Fishing Sanibel & Captiva, The Fishiest IslandsDucking out of a cool north wind, John Reilly motored his 19-foot skiff through a narrow cut in the mangroves.Dense curtains of green, perhaps 15 feet tall, parted to reveal a sparkling backwater. Whether you charter a captain, launch a trailerable skiff or kayak, or simply putting a rental pontoon boat out onto Tarpon Bay, youa€™re in textbook light-tackle fishing territory, quick.You might take for granted those schoolie seatrout. After a difficult morning chasing tailing redfish, Spencer Hobby, son of local guide Paul Hobby, worked over those trout using fly tackle.Redfish was our main goal when the two picked me up at the a€?Tween Waters Inn on Captiva Island. This, I knew from the chart, was outermost in a series of small bayous within the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island.My eyes were drawn to scattered, bone-white peripheral mangroves stripped by storm.
We left the dock at sunrise, planning to catch a negative low tide on some flats not far from Blind Pass.
It was easy to picture snook patrolling the shadows of tide-swept timber, ready to pounce on sardines, pinfish and other baits.
Water clarity improves immensely, as summer wet-season runoff dries to a trickle and plankton and seagrass production dip with water temp and photo-period.
We saw a few of their long black forms sunlit tight against the trees, but they wouldna€™t take. The seatrout, on the other hand, wouldna€™t leave us alone.The water was two to four feet deep and here somewhat cloudier than similar depths on open Pine Island Sound.
Thata€™s typical of the Sanibel Bayous, fed as they are by a nutrient-rich pulse of mangrove litter.

As John and I rounded a corner on the pushpole, we crossed a slight dropoff and lost sight of the grass bottom. Typical rates for small boats (poling skiff or larger bay boat) are $350-450 for half-day, $500 to $700 full day. They werena€™t big, but if they kept it up theya€™d either get that way soon or else land in an ice chest. We did our best to educate the little guys, shaking them off de-barbed hooks at boatside.Growing bored, my friend and I tried comparing results using three different soft jig tails, off-white with some glitter. Local building codes were designed around ecological studies published back in the 1970s, unlike much of the state where ita€™s the other way around.Tween Waters Inn, on Captiva Island, is a great place for boating families.
They seemed equally irresistible, but then I found a ringer.I tore off a 2-inch strip from one of the plastic bags of tails, clear with a bit of blue and white label. Topped out in summer, that stuff can be a drag to fish through.a€?When we have these cold nights, it causes the grass to really thin out,a€? Paul continued, a€?but in a way thata€™s kind of gooda€”the shrimp and crabs are still buried in there, and the fish can see your lure or fly better. As the name implies, the property basically straddles the Gulf of Mexico and Pine Island Sound. In summer, even with a live shrimp a foot away, the grass is so thick, the fish dona€™t see it.a€?The snook, apparently, had grown hungry after the previous daya€™s fasting. At 32 inches, the snook measured within the 28- to 33-inch total length slot limit for the Gulf Coast.

It came to us halfway frozen but was freed by the calendar, February being last of the winter closed months for the Gulf Coast.Spencer and I were plagued by more seatrout bites, but soon Paul had his eyes on a couple of square tails, well off in the distance. Spencer threw an intermediate-sink flyline, using one of the same bushy brown EP flies his father favors for tailing reds. While there arena€™t many secret spots these days (having fished the area for years, I can personally vouch for the reliability of spots shown on Florida Sportsman No. 015), how you approach a redfish flat is perhaps more important than where.a€?Go slow to learn the areas,a€? Paul advised. Pay attention to the tides.a€?Many of my own most memorable days on these islands have occured beachside, the simplest fishing of all. Starting in late April, snook begin traveling the surf, close enough to brush the ankles of shell-hunting tourists.
Some days their willingness to eat a streamer fly rivals the enthusiasm of jig-slamming seatrout in Ding Darling.February, however, is a month when bluefish, whiting and other coldwater species rule the Gulf side of Sanibel and Captiva. Both ends of the Sanibel-Captiva complex, the Sanibel Pier and Redfish Pass, will fire up in a matter of weeks as water temps reach the 70-degree mark, heralding the arrival of migratory mackerel, and not long after that, big tarpon rolling and flashing in the sunlight of lengthening days.

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