Vol 7 No. 20 - February 7, 2007

Fishing with Captain Steve Bailey

Captain Steve Bailey landed this redfish while while fishing with Rusty Chinnis in the flats at Pine Island Sound.

By Rusty Chinnis
sun staff writer

T he early morning sun was just threatening to break on the horizon when a fog bank descended, masking the sunrise and casting an eerie glow over the large flat that spread out in the distance over Pine Island Sound. As we brought the boat off plane, the wake morphed into a watery mirror, disturbed only by an occasional push as an unseen fish moved just below the few inches of watery film. Mounting the poling platform, push pole in hand, Captain Steve Bailey eased his 16-foot Hell’s Bay Whip Ray onto the shallow edge, moving silently across 4 inches of water. On the bow, Captain Mike McComas, of Lee Island Outfitters, began stripping line from his 7-weight fly reel.

When we reached the flat, we began to see tails pierce the water’s surface, waving frantically as redfish and sheepshead propelled themselves into a vertical position, chasing shrimp and small crabs in the dense sea grass mat just below the surface. The conditions required the stealthiest of approaches, and Bailey, a veteran of 30 years, lifted the pole, placed it silently in the water and pushed the boat forward as quietly as a cat moving through a kennel. Redfish were once considered stupid and blind because they could be approached with relative ease and would sometimes even strike a jig dangled over the side of a boat. Things have changed radically over the 26 years I’ve fished Florida waters, and now theses hard fighting fish are as spooky and hard to approach as bonefish. McComas straightened his fly line made a cast to gather his line and then stripped it back to his feet in preparation for a cast. By the time we made it to the shallowest part of the flat, the fish had disappeared and popped up further down the flat. On the way, McComas made a blind cast to a pothole and hooked a 25-inch redfish. The fish put up a battle over the depression with several lunges and rolls to the surface before we landed, photographed and released him.

I insisted that it was Bailey’s turn on the bow, because I’m all too aware that most guides get very little bow time considering all the time they spend on the water. I jumped on the platform and grabbed the push pole (one of my favorite things to do) and pushed down the flat. After bouncing back and forth to small groups of unresponsive tailing fish I decided to explore the outer edges of the flat in a few more inches of water. The strategy paid off, and we began to see big redfish tailing in large groups over a couple of acres of flat. Bailey made several excellent casts only to see the redfish spook off the fly. When casting to tailing fish, it’s always a guess as to which way they will be facing when they raise their heads from the grass. If the fly is coming towards them, the game is up, but if they think they’ve spooked a crab or shrimp and it’s moving away, they will attack the fly with a vengeance. The fourth cast was a charm as Bailey’s cast hit between four large fish that were tailing aggressively in about a foot of water. He waited for a second and as the fish rose up to move he gave the fly a small strip. One of the fish reacted immediately, actually tailing on the fly. Bailey set the hook with a small strip strike and held on as the redfish bolted for deeper water. This fish had some serious shoulders and put up a spectacular fight, running to the backing twice before he was able to slowly work it to the boat.

We chased schools on the same flat for another hour and boated two more fish before taking a run to the north end of Pine Island Sound. The day brightened, but the wind never came up as we ran the crystal clear outer edges of the Sound’s expansive grass flats. On the way we saw permit, a large school of sea trout, as well as a large blacktip and bull shark. In the late morning and early afternoon, we cast to schools of redfish working in and out of a series of pot holes. The fish were so spooky that we actually staked the boat a long cast from one of the holes and cast flies into the depression. When the fish entered the potholes, we would start stripping the flies. The strategy paid off, and we were able to hook two reds and a trout before we headed home for the day.

Captain Steve Bailey fishes the waters of Pine Island Sound from the Punta Rassa Boat Ramp at the foot of the causeway to Sanibel Island. He can be reached at (239)-489-1379.

Check out his web site at www.captstevebailey.com. When I fish the waters of Pine Island Sound I stay at the Hampton Inn and Suites at 11281 Summerlin Square Road in Fort Myers. It’s located just up the road from the boat ramp and gives quick access to Sanibel Island. For reservations call (239)-437-8888. When you visit the area be sure to stop by Captain Mike McComas’ Lee Island Outfitters. McComas is an Orvis Outfitter and has the local knowledge to get you started on a successful fishing adventure. Check out his web site at www.leeislandoutfitters.com

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