Snook on the Hook – Sanibel Island, Florida

  • Live bait, long semi-stiff rods, braided line, fluoro leaders and sharp 4/0 circle hooks
  • Add a teaspoon of courage, hold your breath, cast under mangrove trees
  • Fish with a friend as often as you can, it’s more than just fun!
Rich Perez (left) and son, Richie, enjoy a peaceful and fun-filled day catching snook and watching wildlife in Southwest Florida.

By Forrest Fisher

Hey dad, “Can you cast your line right under those mangrove trees near that little fallen log over there, the snook and redfish like those kinds of places.” Richie Perez was sharing his growing expertise on saltwater fishing with his retired dad, Rich Sr., near his home a short distance away from San Carlos Bay. The clear saltwater between Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach in Southwest Florida has been attracting forage and predator fish since the days of pirates.

“The tide is ebbing right now and as soon as we see the flow begin around the pilings of the boat docks and the overhanging mangrove trees, the fish seem to get instantly hungry. It happens so fast, it’s bang, bang, bang, fish-on. You’re gonna love it dad!”

Richie started his day right after sunrise, tossing a 10-foot diameter net to catch pinfish and pilchards for bait.

Richie had started his day at sunrise, tossing his large cast net to catch bait that included pinheads and pilchards, all between four to seven inches long, or so. I was excited to be with my Vietnam era Navy buddy, as Rich (Sr.) had invited me to join him and his son for a few hours of saltwater fishing fun. Like most winter days in southwest Florida, it was sunny, there was a gentle breeze and the water color was perfect, seemingly sounding the “breakfast bugle” for the fish and calling all sensible fishermen to get a line in the water. We had met Richie at his Caloosahatchee River boat dock about 10 a.m. The 42-year old youngster sounded confident, totally in-charge of providing a great day of fishing ahead. It was so good to be here.

As Richie hopped onto the dock, he hollered over, “Good morning gentlemen! Are you ready for some fishing?!” The promise in his voice was totally reassuring. “We’re gonna go fishing today for a few different types of fish, but we might catch quite a few snook, that ok?” Are you kidding me? Gotta love this kid. Richie continued, “Snook can grow really big, even to 40 inches, sometimes more, but we usually catch daytime Florida snook in the 20-30 inch range, sometimes redfish and speckled trout too. Sometimes other fish as well, they all fight so hard, it’s fun.” My heart was picking up speed.

Richie added, ”We have the right bait, my 7-foot rods with Penn 40 series open-face reels are filled with 30-pound Power-Pro braid – easy to cast, and 4-foot/40-pound fluorocarbon leaders. There’s a 4/0 hook on the end of the leader and we’ll use live pinfish for bait. They’re in the baitwell.” We left the dock and motored downstream toward Sanibel Island. Geez, this was exciting. The 24-foot Key West fiberglass boat with a 300HP Yamaha came up on plane very quickly, it didn’t take very long to get us there. I felt like I was sitting next to Ricky Clunn at the 2020 Bassmaster Classic in Alabama as the boat hit 50 mph heading down the channel. I had two hands on my hat!

Rich Sr. found fish and sometimes, a tall tree, as we tossed lines along the mangrove inlets of the canals near Fort Myers and Sanibel Island.

We started off fishing in the mangrove-lined canals near the Shell Point, a modernistic retirement community of popular condominiums for retirees. These are a semi-high rise, resort-style home that includes the option of assisted living and recreational life. I made a mental note to myself that I need to check that place out for my wife and I, getting old is something to think about, but not for long. As we approached, a dolphin was making a ruckus crashing the surface in the lead canal entranceway. Splash! Splash! Zoom, Turn, Zoom, Zoom. Splash! Splash! Slurp! Slurp! Incredible. We waited and watched as this astonishing sea mammal fed, swimming back and forth, thrashing the surface. I wondered if the dolphins were enjoying snook and trout and redfish for breakfast. Life is so big and so real in the ocean waters, perhaps like all else in wild nature, but it felt good to be here to see all this nature living their life in the sunshine. I’m from western New York. This stuff helps make a guy feel younger and baby-faced…mesmerized.

Snook, redfish and large sea trout all pounce on live bait under the mangroves, sometimes they hit it and run, only taking a small bite. The result is having the fun of talking out loud to a missed fish and laughing. We did a lot of that.
Richie caught snook after snook in one area of the bay where the tidal currents were gathering baitfish with the incoming flow.

Richie walked us through what to do with the rod/reel gear, how to bait to the hook, cast the rods, feather the spools, and the details of a double uni-knot, for the leader to braid union. The baitfish were lip-hooked sideways near their nose, then we cast out to the edge of the overhanging mangroves. When we started casting with those wide-gap 4/0 hooks and uneducated cast-control fingers, we caught a few tall critters. Some of those mangrove trees were 30-feet tall! Yeah, we laughed a lot, our casting skills helped keep Richie busy, though Rich and I were trying to be more careful. There were lots of trees. We crossed lines a few times, caught a few more trees and while it slowed us up a little, but each 20 to 30 footer gave another chance to offer condolences. Not sure we never stopped chuckling. “Mine was bigger. No, mine was bigger.” We were talking about trees. It went on all day. I felt like we were both 20 years old again.

Restarting old memories can be such a good thing. Toward the end of the fish day – five hours later, we had learned how to cast, thanks to the patience of Richie re-tying our leaders and hooks with a smile, ok…maybe it was a grin.

As the tide started to pick up, I realized that Richie had both of us elders on a training mission for prime time. This clever kid was amazing. We had actually become quite accurate as live bait casters. We started to catch plenty of fish. Fish on! Where’s the net? Got it. A nice snook. They’re a gorgeous looking fish. Five minutes later, fish on! I got the net. It went on like that for a while.

We had hooked snook, jacks, and redfish. Many more snook than other species, most were about 24-28 inches long, as Richie had thought they would be.

Hungry dolphins can be found in the canals and in the open waters of the bay that surround Sanibel and Pine Island. They’re fun to watch!

Everything we caught was carefully released without harm to grow again in support of a healthy fishery.

We had watched dolphins swim within 50 feet of us, huge manatees too, in the warming canals and natural tidal inlets near Shell Point.

We watched many forms of wildlife, including birds that included hundreds of beautiful white egrets, multiple pelican species, fish hawks, a majestic bald eagle perched high on a leafless tree on Picnic Island and many other species. The bright sunshine seemed to energize all forms of life here, us old guys too.

Any time that you can spend on or near the water is precious. Precious beyond description.

When you can do that with friends to reconnect with fun times from the past, make exciting new memories, fight with a few trees, laugh, land a few fish, laugh more, it is only then that you realize such moments are unforgettable and they may have added a few extra years for all of us.

That adrenalin laugh pump, you know, the anti-aging motor…gets turned on.

Laughing, joking, catching fish, it’s so good for the soul.

Southwest Florida in winter is an excellent place to start. My better half and I are going back very soon.

Beaches, Sun, Fish.

Get fishing with an old friend soon. It can be unforgettable. Wait a minute, let me write that down. Do you know what I mean?

 

 

Legend of Jacques Cousteau Lives On from Port Sanibel Marina, Florida

  • Calypso’s Maiden Fishing Voyage – 106 miles from port in the Gulf of Mexico
  • Fishing Shark River, Outlet of the Florida Everglades
  • Four Roaring 350 Horsepower Mercury outboards
  • Shark On…the Adventure of a Lifetime!
Captain Ryan Kane with his new “Calypso,” a 42 foot long Renaissance Prowler with four 350 Hp Mercury Outboard engines. Ready for long-range fishing fun.  Shirley Holzhei Photo

By Bob Holzhei

“She was beautiful, gorgeous, erotic, and brand spanking new! Her curves and shape attracted the attention of fishermen everywhere and captured their hearts like falling in love for the first time. She was a virgin about to embark on her maiden voyage into the Gulf of Mexico ‘far beyond the sight of land,’ 106 miles from the dock at Sanibel Island Marina.

She was a mermaid in the water; I fell head over heels in love with her when I first saw her. As I boarded her, my heart rate increased in intensity. She took my breath away. A first touch, was followed by an embrace which led to anticipation in passion for the climax of the story! One never forgets falling in love for the first time.

“I grew up watching Jacques Cousteau as a kid, he’s a legend. His boat was named Calypso,” stated Captain Ryan Kane of Southern Instinct Fishing Charters.

“Cousteau was a French undersea explorer, researcher, photographer, and documentary host who invented diving and scuba devices, including the Aqua-Lung,” Kane added. “The television special – The World of Jacques – ran for nine seasons on ABC television network and had millions of followers. I had to name my new boat Calypso, it was only right.”

Calypso in Greek mythology was the daughter of the Titan god Atlas. Calypso symbolized forces that divert men from their goals, filled with intrigue and seduction. She was a nymph who fell in love with Odysseus after he was shipwrecked on her island of Ogygia. He refused to stay with her, so she detained him for seven years until Zeus ordered her to release him.

Captain Ryan Kane of Southern Instinct Fishing Charters is the best charter fishing captain in the state of Florida. We had fished with him before. My wife and I were invited to join Captain Ryan on the maiden voyage and it was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Calypso is 42-feet long and has four 350 Mercury horsepower outboard engines mounted on her stern. Loaded and fueled, she weighs close to 14,000 pounds at the dock.

Matt Hatrick, first mate, played such an important role on board. A wealth of fishing knowledge too, he rigged the lines and baited our hooks with 12-15 inch long Spanish Mackerel and Mullet, and some lines with mullet, then became a momentary picture star holding up various fish for pictures. He was fun to be around.

12-15 inch long mullet and Spanish Mackerel were the primary shark bait that we fished off a bobber rig using current to deploy 200-300 feet from the boat. All the consumable baits on board come from Anderson’s Bait & Tackle in Fort Myers, FL. Dave Barus Photo

“I’m excited about this boat. It is in the forefront of boating technology. The forward angle and shape of her hull make the boat more gas efficient. I average 1 mile a gallon at a speed of 40 to 55 miles per hour, that’s pretty good for a boat this long and this heavy. It means comfort for all aboard and that why I bought a boat like this, for the clients,” added Kane.

The 42-foot tri-hull catamaran provided a smooth ride out to the fishing grounds, with one to three foot waves feeling almost non-existent.

Kane uses Dan James Custom rods and 60-pound line mounted on his Shimano reels. As we went fishing for sharks, he used size 8/0 Mustad hooks, strong and sharp.

Dave Barus (L) and Captain Ryan Kane with the Bull Shark that Barus caught. The shark was carefully released and swam away. One of several sharks we caught. Shirley Holzhei photo.

“Fish on!” Interrupted the conversation. The rod bent double! It was a big fish! It was fellow outdoor writer, Dave Barus with the next turn to reel a fish in. He was having trouble fighting the fish, the line ran out as the fish was so big, so strong and not about to give up in the first minute.

“Want to take a turn and fight the fish Bob?” Asked Barus.

“No, I’ve seen too many fish lost when transferring the rod to another person,” I replied.

Following the 26-minute fight, a large six-foot shark came to surface as it neared the boat, however it made a number of runs diving down deep into the Shark River in the direction of the Gulf waters and out of sight.

Finally, the brute was tiring. A rope was put on the tail to haul the Bull Shark aboard for pictures. The Bull Shark was 6 to 7 feet long, we estimated the weight at about 100 pounds.

The first “big fish” caught to date aboard Calypso was celebrated with a toast, with big-fish catcher Dave Barus popping the champagne cork and Captain Ryan Kane holding the glass, everyone shared – it was a special moment in time for all of us. Bob Holzhei Photo

Barus told me he was sore and tired after the Bull Shark was boated. I believed him.

It was a fantasy fishing trip out that was real, pinch me, in the Gulf of Mexico. I will relive this entire adventure long after we are back home to Michigan.

Anglers from all over the world come to Port Sanibel Marina, FL to fish with Captain Kane. I can verify, the fishing adventure of a lifetime awaits you. He can run 200 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico to where no fish has ever seen a hook, and back to the dock, all in less than a day fishing. Same day trophy fishing! This represents capability that no other charter fishing boats currently can offer from southwest Florida: time and distance, and unparalleled fishing fun.

For More information: Contact: www.southerninstinct.com or phone 239-896-2341. Accommodations: Lee County CVB/The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel Island, www.fort-myers-sanibel.com, 1-800-237-6444.

Fort Myers & Sanibel Island Beaches ARE OPEN

  • We HAVE SURVIVED Hurricane Irma VERY WELL
  • Come Enjoy, Explore, Swim, Fish, Cruise
  • It is a Shell Collectors Bonanza Adventure Time

By Forrest Fisher

If you know Lee County, Florida, you know that homeowners and snowbird visitors alike had safety and property concerns after Hurricane Irma sent a measure of fear throughout Florida in September.  It’s over.  The area is back in the swing of Florida fun.

The great warm weather and sunshine is back, though for adventure visitors, it might be good to know that the waves from Irma’s passing along our shell-drenched beaches on the Gulf of Mexico have brought in more shells than ever.

On a recent trip to Sanibel with my family, we met local treasure hunters that explained how post-storm periods are the one great time to bring out your best metal detector to find ancient treasure.  The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel Island in southwest Florida continue to provide new experiences for visitors to Florida’s unspoiled island destination.

If you love wildlife, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge plans to celebrate National Wildlife Refuge Week with “Ding” Darling Days, Oct. 15-22.  The refuge will offer free admission access days on several occasions during that week.  For a full “Ding” Darling Days schedule, call 239-472-1100 or visit www.dingdarlingdays.com.

For more information with the latest vacation information, please visit www.FortMyersSanibel.com.

The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel in Southwest Florida includes: Sanibel Island, Captiva Island, Fort Myers Beach, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Estero, Cape Coral, Pine Island, Boca Grande & Outer Islands, North Fort Myers, Lehigh Acres.

Outdoor Adventure in SW Florida is Memorable

The colorful Roseatte Spoonbill is plentiful in Southwest Florida

A little Florida sunshine is a perfect way to recharge your internal batteries.  One of our favorite spots continues to be Southwest Florida, home to the Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel (www.fortmyers-sanibel.com).

Mystique

Ever since we were exposed to this outdoor playground through the adventure antics of Dr. Marion Ford and the writings of Randy Wayne White, the area has always presented itself with a certain mystique. While there are plenty of the normal tourist-focused areas that seem to dominate with the snowbirds from January to April, the region never ceases to amaze us as we make that extra effort to see where the back roads will take us and what hidden treasures are available to be revealed for the first time.

Wildlife

The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island is always at or near the top of our list, the largest mangrove wilderness in the country.  The bird life that inhabits the sanctuary is simply amazing.  This time around, it was the Reddish Egret that was in the spotlight, part of a new telemetry study to learn more about the habits of these rare birds.  As luck would have it, one of the special winged wonders took up residence in front of a group of camera clickers, also allowing birders to check off another feathered friend from a bird bucket list of sorts.  The Darling NWR is also part of a larger complex (also named after Darling) that encompasses the Caloosahatchee, Matlacha Pass, Pine Island, and Island Bay National Wildlife Refuges – a large complex of nearly 8,000 acres.  The majority of the lands (and waters) in these refuges are nesting and roosting islands for the plethora of bird life that either migrate through or call this important habitat home. Check out http://www.fws.gov/refuge/JN_Ding_Darling/About_the_Complex.html.

Adventure – Fishing

One morning we meet with local charter captain Ryan Kane of Southern Instinct (www.southerninstinct.com; 239-896-2341.  No one can appreciate what he does more than me as a fellow sportfishing promoter and ambassador of the area’s natural resources.  Kane really gets it and he’ll do whatever it takes to make each and every outing a memorable experience.

As we met at the Port Sanibel Marina, the outlook wasn’t the best.  Strong winds from the southwest from one direction; freshwater being funneled down the Caloosahatchee River from Lake Okeechobee creating unsettled conditions near the mouth of the river, an estuary of sorts.  This isn’t Kane’s first rodeo, though, he opted to stay in from the Gulf of Mexico waters because of the winds.  Other local charters braved the winds to try and hit the Causeway Reef, an artificial structure that came from the old causeway that connected the mainland to Sanibel, before the winds peaked.  It was holding some nice sheepshead in the four to five pound range – some excellent eaters for the frying pan.  There was a question whether the tradeoff was worth it.  While the captains might think so, the passengers might not.  We went back to the basics and to Kane’s roots.

“This is Shell Creek where my grandfather took me and my brother to fish when we were little kids,” reflected Kane, who’s been guiding full time for six years now.  This is his favorite sheepshead spot and he still fishes it regularly with customers when conditions limit the areas he can target.  “It’s all about figuring out what people want and what would make the best experience overall.  I specialize in families, especially families with children since I have three of my own.  I’ll do just about anything to make each and every experience a memorable one.”

Captain Ryan Kane with a saltwater Sheepshead, loves to take families with children fishing.

No sooner had we started fishing a cut when a large manatee floated alongside his 24-foot Pro-Line that he’s converted into a fishing machine.  My wife Sandy was mesmerized and before it was all over she was petting the soft snout of the marine mammal that some people refer to as a sea cow.  That was the experience that she will remember for the rest of her life … and will keep her coming back for more.  It didn’t hurt that she also reeled in the biggest redfish for the day, allowing her to state: “I could get used to doing this.”

Ryan looked at me with a big smile. “I think that’s what every guy wants to hear from his wife!”  After catching four or five species of fish, we headed out into San Carlos Bay where we found a shoreline island with mangroves and a weed bed. “This looks perfect for redfish – it has everything they would be looking for in this kind of a wind,” said Kane.

Tossing a red jig tipped with a shrimp for bait, he almost immediately hit a fish.  However, it wasn’t a redfish.  It turned out to be our biggest sheepshead for the day.  The next 10 fish were redfish and we had a blast reeling in the magnificent fighters.  We ended up with seven different species for the day including a pile of mangrove snappers, ladyfish, pufferfish, catfish and even a sting ray reeled in by the novice Sandy.  All around us was incredible bird life and the picturesque scenery of places like Sanibel and Captiva islands.  Life is good.

Kane is expanding his business to include a bigger 36 foot boat, a Contender that he will be able to use off-shore as well as inshore when the conditions allow for it.  Families will be more comfortable and the added advantage of having a head on the boat will be worth its weight in gold.

Side Trips

In keeping with the dolphin theme of Florida (even if you are a Buffalo Bills fan), the Wicked Dolphin Rum Distillery in Cape Coral is a new attraction that is really picking up a head of steam (www.wickeddolphinrum.com) not just in Southwest Florida and around the state but around the country.  Billed as Florida’s only true rum distillery made with all local products, this relatively new business that started up in 2012 from a Long Island family (yes, a New York connection) is already award-winning.  We received a private tour from head distiller Dan Termini and he gave us the complete low-down on the sourcing of all the ingredients, the cooking process, the fermentation and the distillation that takes place.  The end result is one great tasting product.  At the top of the list for us was a Coconut Rum that’s become a local favorite.  Don’t rule out the Florida Spiced Rum or the Rumshine.  They make a total of 11 different products currently.  They estimate that some 22,000 people will tour the facility in 2016.  And it’s all natural.

Dan Termini, head distiller of Wicked Dolphin Rum Distillery, offers an educational tour for more than 20,000 visitors every year.

Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre, Fort Myers – If you’ve never been to a classy dinner theatre before (or even if you have), the Broadway Palm does it right night after night with top quality performances (we saw Show Boat), tasty buffet dinner and more.  Check out www.broadwaypalm.com for a list of what’s coming up and what options are available should you be in the area. You won’t be disappointed.

Accommodations

Tip Top Isles Resort and Marina – This is a nice place we stumbled across with some assistance from the tourism office. Resident manager Mark Sturgeon was extremely accommodating and there were quite a few positives that jumped out at us.  One was the fact that they offered pontoon boat rentals at a reasonable price. They had a fleet of seven when we were there.  Room rates were also very reasonable considering it was peak tourist season.  Sturgeon was really high on an off-season special that included a single room for three nights and two half-day boat rentals for two people for less than $300.  Check out www.tiptopisles.com.  It’s conveniently located to Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island, as well as many other local attractions.

Outrigger Motel – Located on Estero Blvd. on Fort Myers Beach, this accommodation has a little bit of everything.  It’s also a great place to witness a sunset, Southwest Florida style! Sunsets are a tradition there, with the main gathering place at the Tiki Bar located just off the beach.  If you like shells or shell collecting, this is a prime destination and we haven’t found any place better in the continental U.S.  The shells at the Outrigger this year were the best we’ve ever seen there!  And if there’s a critter inside the shell, you must toss it back!  The rooms are spacious, comfortable and they even have a built-in kitchen if you want to cook up your catch after fishing.  Check out www.outriggerfmb.com for all of the details and seasonal rates.