Jan S. Maizler
The sun was setting through the front windshield of my car as I headed across Alligator Alley towards Naples, and eventually Sarasota, my destination. As I drove through the waterlogged Glades, I was drawn into the tight balance of watching the road carefully but allowing in some irresistible excitement over the planned fishing that lay ahead. The next two days- Friday and Saturday- would be full-on pre-dawn to dusk fishing with lure and fly fishing specialist Captain Rick Grassett.
My experience has been that almost all angling and angling travel that ends up well and even memorable is based on solid planning, not random chance. Although I was familiar with Captain Rick’s expertise through his excellent fly fishing lectures and fishing reports, we had not formally met. That changed when he and I connected on Linkedin and soon enough, we made plans to fish out of his skiff (and professional charter vessel), the Snook Fin-Addict, an 18-foot Action Craft. While I was aware that Rick also fishes in Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor, I opted to fish with him in his home waters of Greater Sarasota. Though our initial contact was in May 2012, Rick recommended we wait for the fall month of October for some of the best and varied fishing. My ready agreement to go with Rick’s timing advice would prove to be one of the best decisions for my Florida angling in 2012. Rick was also instrumental in referring us to the Inn on Siesta Key for our lodgings.
Summer and Fall-
The summer was busy and full of fish, but the everlasting radiant heat made this torrid season in South Florida far too long. Though September proved to be a rainy, humid, encore of the previous months, October featured drier, slightly cooler air. There were even a couple of mild fronts that coaxed the fall into unfolding. I was glad that the time to travel to Sarasota had arrived. My wife and I traversed the “Alley” without incident. We continued north on I-75 (the same highway). We then exited on FL. 72 /Clark Road and headed west to Siesta Key. All it took was one right turn and a couple miles more to reach the Inn, a simple and welcome journey.
Since we knew we’d be arriving in the late evening, Innkeeper Paige had given us all the proper instructions to access our unit. As we unpacked, we were delighted with our room- a little piece of Siesta Key with its’ bright, tropical furnishings. It was midnight and my sleep would be of short duration, since I had to meet Rick at 4:15 a.m. down the road at CB’s Saltwater Outfitters.
Time to Fish-
I barely slept and hoped the adrenal high that kept me awake would do the same throughout the fishing. We both arrived at CB’s (Rick’s “headquarters”) precisely at the same time- ten minutes early! …and a good sign both of us were pumped. This was no chance occurrence since we’d agreed to fish the pre-dawn hours for snook under the dock lights.
The brief drive to the launch ramp near Mote Marine Laboratory took us through the heart and shorelines of this exquisite city. Though I’d been to Sarasota countless times, the art, restaurants, and elegant homes re-confirmed the hip splendor of this marvelous destination.
Rick launched the vessel in minutes and as we idled out into the open bay, he familiarized me with the location of all the safety equipment on his skiff. It soon became apparent that everything on the skiff had a place- and that Rick’s obviously methodical character made sure that everything from tackle to procedure to outfitting his boat would be done to sheer perfection. For me, this was a hallmark of professionalism.
Rick quickly got on plane and headed east to the mainland side of Sarasota Bay. The ride was made more pleasing by the horizontal rear casting deck hatch that doubled as an “underway” backrest. Rick reviewed the plan for both days, which basically would take us ocean ward with each progressive stop as the day dawned and sun got higher. Since the wind was light to moderate out of the east, we’d go from the docks to the shallow flats to the deeper flats near the passes, and finally out into the open Gulf for Spanish mackerel and bonito (false albacore). Rick mentioned that there were loads of minnows right off Long Boat and Siesta Keys and that chances for encounters with breaking game fish was excellent. With these plans and choices, it was hard to focus on the snook fishing which was yet to even occur !
But we were soon powering down and Rick cut his E-Tec as a big underwater light was not far off. Rick dropped his electric trolling motor and eased towards the vast blue glow-which was full of snook. For this light and others tight to the seawall, the water was calm and the tide was slow, creating cautious snook. But by dawn, I’d released four nice fish to seven pounds on jigs with soft plastic tails and a TerrorEyz. Not surprisingly, we got more strikes when there was more wind and schools of glass minnows.
Our next stop was the very shallow flats near the mainland. We easily located the mullet schools which would hold trout, snook, and reds. We fished topwater plugs for an hour with no results, so we headed west to the deeper flats just inside the Gulf passes. Rick gave me the rod with a soft plastic jig and told me to work the flats drop-off. I quickly started hooking up on seatrout.
After an hour we’d caught over fifteen trout and a flounder- and I was ready for some nearshore action on mackerel and albies. It was mid-morning and a good time to spot fish. We headed out into the ocean to look for diving birds and breaking fish. It took about an hour of running, but we found them. We started catching smaller mackerel up to three pounds on every cast….to the point that we started to look for bigger macks and albies after we released about twenty. We could have stopped and fished these schools of smaller macks, but we opted to finish out the day searching for bigger game.
We started the second day in exactly the same order. Conditions under the dock lights were about the same and I released three snook- this time up to nine pounds, which offered some better photo “ops”.
At dawn, we fished the shallow flats near Long Bar, catching nine trout and another snook. Rick said he wanted me to get an Inshore Slam, so he fired up his engine and made a ten minute run to a shallow flat. After ten minutes of poling and casting, I caught and released a nice redfish of around six pounds. We high-fived it when we got our slam.
Rick suggested that we run into the Gulf to look for big mackerel and albies- and I agreed. He called a friend who was already fishing off Longboat Key. When I saw Rick smile, I correctly concluded it was “game on.” He quickly fired up the engine and made a fifteen minute run to the hotspot. We spent the next hour catching big mackerel to six pounds on topwater plugs. It was a wonderful time.
We both spotted a huge flock of birds a few hundred yards to the south and decided to check it out. As we approached the melee, the big splashes underneath told us they were albies. After a slow approach, he cut the engine and drifted into the action. We casted silver-flecked plastics into the splashes and hooked up with fat bonitos as large as twelve pounds. We stayed in this frothy paradise for an hour hooking and releasing big albies. After that, I could take no more. The ride back to the launching ramp was rich with feelings of excitement and enormous satisfaction at the great fishing that Rick and Sarasota provided this writer.
About CB’s Saltwater Outfitters-
CB’s is the largest on the water bait and tackle shop that offers Siesta Key boat rentals, fishing charters, fishing tackle, jet skis and clothing for everyone. CB’s Outfitter Shop and Beach Boutique carries the leading brand names of outdoors apparel.
Captain Rick Grassett
Snook Fin-Addict Guide Service, Inc.
Web Site- www.snookfin-addict.com
CB’s Saltwater Outfitters
1249 Stickney Point Road
Web Site- http://cbsoutfitters.com
The Inn on Siesta Key
515 Beach Road
Web Site- www.TheInnOnSiestaKey.com