Matt has created the perfect fishing environment. So much so…I call him Bubba Gump. He has created his very own shrimp farm, for the sole purpose of attracting bait fish and the big fish that consume bait fish. Why, because one of Matt’s favorite activities is watching his friends, family and all their children catch fish. He loves teaching others every aspect about fishing from tying knots, to baiting the hook and even fileting the fish. I am going to share part of an email “A Fish Story” that Matt wrote me when we first started corressponding in February of 2005. It clearly demonstrates his love and passion for fishing. —Shartrina
here is today’s fish story. it needs some historical set-up to qualify as a decent fish story, and it is about one that got away….this time!. my house is on a natural canal on the east side of a small island. the island is situated within an area the locals call the narrows, so named because of a narrow pass about 2 miles long that separates large bays north and south of here. all of the boat traffic that travels up and down the intercoastal waterway (hundreds and hundreds of boats every day) must pass through the narrows on the other side of my island. likewise, every fish, and all the water that wants to move from bay to bay must pass through the narrows. each of the bays has it’s own pass to the gulf. stump pass is about 5 miles to the north and gasparilla pass 5 miles to the south. these passes insure that our water is frequently circulated by the tides and wind, and because we’re equidistant to each, our water rises and falls dramatically on the tide. the end result of this geographic position is that we have lots of fish and lots of water moving through here.
i’ll try to explain why any of this matters momentarily. in my canal we’ve caught or seen nearly every kind of fish you’d find in the gulf, (sea trout, sheepshead, various species of jacks, grouper and snapper, cobia, barracuda, flounder, catfish, redfish, bluefish, even an occasional manatee (which is pretty cool), and on and on) with the exception of those found only in deep water. the big ones are here to spawn or to winter in warm shallow water. the small ones are here to feed and grow before they move out into the gulf. the most desirable of all these fish is the snook. they are fierce fighters, hard to find, finicky eaters, super smart. and arguably the best tasting saltwater fish. to make it even tougher, only snook 26″-34″can be kept, and the season is limited to approximately 3 twelve week open periods annually. around thanksgiving i had a “snook light” put in on my dock. it’s basically a spotlight and hood that shines straight down into the water. the light warms the water and at night attracts minnows and small bait fish- the perfect environment for hungry snook!. .
after only 3-4 days we had a school of minnows, and after another 3-4 days we had a dozen or more snook lurking in the shadows gobbling up any minnow that drifted too far from the light. it was fascinating to watch the little ecosystem we had created. now it was time to harvest some snook. the first night, my nurse marcus and i went down to the dock and snuck quietly out to the end, next to the light. we had a shrimp on my pole, the black beauty, and he was attaching the pole to the leg of my chair so i could move the shrimp around and land whatever i caught on my own. my shrimp dropped into the water, and before marcus could attach my pole, the black beauty was bent in half and almost ripped from his hands. after he gained control, marcus flipped the fish over the seawall and we had our first snook, just over 20″ long. we didn’t know it then, but it was also our last. the snook were spooked, and after two hours of waiting quietly for their return we gave up for the night. the next day a cold front came through and it rained all day. the water temperature dropped just enough that the snook came back but weren’t eating.
we kept our nightly vigil until the season ended a few days later on dec. 15. i’ve learned since that snook semi-hibernate at a certain temperature and can go 2 months or more w/out eating. snook season opened again on feb 7, and the light had grown our eco system 100 fold. there were literally tens of thousands of brine shrimp, minnows and bait fish every night. the water was still too cold for snook, but all that bait being around had attracted multitudes of fish that were staying around here all day . you could go out every day and catch as many fish as you wanted.
my college roommate, scott, was here for a long weekend with his 6 year old son grant. we must have caught 500 fish in all types and sizes over 3 days. everything was set and i was ready to catch snook when the water warmed up. then, disaster struck. we had a few straight days of strong west wind and were infested with a hideous occurrence of red tide.
you’ve probably never heard of red tide, but it’s awful. red tide is caused by the rapid expansion of a group of microscopic algae. this algae expansion is called a bloom. these blooms occur in open saltwater all over the world with no prejudice to a certain season, temperature, or marine environment. blooms can be just a few square miles or can cover 100’s of square miles. the bloom kills fish by taking oxygen out of the water and irritates humans by the ingestion of dead algae that have evaporated out of the water and become airborne. this bloom was about 30 square miles, when the west wind pushed it into venice, 20 miles north of here. after a few more days of wind the red tide had expanded to cover the coastline for 90 miles, with highest concentrations from sarasota to cape haze. it quickly filled up the two bays north and south of us, and, of course filled up the narrows. the red tide killed thousands of fish in the first few days. so many that on the beach at captiva island they used a skid loader and dump truck to clear the beach.
my canal was so full of dead fish, you couldn’t throw a rock in w/out hitting one. the smell was horrible and everyone here was sick- itchy watery eyes, runny nose, persistent cough. we had to close up the house, which i hated to do, and stay inside. for a month, the whole time the wind blew 3-4 days from the south, then 3-4 days from the north. back and forth, back and forth. of course we were stuck in the middle and got no relief.
is this story going anywhere? am i captain ahab, obsessed w/catching the uncatchable, or his creator melville, droning on with mind numbing narrative? i started off feeling more like ahab- but now more like melville, you’ll have to let me know. i’ll try to wrap this up….
finally last weekend we had thunderstorms for 2 days. the wind and 10 inches of rain diluted and drove off most of the red tide. on tuesday i saw a fish jump, so we went out and fished for a while. didn’t catch any, but had some bites and saw some fish. there were no fish, or minnows under the light that night. by thursday, my mom reported snook under the light. perhaps my wait was finally over.
Fishing is better than ever now….take a look at all the fish on “Fishing with Matt” that have been caught since.