I'd have thought I'd grown used to the "before-trip" night of anticipation and excited imaginings for a new angling destination, guide, whatever — but I had not. And so, the wee hours before my trip to Whitewater Bay (with Don Eichin and guided by Captain Bob LeMay) were ruptured by adrenal wakeups and the inevitable "counting-down" glances at the alarm clock. Over so many years, the launch ramp at Flamingo meant out front poling shallow waters for redfish and snook. This time, we'd be going in the other direction — north — to new waters for me. While I'd spent a lot of time on the Everglades coast, Whitewater Bay (and the related waters attached to it) was more novel to me, and therefore a source of curious excitement.
I'd contacted Bob (954-435-5666) specifically for his well-documented expertise in these inside waters. I liked the way he did things: while he stuck to the old school methods when they clearly worked, he also stayed current in fine fashion. Many of his spinning reels had mono line. Bob still was running his vintage Maverick flats boat, yet it was powered by a spiffy white E-Tec. Bob's bio also featured night fishing the bridges of north Biscayne Bay on fly and light tackle equipment. While this was literally in my backyard, this charter service looked great, as well. But one always has to make choices — and I did.
From prior instruction, Bob would meet my friend Don Eichin and me at a well-known gas station in Florida City at 6 a.m. I picked Don up in Miami about two hours before that so we could have breakfast barely five minutes from our meeting point. After a rib-sticking repast of eggs, bacon, pancakes, grits, and coffee, we met Bob. His rig was amongst another eight or ten gassing up and getting supplies before trailering another one hour to the boat ramps at Flamingo.
Bob waved to us and we did the "SUV/truck convoy thing" for the next hour. After Bob launched his skiff, we were soon underway up Buttonwood canal. When Bob found out that Don lives most of the year in New York state, he graciously explained as much about the ecology, flora, fauna, and fishing of the ENP (Everglades National Park) as he could. One nice feature of going up through the canal was seeing so many tiny rolling tarpon.
When we got into the open expanses of Coot Bay, Bob got up on plane and we headed north to a spot that he said would feature good seatrout action. After a run of about a half hour, Bob eased off the throttle and idled about a hundred yards to a shallow channel alongside an island. He pulled out two spinning rods rigged with light fluorocarbon leaders and twin-propeller mirror-sided plugs. He told us to cast towards the drop-off and to work the plugs along the surface very slowly-even to the point of stopping the lure if we saw a boil behind it. This was certainly contrary to the swimbait retrieve tactics one used on the flats in front of Flamingo, but I heeded Bobs' words — with great results.
We immediately hooked up to seatrout- literally one after the other. Bob watched my retrieve and encouraged me to stop the lure cold. I was amazed to see the trout gobble the dead-still lures with abandon. This was based on the proviso that after landing on the water, there had to be enough retrieve to stir the trout's appetite- but as soon as the fish starting following and boiling, it would hit the lure moving or stopped. Don was top dog with a big trout of possibly 24 inches. We caught and released over 30 trout like this before we got a hankering for some other action.
Bob said his next spot would be for more trout, but accented with catching some ladyfish to use in Whitewater Bay for shark and tarpon bait. It was a short run to spot number two.
As the water was deeper, Bob switched our lures to pink jigheads adorned with yellow Gulp swimbaits. Again, Bob pointed to where we should cast. He told us to let the lures hit bottom and then retrieve them "Florida Whip" style back to the boat. The action was a carbon copy of the first spot with fish after fish being hooked. Because we needed some ladyfish, we speeded up our lures in the water column. The trout were still so thick that we averaged one spotside for every two ladyfish. After we had a dozen ladies in the livewell, we moved on for new adventures.
Bob told us our next stop was inside Shark River for grouper and possibly redfish. The run took awhile, but the results would prove worth it. The water was deeper and our lures were retained but more employed in a vertical jigging arrangement. In the next hour, we released yes, more trout, some small mackerel, and a few nice gag grouper. I was impressed with the initial run of those grouper. Bob moved over to some shoreline fallen trees in hopes of a redfish, but no takes in that regard.
Since the halfway point of our trip was reached, Bob ran his skiff back to Whitewater Bay in the hopes of hooking up a big tarpon or shark. The wind had picked up and created tiny wavelets in this large expanse. Since it was still early spring, I felt the need to put on a light windbreaker. Bob hooked up live ladyfish to two light tackle conventional outfits and instructed us how to play out the line. Perhaps we had to be most careful not to let the live baits or their attached lines get tangled.
We saw a few rolling tarpon and hoped they would find our lively ladies. In the first half-hour, our baits got nervous-but no strikes were forthcoming. In another ten minutes, Don had an exploding strike on his bait. Don flipped the lever down and struck hard — one, two, three times. His rod pulled down under a solid hookup, but nothing jumped in the distance. Bob slowly became sure the fish was a large shark. Don fought the fish a couple more minutes and the line went slack. When Don reeled in the business of his line, the severed leader confirmed that the Man in the Gray Suit had paid a visit. We tried for another half hour without another strike.
Bob felt it was time to make a move. We ran for another half hour to an island with a well-wooded shoreline. Bob put fresh yellow Gulp swimbaits on our jigheads and told us to "work" the area around the branches with a slow retrieve. Within the next twenty minutes, Don was rewarded with his first and second redfish ever. This was a delightful finale to a wonderful trip to the Glades interior waters with Captain Bob LeMay.