Dirty waters? Anglers thrive

There were some challenges on the quest for snook.
MIAMI -- Captain Lain Goodwin's Web site says it all: dirtywaterscharters.com. And that's exactly what Goodwin and fellow Key Largo guide George Clark Jr. got a couple of weeks ago on Florida Bay.
Winds whipped up to 25 knots out of the east-northeast, even at 8 a.m., turning the bay's sheltered waters into a mixture of pea soup and YooHoo.
Most light-tackle guides stayed home that day, but Goodwin and Clark welcomed the challenge of trying to locate snook in waters so murky that you would be more likely to run aground than see the bottom. Their reward was to have the northeastern part of the bay pretty much to themselves.
Both were grinning.
"This is my favorite part of the day," Clark said. "If I can catch bait, I can catch fish."
But catching bait did not come easily, even though Clark and Goodwin had noted some previously productive grass flats on their portable GPS unit.
Finding the flats
Locating these pilchard flats turned out to be no problem, but staying put was difficult, even with a Power-Pole shallow water stern anchor and a heavy Danforth on the bow. Goodwin's 21- 1/2-foot bay boat bucked and swayed in the stiff breeze, and the slick from a bag of chum drifted straight off the bow.
"Windy conditions move the bait around," Clark noted. But then he spotted a small school of pilchards milling beneath the slick, and quickly threw his 10-foot cast net on top of them. He caught a few handfuls before the bait scattered.
The two guides went to another pilchard spot and failed to chum up any more bait. But on round three, Clark filled the livewell. He kept it propped open with a bait net.
"Pilchards hate the dark," he explained. "They go all crazy and kill themselves."
Sure enough, the small silver baitfish milled around happily in the well, with few casualties.
Goodwin pointed the boat northeast. He anchored off a mangrove shoreline.
A taste test showed the water was more fresh than salty.
Clark said it's important to keep track of water levels on rough, windy days because strong winds can overcome tides.
Goodwin and Clark each baited light spinning rods with a live pilchard. They used 10-pound Spider Wire Stealth nonstretch line tied to a 40-pound fluorocarbon leader with a 3/0 circle hook.
Quick catch
Within seconds of casting toward the shoreline, Goodwin caught a 27- 1/2-inch snook, followed by another snook one inch larger. Both were kept for eating later, the carcasses to be donated to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission researcher Lisa Ockelmann-LoBello for sampling.
Goodwin caught and released another snook of about 26 inches, and a guest on board released a sea trout of about two pounds. When the fishing was quiet for too long, the guides decided to relocate.
Their second fishing spot looked appealing, but didn't produce. A deep cut in a thin mangrove shoreline circling a shallow, muddy bay, it beckoned with promise as a snook station.
But numerous well-placed casts of live pilchards didn't yield any bounty. Time to go.
The guides' final spot on their half-day outing was a mangrove point leading to Blackwater Sound. Sidearm casting a pilchard into a narrow cut overslung with branches, Clark caught and released two more legal-sized snook in rapid succession. Goodwin and a guest followed up with several mangrove snapper and jack crevalles.

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