- 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!
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 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!
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.
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.
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?