Wrangling Surf Donkeys

The author unhooking another "surf donkey"

April 15th is always a transitional day for most. The maple sugar season is coming to an end and if we’re lucky the peepers come out to signal the official start of spring. Of course it’s also tax day. My twin brother Jim was down visiting from Vermont and since he owns a few businesses (as a fishing guides my taxes aren’t all that simple either) we spent the morning working through last minute details to get them mailed out in time. Our plan was to be on the water early that day, but around noon we finally had the green light from our CPA . Our plan was simple, get out on the water and see what Mother Nature throws at us. The weather was perfect with a midday high tide, bright sun and light winds. We loaded up on small blue crabs and some pilchards at the bait shop hoping to find some tarpon rolling in the channels. We hit most of the spots that might hold early season tarpon and did see a few big fish rolling, but after many attempts we didn’t have any takers. After a few hours we decided to hit the old phosphate train bridge near Boca Grande in search of snook holding near the structure.

Boca Grand phosphate rail trestle.

Boca Grand phosphate rail trestle.

We pitched live pilchards under the trestle and managed to entice only some small jack crevalle’s. We did see one huge snook that came up and “sniffed” my pilchard only to turn back and return to a deep cut under the old bridge. Very frustrating to see a 40” plus fish less than a foot away from your live bait and simply turn away. Very unusual, but the water temp was at 73 degrees and snook can be finicky or she simply heard me yell “take it”! Having caught only a few small fish we decided to hit the flats in search of speckled trout and redfish. I just love the diversity of species and terrain that Gasparilla Sound offers. There aren’t many places where you can catch such a variety of species in a single day on the water and stay within a 10 square mile area. We tossed a few pilchards and managed a few trout, but once we switched to gulp shrimp on jigs we found a good pattern for the afternoon. We had a blast catching trout until around 6 pm and we were losing water quickly on the flats and soon we needed to leave for the safety of deeper water.

The author unhooking another "surf donkey"

The author unhooking another “surf donkey”

The tide had been steadily dropping and since this was near the full moon we had good strong currents heading out of the passes into the gulf. I had one more snook spot at the mouth of Little Gasparilla Island to hit up before the day was out. The current was as strong as I’ve seen it since October and these passes all have a sandbar where they enter the gulf so we needed to make sure we kept an eye on the chart plotter for shallow water. The snook spot is an old dock that a homeowner dumped in a pile of rubble about 50 yards in front of their new dock and boat lift. One other small boat was working the spot and I yelled over to him to say “are the snook biting”? He gave us the thumbs up and we looked at each other with a smile. I quickly retied two medium action spinning rods with a 40 lb fluorocarbon leaders and 5/0 circle hooks. Above the hook a used a 1 ounce egg sinker in what we call a knocker rig down here in Florida. The egg sinker rests loosely on the eye of the hook. Sounds strange, but this set up works well for live bait on circle hooks. We positioned the boat over the pile and cut the motor. I was quickly looking at the shoreline and how fast we were drifting out of the pass. It was super fast and just when I was about to say “this may not work”, my rod doubled over. This felt like a huge snook as the fish ripped off 50 yards of line in no time. I use lighter than normal mainline and these rods had 15lb braid so I couldn’t put the smack down on my drag. I’m up front with my rod doubled over looking at the shoreline zipping by and yelled to Jim to look at the Garmin to see what our depth was. He indicated it was coming up quickly. I hooked the fish in 20’ of water and we now had only 6’ under us and rising quickly as we shot towards the sandbar at the edge of the gulf. Talk about exciting! I yelled again to say “start the motor were gonna have to work this fish back in”. I thought for sure this was one of those giant snook you see on the cover of a magazine. I decided I better put more pressure on this fish as we really couldn’t motor too fast against the current. I gave it the old pump and wind and finally saw the fish. To my utter disappointment it wasn’t a giant snook, but a 25 lb jack crevalle. The fish saw the boat and bam another 50 yards of line came peeling off the reel. After that long run she was tiring and we got it the boat, grabbed the tail, took a few pics and tossed it back in. I was shaking my head and my brother said, “What the heck are you upset about, it’s 75 degrees, sunny and were fishing as beautiful a place as there is and you just had an epic battle dude”! He was right. I didn’t have to live through the winter from hell as he and most everyone did this past year in New England. I said “you’re right, let’s go get you a big old Surf Donkey!

Our next drift produced nothing for Jim, but my rod doubled over once again. After a few minutes I realized the tide was going to be stopping soon and we were running out of daylight so I handed him the rod and said, “wrangle this donkey will ya cowboy”! The strong runs and hard fight was just what the doctor ordered after a winter from hell and a morning dealing with taxes. After that second fish was released and a few more were caught we saw the other small boat and he held up two big jack’s. Oh well I guess he didn’t hear me well when I yelled snook earlier. Not sure what he was going to do with them? Maybe shark bait? Anyways we fired up the Etec and headed for the barn. As the sun was setting we headed off into the night with thoughts of a good steak and cold beer as a reward for taming a few more surf donkeys of the Florida Gulf Coast.

 Jim Curry from Essex VT with a 20 lb Jack Crevalle.

Jim Curry from Essex VT with a 20 lb Jack Crevalle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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