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.
**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.
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.”
**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.
**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.
I’ve been fortunate to fish Pine Island Sound many times in the past, and my latest trip with De Paiva and Swanlund merely rekindled my long-held affection for this amazing part of the world. I’m already looking forward to my next visit, and perhaps a close encounter with those tailing redfish. I’ll be keeping an eye out for wading herons just in case.
Pine Island Sound
Rods: Light spinning tackle of 8- to 12-pound-test, or 8-weight fly rods.
Reels: Light spinning reels spooled with 8- to 12-pound nylon monofilament or braided line to match the above rods.
Lures: D.O.A. C.A.L. lures, D.O.A. shrimp or other soft-plastic lures. Zara Spook topwaters, Johnson gold spoons, hard-bodied swimming lures for snook. Flies: Deceiver- and Muddler-style streamers, Clouser Minnows.
What: Redfish, snook and spotted seatrout.
Where: Southwest Florida, adjacent to Fort Myers.
When: Year-round, but fall through spring is best.
Who: Capt. Rick De Paiva is an experienced guide, a professional photographer and a jet aircraft pilot to boot. He knows the waters of Pine Island Sound well and provides an exciting fishing experience for novices and experts alike. He and Capt. Paul Hobby, another well-known Fort Myers skipper, often work closely with one another.
Capt. Rick De Paiva
**Capt. Paul Hobby
Accommodations: While fishing with De Paiva, I stayed at the convenient and comfortable Country Inns & Suites, right off the Sanibel causeway.
Country Inns & Suites
13901 Shell Point Plaza
Fort Myers, FL 33908
800-596-2375 or 239-454-9292