I Spent last week away from home to chase saltwater quarry down in southwest Florida. But don't worry, I caught up with fishing in NH today. While I've always considered myself a cold weather dog, I have to admit that there is something refreshing about 80's and sun after a winter like the one we've had. This trip was not all about fishing but I did get some good hours in on the water. Alicia and I planned the trip on Sanibel Island because we knew that I would be able to fish and she would be able to well...be warm.
My hope was that the Snook would be cruising the beach and I'd be able to hook fish while Alicia read and searched for shells. Unfortunately a southerly wind had the surf up and the Snook well off shore. Luckily I had the help of local fishing guide Arthur Schmidt . I spoke with quite a few fishing guides in the days before this trip, but when I spoke with Art I knew I'd be hiring him. Art decided to keep our plans flexible depending on the weather, and when the forecast called for a 100% chance of rain, he said we should probably hold off. Then, not more than an hour later, Art called me back to explain that, despite the current forecast, he felt strongly that the storm would hold off long enough for us to fish. Art was right, the next day was sunny and dry. Any guide who can beat the weatherman at their own game is worth hiring.
We started the morning on a wide expansive flat, searching for porpoising tarpon. Art handed me a sage GXP 10 weight coupled with an Abel reel, then quickly took it back and tightened the drag. He explained, "Pull off about fifty feet of line and take a few false casts." I grabbed the line and pulled, but the line slid through my hands. I tightened my grip and pulled harder. I tried to imagine a fish being able to make that reel scream. Art must have sensed my thinking, because, as I began to cast, he chimed in, " If you get a take, make sure you hold on tight, they can pull a rod right out of your hands." Then I saw what looked like a mermaid*, a silver scaled creature with the girth of a woman surfaced not thirty feet from the boat. "Cast ten feet to the left." Art commanded. I made the cast and stripped the line with trembling fingers. The fish never struck. "Aggghhh they are being lazy this morning." Art mussed. "How can you tell?" "The way they are rolling, really slow, like they don't want to get out of bed." For the next two hours we continued to cast at these silver phantoms that would suddenly appear and disappear.
As the tide began to shift Art told me to reel in and started the engine. We buzzed along, skimming at break neck speed, through a foot of water. Mullet jumped in all directions as we slowed into a mangrove chocked lagoon. "There could be baby tarpon in here." Art announced, grabbing the reel and turning the drag down two clicks. "They aren't as big, but they aren't small...20-40lbs." We fished through the mangroves but it soon became apparent that the only fish around were the mullet. Not wasting any time Art had me reeling in for another move.
We sped over to an isolated island and set up on the north side, out of the southerly wind. "We've got a good shot at both red fish and Snook here. They could be on either side of the boat. Cast at the mangroves and I'll keep an eye on the open water." I began peppering the shorline, enjoying the challenge of getting the fly to kiss the mangroves without snagging. "Nice shot!" Art complimented, and as if on cue a wave came rushing from the undergrowth, my white fly vanishing in a violent swirl of bronze. " BIG RED!" Art chimed. The fish tore into open water, and I grinned at the singing of the reel. As fast as the fish took of it came back at us. I thought Art had a shot at landing the fish so I let up on the rod, but he quickly scolded me, "UP UP" ducking as the line whizzed over his head, the fish rushing towards its bushy home. I turned the rod sideways steering the fish like a kite away from trouble. After a few more runs I led the fish to the boat and Art got his hand on the outer gill plate and hoisted the 30" red on board.
Once we got our pictures I held the fish steady in the water until he rushed away. Art grinned, giving me a firm handshake. As a guide, I knew how relieving the fish was. Art soon began spotting reds moving in the open water and it wasn't long before I hooked one. We fished on and I soon got another fish, a sea trout. With the end of the island we moved to another. The second island was southwest facing and the wind kept trying to blow us into shore. Despite the challenge of the wind Art was able to put me on four Snook in short order. Although they were smaller than the reds, Snook are even faster swimmers, and I enjoyed the zipping of the line as they tore around the boat.
It was a challenging day on the water and I was impressed with the number of fish we were able to catch. On the way back to the boat launch Art informed me that I'd actually completed an inshore grand slam. Redfish, Snook, and Sea-trout being the most prized gamefish in these waters.
Over the next few days I spent most of my time off the water with a few lazy casts along the beach, to no avail. With the last two days of the trip approaching, and better weather in the forecast I decided to get serious. I called Art and asked for suggestions. He gave me a few ideas and I made my way to a channel called Blind Pass that cuts between Sanibel and Captiva islands. The mouth of the channel was rough with waves crashing against the pull of the current. I decided to hike to calmer water, finding a mangrove chocked path on the north side of the bridge. I wandered along, not really knowing where I was going. Soon I saw water through the undergrowth. I stepped out cautiously, but was relieved to find the bottom sandy, the depth shin deep. I progressed slowly, looking for any signs of life. In the middle of the lagoon was a dark patch of bottom. Just as I recognized it as an oyster bed I saw a puff of sand. Instinctively I let out a cast, the fly landed just to the right of the suspicious puff. I stripped the line twice, before the water exploded in a bright flash of fish. My line cut across the bay and I was into my backing within seconds. I got control of the line, but not the fish, who decided to make a b line to the mangroves. Pressuring the fish to the right it tore around me forcing me in consecutive circles before returning to the oyster bed, where it wrapped my line around an unseen branch. Luckily I was able to simply walk over and pluck the fish from its hiding place. I did not recognize the fish at first but knew it was some kind of Jack. I later learned it was a Jack Crevalle, a notoriously hard fighting species.
As if this wasn't enough I soon saw explosions along the mangroves. Snook were lying in wait for hapless baitfish. They appeared an easy target, but were not. It seemed that they had plenty of food to choose from and it took many quick casts to their boils before I finally felt tension on my line. I landed two and missed a few more as they rushed towards me on the hook-set. Satisfied with the day and my new lagoon I headed back to the condo to meet Alicia for dinner.
On my final day in paradise I rented a fishing kayak from Tweenwaters on Captiva. It was only a four hour rental so I skipped over some likely water to get to a large oyster bar that Art had given me surprisingly easy directions to. I found the three small islands he mentioned and stood up in my boat for a better view of fish. I soon saw what looked like cruising redfish on the backside of one oyster bar. I pulled up to the shallows and threw my anchor. I fished to mysterious wakes for hours before I finally landed what turned out to be a Snook. I could have fished that flat for hours more but my time and vacation money was running low.
I was sad to leave Sanibel but excited to get back to New Hampshire. I'd been getting reports from friends that the lakes region was fishing well for Rainbows and Salmon. I was finally able to make it to the water today for a quick hour of fishing. In that time I managed a fat twenty inch buck rainbow and a couple of feisty wild brook trout. This lakes region fishing should last a few weeks longer with the more northern waters outlasting those in the southern lakes region. The big fish I got today came on a size 16 peacock and partridge soft hackle which I tied on to mimic the strong hatch of midges I saw on the water. The rainbow chose this tiny morsel over the larger leech pattern I had paired it with. The fish sipped my fly from the bottom of a deep pool. At first I thought it was the bottom, then it flashed to the surface, made a few short runs then turned downstream forcing me to give chase. I had to feed my rod under two logs that spanned the stream before I was able to land the fish in a shallow eddy. Without a net I managed a few pictures, before my barbless hook fell from the fish's mouth. I've got a few openings if you'd like to try for some large lake run rainbows and salmon this spring. Give me a call to find out current conditions before you come.
* It is said that Tarpon are most likely the animal that sailors mistook for mermaids.