Do you have any fishing buddies who just never seem to be satisfied? You know the type —they go out and catch 15 redfish, but they’re grumbling because the biggest one was only 26 inches. Or they come back from the wrecks offshore with a mess of fish in the cooler, but all they can focus on is how they didn’t get any yellowtail snapper.
I have a hard time relating to those guys. I recently had one of my absolute best days of fishing. If you measured it by the fish tally at the end, it was pretty much a failure. But for me, the quality of the experience is what really matters.
The day started out with a long walk. I was wade fishing at Burnt Store, and the water is nowhere near where the truck gets parked. On the trail I saw two hogs and a doe — a good beginning, and maybe a good omen.
By the time I got to the water, the cloud cover was breaking and it was starting to get warm. I had to walk through a bit of mud to get out to the grass, but once there I found it to be in pretty good shape, considering it’s winter. I started seeing small fish all over — another good sign, I figured.
Once I got to about 18 inches of water, I started casting my DOA shad at likely looking spots. There were no takers initially, but that was all right — I was finding all kinds of neat stuff, from dinner plate-size stingrays to a lightning whelk as big as my foot. Out past the bar I could see a fair-sized flock of gulls and terns wheeling and occasionally diving, so I knew there was bait out there.
My plan was to wade all the way out to the bar, fishing along the way, to see if there might be a cobia hanging out on the dropoff. This area is one of the places that holds some early in the season, and I thought it was worth a try.
My next cast connected with a trout about 17 inches. I wasn’t planning to keep anything, so I released it and then caught its twin on the same spot. Several more casts brought nothing, so I slogged on toward the bar.
Shortly, I caught sight of a boat wake out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look, surprised because I had heard no boat. Then I realized there was no boat to hear: It was a bottlenose dolphin streaking across the flat, throwing water as it went. I love watching dolphins do their thing, so I stopped walking and just watched.
There were three of them, and they were hunting together. Every couple minutes, one would zip along in the shallows, immediately followed by the other two coming in from the side to grab whatever fish had been disturbed by their zoomy friend. I didn’t see them toss any fish skyward, so I assume they were focused on smaller prey.
After a half-dozen drives, all three dolphins vanished. I watched for a couple more minutes but saw nothing, so I started making my way out to the bar again, casting as I went.
As the lure swam through an open sandy hole just inside the bar, it suddenly snagged on grass. At least, that’s what it felt like. But I know how flounder bite. I gave it a five-count and then reeled and set the hook. Sure enough — a flattie. It was all of 10 inches long. I admired his weird googly eyes and let him go.
Now I was standing on the bar. The water was very shallow — just ankle deep in spots. I decided to hang out on a shallow spot that had a decent view of the deeper water outside and just watch for a few minutes.
Soon I saw a shadow moving along the bar. Cobia? Maybe. I waited a few seconds and it resolved into a bonnethead shark. I watched it cruise along the bottom, sweeping its head back and forth in search of prey. Just to see what would happen, I tossed my soft plastic in front of it. Immediately the little shark turned 180 degrees and boogied, then banked left for deeper water.
The bird activity was way too far out to cast at, and after the bonnethead was gone, there was nothing else moving. I waited a few more minutes and then started walking south on the bar. A boat came by, headed north. He waved. I waved.
Some deep pockets back toward shore looked inviting, so I began heading that way. I managed to hook another (smaller) trout on the way in and lost a couple baits to puffers. On the walk back through the woods, all was quiet.
I’ve had days in this spot where the redfish were just on fire. I’ve caught upper 30s snook and hooked small tarpon off the bar. But this day, with a complete lack of other waders and only that one boat buzzing past, goes in the books because it was such an intimate connection with nature.
Enjoy what comes and be grateful for what you have. Believe me, you’ll be a lot happier than “those guys.”
Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@WaterLineWeekly.com.