By Captain Mel Berman
Not a knock on most serious anglers, but it is almost a mantra of fishing to pursue only the ‘preferred’ species — snook, tarpon reds, etc. Yet, I willingly confess to being just a pedestrian kind of guy – one who not only loves hooking monster linesiders and brawny redfish, but also anything in Mother Nature’s cauldron of species that has the inclination to strike a bait and give me a good pull. I recall a trip I had with top guide Mike Talkington and the Tampa Tribune’s Frank Sargeant.
Capt. Mike set us up on one of his choice spots, a quiet mangrove island that harbored some of lower Tampa Bay’s larger snook.
For several minutes Mike peppered the waters with crunched live greenies. No sign of any hungry takers. Aimlessly casting at the bushes, Frank and I had several minutes of what many cynically call “good casting practice.”
Meanwhile, off in the distance — just a couple hundred yards from our anchored vessel – a huge turbulence caught my eye. Birds diving terrorized bait fish jumping out of the water and all signs hungry, marauding fish.
Oh how I would have loved it if we dropped everything and cruised over to where the frothy, turbulent waters were. “It’s just a bunch jacks,” dismissed Capt. Mike, “We’ll eventually get these snook to bite.” He was right. A few hours later – at another spot – we did get some brisk linesider action. But, it sure would have been a nice ‘confidence builder’ to go over and play with that school of plundering fish.
I still recall a trip with the late “Canoeman” aka Merrill Chandler. We fished with one of Ft. Myers premier fishing guides, Capt. Paul Hobby. Heading north to snook fish the Phosphate Docks in Charlotte Harbor our skipper spotted a huge area of roiled up water. Birds were diving, and terrified baitfish were showering across the surface.
“Looks like a big school of ladyfish,” announced Capt. Paul. “I think we ought to stop and play with them.” Now that’s my kind of guide. I tossed out a Love Lures jig head rigged Love’s Lures Slugger, and Merrill and Capt. Paul threw D.O.A TerrorEyz into boiling waters.
Soon as our baits landed, huge ladyfish grabbed them and jumped 3-feet out of the water. Then, tenaciously running and pulling, these close cousins to tarpon finally relented and were brought boatside. Using our handy fish-dehooking device, we safely released the brawling critters unharmed. We tossed again and again, getting enthusiastic pulls on each and every cast. Over a period of at least 30 minutes, all aboard had a blast catching and releasing these frisky fighters. But our greatest fun was yet to come.
Moving on to our final destination, the old Phosphate Docks, we set up on a spot where Capt. Paul told us, “we hooked some monster snook here just a few days ago.”
Tossing jigs and Terrorize lures under the complex structure, a few massive linesiders took our baits, but immediately cut us off in the forest of pilings. Then, at the other end of the decrepit dock, there was so much splishing and splashing going on, we had to investigate.
As Capt. Paul repositioned his vessel, we could readily see the cause of all that commotion. There before us were literally thousands of huge 5-pound-plus jack cravalle tearing up the waters with such ferocity they were actually creating a foam on the surface.
Needless to say, we tangled with these unrelenting fishy pullers until our arms couldn’t take it anymore. All were carefully and safely flipped off and released unharmed.
In the fray of the battle, we hooked and got broken off by some monster snook, and Merrill even caught an outsized pompano. You talk about having fun – this was a blast!
Now, I too love catching the “in” fish, like snook and reds, but I’ll tell you what, we had a ball tangling with those brawny brawlers around the phosphate docks. It doesn’t take much to make me a happy angler — just give me a good fishy pull back!