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Pine Island Sound Snook

2/12/2008

Visit "George Poveromo's World of Saltwater Fishing" to learn more about the show and watch video clips. His show airs January through March, each Sunday at 7:30 a.m. on ESPN2. For more on George Poveromo, visit his Web site.

Pine Island Sound in southwest Florida's Lee County is fertile estuary network of mangroves, sea grasses, oyster beds and tidal flats between Pine Island and the barrier islands separating it from the Gulf of Mexico. This is snook country. If you know exactly where to go and how to do it, your arms can tire of battling snook — the action here can be that sensational.

I trailered my Shallow-Water MARC from South Florida to the Historic Tarpon Lodge on Pine Island Sound to chase snook with Capt. Ozzie Fischer, a highly-respected Ft. Myers-based guide and local realtor. It was mid-June and our plan was to pitch live baits on light spin tackle into shallow potholes and bottom depressions for snook, then break out the heavier tackle and cast live baits underneath docks for bigger fish. When it comes to snook fishing, Ozzie's passion is unrelenting.

Beach Blanket Snook

Ozzie and I met at the docks at the Tarpon Lodge at 7:00 a.m. on a warm and sultry June morning. We loaded our gear into my boat and sped off to a stretch of beachfront on the inside tip of the southern end of Lacosta Island. Here, I lowered my Power Pole some 50 yards off the beach. Sea grasses parallel the island, with a distinct strip of sand standing between them and the beaches. Interspersed among this system were sandy depressions. All formed zones patrolled by hungry snook, and also provided their ambush spots, the latter being our targets.

This was an ideal light tackle area, due to the lack of hard structure and obstructions. Therefore, we broke out our light tackle — a pair of Penn AF 3000 series reels spooled with 10-pound test Sufix Performance Braid and matching 7-foot, Penn Guide Inshore rods rated for 8- to 17-pound test line. We rigged each outfit with 3 feet of 30-pound test Sufix Invisiline Fluorocarbon leader and a 5/0 Gamakatsu In-Line Octopus circle hook. To ensure our bait remained on the bottom, we pinched a small split shot weight onto the leader.

Live pinfish, and a tropical bottom species called rasp served as our baits. The hook was run through the lips of the baitfish. Ozzie and I each pitched our baits into potholes or where the seagrass and sand bottom formed a distinct edge. From there, we'd wait until our baits became nervous, which indicated a snook was dialing in on them, and then prepared for the strike.

Fortunately we didn't have long to wait. I felt the tell-tale "thump" of a snook, and immediately extended the rod to provide just enough slack for the bait to be consumed. I then simply reeled in line until the fish realized something was amiss, panicked and raced away. At that point, it was too late; The circle hook had already set!

Battling snook on light tackle allows this popular game fish to give an excellent account of itself: They made long runs down the beach, jumped and thrashed about at the surface, and stubbornly slugged it out near the boat. We'd lip our snook — much like you would a largemouth bass, remove the circle hook — which almost always lodged in the corner or top of their jaw, and set them free.

Exactly how fertile Pine Island Sound is became evident that morning, as Ozzie and I released a lot of snook and even a couple of redfish. By noon, we were hungry. We left the beach and drove the boat to a nearby rustic waterfront restaurant for a good, long lunch. Our goal was to cool down and rest up, since we'd soon be wrestling snook from underneath a series of docks along the inside tip of North Captiva Island.

Fear the Docks

There are no shortages of docks within the Pine Island Sound system. Ozzie and I set forth to pitch live baits underneath them, in search of bigger fish. Stout tackle is required here: We stepped up to Penn 650 Spinfisher reels spooled with Sufix Superior 20-pound test line, and 7-foot Penn Guide Inshore rods rated for 15- to 30-pound test. We also upgraded our fluorocarbon leader to 50-pound test.

Using the same live pinfish and rasps as we did along the beaches, we slowly made our way down a series of residential docks, and took turns pitching baits underneath them. You knew almost instantly if a fish was there, because your live bait would go crazy. And once it started panicking, it was usually eaten a few seconds later.

Brawling at its Finest

Style and grace do not exist when pitching baits under a dock: This is a vicious, down-and-dirty style of fishing that requires you to instantly set the hook and pry the fish away from the structure, the goal being to continuously pump, wind and keep the fish off balance for as long as you can. Should it regain its composure near the dock, it will immediately charge back underneath the structure and break off. And re-rigging tackle after you've lost a big snook or redfish isn't fun at all. Trust me.

FYI

Capt. Ozzie Fisher can be contacted at (239) 481-4434.

The Tarpon Lodge is old Florida at its finest. The facility was built in 1926, as a fishing camp. Today, the facility features first-class lodging and a 4-star restaurant. There's also a lounge, pool, marina and much more. And while fishing is still the main attraction at the Lodge, it now caters to couples and families. For more info, call (239) 283-3999 or visit their Web site.

Our dock effort was met with a few big fish that beat us, and a few that we beat.
Ozzie scored a beauty of a redfish we guessed at around 12 pounds, after the fish nearly had him in trouble on two occasions.

I had a big snook hit my bait underneath a dock; when I struck the fish and kept pumping and winding, I thought for sure the fish would wrap around a piling. Fortunately, the fish did something very stupid: it ran away from the dock and down the beach!

I couldn't believe my luck. And I wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth — I just kept on pumping and winding until the snook was safely in Ozzie's possession. We removed the circle hook and set the big snook free.

If you like snook, you need to add Pine Island Sound to your "must fish" list. For me, it was an easy 2-hour, 30-minute tow from my home in northern Broward County to the Tarpon Lodge on Pineland.

Pine Island Sound is a neat place that harbors a lot of fish. I will most certainly be back next season!

Visit "George Poveromo's World of Saltwater Fishing" to learn more about the show and watch video clips. His show airs January through March, each Sunday at 7:30 a.m. on ESPN2. For more on George Poveromo, visit his Web site.