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Captain Bill Walsh
Dawn Patrol Charter Fishing
Marco Island, Florida
Phone: (239) 394-0608
In business since 1992 !!

When the fishin' is as slow as molasses, don't pass the passes
By Bill Walsh

Thursday, December 7, 2006 (Marco News)

Sometimes we take it for granted, but we are truly blessed — fishingwise —by having numerous passes dotting the Gulf along our Southwest Florida shoreline. These passes are like marine intersections that enable the flow and flushing of the waters between the mighty Gulf and the nurturing backwater estuary.

Fish instinctively sense this place of tidal intensity. These marine predators, at every level, want to achieve two things: to work as little as possible to find food and, more importantly, not to become food for a brethren farther up the piscatorial food chain.

Those facts make the passes virtual havens for anglers, but it takes some insight as to when and how to make them work. Folks not familiar with the passes and the importance of tidal sequence may miss the point.

A fishing trip this past spring completely missed the "point," but provides a good example of the issue.

Our stars are three guys down here for a business conference at a beachfront hotel. Tiring of the meetings, seminars and indulgent lunches, they arranged to skip out one afternoon with the flaccid excuse of doing some research. Little did the boss know that the research was to be conducted at the end of a fishing rod.

They showed up like schoolboys playing hooky. The introductions hadn't even concluded before they made it perfectly clear that they were interested in backwater fishing. They wanted the trees, not the Gulf.

Now, it just so happens that we were in the middle of a three-day weak tide cycle. These days occur when the tide moves less than 6 to 8 inches in a six-plus hour tide, which occur halfway between the full and the new moon cycle. The fishing during this period, especially in the backwater, varies from slow to stop.

That fact showed itself the previous day on a backwater trip.

I certainly didn't want a repeat for our three stars, so as I pulled out into the river, I turned west toward the pass.

"Where we going, captain?"

I quickly explained the slow backwater and that the pass, considered backwater, would give us a better chance. They would hear none of it. Backwater to them meant trees and creeks. Who was I to argue? We turned back up into the mangroves.

We fished mangrove edges; we fished fishy points; we fished deeper holes; we even fished the flats — to say it was slow would be a gross overstatement. After almost two hours of nonstop casting, baiting and grumbling, all they had to show for it was a couple of small prolific Goliath groupers and a few tiny snapper.

Finally, one of the now discouraged stars spoke up: "Tell us about this pass fishing."

They had already seen the evidence of a slow tidal flow in the backwaters, so they quickly understood the difference when the passes were explained as the arteries that carry all the water to and from this vast backwater area. Acting as a funnel, when the tidal flow is predictably slow, it will tend to move quicker in the "funnel."

The fish know this and will use the funnel to move back and forth and to lay in wait for food to be swept their way — especially if that's not happening anywhere else.

"Like today?" one of them interjected.

"Like today," was my response. Within seconds they had the rods racked and we were on our way, with hope restored.

The pass showed varying conditions. There was definitely an incoming water flow and we'd have another hour or so till the tide went high and slack. But the tide had drawn some murky water from the Gulf and it was in current ribbons throughout the pass.

We took both situations into account and began working just along the murky edge of a ribbon with tipped jigs just off the bottom. It took but seconds before we were attacked by a squadron of ladyfish with some small bluefish and tinker mackerel mixed in.

The action was hysterical: jigs flying; fish loose in the boat; fish scales and stuff smeared all over the boat and all over our stars as well. They didn't care; this is what they were looking for even though there were no trees.

And then, suddenly, the bite stopped — right on cue with the arrival of slack water.

"Now what, Captain?"

We would move out to the deeper water in the center of the channel based on the theory that the passes also provide a "hangout" — a fish where fish can hold and bide their time until the water begins to move again. And out here near the center of the channel is where that will occur first.

It proved to be a good choice. Switching over from jigs to bottom shrimp rigs, we latched onto a half-dozen nice-size pompano that must have been mooching around on the bottom enjoying not having to fight the current.

The outgoing tide began right on schedule and, like a switch being turned, we were back into the ladyfish/bluefish et al action all at once.

Our trip ended shortly thereafter with some smiling faces that had enjoyed their new version of "backwater" fishing.

They left discussing how they would tell their boss that their "research" was for real — they learned all about passes and their interaction with the tide.

Capt. Bill Walsh owns an established Marco Island charter fishing business and holds a current U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments or questions to

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