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?

 

 

Florida Catch & Release rules in place for Snook, Redfish and Spotted Seatrout (Red Tide/Fish Management)

Snook have been plentiful during 2020 fishing trips.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will extend catch-and-release measures for snook, red drum and spotted seatrout for an additional year via an Executive Order.

All three species will remain catch-and-release through May 31, 2021, in all waters from the Hernando/Pasco county line south through Gordon Pass in Collier County.

Snook fishing in Southwest Florida (Fort Myers, Lee County) has been very good in 2020, but anglers are required by recently revised Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation law to release all snook, redfish and spotted sea trout that they catch through May 2021.  Forrest Fisher Caption and Photo

These temporary regulation changes were made to help conserve these popular inshore species that were negatively impacted by a prolonged red tide that occurred in late 2017 through early 2019.

Learn more about regulations for these species by visiting MyFWC.com/Marine and clicking on “Recreational Regulations.”

View the Commission meeting presentation at MyFWC.com/Commission by clicking on “Commission Meetings” and the agenda under “February 19-20, 2020.”

 Red Tide Map_050119

 

Cockroach Bay: Daytime Saltwater Fishing Thrills near Tampa

  • Speckled Trout, Tarpon, Redfish, Snook, Jack Crevalle, Pompano, others
  • Lures or Live Bait, both work well
  • Lagoon or flats, there are fish in all places here
Trevor Brate with a nice, 19-inch Speckled Trout that fit the 16-20 inch slot limit, taken on a gold Johnson Sprite spoon.

By Forrest Fisher

New to Southwest Florida and only in the wintertime, there is so much to learn about where to fish and what to do. Rod strength, line test, reel size, lure and bait choices, where to fish, a mystery for anyone new to anywhere, but I had one advantage, my nephew, Jeff Liebler, who lives in Florida, had a close friend with a boat and a “best place” to go fishing for a half day: “Cockroach Bay is one of the best places to cast a line in southwest Florida,” said Trevor Brate. ”You could catch a tarpon, snook, redfish, speckled trout, flounder or any of dozens of other fish here too.”

At 25 years young, Brate is the youngest licensed construction contractor in Southwest Florida (A+ Yardscapes / (813) 642-7358), having passed all the exams and certifications, a smart kid, and it shows in his fishing prowess.  “I keep it simple, lures and simple live baits is all I do,” says Brate. “Keeping it simple allows you to become really skilled at simple efficiency and it catches fish, my grandpa taught me that.”

Launching the boat is a 2-man effort to keep the launch moving. The ramp is concrete and solid, though no dock is present.

We launched his 17-foot Grady White right at Cockroach Bay boat launch (near Ruskin, FL), a single ramp in a lagoon-like bay area with no dock – so it takes two to be efficient, one driving the truck to the water and the other in the boat, starting up and beaching the boat on the large sand beach next to the ramp. The parking line with boats and trailers begins at the ramp and goes for as long a way down the single lane road as you care to walk. Once in the water, the tide is a factor for water depth, see the charts, and fishing can begin right in the lagoon or outside the canal that leads to Cockroach Bay and Tampa Bay. In either area, be prepared to hook a fish.

Launched boats are beached after launching to load up and head out, there is no dock at the ramp.

Jeff and Trevor opted to leave the crowd at the ramp and head to the flats. The water was nearly crystal clear with a sight brownish tint and we arrived with an outgoing tide, soon to be a negative tide – it is wintertime, not a good thing by local fishing optimism. It didn’t matter, we were all there to enjoy a few hours of fishing. The cooler was filled with sandwiches and dehydration prevention liquids that had a low ABV rating, if you know the lingo. Electrolyte replacement is important!

Fish can be caught in the lagoon right near the ramp.

Not more than 5 minutes into fishing, the electric MinnKota bow motor moving us around between sand flats and emerging weedbed edges, Trevor yelped out, “There’s one!” His drag was singing a gentle scream tune, testing the 30 pound test braid with flourocarbon leader a bit. About a minute later, Trevor hoisted a silvery, thin-bodied fish with a deeply forked tail fin out of the water, a nice Jack Crevalle, grinning that grin of success, you know “the grin look,” as we looked on and reached for a camera. “Nice fish!” I quipped, “Spoon? I asked.” Trevor was casting a 2/5 oz. gold-plated Johnson Sprite with a red flicker tab on the tail treble hook. “You need that red flicker thing he said, it seems to make ‘em hit it.”

OK, reaching for my backpack with a limited supply of tackle goodies – hey, I’m new at this, I searched for anything gold with a red flicker thing. Nope, none in there. I stuck on a red/white Mirrolure, one of my favorites from way back when at home in New York.  Jeff too, searched out his tackle, nuthin similar. “Got any more of them ‘thar spoons Trevor buddy?” Jeff asked. Without looking, Trevor says, “Nope, just had one.” He was grinning. I saw that. Hey, what are friends for?

The kids let me catch one or two fish too, this one took almost two minutes to bring aboard. Fun times.

Jeff added a plastic tail to a jig and soon after, he was hooked up with a bonnet head shark! WOW! The 3-foot long shark fought so hard, testing Jeff’s 20-pound braid with several runs, but eventually coming to the boat. We released the shark too, though there are some good recipes for bonnet head steaks.

We were now about 15 minutes into the trip and it was already so exciting. I had casted about twice per minute, so 30 tries or so. I reached over to the live bait bucket where we had 5 dozen shrimp that I brought “just in case” the lures didn’t work. Some charters fish with nothing else, some charters fish with all lures, I just wanted to be prepared for the guys, as a guest of this friendship.

So I tied on a size 1 circle hook and weighted bobber, was just about done when Trevor shouted, “Fish on!” Again, his drag screamed and I stood up to get the net, this fish looked like a double rod bend species when I got wacked by the rod and fish coming aboard. “Schllaaaap!” The sound of a loaded fishing rod hitting me square in the shoulder with a fish on makes that sound. Trust me.  I was knocked on my butt, but stayed in the boat. We all laughed. Me too.

Jeff Liebler with a feisty Bonnethead Shark that tested his light tackle to the tune of a screaming drag.

The fish was a beautiful speckled trout, 19 inches of pure energy with soon to be white fillets. It met the 16 – 20 inch slot limit allowed to keep four per day.  Again, on the gold spoon. “Sure you don’t have any more of those spoons Trevor?” Jeff asked again. “Nope,” answered Trevor without looking. Again, the grin. Made me wonder twice now.

That was it, I hurried to hook up a live shrimp to the bobber rig. Slipping the hook right behind the stud above the shrimp’s nose for a secure locking point, I cast out to the edge of a weedbed I could see about 50 feet away. The bobber never had a chance to settle, the line just took off. “Fish On!” I could not believe the power of this fish. My 20-pound braid was wailing a James Taylor tune…Fire and Ice, I think. Indeed, I was dreaming. About a minute later, a 22-inch Pompano came aboard. These saltwater fish really fight well.

Over the next two hours we landed another 12 fish, puffer fish too, several speckled trout, others. These two kids opted to let the “old guy” take the fish home for a guest fish dinner. I didn’t argue.

Trevor Brate and Jeff Liebler, fishing buddies, share the half day of fishing fun before getting back to work.

In just three more weeks, all three of us would be part of a formal ceremony day in a formal uniform suit of the day, Jeff’s wedding! This was sort of a pre-bachelor party fish trip. Jeff and his bride are both outdoor-minded conservationists. I’m so happy for them both to be getting formal about being together for their future.

Fun? Oh my gosh, this was such a great adventure day!