On The Hook: Post storm fishing adventures

Capt. Bill Walsh

Timing this week, again, appears a bit shallow for interest in sport fishing when the populace is up to their guitar on restoring normalcy to their lives post Irma.

She was a doozy! We all know now what a category 4 ‘cane looks like. She left us lots of forgettable memories that will long be cocktail hour chatter regardless as to whether you braved it out here or ran for cover.

In this file photo, angry seas rage as the Naples Pier is battered by wind and rains blowing in from the North on the backside of Hurricane Wilma as a Category 3 storm beating Collier County.

So knowing it’s difficult to bring one’s attention to rod and reel when your focus is on repairing a disheveled roof or recapturing your landscaping from your neighbors porch --  this week we’ll take a journey back to several charter trips we experienced on “first time back” trips just after tropical weather events, had sailed through or brushed by the Paradise Coast.

The vanishing beach

Hurricane Wilma in October 2005 is remembered now as just a slight step  below Irma’s intensity and devastation. A late season category 3/4, it swept into the Florida coastline from the southwest and the eye made landfall around Cape Romano. As I remember, the front edge of the storm was packing 70-80 mile per hour winds but the backside was chalking up winds of 130; she presented us with the same type of peripheral damage as Irma but with a more focused path.

We all cleaned up tree and building damage for ensuing weeks while our interest in rod and reel took a hiatus.

As we all inched back onto the water in mid-November, there were astonishing changes especially in the waterway edges; downed Australian pine trees had created a whole new arena of fish havens and there was caution and excitement to seeing what secrets the new layout would produce.

Just before Thanksgiving, we booked a family charter for a trip that would involve fishing these new fish havens and then finishing up searching the beaches with shelling and splashing in the “surf.” There was mom and dad and two pre-teen girls.

We fished that morning just to the west edges of Hurricane Pass and focusing on early season sheepshead and late season mangrove snapper. We did rather well and after an hour or so we had enough for their dinner. The kids had done well and each had acquired their own filets for dinner.

With just short of two hours left we headed back to a shoreline spot just off Capri Pass that had been our “go-to” for beaching the boat and shelling.

Now, our procedure for shelling, is backing into the beach; so, first it’s dropping the forward anchor; backing slowly into the beach edge; setting a stern anchor to hold the beach thus allowing the customers to step off the stern platform, usually in knee deep water, and scramble up onto the beach.   

More:On The Hook: Tales of Irma

So, on that morning, I dropped the forward anchor, and backed into the spot we had used hundreds of times, secured the engine and asked the husband to help me with the stern anchor. He stepped out onto the platform and I handed him the 12-pound claw anchor in what had always been 2-3’ of shoreline water.

He stepped off the boat, anchor in hand and disappeared!

Wife gasped. Kids screamed. And the husband surfaced sputtering without the anchor.

Wilma had cut a current made trench along the beach and what had been a 2-3 foot depth was now 7-8 feet. My oversight. But no damage done other than to the now soaked husband. We backed into the beach a little further and ended up collecting a mess of sand dollars.

The point of the story is that strong hurricanes do strange things to nature’s layout. Be careful when you take conditions for granted post Irma.

The Capri cuda

Most all tropical storm impacts here in Southwest Florida come at us from the directional spectrum of southeast to southwest. That means they usually have visited or torn up shoreline and waters of the Florida Keys.

They disrupt the water and it’s seaborne creatures as well. It’s not uncommon for species totally foreign to our relatively shallow mud bottom environment to show up disoriented after major storm passage. They don’t hang around these part very long, but while here they feed; what else?

To digress a moment, Marco Island enjoys a couple of unique geographical characteristics, it not only has an area of high ground (Indian Mounds) but is tucked just a tad east of what is regarded as the storm thoroughfare for events entering the Gulf of Mexico from the easterly Caribbean.

We all have been on storm warnings here over the years for those named storms that follow that path north and we luck out with 50-60 mph outer edge winds. And those “brush-bys” are the engine that disperses those Keys species in our domain.

So it’s not uncommon to have reports of sailfish, mahi-mahi, bonefish being caught in nearshore to offshore waters for a brief period after the storms passage.

So now to our story: a group of early season “snowbirds” here escaping the northeastern enveloping cold. They got four guys together and we plan a fall morning backwater trip.

It’s an early October morning and we’re a week or so post one of those “brush-bys.” We have good weather and a moderate tide and plan to work our way north working bottom feeders as well as feeding redfish.

For those that are familiar with the geography of the Isle of Capri. On the southwest corner of the island tangent to the Twin Dolphins Condominium was a house (now replaced with a mansion) set out on the water that usually had fish teaming under the dock. Great fishing spot.

So we start there early morning. Nice guy owner and his wife are out on the dock sipping coffee and chatting with these four snowbirds about everything. We’ve caught some nice snapper and a early season sheepshead.

All of a sudden, one of the rods goes off with a scream and before anyone can react a four foot geographically displaced barracuda leaps out of the water heading north and sails just over the heads of the couple who toss coffee and hit the deck as the cuda severs the 12-pound test line and departs.

Everyone just stands there, numb; recognizing we barely avoided an “event.”

As we moved on with goodbyes to the owners, we heard the wife exclaim “we’ll have coffee on the lanai from now on.”

Word to the wise, be careful on your “first time back” trip this time.

Capt. Bill Walsh owns a charter fishing business and holds a U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments to dawnpatrolmarco@cs.com.