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Pine Island Sound madness

Zanes tarpon

 

 

 

By Zane Smith

I went out last week with one of my long time buddies, Max Molloy, in an effort to put him on some solid fish; oh boy did we tear them up! We slept in a little bit longer than usual due to a later incoming tide, which was very nice might I add! We were on the boat around 9:00 and fishing 15 minutes later.  We began working some mangrove islands and oyster bars up in Pine Island Sound with the low strong incoming. Max and I were off to a hot start with solid fish being caught every ten casts, all on gold spoons, jigs, and top waters.

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At one point I missed a nice hit from a redfish Max immediately cast towards hit and  hooked up with this solid 7lb, 26″ red.

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Several fish later we decided to take a break and head over to the Tween Waters pool side bar for some burgers and to figure out a plan on how we were going to fish the outgoing hill tide. We decided to mess around and look for some fish on the oyster bars out in front of Buck Key with only a few small takers and nothing large enough to entertain. We decided to move to Roosevelt channel and found some very hungry fish! Using threadfins as bait, we ended up hooking fish on almost every cast.

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We were also worked by more fish than we can count, some of which looked to be in 40″+ range. We called it a day as the thunderstorms were starting to roll in. All in all we caught 10 snook and 11 redfish plus all of those monsters we ended up losing.

 

 

 

The summer has been good to me, with plenty of fish caught. Strong tides are key to summer time fishing success, and during this time of year, fishing is at its peak in and around Pine Island.

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Circumnavigating Pine Island – Day 3

Thursday June 13, 2013

Since the nasty summer rains seemed to be coming a little earlier in the day than we had hoped, we decided to get an early start on day 3. We awoke before the sun and broke camp in the slim light of dawn. We were on the water for the sunrise and and were catching trout after trout as we worked our way out and around Demere Key. Joey kept pushing north towards the Panther Keys, while Nick slowed down to chase some rolling tarpon. He got a few casts at them but could only convince a few short strikes on his jerkshad. Preston and John also slowed up to chase down a huge bull shark that was patrolling the edge of the flat.

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Soon after, everyone met up at Panther Key to journey on. Once we rounded the key, we saw a bunch of wakes pushing all over the grass flat. We all started to stand and paddle, frantically making cast after cast in front of the big redfish. We must have seen and spooked close to 50 fish before Joey was able to launch a cast and get one to pick up his jerkshad. Unfortunately the fish charged toward him and the lack of pressure allowed the smart fish to spit the hook. We had to leave the fish to keep on schedule for the day. We blew out many more redfish on our paddle up to the Foster Bayou area. Once we reached the opening to some of the back bays, we slowed down to fish our way north. We all had missed strikes, pulled hooks, and straight up refusals from some fish all the way through. It took some diligence and effort, but Joey was eventually able to hook and land this 24″ redfish while blind casting along the mangroves.

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Before heading out of the back bays and making our long trek to camp at Bokeelia, we stopped to refuel with some lunch. Preston was too temped by a fishy looking creek nearby and decided to paddle back into it to fish. He emerged 20 minutes later with the look of despair and frustration. He told us about his 30+” snook that he worked on his light rod and reel all the way to the boat before it made one last surge and pulled the hook. He also informed us of a few more redfish he found that managed to hit everywhere on his topwater but the hook. The fish were just not cooperating with us that day!

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We emerged out on the big flat off of Pineland and were faced with more steady afternoon headwinds. We paddled hard for a few miles until we rounded the northwest corner of Pine Island and had the wind mostly at our backs. Ahead of us was a huge storm system with some frequent lighting that luckily passed mostly north of us. We ended up cutting back into the west Jug Creek area just incase the weather took an unexpected turn. This was a lucky move because Preston spotted a school of bait getting crashed on the surface back in the calmer bay. We surrounded the bait and Nick caught this 23″ snook on his first cast.

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John pulled out a few fish on a Rin-n-Slash while Preston and Joey followed up with a trout, a small snook, and a big pinfish, all on fly. Knowing there were a few small sand beaches along northeast Bokeelia, we continued paddling to find a spot before it got too late in the day. Along the way we missed several snook, but Joey landed a keeper trout on fly and a snapper on topwater; both were kept for dinner! We found the perfect beach to make camp around 5:00 and started setting up the tent and building a fire. Nick was on filet and chopping duty while John and Preston built and kept the fire going.

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Joey started cooking the fish and some canned chicken and veggies.

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The rest of the evening was spent fly fishing in the surrounding area through the sunset and into the night.

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We came in and went to sleep around 10:30 to get some rest before the final leg of our journey.

Route for Day 3:

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***Continue to Circumnavigating Pine Island – Day 4***

 

***Return to Circumnavigating Pine Island: A Fishing and Paddling Adventure***

 

 

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Circumnavigating Pine Island – Day 2

Wednesday June 12, 2013

The crew woke up around 7 o’clock the next morning and quickly tore down camp. We headed to a flat right off of Picnic Island where John started off the day with his first ever redfish on topwater. Joey soon followed up with a red and a trout, while Preston and Nick got their fill of trout. A favorite area of ours awaited along our mapped path, so we soon made our first long paddle of the day to the southwest corner of Pine Island.

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We entered the flat through a small cut which quickly opened up. John, Nick, and Joey continued down the middle over some grass, while Preston worked the edge of the mangroves for snook. The bite was slow on the flat until Nick and Joey drifted upon some tailing redfish. Nick’s sharp eye caught the subtle wave of a big redfish tail in the distance. One accurately placed cast later, he was getting pulled around by what would be the biggest redfish of the trip: 28″.

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Once the commotion was over, more tails started popping up and Joey was able to fool a smaller, but equally feisty tailing red. The next hour or so was spent casting at cruising fish, but the skinny water and bright sun made the fish extra wary.

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Meanwhile, Preston was getting hit after hit from both redfish and big snook using a topwater along the mangroves, and finally connected with a beautiful 22″ snook.

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DSCN0097We met up again at the power lines to eat some lunch and rehydrate before a long paddle up the west side of Pine Island towards our next camp site. With the wind picking up (against us) and ominous clouds starting to move in, we didn’t get much more fishing in and got to the camp area around 2:00.

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We quickly set up camp in the building wind and prepared for the imminent downpour.

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We waited out some substantial winds and rain in the tent and tried to keep as much water out of the non-waterproof tent as we could. For night 2, we really had to rough it. This “beach” was covered in fiddler crab burrows and exposed only because of the low tide. Therefore, it was constantly damp and susceptible to flooding. Needless to say, we spent the night sleeping in some puddles of water that accumulated in the floor of the tent. The retreating storm clouds did, however, leave us with a beautiful sunset. We went out and waded the flat just off our camp site. Joey and Preston encountered, what we think was a shark, that tore up both of their jerkshads in multiple large, explosive hits. This convinced them to make their way back to camp rather quickly and go to sleep.

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Route for Day 2:

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***Continue to  Circumnavigating Pine Island – Day 3***

 

***Return to Circumnavigating Pine Island: A Fishing and Paddling Adventure***

 

 

 

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Circumnavigating Pine Island: A Fishing and Paddling Adventure

Last summer, Preston and Joey discussed the idea of circumnavigating Pine Island by kayak in a multi-day fishing trip. This summer, after much planning, the trip became a reality.

Detailed planning began as early as last winter, where camping locations, routes, and prime fishing areas were mapped out. A path totaling about 50 miles was to be paddled and fished in 4 days and 3 nights, which was by no means an easy task. Next, food and water was purchased, along with essential camping and safety gear. In the days approaching the trip, kayaks were packed and repacked until the four adventurers, Preston, Joey, Nick, and John, each had a kayak jammed full of 4 days worth of nutrition and gear.

On the morning of June 11, 2013, an epic journey began…

Circumnavigating Pine Island – Day 1

Circumnavigating Pine Island – Day 2

Circumnavigating Pine Island – Day 3

Circumnavigating Pine Island – Day 4

All in all, our journey was a great success. We caught fish, survived at each of our campsites, gained more knowledge on kayaking and camping, and completed our fifty mile journey circumnavigating Pine Island.

Over the course of the trip, each person played a crucial role through the contribution of specific skills and ideas. For example:

NICK“the eagle eye”: He and his 20/20 vision were responsible for many of the trophy fish caught on this trip. Thanks to his fish spotting skills, Nick sight fished the biggest redfish of the trip, and put the group on rolling tarpon, twice! It wasn’t only fish, but camp sites as well. On day 2, he suggested we make the effort to relocate the tent after a heavy downpour to a place he saw might be better. The move took us to higher and drier ground and led to a more restful night.

JOHN – “the silent but deadly: He was never one to be chatting up a storm on the water, but was always off catching trout after trout on any flat we crossed. His paddling ability was also deadly, never complaining and always up with or ahead of the group. Perhaps most important of all were his incredibly reliable fire building skills. While we struggled to get a fire lit on a damp island with empty stomachs, John would come out of nowhere with dry kindling to get our fish filets cooking.

PRESTON – “the photographer: The name says it all. If there was action happening or we encountered some nature, Preston was on one of his three cameras getting the shot. If Preston wasn’t sacrificing his own fishing time, the trip would not have been completely documented. Whether it be an artsy shot of nature, an action shot of a fish battle, or the underwater beauty of a release, he was there to get it photographed. Even after the trip, he spent hours editing photos to get them ready to share with everyone.

JOEY – “the purist: Since day 1, after adamantly refusing to stop at a nearby restaurant for a cheeseburger, he gained the title of “the purist”. His food selection for the four days consisted of fresh fruit and vegetables, balanced with efficient sources of protein and carbs. The others even commented as they munched on their Powerbars and beef jerky, “I’m surprised he even brought a cooler!”. He kept everyone focused on the task of being self sufficient and led the group to a fulfilling and rewarding completion of a cheeseburger and  indoor plumbing-less trip.

Things We Learned

General Tips

  • A waterproof tent is a MUST in Florida. No one wants to sleep in a puddle.
  • Bring a sleeping pad. That little bit of comfort at night will make all the difference in the morning.
  • Always try to paddle correctly. A correct paddle stroke uses more core than arms and shoulders. Do this and you will be able to paddle comfortably and longer without hurting yourself.
  • Be confident in your kayak. The Kaku and Wilderness systems kayaks are each able to store a lot of gear and still have the speed and agility to complete the 50 mile journey. Don’t attempt something like this with a kayak you aren’t confident in.
  • Work as a team. Each member in our group had different campsite skills. Nick was awesome in is filleting capabilities, Joey cooked the fish and made the tent watertight, John was key in making timely fires at camp, and Preston was able to set up the tent and document the different roles.
  • Drink a lot of water. The rule of thumb is a MINIMUM of six bottles of water a day. Try for eight and you will feel much better.
  • Bring as little gear as possible. The less extra “stuff” you have, the lighter your kayak, the easier your paddling.

Fishing Tips

We strictly used artificials on this trip since catching bait would be too time consuming and a cast net would take up extra space and add weight. A wide range of lure types were used to accommodate the huge variety of fishing situations we encountered:

  • Our “go to” search lures were usually “walk the dog” type top waters such as the Heddon Super Spook Jr. and Unfair Lures Dog Walker.
  • In deeper, grass-free water, we threw subsurface baitfish patters like the Unfair Lures Rip-n-Slash and Mullet.
  • In order to sight fish or fish in very heavy grass, we used weedless rigged jerkshads, such as the Mirrolure Provoker.
  • The two main fly patterns that produced on a variety of species were a gold and brown Redfish Toad and a white Schmminow.

Rod outfits consisted of Medium Light to Medium 7′ fast action spinning rods paired with 2500-4000 sized spinning reels. Reels were spooled with 8-12 lb braid for open flats fishing and heavier 15-20 lb braid for mangrove and close quarters fishing. We used fluorocarbon leaders ranging from 20-30 lb, depending on the target species and the area we were fishing. Fly outfits were 8-9 wt 9′ rods and matching weight forward floating fly line connected to a 7-8′ tapered leader.

 

 

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Circumnavigating Pine Island – Day 4

Friday June 14, 2013

We woke up early again for day 4, and got out on the sandbar to catch quite a few trout at dawn. We moved down the northeast side of Pine Island in glass calm water as the sun peaked over the horizon.

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The morning came alive with wildlife, including a pair of 8 foot nurse sharks mating in 4 feet of water and these enormous, stoic great blue herons perched in a dead tree.

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As we paddled along, Nick’s eagle eye was hard at work and spotted what looked like a tarpon roll way off to our left. It wasn’t for sure a tarpon and it was a bit out of the way from our direct path south, but hey, we wanted a shot at some tarpon! We paddled out there and sure enough, we saw a couple more rollers. One rolled about 30 yards off the bow of Joey’s kayak and he flung a topwater up ahead in its direction. He walked the lure slowly back and the tarpon slammed it and went air born all in an instant. After an exciting acrobatic show and a lengthy battle of back and forth, the tarpon came boat-side for a few quick pictures, including Preston’s infamous underwater shot.

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We kept at the rollers and Preston convinced a few explosive topwater strikes with no hookups. He did manage to hook into a big drag screaming mystery fish that popped off under his kayak before getting a glimpse of the beast. We continued on to the Smokehouse Bay area, and paddled through a mere few inches of water over the grass. We decided to power on past and hold out to fish the Indian Field area. We weaved through a cut in the mangroves and emerged onto the fishy grass flats that extended all the way home. Preston and Nick hit the mangroves while John and Joey drifted the flat. Nick watched a 30+” redfish chase down and completely swing at and miss his topwater right off the bat. After a while, Joey and John started working the mangroves while Preston and Nick took over the open flats. The switch worked out for Nick, who scored a nice redfish and a flounder.

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Joey hopped out and started wading and fly fishing in a shallow corner of the shoreline. A snook was crashing some baitfish up against the mangroves and he hooked up and landed a small snook on the fly rod. The rest of the day was spent drifting our way in while Joey cast like crazy to get a redfish to complete his Grand Slam of a tarpon, trout, snook, and redfish. He had one redfish follow as they reached the home stretch, but it just wasn’t meant to be. We finished the trip strong with a steady paddle into the ramp, where we were greeted by some family and friends.

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Route for Day 4:

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***Return to Circumnavigating Pine Island: A Fishing and Paddling Adventure***

 

 

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Circumnavigating Pine Island – Day 1

Tuesday June 11, 2013

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The journey began at first light from the kayak launch at Matlacha Park with a lengthy paddle southwest across Matlacha Pass to the north end of an area called “The Mud Hole”. This is where we began fishing, catching trout and jacks on topwater over the deep grass and around an oyster bar.As we quickly worked our way south, we began to space out and really scour this unfamiliar area. Nick was the first to connect to a redfish and actually got two in short order.

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Joey worked the shoreline and pulled out 3 small snook from the same cove. John kept on the trout over the deeper areas and was very successful. Preston stalked some skinnier water looking for redfish and spotted a five foot long Sawfish, the first he’s ever seen. Later on, Joey nailed a 26″ redfish on topwater, and shortly after, Preston landed a nice redfish on his trusty gold Rip-n-Slash that we kept for dinner.

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All of this action occurred in the diverse area before 9:30. By that time, we regrouped and paddled through a cut that led us to the islands and flats just north of the power lines.

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As soon as space opened up, Joey landed another small snook on topwater. We moved pretty rapidly, knowing there were tons of spots we wanted to fish on our projected path for the day. We came across some wakes in the mirky water and tried casting at them. Unfortunately, they turned out to be a couple of big stingrays, one of which Preston accidentally snagged in the mouth! It put up a hefty fight and as Preston was about to get the hook out, but the stingray made one last run, this time under the kayak. Despite his best efforts, Preston could not stop this run and with too much pressure on the giant ray his rod snapped putting a small damper on the day. About another hour went by with little action due to the slack tide. We decided to take a lunch break around 11:00, until the tide started moving again. Joey ate quickly and started wading a fishy looking shoreline, probing the mangroves with a fly. He was rewarded with yet another small snook.

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Around noon, we paddled south to some oyster bars we knew would be holding trout on the incoming tide. Our efforts in finding the submerged oysters paid off and we caught some trout, some as big as 21 inches. Preston also connected with a keeper size snapper and trout that would join the redfish as our meal that night.

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We kept moving and casting as we passed through the first couple bays south of Tropical Point Park. There were a few missed fish here and there, but the action was slow in the 2 o’clock heat of the day. We decided to pick up the pace and paddled out to Picnic Island to set up camp.

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It was a good thing we got there early, since we needed to set up camp and cook the fish we had kept before a nasty storm passed over us. We quickly enjoyed our hot, fresh fish dinner and ducked into the tent for 30 minutes while the worst of the storm came through.

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We spent the rest of the evening relaxing and fly fishing the flats around the island, which produced a couple trout and a catfish.

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Route for Day 1:

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***Continue to Circumnavigating Pine Island – Day 2***

 

***Return to Circumnavigating Pine Island: A Fishing and Paddling Adventure***

 

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Kaku Kayak

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By Preston Haytac

I had the awesome opportunity to test out one of Captain Peggy Riley’s new Kaku Kayaks. Its length, weight, and hull design are very similar to my Wilderness Systems Tarpon 140 kayak so I was really interested in seeing how they compared.

Specifications/accessories:

  • 14ft long
  • 71lbs
  • 31″ wide
  • 4 flush mount rod holders
  • 1 adjustable rod holder
  • 9″ easy access box right behind the seat
  • Large tank well
  • Front sealed storage
  • Center waterproof storage

Pros: The Kaku is one of the faster kayaks I have paddled placing right behind my Tarpon 140, and is about the same as the Tarpon 120. It also tracks well with a slight side to side motion, but nothing that was very bothersome. The forward flush mount rod holders are an awesome and easily accessible add on that I have yet to see come standard in a kayak. They are also placed well so that the paddler can easily bend over and reach them. It handled slight chop with no problems and stayed relatively dry due to the lack of  hull slap while cutting through the water. Where this kayak really shines though is stability . It’s was off the charts in that category  and I felt comfortable paddling, casting, and taking pictures while standing .

Cons: There were a few comfort issues with the stock model that Capt Peggy has. The seat slid forward and wasn’t very comfortable but there are upgrades and adjustments that could fix that. Personally don’t like the foot ridges instead of the foot pegs but those are easily installed too. The only performance issue I felt was that it loses speed quickly and doesn’t glide very well when not paddling (compared to the Tarpon 140).

THe coloring on the Kaku Kayaks is really well designed
I could easily stand up, look behind me, and take a picture.
I could easily stand up, look behind me, and take a picture.
Standing was a breeze! You can even reach the front rods while standing which is awesome when you see a fish and cant sit down without losing sight of it.
Standing was a breeze! You can even reach the front rods while standing which is awesome when you see a fish and cant sit down without losing sight of it.

This compartment behind the seat is really convienient for keeping clutter out of the center of the kayak while still allowing easy access to rulers, pliers, tackle boxes, boga grips, and cameras.

This compartment behind the seat is really convienient for keeping clutter out of the center of the kayak while still allowing easy access to rulers, pliers, tackle boxes, boga grips, and cameras.
The center storage is water tight and large enough to fit a good amount of gear.
The center storage is water tight and large enough to fit a good amount of gear.
Having three rod holders in front of you is extremely convenient.
Having three rod holders in front of you is extremely convenient.
I would definitely recommend this kayak, especially if you will be doing a lot of sight fishing. Many other kayaks out there that are super stable are not nearly as fast or track as well as the Kaku. Competitively priced at $999, they provide a lot of bang for the buck, and I predict they will soon become a well known brand. If you live in southwest Florida and are interested in giving them a test run, contact Capt. Peggy Riley of Coastal Seafari at peggy@coastalseafari.com and she will be happy to work something out!

Thanks for reading!