Archive for the ‘Inshore Fishing’ Category
Anyone reading this blog knows that I almost always fish artificials (by almost all, I’m talking 99% of the time). I enjoy watching fish chase topwater plugs, and trying to find patterns that enable me to fool them. This almost certainly results in catching fewer fish, but my personality has always found it difficult to sit somewhere with a bait on the bottom waiting around for things to happen. There are times when my philosophy is shaken. With a customer on board, when you can’t find any fish active enough to chase down a lure, anything is on the table. I have had a prior fishing trip with my brother-in-law, Mike Holman, who lives in Isle of Palms, SC, just north of Charleston. Unfortunately the time we went was deep in the winter. We tried several areas, and I was impressed with how fishy the creeks looked, even though there were no baitfish or redfish in the area. When the opportunity to go again presented itself, along with the opportunity to see some of my in-laws, I was delighted to give it another try. We fished two days, and as usual, I started every day with plugs of various kinds. Mike noted that most people don’t find artificials very effective, and that the guides mostly don’t use them. Naturally, that confirmed my choice….I would find a way. We began by running Mike’s Pathfinder to a creek about five minutes away from the marina at Isle of Palms. The water was brown, the tide was low with oyster bars lining the creek, and hordes of mullet moving along the shoreline and even out in the middle of the creek, which was about 4 to 6 feet in depth. I threw topwaters, suspending plugs, jigs and a spoon, all to no avail. Meanwhile, we had caught several small redfish, and then a 29 incher arrived and caught my attention. That was followed by a 28 incher. These fish were all caught on cut mullet. Check the video for live action.
We caught several more fish and then had to head back for family business. Mike and I decided to go out very early the next morning to an area closer to the inlets to try and both fish and net some live bait. Again the area we ran to looked incredibly fishy. The water was a little clearer but still very murky. Mullet and glass minnows were everywhere. We managed to net a few finger mullet for the livewell and threw plugs for a good 45 minutes and never had a swirl. Very disappointing. We picked up our late-arising guests and returned to the same area as the day before. I again tried a few plugs and was again rebuffed by the redfish migrating up this creek. This time I gave up earlier, and switched to Mike’s rig. He was fishing 30 or 40 pound braid attached to a shock leader of 30 pound fluoro, with a quarter ounce sinker above a swivel, then to a short 8 inch terminal 30 pound leader tied to a relatively small circle hook. These are hooked to either a half or whole finger mullet. This rig works very well, as no hookset is required, and for people who don’t fish frequently, allows the rod to simply sit in the holder while the fish hooks itself. We pretty much had non-stop action, anchored just above a small side creek. The reds were clearly moving into the larger creek and the mullet were more concentrated around the bars at the mouth of the smaller creek. We ended up with a number of excellent fish, including two nice flounder.
When we got back to the dock for lunch, we were chatting with a guide who was docked next to us. He looked at my topwater-rigged rod and kind of chuckled “using topwaters, huh?”. He didn’t even ask how I did. It was a great trip, lots of nice fish, and I certainly changed my attitude about the best way to catch redfish is in that area. In our area, if we had fished that way, we would have been beset by 40 pound sting rays, hardheads and small sharks….none of whom made an appearance on our trips. But I’m still thinking there has to be a way, so I’m hoping for another invitation to this great fishing area to give artificials another try. As Jim Valvano said, never give up.
Between travel, home construction, music festivals and meetings, I’ve been a bad blogger. But with cooler weather, more fishing takes place, although not necessarily more catching. Earlier this year, the Doug Johnson Reeling for Kids tournament was a huge success, in spite of some dicey weather. I was pleased to again get the opportunity to fish with Noah Brindise and his guests from Arthrex, including a former student Mike Moser, from the Sports Medicine group in UF Orthopedics. We caught a good number of fish, including this trout that was almost five pounds, and Mike caught this fine redfish….but as usual during this tournament, the nice redfish we caught were all over slot. This is by far my favorite tournament of the year, for a great cause, and I’m ready for next year already.
Later in the summer I had a fun trip with Mark and Sarah. Mark is an Ebola researcher from Maryland and his friend Sarah recently moved to Gainesville. Mark warned me that Sarah had not fished a lot, so I did something I haven’t done in about five years….bought some live shrimp. Sarah managed one trout on a shrimp before we both tired of dealing with ravenous pinfish, so I taught her how to throw a plug. About five minutes later she managed this fine redfish on a topwater, and later this fine trout. Mark also found a nice redfish and asked if there was something we could find so that Sarah would have something pull hard on her line….amazing how easy it is to find 40 pound stingrays when you’re fishing with cut bait. Forty-five minutes later she had her fill. A great trip, and I’m looking forward to seeing them again this winter.
In early September, in spite of heavy boat traffic from scalloping and lots of floating grass, we could usually find some redfish. Here’s a pair that Tommy Thompson and I found, along with a nice trout that Doug Barrett caught, all on topwaters.
I’ve had visits from several old friends, some from NC, Tennessee, and that distressed area of the US, Destin. Lark and Tom, old friends from my Nashville days, helped me hunt. Fishing was tough, but they did catch enough for one dinner….a small keeper redfish and a nice flounder. And my old high school friend Joe Jacobs came for a day to find things just as tough, catching this inshore gag grouper and a variety of fish, but not what we were looking for.
Most recently the fishing in Steinhatchee has been confusingly slow, for a month that historically is one of our best months of the year. The water has been very clear, although the floating grass has stayed around longer than usual to torture plug fishermen like me. We did have a minor red tide episode, but it fairly rapidly left the area. The migration of baitfish seems to be delayed, and there are a lot fewer mullet than I’m used to seeing this time of year. Hopefully things will swing around now that there is some consistent lowering of the water temperatures.
After months of tannin-stained water and massive quantities of floating grass, the waters around Steinhatchee have returned to the clear productive state of normality. The fishing has been excellent, both offshore and inshore. Somewhat atypically, trout have been moving into the Steinhatchee River in the absence of a major cold snap, and not surprisingly, nobody has complained yet. Silver (sand) trout have been everywhere, including in the river and at one of the recent hotspots near the Bird Rack north of Steinhatchee. One captain with a large party wanting a fish fry brought in 160 pounds of silver trout. On a brief trip with Capt. Tommy Thompson and Doug Barrett, we took several nice trout on topwater plugs near Rock Point over mixed grass and sand potholes. The next week I took Tommy and old friend Capt. John Peyton out for another reconnoitering. While we didn’t find any redfish on our early drifts, we managed to find some excellent upper-slot fish using topwater plugs south of Dallus Creek, again in an area of potholes.
We moved offshore as the tide dropped and found some large Spanish mackerel, several nice flounder and a good number of silver trout with the occasional speckled trout. There were schools of white bait scattered over a quarter-mile square area being attacked by mackerel, bluefish and ladyfish. The fishing was so good that I convinced my son Sidney and his girlfriend, Lee Ferinden, to come out for a trip. Fishing has never been Sid’s cup of tea, but he was excited to give it a try after a number of years. Both he and Lee re-learned how to cast. Again, we couldn’t find any redfish in the early morning flood tide, but as we moved out we again found large schools of whitebait. Returning to an area west of the Bird Rack at Big Grass Island, we found silver and speckled trout, at times catching fish on every cast. We also came across some giant Spanish mackerel which somehow were unable to get their teeth through the 25 pound fluorocarbon leader. The largest was over 5.5 pounds and looked like a small kingfish coming to the boat.
As I mentioned, we had reports of some trout being caught in the river. We noticed several boats landing lots of small silver trout, but some nice speckled trout have made it into the river as well; Chase Norwood, the son of Sea Hag owner/operator Charlie Norwood nailed this gator trolling a Mirrolure in the river.
I really had a great time with Lee and Sid, and I was glad we managed to catch a few fish as well. While ordinarily I don’t keep fish, we ended up keeping around 20 pounds of trout and mackerel filets to grill. The water temperature throughout the day ranged from the low to the mid-60s. Water was clear just about everywhere and we could see the bottom over 10 foot creek beds. Unfortunately the floating grass continued to make plug fishing challenging, but that is improving as well.Looking forward to a long holiday weekend to get in some more water time. As the water temps continue to cool down, the trout fishing could improve dramatically as the larger fish begin to school. That will be “Corky time” for us, time to fish my favorite cold-water lure, the Paul Brown Corky Devil from Mirrolure. Can’t wait for that cold weather!
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 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.
While we do occasionally fish from kayaks around Steinhatchee, it’s not something we do frequently. The team representing Hobie kayaks, from California and Florida, took a number of us kayaking on my last day in Stuart.It was a beautiful morning and we had breakfast at the tiki hut prior to leaving.
Organized as always by Jerry McBride, we launched from a small ramp at the Ft. Pierce bridge and headed north. The group included Polly Dean, writer and photographer for Game and Fish Magazine from Atlanta, Cheryl Little, the Redfish Ranger from Panama City, and Hobie reps Ingrid Niehaus and Morgan Promnitz from California, and pro staff Hobie folks Sam Root, J.D. Donohue, Honson Lau, Jose Chavez, and Christina Altman from Ft. Lauderdale. This was my first time at trying the Hobie Mirage Drive system, which has developed a huge following because it is pedal-driven, leaving your hands free for fishing. The kayaks come in a variety of sizes and layouts. I was very interested to see how the pedal drive performed against current and wind, and we got a quick lesson as we pedaled north again the strong outgoing tidal current. In brief, it worked very well. Steady pedaling is the ticket, and it requires very little energy to do the short strokes suggested by the pros. I suspect I would have been a lot more winded had I been paddling.
We worked our way north, fishing alongside some beautiful islands with rocky shorelines and tons of oyster and sand bars with cuts to deeper water. There were plenty of mullet schools and the area looked very fishy. I was a little distracted by learning about how to maneuver the kayak but managed several trout, jacks and ladyfish. Polly was interested in getting a picture of this relatively unimpressive trout.
However, there were some excellent fish around. These pictures were taken by Sam Root, a truly amazing photographer and fisherman. Sam’s most recent business efforts have included some of his beautiful pictures on the backs of mobile phone cases (http://store.saltyshores.com/). Morgan Promnitz nailed this huge trout and Christina Altman had this more modest specimen, but her picture sure looked better than mine.
We pulled into a beautiful cove on an unnamed island that had some benches and unloaded. There was a young manatee playing in the cove for us to play with, while Jerry prepared a fine shore lunch of grilled pork loin marinated in a jalapeno/cranberry glaze which was awesome, grilled fresh asparagus and some fine beans with lots of onions and brown sugar. It was great watching Jerry work while Ingrid, Polly and I waited for him to cook us lunch.
My ride was one of the latest models, the Pro Angler 12. Very wide and stable, with a remarkable seat that could elevate, recline, lumbar support adjustment…it was like sitting in an easy chair. Had some extras I’ve never seen…a pop-up tackle locker with two Plano boxes and horizontal rod holders to keep the rods down when going through low hanging mangroves. The pedaling motion is quite easy as long as you remember to use small quick strokes and not longer ones, which really don’t add any speed. This is what worked well for me.
This is a nice video that shows how the drive works underwater.
All told, it was a fantastic few days. The fishing community in the Stuart area is very different than our relatively quiet area, but the fishing is great and there are lots of people to learn from. And one person that I have to thank (maybe a little gratuitously) is the Master of all Trades and Media, Jerry McBride. Jerry works tirelessly for DOA, conservation, and the good of all people everywhere. Thanks for all you do, Jerry!