One of the best places to fish for snook in Florida is in the Fort Myers Beach area.
A strong incoming tide flushed the baitfish off the grass flats and carried the tiny minnows into the waters of sheltered Hell Peckney Bay.
I let my kayak glide with the current and watched as a great blue heron waded through the shallows ahead, looking for an easy meal. As the big bird inched closer to the shoreline, a pair of snowy egret perched in a nearby mangrove took to flight and spooked a fish that had been resting under the overhang.
Judging by the size of the wake, the fish had to be a snook. The game fish love the mangroves because the elaborate root systems give them plenty of places to hide and ambush prey.
Guessing where the fish had gone, I let a top-water lure fly and stopped it ten feet from the bank. Then, as the tide carried it along, I gently twitched it... once... twice... and then the water boiled as the snook found its mark.
Line screamed off the reel as I lifted the rod tip, hoping to steer the fish away from the shoreline and certain escape. For a moment, I thought I had turned the snook's head and won the battle. But then the line went slack. The fish had wrapped the line around a root, where the oyster shells sliced it like a knife.
But no worries. I had a tackle box full of plugs. And the snook? There were plenty more where that came from.
The waters of Matlacha Pass Aquatic Preserve, San Carlos Bay and Pine Island Sound are blessed when it comes to snook.
"Everything is just right," explains Ron Taylor, the state's top expert on the highly-prized gamefish. "You have three rivers feeding plenty of freshwater and miles of undeveloped mangrove shoreline that provide a nursery area for the young of the species."
The Peace, Myakka and Caloosahatchee rivers supply the expansive estuary with a seemingly endless supply of baitfish and crustaceans. This is why the area is widely considered one of the best snook fisheries in the world, rivaling even that of Costa Rica and Belize.
Bachnik has been guiding clients in the Pine Island Sound area for two decades. He has fished all over the world, but admits he prefers staying close to home.
"I turn down three or four hundred charters a year," he says. "I don't have a Web site. I don't advertise. It is all word of mouth and I still can't keep up."
Humble almost to a fault, Bachnik explains it isn't his angling prowess that keeps the clients coming. It is the region's superb habitat.
"There are just so many little islands, creeks, bays and shell bars," Bachnik says. "There are lots of healthy sea grass beds, which provide good areas for the snook to forage."
Snook can grow to four feet long and weigh up to 50 pounds. The fish prefer shallow water because it offers some protection from sharks and dolphin, so anglers willing to paddle have a distinct advantage over their motor boating counterparts.
Shallow draft vessels, commonly called "flats boats," can also get into the "skinny" water if they are capable of running in one foot of water or less. An electric trolling motor or poling platform is also helpful.
If you're looking to do a little fishing on your own, all you need is a cheap spinning rod, a couple of lures and a rental kayak. Fort Myers Beach is an excellent starting point.
From there it is a short paddle to the small, well-protected Hurricane and Hell Peckney bays. Nearby Mullock and Hendry creeks are also worth exploring, but for a real treat, head up the Estero River. There you'll find dozens of shell mounds, all that remain of the mighty Calusa, the Indians that once ruled all of southwest Florida.
The waters on both sides of Pine Island are also favorite local fishing areas. Live bait, usually pinfish or scaled sardines, are the choice of most professional fishing guides, but anglers looking for more of a challenge will find a variety of artificial baits, from hard-bodied plugs and soft-bodied jigs.