Tis The Season To Remember on Sanibel May 21 2014, 0 Comments

What a memorable season of fishing and boating around Sanibel/Captiva, all of Pine Island Sound and the Gulf of Mexico. The winter and spring months’ activity has been very brisk, just like the winds most days. For those who make a living on the water, they say it’s been one of the goofiest seasons ever. Here are several examples:

With few exceptions most days have featured winds in the 15+ mph range with gusts up to 25 and coming from all directions. One day, it’s cranking out of the Northeast, the next it’s coming big time from the West and then it’s southerly. There were some days we’ve had three major wind shifts in a ten-hour period. I’m sure it’s all related to the weird weather that the rest of the country has experienced especially during the winter months.

The crabbers are crabby. It was one of the toughest seasons on record for those in the crab industry. I’ve watched some crabbers raising pot after pot only to find them empty. For those I asked how their day (or week, or year) was going, most of the responses would make a potty mouther sound tame. The season ended May 15, which I’m sure left many crabbers happy to take a break and start anew on October 15.

What’s with the baitfish? Normally, as the water temps rise, the smaller baitfish (white bait and/or pilchards) is prevalent just about everywhere, especially on the beaches in shallow water. Well, here it is the middle of May and they’re harder than Hades to find. Part of it relates to the big winds, the other part(s) no one knows for sure.

It’s been tough finding clear water. A lot of areas are what fishing guides call cement – a murky, milky mix of sediment and water. This usually is caused by wave action. When the clearer water can be found, the chances for hooking up more often have occurred.

I could keep going on the wacko stuff but won’t. Here’s what I do know. There are fish to be caught and other tours like shelling to be done. However, as a guide, having a game plan for the day is crucial and you've got to be ready to shift gears quickly. There are guides who will camp out in one or two areas over a prolonged period. That also saves on fuel. Me? If there is little or no bite happening within 15 minutes or so, we’re moving. And, if I’m doing a tour of the area, I’ve got my protected waters haunts so my guests can be comfortable while downing a favorite libation.

Of all the types of fish being caught, it has really been awesome to experience the rebound of Snook. These are one of the most sought after fish down here – one, for the magnificent fight they provide and two, for the delicious table fare they render. It has only been in the past year that Snook can be kept, and in a tight slot between 28” to 33”. (Because Snook are susceptible to cool water temps, many were lost during an abnormally cold winter about five years ago. As a result, a moratorium on keeping any was mandated for all of southwest Florida.) For those wondering what “a slot” actually means, one person can keep only one Snook caught per day that is not less than 28” in length and no more than 33”. Everything else that is caught must be released. That’s a tight slot, but it’s resulted in having a lot more them in the area, which is great. Also, the Snook season is only open from February 1 – April 30 and September 1 – November 30 each year.

Beyond Snook, and to coin an old phrase about lost relationships, there are still plenty of other fish in the sea. This winter and early spring we had some great flats and backwater days catching Spanish Mackerel, Sheepshead, Black Drum and Mangrove Snapper. The Redfish and trout bites were a little more sporadic and there seemed to be fewer keepers. As the winds die off and white bait becomes more prevalent, the action on these guys should increase heavily. And then, of course, there’s the Tarpon this time of year. In short, while some have been caught in Pine Island Sound, the A spots off the Gulf Beaches of Sanibel and Captiva have been basically inaccessible because of the big winds. Wave heights have made it tough to effectively maneuver and also, to spot these beauties. Even the birds feeding on baitfish (a good sign that Tarpon are in the area) are hard to find, because they too, are probably not interested in battling the elements for food. Again, as the breezes get back closer to normal, the tarpon action should increase dramatically.

On the days we have been able to get on the Gulf, or back in Sound for Tarpon fishing, one thing that has been off the charts and consistent is the shark bite. There seem to be an abundance of them in the area, especially Black Tips and Hammerheads. These guys are really fun to catch and some people also like to take a Black Tip for eating.  Most of the sharks caught have been in the 3’ – 4’ range.

Even though there have been head-scratching weather conditions, it’s been a terrific year on the Hey Mon. We’ve met a number of great people from the U.S. and Europe and shared lots of laughs. Here are a few memorable snippets from the many trips taken this winter and spring:

• Tommy, visiting from Minnesota, taking out his 90 year old dad who caught enough Spanish Mackerel so the Head Chef at the Life Care Center where he lives could prepare a fresh catch dinner for him and his five buddies.

• Wayne and life-long friends Terry, Ron and their better halves from South Dakota having about as much fun on the water as can be imagined. From what I understand, these three couples have partied hearty together on trips all over the globe. I laughed a lot with these guys – they need to learn to have more fun.

• Cruising with one of the Minnesota Twins’ pitchers and his lady friend and her mother during a late afternoon/early evening cruise. Not only did we get to gaze at a pod of dolphin at play, they had a scrumptious dinner at Grandma Dot’s and then watched a spectacular sunset over Pine Island Sound that was out of the park. By they way, one great thing we do for guests is rather than having to wait for over an hour for a table when eating at Grandma Dots during high season, we arrange to send someone over to put our name in. Then, when it’s close to our table being ready, we drop our guests at the dock; they walk in and are seated right away. That translates to being able to spend more time on the water rather than waiting in line.

• Steve and JD, great fly fisherman working their fly rods like magic into the mangroves. Also, switching Steve over to an open-faced spinning rod with a float, line and hook loaded up with a threadfin baitfish and watching a monster Snook slam his rig under a pier. Smash! Dash! Splash! And Gone! Whoa! It was so dramatic, we didn’t even care about losing the fish. 

• Cousins Eric, Chris and Doug getting the very first triple hook-up in the back country that I’ve ever seen. And I don’t mean fish. All simultaneously latched their lines with baited hooks into mangrove trees at the same time. Most guides tell their guests that if they aren’t occasionally hanging up in the trees once in a while when casting, they’re not far enough in to catch a big lunker fish. These guys did it in perfect unison which created some pretty good laughs and kept this Guide busy retying lines!



• Watching the intensity of Maximiilian and Julius, two young guys from Germany fishing along with their parents, Joerg and Katja. It’s always a hoot to see future lifetime anglers being born and hooked on the Hey Mon.


•In advance of Dad Bruce’s birthday, doing “just the guys” outing with sons Jeff, Greg and Brad. The light-blue and yellow toenail polish big, burly Brad was toting particularly dazzled me (that's him on the right in the group photo.)  Apparently, one of his kids painted them up while Dad was sleeping the night before. He was stylin!


Yep, almost all of the outings on the Hey Mon this season were all about spending family and/or friends’ time together. What a lucky Captain I was to be a part of all this and maybe add some sea spice to each experience.

It’s never too early to start planning to do some fun stuff on the water. Make Sanibel and Captiva a priority in the future. And then give me a shout. I can assure you, we’ll have a great time on the Hey Mon and we’re sure to laugh a lot. And isn’t that what it’s all about.

Yo, be good.