We began in the center of the below chart, between Gasparilla Island and Little Gasparilla. The chart here only shows 1' due to the wide sand bar that blocks much of the pass. The depths south of the bar go 15-20' with a 25-32' hole in the center. This hole is a great spot for Mangrove Snapper but you've got to be skilled at the helm. This is a busy pass with big boats legally blowing through here at high speeds. It's unlawful to put out an anchor line in this narrow channel but you can drift fish or use your trolling motor. If yours has an I-Pilot, you've got a real advantage to sit atop the hole without being anchored down.
The 39' fish haven shown on the far left of the next chart is the Tremblay Reef. Since this spot is so widely known, it gets a lot of fishing pressure. It can be hit or miss. This day we pulled up small grunts and sheepshead. The Grouper here are all too small to keep. You really need to go out 17-20 miles for legal Grouper. Not gonna happen in my little flats boat.
When I get over the fish, the I-Pilot half my spot without the need to drop and anchor and line. It also provides flexibility to move around the reef with having to pull up anchor. Rolando must have snagged and broke his line a half dozen times out here. When you are reef fishing, you have to keep your sinker a few inches to a foot off the bottom to avoid this. There's a lot of artificial structure down there to attract the fish but this also plays against the fisherman.
Next we moved in-shore, using the trailer to cross the Peninsula from the Gasparilla Sound to the Myakka River in ten minutes. On the water, this would take 90 minutes at 20 knots and burn a lot of fuel. If you're running, your not fishing.
We put in at the El Jobean ramp. Every parking spot was taken, as this was mid-day, but there was some space in the grass near the exit so, like about 6 other guys, I parked there...hoping I wouldn't regret it. I have an annual pass for all Charlotte County boat ramps ($56). Since I have a pass, I don't have to use the kiosk and commit to a space number on a dashboard receipt. I felt pretty good about using this available space as overflow parking, since I've paid my dues. (Turns out I was right. 4 hours later, no parking tickets for being out of position).
The ramp we put in at is at the very top of the above chart, just below the little book icon in my screen shot. Rolando trolled a shallow diving plug (twitch stick) and caught a small snook on the way out of the channel. The left side of the above chart shows the Myakka River, to the left of Hog Island. We caught Spanish Mackerel in the 10' depth to the left of Shoal Point. If you start a drift, on the in-coming tide, at the number "8" marker, you will do well fishing live shrimp beneath a float with a 3-4 leader. Use 30-40 pound florocarbon or wire to avoid being broke off by the toothy Mackerels. Shut your motor off and drift fish back to the number "9" marker, then motor back to the "8" and start again. If you see birds gathering and diving, move over and start casting jigs into the action. (Have secondary rods ready with half ounce Bomber Nylure jigs on). The area is also known to hold trout, pompano, tarpon and cobia at different times of the year. The edges of the river hold snook and redfish throughout the year.
The center of the chart shows the Myakka Cutoff. This backwater mangrove area separates the Myakka from Peace River and is a favorite redfish hunting ground for me. Even with my 6" draft on my Mako flats boat, I will only head in there on a rising tide and plan on leaving shortly after the ebb tide begins. It's not the sort of place you want to spend the night.
In the cutoff there are several tidal creeks which, if you can get in there, almost always produce big redfish. A trolling motor and a push pole are highly advised standard equipment. Any vessel drafting a foot or more must have a jack plate installed.
Today, Rolando and I went in at .09 on the tide table and rode 18-20 knots over the 1-2' flats.
We picked a creek that has been money for me before and put the power pole down in 1.5' of water. What I do here is bring fresh or frozen lady fish, on 3/0 circle hooks, with a 2-3' 30lb floro leader and 20-30 pound braid on a medium duty spinning reel. Cut a hunk of Ladyfish about two fingers thick and hook at least once through the tough skin, hiding your point in the fleshy white meat. When casting, use a side arm motion to skip your bait under the mangrove trees. If it's not in the shade, you're not in far enough and the catfish will get it. (As evidenced by the 3 cats Rolando landed).
After a 30 minute bait soak, we picked up and moved further up the creek, about 300 yards and around a bend, pinning down in a foot of water. I eyed a nice section of trees that formed a short cave like opening and really my chances there. A perfect pitch would garner a perfect strike from my red skinned scaled target. I used my Penn Fierce combo with a 5000 series reel to put the bait right where I wanted. I placed the rod in a holder on the poling platform and waited. 10 minutes later, the fight was on.
The rod bent over and the dragged let out a brief zip before I reached it. As I gave the first turn of the reel I saw the big Red kick his tail and try to turn back into the trees. I looked at Rolando and said, "this is what we came for!" A minute into it, I saw the big back and shoulders in the shallow saltwater and told my guest to get the net. Unfamiliar with its collapsible design, he struggled to open it and couldn't get the basket to fully open and lock. (Mental note: train guests how to open fancy expensive net before casting bait into fertile waters)
The big fish fought for his life to get back under cover and I recall finding this strange. Reds of the past in this spot have all run for open water. This guy was trying to use a snook-like technique to try and break me off in the mangrove roots. I resisted the urge to grab my spool with left hand...a mistake that costs me fish before. Instead, I gave a quick quarter turn of the drag to tighten up just slightly then I turned the rod away from him and steadily pulled back and reeled forth to regain line. This was the answer that got him away from his shelter and allowed me to gain the advantage. I go him near the boat and quickly worried he might be over the upper slot limit of 27". He was a big, strong fish. I allowed him to swim around for another minute while Rolando continued in vain the mess with the net, to no avail. I wasn't going to take a chance on trying to scoop this prize with a half a net and risk a break off. I spied my lipping tool in its holster on the side of the center console but decided this fight needed to end by hand. The fish came about one last time and took a half roll to his side, essentially tapping out of the fight. I stuck my thumb in his mouth and brought him aboard for a measurement.
Immediately we could hear his big drum heartbeat, as he lay exhausted on board. "That's a damn nice fish," Rolando exclaimed. I was just hoping he wasn't too big. I picked him up, estimating him at close 7 pounds, and gently laid him on the forward deck for the tale of the tape, both his and my heart rates regaining control. 26"....a legal harvest. My lucky day. A quick couple of photos for the blog and he was placed on ice for a comfortable ride home.
We stayed there and sought one for Rolando for about 30 more minutes but we were not to be doubled down this day. I wanted to show Rolando a 6' hole in the cutoff so we picked up and headed out of the creek. The hole priced a nice 18" speckled trout for Rolando, his best to date. At 4:34 the tide turned and we knew it was high time to get while the getting was good. With the tide chart reading 1.5' above mean low, we jumped on plane and sped out of the flats in a flash.
Here's a satellite image of the Myakka Cutoff. You can chose from mangrove islands in the middle or tidal creeks leading to saltwater lakes on the edges. Wherever your boat, kayak or canoe will take you. Just never attempt to go in there with an in-board. Even in my flats boat, I have run aground on many occasions. As you can see below, the island is surrounded by shallow sand bars and grass flats. The bottom can be very mucky, like quicksand when you step into it. As I stated, a 20' long push pole can be very handy in there...especially if you fish alone, as I often do.
This day we fished in depths ranging from 40 to 1 foot. We landed fish in every spot but what are the odds the fish of the day would come from the skinniest of water? That's what Southwest Florida fishing is all about.
A nice one pound fillet, seasoned with Everglades Seasoning, broiled in the toaster oven for ten minutes at 350, paired with a baked sweet potato, makes for an excellent meal after a long day of fishing.