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Captain Burch Rickey Posted on Mar 11 2006, 04:28 AM

Talk about a windy week! The ides of March are upon us with avengeance! I hit the water Tuesday morning before 6 AM. The wind was howling out of the northwest at a good 25 MPH, and there were 3 footers under the causeway. It was hard to stand up on the bow of the boat, let alone throw a castnet. I threw the net for an hour and a half, and had about 3 dozen threadfins. Exhausted, I decided I'd throw just one more time before taking off to meet my customers. Don't you know the net hung on something on the bottom next to the new bridge pillar! I pulled and pulled and did get the net back, but it was destroyed. The whole morning served to remind me of why I hate catching bait at the causeway, and why there are no rich fishing guides. There is always something to buy. I headed back to the ramp in disgust.

My customer was Tom Joseph, and his life-long friend Jim. They've been fishing together on the lakes of Wisconsin since they were kids. I hadn't seen Tom in some five or six years. I told him of my bait woes, and explained that we'd have to make due with 3 dozen threads, which meant we'd really have to take care of our baits. But, predictably, it wasn't an issue, for as I had expected the fish we pretty well lockjawed. They just didn't want to eat. We fished hard with what we had, and only managed to boat two big trout and a snook. In fairness to the report, the boys did miss enough fish that it would have been a descent day of catching if they'd been brought to the boat. But, in fairness to the guys, when the fish aren't aggressive with those big baits, they're very hard to hook. Tom was happy to have gotten out, and was interested in learning as much as anything, so the trip was a success. It was one tough day, though.

Wednesday morning the wind was down somewhat to a gentle roar, but still blowing. I'd been forced to dig a 10 ft. net out of mothballs, and wondered if I would be able to throw it because of my back. Actually, I had thought I'd be nearly crippled because of my back from the day before, but when I got up that morning, I was fine. No pain. Maybe it's actually healed itself over the winter of not throwing the net.

There was plenty of bait on the causeway that morning, and with three throws of the net, I had probably 600 baits in the well. I still had an hour before I was to meet my clients, Fraser Dougall, and his son-in-law, Eric, who were up from Naples. So, a bunch of us guides stood around the docks chatting while we waited. Shortly after 8 AM we were on our way into the Sound. I wondered if the fish would eat, or if they'd still be lockjawed, and was glad I had plenty of bait with which to live chum. Once we were positioned on the first hole, our answer came immediately. The first bait in the water was crushed by a trout. The second by a snook. The third by a big ladyfish. And on, and on.

One of the first fish was a nice snook. In my hurry to get her off the hook, get pictures, and get the boys back on the fish, I proved that haste makes waste. As I went to get the hook out the big snook flipped wildly and caught the end of my right thumb with her razor sharp gillrake, and took a plug out of the end of my thumb about 3/8 of an inch deep. It was hanging by a piece of skin, and bleeding. I had just bought a product that is used to stop bleeding wounds, and got it out for Eric to administer. Well, it did stop the bleeding immediately, but it expanded as it coated the wound and pushed the hanging piece of flesh straight out from my thumb.
Man! You just don't realize how much you use your thumb for virtually everything you do until you hurt one badly.

With the thumb dealt with we were back at it, and had a crazy bite for probably three hours. Fraser and Eric were having a blast and learning a lot about how to handle fine tackle and high modulous graphite rods. They caught plenty of snook, including a couple of 28 inch fish, and tons of big ladyfish. I was cursing under my breath every time I bumped my thumb on something! We decided we'd stay right there until the bite was over, remembering the old Confucius Says: Never Leave Fish To Find Fish! And, of course, no bite lasts forever.

The bite basically ended as the tide quit running strong, and settled into a slow, crawling tide for the rest of the day. At the next several holes, we saw lots of big snook, but they weren't interested in the least in eating. I decided to head into Ding Darling to see if we couldn't find some water moving in the narrower cuts, and thereby find fish that would eat.

Once there, it became obvious that the water wasn't moving well even in the narrows. As we moved along, though, we did find more ladyfish action, a big jack crevalle, and the guys hooked and lost two BIG snook. At this point we were about 20 minutes from our quitting time, and me and my thumb were getting testy. I was dreading trying to fillet a snook without the use of my right thumb, and further dreading cleaning the boat. Fraser was fine with going in a few minutes early, as the bite was over and he said they'd had a fantastic day. And, thumb and all, it was a blast fishing with Fraser and Eric!

Thursday the weather was awful. It was gusting to near 30 MPH! Not a day to be on the water. A lot of guides went, though, and it was very tough. Well, it is March, so wind will probably be an issue all month. At least we have some good tides coming up next week, along with a full calendar. Fishing should be pretty good, and bait will probably make its move to the flats, as well.

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