Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fort Myers Beach - A Kayak Fishing Weekend

Last weekend we made our annual visit to catch up with the Hatteras in Fort Myers Beach.  As I discussed in a previous post, Fort Myers Beach is a very cool place for the boring west coast of Florida.  Believe it or not, they even have bars and restaurants which are open after 8pm!  That's amazing for the west coast.

Last year was the first year for the Kayak.  We learned that the fishing in Estero Bay is pretty good given we caught a 27" Redfish.  So this year, we are better fisherman and certainly understand the tides much better.  Our plan was to catch far more fish and add some variety as well.  Well, this certainly was the case, read on......

We arrived late Friday night after a long day of work.  If you are planning to go to Fort Myers Beach, try this trick as the traffic on Estero Blvd. is ridiculous most times of the day.  After arrival, we socialized with Jane & Maynard (Mom & Dad to me) and then hit the sack, planning on a big day of fishing.

5AM wake up call from the 50' Hatteras docked behind us.  They were heading out in the Gulf 30 miles to catch the "Big Ones", more on this later.  Back to sleep after they slowly but eventually leave the dock.  Up at 8am, the weather looks great light NE wind and low 60's.  Quick breakfast and out to setup the kayak.

Weather could not have been better for kayak fishing
With the kayak launched, Vivian and I headed out.  Our eventual location would be the area we caught the Redfish last year.  On the way, we fished a bit along the flats.  First fish is a nice Sea Trout caught by Vivian, good sign for the weekend!  Shortly after the release of this fish which was undersized, I hook up on the Rapala top water with a nice and frisky Spanish Mackerel.  Catching these toothy critters on the Hatteras is one thing, on the kayak, it is a whole different game being at their level during the fight!  In the new cooler this guy went.  BTW: the cooler rig in the earlier post worked like a charm.

Vivian catches the early skunk buster, a very good sign
After catching the Mackeral, we looked around to target a Redfish.  Not really in tune with exactly what they are looking for, we fish with DOA jigs tipped with frozen shrimp.  Even though we were not having much luck finding our target species, Vivian was hooking up with regularity with one of the next best species, the Sea Trout.

Check this one out!  A big 20" Sea Trout, nice catch
Spanish mackerel in the cooler, Sea Trout in the cooler.  It was already a great day.  By this time, we were getting a little hungry.  About the same time, the support crew / lunch kayak arrived with sandwiches and drinks, now this is good service!

How many fishing teams get kayak side lunch service!
After a nice lunch, we continued fishing for Sea Trout and hopefully a Redfish.  Many more Sea Trout, no Redfish.  We head into a small mangrove lines canal to see what it held.  After heading up the canal, Vivian hooks up with a small but legal Flounder!  What a day, Spanish Mackerel, Sea Trout and now a Flounder.  This place holds a lot of varied species and is a blast on a kayak.

So many nice places to fish in this area....
On our way back, we decide to stop off and fish a mangrove island which seems to be home to many nesting pelicans.  Around the island we fish and catch a couple of million Ladyfish.  Fun to catch but not much more than that.  All of the sudden, Viv gets slammed by what looks like a huge Redfish!  The one we were looking for, unfortunately the fish comes unbuttoned and off he goes.  Cant land them all but we are happy we found one and we will return to see what we can catch on another day.  After that, it was in to lay the fish on the cleaning table and have a great dinner.  The 50'  Hatteras had come back as well from their 60 mile voyage with nothing to show for it!  Now there is a comparison for you, a kayak with dinner and a 50' Hatteras Sportfish with nothing....

Not bad for day one.  Lots of fish, great variety and a few keepers for dinner
Day 2 - Both kayaks one the roof of the G-Wagon, it was off to Lovers Key.  This is a State park on Estero Island.  We had no idea what to expect but it looked like a nice place to kayak, especially given the wind was up a bit.

Lover Key, Estero Island FL.  Nice kayaking trails
In we went, great launch, nice marked trails.  Along the way out to the bay there are Manatee everywhere.  Mangrove lined trails with lots of nature and peace and quite.  There were so many Manatee we tended to not troll in fear of catching a poor unsuspecting Manatee.

Manatee sightings in several spots along the way
Eventually you get to an area where you can get out into Estero Bay.  This area is much different than the northern bay and there is a lot more boat traffic in the channel.  Across the channel we went, breeze up a bit.  Along the way, we run into a large pod of dolphins up close (very close) and personal!  This was better than any dolphin encounter someone could experience.

Around the bay we went, fishing a bit but not much to show for it.  With the wind and waves, fishing was more challenging and the area did not seem as good as the prior day.  Almost back to the entrance, we come across a nice flats boat fishing live pilchards under popping corks along the mangroves.  Looking pretty interesting, we head around the island from them and cast the Rapala Skitterwalk under a few mangroves.  Just like in the magazines, a small but nice Snook attacks the lure on the surface!  Even though its only 17"s this baby represents my first Snook which is cool, got that one out of the way as well.

Bad picture huh!  Anyway, photo evidence of my first Snook!
So, it was back into the canals for a nice ride home.  Not great fishing but it was really nice to get the Snook.  Back at the launch we pulled the kayaks, had a quick picnic and then raced back to the Hatteras to catch the "Big M" which is a dinner and gambling cruise.  Had a lot of fun, lost some money....

Day 3, we were planning on going to a wildlife preserve named Ding Darling on Sanibel Island.  In the early AM, we decided it would be better to fish FMB one more time to try to get our Redfish and then hit the road for Miami.

A bit windier than Day 1, we headed out at low tide.  Had to pass the Redfish area as there was not enough water to move along.  We would be back later.  On the way, tossing the topwater, a large Sea Trout slammed me.  In the bag he goes.  After that, a few short Sea Trout, millions of Ladyfish and way too many catfish than I care to discuss.

Ladyfish are everywhere.  They keep you occupied while searching
Once again, the lunch crew pays us a visit and then heads off to the beach for a walk (gee thats a surprise huh!).  Only one Sea Trout in the cooler, the day has been fun but not great.  1pm and no Redfish we start our way back to the Hatteras.  Along the way, Vivian who is always casting catches a REDFISH!  In he comes, likely one of the smallest Redfish which could be hooked but at least we caught one.

How cute is this guy!  Back he went to grow up for next year.
So, there it was a west coast flats slam! A Sea Trout, Snook and Redfish.  Ok, so it took both of us and multiple days but it was still the same trip so it counts for something.  Onward we go, swinging by the Pelican island on our way back.  Spend some time messing around, take one last lap around the island and decide we want to target an oyster bed which we remembered from Saturday.  In Chokoloskee we learned that casting on the edges of these is a good place to get Reds.  Vivian casts and bam, a big fish hits her white jig head tipped with a frozen shrimp (same lure as last years 27" Red).  As quick as it hit, it was gone.  Depressed, she trys another cast in the same spot and this time it hits and its hooked up good.  I paddle the daylights out of the kayak to keep her up with it on her light weight rod.  Eventually it tires and in the boat it comes.  A nice 19" Redfish, legal and going on the dinner table.  Success, two keeper Reds in two years, not bad.  We fished a while longer get one more on but don't land it.  The time comes when we have to wrap it up and head for Miami.

Another good day of fishing leads to some cleaning.
Overall, we feel like we are getting better.  I think we require a bit less luck and are also able to catch a variety of species and learning how to target them.  Our goal was to catch another Redfish which we did along with a number of other species including our first Snook.

Two years in a row for Vivian with Redfish! Nice job...
We really enjoyed the trip.  A lot of fishing and hanging out.  This place is worth the visit if you have never gone.