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June 11, 2007

Bountiful Biscayne Bay

Pros share secrets for fishing South Florida's famed lagoon

I sometimes catch myself daydreaming about those years when I was a mere guppy. I have fond memories of piling into the family fishing boat - an old wooden scow - to head offshore for dolphin. That not-so-impressive vessel sported twin 30 hp Evinrudes; its steering featured the old cable-pulley system. But I didn't care. I thought it was the best boat in the world when we motored out from the old Kings Bay boat ramp in South Miami.

Though I was excited to finally be old enough to join my family for an offshore trip, I couldn't understand why we didn't fish the waters underneath us as we crossed Biscayne Bay. As a result, I must have uttered the "are we there yet?" phrase countless times to my patient father. He finally said, "We're going where the big fish live." Not knowing any differently, I accepted his response as gospel; I watched the mangrove shoreline disappear as we headed east.

Big Bones
"Sorry, Scott!" Capt. Dave Sutton interrupted my daydream, laughing. "I know you didn't want another bonefish, but I couldn't help myself."

His light-spin outfit doubled over; braided line streaked through the water at blistering speed. All I could do was look over at captain and fellow angler Rich Smith, watch him shrug his shoulders and snicker that this could be the biggest fish of the day.

But Sutton didn't need to apologize. Though we were targeting other species such as snook, redfish, tarpon and permit on the Biscayne Bay flats this mid-February day aboard Sutton's Maverick HPX, we didn't have to pass up another silver speedster. After all, the Biscayne bone has a storied reputation as being both big and elusive. On this short trip, we poled our way to three bonefish (8-, 9 1/2- and 11 1/2-pounders), all caught on shrimp.

Sutton had chosen to fish the bay's west side where the tide flows south from the shallow dark-bottom areas that absorb sun and warm the water - to the delight of the highly sought-after ghost of the flat.

Other Biscayne Bay captains agree, saying water temperature and depth help them locate winter bonefish. "I've caught bones with water temps in the low 60s," says Capt. Jorge Valverde. "Some people think the water temperature must be at least 68 to find fish. For me, some of my biggest fish have come in the cooler water."