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February 28, 2011

The Flats of Pine Island Sound

Southwest Florida's Pine Island Sound offers outstanding action for lots of flats species.

redfish pime island

Many flats fishermen prefer fishing for tailing fish over any other type of angling. When the fish tail, they're in very shallow water, rooting along the bottom for a meal. When they find something to eat, they often stand on their noses digging for the morsel, with their tails waving in the air above the water's surface. Sight-casting to these fish is especially challenging when excitement runs high, and accuracy is paramount.

Fish the Hardware
De Paiva fishes strictly with artificial lures and flies, with great success. "When I'm not fly-fishing, I use D.O.A. soft-plastics, and I've also had good luck with topwater lures like the Zara Spook," he says. "This area has been heavily live-chummed, but artificials still produce well, and some days they even catch fish better than live bait.

"We have a good window for sight-casting with artificials," he con- tinues. "The late fall, winter and early spring all offer great opportunities for two reasons: First, there's clearer water because there's less dumping of fresh water from the rivers and Lake Okeechobee, and second, there's less live bait around, so the artificials are the best bet."

Tailing Conditions
When searching for tailing redfish, De Paiva looks for certain conditions. "There has to be very light wind," he says, "and the tide has to be a 1.0 or less - the more negative the tide, the better - and there has to be moving water.I also look for wading blue herons. That's a sure sign that redfish are close by. The more herons, the better."

We didn't get a chance to sample the tailing redfish action, since our fishing day came complete with blustery winds, but we did see dozens of reds along the mangrove shorelines and hard bars we fished. Swanlund and I had a great time casting to the cruising fish, and we never went more than a few minutes without a shot.

That's another attribute of this area, De Paiva says. "There are so many places to fish that you can always find a spot to get out of the wind," he explains. That was certainly true on our fishing day. We moved all day long from one shoreline to another, or to one of a series of rocky bars or oyster banks, and we usually had the opportunity to cast when we saw fish. There's always a lee somewhere, even on a day as windy as ours. In many other places, we would have been blown out.

Variety Found
We didn't catch one on our trip, but we did see several snook. Snook and redfish are the two most sought-after species in the sound, and you'll often find the two habitating the same places, but there are also many hundreds of spots where you might expect to find only snook. The channel edges of the Caloosahatchee River, the structure created by the thousands of docks in the area, and mile after mile of mangrove shoreline create a perfect snook environment. The live-baiters hit the snook much harder than they do the redfish, but snook will still eagerly strike a well-presented soft-plastic or a hard-bodied swimming lure.

To round out the potential flats slam, Pine Island Sound offers outstanding fishing for large spotted seatrout, another perennial shallow-water favorite. This area provides what might be your best shot at such a slam, or catching all three species in one day. Throw in a tarpon from the summertime migration that occurs every year, and you might even pull off a super-slam if you're truly ambitious, catching all four species.