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Pine Island, Florida
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Captain Butch Rickey
Posted: Oct 8 2005, 03:54 PM


Well, it was another week cut short by weather and luck. I was supposed to do four day with my long-time friend Dr. John Hitt. His duties as president at UCF are very demanding and changeable, and we lost Monday. Tammy was brewing just to our south, and it was a pretty windy day.

Tuesday morning we were ready to go, and I teased him about having to retrain each other because he hadn't fished in over a month, and I hadn't worked in two weeks. And, I couldn't find anyone who had worked more than an odd day to consult about bait.

It was pretty breezy as we headed down the river. All my records indicated that we are usually getting bait very easily this time of year either at Picnic Island or on the Chino Island flats. So, we began our search at Picnic. A bucket of chum later we hadn't even seen a pinfish. The place was like an underwater desert.

We headed to Chino, where we found birds diving on very small bait. But after extensive chumming and several moves, we only had a handful of tiny shiners in the well. We couldn't get them to come of the very shallow edge they were holding on, in about a foot of water. We did load up with pinfish.

We moved on to the flats at Flamingo, which had been my mainstay for beautiful bait before things slowed down so badly. Another load of chum tried in several places got us only some pins. By this point, the wind was really up to the point where we had to get out the old Danforth anchor. The Power Pole wouldn't hold us!

I told John of a snook hole that I fish that often has bait in it. I've noticed over the years that after spending an hour catching bait the bait is so think that I could load up without chumming. Problem is, it's not real predictable. But, I suggested we pay it a visit.

We were now on the bottom of the tide, and not having run John's boat in really shallow water since last winter, I blew the approach. I didn't get quite the "coast" I'm accustomed to, and ground to a stop about 50 feet short of the hole. No problem, I thought. I just disrobed from the waist down, grabbed the net, and headed to the hole on foot.

But, what I didn't know was that apparently hurricane Charley had strewn oysters all over the place, and that they had a new growth of come kind of coral all over them. They were very pretty, actually. But, they played havoc on my feet, and the castnet.

It had been years since I've thrown a castnet anywhere except off the bow of a boat. My first throw at the hole was not a good one, but I could see the bait flicking in from the edge. It WAS there. I got maybe a dozen on the first throw, and didn't really want to walk them back to the boat through that minefield of oysters, but I WANTED bait.

Once back in position, I adjusted the net a bit, and the second throw was much better, and covered the hole. It was full of nice shiners, and coral covered oysters clumps! We had enough bait in that one throw for a day of fishing!

We could see the weather deteriorating as the morning went on, due to the movement of Tammy. I knew we would at least get wet before we got home. We decided to stay right there and fish, since there were plenty of holes scattered about that can offer great fishing. We managed 6 snook, 3 trout, 2 jacks, and 1 snapper before moving to another nearby hole.

At that hole we were looking for big trout, which are usually laid up there. And, we found them. As the weather approached and rain was imminent, the bite turned on. We pulled some nice, fat trout from that hole, and put a limit in the well. John was happy to know he was going to have a nice bag of fillets.

Then the rains came. We quickly moved up along the mangroves on the lee side, and that along with the T-top kept us relatively dry. But, once the first wave of weather had passed, and we moved back out to our hole, we couldn't buy a bite. The fish had shut down. We could see lots more weather coming from the east, and I figured that now that it was here, we'd be seeing squalls all day long. The wind was also up, easily over 30. We knew it would be an uncomfortable and adventurous ride home.

It was indeed bouncy out there, but John's boat handling skills have continually improved since he's had the Coastline. He took the angry waters like a pro, and we only got a little spray on us. But, we knew we had one final test; the mouth of the river past marker 93. With the wind blowing east and the tide coming in, it can be some very nasty water, indeed. The wind will pick that water up and make an awful mess. We had easily four foot waves, which if the period were six to 8 seconds would be a relatively calm sea. But, this is not the sea, it's the river, with a shallow, changing bottom, and a fierce current, and the period (time or distance between waves) is maybe a second, and less than the length of your boat. That, my friends, is very nasty water to negotiate. It's the saltwater equivalent of shooting rapids!

But, again, John showed great skill in negotiating those waves, keeping exactly the right speed and attitude so that he didn't stuff the bow into a 4 or 5 footer and take on massive amounts of water, or break the boat in half from the sharp pounding that kind of chop produces. Of course, there's one other danger in water like that. If he had been forced to stop and the wind had turned the boat sideways to that awful water, the boat could easily have capsized. Oh, did I mention that it was raining like crazy?

We decided to make the call whether to fish the next day the next morning. The forecast was for more of the same, or worse. Upon checking the radar Wednesday morning, I found plenty of rain offshore, just to our south. It looked certain to be another wet, windy day, and neither John or I were excited about another ride up the river like the one the day before. So, we canceled.

What I didn't know until later in the day was that the tropical storm Tammy had turned almost due north overnight, and it wound up drying us out. It was calm, dry and beautiful all day, and John and I were both kicking ourselves. But, how is one to know?

By Thursday morning there was another player in our weather scheme. There was a new tropical development down just off the Yucatan that was throwing lots of moisture at us. We were supposed to be wet and windy, again. It was heavily overcast that morning; perfect for topwater fishing. I suggested to John that we forego catching bait and the time it takes, to fishing artificials. Mainly, topwater plugs for trout. John and I both love to do that, but you need the right kind of overcast day for it to be most effective.

But, before we'd gotten out of John's marina, we discovered we had a problem with the boat. We had something weird going on with the electrics. When John tried to operate the trim tabs, the Power Pole, or anything that had a heavy current draw, it would shut down everything else that was on the accessory panel. The engine and charging side were fine, but nothing else worked. I found a less that tight battery connection, but that didn't solve the problem. From my years on the water and around boats, I theorized that either the battery had an internal problem (intermittent open probably from the severe pounding of Tuesday), or the battery cable end was corroded internally and causing high resistance. Either would give the same symptoms. So, we were somewhat handicapped without our Power Pole or baitwells.

We decided we'd work our way north fishing trout flats until we found willing participants. Problem was, we found none for the first couple of hours. We didn't have a bite, save for a wild ladyfish bite on the flats near the powerlines. We also saw freshly dead, and dying trout practically everywhere we went. Apparently the red tide is still with us to some degree. But, we wanted trout on topwater plugs. So, we stayed with it. After all, it wasn't raining.

Finally, we found fish near Regla Island, and plenty of them. For the next several hours we had plenty of action. There were lots of trout, although not a lot of keepers. We had many fish that we just under the 15 inch limit. We also had marauding schools of large jack crevalle, and caught quite a few of those every time they were within casting distance. And, yes! We did get one snook and one redfish, all on topwater plugs, to make the Slam! I even had a first for me. I caught two small jacks on the same plug, at the same time, both on the rear treble hook! Double your pleasure. Double your fun?

It had been a fun day on the water. John and I were glad we'd stayed with it, and prevailed. It's hard to beat a day of catching anything on topwater plugs. It's not something I get to do very often as a guide, and it sure was fun. And, although it was breezy, we knew the ride home would be a piece of cake compared to our last one. It was marred only by rain as we made our way home.

And, now! You know the rest of the story. As of right now next week is another slow one with only a couple of trips on the books. If the weather will get back to normal, the fishing should be good.
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