that hole. We fished around the east side about an hour more without a hit. Then, I suggested we go across the bay to a mangrove island that often has lots of reds on it this time of year. Once we get into the summer diurnal tides, the reds like to hide under the bushes. We had no more than gotten underway with the trolling motor and we were on top of reds. There were hundreds of them. We dropped anchor quietly and just cast our spoons to the edge of the mangroves. Let the spoon settle, pull, boom. We had a ball, and within a couple hours we'd caught 22 nice reds.

Red and snook fishing has been good in Pine Island Sound, too. I say it looks like a long, hot, bright, busy, fishy summer.

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