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Pine Island, Florida
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Captain Butch Rickey
Posted: Feb 19 2006, 08:57 PM


Monday of this week saw the coldest weather of the year, after many days of weather almost as cold last week ushered in by the massive cold front that his the northeast so hard. The low Monday morning was 35. Folks, that cold for southwest Florida, and it's darned cold on the water. It was the perfect day not to be out on the water with Tim Morey, of Cape Coral. We had scheduled a trip to teach him how to use his new boat in extreme shallow water, but there would be better days for it than this!

With the prospects for Tuesday almost as bad, I was able to move my first trip with Pat and Denise Carroll, of Seymour, Connecticut, to Thursday, when the high temperature was forecast to be back into the upper 70's. And, come Thursday morning, with the low a mere 55, we were darned glad we did.

Pat and I have been talking to each other for years on the computers, and I felt as if I already knew him. With all that was going on with the weather, I had given him some caveats about how the fishing might go, considering that our water temperature was so low. Pat assured me that he didn't care whether he caught a fish, or not. He was just thrilled to finally get out on the water here and have a great day. And, that we did.

We left the dock at just after eight o'clock, and headed into the Sound. Our plan had originally been to see if we could catch bait, but I had told him the night before on the phone that there would be no bait after such a wicked front, and there was no point in wasting time with it. He had wanted to see someone throw the castnet, but agreed with me. That morning, as I awaited Pat and Denise's arrival, every guide that came in from trying to catch bait was empty-handed. As far as I heard there wasn't a single shiner to be found. I had bought shrimp at Shack Baits as a backup, in case the fish wouldn't eat plastic.

Pat and Denise also wanted to keep a couple of nice fish for dinner. I wanted to keep a fish or two as well, as I hadn't done so in a while. The easiest way, and one of the most fun in the winter, to put meat in the boat is with speckled trout. There's not much that's more fun that a hot winter trout bite on light tackle. For winter trout fishing I scale the rods back to St. Croix Legend Tournament Series light action 7 footers with Stella 2500 FA's spooled with 10 or 15 pound test Power Pro. I would like to use the 8 or even lighter test Power Pro, but my eyes and manual dexterity just won't allow it at my age. The 15 I can deal with when it's tangled up badly, and the 10 is borderline.

I knew that even the trout would be tough to catch in the cold, cold water, but we worked our way from pothole that morning, catching a fish or two or three in each one for the most part. It was far from a hot trout bite, but better than I had expected, quite frankly. We could easily have had two or three limits of the speckled beauties, but we stopped at 2 for Pat and Denise, and 4 for me.

I had hoped to run into some more of those fat flounder, but they were having no part of us. As we neared the last hours of the incoming tide, I asked Pat and Denise if they'd like to try for reds. They were all for it, since they'd never caught a red, or a trout before today. We hit a number of normally great spots, and did see some fish, but they were just laid up sunning themselves, and not a bit interested in lunch. They were so intent on sunning themselves that they would allow us to get nearly on top of them before they would move. And, the water was gin clear. It wasn't like they couldn't see us.

I had promised to take Denise shelling up on Cayo Costa Island if the weather would allow us to get out into the Gulf and run up the beach. I had brought a backup bag of shells I had collected on my last shelling trip, to give to Denise in case we couldn't get out. But, it had been JAPDIP, with just a light breeze all day long, and the gulf was pretty flat. I let Pat and Denise slip off the bow of the Talon into just ankle deep water as I eased the bow up as close to the sand as I dared get. I stayed with the boat so that they wouldn't have to make a long walk back when they were done. Denise filled the bucket in not much more than half and hour, and Pat signaled me in for a pickup. She had a blast picking up shells, and thanked me several times for taking them shelling, even though it made for a late day.

It had been a great day with some great people. We were blessed with a beautiful day, good fishing, good shelling, and very good company. What a great way to start the week, even if it was Thursday. Predictably, Pat and Denise fell in love with out wonderful area, and vowed to be back soon for some snook and red fishing.

I met my #1 fishing buddy, John Hitt, Friday morning at his dock excited about the prospects for the day. I was dressed considerably lighter than the day before. We were all set for another beautiful weather day with a high nearing 80! Exactly what we need to get the water temperature back up to where things begin to pop. After seeing the water temperature at 61 at our first stop, I knew things wouldn't be easy. Often, even when the other factors are favorable, the fish won't eat until the sun has had time to warm the waters a degree or two. Sometimes that's all it takes.

Once we were on the flats and pitching lures into the potholes, it became evident that's exactly how it would be. John caught most of the fish early on his confidence bait, the white curlytail jig. I was having a problem getting anything to eat my Exudes. Most of the fish that were eating the white jig were just under the slot. John and Martha love trout, and this would never do. We had to find some fish that would eat, and they had to be nice slot fish.

We kept at it. I resorted to fishing some potholes I hadn't fished in a couple of years, at least. They're great holes, and I found my self wondering why we sometimes forsake great fishing spots for others. As we got a bit of warmth into the water the fish began eating a bit better, and at one of my old favorite holes, we encountered a pretty good trout bite. They weren't the outsized trout that John and I are used to catching on most of our trout outings, but we were happy to see fish of 16 and 17 inches. John had been experimenting with different baits, while I had stayed with my Exude RT Slugs, just experimenting with different colors. By the time we were done John agreed that while the Exudes may not catch as many trout, they certainly catch the larger ones. I've seen that to be true since I first began using them for my winter fishing.

Our slow start had turned into a pretty good day, and we'd had a blast on a good trout bite once again. The aquarium on the Coastal was again teeming with nice trout, and the boat wasn't even very dirty. That's another thing I like about winter lure fishing.

I met John at eight o'clock on Saturday morning, pensive about all the traffic I knew would be on the water on such a breakout beautiful weekend day. It was also a holiday weekend. One of the first things we notice as we left was that we had gained about three degrees in water temperature. Perhaps this would be the day the trout busted loose.

Traffic was everywhere! John had to be back in early, so we were forced to begin early and fish several hours of a slow outgoing tide. I wanted to find someplace that would give us a little boost in the water movement, like cuts and points. We found the perfect place and got set up. I began with Exude Slugs, and John experimented with different jigs. I suggested that he try a Rattletrap he had tied on to one of his Stella rigs. I had already missed a couple of good hits. John immediately hooked a nice snook that ran the Rattletrap down right in front of the boat. It's funny how fish are rarely caught when they hit right at the boat, and this one was no exception. John had a good hookset, but somehow those treble hooks didn't find their way home, and she quickly threw the lure.

We had another boat in the area who appeared to be fishing with large frozen threadfin herring. He went biteless. We didn't manage to put a fish into the boat, although we had several chances. We decided to move on, and I wanted to do so without bothering the other angler if I could. John made a few casts as I was moving down the shoreline and the wind blew his lure into the mangroves. Well, by the time we had gotten the lure out of the tree, the wind had blown the boat into the mangroves, and a limb caught the line on one of John's Tournament rods and snapped it in two places while we were busy trying to get everything untangled. We were both shocked when we realized what had happened while our attention was elsewhere. The price of saving a lure and a retie was several hundred dollars. I was upset with myself for not noticing, but I had forgotten about the rod tips being up through rubber grommets in the Tee top. If they had been free standing as in my boat the rod would have escaped unharmed. But, in this situation something had to give.

As it was we didn't have enough water to launch there, anyway, and at this point I just wanted to get away from the area. I took as short a route as I could to launch, and almost didn't get the motor trimmed up in time for the inches of water that we hit coming out of the hole. But, we made it. I suggested it was time to go find some skinny water potholes where most of the others wouldn't go, just to get away from the boat traffic. The waterway was beginning to look like I75 on a busy day!

We settled at the edge of the first hole using the skeg as a brake. John hopped up on the casting deck and on the first cast nailed a beautiful 4+ pound trout. Meanwhile, I realized that in my hurry to get going and distraction over the broken rod, I had forgotten to put my Stella reel cover away, and it was gone. Doomed to a life on the muddy bottom. So far, things weren't going really well!

Having no more hits on that first hole, I began hopping from pothole to pothole (winter version of BarHopp'N). We were catching a few fish, and had a couple in the well, but it was looking like it would be a slow day. But, when I got us to a pothole that I hadn't fished in years (close to the one that had given us fish the day before) the bite was on. John was throwing a white Gulp, which I to this point had little confidence in. But, he was tearing them up. We were on a hot bite. I was sticking with my Exudes, but was catching on a new color; white with red specks. I'm sure John outfished me on this day as far as numbers, but I think the Exude again had the better average on size. The fish were definitely better than the day before, and we had mostly 17 to 20 inch fish in the well.

It was hard for us to leave those fish, but John had to be back, and we had to stop and fuel the boat before cleaning boat and fish. John continued to catch trout while I prepared the boat for the ride home. John finished the day on a nice trout that put our total around 60 for the day. All but a very few were nice slot fish!

We've got some very tough tides next week, but the highs are supposed to be in the low 80's each day with lows around 60. How wonderful. Perhaps this was the last big cold front of our winter. If that weather forecast holds, we should see bait showing up and snook on the prowl. Stay tuned.
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