Rattlesnake skin fishing rod handle by Master Rod Builder, Charter Captain Tom Marks.
Life is about sharing your passion, making new friends and finding that next…First Cast
By Bob Holzhei
No matter how old you are, there is always a next first cast.
I slowly walked to the pond behind our rental home in Punta Gorda, FL to field test the custom fishing rod I asked a friend, Charter Captain Tom Marks, to make for me. He is an avid outdoor angler from Derby, NY who vacations to Florida in the winter, and he lived just a short morning walk from our location. Lucky me!
Tom orders his rod building supplies from Mud Hole, a rod building and tackle crafting company from Oviedo, FL.
I tied on a Size 2/0 Mustad worm hook with a Mr. Twister Tri-Alive plastic nightcrawler, after Outdoor Writer Dave Barus, from East Aurora, NY showed me how to rig the hook to make the worm totally weedless. Weeds, lookout! Here I come!
The custom metallic red color 7-foot rod, complete with a rattlesnake skin handle, created a “one of a kind” treasure. It was my first cast with a new custom rod. I slowly opened the bail on the STX Abu Garcia Reel and gingerly arched the rod behind me. The bait was cast to the other side of the narrow pond. In that first cast, the line was suspended in mid-air for a moment and frozen in my memory. A motionless flying worm! I hoped a screaming osprey from the nearby swamp would stay where he was. He did.
I fished in my early years, once a year, but only if dad had a good year on the farm. We’d drive just over an hour to Tawas, MI to board a perch fishing boat – The Miss Charity Isle. A love affair with the natural world was conceived on our family farm that was nourished each year as crops sprouted from the ground.
As I got older, I’d ride my bicycle to nearby ditches and adjoining cuts located near Quanicassee, MI to fish for perch from the piers.
As I got older and married, I took my three boys on a charter salmon fishing trip out of Ludington, MI to rediscover the love for once-a-year fishing moments from my childhood. We boated 12 nice-sized salmon. Needless to say, I was all-in. The following spring, I purchased a used 18-foot 11-inch Sportcraft boat. I was hooked, reeled-in and would enjoy a lifetime love affair with the natural world through fishing.
Today, the boat has been stored in a pole barn for the past three years and I suppose I should sell it. Anglers go through stages of fishing, first fishing from nearby ditches, then to cuts, piers and eventually a boat is purchased. I’ve transitioned back to where I began and this summer am again fishing from piers with the first cast of the day once again near my childhood home.
As I returned 70 years later, I was surprised that the landscape had drastically changed. There were no perch or panfish in the area. The perch party boat had relocated to a southern port and was taking folks to fish across Lake Huron to Port Austin, at the tip of the Michigan Thumb. That’s a long way to travel across the lake for fish dinners at a restaurant. Perch could be ordered from various restaurants in the area and the menu clarified, “The perch come from Lake Erie.”
My wife and I camped for a month at a city park on Lake Huron, noticing first that between 12 to 16 campsites were vacant. This popular park was always filled to capacity. After visiting with campers, I found that the park had raised camping rates from $90.00 a month to an outrageous $1,000.00 per month. That just seems like too much for a campsite park with only water, sewer, and electricity. No additional amenities were provided. Internet and cell phone service was only available occasionally (or non-existent). After the first week, I longed for the month to end and will return to the west side of Michigan where Lake Michigan awaits our return.
I suppose it’s good to camp (and fish) at new places from time to time, to determine where my wife and I feel most comfortable taking that next first cast.
I think I can recall every one of those first casts – there have been many. The bottom line, I love to fish and revisit those old memories that helped make me who I am.
5 hour Offshore Fishing Trip, we caught more than 50 fish!
Cost was so affordable, all gear and bait was provided
Enjoyable day, the captain cleaned all the fish!
By Bob Holzhei
The fishing action in the Gulf of Mexico was like playing pinball. It was non-stop action baiting the hook and dropping the baited hook down to bottom, then reeling the line in three full turns. Bang! Boom! Hang on to the rod!
Dave Barus, an outdoor writer from western New York and I booked a charter with Captain Terry Heller. The boat was launched out of Placida, FL and we fished about 8-1/2 miles off shore, far beyond the sight of land. There were no other boats in sight as three-foot waves grew in intensity to about five feet. We were alone in the Gulf of Mexico and became part of the natural world that day, bobbing and bouncing around like a little cork for a few hours. The chop didn’t hurt the fishing.
A Lowrance GPS guided us to Heller’s many hotspots where he has been successful before. In each, a small buoy was dropped to mark the area and the anchor was released to hold the boat where fish showed up on the fish finder.
The bait was dropped in 50-57 feet of water, then pulled up from the bottom three full turns on the reel.
“Fish-on!” I yelled as the hook was set.
“Fish-On!” Yelled Barus.
After my first Key West Grunt was boated, Heller hurried to the other side of the boat to assist Barus with battling the fish. Ocean fish fight much harder than expected and a couple of times Captain Heller had to hold onto the rod as I lifted the rod up and reeled line in on the down stroke. “I gotta start a harder workout each day (note to myself).” The rod tip jumped again and again, and setting the hook hard was advised by Heller because the various saltwater fish out there have such tough mouths.
Captain Terry Heller baited the Eagle Claw size 3 hook with a variety of baits including shrimp, cut squid and sardines. A 7-1/2 foot Sussex rod with a 300-400 series Penn Reel had 20-pound braid line on it.
Heller started fishing with his father at 65 years ago when he was 5 years old and has been a full-time professional fishing guide for 5 years in Florida.
The center console walk-around 24-foot Polar boat was equipped with a 225 horsepower Yamaha four-stroke outboard and also had an 80-pound torque Minn Kota trolling motor on the bow.
Red and Gag Grouper were caught, Snapper, Sea Bass, Trigger fish, Tom Toms and Key West Grunts. Wow! Many fish were released back in the water because the season had not opened yet, but we caught more than 50 fish in 3 short hours of bottom dipping with bait in the right places. Caption Heller cleaned, filleted and bagged the fish for us, all part of the trip cost.
“When you like to do something you love, it’s not hard. I like taking 10-year old’s fishing, especially my grandkids. No only do they learn fast, but they also have patience. They really like catching big Groupers,” concluded Heller.
We fished for $165 apiece. A great value and a fun trip. For additional information, Captain Heller says you can call him at 941-587-4460.
As a result of waterfowl and wetlands management, hunters and people enjoy
Waterfowl and Wetlands Emerge as Conservation Heroes
Cooperation and Passion feed Understanding and New Science
Ducks, Geese, People…all need Wetlands
by Bob Holzhei
The novel, The Grapes of Wrath, written by John Steinbeck, was published in 1939 and two years earlier, at the height of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl, dried up wetlands across North America, resulted in plummeting duck populations.
The novel described the story of human unity, love and the need for cooperation. However, the effects of the stock market crash in October 1929 lasted long and the Dust Bowl created a sense of desperation as folks moved across the country and away from their homes.
In the midst of hopelessness and despair, an idea for an organization was conceived in New York City when waterfowlers met in 1930. They saw a need to raise money to preserve and maintain wetlands across the United States. The original organization was called More Game Birds in America Foundation, which established a 10-year plan for increasing upland game bird populations. The Federal Government created many wildlife refuges at that time focusing on flyways and refuges, thus creating breeding habitat in the North as well as migration and wintering habitat in other areas. Eventually the flyways became super flyways.
Discussion of the future of wildfowl led to wildlife management which was in its infancy stages. State and federal agencies became involved as a new science began, which was pioneered by Aldo Leopold, a professor of game management at the University of Wisconsin. Other colleges and universities also began developing courses in wildlife biology and management.
Suggestions for modernizing the name from More Game Birds in America Foundation to simply Ducks was made, however in Canada, corporations are legally designated as “Limited.” So the name didn’t fit perfectly, as the organization did not want populations of Ducks Limited. Thus, the name Ducks Unlimited came about.
In 1934 the first duck stamp was issued and the money generated was earmarked for duck habitat.
Ducks Unlimited was established in North America in 1937 as dried up wetlands during the Dust Bowl resulted in decreasing duck populations across the country. Ducks Unlimited emerged as a grassroots organization which was volunteer based consisting of members who were conservation-minded and outdoor enthusiasts.
The vision seemed unattainable as the idea was conceived. Perhaps the thought would settle in the dust and become buried. That did not happen.
As of 2017, the Ducks Unlimited annual report indicated 14 million acres of land have been conserved since the founding of the organization. The “Rescue our Wetlands” campaign was funded by donations from supporters and organizations across the United States.
Wetlands are crucial for many reasons. According to Ducks Unlimited, “Wetlands filter drinking water and refill ground water sources, prevent flooding, protect coasts from hurricanes, and provide recreational opportunities for birds, hunters, anglers and boaters.”
The despair from the years of the Dust Bowl described by Steinbeck transformed as a need for cooperation and led to the emergence of Ducks Unlimited.
Over time, The Grapes of Wrath became a beautiful vineyard, thanks to the efforts of Ducks Unlimited.
Speckled Trout Fun near Captiva and Sanibel Islands in Lee County, Florida.
Big Boat Comfort and Capability Allows for an Unforgettable Cruise Adventure
Enjoy Watching Loggerhead Turtles, Dolphins, Pelicans, Eagles, Osprey and Nature at Work
Fishing Fun – Sea Trout, Barracuda, Hammerhead Shark and Stingray
By Forrest Fisher
Vacation time in Florida can be such fun! My better half discovered that we were not far from Sanibel and Captiva, the shell treasure chest of the world. So Rose started to search out the adventure trail and found there were charter boats for fishing that would conduct shelling and eco-tour trips too. We had a match! Love that woman.
One phone call later, the date was set and the plan was solid with friends from Michigan to join us aboard Southern Instinct Charters with Captain Ryan Kane (http://www.southerninstinct.com/). The plan, according to my better half, was to compromise fishing and touring, weather permitting, but there is not much weather that can hold back the capability and comfort aboard Captain Kane’s 36-foot long Contender. With triple engines, getting to wherever you want to go is not an issue and it doesn’t take long to get there at about a mile a minute.
The long boat gave the four of us plenty of room to move around and we enjoyed comfy seating while listening to the stereo tunes of golden oldies and country western music. While the boat doesn’t appear to have a rest room, it does! The ladies were thrilled. I thought to myself, “We can do this again and stay longer!”
Bob and Shirley Holzhei, from Michigan, met Rose and I at 7:00 a.m. at Port Sanibel Marina. Captain Kane had the ice chest coolers filled with chilled beverages, snacks and plenty of water. Live bait was in the rear well and we had an access ladder just in case we needed to search the offshore beaches for pirate treasure. This charter boat was perfect in every way, I knew we were in for the time of our life on this day.
One sad thing was that while the sky was clear of storm clouds, the weather report offered that the invisible wind was sending waves five to seven feet on the outdoor gulf waters. It looked like we might be looking at a rescheduled trip. Not for Captain Kane, he said, “OK, let’s go kids! No planning calendar today! We’ll just go out and have some fun. We’ll see how it really looks and if it’s too rough, we’ll tour North Captiva and Cayo Costa islands to be safe. We’ll fish for speckled trout with popping bobbers and live shrimp. We’ll have a great day! We’ll do the deep sea fishing to waters less travelled on another day. Sound ok?” Who could say no?!
Captain Kane was so reassuring, we were thrilled to be heading out of the marina with a cast of pelicans and dolphins that had found their way in there. But we were not in Disney, this was real. The ladies loved every second. They never stop talking about it, even months later
The three giant outboard engines hummed up from idle speed to flyaway throttle and we were getting somewhere fast. Yikes! This was fun. About 5 miles out (4 minute drive time, we were airborne), Captain Kane said, “Looks like we made a good call, it’s so rough out there.”
I thought, for sure, there was no better way to spend the day with friends and it turned out to be a trip we will never forget.
We toured deserted outer islands and watched dolphins chase the boat, Rose said they were talking to us, but I thought they were playing. We watched loggerhead sea turtles – some were nesting on the isolated beaches, we saw a mother and father eagle feeding their young with fresh fish, watched ospreys capture fish after a 300 foot nose-dive, and we enjoyed a slow ride along areas protected from heavy surf. This was an adventure like none other.
Not long later, Captain Kane asked about fishing and we were all in. The fishing license is included with Captain Kane’s charter license, so everyone wanted a rod. We anchored in a protected inshore area near a sandy point and deserted natural island where the tide current was holding shrimp and baitfish not far from the boat. Good captains know these gentle weed lines, clam beds and secret spots from years of trial and error.
Using a slip bobber that created a popping sound when pulled with a circle hook just below, offered a live shrimp to a hungry trout attracted by the sound. It did not take long for Captain Kane to have all of our lines in the right place.
A few minutes later, Shirley hollered, “Hey, I think I have one, it’s pulling so hard. Bob, please come help me.” Bob said, “I can’t, I got one too!” Forrest, “I don’t want to lose the rod, can you come back here please, Bob has a fish on too.” I hollered back, “I do too!” Rose was the only one that had just reeled her line in to check the bait and shared, “I’m coming back there to help you Shirley, hang on.” Captain Kane was helping everyone at the same time. Fun?! Are you kidding?! This was incredible. Unforgettable! Not your ordinary fire drill. Memories are made of this. Shirley landed a small hammerhead shark and was ecstatic, and scared too. “I caught a shark! Can you believe it?” Captain Kane was careful, but sure-handed with the small shark and Shirley had a chance to touch the skin. “It feels like sandpaper!” She screamed a bit. I think they were happy tones.
We landed 25 trout in only an hour or so, a shark, caught some wonderful warm sunshine. We also hooked a giant barracuda and lost it, then hooked and landed a giant stingray that took us 45 minutes to bring in. What a battle that was! Bob and I had to switch places a few times and do the anchor dance, under the line, over the line, under the line…stretch, oooohhhh, aaaahhhhh, ouch, roll, turn, don’t lose the rod. Man, what a time! More than 50 pounds in size, we landed the nearly 4-1/2 foot long winged sea creature that resembled a spaceship shape from a TV space show.
Captain Kane removed the stinger to make the large critter safe while aboard while we prepared to release back to nature, then gave me the 5-inch long stinger with directions to placed it in a bottle for safe travel home and soak it for 2 days in bleach to sterilize the poison normally found on the stingray barbs. “The stingray will grow it back,” said Captain Kane, “And the stingray is not harmed in any way.”
The 7’ lightweight fishing rods we used were so light, so strong and so just right. I had to ask, what pound test was on that rod? “10 pound braid,” said Captain Kane. “Some of these rods, like the one that you caught that big stingray with, are new fishing rods in the development stage. I use only Dan James Custom Fishing Rods made right here locally in Fort Myers (http://danjamesrodcompany.com/). They cost more, but they are guaranteed for life, and Dan is a disabled military veteran and close friend, we fish often. You would never know he is disabled, he is an example for all of us who might think we have troubles. We share ideas about how to make fishing better for clients, how to make better boat adventure tours, better fishing rods and how to enjoy every single day we live life with our family and friends. We both share that kind of passion for our families and the outdoors.”
Captain Kane added, “Dan tests his rods with me and other charter captains, but in the shop too, you wouldn’t believe some of the abuse he wreaks on these blanks while testing them. He puts his rods together to be light and sensitive, yet uses a strong, high modulus blank so folks don’t get tired using the rods and can fish with confidence even when they hook a big fish like you did with that lightweight rod. You can push the limits with his rods.”
We headed back to the marina and all of us were happy to be on the water with such a knowledgeable captain. We explored and enjoyed some of the best that Southwest Florida has to offer. Captain said, “When you come back during summer, the winds are always lower in the warm months and we can run far without much trouble. We have natural and artificial reefs out here that hold giant gamefish like Tuna, Snapper, Grouper, Wahoo, Cobia, and more. We’ll do an offshore trip to have some fun with these, I’ll call you when it gets good! How’s that sound?”