Rookery Bay, 1/11/04
A Four Species Day for Joe!
Don't get any bettern this (again)!
Ya know, we were startin to get spoiled by Largo Sound. A not-so-bad drive (bout an hour and 3/4), nice launch, great setting at Pennekamp, et al. But drivin by Miami is always a task, and we yakfishers luv new territory.
Well Rookery Bay might just be for you. Same or less time. And a feeling of true remoteness.
No Miami bullsh**t traffic. Simple fast straight shot across the Alley toward Naples, 7 miles down 951, pass 41, 3 miles and hang a right (east) on Shell Island Rd. Then it gets neat. Five miles down a vegetation lined dirt road, pass a Ranger station, dead ends on a small lagoon. You are in another universe.
Quick aside: when checking the tides I can't remember whether I used Naples but Marco/Big Marco River might be a better choice. And judging from our experience I'd guess the tides back in the Bay and the river run well behind. Next time I'm callin a local baitshop for guidance on this.
Rookery Bay is at the northern end of the Ten Thousand Islands and it feels like it. You launch into a small lagoon, then out into the Henderson River (quite wide). You are immediately faced with choices, one better than another. Fish the river channel, or head for nearby oyster islands, mangrove hammocks, etc. Or head west to the intersection of Hall and Rookery Bays.
It just doesn't matter. Oh, but you might consider strongly takin a GPS and marking some waypoints. This is an area really worth exploring. Thanks to paddle-fishing.com for a nice page on the area: (more details) . This will definitely be a future Yak-In.
Joe, Sue Sea and I made it there in jig time, easy drive, arrivin bout 9 am., dropping tide. Anticipating the oyster bars, I rigged my usual red/white topwater and my award winning gold 'n feather weedless spoon. Joe launched with a topwater and white bucktail jig.
We came out into the river to be faced with some serious 15-20 knot winds out of the east with enough fetch to really cause some standing waves against the incoming tide from the west. And saw hoardes of ravenous pelicans diving repeatedly on bait. A good sign.
So we headed east, at first intending to take advantage of numerous windbreaks and to do numerous wind protected bays to the northeast. These are often good hangouts for both bait and predators in windy, cold conditions as they are protected and would warm up this bright sunny (but cool) day.
But the pelicans weren't havin any. Unlike their friendly east coast cousins they apparently don't see as many craft or people so we never got closer than a hundred yards or so. Keep that in mind... the bait is NOT movin, the pelicans are.
Now located mid channel to the east, we decided to do a nice westerly drift down the channel. We both started getting taps, then finally connected, some quite nice ladyfish. We connected repeatedly, often both hooked up and had a ball with some very healthy lady's running in the 4 to 6 lb. range. Lost count!
As we neared the mouth into Rookery Bay we moved into some protected bays and cast out toward the channel and along the groves. It was here Joe scored a small Red, his first... congrats Joe! Quickly followed by a feisty jack. Three species and we'd barely started.
Sue Sea was doin great too, capturing some terrific new shells and some truly awesome conch shells to add to the mound decorating my front entrance. Vastly overconfident we decided to do the Bay and find some more reds. Bad decision.
I won't say we didn't spook some serious (10 lb plus) reds. I won't say we didn't see prime territory, oyster bars and dense crab fields, great mangrove edges. The tide was just plain wrong, still quite low by the look of the exposed beds and mangrove roots. But it was clear that this is prime red territory under other conditions
So we headed back to the river to encounter winds of more like 25 knots blowin against the incoming to produce some steep standing waves. On went the life jackets, a nice confidence move. We were able to hang in the current nicely balanced between the opposing wind and current. Perfect. Then decided to paddle well east where the more dominant wind would drift us back west down the channel.
Did it twice cause the ladyfish were still there. Had on what must have been darn close to the Florida record of 8 lbs or so, dragged me quite some distance. Finally got it close, missed my first lipgrip and pow! Quick flip of his head, and dehooked. Magnificent fish!
We both hooked likely 10 fish each, lost that many more. Got some great tarponlike jumps, had a ball fightin these speedy acrobatic fish until our arms were tired. We were just about to quit when Joe yelled out "Got something, but I don't know what it is!". Naturally Sue Sea and I paddled over fast.
Sea Robin. Joe's 4th species and all on his white bucktail (I changed to the same these last 2 drifts). The lady's loved em this day. All in all, one of our peak days on the water. Tired from high winds and paddlin, but also from catchin a ton of great fightin fish. In a setting that's hard to beat.
Just another day in Paradise. Tight lines.
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