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Pine Island Sound, Florida
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Capt. Butch Rickey
Posted: Feb 19 2005, 05:33 PM




Capt. Butch Rickey

It was another short week, with only two days of work. The week also saw the invasion of red tide organism into our local waters from the north. By week's end I was hearing reports of fish kills in the north end of the Sound, and stories of tons of snook and redfish floating dead in Gasparilla Sound.

The week began last Monday with my first trip with Don Noll and his lovely wife, Teri. Teri had taken care of the booking, and she wanted to sightsee and perhaps shell for part of the day, and then take Don fishing for part of the day. Of course, I suggested lunch on the water. Teri didn't think they'd care much about shelling, but were willing to give it a go.

We met at Punta Rassa at eight o'clock, loaded up the Maverick, and took off. I decided to used the Maverick because it carries more fuel, and being much lighter than the Talon, burns less, too. I figured we'd be doing a lot of running, and didn't want fuel on the water to be an issue.

I decided to head up to Captiva and take Don and Teri on a tour through Roosevelt Cut, where they could get a close-up look at Captiva from the water. When I toured the area right after Charlie, I was shocked at the damage. The area looked very different, now. Although the evidence of a terrible event still stares at you from everywhere, much of the debris has been cleaned up. To a passing tourist who hasn't see the area before, it may not be obvious that something awful recently happened. But, for anyone who knows what the area looked like before, and appreciated the beauty of it all, it's a shocking and profound difference.

Once we emerged from Roosevelt Cut, I took the Nolls up to North Captiva for shelling. We went through Redfish Pass to let them look at the new pass, known to us locals now as Charlie's Pass. The wind was around to the south with the approach of a minor cold front, and the Gulf was a bit bouncy, so I ran back inside and moored in a little lagoon in Foster Bay where the island is only a couple hundred yards wide. It's a very pretty spot.

After a little indoctrination into how to hunt for shells and what to look for, we were soon finding very nice shells. We found lots of sunrays, kings crowns, pelican feet, olive shells, some beautiful welks from tiny to about 5 inches long, different clams, Atlantic wings, scallops and pectins, and even a couple of beautiful murex shells. That was all on a short stretch of beach about an eighth of a mile long! Well, Don and Teri seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the shelling, and I had to tempt them with a great lunch to get them back to the boat.

From there we headed up to the famous restaurant at Cabbage Key. It's legendary among other reasons as the little piece of paradise that inspired Jimmy Buffet's "Cheeseburger In Paradise". The restaurant sits up on the remains of an indian mound offering a breath taking view out over the Sound toward the north. They were, of course, very busy, and Don and Teri enjoy a cocktail in the old bar while we awaited a table. That gave them time to take the charm of the place in, and add their own autographed dollar bill to the some $70,000 already hanging on the walls!!

Soon we were seated. Don ordered a black bean soup appetizer than I had not noticed on the menu in the past. It was probably there, and I didn't see it because I don't carry my reading specs on the water. He and Teri raved at how good it was, and soon I had a bowl of my own. I've had a lot of black bean soup in my day at some famous Cuban and Spanish restaurants, and that was as good as I've had. I had peel and eat shrimp and potato salad for lunch, which was also very good. By around 1:30 we were ready to take Don to do some fishing.

I headed to a small key on the east side of the Sound where I knew there were lots of redfish holed up. We offered hand picked shrimp impaled on Cotee jig heads. I rig them by biting the fan of the tail off just where it exits the last segment of the body, and putting the hook of the jig up through the last segment, and out the top. Then, when the bait is in the water, it is forced to lay and moved as a real shrimp moves.

It didn't take long to get the first hit, and the bite was on! Don caught redfish after redfish, and of course even though Teri wasn't interest in fishing, I soon had her up on the deck learning how to pump and reel. Although she let some of her fish get away learning the art, she also caught some nice fish. I also hooked three on the old Johnson Silver Minnow spoon. By the end of the day Don and Teri had hooked redfish on virtually every shrimp I had in the well! We had 36 in the well, and I think there were 3 left when we decided it was time to get home, so it's safe to say they caught around 30 reds, and we kept a limit of three nice fish in the 25 inch range.

Back at the ramp Don and Teri told me it had been a perfect, wonderful day, and that they'd had a great time. They promised to be back for more, and after a final good-byes, drove off into the setting sun. What a great day!

Although we had seen a lot of floating pinfish and some larger fish floating dead, signaling the arrival of the red tide into our waters, the fish ate well for us on Monday. I felt sure the fish would eat well again on Tuesday for my next trip with Joe Fulton, and his cousin Ron. But, that turned out to be the case. We had one of those afternoon tides that crawls along such that you can't see the water moving, but at the end of the day the water is up. The problem is that it started from a halfway point, and the current strength is poor. The poor tide and the red tide conspired against us, and the result was a really tough day on the water.

I had four dozen shrimp in the well expecting to slay the reds with Joe and Ron. We headed up into the east side of the Sound to an area near where I had been the day before. We fish a shoreline littered with holes that I also knew held plenty of redfish. Nothing. Nothing on shrimp! Nothing on pinfish. Nothing on spoons! And, my bait was dying!

We had run through what looked like a large mullet mud around 100 feet across. It was reddish brown in color and very thick. It didn't occur to me that it was in fact a large area of very concentrated red tide organism until my bait began dying. The red tide was here! After not catching any of the redfish I knew were there, I eased up into the shoreline we had been fishing with Joe and Ron on the bow next to me. What they saw they couldn't believe. The shoreline was teaming with big redfish, along with plenty of mullet. They were everywhere! They weren't eating. We repeated the procedure several times without a bite. Frustration was setting in for me.

I headed to what was to be my ace in the hole; the place I had fished with Don and Teri the day before. The result was the same as we fished our way along the hole. Nothing! It was becoming apparent that the fish were more interested in conserving energy and staying alive than they were in eating. I decided to move to completely different waters, hoping the quality would be better.

We headed to the Sanibel side where offering several different bait presentations live and cut, we were again greeted with the same result. I decided to rig a spoon and let one of the guys cast around and between the bait rigs. I had already resolved to not catching any redfish, but I'll be damned if Ron didn't catch the first redfish on that spoon right out there where the baits they normally love were laying. Humm!

Well, we kept at it, determined, and Ron caught five redfish and Joe caught one. We also caught some beautiful trout to nearly 4 pounds, and by the time the tide had quit it's crawling flow, we had boated the 6 reds and 7 or 8 nice trout. It was time to go home. Although we had not set the world on fire, I think we all felt a great sense of satisfaction of having stayed with it and finding some fish. We still had fun, and Joe and Ron were great company. They've been fishing together for most of their lives, and the slow bite heightened the sense of competition.

Thursday, I was invited to join my friend Ed Regan for lunch at the Waterfront Restaurant. He picked me up at the ramp in his boat, an 18 ft. Kenner, and we were off. Ed and I have done a couple or three trips together, and he's one fine fella and good student. We've had fun together, and this was great to go out for a boat ride and lunch with no agenda. I decided to have something I'd not had before, and settled on the broiled platter. It was very good and loaded with scallops, shrimp, grouper, mahi, and stuffed crab with a side of carrots and rice. Ed decided to have the 10 oz. burger that is so popular there, while he was not under the dietary scrutiny of his wife, Barbara. I promised not to tattle! Barb! You'd better not be reading this!

It was a great lunch, with great company and great conversation, and gave me a chance to unwind a bit. Thanks, Ed!

I spoke to several of my guide friends who'd managed trips later in the week, and the news is not good. The red tide is killing fish in the Sound, and elsewhere, but so far seems to be worse as you move north. It will not do our fishing any good, and if it doesn't blow out of here on an east or south wind, it could cause another big redfish or snook kill like we had just a few years ago. Let all pray to the fishing Gods that doesn't happen.

I've got a full week of seven trips coming up next week. I just hope that the tide will blow out of here and that our customers will stay and fish. It will no doubt be a tough week, but it's a week we all desperately need to get under our belts. We'll all be working extra hard to put fish in the boat next week. Stay tuned!
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