Saltwater Fishing Fun – Placida Harbor, Florida

Paddletail jigs with a wiggle and wobble catch fish in Placida Harbor.

  • Fishing Islands and Embayments in Southwest Florida
  • Speckled Trout, Snook and Snapper…Catching Fish
  • Topwater Plugs, Paddletail jigs and Lightweight Fishing Rods
Marty Poli with a healthy Placida Harbor Speckled Trout that was taken on a surface Mirrolure.

By Forrest Fisher

The morning radar was threatening possible rainstorms when my phone beeped. It was my friend Marty Poli, a retired master tradesman from New Jersey. “Hey Forrest, it’s a go! Just bring a rain jacket, we might get wet, but I’m in for at least a half-day if you’re good with the chance of getting a little wet.” It was still dark outside as I pulled back the curtains. It was a bit before sunrise. I answered, “Of course I’m in, let’s go!” My heart rate went up a bit. It’s always exciting to know you’re going fishing to a place where you might catch a 10-inch fish on one cast and a 30-pound fish on the next cast. Saltwater fishing is exciting!

I hurried through the shower and thought about what to put in the backpack, then grabbed two inshore fishing rods, a small cooler with bottled water, and I was out the door. As I reached the truck, I glanced up to see stars everywhere. The sunrise glow from the east had just started. Wondered who was running that weather radar station. It was a beautiful morning.

The Placida Harbor boat launch at Gasparilla Sound was deserted. Other fisher folks must have been watching that same radar. The sun was clearly above the horizon now, and the orange cast across the water was simply incredible.  I parked my truck and walked to the ramp to wait for Marty. A few minutes later, he was there. A 15-year old youngster hopped out of the truck too, “Good morning, sir!” Marty jumped in to share in the greeting. “This is Phillip Sokolov, a great young fisherman neighbor from the Chicago area. He is visiting his family folks down here. This kid is someone that might just show us up today, my friend.” We grinned and laughed.  Everyone was beaming with the morning sunshine glow. In about 2-minutes, we were off.

Marty knows Placida Harbor and Bull Bay islands area very well. He headed for a fishing area that catches a cross-current with the tide flow while watching the wind direction. The wave action and current mix create undulating bumps between the sandgrass and oyster beds in the sand bottom. Devilfish Key was just a short rock throw away. As the wind came up from the south, large bait schools of pilchards swimming near the surface became noticeable. Their surface riffles highlighted their location. You know what they say, find the bait, and you find the Fish.  The cormorants and feeding predator fish helped us to find the exact area to fish.

Johnson Sprite spoons in gold color are another good option for hooking up with many saltwater species at this time of year.
When we found the trout, they were hitting as they had never eaten before! Fun time.

Marty started out by tossing a Zara Spook saltwater version near one side of the bait riffles. It didn’t go 5-feet when something attacked from beneath. “Fish on!” Marty yelped. “Feels like a good one.” A moment later, Phillip hollered, “Fish on! I think it’s a trout.” Marty answered, “I don’t know what mine is, but it’s huge.” Phillip landed his Fish, a nice 16-inch speckled trout. Just then, Marty grimaced a bit, “Ugh, he’s gone. He tossed my hook. Darn!” Things got even better in the next 45 minutes as we caught 12-15 fish on assorted lures. Surface lures, spoons and plastic-tailed jigs. Color didn’t seem to matter.

We moved to Bull Bay next, inside Cayo Pelau, in 3 to 8 feet of water. We could see emerging seagrass and mudflats too. An excellent area of the bay structure that everyone looked for to find Fish. There were bait schools hereto. Marty used his electric bow motor to keep in position, then dropped his Talon pole anchor to hold on a good spot. Before we were set, Phillip had hooked and landed two trout. The kid was hot. Using a turquois-colored St. Croix Avid Inshore model fishing rod, a Daiwa Saltist Back Bay 30-series fishing reel with 15-pound Power-Pro braid and a 20-pound fluorocarbon leader, Phillip was catching 3-fish to each one that Marty or I had hooked up. “OK, so what’s the secret Phil? Is it a special bait your tossing?” Phil grinned, “Nope, it’s just a light line and leader with a 1/8 oz chartreuse-colored lead head.” I looked at it and mentioned that I couldn’t tell what color the head was. “Well, it had a color when I started!” He grinned. “I just thread a Z-man flapper tail with gold flecks in it – but it needs to be perfectly centered, and then cast it out and jiggle it once in a while as I reel it in. You know. I give it some action. They just seem to be wrecking it! I’ve used this lure before, and it has always worked. My uncle told me about it.”

Phil Sokolov fooled dozens of fish using his soft-touch fishing style and a plastic paddle tail lure attached to a lead head jig. cast out, jiggle, yank, reel, jiggle…the kid might be known as the “fish-whisperer” in future stories. 

Phil’s excitement and energy level were contagious. He is a meticulous angler for a youngster, tied good knots and didn’t mind sharing his fishing prowess with others. That makes him humble and unique in my book, especially during this day and age. Together, we might have brought about 75 fish to the boat in this morning of fishing fun. Phile probably hooked up with about 50 of those. With Speckled trout back on the keeper list again, Phil took home a meal for his family.

As we headed back into the boat harbor at Placida, our conversations covered everything from the weather to fishing gear to lunchtime just ahead. We had caught snook, trout, grouper, ladyfish, redfish, blowfish, lizard fish and other species.  In the middle of our angler talk, Phillip stood up and asked Marty if it was OK to cast a line as we approached the bay with the boat ramps. The kid had eyes on the Mangrove overgrowth on the shoreline. “There are no boats around, so sure, Phil, looks OK,” Marty said. Phil hooked and landed a nice snook on the first cast, then another and even one more before Marty returned with the trailer. He returned all the snook unharmed.

Some fishing days are just exceptional! This was one of those that reminds us that good fishing is always about friends and fun. Catching Fish adds to the fun, and we had lots of THAT fun on this short fishing day. Tight lines, everyone.

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!