Fall in west coast Florida means falling temperatures, falling humidity, falling rainfall totals, shorter days, and great fishing. It also means a change in the patterns as winter approaches.
WHO CAUGHT 'EM?
The first two days in October were dedicated to Kevin Grover of Associated Network Solutions, and some of his best clients. I've had Kevin out several times before, and each trip has been a great one. My big concern each trip is how to top the last trip. So, the first day was a research trip to see if I could find good numbers of redfish or trout.
I ran all the way to an area known as the Triangle looking for reds, but found only one. It happened to be a 32" beauty of about 13 pounds. I knew that most of the snook were still on the outside, but I did manage to catch 5 snook up to 27", as well as a nice flounder, 2 ladyfish, and five jacks.
The payday was with speckled trout. I stopped at a hole that I knew usually gives up a lot of trout, and sure enough, caught over 30 beauties.
The next day, with Capt. Mark aboard as mate, we took Kevin and crew straight to the snook grounds. We knew there was a good chance we'd also see some tarpon on the outside, as they'd been there a few days earlier. Sure enough, as we approached the snook grounds tarpon began sounding everywhere. There were hundreds, even thousands of tarpon from around 60 pounds to well into the 100's rolling everywhere. It was an awesome spectacle, and the guys just had to throw shiners, plugs, and everything else we had at them. But there wasn't a single taker in the bunch! Just typical, and probably just as well, as we were fishing with 8 pound test spinners.
After playing with the tarpon for almost two hours, we decided we'd better get busy on the snook. We caught over 30 snook up to 28" as I eased the boat along on the trolling motor. We hit another spot close by and caught 5 small grouper, 1 ladyfish, and 2 jacks, then went inside, across the Sound.
I headed straight for the trout hole we'd hit the day before, and sure enough, we banged another 30+ trout to 20". We'd done it for Kevin and party again.....a great day of fishing.
A couple days later Capt. Mark and I were out in his Skinnywater prefishing for a two day outing with Clem Law, president of SFI Financial Services, in Ellenton. Our biggest concern was bait. We wanted to make sure we could find it since it was on the move.
We explored area after area, but didn't find bait until around 11:00 AM at Chino Island. Fishing was slow, too, but we'd found what we wanted, and ended the day early with 3 snook and a few trout.
Clem's party included his father Bill, and his friends from South Carolina, Jim and Arnie. I hired Capt. Mark as the second boat, and he had the fellas from SC. We had a kind of intra-group tournament, and Mark and his guys won the first day with 1 redfish, 1 flounder, and 10 keeper trout. We caught over 20 trout and lost 4 redfish. The big red won the first day.
The second day Clem and Bill won the day with 2 snook to 7.5 pounds, 12 trout to 22", and 1 redfish lost. Mark's boys got 1 red, 2 flounder, 1 snook, and some trout.
Clem and his boys had drawn a couple of terrible weather days, with winds out of the northeast both days at around 25 knots. It made fishing tough, but I think we all had a good time.
A little later, I participated in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Tournament in Ft. Myers with a donated trip. There were around 40 guides involved to fish over a hundred kids. We all hit the water that morning dismayed to find a 25 knot north wind roaring right down the Sound. Man it was nasty. We though they would cancel the Tourney for another weekend, but in the end, we fished.
We got a late start at around 8:30 AM, and had to be in by noon. This was a species Tourney, with the most different species caught being the winner. My boys, Edjar Perez and Jimmy Anderson, had very little fishing experience, but they did manage to catch 7 different species including 2 nice snook to 24", 15 trout to 20", a flounder, and 2 ladyfish. We were 1 specie short of being in the money.
Just a couple days later, Larry Wilson, of University Park, FL, got 1 nice redfish, 2 trout, a ladyfish, and over 24 snook. The front had passed, and the winds had moderated east @ 15.
A couple days later I took Aleda Adam, a long time family friend from Ft. Myers, out for some fun. She forgot to bring her lighter, and had a tough time out there without her smokes. She did manage to catch 3 redfish, 4 snook, 5 trout, and some ladyfish.
The next day, Kevin Grover was back in town with another group of guys. This was a big group and I again hired Capt. Mark as the second boat. Mark took his guys straight to the trout hole, which we have dubbed "Mark's Hole", to score some quick early action. They caught 55 trout out of that hole before the bite stopped, as well as 11 snook along the way. I had gone in search of reds and snook, and when Mark found us tucked in on a hole behind McKeever Keys we were tearin' 'em up. Kevin and his crew, Chandler Gingas and Ray Chaple, caught 24 redfish to 27", 13 snook , and 5 trout. Mark and his boys caught 6 reds after they joined us. Our total for the day was 114 fish, and we had done it again! Kevin was a happy camper. I don't know what we're going to do for an encore.
Finishing off October, Vinny Lysobey, of Palmetto, had his dad out for a day of fishing. We had a -MLLW tide, which meant it was time for pothole fishing. We hit good action immediately, and got 1 redfish, 18 trout to 24", and 13 snook to 8.5 pounds. All of the snook were from 6 pounds up, and Vinny was thrilled with the day, saying he'd never caught so many big snook.
November started with an outing in Sarasota Bay with my old friend Terry Bair. I hadn't been on the Bay in some time, and didn't know quite what to expect. We found bait where I thought it would be, and were soon fishing. It was slow, but steady until the afternoon, when I hit a series of holes next to a mangrove key that were full of snook. We finished the day with 8 redfish, 6 trout to 22", 2 jacks, and 13 nice snook to 29". Terry decided that he really needed to learn how to catch bait.
Next I was on the water back on the Sound with Capt. Mark, getting ready for the first of two video shoots for Barber/Myrick Pictures. They commissioned me to star in their video Florida Fishing Adventures: How To Catch Redfish. I agreed under the condition that it be a true how-to video, and not a montage of me catching fish for 75 minutes straight. They agreed. I asked Capt. Mark to be my host.
I was out to make sure I could find some cooperative redfish. I found lots of reds along the mangrove roots, and caught 15 of them to 25". I also got a 6 pound trout, and a couple of snook. I though I was all set for the cameras the next day.
The next morning Ray Combs and Zubi Mohammed, of Barber/Myrick, were late arriving. They had missed their turn onto I-75 from Orlando, and were having overheating problems.. By the time we got our bait, we had missed the prime time for reds. The camera crew brought their own equipment except for the audio stuff. They had rented some fancy, hi-dollar stuff that allowed Mark and I to wear a mic-pack that transmitted back to a base. One unit quit right after it was powered up, and the other never worked right. So, we wound up doing mostly stuff that allowed me to be right at the camera, and got some of the fishing long shots. Ray and Zubi were very upset over the equipment failures. We only got 4 reds, but also caught 8 snook and a trout.
The next day I was out with Mark again, but this time he'd hired me to help with a large party. Mark had Dr. Ken Molnar, of Mansfield, OH, and a bunch of his friends. Mark had fished Ken earlier in the year and he'd caught a 39" snook on the first cast of the day! That would be hard to top.
Mark and I started our morning fishing adjacent snook holes. We both hit big fish immediately. Of my four, Mike, Rick, and Mike, and I apologize for forgetting the fourth name, Rick was the only admitted fisherman. But he wasn't ready for the fury of the big snook that took off for parts unknown with his 8 LB test. You've got to have the benefit of some on the water instruction and experience before you're ready for that. It came so quickly that I didn't even have time to intervene before the snook had swam around behind the key and cut the line in the roots.
Next I turned around to find Dr. Mike fiddling with the end of his rod. To my chagrin, he had my brand new Shimano Stradic 4000 completely submerged about a foot and a half down in the salt water. I don't think I have to tell you that didn't set well with me. Especially, when Mike seemed very unapolo-getic about it.
That first stop set the tone for the day. We were also cursed with a hell of a south wind feeding an approaching cold front. That much wind made fishing four inexperienced guys nearly impossible, and I spent much of the day untangling lines. My four guys missed a lot of very big snook. Rick hooked and lost the most big snook, and I think he was a bit flummoxed. They finished the day with 4 redfish and 4 snook.
The next day it was blowing even harder, as the front had passed and the wind was now northeast. With a low tide forced even lower by the north winds, it was a day for pothole fishing. It was a tough day, and boat handling with a pushpole was almost impossible, but we managed to catch over 30 trout to 22", a redfish, and 4 snook. Ending the day Ken told me he'd had lots of fun and that I had been a very good host. Seems Mike had led him to believe that I was some kind of monster. After he'd missed a big snook late in the day before, he cursed in frustration and asked me what the hell he'd done wrong. I candidly, but honestly replied, "Everything!" I don't think the doctor was used to people being quite so candid with him. Perhaps I was a little too hard on him.
Back at the docks that evening, I met Dr. Gary Shierling, a local dentist. He was very interested in my boat and booked a trip for the next morning. I warned him it would be a tough day of fishing with the passing front and high winds, but he wanted to go. It was worse that I imagined, and there were no snook or reds to be found. Actually, we found plenty of snook. They just had lockjaw. I proved it after fishing one of my favorite holes without a bite. We quietly ran across the hole on the troller as we left and at least 40 snook went scooting in all directions. We settled for catching over 20 trout, and I showed Gary lots of places to fish. We could have caught a 100 trout that day, as they were everywhere. We kept leaving the trout to find other fish.
A couple days later, with winds screaming out of the north at 30, Brent and Barb Russell, of Stowe, Vermont, didn't understand my complaints about the weather. They thought it was great! I guess weather is a relative thing!
As I approached a favorite hole with flaps down, I stumbled upon a small, unassuming looking hole, and decided to fish it. It turned out to be a goldmine, and we slammed right there. After we fished it out, we hit lots of potholes that were all full of big trout. Again, we kept leaving the trout in search of reds and snook. At days end the Russells were wearing big smiles over the 13 redfish, 2 snook to 24", 1 flounder, 2 big jacks, and 27 trout to 20" they had caught on the worse weather day of the year.
After a couple days rest and several weather cancellations, Ollie, Frank, and George, of the Bonita Bay Club, were finally on the water. It was a nice day with an east wind at 10, and a high of 80. The guys got 8 redfish, 4 snook, 1 flounder, and 10 trout to 20".
The next day I was out scouting for a trip with Bob James, Jim Clark, and a friend. They have been with me since I first started guiding, and are late 70's to early 80's. But these guys are still game, and love to fish. I did a lot of exploring, and got 5 reds and 4 snook in the process. I had a plan.
The next day, with my eager seniors aboard, I found the redfish right where I had left them the day before. We anchored and threw a couple hands full of chum to get them going. The ole' boys got 26 redfish out of that one hole. They weren't big fish, but they were big enough to give my seniors a big time.
I asked if they wanted to catch a few snook before calling it a day, to which they eagerly agreed. We went across the Sound to a bar and everyone got a snook. They caught 4, lost one, and got 5 trout.
A couple days later I was back in Sarasota Bay with my friend Terry Bair in his Key West. We fished drops and edges on a very low tide and had a great day for Sarasota Bay, with 9 redfish to 24", 8 snook to 12 pounds, and 4 trout. I had another snook in the 12 pound range close to the boat when she spit the hook! We caught most of those fish within a couple hundred yards of another guide, Todd Romine, who had pulled in and was fishing holes we'd already caught out of.
Nearing the end of the month, Dr. Dennis Mikutis and his good friend Lou Salemi, an Allstate "Good Hands Man", of Dekalb, IL were up for some fun. And, fun they were. We had another front approaching, and the wind was blowing hard out of the south, but we managed 1 red, 1 keeper snook, 2 flounder, and over 20 trout to 5 pounds.
The last trip of the month was with Gene Christianson, of Macon, GA, and his young son Mike, and daughter Sarah, and his 82 year old father Ed, from Wisconsin. It was still blowing like hell, and everyone was missing hits and losing fish. Ed just wasn't quite as quick as he used to be. But then, he was doing darned well to even be out fishing. You see, the last time I took him and Gene fishing, we caught a ton of big redfish. The day was so hard on him he went straight from fishing to a quadruple bypass and almost died. He would have died with a smile on his face, though, and still brags about that day. This day, we wound up with 9 redfish (1 lost), 2 keeper snook (2 lost), and 8 trout to 22". Sarah just couldn't wait to get back home and tell everyone she caught the biggest fish.
The first trip of December was with Lou Salemi again. This time we were on Sarasota Bay. It was blowing like hell out of the east, and bait was tough, but we had a great day. We lost track of the official redfish count but it had to be near 20 reds to 25", along with 3 snook, more than 20 trout to 22", 4 flounder, and 5 ladyfish. Lou was sure proud of that 25" red!
Ray and Zubi were running out of time to finish the video. We had been patiently waiting, trying to coordinate a good weather day to do our final shoot, but the weather had not cooperated. We picked a day to finish, regardless! We were going to shoot in Sarasota Bay, and I had a couple of trips to figure it out.
First, Arleen McLarty was over from St. Cloud for the first time in a couple of years. Once again we were cursed by south winds feeding an approaching cold front. We had to settle for 2 redfish, a 26" snook, a big jack, 4 ladyfish, and 10 trout to 21". Not a stellar day!
A few days later, after the front had passed and the winds were actually calm, my good friend John Franck and I were out to prefish for the video. There were no shiners to be found, and we caught 1 trout, 2 ladies, and 9 redfish on shrimp.
The next day Ray and Zubi were in town to finish the video. We weren't worried about catching fish, as we had decided we had enough footage, and needed to redo all the stuff that had lost audio, and wrap up. The day started off on a sour note.
I saw Capt. Todd Romine in his big blue center console vee-hull 25 footer roaring through a no-wake zone. He just kept coming at full speed and roared right up on top of us. He screamed and cursed at me like a madman, declaring that I was in his hole. "HIS HOLE". Seems Todd thinks he owns all of Sarasota Bay and every fishing hole in it. I would like to have boarded his boat and adjusted his attitude, but we had a job to do and common sense won the day. The most unbelievable part of this story is that he did this with customers on his boat. Can you imagine what they must have been thinking?
I've since found out that Capt? Todd has done that to many other people. Seems it's his modus operandi. I have since returned to carrying a firearm on the boat. If he ever pulls a stunt like that again, I'll sink him right where he sits. That kind of unmitigated stupidity and gall tells me he must be very insecure with his abilities as a fishing guide.
Next up was Chad Guessford, of Winter Haven, FL, and his buddies Joe and Eddie. I'd taken Chad on a snook trip back during the summer, where he caught 38 snook by himself. Today we'd be pothole fishing in the backcountry. By day's end, Chad had bagged 19 trout, 2 snook, 6 redfish, and 5 flounder. Joe had caught 10 trout, 2 reds, 1 snook, and 1 flounder, and Eddie had 12 trout, 3 snook, 2 reds, and 3 flounder. That's a total of 10 redfish, 6 snook, 40 trout to 4 pounds, and 9 founder to 18".
The following morning I had John Emrich of Charleston, SC, and his brother Sam. They, too, had a great day with John catching 19 trout, 3 snook, 3 reds, and 2 flounder, and Sam bagging 21 trout, 2 flounder, 2 snook, and 4 reds. Their total was 7 redfish, 5 snook to 25", 40 trout to 4.5 pounds, and 4 flounder.
After some time off I returned with Ed Newell, of Humarock, Mass. Ed began the trip telling me about the marvelous stripper fishing back home, but soon found himself preoccupied with redfish. Ed probably set an unofficial record, for me anyway, of 51 redfish, a sheephead, and a flounder! 47 of those redfish came out of one hole, caught on shrimp. The last few were caught on lures at another spot. Ed was blown away by the action.
Next up were Fredrik Wallenberg, of Houston, TX, and his good friend Jeff Hare, of Charlotte. Fredrik said they wade fish exclusively in Texas, and was eager to get out of the boat and walk the flat in pursuit of the redfish that were tailing that morning. I explained that it isn't a high percentage type of fishing, but that it is for me the most satisfying way to catch a fish. We caught one, and lost one, before some inconsiderate boob came running down the flat and put the fish down. But there's great fun in the trying. We wrapped the day with 6 redfish, 7 trout, a 24" snook, 1 flounder, 1 jack, and a ladyfish.
The next day I had Bob Myers, of Powell, OH. It was a beautiful day with variable breezes at 5 knots, and a high of 85. It was a perfect day to chase tailers on the flat, but they weren't showing where I thought they would. So, we went to the pothole mode.
We were having a pretty good day, and I was poling us toward one of my favorite trout holes when I saw her. I knew she was a big red as soon as I saw her tail pop up on the back side of the hole. I pointed the fish out to Bob, and asked if he wanted to go catch that fish. He asked, "How?" I explained that we would rig one of our rods with a 1/0 baitholder hook, Texas rig a shrimp on the hook, then get out of the boat and very quietly walk to within casting distance. Once in position, I would cast the bait several feet beyond and in front of the fish so as not to spook her, then retrieve the bait to within a couple of feet of her nose and let it settle.
We walked the walk, I cast the cast, and the redfish blasted that shrimp like a lion killing a deer. It was an awesome hit. I set the hook hard, twice, and handed the rod to Bob. His jaw dropped in amazement. He said, "You told me in the boat exactly what you were going to do, then you came out here and did it, and caught the fish. That's the damnedest thing I've ever seen." After a lot of shallow water thrashing, and a long struggle, the red was reduced to submission at our feet. She was beautiful, indeed, and was 30" long, and weighed 12 pounds. That one fish made Bob's whole day, but Bob also had 2 snook to 24", 25 trout to 19", a small grouper, and 4 big jacks to his credit.
The last trip of 1996 belonged to Jeff Lane and his lovely girlfriend Peg Bessey. I'd had Jeff out for redfish a couple of times before, but this was his first trip to the Sound. We had a great morning of fishing, and Jeff and Peg both got their first snook. They ended the day, and the year, with 13 snook, over 24 trout, 1 flounder, and a jack.
If this unseasonably warm weather continues, the winter action will probably remain great. Right now, many of the snook still think it's fall, and are still out on the flats. Trout action should remain hot, and this weather should allow for some more tailing redfish action.
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