MIAMI -- Miami light-tackle guide captain Benny Blanco is an independent thinker who enjoys defying conventional wisdom in pursuit of inshore game fish.
On a recent Friday when many of South Florida's inshore fishing guides were staked out on oceanside flats waiting for tarpon to cruise by, Blanco and his customer, Jan Maizler of Aventura, had Snake Bight in Florida Bay all to themselves.
The two spent four hours poling around the flats, chasing hundreds of redfish with artificial lures. They caught and released about a dozen up to 10 pounds.
"Superb!" Maizler pronounced the half-day trip.
Their success was no accident. Blanco, a Miami native who's been running charters aboard his 17-foot, tunnel-hull Maverick skiff for the past 11 years, is a student of fish behavior as it relates to seasonal variations in weather and tides. He likes to go after fish instead of waiting for them to come to him.
"I'd rather pole 15 miles to catch a fish than stake out and wait," he said.
His activist approach paid off. On a rising spring tide with higher-than-usual water levels, Blanco and Maizler pushed along in waters as shallow as five inches, never going more than a few minutes without seeing fish tailing, snaking, waking, mudding, splashing--or sitting still. It was sight-fishing at its finest.
"There's a certain amount of pride in making the presentation and getting the fish to eat something that's not alive," Blanco said. "As much mano-a-mano as possible."
Contrary to some anglers' observations, the redfish inhabiting Snake Bight that day were neither slow nor fussy. Getting them to bite was all about presentation -- pulling lures right past their noses at high speed. Whenever the baits blew by, a red would at least strike it -- even if it failed to connect to the hook.
"You're trying to trigger that instinctive reaction. If you run, they're going to chase you down. They're like pit bulls," Blanco said.
Maizler made one "Hail Mary" cast only about ten feet from the boat and, to both men's surprise, a nice-sized redfish grabbed the lure without hesitation. Game on.
The two men were using soft plastic, green-and-white Yum Money Minnows, rigged weedless to avoid snagging seagrass. Blanco is so meticulous about his bait presentations that he makes sure the tagline from the knot connecting the 15-pound braid to the 30-pound fluorocarbon leader points toward the body of the bait.
"That's so they don't pick up anything," he explained. "There's nothing that turns a fish off more than floating grass."
The redfish on the flats that day were feeding on tiny minnows, but the larger, fake minnows being thrown by Maizler and Blanco worked just fine.
"They're opportunists," Blanco said of the hungry reds.
The bountiful redfish bite stretched through the incoming tide into the beginning of the ebb. Although the fishermen were still encountering plenty of eager takers, Blanco picked up on the natural cues around him and began poling away toward deeper water.
"When mullet start heading due south, it's time to get out," he said. "You shouldn't get so caught up that you turn on your engine and blast your way out of there."
Still, Maizler caught and released several more reds on the trip out.
Blanco said he believes reds are underrated as a sport fish.
"They're a fantastic game fish," he said. "They have a wide range of food. You can fish them all year round. They thrived in the cold. In the low 50s we were crushing them. Today we had 85-90 degrees and we were crushing them with no problem."
And they'll hang around Florida Bay all summer long.