Fishing / Scouting report (1st after Irma) 29 Sept 2017
Capt. Bob LeMay
September 29, 2017
Chokoloskee - Saltwater Fishing Report
Finally made it down to Chokoloskee, nearly two weeks after hurricane Irma for a bit of solo scouting. Folks in that area finally have electricity and are in full re-build and restore mode everywhere I looked - more about that later...
I was a bit apprehensive making the long run from my house (nearly 100 miles, one way) but was pleasantly surprised... the roadways were perfectly clear - and hardly a road sign anywhere was missing... My usual route is west on I-75, then south on State Road 29. On the road at 5Am, I was there before sunup without the slightest problem - and I can't say I saw any visual evidence of storm damage - until I came into Everglades City where every structure had a big pile of storm debris - the ground floor contents of every structure - just trashed. Most of the street signs were still standing, though, a sure indicator that they didn't get the full force of the storm (the flooding was bad enough...).
Launched out of Outdoor Resorts (the first ramp as you come to Chokoloskee) just before dawn. I was the second guy leaving that morning and moved carefully out towards Rabbit Key Pass expecting lots of debris - but saw very little... In fact, although the water was very high (like a big spring tide) I didn't see much in the way of storm damage once I headed towards the outside. Making my way through the pass I noted the water was relatively clean (not what I was expecting) and the only signs of storm damage were the occasional new snag and lots of trees with hardly a leaf on them. I'm guessing the full wind force of the storm wasn't felt in the area of Chokoloskee - they got the storm surge though and were badly flooded...
Running to the south I did a bit of prospecting without a bite (my usual routine was to toss a topwater at a spot - then follow it up with another rod working a leadhead with Gulp tail into the same area..). I didn't spend much time anywhere just looking around and moving south... The third or fourth spot was the trick - my first cast with a plug got attacked and a few minutes later this was the result - a 27" snook that was carefully released after a photo.
When doing a bit of scouting I'm fond of an old fashioned one handed plug rod.. it's quick handling and super accuracy allow me to toss it a good distance and within a foot of any target (most days...). When I'm guiding it generally stays home unless my anglers are bass anglers....
After a few more casts with the topwater I switched to the jig and it was game on... Every cast was a fish, mostly redfish in the same spot the snook came from. My first was about 20" and it got invited aboard for dinner - all the rest of them were that size or a bit bigger. Here's a pic of the biggest, around 25-26"...
A 1/4 oz leadhead with that Gulp tail was all it took, moved slowly across the current bumping bottom. After a half dozen reds at the same (all but one released) I added a small black drum - then a nice slot sized speckled trout (a backcountry slam - before 10Am). I finally left them still biting on an outgoing tide and kept moving south looking for a few tarpon. When I finally found tarpon - they were in good numbers and ranged from about 20lbs up to 60-70lbs - and that was at the only spot I looked at... In short the fishing yesterday morning was just outstanding... It was almost four hours after dawn when I located the tarpon (not the best time for getting a bite...) but I was very pleased to see the numbers of fish present in about four to six feet of water (perfect for a fly angler or someone wanting to toss lures at them).
I called it a day and made the short run back to the ramp after recording only 31 miles on my trip log... At the ramp there were eight trailers parked so I wasn't the only one doing a bit of scouting... All in all I was very pleased with what I found that morning - now for some info on the recovery...
We've lost Glades Haven... A guy I spoke to there said he didn't think we'd see it back up and running any time soon (he thought a year or two...). Here are some pics of what used to be a favorite spot... pretty sad
front view - the debris pile isn't very high - but no one's working on the place at all... you can see my old Maverick parked in front of the store.
the shrimp shack is just gone....
the boat ramp - many a day I've launched from it - sad to think it might be a long time, if ever, for it to be back up and running...
I stopped at the Island Cafe where a full crew was hard at work - they say they're shooting for re-opening next week... The Everglades Motel next door was also in full restoration mode (with the contents of every room stacked up by the roadside for pick-up. I didn't bother to ask them when they'd be up again... The Circle K store (first gas pumps as you enter Everglades City) is still shuttered up with no sign of any work going on. The Marathon station at the intersection of S.R. 29 and US 41 (the Tamiami Trail) is up and running... At this point the only hotel or motel up and running that I know of is Port of the Islands (and their restaurant is open as well), about eight miles west of the Marathon gas station, but all of that will change as folks get back on their feet. From what I've been told, hardly anyone had insurance in EC or Choko - so they're pretty much doing everything possible to get the area back up and bringing anglers and other visitors back to the area... Everyone that loves that area should make a point of spending a buck or two there since that's their only source of income...
I'm guessing that this will be a banner year for the fishing (hurricanes often greatly improve the fishing when you're finally able to get back on the water...).
Be a hero - take a kid fishing...
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