As Captain Ken Collette and I made our way westward across the state, we were stoked to get to Sanibel Island. We'd made plans to fish with Captain Mike Smith for snook. Our plans were made in advance so our dates would coincide with the new moon, giving us favorable tides. Two cold fronts had passed, driving down the water temperatures a bit (creating a possible challenge), but making superb weather with bluebird skies. But Mike felt that we'd certainly find some good snook fishing. As we started our northern trek up I-75, our talk turned to our destination, Sanibel Island, and our base of operations — the historic Island Inn.
Once we arrived, both Ken and I were pleasantly reminded (over and over again) that everything in Sanibel feels clean and lovely and this includes simple drives from the docks at Punta Rassa to the Inn and back again. Whether it's passage by bike or auto, you're surrounded by a piece of paradise, be it beaches, protected scrubland forests, or traversing bridges over emerald waters. And adorn those natural blessings with destination delights like fine eateries, shops, and art galleries, it's no wonder people come to Sanibel from all over the world.
The Island Inn
This is one magnificent destination. As it lies on central Sanibel's dune-blessed, shell-rich beaches, it exudes a venerable history that dates back to 1895. The Inn expresses its essence through Olde Florida lodgings and a sweet Southern friendliness that has drawn anglers, travelers and their friends and family for a long time. And that "draw" will continue.
Consider the following. The Island Inn's 49 rooms, suites and cottages have been recently modernized. Every room has a refrigerator, microwave oven and a coffee maker. While some of their rooms feature full kitchens, all boast Wi-Fi, flat screen television, DVD/CD players, as well as iPhone and iPod docking stations.
Recreational pleasures include a game room, Gulf-side swimming pool, as well as surfboards, kayaks and beach chair ensembles.
One of the Inn's crown jewel offerings are the Traditions on the Beach restaurant, bar and lounge. With a nice view of the water, Traditions serves breakfast and epicurean dinners graced with live music — for listening pleasure or dancing.
For watermen like Ken and I, the Gulf beach next to the Inn was our number one priority. After we checked into one of the Inn's impressive cottages, we headed over the dunes towards the Gulf's edge armed with fishing rods, shelling buckets, and a total of four cameras. And over the next few days, all three of those passions would be more than amply satisfied.
Beautiful Weather on Fishing Day 1
On the morning of our first fishing day, Ken and I enjoyed an excellent complimentary breakfast of fresh baked pastry, fresh fruit, yogurt, eggs, accompanied by juice and full-bodied coffee. We noticed a chill to the air and added some weather jackets to our gear.
Then we jumped into my SUV to meet Captain Mike Smith at the Punta Rassa boat ramp.
Mike was already waiting for us as we approached the dock at the agreed-upon meeting time of 8 a.m. It was already Nov. 1 and morning light was already later in the day — so, hence, the later rendezvous. Also, Mike needed more light to set up his live bait gathering activities at a time of cooling fall season when a lot of pilchards had already left San Carlos Bay. So Mike is typically at work for his customers a full three hours before even meeting them at the dock for boarding.
There was clearly a chill in the air and Mike suggested we bundle up a bit in layers.
As we'd be going fast and possibly far in his rocket-like Lake & Bay skiff and big Yamaha outboard, we took his advice and layered up. As we idled from the dock, Mike told us that the recent cold fronts had dropped the water temperature, but that this was offset by a good tide, lots of frisky live whitebait for chumming, and the prospects for a fair weather day with definite warm-up potential.
Mike no longer headed for the "Ding" (J N Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge) as that terrible winter freeze of a few years ago killed thousands of snook in that linesider-prolific area. Today, Mike said we'd be spending our time between Matlacha and certain interior sections of San Carlos Bay.
The run, in fact, took about 15 slightly chilly minutes — not bad at all, really. Mike slowed down and idled towards the mouth of a mangrove island shoreline. Once he arrived at the actual mouth, he switched over from gas to his electric motor. We could see the tide swirling out along the mangrove roots, a decidedly good sign. Mike eased over to a mangrove point and then went upcurrent of the spot about thirty feet. He then dropped his Power Pole and also pushed his bow stakeout anchor into the muddy bottom. This positioning was his standard tactic, one now made easier by the introduction of these products into the market within the last 15 years or so.
Mike started tossing live baits into the "trees" and along their shadow line. At first, nothing happened, but within 30 seconds, the snook "pops" started going off. Mike took another handful of livies and tossed them where the strikes were exploding. In seconds, he had a snook feeding frenzy going on. Mike then handed Ken and I a spinning outfit and hooked on a pilchard. We cast out and hooked up instantly. We both brought in small snook of 3 to 4 pounds. This was an exciting sign of a new crop of snook that were growing into this fishery. We wound up releasing about thirty snook here.
We spent the balance of the day going to nearby islands and releasing another 25 snook and six nice redfish to around 7 pounds.
We left Mike so we could be back at the Inn in time for the famed Sanibel sunset. Fortunately, the day had gotten warm enough to form clouds, which are often the palette on which great sunsets are based. By the time we got to the beach behind the Inn, both of us began shooting images of a superb magnificent sunset which changed its' beauty every few minutes with the shifting clouds and sun angle.
After we freshened up, we walked over to the Inn's Traditions restaurant. We dined on some excellent crab cake appetizers and flame grilled veal chop entrees. After a couple libations and reviewing a banner day, we turned in for another day of fishing.
Day 2 at Area "X"
We all met up at the same hour the next morning. I asked Mike if we could try another habitat, and he was more than willing. All he asked was to keep the exact location secret, which I promised to honor.
This day, which lasted about five hours due to sheer exhaustion, was basically non-stop action. The snook were bigger that day, pushing over 7 pounds and we often had triple hookups with Mike joining in. We released another eight redfish and got into some schools of big jacks pushing 10 pounds. And we got some fine photos as well.
After we said goodbye to Mike, we headed back to the Inn. Both of us knew that before us lay great photo "ops" and some serious shelling as well. We both began to ponder what food and wine choices we'd make at Traditions this evening. Life was good!