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?

 

 

Fishing, Sightseeing & Fun Boat Cruise Adventure for a Windy Florida Day

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
Dolphins followed us out and the ladies enjoyed every second of this personal adventure at sea. Forrest Fisher Photo

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!”

Remote islands near Sanibel and Captiva offer secret shelling treasure adventures for those that approach by boat. Forrest Fisher Photo

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.

Bobbers and live bait fishing is productive when the Captain knows where to anchor the boat. Forrest Fisher Photo

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.

Shirley Holzhei landed a small hammerhead shark and enjoyed the thrill of touching the sandpaper-like skin for the first time. Forrest Fisher Photo

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.

Rose Barus caught trout after trout, I think she might have been the hot fishing line in the boat. Forrest Fisher Photo

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.”

Captain Kane uses Dan James Fishing Rods in his boat because they are durable, lifetime guaranteed and made locally in Fort Myers (http://danjamesrodcompany.com/). They are guaranteed for life.

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.”

The stingray we landed took 45 minutes to bring aboard. Forest Fisher Photo

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?”

Like music to my ears Captain Ryan. C’mon summer!

About Fort Myers: Our accommodations were nearby, but there are numerous choices. Visit this link for more info on charter fishing, lodging, beaches, hotels and Islandology (https://www.fortmyers-sanibel.com/islandology). 

Islandology, a new word for most of us. Very interesting video. Check it out. Click the picture.