- Forage fish, predatory fish, wildlife, nature critters…and people in boats – all share in the bounty provided near Sanibel Island and nearby Estuaries.
- Fishing friends gather, stories form and grow, grins occur, and life is good with fishing.
By Forrest Fisher
As my grandson and I turned the corner to head toward the boat landing, a spectacular sunrise moment in full bloom appeared before us. The morning cloud formations in brilliant “glow orange” were above description. The white puffs were soaring up to 40,000 feet or more and reflecting with the glimmering orange radiance of the sunrise yet below our visible horizon. It was spooky, it was cool, and it was fantastic – all at the same time.
“Good morning, guys! There’s hot coffee over here,” hollered Rich Perez and his dad, Rich Perez, Sr. It was 6:28 a.m., and they were both loading up the 2-wheeled gear-carry tram to move our fishing rods, tackle, coolers and foodstuffs from the parking area to dock and the boat. Grinning with his usual positive anticipation for the day ahead and looking at the tram, Rich Sr. said, “This thing is such a blessing!” A seagull hollered approval as he flew over our group and may have scented a whiff of Italian sub sandwiches below as if to ask, “Got anything down there for me?” Somehow the seagulls always know where to look for their next food morsel, especially near the beach.
My grandson Collin, myself, a neighbor friend Dustin, Rich Sr. and Rich – the five of us loaded the boat and headed down the Caloosahatchee River with grins for the day ahead and anticipation for tight lines to be shared. The 300HP Yamaha on the stern quickly poked the 24-foot Key West center console bay boat up to 40 mph. As we approached the Cape Coral Bridge, Rich hollered and pointed to see all the fish rising just off the main channel. In the approximately 1-mile-wide river section, we watched seagulls dive for baitfish pushed toward the surface by predator fish below. We saw an occasional fin or two as the fish would sweep and roll over to grab their breakfast.
“Guys, let’s get some spoons tied on and see what those fish are,” Rich added. Collin tossed a ½-ounce Johnson Silver Sprite spoon near the mixing boils about 50 feet from the boat. His first cast yielded a nice 20-inch ladyfish, then another and another – the kid was on ladyfish fire. ”There’s another one!” he said. Rich suggested we keep a few of these for cut bait if we couldn’t find any pilchards with the cast net later. We all traded the casting rods to share in the brief fun. Collin caught his first-ever Jack Crevalle during the baitfish melee. A little one, but we had to take a pic.
The sun had just popped up behind us as we headed under the 90-foot-high span of the Cape Coral Bridge. The boat traffic was minimal, a good thing, but it was early. We slowed for the two no-wake zones along the way to protect shallow water migrating Manatee from boat damage. We waved to other recreational boaters and anglers alike, and everyone was happy to be sharing the day. Then we headed west under the Sanibel Causeway bridge and to Matanzas Pass near Fort Myers beach. We searched for full blooms of baitfish clouds on the sonar, hoping to find pilchards or threadfin herring. We checked all the usual bridge abutment spots, anchored pilings and permanent buoys, and Rich threw the 12-foot net, but the counts were nil. Just as we were set to depart the area, a young-of-the-year snowy egret landed on the bow. Apparently looking for a few minnows that he anticipated he could steal, but there were none. The white feathers of the bird and the black beak allow this bird to be startlingly beautiful to watch. It has been said by others that the white color signifies attributes of purity, dignity and tranquility, while black provides a symbol of mystery, elegance and sophistication. On we went to share in mystery and tranquility!
Rich explained that although it takes a little more effort to catch and fish with bait fish, he added, “It is the hunt for the bait that tells what is going on with the fishery on the day we fish, and that this is all part of the challenge for a fishing day, at time. He added, “Live bait fish are still among the most effective ways to catch fish, wherever you fish.” My grandson and I have fished with many friends that catch their baitfish in various ways. Everyone has their most effective personal style of capturing bait. No doubt, the cast net is the most effective where it is legal, but there are minnow traps, seine nets, pinfish traps and, of course, those trusty multi-hook Sabiki rigs. The Sabiki rig is for when the bait is too deep or is quicker than the descending cast net. Only moments later, “What do you guys think? Should we try the Sabiki rigs?” We all signaled a hearty yeah. Tying these on with a 3-ounce bottom weight makes it easy to drop and lift in 10 to 20 feet of water. The rigs featured 7-hooks tied in dropper-loop style, and the sharp, tiny hooks were colored with chartreuse yellow imitation feathers. With an outgoing tide, we caught about 30 threadfins in just a few minutes after moving to deeper water near the bridge abutments. Rich drove around slowly to find the clouds of fish near the bottom. Hey, this bait fish fishing was fun!
Rich moved us to the isolated mangrove shoreline between Punta Creek and Jewfish Creek. The mangrove side was shallow, and in this location, the opposite side of the boat was near a sector of deep drop-offs linked up with the Okeechobee Waterway. A transitory fish channel. A fish hawk flew by just moments later and decided to hover over the boat. He might have spotted the cut bait Rich had prepared on the stern. We waved at him, and he moved on. A sight to see, but all the sea birds seemed hungry.
Our day went on, moving from time to time, casting the live bait to the shadows on the mangrove side (Size 3/0 hooks with 30-pound fluorocarbon leader off 30-pound braid) and throwing DOA shrimp-style jigs on the deep water side. We enjoyed an excellent time fishing, some tasty sandwiches, cold beverages on ice in the Yeti, and jokes and laughter. We hooked up with many different fish species but lost many of them on this day. Rich Sr. had hooked up with three Snook that simply outsmarted his total control of rod, reel and drag. He had words that were shared with the intelligent fish, but then all that changed in just one quick instant.
Rich Sr. said, “Hey, I got one! Look at this” He lifted his rod and touted a giant blue crab on board. The crab immediately went into toe pinching mode, adding one more saga of yelping to the fish trip. Just then, a dolphin emerged a few feet from the boat. He, too, was fishing for a meal. Beautiful to see all these critters of nature in one day on the water.
Overall, Collin may have hooked and lost more fish than Rich Sr., but he simply shared a grin with each release that he called “good conservation practice.” Collin was dubbed with a new nickname before the trip ended. Nice going, “CR!” After a few quips from the fishing crew and hearty laughs, Collin said, “OK, what does the CR stand for?” Someone shared, “It means Catch and Release. You earned a new title, CR!” We all laughed out loud. Honestly, that was very unlike Collin; he was a sure hook and catch guy, but not today. He shouted out an answer to everybody on the boat, “Captain Rich, I need more practice. When can we fish again?!” Hearty laughs followed again.
Just then Rich hooked into something that was taking his 30-pound braid out on the drag setting. Whatever it was, the tug of war went on for about 10-minutes before Collin reached for the net. There is was, a nice Jack Crevalle. An adult this time. Rich said, “Man these guys fight so hard!”
The trip was full of chuckling moments, the kind that lasts a lifetime in our minds of these extraordinary times to be remembered. We had caught Snook, Jack Crevalle, Ladyfish, and many forms of baitfish – those on rod and reel including Threadfin and Pilchards, and a blue crab, and we enjoyed the peace of observing many sea birds and a dolphin. All close-up.
As we watched the usual afternoon storm clouds forming on the eastern horizon, it was after 12 noon, and we had agreed with Captain Rich that it was time to head back. Just a mile from the boat dock, the clouds decided to open up with a sturdy fresh water rinse. All of us and our gear received a wash down. With the earlier temperature nearing 95 degrees, it felt good. I prayed with a silent Our Father, too, as we all heard the thunder claps and watched lightning strikes in the distance on each side of the river. A moment later, we were safe at the dock.
Thank you, Lord, for this day. Amen. I can’t wait until we fish again!