The surroundings flooded my senses as the morning dawned, a receding thunderstorm having just ionized the air with a freshness that only served to enhance the fragrance of white stopper blooms that wafted from the island. The sun had just crested the horizon throwing a golden light on the sinuous shoreline of Smokehouse Bay, while black clouds on the western horizon added a surreal aura to the scene. As we wound our way through the twisting labyrinth of mangroves, I was suddenly struck with the promise of the morning run.
I was fishing a few days with my good friend and guide Captain Joe Harley in Pine Island Sound. We had planned this outing for a month and unfortunately, the weather gods weren’t with us when it came to catching. Catching aside, we managed to find a place to fish out of the wind each day and dodged the frequent thunderstorms that dotted the four corners of the compass. We knew that the conditions were going to make things challenging at best, but we also knew from experience that sometimes you can turn a game to your favor in the bottom of the ninth.
For years I judged the success of the day by the numbers of fish I caught. Over time I realized all the other gifts that a day on the water provided me. I learned from experience that it’s possible to have an unforgettable day, even when the fish refuse to cooperate. That has been a good thing, especially since I settled on fly fishing as a way to pursue my passion. Don’t get me wrong, I like to catch fish as much as anyone, but this realization has kept me coming back. Without this attitude, I fear fishing would have long ago lost its appeal.
Time spent on the water in Pine Island Sound is always a treat. It’s one of only a few places in Florida where you can lose yourself in the beauty of the natural world. It’s a place filled with thousands of acres of mangrove-lined channels, labyrinths filled with manatees, dolphins, sea birds, turtles and most every species that swim Florida waters. The biggest draw for me is the abundance of tarpon, large and small, twelve months of the year.
The tarpon were there this trip too, but conditions conspired to keep them from feeding. The day on the water may have been the highlight of the visit, but there was a lot to like about three days in Matlacha, Pine Island and unique communities like Pineland, St. James City and Bokeelia. I stayed at the Angler’s Inn in Matlacha, a friendly accommodation with boat dockage and just a short walk from a great breakfast at The Perfect Cup or dinner at the Blue Dog restaurant.
I’ve been fishing the waters of Pine Island Sound and Matlacha Pass for close to two decades, a destination that feels a world apart but is easily accessible (1½ hour drive) from Anna Maria. I highly recommend a visit to the area for fishermen but also birders and nature lovers of all stripes. Captain Joe Harley can be reached at 239- 443-7412. Contact the Angler’s Inn at 239-898-2121. Wherever you go, sit back and enjoy the morning run. Even if the fish don’t bite there are lessons to be learned and experiences to savor. If you’re lucky, the fish might just smile on you too.
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