Sunday, October 11, 2015


Almost 7 weeks after reconstructive shoulder surgery I got back on the water.  My shipmate this day was Mark Maxwell, the Registered Nurse who'd provided my care while hospitalized overnight.  Our fast friendship was fueled by a mutual love of fishing.  Mark is from West Virginia and his wife is also an RN. They relocated to SWFL about a year ago. Mark is a seasoned Bass Angler but has never before fished in Saltwater. 

I'd planned on getting live shrimp to take along but when I went to change the batteries on my bait bucket, the air bubbler was corroded shut and back screw was stripped so I couldn't get it open. I've had such bad luck from those devices; one never lasting me a year. I got fed up and decided we weren't taking live shrimp.  I grabbed a bag of frozen shrimp and told Mark we'd catch our own live bait and try out these Berkely Gulp Shad soft plastics I had.  

We launched from my dock at 8 and headed South 172* for about 18 miles, running 30 knots in seas that ranged from glass to a light chop. At the Northeast corner of Pine Island, near Bokeelia, there are a series of really health grass flats that hold trout and pin fish.  The trout weren't there but the steroidal pin fish were.   Huge pins.  We used #6 bait hooks rigged under popping corks with 1" tips of frozen shrimp and caught a dozen pin fish, averaging about the size of my hand up to a couple of big boys that went 6".   

At one point, Mark's line started ripping off drag and he said, this is no pin fish.  I told him it was acting like shark and surmised it to be a Bonnet Head, knowing this flat.  Since he was bait fishing, he still had 10 pound line with that pinky nail sized #6 hook.  He fought the shark perfectly, letting her go on several long runs and each time working her back to boat until we could land her.  This became Mark's first real Saltwater catch (other than bait).

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The Bonnet Head is the best tasting of the inshore shark species. No special treatment needed except you must gut them and bleed them within 30 minutes of catch, then get them on ice. We'd had to bend the big girl backwards to fit her in my cooler.  And that tiny hook was kept as a trophy. 

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After filling the live well with pin fish, it was time to head to the west wall in search of Redfish. 
As I've said on here before, the west wall of Charlotte Harbor has many tidal creeks accessible by flats boats and kayaks.  On an incoming tide, it's hard to beat the action in any of these.  This day the tide was very strong, with some areas showing currents just ripping past the mangroves.  The tide was 2' above mean low and we were in 6' of water.  We approached under trolling motor only, selected an area that produced for me in August and pinned the boat down. 

Mark rigged up big with 30 pound test and a 4/0 hook with a large live pin fish.  He expertly cast it toward the mangrove, dropping it just before the foliage.  Within 5 seconds he felt the bait get wolfed down by Bull Red.  The drag was screaming up stream and just like that, snapped the 30 pound braid above his leader. The look on Mark's face was like I'd just told a 7 year old there's no such thing as Santa.  The next case was even more frustrating for him. 

He re-rigged and selected another oversized live bait and cast toward the same hole in the mangroves.  Once again, very quickly, Fish On!  This fight last longer, with Mark having loosened his drag a bit and patiently allowing the Big Red to go on some long runs before bringing him back toward us. When he'd gotten him about 20' from the boat he uttered those famous words..."Get the net."  At 10' away the fish surface and looked right at us. His face was huge, the grimace seeming to say he'd been in this situation many times before. His body was the kind men dream of the night before a big fishing trip.  It seemed like slow motion to us when 'Ol Red turned his head right and snapped it back left, spitting the hook and torn up, formerly live bait 5' away.  He slowly turned and swam back from where'd come. 

Twice more Mark would practice the kind of catch and release no angler wants.  Cast, catch, fight, see that beautiful Redfish glow and watch the fish release itself.  The advice I offered was that perhaps those big J hooks he was using should be switched out for circle hooks, which are designed to catch right in the corner of the mouth.  Additionally, he was rigged from braid to swivel to wire leader.  I prefer to rig braid direct to florocarbon leader with no swivels and either 2/0 circle hooks or these days I'm loving the Rockport Rattler Jig.

I chose to cut up the dead pin fish into big chunks and rig my Rockport.  Mark gave up the honey hole to let me try where all four of his hook ups had come.  I soaked a nice center cut pinfish steak for about 10 minutes before seeing the line slowly begin heading upstream.  There was no huge strike but when the line came tight, the drag ripped off the 20 pound braid with that unmistakable Redfish run.  I took worked him slowly, wearing him down, letting him run in the middle of the creek to his heart's content. Only when he would head for the trees, would I get aggressive in the fight.  I could tell he was hooked really good and wasn't going anywhere fast, so long as I didn't overplay my knots.   I didn't think about my surgically repaired shoulder once during the action.  When Mark netted him, the end result was a nice fat,mid-slot, Redfish measuring 24.5".  Hoping we could do better, I released my live well, telling him to patiently swim around in there for a while.  If we can catch bigger crooks, the Governor would grant him a reprieve and he would be pardoned for his crime.  But it wasn't to be. 

We gave it another couple hours in that creek, changing positions many times but the only new catch was a huge Sailcat Mark landed and released.  Storm clouds were gathering and it was after 4. 

We headed Northeast, crossing the West Wall Sandbar in 2' of water.  The seas were angry now, 2-3 footers, with 15-20 MPH winds and pelting rain. It didn't matter that we were soaked to the bone. We'd had a terrific outting and I was back in the game.  When we got to the canals we paused to take a shot of my keeper.  Later that night, I invited my red scaled friend to dinner. 

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