Saturday, December 31, 2005

Reality Check for the Traveling Flats Fisherman

As flats fishing has exploded into a global fishery, there's many exciting species sight-cast, caught, and released in knee- deep water. The first wave of exploring anglers may find habitat and fisheries in far-flung places that are incredible because of their remoteness- a relative term. Yet, horror stories of problems, crises, and actual harm to anglers are not infrequent because the destinations, guides, owners, supplies, and local governments are shaky, inexperienced, on a shoestring budget, and poorly equipped.

Before you settle on a destination, check out your guide, their availability, and their skiffs by asking or getting written verifiable responses. Unless you're working flats within sight of your lodge and with fully given float/fish plans TO THE ONSITE LODGE PERSON, you absolutely should have cellphone and VHF radio backup. Try to visualize running twenty miles in a 16 foot tiller handle skiff and your engine dies..your youthful guide looks up at you with a quizzical, good-natured smile. What's your next step? Wait for another boat? When will that be? These and similar kinds of incidents have happened more than a few times off Andros, the Amazon Basin, and the Carib side of Mexico, according to reports I've seen. This has nothing to do with those countries, but it does with the people that run those camps, as well as poorly-trained, poorly- equipped flats fishing guides. Some intrepid souls treat these situations as adventure and inevitable manifestations of new, unfolding areas. I am grateful for this, as these problems should have been rectified by the time it becomes a possibility for me.

I want my safety concerns addressed right away, so I can stow them and enjoy the flats fishing experience. I insist that the guide, skiff, and the lodge has what it takes or else I do not recommend them. I also respond to the inquiries of other anglers why I never bothered with certain destinations. I always involve the camp owners, guides, and outfitters with any problem, so they can respond and correct it, as well as to see if they simply care. The most important thing for the globe-trotting flats angler is to do their homework or have it done for them by a good outfitter who have these destinations as part of their inventory. Be sure to check out the outfitter as well- generally the well-established outfitters have done site inspections and create a de facto quality control for the lodges. Again, this does not guarantee a safe happy trip, but it helps!


Friday, December 30, 2005

Relativity and Theorizing on Bones and Tarpon

Quick note: Happy non-traveling fish are "there" because the habitat fits them and there's food- not much different than you and I. Yet within a given species, their habitat OF THE TIME MAKES GENERALIZATIONS RISKY. Sure, some Keys guides say " no current, no bones." That would be fine, but precede it with "right here." In the Marls of Abaco, there's little current and poling and access is determined on the wind's effect on water levels. That's a nursery area and the bones love to eat and grow in those still waters and food-rich bottom. Ditto, the salinas of Bonaire.

Others doing pass, cut, or basin fishing for tarpon can watch them roll enticingly without a strike and then a "bite" begins. Scoot down to the lagunas from Merida to Campeche and those unpressured tarpon grab almost every fly or lure tossed at them. Same species, but different habitats and circumstances-adopt a relativistic attitude: you'll be more on the mark!


Thursday, December 29, 2005

As Posted on the Internet

As Posted by South Florida Sport Fishing Magazine

Tips and Tales

Braving the Ferocious Barracuda
By Jan S. Maizler

More and more inshore anglers are learning to appreciate one of the most powerful and ferocious shallow water predators on the face of the earth — THE BARRACUDA!

Anglers usually pursue inshore barracuda strictly as a default species. This needs to change. South Florida offers a vibrant and viable barracuda fishery that stands on it’s own. Fish ranging from four to forty pounds stand ready to do battle and will test your tackle to its absolute limits.One guide who is at the forefront of this untapped fishery is Captain Jon Cooper of Still Waters Charters. A full time south Florida flats fishing guide and certified fly casting instructor, Jon takes fishing charters from Fort Lauderdale to the Keys including the beautiful flats of Biscayne Bay in Biscayne National Park. Jon is an ace inshore and flats specialist who targets ‘cuda year- round. The variety of tackle and techniques he uses, produces trophy sized fish that turn his customers into ecstatic ‘cuda fanatics!Let’s take a closer look at this fishery. There’s basically two variations of ‘cudaNfishing in the shallows. First are theNoutside sand flats from Biscayne Bay to Key West where anglers are usually seen pursuing bonefish, tarpon and permit. The other angle is hitting the inland bay environments, which are home to deeper grass flats and large numbers of these mean looking fish. In both areas, barracuda are the most abundant year-round inshore flats species and can remain in the shallows during the colder months when other shallow water species are long gone.Barracuda, similar to many other game fish, lose their high ranked fighting qualities when caught unintentionally on heavy tackle. Make no mistake, pound for pound this toothy critter is right up there. A beefy 20 pounder on a silky smooth 8 lb. spinning outfit while in 2 feet of water is an experience you will not soon forget. They fight like crazy and with their huge, powerful tail can fly through the air so high up, you wouldn’t believe unless you saw it for yourself.Targeting ‘cuda‚ with light tackle in sometimes just inches of water , is as distinctive and exciting as sport fishing can get. You can often sight-cast to the individual fish, and watch throughout the entire pursuit, strike, fight and release. If that doesn’t get you pumped, than what will? Once hooked up, shallow water ‘cuda become adrenaline-filled rocket ships. They make long surface runs, which climax in arching leaps and often go higher and stay aloft longer than the supposedly more glamorous tarpon.Barracuda are the most predatory of all shallow water fish, as well as being one of the most curious. These characteristics are essential to remember in establishing a game plan prior to getting out on the water. ‘Cuda are frequently spotted motionless, laying low and waiting for an unsuspecting baitfish to get caught off guard. As predators, ‘cuda have the added ability to change colors based on the bottom which they are hovering over. This chameleon like trait has helped smaller fish avoid death by predatory birds from above and now as larger fish, they use this tactic to camouflage themselves from the prey that they are about to eat. Off the line, big barracuda are also the fastest shallow water fish, due to the broad size of their tail. They were given this ability by nature, because of the necessity to frequently pounce on prey from a motionless stance.Another important characteristic to take into consideration as a stalk and charge predator, the things that raise a ‘cuda’s eyebrows are distress signals.

‘Cuda equate splashes and movement on the water’s surface with senses of the perfect opportune meal — which of course is a struggling baitfish. You should always remember, regardless if the offering is a plug, strip bait or tube lure, the appearance of injury and distress spells F-O-O-D. Although some lures are jerked‚ (plugs), chugged (popping plugs), or rapidly retrieved (tube lures), all these simulate distress, and are key to eliciting a hard strike. Keep in mind that ‘cudas are capable of running down even the fastest of baitfish, so keep your lure moving. Ideal tackle for inshore ‘cuda success includes spin and plug outfits ranging from 6 to 12 pound class. It has not been my experience that fly tackle is as effective although some anglers who are masters of the art, do score consistently on trophy size ‘cuda. Spinning reels with fast retrieves and super smooth drags matched with graphite rods, are a good choice. I also prefer monofilament lines, which feature moderate stretch, high impact resistance and definitely high abrasion resistance. Terminal tackle is quite simple. A 6 inch trace of coffee-colored #5 wire as a leader is sufficient. If the water is clear and calm, and the barracuda are small fish of less than ten pounds, you might want to scale it down a bit. A small barrel swivel between the wire and main line will finish things off and also prevent line twists. Flats ‘cuda will take a wide variety of lures and baits. It would be beneficial to have choices ranging from live baits for reluctant fish, to a variety of artificials for use on more active fish that are in an aggressive striking mood.

Let’s focus on natural baits for a moment, both live and dead. We all know there is no surer way to connect with the “cheetah” of the flats than to flip a frisky live bait in front of his nose. The type of live bait is often determined by the size fish you are after and the usual forage in the area you’re fishing. Some live baits have universal appeal as a productive “pitch” bait regardless of location, such as mullet and herring, ‘cuda will pounce on these just about anywhere, anytime. Captain Jon Cooper targets trophy ‘cuda by enticingly slow trolling a medium size live mullet through the structure-oriented areas that he knows harbour whoppers. His baits are fished way back and trolled along rock piles, channel markers, channel edges, sandy runs, jetties and docks that ‘cuda use as ambush points. “I have found that on the outside sandflats, ‘cuda will grab a pilchard, small blue runner or even a big live shrimp. Although, on the inside grass flats of Biscayne Bay, It’s hard to beat a fresh 5 inch mullet strip” says Cooper. Fresh dead bait can be equally as effective and on occasion can also rid you of the time consuming live bait cat & mouse game. The most effective way to fish a mullet strip is to simply hook one end about an inch down with a ;’,,,12/0/0 hook and light wire leader. Cast the bait in front of any sighted ‘cuda and let the bait settle through the water column. Hope the fish nails it on its undulating drop and if it doesn’t, take another cast. After the strip settles down to the fish’s level, slowly twitch the strip. If the fish only tracks and follows the strip, speed up your retrieve a little. ‘Cuda will often seize the mullet strip crosswise in their ferocious jaws. I always give them a tiny bit more time to turn away before striking back. A second option with fresh strips is to blind cast at likely looking structure. Potholes, dock pilings, sandy strips, and channel markers are all common hideouts and will all hold fish. For artificials, the most potent lures resemble distressed needlefish and finger mullet. Tube lures, which are extremely popular can be used anywhere inshore and come in a variety of colors. Cuda will hit them with explosive strikes while the lure is skidded across the surface or jigged just below the surface. The tube lures squiggly action, evidently, is too good to turn away. It is amazing how easily the lure can be mistaken for a live needlefish. Top water plugs also work wonders on both sand and grassflats with ‘cudas of all sizes. Work the plug with an erratic retrieve emulating an injured baitfish struggling on the surface, something all ‘cuda find irresistible.Regarding specific habits, ‘cuda tend to cluster in groups. They are not a true schooling fish in the sense that the group acts with the coordinated predatory behavior that jack crevalles do. They are found in groups because they are individually drawn to the same areas that provide feeding opportunities — like rockpiles, pilings, drop-offs and other ambush points. You will also learn that certain inshore flats and channels hold more ‘cuda than others for reasons that we cannot visually determine. Keep a written log and remember these spots.Some anglers eat inside grassflats ‘cuda, while avoiding fish that are larger and frequenting the ocean side. This is an individual choice, but the risk of ciguatera is great enough to really encourage anglers to release these toothy gladiators back to their watery world. Barracuda are definitely worth more as a hard fighting high flying game fish than on the dinner table.

DID YOU KNOW.......Ciguatera — also known as ‘Fish Poisoning’ is a form of food poisoning caused by the consumption of subtropical and tropical marine finfish which have accumulated naturally occurring toxins through their diet. The toxins are known to originate from several dinoflagellate (algae) species that are common to ciguatera endemic regions in the lower latitudes. One marine finfish most commonly implicated in ciguatera fish poisoning is the barracuda. The occurrence of toxic fish is sporadic, and not all fish of a given species or from a given locality will be toxic.source:

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

As Posted on the Internet

Abaco Bones


As I was wading in crystal-clear water about six inches deep, my guide Ricardo Burrows, suddenly whispered, “stop” and pointed to a disturbance on the flat about a hundred yards down tide. “Be still and quiet, they’re coming our way.” By the time “they” got within a hundred feet of us, I beheld something I’d never seen before: a school of tailing bonefish so immense they could have covered an entire tennis court. The multitude of flashing tails simply mesmerized me. I could literally feel my heart pounding out of my chest with excitement.Ricardo coached me. “Make your presentation well in front of the pack and when they close in start your retrieve with gentle bumps”. I did just that — and the hookup was instantaneous. The silvery tennis court exploded into a white froth as hundreds of bonefish spooked in all directions. After a crisp, yet exciting battle, we released a healthy five lb. bone back into the shallow water to resume his cautious, grazing life.

This was typical Abacos bonefishing. From Key Biscayne to Key West, south Florida flats anglers are accustomed to pursuing Florida’s gray ghost by poling after them in specially designed shallow draft skiffs. Florida bonefish are often seen mudding, cruising and tailing and usually run in size from 4 to 14 lbs. Targeting bones in the Bahamas is slightly different in a number of ways and Florida anglers should be aware of what to expect when heading over. I happen to have been fishing off Sandy Point in Abaco Island, which is fairly typical of Bahamas bonefishing on the “outside flats”.

Here are a few pointers that will hopefully help you in your pursuit of Bahamas bonefish.Pointers for Bahamas BonefishGenerally, Bahamian bones range in size from 2 - 5 lbs., although there are larger fish present on the islands that front oceanic depths. As a rule, plan to scale down your tackle, and go a bit lighter here. 6 lb. spinning outfits, and six-weight fly rods will provide excellent battles and more enjoyment with these abundant smaller fish.The size of bonefish schools here can range into the hundreds of fish, something south Florida anglers don’t commonly see. These huge schools are often encountered tailing or mudding during lower tidal stages. If you catch the right season, you might find bonefish spawning on the surface in the thousands! In Abaco, the guides call this “dancing”. In Eleuthera, they call it “bibbling.” Whatever name it’s called, these massive groups of bonefish provide new meaning to the word “action”.Bahamas bonefish will head deep into any available mangrove “forests” to feed during the rising tide. Therefore, a falling tide is often better in these kinds of areas, as the fish will be coming heading back out of the roots to continue their search for crustaceans. It’s common to see mudding schools of bonefish working the deeper drop-offs adjacent to the flats and inevitably, these fish will be accompanied by marauding blacktip sharks.What makes Bahamian bonefish muds so different than typical keys muds, is their size, which can often cover an entire acre. Although you may not see individual fish to cast to, fish these muds for a while and you will probably be surprised with some quick, delightful action.

Any kind of light tackle setup will work quite well here.The ultra shallow flats in the Bahamas can run for immense distances, unlike the typical sloping flats of the Keys. This means you can often leave your boat anchored on the edge and wade the sandy shallows for miles. Wading the flats for bonefish is extrememly common in the Bahamas. Although, if you do plan on leaving your boat for long periods of time, remember to take your water bottle. There is an abundance of bonus fish on the Bahamian flats as well. If you like, you can rig up a short wire trace and cast to countless barracuda and sharks as the tide rises on the outside flats. You may also get a shot at a permit during the higher tidal phases or along the channel edges.

The day before my charter with Ricardo Burrows, I waded out to the channel in front of Rickmon’s Lodge to play for a while. With my 12 lb. plug rod and a 1/2 oz. white bucktail, my second presentation was smashed in the channel depths. After a fifteen minute see-saw fight, I bested a 12 lb. mutton snapper. This gave the lodge cook, Mari, great delight!

Planning a trip to the Bahamas FlatsGenerally, it’s better to use an outfitter or travel agent to book your trip. Remember, they obligate themselves to your trip, and are extremely concerned about your having a great experience. Firms like Angling Destinations (Scott or Brad at 1-800-211-8530 ) specialize in representing your interests with the myriad numbers of Bahama bonefish clubs. They choose to deal with only the lodges that show the best performance, like Rickmons Lodge in Sandy Point.Plan on bringing ALL the possible tackle you’ll need (rods, reels, line, lures, etc.). Bahamas bonefish lodges and/or individual guides generally carry little, if any tackle. If flying, back up your tackle with your carry-on luggage, in case your rod tubes or other luggage is lost or damaged in transit. Better safe than sorry should be your watchwords.Bring everything you can imagine you might need. Photo documented ID’s like drivers license and passport are the optimal rule. Think about taking all your necessary medications, including first aid items. Be sure to include these in your carry-on if flying.Be flexible. Life in the Bahamas moves at a more relaxed pace, and Bahamians live their life this way. Sometimes your flight inquiry might be met with a smiling shrug, surely not the American way! However, you are encountering a way of life where things do get done satisfactorily, maybe not at your accustomed pace, but perhaps at a healthier, wiser one.As the sun set on an excellent day of bonefishing, Ricardo and I waded back to his skiff. As I turned backwards to sit up on his gunnel, I noticed a bonefish tail pop up fifty feet away. It slowly waved back and forth, beckoning, as if to say, “try to get me tomorrow — I’ll be waiting.

”Flies for Bonefish-Clouser Minnow #4, #6, in tan-white, chartreuse-white-Crazy Charlie #4, #6 in tan, white or pink-Mini-Puff #4, #6 in pink, orange or tan-Bonefish Special #4, #6-Gotcha #4, #6-Blind Gotcha #4, #6Flies for Permit-Del’s Merkin Crab #1, #2-The McCrab #1, #2Artificial LuresPhillips Wiggle Jigs (in tan, white or pink)Size 1/0 hooksGreen tube lures for barracuda5-inch Yozuri or Rapala plugs for barracuda1/4 to 1/2 oz. white and mylar bucktailsOther Important Fishing GearPolarized sunglasses with side shields in amber or brownLeatherman tool/knifeLine nipperHemostat/pliersChest pack/ Fanny pack with water bottleHook fileLine cleaner/dressingReel LubeBic LighterSpinning gear — 7-8 foot rod with 6 or 8 lb. lineBonefish flyrod — 9-10 foot rod; 8-wt. linePermit flyrod — 9-10 foot rod; 9-wt. line

Hot Locations aroundSandy Point, AbacoThe flats around Sandy Point abound with bonefish. If you follow the road to Rickmons Lodge, you can see a large sandbar exposed to your right as you gaze northward. On either side of the low tide, the bonefish that gather here only a hundred yards from the lodge, can number in the hundreds. As the tide gets higher, focus on the island 100 yards northeast of the sandbar, as the bonefish feed right into the black mangroves, along with loads of blacktip sharks. An excellent foul-weather hotspot is the mangroves past the boatyard to the right of the lodge. Here the bonefish spill out of the mangroves as the tide drops. Good luck, and have a great trip.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Urban Anglers:Per Chance, to Fish!

Malls are mauled by millions, urged on by minions of mercantile minds with manufactured mirth that drugs out leveraged pocketbooks owned by minds that really believe that family closeness only congeals with bought expressions called gifts. The police were actually called out into the street to direct the vehicular chaos swarming around and into the mall of North Dade County, all of them- the "shoppers"- obviously oblivious to the loss of "one-stop" shopping time savings grotesquely offset by the hours of searching, then fighting for a place to park, and the swarms around the goods and cash registers. The last time the Men in Blue were on the roads was for Wilma. They were there to maintain order-is this a holiday? Remember the word root- holy day.

With all this swirl about, pensive anglers search out solitude and avoid marinas glutted by first-time boaters that jack-knife their trailers into other rigs with unpracticed launches. A cold front eases into South Florida through foggy skies on a southwest wind. Early mornings and sunset beckon when the crowds thin and the fish take a peek and peck a minnow meal in backbay canals. This is the time to take a breath, be alone, center yourself, and pare down your tackle in the cooled- down, boat-beaten waters of Urbania. Slower retrieves, lighter longer leaders, smaller lure and flies more match the mood of our fish. The mainland inshore Florida angler has this task at hand, one that is spared the offshore sporties now harvesting sailfish driven nuts by baitfish buffets amidst bright blue front-tossed waves.

So, that's it here in "dynamic" South Florida, but there's also dreams of distant shores where a "car" is a rarity, there are no malls, where you know your neighbor, you understand each other, where the repugnant backwindow gangsta decals don't exist nor do their foul boom-boxing lowriders-places where there's maybe just one road that leads through trees after trees after trees until it ends on a quiet beachfront where it's you, and you alone..maybe an occasional figure smiling a year-round smile undisfigured by pressured life eases by, picking up a shell here and there. A hookup now is less the goal, when your efforts reassert and capture moments of purity and pensiveness that reveal something true anglers already know... that fishing has nothing whatsoever to do with fish.


Saturday, December 24, 2005

Posted Destination Feature-Key Island Estate

A Key to Paradise

As Jim Kanzler snaked his shallow water skiff through the mangroves to the Isles of Capri where my car waited, the images of the action, the Estate, and the surroundings stayed strong and colorful in my mind. That was a good sign, because it signaled that my experience would become a cherished memory.Although I caught countless numbers of ladyfish, jack crevalles, and jumbo mangrove snappers, it was the snook that finned out in the front stages of my mind. I couldn’t possibly remember each and every one of the countless strikes and pulled hooks I had with the line sided bad boys. However, I did succeed in keeping a catch & release tally, which numbered thirty-six fish to twenty pounds! As I said, an incredible two days of snook fishing.

Key Island Estate is the brilliant idea of owners Stacey and Jim Kanzler. They have opened up their beautiful yet secluded Key Island home to groups yearning for an eco-island experience. This fortunately includes groups of anglers, as well as their non-angling friends and family. The fishery at Key Island Estate is absolutely a round-the-clock opportunity, and consists of three types of habitats and techniques.Because Key Island Estate lies on basically uninhabited Key Island you have about eight miles of pristine Gulf of Mexico surf all to yourself. In the calm summer weather, you’ll find countless numbers of snook swimming parallel to the beach only a few feet from the water’s edge. You will be most effective if you pretend that you are casting to spooky bonefish, because that’s exactly how these snook behave.In early morning’s sunrise, and in full daylight, casting to these snook is a total sight-fishing experience. It’s best if you stay low and well back on the beach, so these keen eyed fish do not see your silhouette or movement. Cast your small bucktail or fly well in front of the cruising snook: when the fish is about a yard away, retrieve it in the darting motions of the ever-present minnow schools.The low light times of early dawn and late dusk present different conditions and opportunities for casting the Gulf beaches. It will be harder for you to see the fish, and conversely, for them to see you. You’ll be casting to the boiling strikes in the minnow schools or just plain blind casting. Either way, in the muted light you’ll find that the snook strike more aggressively.Another bonus of fishing at these times is that large schools of jack crevalles invade the surf’s edge to feed on the same vast minnow schools. These predators create large areas of frothy action as they feed almost right onto the beach: you certainly won’t miss them! Try slowing down your retrieve through the melee, and you may even hook up with one of the fat mangrove snapper that lie in wait on the beach bottom for the silvery falling food.The beaches of Key Island Estate can therefore offer you — as it did for me — opportunities where you can cast to individual cruising fish or car-sized patches of crashing jacks, ladyfish, snapper and mackerel. Tough work, but I guess someone’s got to do it!

The beauty of this destination is that while it is in close proximity to the beautiful cities of Marco Island (to the south) and Naples (to the north), it lies in the heart of Rookery Bay Sanctuary. As a visiting angler to Key Island Estate, to you this means mangroves and lots of them and of course along with the mangroves come the big three that live there: snook, redfish, and tarpon.The mangrove fishery at this destination is done by guided skiffs. The habitat that will be covered is huge: anywhere from Rookery Bay all the way down to the Ten Thousand Islands. Light tackle fishing in mangrove country is largely a daytime proposition. It is also more of a year-round enterprise because of the shelter from harsh weather that the mangroves provide.Mangrove fishing is a target-casting undertaking, and the targets generally involve key points of structure and dark pockets right hidden under the mangrove shadows. This is a fishery where flies and artificial lures are a true delight, as an accurate cast to any likely-looking spot could mean a hookup with any of the aforementioned species.On occasion, guides will net a live-well full of pilchards to utilize as hors d’ oeuvres. They do this by tossing a handful of stunned “livies” into the mangrove roots. The resulting pops will be a pretty sure sign that yourfuture snook or redfish is turning on, and has a date with destiny on the end of your line. When the lure fishing slows down a bit, sometimes the guide will bait up a spinner with one of the live baits for you. Despite the tackle I might be using, I always graciously accept this offer since I know a strike is pretty much on its way. In making arrangements to visit this destination, owners Jim and Stacey Kanzler were eager to point out, “there are a lot of snook around the docks at night”, but I was no where near prepared for what lay in store for me.

The idea of snook aplenty haunted me on my drive from Miami to the Isles of Capri, which is just north of Marco Island. Upon my arrival, a huge thunderstorm was moving westward over the area. It glared down hard in its grayish black rolling fullness. Occasionally, it would throw down a startling lightning bolt right into the bay just a few miles upwind of me. As I finally approached the parking area, a figure suddenly appeared at my side. It was Randy, one of the crew members from Key Island Estate. He graciously greeted me, looked upward with a big smile and said, “we can probably make it if we quickly transfer your things.” We quickly made a rapid transfer of rods and baggage into the skiff and he fired up the engine. He looked at the sky again, and asked me which way I’d prefer the ride to the Island: the fastest or the more scenic, where we might get in a cast or two. I could swear I heard the tip of my graphite plug rod humming, so I quickly chose the former.In less than fifteen minutes, we were docking at the front door of the estate, a magnificent three story home finished in wood and majestic in scope. That was when the skies opened up. We’d arrived not a minute too soon. Despite the ensuing downpour, images of snook among the dock pilings swam circles in my mind.

After introductions, a tour, and a marvelous meal cooked by the Kanzlers’, I noticed it was quite dark outside: Fortunately not the bad, storm-darkness, but the sweet darkness of nightfall. Jim’s offer to grab some tackle and investigate their now well-lit dock was like the first kiss with a girl you had a crush on. As we walked down the outside stairs, the after-rain freshness of the vegetation enveloped us, accompanied by the music of a million crickets on this secluded magic island. Far off in the Gulf, a flash of lightning briefly lit our path to the docks.It seemed far too long before our feet touched the dock’s first plank. Jim stopped our stride with an outstretched arm, and then pointed to an area under the dock lights. By the time he said, “look”, I’d already spotted one of the most magnificent sights I have ever seen. There were probably a hundred snook feeding into the current, hitting anything that vaguely resembled food. As I eased forward towards them, the aggressiveness of their popping strikes filled me with anticipation.It was a good thing I’d brought two fully-rigged plug outfits, because my level of agitation precluded the fine finger movements of tackle rigging. I trusted that my lures, a SPRO white bucktail and a D.O.A. small, silver-sided Terroreyz would do their job. At the most, all I could do was walk quickly to the up-tide side of the dock, and make a simple cast over the horde of fish. The strike was immediate, and a healthy snook of about ten pounds thrashed up out of the water. It tail walked over part of the school, temporarily scattering them. I used maximum pressure with my twelve pound line, and had my first fish caught & released within 60 seconds.I gave the school time to settle down and pull together. I picked up the other plug rod and cast a bit farther away on the outskirts of the light. Two slow pulls were quickly followed by a vicious strike. I struck back to get a good hook set, and an even larger snook of about fifteen pounds came thrashing to the surface. My tactic of maximum pressure and “quick-stroke” rod pumps bested the fish in about the same time. I also learned that if I “rested” the school for a half hour, almost every cast would get an instant strike.Another nightly thrill you can almost count on when fishing the docks of the Estate are the large tarpon feeding in the middle of the channel. Any and every passing mullet school literally gets “crashed” by these silvery giants with huge explosions. It sounds like a compact car dropping from a high diving board into the inky waters of the night.As the sun came up the following morning and the “dock snook” dropped off into the center of the channel, all I could think of was running across the Estate to fish for the bonefish style snook in the surf. And so, the fishing and the catching went on and on ....

Any discussion of Key Island Estate would be incomplete without mention of the facilities many features and amenities. The house itself is built with wood and glass and the interior is topped off with the finest Caribbean art. Two uniquely cozy air conditioned “bed and bath” satellite buildings are attached by walkway spokes at opposite ends of the structure.Amenities inside include hammocks, viewing benches for sunsets, outside sun decks, a classic pool table, and a crisp ping-pong table. To top off your excellent meals, you’ll be eating either at the large tiled kitchen bar or at one of the spacious dining tables. Another corner of the central living space boasts an entertainment center with an oversized satellite television.It is important to repeat that the Estate is on secluded acreage between two pristine bodies of water. Bird life abounds: gulls, gannets, ospreys, and pelicans are numerous visitors and residents at the Estate. Jim Kanzler has also seen wild boars, bobcats, lizards, deer and tortoises on the property. Of course, Key Island also features the unforgettable summer nights of watching turtles come ashore to lay their eggs.

The best way to understand the Key Island Estate experience is through its owners, Jimmy and Stacey Kanzler. As a couple and as parents of two children, they exude incredible friendliness, a sense of service, and generosity of spirit.During the span of a marriage that started in their teens, each partner has achieved considerable success. Jimmy got his first dump truck at the age of 15 and now runs a large construction and earth-moving company. Stacey is the inventor of a sand bagging machine that is used world-wide to save lives and property in the event of floods.Jimmy feels that owning Key Island Estate makes him “the luckiest man in the world”. He also feels that the Estate is a place to get away from his busy schedule. In contrast, Stacey sees the estate as a “connection to her soul”. Stacey is the heart of Key Island Estate, and is the steward of a home that is one of the most beautiful lodges around. She feels the lodge can handle up to 14 guests at a time quite nicely. She is also proud that the Estate is exquisitely sandwiched by the Gulf of Mexico on one side and lush mangrove back country channel on the other. To sum it all up, Key Island Estate is truly heaven on earth!If you go...

Getting ThereAccess to the island is by boat only. Water taxi service for guests of Key Island Estate is by appointment. The closest airport is Naples, Florida, with charter jet capabilities. The primary airport is Southwest Florida International Airport, approximately 45 minutes north in Fort Myers. Go south on I-75, take Exit 101 (Marco Island, CR 951), just north of the Alligator Alley tollbooth. Go south on 951 for about 7 miles, crossing U.S. 41, and continue another 6 miles to Isles of Capri Road. Turn right, go three miles to Pelican Bend Marina. Fishing Guides and suppliesFor offshore fishing, J.R. Rosetti can take up to six fishermen aboard KA-DE 11. Call 239-250-2928. For backwater fishing, contact Jeff Smith, 239-289-2728. Others available on request. Some fishing equipment is available on site. Bait, lures and other supplies are available at Pelican Bend Marina or by advance arrangement. Other AdventuresKey Island Estate provides a list of local boat rentals, eco-tours, canoeing, kayaking, parasailing and other watersport services, which can be booked in advance or upon arrival. Chef ServicesKey Island Estate’s own private chef, Reinhard Jacob, is available for full-time or individual meal catering. Advance arrangements can be made at the time of reservation or direct with Jamie & Jacob Catering, 239-246-8967. Guests may bring their own grocery supplies or provide an advance shopping list so the pantry and refrigerators will be stocked upon arrival. Chef and shopping services are priced separately. Inquiries and ReservationsCall 800-770-SAND or visit

Posted Destination Feature- Sanibel island

Tips and Tales
Follow the West Wind
Sun-drenched days, tropical breezes, incomparable Gulf sunsets and non-stop drag screaming action, all in an unforgettable, beautiful setting!The Gulf surf behind the West Wind Inn was a sight to behold. Backlit by a yellow and orange sunset, countless schools of shimmering glass minnows worked their way along Sanibel’s pristine beach. Every few seconds, their rain shower sounds were shattered by the suction cup strikes of hungry snook that seemed to be everywhere! All this action was literally occurring in knee-deep water right at our feet! My fishing partner, Jim Porter, smirked as a lurking snook nearly collided with his leg. Off to my right, another snook went airborne after a mouthful of silvery bait.My only dilemma in the darkening kaleidoscope was simply where to cast. A throw parallel to the beach might score one of the remaining snook that still had an appetite, but the odds favored casting to the hundreds of exploding jacks, ladyfish and sea trout a mere forty feet from shore. I’d chosen my fishing tackle based on prior experiences fishing these fantastic waters. In the snag-free conditions of the open surf, the ultra-light six pound spinning outfit was ideal. My terminal gear consisted of a short double line to a thirty pound fluorocarbon leader, topped off with a quarter ounce white Spro bucktail jig.It was simple: one quick flick into the thrashing melee and a hookup was immediate. On some of my casts, I would jump a ladyfish, only to have the bait grabbed by a nearby jack or trout just seconds later. Jim and I fished this frenzy until the painted sky darkened and we could no longer see our rod tips. It’s important to note that in order to protect egg-laying turtles and their hatchlings, darkness is a legal mandate along many Gulf coast beaches. It was now pitch black as Jim and I made our way back over the sand dunes to the Inn. The day had come full circle, since earlier that day with rods in hand we had walked to the beach to greet the dawn. On only his second cast that morning, Jim hooked, landed, photographed and released a beautiful snook in the high teens. The great thing was that this first day of our short trip was only a prelude to the upcoming full day on the water fishing with native Sanibel guide, Captain Mike Smith. The West Wind Inn makes Mike their first choice when they want a day of action for their guests.It’s rare for a family resort destination to not only offer first class fishing right at its back door, but also provide shelling, beach walks, swimming, biking, as well as proximity to some of Florida’s finest restaurants, art galleries, and wildlife preserves. You simply could not find this incredible mix in Key West, Cancun, Freeport, Cozumel, or even San Juan. Sanibel and Captiva Islands stand alone in offering this unique blend of amenities for a resort destination, and the West Wind Inn is in the epicenter of it all on Sanibel’s West Gulf Drive. The West Wind Inn had it all: a large pool with adjoining bar for snacks and drinks, a great restaurant, rental bikes, beach lounges, spectacular gardens, and an excellent variety of accommodations. The first time I visited the West Wind Inn, I knew I was in for something special as they handed me a shell guide and collection bag upon my arrival!

BEGINNING THE SECOND DAY-It was a brief but highly effective dawn beach patrol that resulted in a few snook and sea trout. The warmth of the rising sun at our backs reminded us that we had to leave the Inn at 7:15 sharp to meet Captain Mike at the Punta Rassa boat ramp just beyond the Sanibel Causeway toll booth. As we drove up, we saw Captain Mike’s 21’ Lake and Bay skiff right away: it appeared to be gleaming in anticipation as it lay alongside the dock. As we climbed aboard, I inquired about his live bait forays in the predawn hours. Mike smiled as he opened two huge livewells: both were chock full of threadfin herring and pilchards, or whitebait as they refer to them locally.As we settled aboard and stowed our gear, Mike laid out his game plans for the day. Plan #1 would be to run 100 to 200 yards off the Gulf beaches in search of feeding fish. Mike said recent reports indicated huge schools of glass minnows were being ravaged by tarpon and mackerel in the early morning hours. Plan #2 would kick in as the sun climbed higher and the day warmed up. We’d be heading to the inside waters behind Sanibel to fish the ‘Ding’ for snook and redfish. Mike fired up his Yamaha 225 and idled towards the channel which led to open water. Once in the clear, he pushed down the throttle to what felt like warp speed and in mere moments we rounded the bend near Sanibel Lighthouse into the open Gulf.It wasn’t long before we spotted the unmistakable site of skyrocketing Spanish mackerel and free-jumping tarpon out in the distance. I could feel my heart pound with excitement. Mike idled over to the largest feeding frenzy and cut his motor about fifty yards away. Making his way to the bow, he lowered his electric motor into the water. Its strong silent pull added to our excitement as we crept towards the action in ‘stealth mode.’As we approached casting distance, Mike pulled two rods from the upright holders on the console. They were well equipped spinning outfits spooled with what I like to call ‘8/30’ Power Pro, which meant that we’d have the long casts afforded by the thin 8 pound diameter, but the fighting strength of 30 pound mono. PowerPro is an ideal choice for tarpon because of the line’s no-stretch properties which allow solid hook-sets. The terminal end consisted of a double line, 30 pound fluorocarbon leader and a 3/0 Gamakatsu hook.Mike told us that we’d bait up with the threadfins, as they were a perfect choice: too big for the Spanish mackerel, but candy for the tarpon. I lowered my lively bait into the water just beneath me, thinking Mike was going to get us even closer with the electric motor. Seconds later a tarpon exploded on my bait right at my feet, startling me and drenching me with spray. I gave the fish a few second count and struck hard….once, twice, three times. Up came the silver giant, flashing brilliantly in the morning sun. The fish greyhounded across the green Gulf for more than thirty feet before plunging back into the water with a furious splash. The battle then settled into a predictable pattern: maximum pressure when the fish rolled or wallowed and a quick bow when the fish jumped or bolted. Fifteen minutes later the silvery giant was alongside the boat, ready for release. I estimated its weight at about sixty pounds. Not a bad way to start any day! After a brief victory celebration, we noticed the bait schools were now a hundred yards west, fleeing their predators. Off in pursuit of the action we went. Within five minutes we were back on top of the commotion. Jim and I cast our threadfins and were hooked up within seconds. It was a brief double-header with one fish jumping off and the other chafing through the leader. We took a breather and rechecked a thunderhead that had been heading our way. Playing it safe, Mike recommended we speed over to Ft. Myers Beach. Topping off at close to 50 mph, his rig did an excellent job of keeping us out of harm’s way. As we sat just offshore of a sunny beach, we watched the ferocious thunderstorm cross Sanibel Island. The drenching rain showers took an hour to pass. When we finally returned, the minnow schools were long gone. Mike suggested that the storm may have driven the bait into the surf, but the falling tide would put the action out of our reach. He felt the time was right to run behind Sanibel and explore the Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve.

INTO THE DING-Captain Mike cranked up the engine and off we flew. Mike was happy that we were fishing on the new moon. Just like the full moon, the spring tide effect would create tidal levels and current velocities that were stronger than average. Mike felt that both the snook and redfish were more active during these periods. Nobody knows the Ding better than Captain Mike, who has fished the area for the last twenty years. We entered one of the small entrances to this maze-like jungle. Since the tide was falling, Mike raised his engine on its jack-plate and idled in for the remaining half mile.Captain Mike’s tactics in the Ding were fascinating. He would only use his bow-mounted electric motor to approach his honey holes hiding in the cracks and crevices of the countless creeks, bays, and islands. Once the boat was about forty feet from a favorite spot, he’d stake it out to keep the skiff stationary. Now in position, he would net a few frisky pilchards from his livewell and toss them high up into the mangrove treetops. Moments later pilchards would rain down on the snook hiding in the shadows, and then all hell would break loose! Mike smiled at all the pops and calmly said, “looks like they’re really hungry today.” As a few silvery survivors raced out of the entangled roots to hide in the skiff’s shadow, Mike recommended I pull one of the spinning outfits out of the rod holders.The equipment was well thought out: stiff long graphite rods with fast retrieve spinners.Each filled to the brim with braided line to maximize two tackle qualities: sensitivity and low stretch, both translating into a better feel and more fish-pulling power. He baited my 1/0 hook which was tied to a two foot length of fluorocarbon leader. Recommending I toss the bait into one of the shadowy mangrove pockets, I made a good cast and the strike was instantaneous! The snook and I did a seesaw battle, but good technique and quality tackle had him boat-side in just minutes. We admired the roughly six pound fish for a moment and then released it unharmed.Suffice it to say that every stop we made, we hooked nice snook, redfish, or jack crevalle. The technique was the same: accurate casts into shadowy pockets and a keep-him-coming fighting technique. Mike’s spots were as endless as his knowledge of the Ding and by midday, we were exhausted. It was time for a break. As we idled back out of the preserve, Captain Mike encouraged me to return when the fishing really turned on! I laughed and responded that I was thinking the same thing.Mike again mentioned the glass minnow schools might be right in the wash behind the West Wind Inn, and that dusk was a great time to fish the surf. I told him he could count on Jim and I being there, but little did I know what lay in store for us……

WHEN YOU GO-Get off I-75 at exit 131 onto Daniels Road. Follow this west past U.S. 41 until you reach Summerlin Road. Turn left on Summerlin and follow it right to the Sanibel Causeway toll plaza. When you get to the Island, turn right at Periwinkle Way. Follow Periwinkle for 2.6 miles to Tarpon Bay Road and make a left. Follow Tarpon Bay to the stop sign for West Gulf Drive and make a right turn. The West Wind Inn will be 2 miles ahead on your left. You can’t miss it. West Wind Innwww.WestWindInn.com1-800-824-04761-239-472-1541Captain Mike Smith1-239-770-68791-239-573-FISH

Friday, December 23, 2005

Terra Nova?

Sure, we can grouse about about the old days, but let's stop crowing and start warbling when you stop to consider the Marathon Bonefish Tournament released over 200 fish in a few days and as this is written, "rafts" of baitfish swim the Atlantic-side reefs of the Florida Keys. The buzz is that the source of this bounty was some obscure and unknown pinwheel weather system called Wilma-some surmise the bait got shoved through the Keys from the Gulf to Atlantic like a Manhattan subway charge. The food chain being what it is whether it's corporate America or the reef drop from Key Largo to Key West, baitfish pull in and concentrate sails, blackfins, and kings. And this, of course, pulls in anglers- the Crown of Creation. So, it does seem like biomass, fish stocks, and habitat can flex a little bit-the last, the least.

Oh yes, I'm happy to report that tarpon fishing is now a year-long, any-weather fishery in Biscayne Bay: you just need to know where to go.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Spindlebeak Storm Bounty?

FLORIDA KEYS SKIPPERS REPORTING INCREDIBLE SAILFISH ACTIONISLAMORADA, Florida Keys - By noon Thursday (Dec. 22), Captain Alex Adler, skipper of the Kalex, had already caught and released seven sailfish off Islamorada in the Florida Keys."It's the best sustained sailfish bite in the history of the Keys," said Adler, who is not known for fish tales or exaggerations.Two days earlier, on Tuesday, Adler's anglers released 20 sails. "First the ballyhoo were matted like I've never seen since the 1970s, then these baby sardines came out of the Gulf (of Mexico)," said the 48-year-old Adler, who has been in the sportfishing business since he was 18.Speculation is that Hurricane Wilma's jaunt through the Gulf of Mexico in late October might have pushed massive populations of juvenile sardines into the Gulf Stream and around the Florida peninsula.The Keys are the primary beneficiary."It's an extraordinary thing," said Captain Paul Ross, skipper of Relentless. "There are hundreds of square miles of sardines out there from Key West to Ocean Reef."Ross said his anglers have been releasing seven to 10 sailfish every day. "They've had size too," he added. "We're getting 50- to 70-pound fish, even in close [to the reef edge]."Adler said everyone has been taking advantage of the hot sailfish bite."From Keys bridges, motorists can see backcountry skiffs (boats less than 18 feet) along the outer reef edges because the water has been so calm," Adler said. "Whatever it takes to get out there, people are doing it."In Florida Bay, Spanish mackerel have been plentiful with many large fish being caught.In the Lower Keys and Key West, the massive amounts of bait have created one of the best blackfin tuna and kingfish bites in years."There are acres of blackfin tuna out there coming in on a tremendous amount of bait," said Captain Mike Weinhofer of Compass Rose charters in Key West. "The kingfishing has been phenomenal too."Perhaps the best news is that the captains agreed the bait is here to stay for a long time and the fishing should remain very strong."It's a phenomenon," said Adler.More details on the Florida Keys are available at or by calling 1-800-FLA-KEYS (800-352-5397).###FOR MEDIA INFORMATION ONLY: Contact: Andy Newman/Carol Shaughnessy 1-800-ASK-KEYS (800-275-5397) or (305)

Looking Forward...Looking Back

As the water temps drop in the midst of rising holiday freneticism, shallow waters are thinning a bit of gamesters-though far from entirely. Right now, I'm caught up with the allure of distant shores on the other side of the new year, when the days get longer and warmer and travel is more of a 360 for me. Two of the first-date thrills are focused on British Columbia for 50 pound chinook and bone batallions on the salinas of Long Island, Bahamas. The future can be the place of possiblility, dreams and excitements, yet the reveries of Deep Past recollected, a bank account and repository of accomplishments and experiences irrevocably booked in. Remembrances of things past a bittersweet sense of things gone, sometimes longed-for, and maybe relished. Chad and Jeremy said a bit: "When the rain beats against my window pane, I'll think of summer days again, and dream of you."....Wow!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Did you ever say "go", but wanted to stay?...

Jack after jack after jack in the cold front-cooled waters of South Bay pounced on my Spro bucktail tipped with shrimp. The BassPro Inshore Extreme baitcasting outfit performed well as I released over 100 fish. Companion Jim Porter was told the cooler, flatter, dirtier water on the outside of Key Biscayne would have less bonefish than before- we gave it a try under the last day of the full moon... and found much less than before, as in zero. Jacks can be a day- saver, especially when the search time is limited on half-day trips. It's all relative: Jim wanted a bonefish, but i could not have been happier on constant hookups on my trusty little plug rod.

Monday, December 12, 2005

One Step at a Time!

A tough season for some particularly from Naples to Key West including Wilma's cross-Florida swath south of the Big O. Amazing how the latest news grab makes us forget and deny. There are still people mourning and looking at shattered lives and homes. This season should focus on support and healing. There are 19 destinations I know still cleaning up the storm's decimation..putting on a happy face, but still hurting.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Good Day, Sunshine!

Clear skies and a spring tide brought some great conditions to the flats and channels of Biscayne Bay. Captain Joe Gonzalez had an excellent day with 7 bonefish in deeper South Bay- he caught the fish on fly and bait. With less time and a passion for diving birds, I stayed further north and tallied 40 jacks, and plenty of blue runners, yellow jacks, as well as pompano and bonefish. The secret when you are plug casting jigs tipped with shrimp is let the presentation drop actionless to the channel floor and bottom bounce- bones and pomps love it. A faster retrieve is sure to attract the jack family...the choice is yours: a bent rod beneath sunny skies are good days!