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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.

As he poled his skiff along a mangrove shoreline, with bright sun behind, Capt. Rick De Paiva assured me a fish would come along momentarily. "I've been seeing them a lot along this particular stretch of shore," he said, "and conditions are perfect today." Sure enough, almost as soon as he offered that prediction, he spotted our first fish of the day, a pair of redfish feeding lazily in our direction.

I didn't see them at first, so De Paiva called out distance and direction to me as I stood looking from my perch on the bow. When at last I saw them, I cast the soft-plastic D.O.A. C.A.L. lure to a spot in their path, but it landed too close and spooked the pair. I offered weak apologies for my rusty casting skills, but our hopes were buoyed by the fact that we had found fish only a few short minutes into our day.

My friend Larry Swanlund and I had met De Paiva at the public boat ramp in Punta Rassa, Florida, on the outskirts of Fort Myers at the mainland end of the Sanibel-Captiva causeway. Our fishing day dawned bright and sunny but cold, with a strong northerly wind making the conditions that much more challenging.

After I blew that first shot at fish, De Paiva moved us away from shore to a white sandbar just outside a major boating channel. This bar came almost out of the water at its shallowest point, but slightly deeper water ran parallel to the bar along its length, and he assured us there would be redfish feeding along the edge.

Working the Bars
Sure enough, my first cast landed in a slightly muddy cloud just off the edge of the bar and blew out four nice-size reds. "At least we know they're here," I said, as De Paiva poled us farther along. On my fourth or fifth cast, a large red struck the soft-plastic and I found myself buttoned solidly to the first fish of the day. We continued to work that bar for another hour and saw perhaps a dozen more redfish, although we did not get another strike.

Swanlund and I hooked up with De Paiva that day to once again experience the incredible inshore fishery found off Fort Myers in the southern end of Pine Island Sound. The sound is a legendary spot for redfish, snook, spotted seatrout and, seasonally, tarpon. Pine Island Sound is bordered to the east by the mainland of Florida and to the west by the islands of Sanibel, Captiva, North Captiva and Cayo Costa. The sound contains dozens of smaller islands, as well as the larger Pine Island, just north and west of Fort Myers and Cape Coral. It's a shallow-water fisherman's dream and lies right next to a sizable urban area.

Prime Habitat
Though De Paiva has guided there for many years, he still marvels at the nature of the area. "Pine Island Sound offers what I believe to be the finest habitat in the world for finding tailing redfish," he says. "We have huge flats covered in lush turtle grass, lots of oyster bars, and many mouths of small creeks and larger rivers, including the Caloosahatchee River itself." The Caloosahatchee connects the Gulf of Mexico with Lake Okeechobee many miles inland.