Saturday, December 5, 2015

December On Pine Island

From this month's Nautical Mile newspaper:

Tourist season is in full swing right now.  In addition to my regular anglers and a few first timers, I’ve also run several trips last month with people who recently bought homes here in Lee County.  These have been some of my favorite charters since these folks are eager to absorb everything they can about the local waters before they purchase a boat to go along with their new house. 

Our backyard of Charlotte Harbor, Pine Island Sound, and Matlacha Pass is the very definition of a boater’s paradise, but at the same time it is some of the Florida’s most difficult to water to master.  Unlike the Keys, our shallow flats and oyster bars stay hidden for most of the year beneath a dark and tannic stained surface.   Running hard aground in this part of Florida is as easy as going on the wrong side of a channel marker or getting momentarily confused while reading a chart.  It’s an embarrassing mistake at best but can also turn into an expensive and potentially dangerous one at worst. 

Fortunately for today’s boaters, highly accurate GPS systems are very affordable and available for anything that floats.  The days of pouring over a faded chart and trying to find the next channel marker are quickly becoming a thing of the past.  This is an amazing convenience that was almost unimaginable a few decades ago.  When I first started saltwater fishing the only boats that had full color GPS systems were painted battleship grey and fired Tomahawk missiles.  Fast forward to 2015 and a kayaker with an iPhone has more navigational capability in the palm of his hand than NASA’s Mission Control did during the Apollo moon missions.  That same smart phone can instantly summon help should and accident happen so accidentally spending the night on a sandbar is really a thing of the past. 

While getting from Point A to Point B has never been easier, knowing where to look for that school of big tailing redfish is still a hard earned piece of knowledge.  A lot of anglers realize this and that’s why most newcomers here in Lee Country are wise to hire a guide for at least a couple of trips.  If you’re one of these folks, there are a few things that you should expect when you book a charter. 

For starters, be upfront about why you’re booking the trip.  The majority of guides I know will welcome a new resident but some might view you as a potential spot stealer and choose to show you next to nothing on the water while still taking your money.  That’s unfair and easily avoidable.  At the same time, don’t expect to be handed the keys to the kingdom out there.  Speaking for myself, I have two or three baby tarpon spots that I only fish a few day a year and just with my best repeat customers.  At the same time, I would never park someone on a sand bar hooking ladyfish all morning if they really wanted to see some tailing redfish in Matlacha Pass.

I also encourage folks to bring their own gear if what they have is appropriate.  Push button Zebco reels just won’t cut it on the flats.  Saltwater fishing, especially for inshore species like snook and redfish, is very specialized.  Some of the tackle in your freshwater box will work but much of it won’t stand up to the salt.  Also, if your reel isn’t rigged with the right braided line I may not want you to risk losing a good (and expensive) snook lure because of that.  Fortunately, getting properly geared up for these fish doesn’t have to cost a small fortune and most guides will be happy to give you a rundown of what you’ll need. 

A lot of my recent customers are also beginner fly anglers hoping to score their first saltwater fish in their new backyard.  If you’re one of these folks then you’re especially welcome on my boat since I’ve spent much of the last twenty years introducing people to this sport.  Just be prepared for a good dose of frustration and humility.  Trust me on this one; the redfish flats of Pine Island are a radically different world from the Pennsylvania trout streams where I learned to fish.  It’s a big step up but saltwater fly fishing is accessible to anyone willing to put in the effort.