This starts my second year of publishing "the BarHopp'R Times". After a tough winter, I welcomed spring and the coming of summer with open arms.
WHO CAUGHT 'EM?
The first three days of April were booked with Phil Picana, and his young son Edziu, who goes by the nickname of "Edge". On the first day the dad and son duo bagged around 30 snook to 26 inches, lost about half that many, and landed 8 speckled trout including a beautiful 6.1 pounder. April 2, brought cold and windy weather, and we fished the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River trying to hide from the wind. The Picanas caught 6 snook to 27", 5 trout to 22", 6 ladyfish to 20", and 4 jack crevalle. Not a bad day considering! Day 3 we were back on the flats working the potholes, and the daring duo got 11 snook to 28", 5 trout to 22", 1 mackerel, 1 ladyfish, and five jacks. The Picanas were great fun to fish with, and young Edgie is quite a skilled angler, who, by the way, wants to be a fishing guide.
A couple days later I was one of several participating guides fishing members of the Bonita Bay Club in a private tournament. My guys, Cal, Paul, and Dick, landed 15 snook to 28", 4 trout to 22", a nice flounder, and 4 jacks. They lost another 11 snook.
After a couple of much needed weeks of vacation, I was back on the water with Tom Sidar, and his boys Matt and Jack, from Yarmouth, Maine. It was one of those tough days when nothing goes right, but we managed to have fun and make the best of it. His boys were new to fishing, and missed lots of hits, but managed to catch 2 trout to 22", and a 14" flounder. Nearing the end of the trip we went up the mouth of the river looking for snook, and ran out of gas as we were heading in. I was in both shock and disbelief, as I always fill up after each trip. Apparently, someone had siphoned some of my gas during the night while I was on vacation. Tom probably didn't believe that story, but it was the gospel truth. I can't tell you how embarrassed I was. Fortunately, my good friend Capt. Mark Bess came along in his Sheriff boat and rescued us.
Tom and his sons were late meeting his wife back at the ramp, but he was very good natured through the whole episode. Then, when I started my cleanup routine, I realized my cell phone was missing. I figured I had left it where it could slip overboard, and was kicking myself you know where! But, later, Mark pulled up in his Sheriff truck and told me to call Tom, because he had my phone. Turns out, the phone had somehow slipped into Tom's bag while it was on the console, and he found it when he got back to his condo. I was sure glad to see Tom again, and get my phone.
Tom was nice enough to recommend me to his friend Jerry Patton, and his sons Mike and Steve, from Sudbury, Mass. My friend Capt. Mark was off that day, so I invited him along as first mate. Jerry and his boys outfished Tom and his boys, and caught 1 redfish 25", 2 snook to 26", 6 trout to 21", 2 flounder, and 2 jacks. Everyone had a good time.
The next day I guided Kristen Trombley, who had booked a trip for her dad, Bill, and herself. They had a great day that included a 26" redfish, 20+ snook to 28", 12 trout to 21", 2 flounder, a ladyfish, and 3 jacks; over 40 fish. Kristen was amazed that I seemed to know exactly where the fish would be.
I wrapped up April with a fun trip on Sarasota Bay with my old friend Terry Bair. We took his Key West up to an area known as Long Bar in a thick fog. I decided as we rode through the fog that it would be a perfect day for throwing topwater plugs for redfish. Terry followed the NW compass course I recommended, and finally ran his boat aground on Long Bar. As we poled the boat off the shallow bar, I realized that redfish were pushing water all around us. The first cast of my Jerkin Sam brought several vicious strikes, and finally an explosive hookup. What a blast! I caught 8 big reds on that flat, and lost several others. The largest was 32", which is 12 to 14 pounds. What a great fish on 8 pound test in just inches of water.
May started out with Dr. Graham Burcham, of Sarasota. I met him while doing a local show last year. I brought my buddy Mark along again. We always have lots of fun when we fish or mate for each other. Besides, are not two heads better than one? Graham had a great day, with 5 reds to 25", 20+ snook to 24", 10 trout to 23", 2 flounder, and 4 jacks in the boat. That's 40+ fish.
Next up was my old friend John "Wolfgang" Franck, of Nokomis. We started in Shell Creek, where John caught an 11 pound snook, his biggest ever. Man, was he proud of that fish. We ended the day with one redfish, 6 snook, 8 trout to 24", 1 16" flounder, 3 mangrove snapper, a ladyfish, and 1 jack. He also lost 6 snook.
Yogi Yani, owner of American Quick Print, in Sarasota, had a great day in May, too. He had waited almost two years to fish with me, and had a great time. Yogi took home plenty of meat out of the 9 redfish to 25", 15+ snook to 27", 5 trout to 22", and 1 jack he boated. The five trout gave Yogi a quadruple inshore slam.
The next day I had my friend Roy Hobbs, owner of H & L Builders, in Kissimmee, out for his first snook trip in Pine Island Sound. Roy had a great day with 3 redfish, 20+ snook to 28", 2 trout to 20", and a jack. Roy lost lots of snook, and I broke off two big ones and lost several others. We had to leave the fish biting when a thunderstorm blew up on us.
May 15, was a dark day. What started out to be a great day ended with the first injury on my boat in 7 years of guiding. Bill Hawkins of Nashville, Tennessee, booked a trip, and brought his friend Tom, and Tom's son Chris. About an hour into the fishing Tom hit a big snook in the mangroves. Snook, especially big ones, are very difficult to get out of the trees on light tackle. Many of us guides teach a technique I call "gunwale walking", which greatly increases your success at bullying snook out of the mangroves. It's a simple technique that is very effective, and accomplishes what you can't do with the rod and reel alone. Basically, as soon as you set the hook, you point the rod to the water and walk the fish down the gunwale to the stern of the boat as quickly as you can. You only have a few seconds to win the battle at the tree line, and this is the most effective way to do it.
Unfortunately, even though my gunwales are 14" wide, Tom missed when he stepped with his left foot, and went down hard. As he did, he caught his full weight with his right hand right on top of the Moonlighter push-pole holder. I had never noticed before, but the pole holder had a pointed edge which is exposed when the pole is stored, and that edge split the palm of Tom's right hand wide open. Of course, the rod went into the water, and the fish got away, and at that point Tom was clutching his hand so tightly that Bill nor I realized that Tom was cut. I though he had sprained his hand or wrist. We knew that Tom had to go to emergency when Tom was finally able to open his hand and fully expose the cut. It was nasty and required quite a few stitches. They had caught 2 snook and 3 snapper, and lost 4 snook before Tom went down.
I talked to Tom's lovely wife Janet not too long ago. She said that Tom was doing fine, but had lost some feeling in his hand and may require surgery. I pray that he'll heal completely.
The following day my old friends Chester and Carol O'bara were down from St. Petersburg for a day on the water. They got 2 reds to 25", 4 snook to 24", 1 23" trout, a nice flounder, and a snapper. I've been guiding the O'Baras for about 5 years now, and they're always lots of fun.
Just two days after the accident, Bill Hawkins was back to try again. Tom wisely decided to sit out and let his wife Janet and son Chris come. Bait was tough and we had to settle for threadfin herring instead of pilchards. We managed to catch 3 snook and lose one in Shell Creek before the outgoing tide stopped. Then I decided to gamble. Snook usually show up on the beaches and in the passes around the middle of May. I decided to go and see if they had moved yet. We saw tons of big snook holding in the fallen trees along Upper Captiva, but the water was super clear, and they wouldn't eat. There were no fish along the beach at Sanibel or in Blind Pass. My gamble didn't pay off.
Just two days later, with Bill and Steve Carson of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, aboard, the snook were thick on the beach. They wouldn't eat until the tide started moving, but once they did the Carson boys got 15+ snook to 9 pounds, and 6 trout to 23", and a blacktip shark.
A couple of days later Bob Baltazar, of Ludlow, Mass., had a great day of snooking with 14 snook to 27", a small red, a small grouper, and a jack in the boat, and 27 snook lost. He tangled with nearly 50 fish.
The very next day it was as if someone had turned off a switch. There were no snook on the beaches or in the passes for Jim Cocalas, of Northfield, Illinois, to catch. So, we went into the backcountry and got a 24" red, 3 snook to 7 pounds, and a 16" snapper fishing the trees. Jim also lost 3 snook. Jim booked a full week in October, and the fall fishing is usually fantastic.
After a day off, my good friend Gaden Thomas and I hit the Sound for some meat fishing. We got a 28" redfish, a nice snapper, and 2 out of 8 snook to 30", then found a large pothole full of trout. We got at least 30 trout to 21".
The last trip in May was with Mike Dunn of ANSI, in Sarasota, my friend of some 24 years, Wayne Kinney, of GTE Florida, and their friend Tom. The boys bagged 12 of the 33 snook hooked, along with a snapper. There were plenty of snook to catch, but they weren't feeding aggressively.
June would bring hot weather and hot snook action. First up were Dr.'s David Boles, Doug Jackson, and Bill Morgan of Sarasota. I had told Dave about the snook action but I don't think he believed me until he saw for himself. Bait was tough, but we were rewarded for our efforts. The three dentists landed 47 snook, a trout, a jack, and a blacktip shark. Quite a morning of fishing.
The next morning John Zeiller of Snellville, Georgia, and his friend Tim Warren of Oklahoma tried their luck. They landed around 25 snook to 10.5 pounds, 6 blacktips, and 1 trout. They lost lots of fish, too. Later, I mated for my friend Capt. Mark and his party. They got 37 snook to 32" and around 10 blacktips.
Next I took Dr.'s Dick Georgiades and Doug Jackson, and Tom Consentino, all of Sarasota, out for snook action. They had plenty and boated more than 40 snook to 7 pounds, a 5 pound trout, and a small red.
Having heard about the fishing from Mike Dunn, Kevin Grover, CEO at Associated Network Solutions, Inc. (ANSI) came to see for himself. He and two of his clients landed 63 snook to 8 pounds, and lost another 17. Then we went to the backcountry and caught 4 of 8 redfish to 28", and a trout, and called it a day. And, quite a day it was!
The next day I had Chad Guessford of Winter Haven, FL, all by himself. I challenged him to beat the single angler record of 36 snook for this summer. He landed 37 snook to 7 pounds, and a small red. If he had landed all of those he had on his line, he would have caught 60 to 70 fish by himself.
Following Chad was Pat Hughes and his family for two days of fishing. The first day Pat, his mother Mage, daughter Valerie, and S-I-L Chuck, got 31 snook to 5 pounds. The second day Pat brought his daughter Robin and her husband Tom, and his friend John. Pat said that he had to take some fish home or his wife would kill him, so we went pothole fishing for trout. They caught over 40 trout, a 17" flounder, and a 24" snook. I trust his wife was happy.
For the next three days I was officially on vacation. My nephew Michael Christianson was down from Macon, GA, to fish the rest of the week with me. The first day I got 24 snook and Mike got 10 to 8 pounds.
The following day my friend Gaden Thomas came down and joined us. Before we could even get to the fishing grounds we were threatened by a bad thunderstorm. I ran for the closest cover, Keesels old fish house near Regla Island. I no more than got the boat pulled under the stilthouse when all hell broke lose. I had told Mike earlier if we ever got caught in a storm to lay down in the floor of the boat and get as small as you can, then kiss your butt good-bye. After I got the boat secure under the house I looked down, and there was Mike curled up in the floor trying his best to disappear. The storm cut our morning two hours short, but we still managed 47 snook. I got 24 again, Gaden 18, and Mike 5, plus 2 small grouper.
The last day of vacation Gaden wanted to catch some trout to take home. The tide wasn't right until later in the morning, so we went snooking first. I got 25, Gaden 10, and Mike 8, for a total of 43, plus 2 grouper. Then we hit a pothole for trout and caught 20+ to 21". We had a pretty good week, but I was absolutely worn out.
The last trip in June was with radio and TV personality Capt. Mel Berman and his lovely wife Ginny, of Tampa. He has had the most popular fishing radio talk show in the state for some 11 years, and is a legend in his own time. We had been fishing for about two hours, and had caught 15 snook and a jack, when a loud crack of thunder alerted us to a fast approaching storm. We fled the storm and decided to call it a day.
The following morning I was Capt. Mel's guest host as he broadcast live remote from the Pink Shell in Ft. Myers Beach. It was fun, and a great experience for me. It's not every day you get to fish with a legend.
Snook fishing on the beaches and in the passes should be great through September, and probably for the first half of October. Then they will move back inside around the mangrove keys and oyster bars. The big unknown will be the weather. Hurricanes, tropical storms, and west winds can make fishing difficult, if not impossible.
This month a special thanks to Capt. Mel Berman for having me on his "Capt. Mel Berman Show" on AM 970 WFLA. It was fun, and I'm looking forward to doing it again. I also want to get him back on the water for some more snook. Thanks also to everyone who allowed me to be their guide.
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