The following articles are a few that were written by Capt. George and published in "The Nautical Mile Magazine" between 2004 -2011
Where Are The Fish?
Lesson #1: Transition Zones
Having trouble finding fish in unfamiliar waters? Southwest Florida has endless miles of mangroves, grass beds, beaches and man made structures that can be over whelming to any fisherman. Don’t worry, understanding transition zones will have you catching any type of fish hours, days, even months sooner.
Transition zones are areas frequently traveled by sea life, much like busy highways we use to get to work every day. Inlets, canal entrances, channels, narrow openings to bays and flats, even a deep cut between two islands or sand bars can be a zone that fish use to get from one place to another. Many reasons cause them to travel these areas throughout their lives. Common motives are searching for food, mates or environmental conditions. Fish from large open areas will also be brought together by a “bottle neck” effect in the narrower transition zone.
With so many fish using transition zones on a regular basis, it becomes obvious that they make great fishing spots. By keying on them, you eliminate large amounts of water from your search. Next, consider the seasonal habits of a species you wish to catch. For example, snook spend the summer months spawning around the inlets and beaches. Therefore, inlets into the gulf would be transition zones worth trying. During the winter, they move into canals and rivers in search of warmer, more stable water. Try fishing a deeper channel up the skinny part of a river where the fish become “bottle
necked.” By eliminating many of the transition zones on your map, you dramatically increase your chances of catching fish.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Actually it is pretty simple! However, after locating a few good places, you will need to understand how fish relate to these zones in order to catch them. Try to visualize the area through the eyes of fish. Fish relate to structure of all kinds. Look for something that stands out from everything else. Maybe its a dock or jetty extending into the inlet, a sharp bend in the channel, or rock pile you notice on your sonar. Even the pillars of a bridge or deeper shorelines that allow fish access to mangroves and shade can act as holding points in transition zones. Fish relate to structure because it allows them a place to ambush prey, escape strong currents, and provide protection from larger predators. Finding structure will quickly allow you to determine if the area is productive for fishing.
What should you do when transition zones don’t produce any fish? First, you must remember that patience is a vital quality in this sport. Some days the conditions are just not in your favor. Second, the productivity of an area can change by the minute, especially in tidal waters. Fish a transition zone you feel good about thoroughly, with different baits and presentations. However, keep yourself from spending too much time in one place, when you loose confidence, move on to the next zone. Furthermore, don’t hesitate to return to an area later in the day, on the opposite end of the tide, or as the sun has fully risen in the sky. Often such environmental factors will increase the activity level of fish.
There are also times when fish will be in areas other than the transition zones described above. Don’t let that stop you from using them in your search. For instance, if you know flats with lots of sea grass should hold fish at a particular time or season, then look over several flats that are closest to a transition zone; for example, an inlet or mouth of a canal. Once you find one or two with sea grass, start fishing. Fish that want to use flats as feeding grounds will usually move to such an area from a transition zone as the tide changes. With some species, you may have success in the summer fishing the outgoing tide in an inlet, then as the tide comes back in, the fish will head to the nearest flat while the water rises. Again, look for structure such as grass lines, mangroves, oyster bars, or a deep cut that allows fish to enter and exit the flat quickly. You don’t have to always fish in the transition zone, but using it as a point of reference for finding larger populations of fish can help lead you to more productive areas.
From freshwater to saltwater, from north to south, transition zones have helped me locate fish in unfamiliar waters time and time again. Remember them the next time you are uncertain where to begin. Using them as a starting point will certainly help you find and catch more fish. Till next time, remember...a new world record may only be a cast away!
WHERE ARE THE FISH?
Lesson #2: Fishing The Tides
As a fishing guide, I have the opportunity to fish with a lot of different people. Many are new residents, or frequent visitors, interested in accelerating their learning of fishing a new environment. Some are skilled anglers of 60 years, while others are new to this “therapy” altogether. No matter how much time we have spent chasing fish, or what techniques of fishing we use, there is one thing we all want to know when on the water more than anything else…. WHERE ARE THE FISH? Even the best anglers cannot answer this question right every day. There are many factors to consider. Weather, water temperature, time of year, and even the amount of boat traffic can cause fish to move from one area to another. One of the most consistent variables in fish behavior is tidal flow. Understanding how fish relate to tides will increase your chances of locating productive areas each time out.
During the lowest part of the tide cycle, most fish are located in deeper areas within their locale. Potholes, creek mouths, and channels are common places for them to escape the falling water. As the tide begins to rise, fish will often stage on the deep side of shallow drop-offs and ledges, waiting for enough water to enter shallows full of unsuspecting crabs and shrimp. Baitfish will also move in with the rising water, and fish will look to ambush them at key locations during this movement to the shallows. The best ambush points will disrupt current flow, allowing fish to rest from moving water and save valuable energy. Such areas include points, rocks, mangroves, even a bend in the channel or creek. Regardless of the tide, fish will position themselves facing into the current. Doing so allows them to survey potential meals as they come by with the moving water. Knowing this, allow your baits or lures to travel in the same direction as the current. Fish may stage at several ambush points as the water rises, traveling further into shallow creeks, bays and estuaries. In deeper creeks and canals fish may stay on one ambush point throughout the tide.
Water is at its highest level at the end of the incoming, and beginning of the outgoing period, giving fish more locations to occupy. At times, they congregate on structure such as healthy oyster bars and islands which are only available to them at high tide. However, it is usually during this time when fish seem to scatter here and there, taking advantage of newly flooded feeding grounds. Moving continually along these areas while you fish can be productive, as there may only be one or two fish in close proximity.
Eventually water begins flowing from these estuaries, funneling into channels, inlets, and the narrow openings of bays and creeks on its way out to sea. As it does, food flowing with it is concentrated into a small area making it easy for hungry fish to find. Current flow is fastest in these funnel zones, and any structure that breaks the current can provide a great ambush point for predators. Jetties, docks, bridges, trees, and changes in depth are common places that attract fish in these areas. If the current is too strong, fish will usually position themselves along the shoreline immediately up current of the funnel area. Food begins to gather here, as it is washed into the shore by the outgoing tide. The last couple hours of the outgoing cycle can be exceptionally good fishing, as predator and prey are most concentrated at this time.
Understanding how fish behavior changes with the tide can help you find productive areas to fish right away. With time on the water, you will learn which ambush sites fish prefer in your area, and being aware of which ones they relate to at any given point during the tide will dramatically increase your fishing success. Until next month, remember, the next world record may only be a cast away!
FISHING WITH CONFIDENCE
Serious anglers throughout the world spend a lot of time learning how things such as fishing tackle, weather, moons, and locations affect their ability to catch fish. One factor that is often over looked is self-confidence. Certainly angling can be a frustrating activity. Realistic views of your abilities combined with a positive attitude will increase your level of concentration. Confidence also helps you to push yourself and take risks needed to improve your skills.
Confidence should be built on realistic observations of your abilities. Many variables are out of our control while fishing. We have no power over changing weather, tides, fish, sea creatures, and other boats. It is important not to let frustration create self-doubt. Where you are less confident, you will commonly suffer from fear of failure (which will prevent you from taking effective risks, or trying new things), self-doubt, and negative thinking. All of these issues cloud your thought process and inhibit your concentration. Such things will surely reduce your enjoyment of fishing as well.
Overconfidence is confidence that is not based on ability. It can dangerously lead you into situations that you cannot easily get out of (snagged in the bushes, stuck on a sandbar, late for the tournament weigh in!). Also, it can set you up for serious failure, which can be devastating to the self-confidence you should have.
Goal setting is probably the most effective way of building self-confidence. By setting realistic goals, and achieving them, you prove your ability to yourself. You can see, recognize, and enjoy your achievement, and feel real self-worth in what you have accomplished. Simply making a few good casts, tying a good knot, or catching one fish could be a goal. For some boat handling or cast net use make achievable tasks.
Once you understand your limits as an angler, you can begin to use confidence levels to your advantage. At times of low productivity, we are faced with decisions such as changing baits, locations, and perhaps even fishing partners! Self-doubt will affect your concentration level, reducing your ability to catch fish. If you loose confidence in a lure or location, you might as well change up, as fishing them with out concentration will likely reduce their effectiveness.
Certainly, research into fish behavior, tackle, and techniques can improve your success in catching fish. It is easy, however, to get lost in all the details and bury your own abilities as an angler. As frustrations build, and you spend more time fishing than catching, self-doubt prevents you from concentrating on the tasks at hand. Understanding how confidence affects your concentration, can improve all of your skills as an angler.
Keep hearing stories of the big one that got away? Sure, we all exaggerate a little when we get excited. During that moment when the fish is hooked and the rod bends down toward the depths, adrenalin begins to flow and our minds wonder about the possibilities of what monster just snapped the line on the wreck below. Fortunately for anglers here in Southwest Florida, there are lots of large fish living both inshore and further out in the gulf. Species like the goliath grouper inhabit a variety of areas common to recreational anglers. These oversized sea creatures are more than capable of starting some “big fish” stories.
Goliath grouper (Epinephelus Itajara) are the largest of the grouper family, reaching lengths of just over 8 feet and weighing as much as 800 pounds! It’s not uncommon for anglers with the heaviest of tackle to catch fish between 200 and 400 pounds. Endangered on a worldwide level, the heart of their range begins right here in Florida and extends south to Brazil. They are also found in the East Pacific from the Gulf of California to Peru, and on the west coast of Africa from Senegal to Congo. Stocky in build, the widths of these beasts are half as much as their total length. They are long lived with slow growth and reproduction rates. Ages have been confirmed at 37 years, and most scientists believe that 50 years would be a better time frame for their lifespan.
This large heathen begins its life as pelagic larvae, hatching from eggs to be swept away with the ocean currents. At this stage it looks more like a creature from the depths of a scary movie than a grouper. The main spines from the dorsal and pelvic fins are greatly elongated, possibly to act as “sails” to help it travel with the moving water. It feeds on small plankton until it becomes a benthic juvenile at about 25 days. From there, it takes a lot of eating to become a 500-pound tackle buster!
Maturity does not come quickly for goliath grouper. With such a long lifespan, males don’t reach maturity until 4-6 years of age, and females even later at 6-7 years. Such slow growth and reproductive rates make the species much more susceptible to over harvesting, as it will take longer for them to replace the older, mature fish. Spawning occurs during the months of July, August, and September around the full moons.
One advantage the goliaths may have on their side is that they are believed to be protogynous hermaphrodites like their cousins the red and gag groupers. This means individuals that begin their lives as females are actually able to physically change sex at some point and become males. Not all females change however; usually environmental or population related issues prompt the transformation. Many protogynous hermaphrodites change because there is a lack of one gender in the population. Others usually have local populations that are run by an “alpha” fish of one gender that may need replacing, prompting the most mature member of the group to change and take over the area. The specifics of goliath grouper reproduction are not totally clear, but the ability of a species to change gender would clearly help it reproduce under less than ideal circumstances.
In their early years, goliaths live in the middle of the food chain. Natural predators include sharks, barracudas, king mackerel, moray eels, and even other grouper. Once maturity reaches, and the goliaths begin reaching weights counted in the hundreds, their only predator is man. Taking refuge in and around heavy structure like reefs, wrecks, bridge and dock pylons, these adults can be very territorial. A goliath grouper will often flare its large mouth and shake its body in order to intimidate other creatures trespassing in its area. They are also able to make a low rumbling noise from their swim bladder; this is used both to intimidate other creatures, and to locate other members of the same species.
It would be very hard to reach sizes approaching half a ton without having a healthy appetite, and goliath grouper are opportunistic feeders to say the least. With very large mouths, several gallons of water can be instantly consumed, along with helpless prey that never knew the well-camouflaged predator was there. This method is particularly useful in catching spiny lobsters, one of the goliath’s favorite snacks. Most fish that venture too close cannot escape the sudden vacuum created when the grouper opens its mouth. Like other grouper species, goliaths will also chase prey such as fish for short distances. Extra rows of bottom teeth help grab larger, faster fish such as snapper, crevalle jacks, and other grouper.
Excelling at eating this variety of sea life also means trying a few human offerings every now and then. Keeping or taking possession of goliath grouper is prohibited, as they are a protected species. If you do catch one, even a small juvenile, do every thing in your power to ensure you release it unharmed. With larger ones, use caution not to damage the spine or organs by bending the heavy fish over the side of the boat. Also their small eyes can be easily damaged if the weight of the fish presses them against something. These fish are made to live in the water; the forces of gravity can be very damaging if not applied evenly and carefully.
Every year a few monster goliaths are caught under the Sanibel Causeway, as well as the old phosphate docks of Boca Grande. These fish are accessible to small boaters, and even shore fisherman. They are year round residents, and have surely frustrated many anglers un-equipped to battle such a large foe. Remember that next time your friends come back from the Sanibel Pier saying they hooked a fish that was 5 feet long…it may have been longer!
REIGN OF THE OLD SCHOOL
100 million years ago, the oldest relatives of modern tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) swam the oceans with prehistoric creatures that would make most science fiction novels seem tame. Some of these monsters have evolved into totally different life forms, while many have disappeared from our world completely. A small few however, have changed very little over the years, despite drastic environmental changes. Like fashions, cars, and weapons, some designs are so good they never go out of style. From the beginning, Mother Nature designed an opportunistic survivor in the tarpon family that shows no signs of giving way to a new order.
Tarpon live on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, with their populations concentrated around tropical climates. Many scientists describe them as thermophilic, or able to live in high temperature conditions. The range of the species exists along Africa’s coast from Senegal to Congo, and American waters primarily from North Carolina south to the West Indies. That puts our own Lee County as one of the premier tarpon fishing areas in the world.
It’s hard to believe that the king begins as a microscopic egg floating around with plankton of the sea. Spawning occurs offshore, primarily around the full and new moons of May and June. At this time, mature females can produce as many as 15 million oocytes, or unfertilized eggs. Once the females release the oocytes, they are fertilized by the males “milt” of sperm, beginning a long treacherous journey for the juvenile tarpon. In the first stage of their lives, the larvae resemble a very small eel or leech which will travel long distances by currents, tides, and swimming to inshore estuaries, mangroves, feeder ponds and even drainage ditches. Along the way, the larvae are very vulnerable to predators like zooplankton and small fish, and it takes all 15 million fertilized eggs to overcome the amount eaten by them. For the lucky ones that reach the estuaries, they develop through different stages, eventually becoming small juveniles that are recognizable as baby tarpon at about 2 inches in length.
Have you ever watched a school of tarpon and noticed they often break the water’s surface frequently? Prehistoric in design, tarpon are one of the few fish that are able to breath air directly from the surface. Using their swim bladder much like a lung, this ability enables the young to survive in stagnant, oxygen depleted waters, far out of reach from the many predators living in the sounds and oceans. In fact, studies have shown that tarpon cannot survive without the ability to breath air directly. As adults, they continue to gulp air from the surface when their activity level is high, such as in times of feeding and spawning. This enables them to provide quick oxygen to the body, which prevents fatigue and the build up of lactic acid in the muscles.
Once tarpon reach about 2 feet in length they will move to inhabit rivers, canals, and the upper reaches of bays until sexual maturity is reached at about 6-7 years. At this point, they join the seasonal migrations and offshore spawning with other adults. Male tarpon may live over 30 years, while females can live in excess of 50 years, grow to lengths of 8.2 feet, and weigh as much as 355 pounds! These silver kings are opportunistic feeders to say the least. They use speed, power, a keen sense of smell, and superior eyesight to locate prey of all kinds. The genus name Megalops even comes from the Greek language meaning “large eyed”. These large, highly sensitive eyes allow tarpon to see well at night when smaller, less developed fish and crabs are at a disadvantage.
Traditionally there has been little scientific interest in tarpon, primarily due to their inability to be used as a food source for mankind. However, with the huge economical increase in sport fishing for the species, more and more money is being allocated for research into the lives and habits of these incredible beasts. After surviving millions of years in an ocean full of large sharks and prehistoric monsters, tarpon have rightfully earned the respect of scientist and anglers alike. No need for sharp teeth or pretty colors, these silver kings have made their way through history on a classic design. They have outlasted many of Mother Nature’s wonderful creations, and they have done it by staying…”old school”.
TRY ARTIFICIALS FOR WINTER SUCCESS
With weekly cold fronts, and unpredictable conditions, winter fishing can test the patience of all anglers. In general the fishing is still world class, and there are more options for anglers wanting to target different species each time out. It is this time of year when versatility will increase your chance of success.
Few anglers will argue there are times when live bait is more apt to trigger fish to eat than artificials. However, there are many advantages to spending time with man-made lures than the real thing. For one, post cold front conditions this time of year can really slow down feeding habits of fish. Live baits targeted by anglers and their cast nets also become harder to locate. Using a variety of artificial baits can eliminate running around looking for bait instead of spending your time fishing. Also, you may spend time fishing an area with live bait unsuccessfully even though there are fish there. Using artificial lures to “cover water” by moving constantly can help you locate fish that are actually willing to eat under less than ideal conditions. This method is easier with artificials than live baits, since you are able to cast and retrieve them at a much faster rate.
Attitudes of fish also become much more finicky in the colder months. In other words, they can be quite picky. With artificial lures you can change shapes, sizes, actions, colors, and depth at which you fish to help determine what fish are willing to eat on any given trip. I usually leave 3 or 4 lures tied on at all times. This allows me to change baits quickly as the location demands. A few lures that remain staples in my fishing are lead head jigs, soft plastic twitch baits, hard plastic suspending lures, and the trusty golden spoon.
Jigs are the most versatile of them all. They can be fished fast, slow, shallow and deep. My favorite is a red head ¼ ounce jig with a natural or white colored paddle tail grub. It is most effective when jerked back in irregular hard motions that resemble a scared, fleeing baitfish. They can also be bounced off the bottom to mimic a dying bait or shrimp, as well as simply reeled back in a steady or stop and go motion
Soft plastic twitch baits such as Zoom’s Super Fluke, Exudes, and Gulp’s Jerk Shard are very effective. They can be rigged weedless Texas style, and twitched back slow and irregular. Try jerk, jerk, pause…jerk, jerk, jerk, pause…Darker colors resemble a fleeing shrimp, while natural baitfish colors resemble a dying baitfish. The action of these soft plastics is amazing! The weedless ability makes the perfect for fishing around mangroves and grass beds, since it is possible to leave them in the strike zone longer without worry of getting hung up.
Hard plastic suspending lures such as Rapala’s Husky Jerk, Mirror Lure’s MR19, and Catch 2000, along with many other company’s effective versions are also great baits. Work them similar to the soft plastic twitch baits. Top water lures also fall in this category and can be worked with similar retrieves. Faster for aggressive fish, slower for picky ones. Suspending types are best as they naturally sit still in the water when you pause the retrieve, instead of sinking or floating back to the surface. This pause and natural action will grab a fish’s attention, and when you begin to retrieve the lure again, the fish see it “trying to escape” and can’t resist pulling the trigger on a final attempt to prevent it from doing so.
Golden spoons such as Johnson’s sprite, or any other “swimming” style spoon are always a good option. They are very easy to use and cast a mile. Just reel the spoon back in at a medium speed. Little action is needed to trigger fish into striking. You will be able to cover large amounts of water looking for aggressive fish this way, and gold seems to be the most effective color, especially for red fish.
Artificial baits are certainly great options this time of year. Do yourself a favor and give them a try. Moving constantly by using your trolling motor, push pole, or drifting will help you cover more water and keep you from becoming bored in slow times. Constantly casting and moving will also keep your concentration levels up so when the action does start you will be ready! You will also be able to explore new areas more effectively, and adapt to the conditions you face easier with a variety of man-made creations on the end of your line. Remember, the next world record could be a cast away!
FISHING WITH AN OPEN MIND
This month I would like to share something that most of us already know. Even so, it is good to be reminded every now and then that keeping an open mind can help us become better anglers. It is easy to become comfortable with certain ways of doing things, and even places to fish. Why keep doing the same old things? Fish change their habits by the minute! Keeping your mind open to change, and learning from others regardless of their skill level, can help you remain versatile when fish aren’t up to their usual routine.
I can’t count how many times I have returned to the same unproductive spot. It is hard to give them up when they have been so good in the past! As creatures of habit it is natural to do so. However, it is important to know when to draw the line and open your mind to new possibilities. Surely the fishing is quite predictable on some days. Unfortunately it is often hard to predict, and you will need to “wing it” a little, possibly opening your mind to something new. More often that not there are fish willing to bite somewhere if you keep trying different things.
A few good days on the water will also boost anyone’s confidence. It is easy to believe you have it all together when you’re the one pulling in the big fish. There are a lot of anglers out there that do a lot of different things. With so many types of fish in the world, and people from all over living in Lee County, there is an unbelievable amount of information to be learned from them all. Even anglers that are new to this “therapy” may have an angle that will open your thoughts to new ways to catch fish. Further, having good friends that like to fish is a nice thing when they call and let you know where the bite is hot!
Hope you are all ready for a great summer! Things are heating up and I am not just talking about the thermometer. Tarpon are rolling, sharks are lurking, reds are tailing and snook are poppin’. The amount of boats and anglers fishing from shore have reduced with less people in town so make your way out to a place you have always wanted to fish but never taken the time. Might find a new honey hole! Remember, the next world record may only be a cast away!
BEAT THE HEAT
Summer is here, and along with it comes the long, hot days under the Florida sun. It is also the time of year for Lee County to experience some outstanding fishing. If you are interested in beating excessive heat, crowded boat ramps and fishing piers, maybe its time to venture out under the stars.
Fish do not live by a work schedule like most of us, and often choose to feed under the cover of darkness. Predators on land and in the sea take advantage of their keen senses to find and ambush smaller prey at night. During the daylight, these prey are more likely to detect predators, which must use strategic places to hide and ambush unsuspecting meals. With out sunlight, predators are hidden by the darkness, and can move freely in search of food with little chance of being seen.
As in the daytime, fish utilize man-made objects to their advantage. The most important of these for inshore anglers are LIGHTS! These can be located on bridges, docks, buildings, or even on boats themselves. Plankton, the bottom of the food chain, is attracted to light in the water. Once it becomes concentrated in the light, smaller bait fish and other plankton eating creatures will follow. The stage is now set for larger fish to use this gathering as a feeding ground, often lying in the shadows cast by the light to hide from somewhat blinded prey. Knowing this, fish your baits around the shadow line created by the outer reach of a light. Objects such as bridges, docks, and posts to name a few also cast nice shadow lines in these areas. Predator fish will usually hide just on the dark side of the shadow line, hidden from view as they wait for their prey to venture too close.
Lights aren’t the only place to catch fish at night. Try the same places you would fish during the day. Fish have little trouble zoning in on the smell and movements of live and cut baits. If you use artificial lures, try ones that make extra noise or work near the surface. Near-surface lures will cast a silhouette and disturb water; this will make them easy targets for aggressive nighttime fish.
The most important aspect of night fishing is safety. Take the time to become familiar with the area you want to fish during the day first. Bring proper lighting to find your way by water or by land. If you fish by boat, make sure to have Coast Guard approved lights for your vessel, as it is essential for other boats to see you and avoid collision. Hands-free lighting such as headlamps and lanterns are extremely useful. Tying knots and dealing with your gear is a bigger challenge at night.
Keep an appropriate sound device (whistle, horn) close at hand. You never know when you may need to attract attention for help, or warn an approaching vessel of your location. Accidents are more likely to occur in low visibility, so never overlook your regular safety equipment such as first aid kits, fire extinguishers, and life vests. Marine and weather radios are also necessary to monitor possible storms and to contact help when cell phones are not receiving a signal. Before you leave home, inform someone where you are going fishing and for how long. This is especially important at night, as there are fewer people on and around the water to help or see you in case of an emergency.
With careful planning and common sense, nighttime fishing can be a great way to have the trip of your life. Fish will be fish, and sometimes do not cooperate with anglers, but taking advantage of their behavior after dark can be well worth your time. Remember, the next world record may only be a cast away!
WHAT WORKS FOR YOU
Its no secret, the entire nation knows that southwest Florida boasts world-class fishing. Many are also aware that some of the best anglers in the world reside here. Our area also has many new residents, full or part-time, as well as vacationers. Sometimes fishing new waters for unfamiliar species can be overwhelming. If your just getting started, don’t get overwhelmed thinking this type of fishing has to be done like the pros on TV. Almost every type of fish here can be caught on artificial lures, live bait, or cut bait. Choose the technique that works best for you, and before you know it, you will know every method for catching snook, red drum, trout, grouper, crevalle jacks, snapper…Ok, I could run out of paper listing them all here!
There are certainly advantages and disadvantages to any type of fishing. The simplest way is using cut bait. No need for bait wells, cast nets, super casting skills or knowledge of working artificial baits. Frozen shrimp, sardines, mullet, and more are available at any local tackle shop. In fact, my most productive days lately for snook and red fish have been using frozen cut bait. Rigging can be made simple using a sliding egg sinker just above the hook. The disadvantage is you will not be able to cover as much water looking for fish. Therefore, when you are fishing shallow areas, get up and move if there is no action after 20 minutes or so. For deeper areas such as inlets or piers, more time can be spent waiting for fish to seek out your bait through their sense of smell.
Artificial lures are the best way to cover the most water in your search for hungry fish. I won’t get into the many types of lures available, there are way to many to list here. But if you are comfortable with your casting, or want practice with it, this is the way to go. No mess, catching bait or keeping it alive, bass fisherman and other freshwater anglers seem to be naturals for this method. Even offshore grouper anglers bounce jigs down deep with great success. Like I stated above, every fish I can think of here will take a fake lure, I have even seen catfish eat top water plugs!
Live bait is the most natural of baits, and can be very productive. However, unless your buying shrimp, you will likely need a cast net, and a bait well to keep your catch alive. You won’t be able to cover as much water as with artificials. However, drifting along banks with good current flow, as well as pitching baits briefly under docks or mangrove trees is a great way to search for productive areas. Pinfish are hardy baits that can even be caught on little hooks tipped with shrimp or squid. Pilchards and threadfin herring can be sighted as you walk the shorelines of beaches or inlets. All these types of baitfish can also be chummed up in grassy areas using canned cat food, bringing them within range of your net. In shallow areas try using a bobber, or free lining your baits. In deeper areas you can free line or use a slip sinker above the hook or leader.
The more comfortable you are with the type of fishing your doing, the more likely you will be successful. Remember that the fish in our waters are very opportunistic feeders, and will gladly take a variety of baits. Fishing doesn’t have to be too technical, just fun. Try to keep it simple, and as things start to “click” you will venture out to new methods, making you more versatile. Do what works for you, and soon you will be showing others how its done. Remember, the next world record may be a cast away!
Ever look out over the Gulf of Mexico, perhaps during a nice sunset, and wonder what kind of wild things were swimming beneath the surface of that large body of water. The near tropical waters in South West Florida are rich in many forms of sea life. Here one can skip the nature shows on TV as some of the largest, most impressive creatures live a lot closer than the sea at the end of the horizon.
Bull sharks ( Carcharhinidae leucas ) are found throughout the world's tropical and near tropical oceans, rivers, and even some freshwater lakes. In fact, they have been found 2,000 miles up the Amazon and Mississippi Rivers. Their close proximity to humans, large size, and aggressive attitude make bull sharks one of the most dangerous predators in the sea. They are the only species of shark that is frequently found in freshwater, and are very common in the waters of Lee County.
During the summer months, bull sharks mate near shore and often inshore around the mouths of rivers and inlets. Females carry the young for 10-11 months and give birth to live 29-inch pups between April and June. At about 5 or 6 years of age and 6-7 feet in length, bull sharks reach sexual maturity. They will continue to grow to lengths approaching 12 feet, and weigh more than 500 pounds! Females grow slightly larger, having a longer lifespan of about 16 years as opposed to 12 for males. Seen from above, they appear pale to dark grey, helping them disappear against the murky bottom. The bottom of the shark is white and helps disguise it's silhouette from peering eyes below.
These large ill-tempered beasts have a reputation for attacking people; however, permanent residents of the sea have much more to fear than we do. Bull sharks have been known to eat almost ALL types of fish including large tarpon. Sea turtles and birds have also fallen prey to them, as well as occasional dolphins and dogs. They are very opportunistic feeders to say the least. Once the food source is caught there is little escape. Smaller prey is eaten and swallowed whole. A bottom row of thin sharp teeth grab and hold larger meals while the wide serrated top row cut the food into manageable pieces.
Fearsome and dangerous as they might be, bull sharks are one of nature's beautiful designs that helps keep life in balance under the sea. Upper predators such as this weed out weak, sick, and old sea life, preventing disease and ensuring the strongest and most able are left to reproduce. They have coexisted closely with humans for thousands of years and with common sense, most tragedies can be avoided. Sharks typically feed in low light situations like morning, evening and nighttime. It is easier for most well evolved predators, land and sea alike, to use their advanced senses to gain an advantage over their prey under these conditions. Avoid swimming in waters adjacent to fishing piers where anglers may be throwing left overs from bait or cleaning fish. Also inlets with deep fast moving water are highly traveled areas for sharks.
If you spend enough time near the water here in South West Florida, you will have enough first hand experiences for your own series of nature shows. We have all the exciting, adrenaline pumping, man-eating creatures living right here! As a biologist and life long boater, I know caution should be used around open water for many reasons. However, I feel very fortunate to be able to share the water with such impressive animals. In fact, I can't wait until my next encounter! Maybe that next piece of mullet I throw out for bait will be the one. Interested in coming along?