Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fishing in Florida

I'm currently on Captiva Island in Florida. It's very rainy today, but yesterday was the perfect day to go fishing with Jimmy's fishing charter through the Santiva Salt Water Fishing Team. My dad, brother Chad, his fiancee Amanda and I went with Captain Jimmy Burnsed on a four hour fishing charter in the Pine Island Sound. Very cool.

Dad and Chad had gone fishing with Captain Jimmy for years. I was never interested. In the last few years, however, I've been fishing with my husband and his family up at Big McKenzy lake. The prospect of going salt water fishing was interesting, and I thought it might be a good opportunity to see some neat wildlife besides. Amanda had never been down here to Captiva, and had never, ever been fishing before. She came along because I did, and it seemed like the thing to do.

First thing we did when we got out to our first spot was to throw a bunch of minnows out into the water. It didn't take long for a bunch of black-tip sharks to show up. Holy cow, sharks! They weren't real big, only two or so feet, but that was a little scary! Nothing as scary as when I started HOOKING the sharks! I was reeling it in, and I could SEE the shark on my line! I started screaming right away, because there was NO WAY I was pulling it into the boat without someone there to catch it, because I don't care if it's only a little black tip shark, it is a SHARK with TEETH.

Well, I waited too long for help pulling it up into the boat, and it snapped the line and took off. Three hooks later, and sharks were dancing out of the water and Amanda and I were being called the shark-catchers. To be fair, Amanda hooked the first shark, but I don't know the story of what she was thinking quite as well!

After 5 lost hooks, Jimmy put some heavier line on the end of my pole and I actually managed to pull in a black tip. It was probably the smallest of the bunch (which is why it didn't take my hook, I'm thinking). Scary as heck! He asked if I wanted to hold it, and I said HELL NO! But I still got a good picture with it!

It's a shark! It could take your finger off without a thought! And I caught it!

Amanda also caught a shark before we decided we wanted to go somewhere with fewer sharks and more eating fish. We headed over to a really shallow area, about 3 feet deep. It was an oyster bar, teeming with neat sea life! We saw a dolphin, a leatherback turtle, a bull-head shark, some spoon-bills flying over head, an osprey, and all sorts of neat stuff.

The fishing was darn good, too. We used chopped up lady fish for bait (I caught two of these) and threw them in over the sandy parts of the oyster bars. Chad caught a really nice redfish that we ate for dinner last night. Mmmm. My favorite is super-fresh redfish! We had it cooked at the Lazy Flamingo. It was amazing!

We had some other great fishing adventures as well. Dad's big catch of the day wasn't a fish at all. We had stopped by North Captiva (a very private island only accessible by boat and very, very expensive) and were fishing with more minnows, and had attracted quite a number of gulls and shore-birds. Well, one of them made a dive for dad's minnow and got caught in his line. Like the good person he is, he reeled in the gull to untangle it rather than just cut the line and leave it to be tangled and maimed. When it got to the boat, however, it was in no mood to be saved, thrashing and snapping at my brother when he tried to grab it. I shouted at my brother to move, ripped off my hat and took off my cover-up shirt and threw it over the bird's head to calm it down, then gently picked it up so that we could untangle the line. The bird was perfectly still and calm while dad unwound the line from its legs. Then I uncovered the bird, and with one parting snap at my fingers, it flew off. That kept the birds away for about 15 minutes. After that, we shouted at the birds to ward them off.

There was a really neat bird fishing under the boat with us for a while, too. It was an anhinga (or a cormorant, we can't decide), a bird that swims faster than fish to catch them under water. It would surface by the back of the boat while I fished and look at me as if to thank me for attracting all the yummy fish! Chad saw it underwater and thought it was a shark! The best was when I caught a fish (barely bigger than my bait) threw it back in the water, and the anhinga came and gobbled it up. :) Glad it didn't go to waste!

The best fish we caught that day was at that clam bar I was talking about (didn't want to spoil the fun by giving it all away right away), and it was caught by Amanda. The dolphin was circling around us, seeing what we were up to. It started hanging out by where we were throwing our hooks, and that made us nervous. All of a sudden Amanda's hook was hit hard, the dolphin took off, and everything went nuts. We all pulled in our lines so we could focus on helping her. Something was running fast on her line. Jimmy told her to start reeling in anytime the fish stopped running, and to follow it around the boat if it moved. Amanda couldn't see anything, because she wasn't wearing her glasses, but we assured her that there was something on the end of her line. We could see the size of the thing when it got closer. It was a monster. See for yourself.

It was a 42 inch long, 21 lb snook that Jimmy guessed was about 16 years old. It was huge! She couldn't even hold it by herself! He said it was the biggest snook he had ever helped anyone catch. Remember, this was the first time Amanda had ever been fishing.

The funny thing about snook is that you can only keep snook between 28 and 30 or so inches because of the way they breed. They only mature after 6 years and are supposed to be fantastic eating, so they're over-fished. This is the farthest north you can even find them. So, we had to put this beautiful fish back, but will never, ever forget the excitement of catching it, and the look on Amanda's face!

That was seriously the biggest fish any of us had ever seen in person.

The birds would line up on the dock when we returned from our fishing expedition. They knew that if we were successful, they would get the fish guts. It was so amazing. There was a snowy egret that landed on the boat before it even docket to start picking minnows out of the live well. Then the pelicans arrived to wait under the fish-gutting table for scraps, just like doggies in a row. Just hilarious.

And that is my tale of fishing. Today, it is raining and I am resting. Tonight my family is having dinner with Bonnie and Gene, Mike's Aunt and Uncle, who are staying at their timeshare on Sanibel Island. It should be really nice.

Hope you enjoyed the pictures as much as I enjoyed taking them!