Situated along the southwest coast of Florida, Pine Island Sound is one of the state’s most critically acclaimed estuarine ecosystems. One of five estuary preserves within the Charlotte Harbor watershed, this shallow water habitat supports incredible diversity of both resident and migrant game fish associated with the expansive Gulf of Mexico. With nutrient rich waters fed by Boca Grande Pass, Redfish Pass and Captiva Pass, in addition to seasonal influxes of freshwater from the Peace, Myakka and Caloosahatchee Rivers, Pine Island Sound’s brackish basin and associated waterways are a veritable shallow water angler’s paradise.
Separating Pine Island Sound from the Gulf of Mexico are the barrier islands of Cayo Costa, North Captiva, Captiva and Sanibel. Each area has its own special attributes and miles of promising beaches, mangrove shorelines, seagrass beds, docks and oyster bars worthy of keen investigation.
Redfish are creatures of habit and typically stick to flats in the vicinity of deeper water…and they’ll often forage the same flats for consecutive days.
Regardless of the season and prevalent weather conditions, there is always somewhere to fish. With the summer season now in full swing, air and water temperatures will be at their peak, with low oxygen content making life in the shallows a bit uninviting. Although many anglers will be trying to get their last tarpon fix, there are better options. Snook and redfish are without a doubt the area’s most popular game fish and fortunately for you the brackish ecosystem provides ideal conditions for both species to flourish.
In fact, the Sound provides some of the best shallow water opportunities in the state and supports large schools of redfish year-round. Since drum can tolerate cool winter weather in addition to brutal summer heat, they can still be found foraging on the flats under ideal conditions. Redfish can’t resist the need to feed and will tolerate extremes to accomplish this. Success lies in your knowledge of redfish habits, not to mention your ability to exercize some patience. If you have successfully targeted reds, no matter your location in the state, you are likely well aware that your presentation and approach are more important than where you find the fish. However, don’t forget what you already know. Redfish are creatures of habit and typically stick to flats in the vicinity of deeper water…and they’ll often forage the same flats for consecutive days.
While Pine Island Sound’s designation as an aquatic preserve protects it from degradation and coastal development, the waters see a healthy amount of pressure and these fish require stealthy tactics. When approaching a flat make sure you provide a buffer zone when coming off plane. If you race up to the edge before shutting down you will surely see a series of blowouts. Give yourself about 100 yards before idling or poling to the action. If you are looking for tailing reds in the summer you are going to have a small window to work with when the tide is low enough to reveal fish foraging on the bottom. Try the flats along MacKeever Keys on the south side of Pine Island, and Buck Key on the backside of Captiva. Midday heat can shut down the flats, but afternoon showers will cool the shallows significantly, re-oxygenate the waters and keep the strikes coming—that is if you aren’t afraid of a little rain.
If and when the flats become lifeless you’ll want to look to the area’s expansive mangrove shorelines to keep the action alive. Fortunately there’s no shortage, as the area is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove habitat in the United States. Similar to how the tides dictate the flats action, you’ll also need to time your efforts when pitching baits under overhanging mangroves. You’ll want to focus on the end of an incoming tide and the beginning of the outgoing, with the high water giving the reds room to push deep into the ‘groves. The same stealthy attributes required for successful flats fishing are needed along dense mangrove shorelines. Approach cautiously and stay as far off as you can accurately cast. Nearly the whole western shoreline of Pine Island offers outstanding mangrove fishing.
Similar to redfish, snook can also be encountered on any given day of the year, although seasonal patterns determine where they will stage in the greatest concentrations. Blind casting lures and baits under mangroves and weathered docks will connect you with snook, but during the summer the action is hot around area beaches and passes as mature snook wrap up their seasonal spawning duties. Start with the unpopulated beaches of Cayo Costa. Here you can cruise the shoreline by boat and cast to snook foraging only inches from dry sand. Although Captiva Pass, which separates Cayo Costa from North Captiva Island, holds schooling summer snook, a few miles south is Redfish Pass. You can score on any period of moving water, although outgoing tides really put the fish in a feeding frenzy.
Drifting the seawall of the South Seas Plantation is the name of the game, keeping in mind that you certainly won’t be by yourself. However, as long as you use common sense and drift in a respectful manner everyone will get shots. Here you’ll want to bounce live whitebait along the bottom. The secret to getting connected is keeping your line vertical, or risk getting snagged. Depending on the tide you may need as little as ½ oz. or as much as 3 oz. of lead to reach the strike zone.
If the tide isn’t right or there are simply too many boats drifting the pass keep heading south to the beaches of North Captiva. Downed trees on the shoreline provide ideal habitat for snook, although the aggressive structure requires anglers stay on top of their game. At high tide the fish will be closest to shore, with lower tides drawing snook to the first trough. Anytime you work the beaches you should approach fish expecting them to be facing into the wind and current. Snook found along area beaches take a more silvery tone to match their surroundings than snook residing in area backwaters. Because of this they can be difficult to spot. Look for more telltale signs of baitfish and you will have a better idea of where the snook will be lingering.
Not to be overlooked, the beaches of Sanibel are famous for more than just white sand and seashells. Snook of all sizes can be seen cruising the troughs in search of unsuspecting prey. While stickbaits and white jigs do the trick, nothing beats live whitebait freelined on a 2/0 circle-hook and short length of fluorocarbon leader. The only caveat is that you have to hit the beach at dawn or dusk so visiting beachgoers don’t put you out of business.
Although redfish and snook take center stage in the summer, the variety of species available in and around Pine Island Sound is incredible. With access and opportunities second to none, it’s no surprise anglers from around the state flock to this angling Mecca for a summertime sojourn.