The arenas of fishing are multiple and varied. That is a truism that evokes heated argument amongst the legions of anglers staunchly true to their sector of this great sport.
Just think of the range of interests of those fishing the salt – big game offshore fishing, blue water drift fishing, party boat fishing, backwater fishing, flats fishing, reef fishing – a dizzying array of sectors whose fans chime in that their chosen category is best.
“Best” could easily be defined by results, or even a more tenuous issue, as requiring the greatest skill. Many a cold brew has been quaffed down in taverns on the wharfs of the world attempting to decide that matter.
So, maybe there is no winner in the debating circle but how about in a real world show-and-tell.
Had the privilege of being front and center on just such an experience that tested the “best” issue on a charter awhile back; so that's where we're heading today.
On the initial email contact looking for a Southwest Florida fishing trip, they provided quite a bit of background. Our crew would be two Army Special Forces veterans that served in the same rifle company in Vietnam and have taken a joint holiday together every few years. The holidays are golf and fishing and this year it's fishing in South Florida.
Jake lives in Sacramento, California, and Norm is a tried and true New Yorker living in Queens.
They came aboard that morning with lots of questions: "Where's your mate?" (Don't need one); "How far out are we going?" (We're not. This is a backwater trip); "Where are the big rods?" (Home. We won't need them).
We caught a nice storm free morning and as we made our way north to the Rookery Bay, Henderson Creek area. These guys were non-stop on recitation of stories on their prowess and success in their chosen fishing arenas.
Jake was what Californians call a "long range angler" whose fishing was done on the pristine decks of the fishing cruisers plying out of San Diego. He started needling Norm with his glowing reports of yellowfin tuna catches in the deep ocean canyons south of the border.
"We'd reveille at 6 … be served a breakfast in the galley and be on the rail by 7 … nonstop action until you had to quit with arm and hand cramps. Took great stamina but what a payoff of fresh tuna steaks."
Norm just sat there, eyes glazed over awaiting his turn. We were nearing Henderson Creek before he got his turn to extol his fishing exploits.
"That's pretty good stuff, Jake but nothing like the action we get out east going on six pack charters" … he then launched into a litany of his limit catches, from fearless long range trips to the Atlantic Canyons to the catches of striped bass on the rocky shores on Montauk et al.
He was still going strong when I reminded both stalwarts that we had anchored on our first fishing spot some five minutes ago. They stopped the braggadocio as I passed out the light tackle rods and reels and went into some guidance on casting, working the bait, setting the hook and landing the fish. Kind of basic stuff and they just sat there with empty expressions and open mouths.
Norm piped up, "Last time I cast a bait I was seven years old and had a rod with a little button on it. All we've done for the past 30 years or so is drop the bait over the side .... and then we get a big strike and reel the fish in. Then we do it again. That's fishing."
I knew this part of the adventure was coming after they had exalted their past exploits earlier in the trip.
"In all due respect, guys, no it isn't. That isn't skilled fishing. That's like going to the trout farm and paying ten bucks for every fish you catch that are stacked up like cordwood for you. How can you be thrilled at cranking something up that's such a sure thing?
"Today we can get a taste of what backwater fishing is all about, starting right here on this tidal flat. You guys game?”
Then in a joint response, "Yeah, OK, we're here and it might be interesting."
With that, I explained that the tidal flow which is a primary backwater factor would be the key to what we did and when we did it today; we were on the back end of an incoming tide and trying to target redfish feeding back here in the shallow channel edges.
It took us awhile to get casts of the bait shrimp anywhere near target. We extracted errant casts from trees, boat antennas and each other. Finally, we were getting close to the shaded mangrove edges and Norm's rod went off with a screeching drag. Redfish on! Surprised and stunned, Norm yanked back for all he was worth and parted the 12-pound test line.
"Wow, that was a really big fish; what happened?" was his saddened inquiry.
"Norm, you set that hook like you were working 80 pound test on a tuna; a little more finesse next time" was my response.
They both wanted to get right back at it and were amazed when I explained that in the interim, the incoming tide had gone slack and we'd have to move over to a tidal creek outlet for the start of the outgoing tide. "You mean the fish move around," blurted Jake, "that's totally different than the offshore wreck fish."
That got us into a discussion of how the backwater moves to the beat of the tide and overall water conditions. You could feel their interest growing in this new more intense fishing challenge.
We moved to a tidal creek exit about a quarter mile away and set up again for the same redfish, who this time, would be targeting bait fish exiting the mangroves. We added some weight to the lines and had them cast to a spot showing bottom current.
This time it was Jake's turn and his strike and fight were handled quite well as, after a strenuous struggle, we eventually landed a nice 20" redfish.
“Beautiful fish and a great fight. I'm impressed with the technique. Release the fish; he fought well."
Time was up, and we headed for home.
Just maybe, we have two new trainees heading for the sporting side of fishing.
Capt. Bill Walsh owns a charter fishing business and holds a U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.