GASPARILLA ISLAND, Fla. — When Doug Creek was a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals his favorite part of spring training was coming to St. Petersburg, Florida where he got to fish in saltwater.
Growing up in Martinsville, WV. Creek was an avid bass fisherman, a hobby that followed him to college at Georgia Tech. But it wasn't until he got a taste of saltwater game fish that he started to gravitate toward Florida waters.
"Once I caught my first redfish I was ruined," admits Creek, who now lives fulltime in Punta Gorda, Fla. "Saltwater fish are so much tougher than freshwater fish, and you never know what you're going to catch. There are not as many limitations."
"I got to play ball for 14 years. Now I'm retired from baseball with a wife and two little kids and I'm living the dream," said Creek. "I guide and also have a baseball academy where I teach baseball to little kids."
Tarpon season is Creek's busiest time of the year. He'll run a fishing trip until mid afternoon, come home, wash the boat and head over to the baseball academy to help kids work on their pitching motion. He says he's happy as can be in his little piece of beauty away from the crowds and big cities.
"Charlotte Harbor is so much different from Tampa Bay, even though it's only 75 miles north of here," Creek said. "This is old Florida here. There's so much backcountry in Charlotte Harbor, where Tampa Bay has a lot of development on it and a lot less habitat."
The two big bay systems so close to each other compete for the game fish traveling up the west coast of Florida, and habitat isn't always the determining factor. Red tides, water temperature and the abundance of baitfish will attract or deter the fish from one area.
"When redfish come in during the spring, they decide they're either going to go in Tampa Bay or Charlotte Harbor. One location will have them when the other one won't."
Unlike a lot of the waterways in Florida where urban fishing around docks and bridges are the favored Snook haunts, Creek says he fishes a lot of pristine shorelines and wide expanses of grass flats. It's that natural beauty of the location that makes fishing in Charlotte Harbor a special place to catch a memory.
"A lot of my fishing here is deep water tight to the mangroves. I like to beat the bushes, but we'll also get big open flats where the redfish will get onto the potholes over the sand," said Creek.
"We caught some Snook and trout this morning along the drop-off on the edge of a sandbar in open water," Creek said. "We were on the West Wall where we have ten miles of sandy potholes and drop-offs."
Creek said the six Snook they caught on the first day of the tournament all came from open water that had no relative pattern to it. The fact that the fish are sitting in arbitrary locations makes it harder to target them on the flats.
"Usually they'll sit in potholes or along the mangroves or where there's a strong current moving around an island shoreline. Today, they were just out in open water in the middle of nowhere," Creek said.
Going into the second day of the Raymond James Boca Grande Classic Creek plans to target some of the first tarpon to arrive in the area this spring. If he can catch a fish or two early, then he'll be back on the flats of Charlotte Harbor chasing Snook, sea trout and redfish and living the dream.