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Thursday, March 4, 2010
Everglades City two-step

By George Poveromo
ESPNOutdoors.com

George Poveromo, who resides in Parkland, Fla., is a nationally-recognized sportfishing authority who serves as Editor-At Large for Salt Water Sportsman magazine, and the producer and host of his own television series on ESPN2: George Poveromo's World of Saltwater Fishing.

There's a certain mystique in taking your boat to an area where you've had very little experience, especially if that destination is Everglades City.

Here's a remote place which exists less than a two-hour drive from South Florida, where the hands of time seem to have turned back to the 1950s and early 1960s. And in most cases, even the abundance of fish parallels that which existed back in those "good old days."

I trailered my Mako 2201 Inshore boat — Shallow-Water MARC — from my home in Parkland (northern Broward County) to Everglades City, to have a go at the local populations of snook, trout and redfish. And if successful within this vast estuary system, we'd explore a couple wrecks out in the open Gulf of Mexico.

Coming here with little experience in navigating the local waters can prove a huge and costly mistake. The water is the color of a strong glass of chocolate milk, and it conceals labyrinths of hard oysters bars and thick mud bottom. Zig when you should have zagged, and you can be high aground — with some serious boat damage.

Chargin' Charlie's playground


Charlie Thompson is an Everglades City addict. He's a hard-working man who gives his all five days a week as a production manager for a citrus company, just so he can come here and fish. A big, burly type of guy, appearance-wise. Chargin' Charlie is really a funny and down-to-earth fellow. Once the subject of catching fish in Everglades City comes up, his face lights up like a kid at Christmas.

George Poveromo
"Chargin' Charlie Thompson, shown here with an Everglades City snook, knows his way around this vast estuary system almost as well as the fish themselves.
I had the good fortune of having Chargin' Charlie ride shotgun with me during my visit. As we left early one morning for a stretch of beach, where snook had been schooling, I listened intently when he told me to "cut wide around this bend," "Don't go too far to your left," "line yourself up with that tree and hold your line." After all, I wanted to take my boat home in one piece!

After a quick swing through a bait hole of Charlie's and loading the livewell with pilchards, we continued on for that stretch of shoreline.

Once there, it was very tranquil, save for the frequent blitzes of mosquitoes. But as the old saying goes: "When the mosquitoes are chewing, so are the fish." Once again, that old tale proved accurate. My pilchard hadn't been swimming over a shallow-pot hole for more than 20-seconds when it got "thumped". I wound tight and let the fish run off drag, setting the circle hook in the process. Seconds later, I released the first snook of the trip.

Charlie and I were releasing snook virtually at will and, on occasion, we'd score a few trout. Charlie caught the sole redfish of the trip, but not before a five-foot long shark tried to intercept it.

The sight of that shark kicking up a ruckus in the shallows as it chased that redfish was something to behold. How Charlie got that redfish away from the shark remains a mystery to me. I quickly lifted the redfish into the boat, removed the hook, and rapidly released it — all while splashing my hand at the surface to draw the shark's attention away from the fish.

It worked! The redfish swam away and the shark raced right to the boat for my hand!

Points of progress


We fished a series of points on a falling tide, casting our baits into pot holes where snook were laying in wait. Virtually every bait landing in the zone got eaten. We were catching singles and even double headers, to the point where Charlie and I were gunning to see who could come up with the largest snook.

At one point, he thought he had me with a chunky snook he muscled up to the boat. But just five minutes later, I trumped him with a much bigger one. Score one for the visiting team!

Defiant tackle


Because we were fishing tight against submerged trees, rocks, oyster bars and thick clusters of mangroves, Charlie told me to "leave the light stuff home." Our tackle consisted of Penn AF Series reels. A couple reels were spooled with 50-pound test Sufix Performance Braid, and a couple reels were filled with 30-pound test Sufix Performance Braid.

We paired these reels on Penn's new Torque Jigging Rods (spinning version). These new generation composite rods appear like 8-pound class sticks, yet they're rated for 30- to 80-pound test lines. Therefore, you have a light rod to cast with, and enough backbone to pressure a fish away from structure with our 30- and 50-pound class braided lines.

Each outfit was rigged with a short double line (Bimini Twist), which was joined to four feet of 50-pound test Sufix InvisiLine Fluorocarbon leader via a Bristol Knot. We used a 5/0 VMC Tournament Circle Hook.

Gulf Of Mexico bound


With our bellies full of catching snook, we took the Shallow-Water MARC out into the open Gulf, and over a wreck.

We had a breeze of around 15-knots, and a 2- to 3-foot sea. Out here, we mainly used the same spin tackle, but with a knocker rig. A knocker rig is created by slipping a two- to four-ounce sinker onto the leader, and letting it rest on the eye of the hook. We even used the same hooks.

I also had a pair of Penn International Baitcasting reels spooled with 65-pound test Sufix Performance Braid and 80-pound test fluorocarbon leaders, complete with 8/0 VMC Tournament Circle Hooks, just in case something big popped up. I was glad I brought that gear!

After battling a few 15- to 20-pound class Goliath Grouper to the boat, and losing several more to the wreck, I noticed a brown silhouette streak beneath us. I barely caught a glimpse of it, and thought I might have been seeing things.

Just a couple minutes later, a big cobia comes up behind the boat. I quickly grabbed the Penn Baitcasting outfit, pinned a live pilchard onto the hook and pitched it to the cobia. The fish slurped it down immediately — I was now hooked up!

This fish was very tough, as it tried a few times to run down into the wreck. Heavy pressure stopped the fish short of its goal. Then, it would make a straight beeline away from the boat and to the surface. I kept the heat on the fish, hoping it would stay away from the boat long enough for it to tire; I was afraid it would still have enough steam to reach the wreck we were anchored on.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Charlie standing ready with a gaff. I knew that once this fish got close, he would stick it and flip it into the boat. I envisioned a big mess occurring, as this fish was green. Yet, Charlie stuck the fish and deposited it onto the deck of my boat.

We scored a big cobia! After a few minutes of celebrating and reliving the catch, we put the fish in a forward hold and iced it down.

Much more than fishing


I was impressed with my trip to Everglades City, and Chargin' Charlie Thompson's knowledge of the area. We scored snook, redfish, seatrout, Goliath grouper and even two cobia (although Charlie's fish was smaller than mine)!

In addition to the fishing, Everglades City is rich in Eco-Tourism. You can rent kayaks and explore these wild waterways, take an airboat tour, and visit historic sites (including the Skunk Ape Museum). Our crew stayed at the Ivey House Bed and Breakfast. For more information on Everglades City, visit: http://www.paradisecoast.com/.



For more on "George Poveromo's World of Saltwater Fishing," visit www.georgepoveromo.com.