Welcome to the home of Bite Me Fishing, a charter and guide service specializing in light tackle inshore fishing based at Steinhatchee, Florida. I am currently taking only limited charters, so if you are interested in sport fishing in a great area, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For specifics about my trips, click the “About” link above.
Capt. Rick Davidson
If I am not available, I recommend you contact my friend Capt. Tommy Thompson at http://www.saltwateranglersguide.com/.
Tides.Info: Tide Predictions for Steinhatchee River ent., Deadman Bay, Florida
Lots of discussion recently about a new bait from DOA Lures, the Airhead. In fact, the lures have been so popular that they’ve been hard to keep in stock in many stores. On a recent trip to Stuart with Captain Tommy Thompson, we stopped off at headquarters to pick up a few, only to find there weren’t even any there! However, they did have a few laying around that Mark Nichols, the owner/inventor of DOA Lures, rigged for me to try. The Airhead is a unique lure in that it’s essentially a soft bait, Texas-rigged like other soft jerk baits (see my blog post about rigging these useful lures) but it is made to function as a topwater lure, a suspending lure, or a sinking lure. And by splitting the tail, you can actually use it much like a buzzbait. Watch this clip for rigging hints, and also to see the lure in action:
There are number of other videos that show how to use small pieces of foam or pinch weights to customize it in terms of depth. This is an Airhead rigged with pinch weights to provide a little more suspending action, which also increases the weight for longer casts.
While many bass fishermen have found the lifelike tail action in a weedless lure to be just the thing for bass fishing in heavy cover (which is why the lures are hard to find at times), in the salt marshes we fish in cover and floating grass as well. I’ve used the Airhead on a number of trips since returning from Stuart, rigged with a wide-gap 5/0 hook as shown (these are also available from the DOA website at http://www.doalures.com), with and without the pinch weight, and also with a less extreme gap offset worm hook. Having the extreme wide gap provides a keel to keep the bait more upright, but I’ve also had great luck using the more standard hook. I’ve caught several trout over 4 pounds, fishing in water less than 2 feet deep, and a few days ago used it as a back-up lure. Several years ago Tommy and I fished with Roland Martin at the Mel Tillis tournament and Roland always had a follow-up rod at this feet when fishing topwater plugs. When a fish would blow up on his topwater plug and miss it, he would throw a spinner bait at the spot. It was remarkably successful. When fishing very shallow, we need to make very long casts and heavy plugs can provide extra distance, but since that day with Roland I always have a back-up rod I can grab within seconds. Last Sunday I was fishing by myself and had a great morning, catching 4 reds and a five pound trout in about an hour and a half. The big trout and several other smaller specks were taken on the Airhead. The first three redfish hit topwater plugs casted long distances away from the boat, but as I was retrieving the plug, a huge redfish blew up behind it and missed. I immediately threw the Airhead in the area, felt a thump, and nailed this beautiful 26 inch 7 pounder.
I’ve found the Airhead to be a very useful soft bait which can be easily customized. Whether used as a primary lure, or in this case as a follow-up lure, keep some available and rigged on one of your inshore rods. Work them with a variety of retrieve rates, both on the surface and just under it. You won’t be disappointed. For more information about my favorite DOA lure, the shrimp, here is a link to an old post about how I customize them for my specific uses.
I’ve had a few trips that I haven’t really had time to report so I thought I’d combine a few. Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to take several folks out for a fun trip, and we got to use Doug Barrett’s Gulfshore 20 (more about that later). We took Drs. Fred Alt and Rob Hromas out to try and find some redfish and trout. Fred was visiting from Harvard and Rob is the chair of medicine at UF and both are experienced fisherman; in fact, Fred is a licensed headboat captain in Massachusetts. We had a tough day, but managed a few nice fish, including this nice redfish that Fred managed on a topwater and Rob caught several trout including this very reasonable specimen. We brought all our fish with us for a great fresh fish dinner at Fiddler’s Restaurant. There is nobody that grills redfish like Chef Jim Hunt.
After picking up my very own Young Gulfshore, I had the great opportunity to take out well-known kayak angler John Donohue (JD). Living in Venice, Florida, JD represent Hobie Kayaks and writes for several national magazines including Coastal Angler. I first met him last year at a Hobie sponsored event in Jensen Beach that I described in a previous post. He was invited up to speak at the Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club about kayak fishing and we took a few days to break in the new boat. He and I have similar fishing styles (except that I use a boat) in that we love fishing topwater plugs more than anything else, and with the warming waters we were hoping for a good topwater bite. We got to the Sea Hag Marina around 1 PM and hit the water, first time in the new boat. We found some nice trout south of the river, with one excellent 5 pound trout that managed to escape when JD put him in the water to make sure he was doing well in preparation for a picture. He was doing well enough to escape. We found several other nice trout, fishing both topwaters and suspending lures. JD represents Sebile Lures and they were very effective in finding some nice fish. I was using the Paul Brown Devil and the Mirrolure Mirrominnow. The trout pictured below wasn’t spectacular but it was the first fish caught on the new boat so we documented it. There was a vicious seabreeze that sent us back in a little earlier than anticipated, but we were looking forward to the next morning with a great forecast.
Thursday morning was glassy with a early morning low tide. We worked our way into some oyster bars and rock clusters that were exposed and surrounded by mullet and whitebait. it looked like topwater heaven, and we started finding some fine fish. I managed a nice 25 inch red, shortly followed by JD’s tournament fish (27 inches, 6.7 pounds).
We also found some very nice trout, also on topwaters.
As the tide flooded in we tried several other locations south of the river but other than scaring away a 30 pound cobia that swam right up to the boat, we didn’t find much else and came in around noon so that JD could drive back to Venice. It was a great couple of days with a fine fisherman and I hope we can get him back up to Steinhatchee for a few more trips.
After a great run of 8 years, I decided to upgrade my ride. I ordered a new boat, a Young Gulfshore 20, which is a custom-made boat made by Robb Young of Inglis, Florida. My trusty Action Craft has been a great flats boat, but I wanted something a little more roomy that could comfortably fish more than two without losing the shallow-water performance that is necessary for the kind of fishing I do. The Gulfshore is the perfect boat. It’s built on the hull of Robb’s amazing bayboat, the Young 20, but altered for fishing shallow with lower freeboard, a large tunnel hull and open spaces. Each boat is custom-made with multiple options. My boat has the new 150 Mercury, out less than a year, which is the lightest 150 HP four-stroke motor made; Lenco tabs, a Bob’s Action Jack jackplate, an 8 foot PowerPole, and I moved my new iPilot Minnkota trolling motor to the new boat. Some of the specifics on my boat included an extension of the foredeck providing more fishing space on the front of the boat and more storage; a popdown ladder which attaches to the jackplate; zero degree rod holders and 9 foot rod tubes; an adjustable helm; LED lighting and host of other small touches. It took about 6 weeks to build the boat from scratch. Here are some pictures of the process.
I sea-trialed the boat yesterday, we made a few last-minute adjustments, and it is now residing at the Sea Hag Marina. Learning to fine-tune a shallow boat can take some time. No two hulls run exactly the same, and finding the sweet spot for a shallow ride involves adjustments of the trim tabs, motor tilt and jack plate to get the boat stable while running in a foot of water or so. Hoping to do a lot of that research over the next month or so. Young Boats is the place to go when you want a boat you expect to keep for a long time. Their handcrafting quality is evident in every boat they make. I want to thank Robb Young for his flexibility and Dave for his rigging experience, and Angil for making sure all the communication and timing worked out.
I get asked a lot about fishing soft baits in very shallow water and grass. We frequently fish in less than 3 feet of water, and sometimes less than that, and especially in the spring, with lots of grass. Even with weedless spoons, grass gets picked up on almost every cast, and with exposed hook lures, fishing over rocks in very shallow water results in lots of rockfish. Given fishing this shallow is pretty specialized, here are some tips for rigging soft baits weedless, and also avoid hooking shallow rocks.
Here are some standard soft jerkbaits and a variety of offset worm hooks. These hooks were developed to Texas-rig soft freshwater baits for bass fishing. I started using them in the salt about fifteen years ago and these rigs are among the first I go to in shallow water in the winter and grassy water in the spring and summer.
There are many soft jerk baits, and many sizes and shapes of offset worm hooks. These baits happen to be a Stanley Wedgetail, a Bass Assassin 5 inch shad, and a DOA CAL jerkbait. The most important part of selection is making sure the hook fits the bait. The size of the gap in the hook and the height and thickness of the body of the jerkbait determine whether a particular hook will work with a specific bait. For most 4 to 5 inch jerkbaits, you will be using a 3/0 or 4/0 sized hook, but those sizes vary by manufacturer. If you place the hook over the bait you can make an educated guess as to whether it will work or not. The first step is to stick the point of the hook through the nose of the bait, and push the hook out through the bottom of the bait. The distance on the bottom between the exit point of the hook and the nose of the bait depends on the length of the offset at the base of the hook.
Pass the hook through bait and rotate it so the hook is facing upward and offset part of the hook is inside the front of the bait.
The next maneuver requires some experience. You need to compress the soft bait forward toward the nose and push the point of the hook through the bait and out the back of the lure. Selecting the amount to compress the bait, and thus the spot at which the point of the hook enters the bottom of the bait requires some experience but you will pick it up rapidly once you try a few of these rigs. What you end up with is the hook laying along the back of the bait.
Here are some pictures of the smaller DOA bait with a smaller gap worm hook.
It’s important that the hook lie very closely along the back of the bait. This allows you to “skin-hook” the very point of the hook just under the surface of the bait, keeping the point very lightly covered. It will cause a slight bump in the top of the lure where the hook is covered. Some baits, like the DOA bait, actually have a small groove in the top of the bait that the hook can lay in to keep the point hidden.
Because I fish in very shallow water, I don’t use weights. Many hooks either come with small weights on the bottom loop of the wide-gap hook, or allow you to add them. Personally, more frequently I use the smaller gap hooks so the hook isn’t exposed below the bait. I want the bait to sink slowly and I work it simply with a few small jerks to keep it moving as it flutters toward the bottom. However, the same rig may need these weights if you fish in deeper water. My usual rig includes a 15 to 18 inch flurocarbon leader of 20 or 25 pound test, thrown on a 2500 sized reel with 10 pound Power Pro braid. If you fish with a light rod and line, you will be amazed at the distance you can throw these lures, even without any weights at all. I usually will try and set up with the wind at my back regardless of lures, just to allow longer casts which are very important in shallow water for stealth purposes. You do need to give the fish a little time to get the lure into it’s mouth, and you also need to set the hook a reasonable amount to pull the point out of the skin, but you don’t need a massive hookset like with largemouth bass.
I love this rig. It fishes very slowly and safely over rocks without getting hung up, and works through heavy grass better than any other lure I’ve seen. And my largest trout in the past few years was caught by Dr. Bob Watson fishing this rig with a Bass Assassin Die Dapper soft bait in two feet of water over a rocky bottom. That’s a pretty good recommendation. Play around with hooks and baits until you find the right combination of size and weight for your location. You’ll be amazed at how weedless and snag-free these baits fish.
It’s been too long between blog posts, and part of the reason is that the fishing has been sub-par this fall. In my October post, I was rooting for the water to clear but we continued with rain and storms, and while we caught some nice fish, the numbers have been down. Fewer mullet inshore this fall, fewer migrating schools of whitebait and the schools of large reds were hard to find. We’re currently experiencing a somewhat decreased winter trout run; trout have been in the Steinhatchee River in decent numbers, but they’ve been inconsistent. There have been some great days with silver (sand trout) in deeper river holes, and lots of speckled trout have been taken as well, but just minor warming temperature shifts will shut off the bite and send the trout out on the flats. A few weeks ago, fishing with Capt. Tommy Thompson, we found a nice school of larger fish, anchored by this 5.25 pounder.
This was a nice fish, but I wanted to discuss several aspects of this catch. I was using my standard winter-time trout lure, a Paul Brown Corky Devil, by far the most productive cold-water trout lure I have ever used. A slow-sinking soft bait with a single treble, it is designed to fish very slowly, with little motion other than a slow retrieve and an occasional jerk or two. The only problem with the lure is that winter time means large trout, like this one. Large trout have large mouths, and they inhale these lures so deeply that the treble becomes wrapped around their gill rakers. Just a few days before I caught 8 trout over 22 inches and four of the eight had hooks around their gill rakers, which takes great care and skill to retrieve without killing the fish; this is an issue when you are restricted to keeping only one trout per person over 20 inches. I decided to try something a little different, and attached a sturdy circle hook to replace the treble. I also attached the lure using a clip.
There were a lot of trout around that day, and I had a lot of hits. I tried a variety of ways to fish the circle hook. The first few fish that took the lure were never firmly hooked. I simply raised the rod tip, felt a few shakes, and the fish was gone. I finally realized that the wide body of the lure required a slower approach. Fish hang onto the Corky lure; it’s soft and you have enough time to simply reel slightly with the rod tip down to secure the hook in the corner of the mouth, as in the picture. Not that this will be perfect. The trout has to be large enough to get the lure well into its mouth. I expect to lose some fish with this set-up, but since most cannot be kept anyway, I don’t consider it that much of a loss, and the larger fish are more likely to be hooked up. I have strong feelings about large trout being released in good shape, because these large trout are the breeding stock (almost all are females) that provide more large trout. If you are a lure fisherman, consider giving circle hooks a try instead of trebles.
You’ll also notice the clip. It’s not that lure fishermen are lazy, but somehow switching lures and re-tying when there is a bite on doesn’t happen, and you end up with a shorter leader when you do. Additionally, many lures without split rings (like the Corky) are said to work better with a loop knot, which also takes up leader and time to tie. My friend Sam Root clued me into the Tactical Angler Fishing Clips and I ordered some, not really expecting very much. I had tried similar clips many years ago and found them either too weak for large fish, or too difficult to use. However, these clips are quite different.
They are by far the easiest clips I’ve ever used. It literally takes seconds to switch lures, especially in lures without split rings. Lures with split rings require a bit more manipulation for more mature eyes and fingers, but even those are easily switched. Here’s a video demonstration of how to use them.
I’ve used them several times now, on a variety of plugs and jigheads, and even on unweighted soft plastic jerk baits rigged with offset worm hooks. I wish they were available in a slightly smaller size than the 50 lb. size for this latter situation, because they do cause the baits to sink faster than I would like, and in a nose-down direction, which is not that realistic. However, I’ve caught some nice fish using this set-up as well. You can find them from a variety of vendors on the web. I expect I will using these regularly as I fish plugs about 90% of the time I’m on the water. I think you’ll find them useful as well.
I want to wish everyone a great New Year…unlimited horizons, clear water and tight lines ahead.
It’s been a while since I posted, and frankly that’s been because I’ve had a lot of fun activities to attend on weekends (the Florida Outdoor Writer’s Annual Meeting in Titusville and a fun weekend kayak fishing with Grand Master Jerry McBride in Stuart) and relatively slow fishing at Steinhatchee. However, things have begun to pick up recently. The FOWA meeting was, as usual, a great learning experience. Spent some time with Mark Sosin, a television fishing pioneer, and Pat Ford, acclaimed photographer who has worked with Guy Harvey. Executive Director Tommy Thompson organized a great event that included a morning fishing trip. I got to fish with Drew Cavanaugh, a light-tackle guide who fishes the Mosquito Lagoon. Unfortunately the lagoon is suffering from an algae bloom so we fished directly in front of the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Cape. We managed a few nice 22 inch fish, but I was horrifyingly frustrated when I lost the largest trout I’ve ever had hooked. She blew up on a topwater, made a number of runs around the boat with both of us thinking it was a redfish. She finally came up to the surface ten feet from the boat when the hook pulled. We estimated her at around 10 pounds. It was a great meeting nonetheless. It was a beautiful morning and this is one of the ones that didn’t get away.
Some pictures from the meeting…Tommy Thompson doing a photo workshop with Pat Ford and Mark Sosin looking on, and a meeting of the minds…Tommy Thompson, Ingrid Niehaus from Hobie in California, Jerry McBride and photographer Sam Root.
Closer to home, I fished several times over the past week and things are definitely returning to normal after a summer of darkened water from Tropical Storm Debby turned the usually crystal-clear waters at Steinhatchee a darkly stained coffee color. This past weekend Tommy Thompson and I returned to some of our regular haunts and found loads of baitfish and lots of activity. At one point we had a double; I had a nice redfish and Tommy a 22 inch trout. We managed to get a good pic and still released both in good shape.
This Thursday I took Brett Bentley and his father Jack out for a trip. Brett is a medical student at UF and his dad lives in Tampa, and Brett wanted to get in some fishing with his dad. They both have fished a lot in the past and although I expressed a little concern about the recent fishing, they were ready to go regardless. We left the Sea Hag Marina to an east wind of around 10 knots. Although the water visibility is still around a foot, we found some schools of baitfish and began fishing popping cork rigs in 3 feet of water over some mixed bottom. We immediately began catching good numbers of trout, mixed with ladyfish and the occasional sea bass and grunts. As the tide rose I worked my way into the shoreline to explore for redfish, but other than one strike on a topwater plug, there were none to be found so we moved back out to deeper water and continued catching trout, and drifted out further to the nearshore bars looking for Spanish mackerel. There were surprisingly few whitebait pods near the bars and we never found any Spanish. According to reports they are very plentiful in slightly deeper 15 foot depths along with kingfish, but a drifted pinfish didn’t connect. But we caught a lot of fish and Jack and Brett seemed pleased with the day.
While the trout bite is excellent right now, the redfish are inconsistent. We spotted some schools over the weekend, but things are still not quite back to normal. However, with the decreased rainfall and cooler temperatures this time of year, things will be getting better every day. Make plans to get over to Steinhatchee and take advantage of the smaller crowds and great flats fishing.
I have studiously avoided anything Apple for many years, but the arrival of the iPhone 4S at a time when I was needing an upgrade got me into that particular infrastructure. While I found the iPhone extremely limited in terms of customization, the large number of apps and the smoothness of the operating system, the quality of the camera and the number of accessories available made it a very reasonable purchase. Since I spend a lot of time on the water, being able to protect the phone became a priority. My previous phones were tucked into Aquapacs, which worked fine as long as you don’t need to use the phone for anything other than making or receiving calls. At the time the 4S was released, there was already a waterproof case available that provided full functionality, so even though it was a little more expensive than the average case, I purchased a Lifeproof case. The online reviews seemed to be divided; while most loved the case, there were a number who really didn’t like it at all. The appeal to me was that the case was meant to stay on the phone at all times, providing shock protection; it was much less bulky than some of the other protective and waterproof storage solutions; and mostly, it was billed as being completely waterproof, allowing use of the iPhone as an underwater camera. Now I have an underwater camera, so I don’t intend to necessarily use my iPhone in that manner, but I figured it would be protected in most situations I could get into. I bought the case and following the instructional videos on the Lifeproof website , I put it on. The case is quite thin, and in two clamshell pieces that snap together with an O ring along the border of the junction of the front and back pieces.
There were a number of complaints about the case on the internet, primarily that the built-in touchscreen had a “pillow effect”…that there is an air gap between the screen and the screen protector. The other major complaint was that the sound was muffled by the case. These turned out to be minimal problems for me. While there was a slight air gap, the screen protector stretched out after a week or so and the protector fit tightly against the screen. As with all screen protectors, there is a slight decrease in sensitivity on the touchscreen but it’s no worse than any other protector and not bothersome at all. The sound was only diminished during speakerphone calls but also was very manageable. Every case I’ve ever owned is a trade-off, and the positives about this case are many. You are instructed to do a water test when you get the case, and in fact I have submerged the phone and case a number of times without any problem whatsoever. Additionally, the case is very light and thin, much thinner than my son’s Otterbox Defender, which is not waterproof. The camera lens cover is optical glass, and the camera was fantastic. Here are a few pictures I took with the phone.
It didn’t me very long to become a big fan of the Lifeproof case. I could leave it on continuously, keep it in my pocket easily and be confident it was protected from water damage. There was only one thing that made me nervous about the case…it has no way to attach a lanyard. As I used the phone on the water, I was always concerned about dropping it in the water. It turned out to be a reasonable concern as I forgot to zip my pocket closed during the Nuts and Bolts fishing event and I watched the phone, still lit up, flutter down into deep grass. After a half hour of searching I gave up the ghost, an expensive loss. It was particularly frustrating because I knew that Lifeproof was about to release the Lifejacket, a solution to this problem. After replacing the phone, I received my Lifejacket… just about a month too late. The Lifejacket is well named; it is a brightly colored jacket for the phone, with attachment points for several kinds of lanyards, and it will float the entire phone.
The Lifejacket comes with two lanyards, a wrist lanyard and a longer one that allows the phone to be worn around your neck. It allows access to all buttons on the phone, doesn’t interfere with the camera at all, and while it adds to the bulk of the phone, it’s very light and unobtrusive. It is the final answer to the challenge of using your iPhone in the marine environment safely. This photo, taken by Drew Wickstrom this past weekend during a major Indian River Lagoon thunderstorm, demonstrates how valuable this combination is. At this point in time, there aren’t any alternatives to the Lifeproof case and Lifejacket and they are highly recommended.