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Pine Island, Florida
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Captain Butch Rickey
Posted: Feb 3 2006, 08:38 PM


Fishing began on Sunday, which is rare for me. You see, I had a guest Howard Gallagher, down from Maine, who had rented a room at the Fish Camp for three nights. Howard loves to fish the west coast from his kayak, and was here to do that, take in some fishing seminars, and visit some musician friends doing a blues show on Sanibel.

After two outings on two days, Howard was fishless. And, the best part of what we have to offer was out of his reach. So, Saturday night I asked him if he'd like to go out for a quickie trip on Sunday morning. Of course, he was thrilled with the idea. I explained we'd have to leave early and come back early to avoid all the lunacy at the ramp on Sunday.

We slid the Talon into the water just before 7 AM, well ahead of the throngs that would soon be invading the ramp. The tide was way low, and would still be going out for another two and a half hours. We'd be pothole fishing for sure.

I headed first for a hole that I love to fish on falling water, and that rarely fails to produce on the winter low tides. But, the fish were asleep on this morning. We worked the area hard and managed to catch one snook and a few undersized trout. By that time the wind, which was coming up briskly out of the south with the approach of yet another cold front, had turned the tide around and had in coming in with a vengeance.

At the next stop we were immediately in nice sized trout. We quickly put the better part of two limits of speckled trout into the bowels of the Talon. But, as good as the bite had been, it ended abruptly. We moved on to another hole. There we did the same thing. We caught nice trout for a while, and then it was over. But, we had our two limits of trout for dinner, and some for Howard to take home.

The water had come in unbelievably fast, and I suggested we go and see if we could catch a redfish before we went home. Howard was all for that, and off we went to parts north. The water was looking good, and moving hard, but there wasn't a fish interested in what we were offering. I was throwing a silver spoon, and Howard a gold spoon. We worked a normally very productive area without so much as a thump!

We headed in around noon, hoping to clean the fish and pull the boat before the afternoon rush on the ramp. The wind was howling pretty well by now, and I cautioned Howard that the ride might get ugly once we cleared York Island. And, sure enough, the water was churning pretty well with the wind driving it against the south shore of Pine Island. It gave me a chance to show Howard how the Talon will skip across a nasty chop and boat wakes like a skipping stone. Howard observed that the boat felt like it was gliding along on top of everything like a hovercraft. He wasn't far from wrong, except that a hovercraft won't turn, and the Talon will turn violently when necessary. Needless to say, we had a blast, and as much as Howard enjoyed the fishing, I think he had even more fun on the ride home.

My trip on Wednesday was my first with Capt. "Cholly By Golly" Baker, who operates Pirate Adventures, Inc., in Cordova, Maryland, and who is also setting up shop with Pirate Adventures on Ft. Myers Beach. Cholly brought along his father-in-law, Monty. I have to tell you that this was one of my most memorable trips in a long time, not because of the fishing, which was excellent, but because of Cholly and Monty. We just had a blast!

Our tide was outgoing until around 10:30, but we met at the ramp at 9 AM, for fear of not being able to get parking if we waited any later. I figured by the time we got out there the tide would be nearly done, and we'd be waiting and ready for the beginning of the incoming tide. It was a pretty low tide at a -0.4, but we also had a pretty serious S/SE wind ushering in another cold front.

I overshot the first pothole, but by the time I got the boat into position the fish had settled down and we quickly had several big keeper trout in the Talon's baitwell. The boys and the wives wanted plenty of fish for several dinners, so the first priority was meat. The bite at the first hole was surprisingly short-lived, so we began hole hopping, from one pothole to the next. We caught trout after trout as we moved along, mostly on Exude RT Slugs and Bass Assassins.

With the help of the south wind, the tide was racing in way ahead of schedule. I didn't think the pothole fishing would last much longer. We were two trout short of our two limits for the boys. I was thinking about going back to the first hole, which always produces big trout, but had been short-lived. About the time I was getting ready to move, Monty ask me if it would be worth going back to the first stop before we turned our attention to redfish. I laughed as I told him we were on the same page. Back at the first stop we quickly had several nice trout and rounded out our limits. It was time to go redfishing.

I headed north into the Sound, and as I rounded the corner into the first flat I wanted to fish, I saw a boat poling the flat no doubt looking for tailing reds. The water was already too high for tailers. I moved on. The second stop in an area that usually has lots of redfish was a dud. Not a hit. I wondered why the fish seemed disinterested on this south wind.

At the next stop we nailed a 28 inch redfish that weighed in at just under 10 pounds on a gold spoon. That told me that the fish were there, as redfish travel in packs, but it was the only one that would eat. We moved on. We worked the next area hard, but didn't have a strike. But, I had faith that we would find fish that would eat as the water was reaching the perfect height for the fish to come on to a flat and forage.

You see, much of the flats is exposed, dry land for most of the day on our super-low winter tides. Most of the big tides that actually cover the flats occur at night. On most of the shallower flats the grass dies off during the winter, leaving bare sand or mud. But, on those days that conditions cause enough water on the flats, the reds are usually eager to come and look for small crabs and whatever other foods are available. I just knew in my gut the reds would show up to root for food they can normally only reach at night.

We drifted in slowly, staking out on the Power Pole to work the area well. We were throwing spoons. I had Cholly tossing a small silver minnow, Monty tossing a 1/2 oz. gold, and I was tossing a 1/2 oz. silver. The water was barely a foot deep, and gin clear. I had the boys making the longest casts they could, as that's the only way you're going to get a fish to eat. They WILL keep their distance from the boat.

Suddenly, we were on the fish. They were right where I expected them to be, and were ready to eat anything that crossed their paths. We caught redfish after redfish, and had doubles and even a couple of triple hookups on our spoons. We had a blast. We had several schools of redfish pushing all around us.

Soon, we had a boat approaching us. I didn't mind sharing our fish, but surely hoped that he would come very quietly. As he got closer, I recognized the boat as one that I run in to on the flats around this time every year. It's a couple of older fellows who apparently winter here, and they had to sit close by and watch my parties catch fish like crazy on several occasions. This was another one.

Once they were close enough to hear me I tried to direct them to where I could see the fish moving. They were casting their hearts out, but not catching. One of the guys said they'd caught some fish out in the same area the day before, but they were having no luck getting them to bite their offerings on this day.

By this time it was getting late; pushing five o'clock. We were getting arm weary, and were ready to head home. We wished the other boat good luck and quietly motored off the flat on the MinnKota. The action had been too fast and furious to keep good count, but I know from years of doing it that we easily boated 25 to 30 reds!

It had been a big day, and the baitwell of the Talon looked like an aquarium. We had their limits of trout and redfish in there, all seeming happy with their new surroundings. Back at the ramp, I decided to clean the trout first, and then the reds. After cleaning the trout, we decided to take a quick picture or two of the boys holding up their reds. I don't often use the cleaning table at the ramp, and forgot the number one rule; never turn your back on your fillets. In the minute or so it took us to pose and shoot our reds, the pelicans very quietly inhaled all sixteen of our trout fillets! They had been very sneaky, and hadn't made one noise to tip us off. Fortunately, the nice reds we had would still provide several nice dinners.

As we chatted before parting company for the day, Monty gave me the ultimate compliment a guide can receive. He shared that he had fished with hundreds of guides in his 77 years, and told me that I was the most intelligent, and best guide he had ever fished with! I thanked him and joked that he probably told all his guides that, and he and Cholly both assured me that he had never uttered such words to a guide before. Wow! Talk about walking on Cloud 9 for the rest of the day! Hell, the rest of the week!

After such a great day with Cholly and Monty, I was surely wired for my trip on Thursday with my old friend Ed Regan and his friend Rich. Ed is about as nice as they come, and I really enjoy his company. On occasion we get together for lunch or breakfast while he is here during the winter. I could sit and talk with him for hours.

Well, Ed was quick to tell me that his lovely wife Barbara had put in an order for fish for dinner and fish for the freezer. After telling him about the day before the pressure was on to produce! The wind was now around to the south, and already up around 15, and I really anticipated that the fish would eat as good or better than the day before. But, every day out there is different. At least I didn't have to hunt them down. I explained to Ed and Rich that the redfish would be right where I'd left them the day before on the same stage of the tide. And, with the wind kicking, the water would be driven much higher than on Wednesday. I felt pretty good about filling Barbara's order.

The plan was again to catch our trout while they were laid off in the potholes, and before the big south wind filled up the bay. I knew it would happen quickly. And, the plan went well, as we only had to hit two potholes to catch plenty of trout and put our two limits of them in the well for Barbara. It wasn't easy fishing, though, as the wind was just howling. It seemed to kick up another notch about every hour or so. It was easily over 20 MPH at this point.

Trout in the well, I asked the guys if they wanted to catch more for fun, or go for redfish. I figured the reds would be prowling the flats, as the water was way up and ahead of schedule. It was already higher than it was supposed to get at full high, and we had several hours before the full high! Ed and Rich were all for chasing reds, so after some reties to spoons, we were off to the first stop. It was a beautiful flat in the south end of the Sound where there are almost always redfish cruising.

Once there it became immediately obvious we wouldn't be able to drift our way in, unless we wanted to try to fish at 20 MPH! So, we staked out with the Power Pole and fan cast our way in to where I expected to actually find the fish. But, you never know where they might be, especially if they've spread out over a flat to eat, and I like to cast my way in when using artificials, and chum my way in when using bait. After about a half hour we were approaching the shoreline, where I expected to find the fish, and sure enough, the first fish was on. We caught plenty of fish there, and missed plenty, as well. Some of the fish that were hitting, we're hitting aggressively, but when you feel that subtle hit, and bring your spoon in to find the weed guard mangled and bent, you know Mr. Redfish was there! Ed got the last fish in that spot before we moved on. It was a nice snook that completed our Slam!

I was ready to either go home or move on to the next flat, but I knew either way it was going to be a nasty ride. We elected to stay with the redfish, and were off to the next spot. We fished our way into that area, too, and before long we were on the fish that I knew would be there. We didn't have the uninhibited bite of the day before, but the fish ate, and we still had a total of probably 20 good redfish. Again, we had a limit of trout and a limit of redfish in our aquarium, and we were now ready to go home. It was getting pretty late, and we were tired, and knew the ride home might be a rough one. But, I ran in the lee of the islands wherever possible and then took the manatee zone on the backside of the first causeway island to stay out of the ugly stuff, and it wasn't that bad at all.

It had been another great day on the water. Windy, but great, and we had filled Barbara's order. And, you can bet we didn't turn our backs on our fillets at the cleaning table, either.

It was a great week of fishing, especially for this time of year, possible partly because of a warming trend we've had lately. But, who knows what tomorrow will bring?
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