Fish-Catching, Beaches, Baseball and Sunshine. A GOOD Winter Day!  

Fishing for Saltwater Gamefish near Fort Myers, Florida, in the Winter.

  • The conjunction of natural creeks and man-made canals in the Fort Myers saltwater canal system are where big fish can hide.
  • Circle Hooks allow for easy presentation of live forage bait and quick release of gamefish.
  • After you hook a few trees, then catch a few fish, the positive state-of-mind begins to form for the next fish. The fun begins!
Rich Perez with a young snook taken from a canal waterway off the Caloosahatchee River near Fort Myers, FL. The fish was held gently and carefully released a few seconds after being out of the water.

By Forrest Fisher

Within the bustling livelihood of Fort Myers in Lee County, Florida, the Caloosahatchee River and its many tributaries form a network of lush vegetation and age-old mangroves within the fertile canal systems found here.

The eddy currents formed at the conjunction of natural creeks and man-made canals often allow the tidal flow to create deep pockets where big fish can hide. The constant tide reversal and related current changes beckon to schools of forage stocks to find relative safety among the mangrove roots, with the occasional live oak tree acting as a mangrove bundle anchor. The big fish in the area know the forage is among the roots, as snook, redfish, speckled trout, tarpon, and other species often spend feeding time here. There is magic to be found in this silent and peaceful water flow system.

For the fish, it’s breakfast and dinner with a menu. For the anglers that can learn the secrets of tidal flow profile, consistent fish-catching adventures await them.

A power-pole makes anchoring in the canal system easy and silent – that makes fishing more fun.

A decades-long Floridian, humble Rich Perez shared with me that he is new to saltwater fishing, but with a confident voice, added that he is learning more from savvy fishing friends each day he can make it to water. A busy family man, when time allows, he explores new fishing areas and generally reverts to time-tested live bait methods. Using Circle Hooks to present wriggling live shrimp or live forage minnow bait, such as pinfish, he knows it’s easy to verify that a spot may or may not hold fish with live bait. With the minnow bait, he carefully threads the Circle Hook through the hard-nose area to keep the bait alive and in the free-swimming state. Perez says,” I’ve learned that this is the ultimate live bait meal method to use for roaming gamefish, sometimes, really big gamefish.” He catches fish often.

First, though, besides learning to be a perceptive fisherman, he is a hard-worker. He believes that good fishermen should catch their own live bait. They don’t go the easy way and just buy it. So he has practiced hard and learned to throw a 12-ft cast net. Of course, succeeding in this native art form of bait-catching is not painless. It takes time to practice, with a skill developed over time. He’s been doing it for 3 years now and is tossing near-perfect circles to 15 feet from the boat. He admits that he visits the local live bait supply shops on some days with his busy work schedules.

“With a full baitwell, you can ensure your bait is fresh and enjoy perfect live bait presentations no matter where you explore new areas. I like to invite friends and family out fishing too, so I try to make sure the baitwell is well-stocked. It’s not always easy to find the forage, but eventually, with some patience, you do find ’em. I look for diving birds or surface ruffles to find the forage schools, that’s the easy way.” 

With a 7-ft semi-stiff fishing rod, medium power, Perez uses Penn 40-series open-face fishing reels loaded with 20-pound braid and a 2-ft long/30-pound fluoro leader tied to a 2/0 or 3/0 Circle Hook. He doesn’t lose fish, day or night. “The hardest part for most newbies like me is casting precision. You really gotta get the bait right alongside the edge of the mangroves, especially during daytime. The fish are usually there with an incoming tide current,” Perez adds.

Perez continues, “Sometimes we catch yearlings, other times we catch old fish, big fish, all with this simple, uncomplicated live bait system. We release all the gamefish to live another day. It’s great fun and even more fun to watch my dad or friends land a nice fish…or catch a big mangrove treetop. We laugh a lot. We joke about who caught the biggest tree for the day. With the fish, we take a quick picture and watch the fish swim back home. It’s a good feeling.” 

Perez throws a 12-ft cast net to catch live forage bait, though this native art form takes time and practice to develop effective skill.

Over the day, Perez shared that good fishing is really a matter of gaining enough confidence to make that perfect cast every time. After you hook a few trees and then catch a few fish, the positive state-of-mind fun begins to form for the next fish, even the next trip.”

I could not agree more that good fishing is a state of mind. When it happens to you, it’s a sure thing that the next trip is not too far away.

This Fort Myers area is home to a fleet of charter captains and fishing guides that share their skills in the nearshore waters and far offshore. To discover more about the outdoor adventure and pristine beaches found here, or to just rest for a few nights between fishing fun, you can request a free guidebook from the visitor’s bureau online at https://www.fortmyers-sanibel.com/order-travelers-guide, or call toll-free, 1-800-237-6444.

There’s more than fishing too. During March, near Fort Myers and Sanibel Island’s Beaches, the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins are back for spring training and competition in the Grapefruit League. I love baseball! The Lee County Visitor Bureau also has a free mobile savings passport for locals and visitors with access to exclusive deals on attractions, restaurants, and experiences here. Sign up at https://explore.fortmyers-sanibel.com. The passport will be delivered to your mobile phone via text. Redeem it on your mobile phone at participating businesses. Pretty cool.

Fish on!

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?