West coast Florida summers usually bring stifling temperatures, afternoon thunder showers and lots of rain. Not so this year. It was a dry one for us, but it seems to have had some benefits.WHO CAUGHT 'EM?
The first trip in July was with Mike Sons, of Carmel, Indiana. We were pass fishing for snook, and Mike got over 30 snook to 6 pounds, a 25" redfish, and 2 speckled trout, one of which was 6.5 pounds. What a beautiful trout!
A short time later I had an outing with Mike O'Leary of Longwood, Florida. He is a friend of my best friend Col. James McDaniel, of Springfield, Virginia. I think it was Mike's first trip to the west coast for snook fishing. He managed 17 snook to 5 pounds, a nice mangrove snapper, and a little gag grouper.
After Mike, a Tom Williams of Margate, Florida, stood me up at the dock. I will never understand how people can be so thoughtless and inconsiderate of others. I was so infuriated that I wrote him a scathing letter. It was, of course, returned undeliverable to the address he gave me. This is why we have to require deposits on advance bookings.
Since I was already in the water and ready to go, I decided to make it a day of research and exploration. I spent lots of time cruising along on the trolling motor looking for fish, and likely looking holes. I managed to hook around a dozen snook
The next day Dr. Richard Georgiades, of Sarasota, was back for some more snook action with his son Mark, and Mark's best friend, Dean. It was a slow day and the trio only landed 17 snook to 5 pounds. Dick got 8, Mark got 2, and Dean got 7.
A little later we went beach snooking. It was windy from the east, but a nice day. We caught more than 20 snook and a trout. As I made the final approach to the dock and hit reverse, something went wrong. I had no reverse. Then I discovered I had no forward, either. I thought I had broken something in the shift mechanism, but it turned out that the main driveshaft had broken. Could have been catastrophic if it had happened while I was under power.
I had a trip scheduled the next day with Ron Barncord of Ft. Myers Sports and Recreation, and his friends Craig and Denny. I thought I was going to have to cancel or reschedule, but my good friend Capt. Mark Bess saved the day for me. He offered me his Skinnywater 18 for the day, and we were able to go. Ron and the boys got 36 snook and a trout. He just couldn't believe there were so many snook to catch.
After a few days off, Dr. Georgiades was back for some more hot snook action. The wind was blowing southeast at 20 knots, and made it impossible to get to where the snook were. We only managed to catch 10 snook, but Dr. did lose one monster.
My good friend Lee Dugger was down from Patrick Springs, Virginia, to round out the month. The first day we concentrated on snook, and Lee and his young son Matthew caught 11 snook to 6 pounds, 2 redfish to 27", and a big mangrove snapper. The next day we fished the backcountry and concentrated on reds. We got 9 reds, 4 trout, and a huge jack crevelle.
In early August my good friend John Franck was up first. He wanted to go snooking but once again a strong south wind wouldn't let us get to where they hide. We had to settle for plan B. We got 1 redfish, 1 snook 26", 10 trout, a 17" grouper, and a jack. We had fun, and John got to take home lots of meat.
That weekend I joined my long time fishin' buddy Butch Boteler, of St. Cloud, for some redfish action of a different kind. We went to the Indian River, where we castnetted small finger mullet for bait. Then we anchored and waded around a small spoil island and fished the mullet so that they would stay up on top. We caught mostly trout, and only two redfish. But, the redfish were 48" long. I've got to tell you; when a giant red strikes a live mullet up top in shallow water, it's nothing short of heart stopping spectacular.
A few days later I was invited by my good friend Terry Bair for a day of fishing on his Key West. All I had to do was show up. We fished Sarasota Bay with artificials, and although we only got one red and 1 snook, it was great to be out on the water and not have to be the guide. I just enjoyed the day.
The next trip brought more boat problems. Within a 100 yards after leaving the ramp, the engine quit. I disconnected the master plug on the engine to see if it was start by shorting across the starter terminals. It did! Problem is, you're not charging your batteries, and you have no way to turn the engine off quickly when you defeat the plug. It's a real hassle to try to fish that way, but we went for a short time and caught a few reds, before I took the boat down to Outboard Motor Connection for repairs. Turns out there was a short in the ignition harness.
My next trip was a bit unusual for me. I had a call from Ben Gunn, who was in Sarasota with his wife Pauline, and sons David and Christopher, and daughter Jacqueline from Devon, England. I cautioned him that 5 people in a flats boat is a crowd, and that it would be hard to keep the kids quiet enough to catch a fish. I suggested that they would have to take turns fishing, and tried to tell him of all the pitfalls of trying to fish a large party in skinny water. Ben called back and said they wanted to go, regardless, and go we did. They had a blast. They don't have fishing anything like this back in merry old England. They were fascinated with the bait catching process and with the boat. As I anticipated, it was a great day of fishing, but a tough day of catching. We only got 2 big reds and a large jack. But the Gunns were thrilled with the fish, because they had never caught such big fish back home. The Gunns were lots of fun, and I really enjoyed spending the day with them.
Closing out August were Steve Barnett and Gaden Thomas of Sarasota. We went shiner fishing in the Buttonwood area of Sarasota Bay, and got 9 reds to 28", a 24" snook, 2 trout, and 2 stingrays. Gaden is always fun to fish with, and this day was no exception.
September started out still well into the 90's. The first day out was gorgeous. We had a light breeze from the east. Bait was so plentiful that I had all the bait I needed with one throw of the castnet. There were plenty of fish. We ran across jacks in Buttonwood, and could have caught a hundred if we had wanted to. But, I was interested in finding reds and snook. By 10:00 that morning we had caught over 20 reds to 28", 2 snook to 25", and 2 trout.
A little later my friend Butch Boteler was over from St. Cloud with a couple of his buddies, Brad Keene, and Dave Johnson. We went to Pine Island Sound for the first day for some snook fishing. The snook on the outside didn't want to cooperate, though, so we moved inside to the backcountry. We finally found reds stacked up in a pothole on the flats and finished out the day with 15 redfish to 28", 13 snook, 10+ trout, a flounder, a 16" snapper, and 2 jacks. We had to leave the fish biting when we were forced to run from an afternoon thunder storm.
The next morning found us heading for Long Bar in Sarasota Bay. We found lots of snook busting bait along the mangroves, but again, they wouldn't eat. I changed tactics, and fished an oyster bar in the area. We found reds laying around that bar that were hungry, and caught close to 20 of them up to 30". There was also an occasional red tailing on the adjacent flat. We managed to catch a couple of those along with 2 trout to 18", and 3 jacks to 18". We had a great day.
A couple of days later Gaden Thomas, John Franck, and I could hardly buy a bite as the barometer fell with the approach of a front. We fished our hearts out in Sarasota Bay and only managed 3 redfish and 2 jacks.
Back in Pine Island Sound a couple days later, the snook were hungry. Bob and Carol Bass were over from Orlando with their friends. We caught our bait on the beach near the Sanibel lighthouse, and then went snook fishing. There were lots of mackerel on the beach, and if I had been carrying some steel leader or some long shank hooks we could have caught a ton of them. With our short shank Mustad live bait hooks the macks just cut us off. But, we did manage to boat a couple of mackerel, along with 32 snook.
The next outing was on Sarasota Bay. I decided I wanted to see if I could find some places where I could castnet for mullet. What I needed to find was a few places I could pull my boat up into the mangroves near cuts between mangrove keys. I didn't really find such a place, and couldn't get close enough to the mullet to catch them from the boat out in the open. So, I decided to do some shiner fishing while I was out. I caught 5 reds to 27", a snook, 3 trout to 18", a ladyfish, and a bluefish.
After that I was out with my bud Capt. Mark Bess in his Skinnywater. The beach was too rough to snook fish, and reds had been scarce in the sound, so we decided to explore for some new trout holes. We caught 3 snook, over 40 trout, a nice flounder, and a jack.
Later, back in Sarasota Bay, my partner in crime Terry Bair and I went looking for redfish in his Key West. I convinced him that he needed to learn more about live bait fishing with shiners. He complained that he hadn't been catching much on lures. We got our bait with a couple of throws of the net and were off fishing. We finished up the morning with 10 to 12 reds, 3 snook, and a nice trout. Terry vowed to learn how to throw the 8 foot castnet I had given him.
A couple days later I was back in Pine Island Sound again with Brian and Tracy Kelly, who were newlyweds from Norwood, Mass. They were referred to me by Sanibel Causeway Bait and Tackle. We had a northeast wind blowing at 15+ mph, which made snook fishing on the beach almost impossible. We tried, but Tracy was soon turning green around the gills, and the snook weren't cooperating. They weren't eating in the pass, either, so we went across the Sound to the flats. I hit a hole we had found on an earlier trip, and hit a couple of bars around mangrove keys. We finished up the morning with 2 reds to 30", 3 snook, 30+ trout to 19", a nice snapper, a ladyfish, and 2 jacks. They also lost a big red and a big snook.
The very next day I was back with Jim Spring and his good friend Ray, who had won a trip I had donated to the Columbia Country chapter of the Florida Conservation Association (FCA). We found snook in the pass in the morning and Jim and Ray caught over 30 before the bite stopped, along with 2 jacks and a little gag grouper. Then we headed to the flats and got over 20 trout to 18" out of the holes. Jim and Ray had a good time and promised to send me some business from north Florida.
The following morning I had David Cook, of Belfast, Ireland, scheduled for a fly fishing trip. David is a world champion fly fisherman back home, and I figured I might well learn something from him. I knew Capt. Mark would want to come along for the same reason. I had told Dave my strategy was to catch some shiners as we normally do for a live bait trip. I would then use the shiners to try to chum up the snook and get them going so they would be more receptive to his fly. I would also fish shiners with conventional tackle. That way I would know if we were on fish, or not.
When David saw how eager the snook were to eat those shiners, he put down his flyrod and grabbed a spinner. The snook were a real challenge that morning. The waters were slam full of glass minnows, and the snook were full to the gills with them. Yet, mother nature kept telling them they should be eating our shiners. They're hard for snook to resist. So, they would hit our baits real quick, and just hard enough to kill it, but usually wouldn't take it into their mouths. We still caught somewhere between 20 and 30 snook. After the bite stopped we went across to the flats, and put Dave on about 15 trout. He had a great time, and was surprised at the size of the fly tackle we use here as compared to what he uses back home. Mark gave him a nice sampling of flies to take home.
The last trip in September was with my old fishing buddy Ted Sparling, who is a builder here in Sarasota. He had discovered a great redfish and snook hole while he was remodeling a waterfront home on Anna Maria Island, and he was anxious to show me. We also wanted to see if we still had snook in the passes and on the beaches locally. We didn't catch the first snook, but we did get 4 big reds, which Ted thoroughly enjoyed, along with 8 trout to 17", a 16" flounder, 1 big ladyfish, and 3 small grouper. We got to Ted's bar too late on the tide, but I did catch 2 big jack crevelle that were strong enough to strip enough line to go all the way around and behind this very large bar. They were a blast. I don't know why jacks don't get more respect from local anglers.FORECAST
Fall brings with it moderating temperatures and lower tides. Once we get tides that are near or below Mean Low Low Water (MLLW), the pothole fishing can really heat up. If it's anything like last fall, it should be great! Of course, we are still in the hurricane season, so weather will always be a factor.ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This month a special thanks to Capt. Mark Bess for letting me use his Skinnywater while my boat was down for repairs. I also want to thank Pam and Cheryl at the Flying Fish Fleet in Sarasota, and the boys at Sanibel Causeway Bait and Tackle in Punta Rassa for the trips they sent my way.
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