It had been far too long since I’d been to Sarasota. Places like Longboat Key, Siesta Key, St. Armands Circle, the Asolo Theater and the Ringling Complex tugged at my mind. But most of all, expansive Sarasota Bay remained a new adventure-in-waiting, as all my prior area angling was limited to the open Gulf of Mexico.
I had recently been in contact with Captain C.A. Richardson (of the Flats Class television series) to set up a west coast Florida redfishing trip. I was impressed with the didactic emphasis of his show: far more than than the typical “nice fish” phrases, his show actually walks anglers through the actual technical and navigational steps to achieving successful inshore fishing
It turned out both of us had an available day in the near future to fish together. Since I was based in Miami and “C.A.” was based in Tampa, we agreed that Sarasota Bay would be a perfect place to fish. I was delighted that he was well versed in a fishery that I was hankering to try — sometimes good luck does come in pairs! Towards that end, C.A. told me that he’d fished the area barely two weeks before and really spanked the spottails within sight of the famous Ringling House.
Production for Productivity
As all seasoned anglers know that the fishing begins (even before) “the night before”, we had the day of the week, moon phase, potential weather, and array of potential tackle already chosen a month ahead.
In the same spirit of planning, my lodgings in Sarasota were wrapped up in the same time frame. I’d chosen the Hibiscus Suites Inn and when I arrived a month later, I was entirely pleased with it. Conveniently situated close to the crossroads of U.S. 41, Stickney Point Road, and Siesta Key, the Hibiscus featured large immaculate rooms in a tropical décor, a big pool for a refreshing dip and free breakfast. C.A. was sure my lodgings would be simple to find and we agreed he would pick me up at 7 a.m. the next morning. I had an excellent dinner at Mattison’s Forty One which was located only five minutes from the inn.
The Big Day Begins
My nights before fishing a new angling destination are often long and restless due to the buzz of the anticipation and this was one of them. Finally, 7 a.m. arrived and a peek out the door revealed C.A. parked in his SUV with his skiff in tow. Since I was long since ready, we got started immediately.
Our drive to the boat ramp took us north through the center of beautiful downtown Sarasota all along its mainland shoreline. When we arrived at our launching area, there was only one other skiff tied up to the dock. We were glad that our weekday choice for the trip would hopefully prevent too much on-the-water competition.
Off and Running
Once we’d idled out of the marina area, C.A. pointed his skiff towards the northwest and pushed down his throttle. After about a half-hour run, he slowed down and eased his skiff slowly to some irregular shoreline against Longboat Key. Though we saw a bay boat in the distance, C.A. said, “they won’t be a problem since we’ll be fishing in much shallower water.
As if on cue, he cut the engine and trimmed it up. After that he picked up his push pole climbed the tower and started poling towards some mangroves. He felt that it was always good practice to stop the engine and start poling when the skiff was about one hundred yards away from the target area.
As he took his fishing tackle out of the rod holders, C.A. said we’d be using spin and plug tackle made by Daiwa. Indeed, even his line was made by this excellent manufacturer and was its latest offering: Daiwa Samurai braid. All the braided line onboard was rated at 18-pound braking strength, which gave it the equivalent diameter as 3-pound monofilament line.
I immediately began to think of the beauty of using thin braid with artificial lures for redfish along thick grassflats and mangroves. At the same time, C.A. extolled Samurai’s virtues by mentioning that the incredibly long casts we’d be attaining on this line meant more water covered — and more water covered all day long meant more fish seeing our presentation. While I heartily agreed with the old trollers’ “water-covered” theory, I added that longer casts also meant making presentations to fish that were farther away from the boat as well as its image, possible hull slap, and its vibration. And unalarmed fish are often “happy” fish. Further, we both agreed that the no-stretch status of braid meant good solid hookups even on fish quite far from the boat.
Since we had a lot of cloud cover in early morning conditions, C.A. rigged me up with a classic weedless gold spoon. He handed me the spinner and asked me to try a cast. I complied and with a two-handed grip fired off a cast that appeared to cover half a football field — I was impressed!
C.A. defined the remaining distance to the target area by pointing out what appeared to be a huge school of mullet pushing water and jumping about 200 feet away in the ten o’ clock position. He told me to pick up a plastic bottle of Pro Cure Super Gel and squeeze some lightly along the spoon. Now I’d have an artifical that appealed not just to sight-sense but to smell-sense as well. With a small-eyed flats fish like a redfish, this was advisable — yet adding scent to a lure would be far less important for tarpon.
In the remaining time for this current “stalk”, I brought up the well-known debate about braid versus “mono” when it comes to seatrout and to me, even tarpon. But it became clear to both of us that talk could take up the better part of an evening. Besides, we were on our way to a potential adventure sizzling 100 feet off the bow.
C.A. told me to start casting alongside the mullet schools. On my third cast, my rod heeled over and my drag made the kind of prolonged scream that makes young girls overnight stars in horror films! After the run slowed down, I got the fish coming my way…or so I thought. When it saw the boat, it made another fifty foot run. In a couple more minutes we were releasing a pink and bronze redfish that looked about eight pounds. I made another cast and about five presentations later, my spoon got bashed again and I struck hard. In a curtain call of the first spottail, we released a slightly smaller red five minutes later.
And this was the way the drill went for the next few hours- we’d follow the mullet schools and make distant casts that cherrypicked the baitfish that looked especially nervous. I’m happy to say we both stopped counting after we released a dozen fish.
After a mid-morning snack, I asked C.A. if there were any snook around. He replied in the affirmative and soon, we were headed to the mainland shoreline. We started poling soon thereafter, but in this now half-fallen tide, we’d have to lay “offshore” a bit. C.A. put us on a huge number of snook, but they seemed reluctant to strike. My theory was that the ebbing tide, emerging sunlight as well as a couple of tower boats that blew past us were the culprits. Yet, I was astonished at the number of snook that are right off the homes in Sarasota Bay!
Our trip was a resounding success and by 1 p.m., I was ready to call it a day. Life was good. C.A. and I were new friends. We’d had a fabulous redfish morning off a fabulous city…and an epicurean late lunch awaited my wife and I at Café Europa on St. Armands Circle!