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Home in Port Charlotte
41* at 7AM
We're in the midst of a cold front that is expected to last for two days.
My visiting son, Ryan (26), and I launched the boat for what we hoped we be a great day of fishing off shore from Boca Grande. Instead we faced dense fog on Charlotte Harbor that limited our visibility to a quarter of a mile. We had to travel at 5-7 knots, both spotting for crab pots and other boats suddenly appearing out of the mist. I was navigating by compass and GPS and may as well have been in the dark. When a cold heavy shower started falling it only made matters worse.
We spent hours heading south, hoping the fog would lift but it never did. Near the #5 marker we headed west toward Boca Grande and the fog thickened so much I stopped the boat. We received an updated weather broadcast that said the areas near the coast and beaches were the thickest fog and that it was expected to last throughout the afternoon. Areas nearer inland we reportedly clearing. We turned the boat around and headed for the Peace River.
The rumors were true. The further we got from the Gulf, the clearer the air became. By the time we reached the Peace River at Punta Gorda, we could see clearly for more than a mile in each direction. We docked briefly at the Laishley Marina and bought some live shrimp for fishing.
After anchoring down near the US 41 bridge we fished for an hour and I caught and released one small ladyfish. Later we tried our luck in the mangroves near Alligator Bay. Ryan landed one small catfish and hooked several ladyfish only to have them show off their air acrobatics and spit the hook out. At 4:30 we headed home and cleared the short bridge with 3" to spare. Kathy had grilled chicken kabobs for the tired Captain and crew.
The next day, we used our remaining shrimp to fish the canal behind my house. We had many, many shrimp stolen off of our hooks. I suspect the thieves to be notorious sheepshead fish. These clever convicts have teeth much like our own that enable them to nibble bait off the hook in great anonymity. They also, appropriately, have black vertical stripes on both sides of their body making them look like jail birds. They are reported to be delicious on your plate if you can be so lucky as to land one.
Ryan was able to hook and a nice blue crab with his rod and reel. We then loaded our crab pot with the dead shrimp and quickly trapped another blue crab. These would go nicely with our grilled steaks.
I decided to use the castnet to catch more live bait because the shrimp was all dead. I caught a few small pinfish and another live shrimp. This is the first time I caught shrimp in my canal. Ryan continued to have all the luck as he caught another crab with his rod and put him in the bucket with an aerator to keep them alive. But Ryan wasn't done yet. We took a break to have dinner. We grilled our steaks, steamed our crab, drank our beer and ate like kings. Then it was back to work on the docks. Ryan asked me if fish will still bite in the dark of night. I told him that was when one of Florida's most prized fish come out.
The Snook (Centropumus undecimalis) lives in salt and fresh waters, primarily back waters, canals and feeds near structure such as bridges, dock pilings and mangrove shorelines. Snook are so desired, the regulations limit harvesting to only those fish measuring specifically between 28" and 32" long. Snook have great tasting white meat but it is unlawful to sell them commercially, for fear of overfishing. In December, 2009, Florida experienced record freezing temperatures for ten days. The extreme and prolonged drop in water temperatures resulted in a fish kill in the thousands; including snook. After the freeze, snook harvesting was suspended indefinitely to allow the population to recover. The next stock assessment is scheduled for September, 2011. Until then, those lucky enough to land one must release the fish alive and unharmed. My wish for a snook has gone unfulfilled for the 3 years I've been in Florida.
At about 8PM, with temperatures dropping below 50*, I had gone into the house to trade my shorts for jeans and a jacket. When I returned outside Ryan was calling out to me that he had something huge on the line. He was excited but calm and listened well as I told him to keep the rod tip up in the air and allow the fish to work against the reel drag. When it surfaced I was the one who lost my mind. SNOOK! And it was enormous. Ryan worked to keep the fish from getting near dock and boat lift pilings, where surely he would be able to break the 22 pound test line. Ryan fought hard to keep his prize away from the rock seawall as well. Kathy heard the commotion outside and came out. We shouted for a camera and she quickly responded. We very carefully removed the monster from the water so I could get the hook out. We use circle hooks because of their design and tendency to lip hook instead of being swallowed. I explained to Ryan the need to support the fish's head and belly and not hold him vertically. I quickly removed the hook without any trauma. Ryan posed for a quick photo (below) and it was time to say goodbye to our friend. We didn't take the time to weigh or measure him but we estimate him at about 33" and 10 pounds. We returned him to his habitat and we happy to see him swim away.
We spent $68 in fuel to take the boat out and got nothing special with the bait we bought. We come home, stand in my backyard, using free bait I caught myself, and my son catches the elusive snook. This was far and away the largest and best catch anyone has made off of our dock in the three years we've lived here. At least our home record is held by a member of the family.
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