And so I found myself unloading at a local ramp well before sunrise, hoping to get on some fish before either the rain or bugs drove me off. I met up with Heroes on the Water research director Butch Newell, and Facebook friend Marty Meakin. After exchanging handshakes and discussing the bite, that was the last we would see of each other. Marty took off, then me, followed by Butch.
It was just a short paddle from the launch and I was on the fish, as snook were busting bait in a small cove fed by a little creek. It was still pretty dark, with a three-quarter moon directly over us, but these fish had no trouble finding the Heddon “Super Spook Jr." When fishing for snook in the summer, I’ve always believed in what I call the “Magic 20”It’s that first twenty minutes of day light during the summer, when there is just enough light for snook to come out of the mangroves and roam the flats unseen. The action during these twenty minutes can be outstanding. Once the sun comes up a bit more, they lose the cover of darkness and retreat back to the mangroves. That was the case this morning. I caught three and had some really serious blowups in the short window, but just like throwing a light switch, once the sun peeked up over the trees it was over.
It was really good to see so many snook; they have made a good comeback after our hard freeze of 2010. The season for them has been closed since then, but recently the Florida Wildlife Commission announced they will reopen the season on Florida’s west coast this September. You can read the FWC report here. This announcement has caused a stir among the anglers here in Tampa Bay, me included. So much so, that many guides here have started a petition to halt this decision by the FWC.
Back to fishing. The area I was fishing this morning was a place called Bishops Harbor. “Bishops” as we call it has had a rocky past. It’s a natural estuary nestled on the southeastern shore of Tampa Bay, just south of Port Manatee. It’s a nursery area for all kinds of wildlife and inshore fish, but at one time it was slated for development. Back in the 60s, a group led by none other than Burt Reynolds dumped money into a project to build houses on the southern end of Bishops. Fortunately the project fell through, but not before they dredged channels for waterfront housing. Several years ago the Department of Environmental Protection and Manatee County reclaimed all the land back to its original state, planting sea grass and opening up areas for better water flow. I had the good fortune to get a guided tour during the construction, and had input for a future canoe and kayak launch. The funds for this were never realized and the project has been put on the back shelf for now.
The changes were slow but steady and the area had really improved. Then tragedy struck. A large amount of highly acidic wastewater from a nearby defunct phosphate plant threatened to kill everything in the harbor. And yet it bounced back - Mother Nature can be powerful at times. The evidence was clear this morning, as the harbor was filled with bait and mullet. Working one of these huge schools of mullet with a Slayer Inc “SST” in rootbeer/gold glitter coated with some Pro-Cure resulted in an immediate hookup. In fact, it was the first cast with my new “Pro 300” reel I received from Mitchell a week or so ago. Look for a more in-depth review of this reel later.
I finally met up with Butch, and we ventured out onto the flats outside of the harbor. Despite very good conditions, the water wasn’t moving very much and the fish weren’t very active. We ended up spooking some really nice reds that were just laying up in the grass, waiting for the tide to turn and come back in. So calling it a day, we headed back to the ramp and were off the water by 11am - just in time to get home, make some brunch, and crash on the couch to dream of better days. Until then…