Category Archives: Saltwater Fishing

Everything saltwater fishing

Guide To Inshore Fishing

A Beginner’s Guide to Inshore Fishing
Proven Tips and Techniques from Mark Davis

Dr. Jason Halfen
The Technological Angler
From The Fishing Wire

Catch fish like this inshore


Set foot on a beach, a jetty, a pier or even a small boat, and if your senses are filled with the sights, sounds and smells of saltwater, then you’re likely within casting distance of terrific fishing. Whether your targets are redfish or speckled trout, snook or tarpon, stripers or sharks, opportunities for great angling abound inshore. Even when faced with such apparent bounty, many first-time inshore anglers encounter a significant speed bump on their way to success, posing the question, “how do I begin?”

Of course, we need to pick a location for our trip and a variety of fish to pursue, but we ultimately ignite a passion for inshore fishing by considering the primary tools of every angler: bait and tackle. Indeed, a stroll through the fishing-related aisles at a major retailer, or even a hometown “ma and pa” bait shop, can be an overwhelming experience. Which rods and reels are best suited for the fish I’m going to chase? How about line and leader? Hard baits, soft baits, or live bait?

Professional saltwater angler Capt. Mark Davis offers sage, time-tested advice: “for a beginner, keep it simple.”

“The top two goals for a novice inshore angler are to catch fish and have fun,” noted Davis, the host of BigWater Adventures, a long-running, successful television series currently airing on the Outdoor Channel and World Fishing Network. “Those early successes will breed excitement and a deeper passion for the sport. Not only will successful anglers want to return to the shore – as soon as possible – but they will also start to think more carefully about the resources we all share; indeed, catching fish and having fun are the first steps in creating future stewards.”

What is Davis’ equipment recipe for an inshore angler at the beginning of their briny career?

“Anglers should think about a set of three rods and reels. With these, they’ll be covered from trout to tarpon and everything in-between. One tip for keeping things simple is to have all three rods the same length –six-and-a-half feet is a good place to start – with each rod rated for a different line class. Think about the combos that you’ll build from those rods like you’d think about drink sizes at the coffee shop: you want a small, a medium, and a large, each for a different size of inshore fish you’ll encounter.”

Davis continues: “For your small rod – one that will see the lion’s share of duty for fish like speckled trout – look for a rod rated for six to ten-pound test line. Equip that rod with a 3500-series spinning reel and spool up with 20 lb. test Seaguar Smackdown. Finish off that rig with a leader of 10 or 15 lb. test Seaguar Blue Label fluorocarbon and it’s ready to go.”

A braided main line with a 100% fluorocarbon leader is a common theme that you’ll note in all of Davis’ recommendations. “Seaguar Smackdown gives me strength and sensitivity, and it lets me cast farther than I could with other lines. Seaguar 100% fluorocarbon leaders are big difference makers for me, no matter where I fish, and I’ve fished all over the globe. Fluorocarbon is nearly invisible to fish under water, is impervious to the sun’s damaging UV rays, and has remarkable abrasion resistance – so rubbing against rocks, dock pilings, mussels or anything else it might encounter underwater is far less likely to cause line failure. A two or three-foot section of Blue Label leader is a perfect length for inshore fishing. Connect the Blue Label leader to the Smackdown main line with a Double Uni knot, which is an easy knot for beginners to learn and tie.”

When discussing the all-important braid-to-leader connection, Davis cautions, “the Double Uni is fine if you don’t wind the knot into the rod guides. If you do so repeatedly, the Double Uni may start to fray on the braid side of the knot. If you decide to use a longer leader, one that will end up passing through the guides on every cast, then learn to tie the FG knot instead.”

Rods for medium- and super-sized fish will be rated for higher line classes and will be equipped with larger reels spooled with stronger line. “Your mid-range rod,” continues Davis, “the one that you’ll use on redfish trips, will be rated for 10 to 20-pound test line. That rod will get a 4500-series spinning reel, spooled up with 20 lb. test Seaguar Smackdown and a 20 lb. test Seaguar Blue Label leader.“

“The big boy, the one that you’ll turn to for bull reds, cobia, and maybe even tarpon, could be rated for anything from 15 to 40 lb. test line. That heavy rod is going to get a big reel – a 5500 series spinning reel – which will be spooled with 30 lb. test Smackdown and finished with a 30 or even 40 lb. test Blue Label leader.”

Now that our beginner inshore angler is equipped, we can turn our attention to the business end of the line: what should we choose for bait?

“Without a doubt,“ remarks Davis, “we’re going to start with some sort of live bait. Now, you can certainly purchase bait, but I strongly recommend that you learn to catch your own, either with a cast net or hook-and-line. You can learn so much about what your target fish are feeding on by catching your own bait. If you catch shrimp, then use shrimp; if you catch mullet or croaker, then use mullet or croaker. Let the most prevalent forage guide your bait selection, because that’s what the fish are used to chasing and eating.”

“Now, let’s put that live bait in a place where it can be killed and eaten,” adds Davis. “A simple bottom rig is a great way to stay in direct contact with the bait and feel the bite. Use 1 oz. of lead weight for every 10-20 feet of water depth, depending on current and wave action. I recommend strong and crazy sharp Gamakatsu circle hooks – 1/0 for your small combo, 3/0 for your medium, and 5/0 for your jumbo. Remember that with circle hooks you don’t want that big sweeping hookset like you’d use when bass fishing. Just come tight to the fish and set the hook by reeling fast as the rod loads up. Circle hooks basically set themselves when you do it right.”

When it’s time to graduate into the world of artificial lures for inshore fishing, Davis has high praise for soft plastics, particularly those from Z-Man Fishing Products. “Z-Man soft baits are like nothing else in the tackle shop. They are made from a unique material called ElaZtech which fish simply cannot break. Remember that we’re chasing fish with teeth, and those teeth will rip a “traditional” soft bait to shreds – but not Z-Man baits. I can use one Z-Man bait over and over again, switching only when I feel like changing color or profile, which is a big timesaver on the water and also keeps more money in my pocket.”

“Heading out for redfish? Hang a 4” Z-Man Scented PaddlerZ under a popping cork, and let the fun begin. Got a spot close to the beach that has some red snapper hanging around? Rig up a 10” HeroZ and go put them in the boat. And the Z-Man Trout Trick baits are absolutely deadly on speckled trout. Pick up a few bags try out and you’ll quickly learn that inshore fish eat artificial lures too!”

Inshore fishing offers virtually limitless possibilities. These time-tested tackle and presentation tips from Capt. Mark Davis will put you on the path to inshore fishing success!

About the author

Dr. Jason Halfen owns and operates The Technological Angler, dedicated to teaching anglers to leverage modern technology to find and catch more fish. Let your learning begin at http://www.technologicalangler.com.

Fish Tagging Program

Fish Tagging Program Yields Interesting Results
E. Weeks
South Carolina Coastal Resources
from The Fishing Wire

Big South Carolina Drum


Friends Andy Ball and Brent Milgrom pose with two large red drum captures from their day at the Winyah jetties. NOTE: SCDNR biologists suggest leaving fish this large in the water for photos, or pulling them out for no more than 30 seconds and providing the proper horizontal support, as shown here. (Photo: Provided)

Last month, Charlotte resident Andy Ball headed to the South Carolina coast for a summer escape.

“We were down with five other friends on a reunion of sorts – South Mecklenburg High School class of 1985,” Ball said. During the trip, Georgetown Coastal Adventures’ Captain Dan Scarborough took Ball and his friends out to the Winyah Bay jetties to target large red drum.

The friends got what they came for – including a three-and-a-half-foot bull red that topped out at 30 pounds, which Ball reeled in after a challenging fight.

The fishermen could tell it had been caught before: a plastic yellow tag protruded from the spottail’s back.

Tags are thin, nylon cords that let biologists track fish and other marine animals. Each tag has a unique number identifying that fish and the SCDNR number to call and report recaptures. Since the 1970s, SCDNR biologists have operated a volunteer tagging program whereby recreational anglers can turn their fishing trips into valuable scientific information by tagging the fish they’re already catching and releasing. Using a specialized tagging device, researchers and volunteer anglers typically insert the tag into the muscle of a fish just by the dorsal fin. Harmless to the fish, the tags can remain anchored there for decades as the fish grows.

Andy Ball contacted SCDNR’s tagging coordinator, Morgan Hart, to report the tag number and details of the red drum he’d recaptured. Every time a tagged fish is reported, Hart sends detailed updates about the fish’s history to both the original taggers and the recapturers. It’s a neat way to see where a particular fish has traveled since you last saw it.

When Hart ran the fish’s history, she was amazed – it had first been tagged over 21 years prior.

“I could tell right away that the tag report was special,” Hart said. “The tag number was different than anything I had seen recaptured before. Once I realized how long ago it was tagged, I think my mouth literally fell open.”

“I reached out to the original tagger, Kevin Mischke, and he was delighted to hear that one of his fish was still contributing to the population,” Hart said.

James Islander Kevin Mischke, who first tagged fish ‘A033559,’ dug up this photo from the 1990s, when he regularly tagged spottails in Wappoo Cut. (Photo: Provided)

Mischke was an active volunteer tagger from 1990 to 2006. In 1997, he’d caught a large red drum at Wappoo Cut, near his home on James Island. Mischke tagged the fish with a yellow, nylon tag labeled ‘A033559.’

When Mischke caught it, the red drum was already a mature fish at 35 inches – meaning he/she is now likely to be well older than 21 years of age. SCDNR research has shown red drum are impressively long-lived fish, with biologists documenting fish up to 40 years old.

A decade later, redfish ‘A033559’ showed up once again in the records, when angler Warren Wood caught and measured the fish in 2008. By this time, the red drum had grown five inches and migrated to Georgetown, where Wood reported catching it off the Winyah Bay jetties.

And that’s exactly where Andy Ball caught the fish this summer – no larger this time, but another decade older.

Redfish By the Numbers

Over the past 25 years, South Carolina anglers in the tagging program have tagged ~61,000 red drum. Those fish have been recaptured nearly 10,000 times, with individual fish being reported as many as four times each.

“Seeing how many fish are recaptured in our state really shows how important it is to carefully handle any fish you catch and release,” tagging coordinator Morgan Hart said. “Since we can’t just look in the water and see how many fish there are, it’s easy to assume that there are an infinite number of fish available to catch – but our recapture rate shows that’s just not the case.”

How to Report a Tagged Fish

You don’t have to be a volunteer tagger to help – we count on anyone who fishes in South Carolina to report tagged fish they encounter. Your fishing trip could provide valuable scientific data that helps biologists studying how far and when fish migrate, how long they live, and how best to protect different species in South Carolina.

Tagged fish can be reported online or by calling (843) 953-9832. Be sure to write down the tag number, date, location, species, and size of the fish so that you can accurately report it later.

If you’re interested in learning more about the tagging program, check out our website and/or contact program coordinator Morgan Hart at HartM@dnr.sc.gov.

Report a Tagged Fish Here

Reefs Fishing

ROCKIN’ THE REEFS Fishing

Nice snapper


The author nabbed this chunky snapper during a Gulf of Mexico reef trip.?
Knowing what’s down there maximizes fishing time

By David A. Brown
from The Fishing Wire

It’s the sea’s food court; a place where a diverse array of patrons find an equally diverse meal menu. We’re talking about reefs; those of natural or manmade design provide shelter for baitfish and prime feeding opportunities for progressively larger predators, many of which rank high in the metrics of the sport and table fare.

Popular species include pelagics such as kingfish, tuna, wahoo and sailfish. But while these fast movers typically pay only short visits, the stars of the show are the home bodies that spend most of their lives in and around reef structures. Topping the list — grouper and snapper.

Raymarine pro Ron Mitchell likes red, mutton and yellowtail snapper, and his Raymarine units (twin gS165s and a gS95) play an integral role with each unique species strategy.

The food dynamics of the reef habitat are what holds sportfish in the area. (Photo courtesy of St. Croix Rod)
Mutton Snapper: These beautiful and aggressive fish tend to hold over sand on a reef’s exterior, so well-defined bottom readings give Mitchell a road map for where to present his baits.

“We like to drag baits with heavy leads and long leaders,” he says. “So knowing where the outer edge of that reef is lets me know where I need to drop those baits.”

Yellowtail Snapper: “When we fish for yellowtail in The Keys and off Stuart and Palm Beach, we like to get them off the reef,” says Mitchell. “You gotta work that current and the wind to get your boat backed in so your chum feeds down into that reef to pull some of those fish up to the boat.

“Yellowtail will gather into a big ball off the reef. On your sonar screen, you’ll see a red ball about the size of a quarter or 50 cent piece. Right when I see that on my Raymarine unit, I’ll turn and go up-current and set up so I’m not right on top of the fish. Then, we’ll start our chum so it slides back to the fish.”

Red Snapper: Bold and voracious, these ruby-scaled treats closely relate to structure; and it doesn’t have to be something as large and obvious as a Northern Gulf of Mexico drilling rig. Often, red snapper hover above isolated patches of reef or small rocky outcroppings. Pinpointing these spots has always been one of Mitchell’s objectives, but he shares a serendipitous revelation that deepened his appreciation for the clarity and definition of Raymarine’s CHIRP sonar.

“You’re going to need to be in some type of area with an ecosystem that gives those fish a reason to be there,” Mitchell said of a reef’s inherent drawing power. “Your bottom machines are your eyes for the depths where you’re fishing. If you didn’t have that, you’re guessing and it’s a big ocean out there. If I can’t narrow down and know what’s underneath me, I’m just hunting and pecking.”

DIAL IN YOUR SPOTS

No doubt, identifying these lively areas promotes time-management and enhances the value of invested time and resources. Just consider that not all reef life is a welcome sight. Maybe they’re out of season, or just notorious time-waster species you don’t want; Raymarine’s incredible clarity and target separation will show you what’s down there so you can best manage your efforts and expectations.

“You have to be careful that the spot isn’t covered up with amberjack, sharks, or things you don’t want to be a part of,” Mitchell says. “Raymarine’s DownVision is getting so detailed and sophisticated that you can actually see a ledge with fish under it.

“The definition is so good that, when you start bringing up fish, you relate what you’re catching to what’s on your screen. So the next time you go out you say ‘Those are the same marks that I had at that other spot.’ So you start relating what you’re seeing to what you’re catching.”

To keep his day efficient, Mitchell typically sets up a milk run of known waypoints, all within a mile or two. Bouncing back and forth between a handful of sites within a mile or two allows him to let a productive spot rest, while also sampling others in close proximity.

“You have to narrow it down and your Raymarine units can help you do that,” Mitchell said. “On top of that, I’ve found some of these places by accident. Maybe I’m running out of Jupiter Inlet at 40 mph and all of a sudden, I see my machine spike up.

“I’ll whip it back around and go over my track and I’ll find a spot that maybe people haven’t been fishing for a while and it’s loaded. You find spots like that because of the Raymarine technology that we have on the boat, you can run at 40 mph and still pick up bottom that’s showing you a good enough mark to let you know there might be something there worth fishing.”

ALTERNATIVE SPECIES

When your favorite species isn’t cooperating, the season’s closed, or maybe you’ve just capped your limit; don’t despair, reefs offer a bountiful array of B-Teamers who are usually more than willing to step and take a few reps.

Grunts — mostly white grunts and margates. Side by side with mangrove snapper filets, most would have a tough time distinguishing. Scaled-down slip sinker rigs, knocker rigs and jigs tipped with squid.

Triggerfish — This tasty fish’s name comes from its curious design, which finds a rigid anterior dorsal spine standing immovable until a smaller spine is pressed forward to “trigger” the latter’s collapse.

Porgies — Several varieties including pink, jolthead and knobbed, offer an aggressive and tasty opponent.

Seabass — One of the most highly valued of the alternative species, this one falls for jigs tipped with cut bait.

A popular option for smaller reef species, the chicken rig leverages the inherent feeding competition among reef fish, especially these alternative species. Essentially a set of two to three dropper loops with 12-18 inches of leader below for sinker attachment. (A simpler option: Buy a heavy sabiki rig, clip off the bottom two or three branches and leave two to three hooks intact.)

Whatever style of multi-hook rig you use, don’t overdo it on the bait. You don’t want whole sardines or the fist-sized chunks of squid you may drop on traditional grouper rigs; rather, small thumbnail sized cuts of shrimp, squid, or clam.

With any reef scenario, the abundance of life can foster an ill-conceived notion of automatic cooler filling. There’s nothing wrong with keeping legal catches for dinner, but know the regulations (size, season, daily bag limits) and practice careful catch and release for the non-keepers. Let the reef reload, rest and reset the clock for your next visit and hopefully, your Raymarine screen will light up with another stacked show of fish.

Artificial Reefs

Artificial Reefs Create Homes for Sea Life
from The Fishing Wire

From tourism to marine recreation and sport fishing, reefs play an important role in local economies. They’re also essential to the health of the ocean, providing habitat for a variety of marine life and increasing coastal resilience to storms.

To support thriving coastlines and ocean ecosystems, U.S. Department of Interior employees and programs are working with local partners to build artificial reefs — creating refuge for marine life.

Rigs to Reefs

A flat plain of clay, mud and sand, the natural bottom of the Gulf of Mexico offers very little natural hard bottom and reef habitat. But Interior’s Rigs to Reefs program is changing that by turning old offshore platforms into artificial reefs.

Not long after new platforms are installed in the Gulf, marine life take up residence in and around the platform’s steel frame supports — called jackets. As the platforms age, the populations of fish and other marine organisms that live near the structure increase. A single platform can provide habitat for thousands of fish.

When platforms are no longer economically viable, instead of removing the structure (and with it, much needed marine habitat), Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement works with energy companies and the states to make the platforms into permanent artificial reefs. Instead of paying to decommission a rig, the energy company pays to have the structure reefed and donates money to the state where the rig is to assist with the management of their artificial reef program.

Since the program was created in 1985, more than 500 platforms in the Gulf of Mexico have been converted into artificial reefs with 400 additional platforms eligible to be converted to reefs.

This program is a win for ocean life, outdoor enthusiasts and states. Artificial reefs provide shelter, food and other necessary elements for biodiversity and a productive ocean. This in turn creates a rich diversity of marine life, attracting divers and anglers. And states like the program because the increased tourism and commercial fishing benefits local economies.

Lots to see on a reef


Divers can experience fascinating marine life on artificial reefs. Photo by Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Creating Living Shorelines
Back in the 17th century, oysters were abundant in the estuaries of the Atlantic Coast, but over time, development, pollution and commerce led to their decline. Now these mollusks are flourishing once again at sites in Virginia, New Jersey and Maryland, thanks to Interior.

Working with public and private partners, Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is building artificial oyster reefs and creating living shorelines. In Virginia at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, over 13,500 oyster castles were installed. These cinderblock-like structures provide a spot for young oysters (called spat) to stick to and grow. Along New Jersey’s coast at Gandy’s Beach, the Service, partners and volunteers have built more than 3,000 feet of living shorelines using oyster castles. They started in 2014 and are seeing amazing results creating a self-sustaining reef system. In Maryland, they’re placing reef balls — concrete cone-line structures — in a 287-acre stretch of the bay to promote oyster growth.

Why is a thriving oyster colony important? Healthy oysters have profound implications for the environment, water quality and the local economy. One oyster can filter 50 gallons of water each day — more oysters means cleaner water. Flourishing oyster populations are good for coastal fishing communities that depend on the species for food and to earn a living. They also provide food and habitat for other marine organisms. Not to mention, living coasts prevent erosion and act as wave breaks, making salt-marsh habitat and infrastructure more resilient in the face of future storms.

These are a few of the ways Interior is leading on ocean conservation and building artificial reefs to ensure fish and marine life populations are healthy.

Bluefin Tuna Fishing

Boat-Shy Bluefin Tuna Fishing Off Southern California
By Greg Stotesbury, AFTCO Tackle Sales Manager
from The Fishing Wire

Catch bluefin tuna


The past few years in Southern California we have seen epic runs of bluefin tuna as close as 3 miles off the Southern California bight. The schools of bluefin have been showing up in late spring and staying all the way to December or longer. It’s unusual for this many tuna to migrate into our waters and stay for most of the year, but these welcome visitors, in addition to our usual summer fishery for striped marlin, dorado, yellowfin tuna and yellowtail, have created a “new” and exciting opportunity not seen here since the late 1930’s. Our local Bluefin are tough to catch, but worth the effort and are the best eating of any of our local offshore species.

When the bluefin show in the California bight they can usually be located over the offshore banks and ridges, such as the 43, 182, 289 and San Clemente Island ridge in purple-blue 62 to 68-degree water. One of the keys to locating bluefin is to look for fast moving spots of terns or petrels fluttering over the surface and crashing on bait. Bluefin spend a great amount of time at the surface feeding and “breezing”. Their surface roaming, tight schooling behavior makes them particularly vulnerable to the fleets of purse seine boats from Mexico and San Pedro. By the time these fish reach local waters they have usually been harassed several times by the relentless seiners. This makes them even more boat shy and sensitive to engine noise, generators and sonar pings.

Bluefin are notoriously boat shy and difficult to hook from small private boats with smaller live bait capacities than the bigger party boats. Party boats can chum tremendous amounts of live baits and attract the bluefin to the boat, but smaller private boats must take the baits to the bluefin and use stealth tactics to get their share. This requires some modified techniques to get them to bite consistently.

After locating an area with schools of bluefin showing on top and bird schools working around them, we immediately start glassing with gyro-stabilized binoculars to find the larger spots of fish and birds. This past season you could even watch for “jumpers” (free jumping tuna) in the working bluefin schools and then target the spots with the bigger fish. Our secret to getting the bluefin to bite was to turn off all the sonar units, both up-and-down and side scanning, then position the boat above the direction the fish were working. We would then shut down the motor and wait for the bluefin to get into casting range of our fly-lined sardines and mackerel. Many times, the bluefin would shy away or go down for no apparent reason, but occasionally, the whole school would be crashing bait all around the boat in a virtual frenzy! Even when actively feeding, the super-shy bluefin would only hit a perfectly presented bait that swam as soon as it hit the surface. Bluefin tuna can be the most frustrating fish in the world, but there is nothing like the thrill of the first run of a fat Bluefin hooked on medium tackle on your own boat after a stealthy approach!

Kites have also become super popular for trolling imitation flying fish or squid through the boat shy bluefin, but we find the kite fishing to be many hours of trolling with limited bite windows. Therefore, we prefer the stealth approach with live baits. We have also had success using the kites with live baits while drifting or slow-trolling, but the conditions must be perfect and the fish willing to stay on the surface for the kites and live baits to work consistently.

Our favored Bluefin tackle is a medium-fast action, roller-guided 6.5’ to 8’ live bait rod with the best lever drag 2 speed reel available, spooled with 500 yards of 50- 80lb spectra backing, with a long 50-80lb fluorocarbon top shot. Many of the schools of Tuna run 25-75lbs, but then there are the occasional schools of 80-200-plus giants that require the lever-drag, 2-speed reels to land. You won’t land many of the 100-250lb bruiser-bluefin on the medium gear, but then you’ll never get the bite if you don’t use tackle that can fly-line a live sardine or mackerel. We had several tragedies on big tuna this past season, but we also landed a fair amount of fish to 210lbs on the medium live bait gear. We tried using 100-130lb fluorocarbon leaders, but found we got bit the best using 60-80lb pink-tinted 100% fluorocarbon with a 3/0-5/0 ringed Mutu circle hook to suit the bait size. The circle hooks reduce the bite-offs from the larger sharp-toothed Bluefin, but we still lost some of the bigger models to chewed leader after long fights on the light gear.

Due to their superior quality on the table, we handle the bluefin we catch in a special way. Our AFTCO stain protection fishing shirts help to ensure don’t we ruin our clothes in the process. Ideally, we head gaff the fish to avoid any gaff holes in the precious loins or bellies. We then immediately cut a couple of the gill arches with a pair of poultry shears, then make a small cut at the base of each side of the caudle peduncle (tail) just down to the backbone. Once the gills and tails are cut, we place the tuna head down in a bleed tank of circulating sea water and let the tuna bleed out completely before gut and gilling and slipping them into an insulated fish bag full of ice and saltwater slush. This process insures all your efforts to catch the elusive and boat-shy Bluefin Tuna are rewarded with prime sushi loins and bellies at the end of the day!

New Catch Limit for Red Drum

New catch limit for red drum to address overfishing
from The Fishing Wire
(Editor’s Note: South Carolina, like some other southeastern states, is seeing a decline in red drum numbers in recent years. Here’s a report from SCDNR on the issues involved, and what the state is doing about them.)

South Carolina Red Drum


Red drum caught by SCDNR fish surveys are tagged and measured, allowing biologists to track their numbers over time. (Photo: E. Weeks/SCDNR)
CHARLESTON, S.C. – Red drum, redfish, spottail, channel bass – South Carolina’s most popular saltwater gamefish goes by many names and plays a key role in the coastal economy and ecosystems.

In recent years, state biologists have documented a declining trend in the state’s red drum population, which has been underscored by reports from longtime local anglers. These concerns prompted the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) to take a closer look at the species last year, culminating in an assessment that found South Carolina’s red drum population was experiencing overfishing.

The South Carolina General Assembly responded by passing a new law intended to reverse overfishing, which Governor Henry McMaster recently signed. The new catch limit allows two fish per person per day and no more than six fish per boat per day, effective July 1, 2018. The previous catch limit was three fish per person per day, with no boat limit. The slot limit (15-23 inches) remains unchanged.

“We’ve been monitoring red drum populations across the state using the same techniques for nearly 30 years, and what we’ve seen over the last 10-15 years is concerning,” said assistant marine scientist Dr. Joey Ballenger, who oversees SCDNR’s red drum research. “Across the state, we’ve seen declines in abundance of the juvenile fish most commonly targeted by anglers.”

Red drum are renowned for their beautiful copper color and characteristic black tail spots. Red drum reach several feet in length and can be found in all of South Carolina’s coastal waters at different stages of their lives. SCDNR research has shown that the fish reach maturity around four years of age, although adults may live to 40 years old. A healthy population of these adult red drum is critical to the success of the fishery, as the larger a fish is, the greater its contribution of spawn to the next generation of young fish.

Adult red drum spawn in the fall, producing an annual “crop” of new fish. Recently, the crop has been relatively small. Young red drum (1-4 years old), which make up the foundation of fishing in South Carolina’s creeks and rivers, have not been plentiful over the last decade.

Research at SCDNR shows that poor reproductive years are not necessarily unusual for these long-lived species – Ballenger notes that large crops of red drum fish are only produced about twice a decade. However, Ballenger’s team has also discovered that not as many red drum are surviving from one year to the next as in previous generations. The reasons for this poor survival are unclear, but the impact has translated into fewer fish within the slot size limit, which is ultimately expected to mean fewer adult fish annually entering the spawning population.

“Not only are we seeing declines in the annual crop of fish produced by adults, we are seeing that those produced are experiencing higher mortality rates,” Dr. Ballenger said. “Over time, this translates to fewer and fewer adult fish being around to produce the next crop, resulting in a feedback loop that continues the process.”

At the same time these ecological fluctuations have occurred, fishing pressure has increased in South Carolina, especially on large adult fish.

Adult red drum are already protected from harvest in South Carolina. Under current legislation, the fish are only legal to harvest when they fall between 15-23 inches in length – a size range that they reach for a little more than a year of their life.

As a result, the red drum fishery in South Carolina is defined by catch and release – 80% of red drum caught by anglers are released. But even under ideal conditions, studies estimate that 8-16% of caught-and-released fish die after release. Minimizing the death of released adult fish is critical to maintaining good fishing.

The red drum from South Carolina to Florida are managed as a single population, and the status of regional management is currently unclear. This left SCDNR staff with questions about the status of the species in South Carolina, given the declines seen in catch rates of young fish. The agency therefore initiated an assessment of red drum just in South Carolina to better understand the health of this important species in local waters.

The assessment determined that with a three fish per person per day bag limit, not enough red drum are surviving to sustain the population over the long-term.

The study also found that a modest shift in regulations – from three to two fish per person per day – would be enough, in time, to improve the number of fish recruiting into the adult population.

Companion bills codifying new catch limits (two fish per person per day and six fish per boat per day) were introduced in the S.C. Senate and House in early 2018 and received near-unanimous support on both sides of the Assembly. The Coastal Conservation Association of South Carolina played played a key role in advocating the passage of the legislative changes.

The new regulations will take effect on July 1, 2018.

In addition to the legislative changes, SCDNR seeks to address increasing pressure on adult red drum by working with anglers to implement best handling practices. Valuable adult fish are highly susceptible to predators, disease, and exhaustion after release, making proper handling a matter of life or death.

SCDNR urges anglers who target adult red drum to use the following best practices for release:

Use a rig that minimizes the chance of hook damage (short leader, fixed sinker weighing 3 oz. or more, and barbless, non-offset and non-stainless hook)

Use gear that shortens the fight time (20-lb and higher test line)

Keep the fish in the water (take photographs of the fish while during revival and release)

Sheepshead

Deep Thoughts for Sheepshead Success

tasty sheepshead


Abundant and aggressive, the sheepshead is one of the sea’s tastiest fish.

By David A. Brown
from The Fishing Wire
Bucktooth bandits with a frustrating habit of stealing ill-presented baits. That’s one way to describe sheepshead; but you might also call them sporty, abundant and oh, so tasty.

Indeed, the striped member of the porgie clan with pearly white meat often compared to lobster, is highly regarded as a prized inshore catch throughout southeastern waters. Their capture requires a few strategic details, but one of your most valuable tools is something not commonly considered for inshore species — electronics.

Your Raymarine Multifunction Display (MFD) unit can tell you a lot about what lies beneath the surface. Spoiler alert: We’re not talking about those shallow flats where redfish tail and speckled trout hug the potholes. Rather, we’re gonna look at something far less obvious, so read on

WHERE THEY LIVE

To set the stage, sheepshead like structure, because that’s where their forage preferences live. Those protruding incisors are made for cracking shells, so crabs, barnacles, shrimp, mollusks are all fair game.

Docks, seawalls, piers, bridges and jetties offer dependable sheepshead opportunities — especially during their winter-spring spawning aggregations. Elsewhere, coastal marshes often find sheepshead roaming spartina grass edges or poking around Louisiana Roseau cane. Oyster bottom and noticeable shell bars are the sweet spots, as the crustacean count increases; but if you’ve ever idled a low-tide marsh, you’ve probably seen fiddler crabs waving those oversized claws on every sandy point you pass.

Residential docks offer yet another highly-productive sheepshead scenario, especially the ones with multiple slips, extended walkways and lots of pilings. The more habitat, the better and if you come across a dock crumbled by time and tide, or perhaps, tropical storm damage — jackpot. The debris that falls into the water below catches all sorts of trash and flotsam to form a briny log jam of sheepshead potential.

While all of these will certainly offer you abundant sheepshead opportunities, the visible spots get a lot of fishing pressure because anyone can find them and fish them. Nothing wrong with standing atop a land-based structure — maybe with a little Aqua Vu camera recon; but savvy anglers in search of the bigger sheepshead will target the shallow reefs and wrecks scattered throughout bays and estuaries. Here, in these less-trafficked areas, sheepshead enjoy plenty of cover, food and seclusion — usually with less congestion than the inshore stuff.

Raymarine Axiom’s RealVision 3D comes in handy here, as the ability to scan a structure site reveals all the relevant features sheepshead like. You’ll want to look for undercut areas where they can tuck in tightly when the current runs swiftly, as well as the high spots where the biggest and most aggressive fish often hold during peak feeding periods. And, of course, locating groups of fish and noting the bigger marks helps dial in your presentations.

You’ll also do well to look for those sneaky little rock piles along channel edges. Run the ditch and monitoring SideVision will reveal isolated structures that could be bristling with ‘heads.

TACTICAL TIPS

Once your Raymarine electronics reveal your target zone, bolster this intel with the following considerations:

Optimal Conditions — Because sheepshead are mostly sight feeders, sunlight helps them spot your baits. Current always stimulates feeding, but the peak of a hard tide makes it tough to keep your baits on point and out of the snaggy stuff. Even if you do hit the mark, sheepshead won’t fight a heavy current, so feeding usually tapers until the water slows.

Rigs — Whether you’re fishing shrimp, fiddler crabs or shucked oysters, ditch the old fish finder rig, as it’s far too snag-prone for the sheepshead habitat. Also, because the sheepshead bite is nanosecond quick, reaction time is key. A heavy split shot rig is one option, but you’ll find a 1/8- to 1/4-ounce jig head, like the Z-Man Trout Eye, a better option, as it keeps bait and weight efficiently packaged. Easier in and out for the tight spots, plus direct strike response.

Another option — the dropshot. Take a page from the bass angler’s playbook and rig a hook perpendicular to your main line with a drop leader and weight below. Match your leader length to the depth that your fish are showing on your Raymarine unit’s high-definition screen and use just enough weight to hold your rig in place.

Prominent front teeth and sharp dorsal spines are notable sheepshead traits.

Tackle Tips — You’ll do more vertical dropping than long casting for sheepshead, so a 7-foot rod, such as St. Croix’s Tidemaster Inshore heavy-power, moderate action spinning rod is ideal. You’ll want plenty of backbone for quickly separating fish from fortress, but a moderate tip allows just enough “give” for the fish to get the bait and hook. The second you feel steady pressure, you’ll want to come tight like yesterday, so your Seaguar Smackdown braid is a must here.

Watch the Points — A sheepshead’s crushing style teeth pose little biting hazard, unless your finger ends up inside the mouth (but, that’s what needle nose pliers are for. Just sayin’.) The real threat are those knitting needle spines on the dorsal fins. Get too close and you’ll receive a memorable poke in the palm.

Safest grip is below the chin, ahead of the ventral fins. Hold the leader to suspend the fish vertically, grip the fish firmly with its chin resting in your palm and safely remove the hook. If your sheepshead is short, send him on his way; if not, take him home for one of the best seafood dinners you’ll ever enjoy.

Acoustic Tagging Program for Tarpon

Bonefish & Tarpon Trust Details Acoustic Tagging Program for Tarpon

Tagging Tarpon


The Tarpon Acoustic Tagging Project is a collaborative, five-year program designed to broaden our understanding of tarpon movement and habitat uses. The results will help shape future conservation measures, including the protection of critical habitats and improvements to fishing regulations. The project is generously sponsored by Maverick Boat Group.
Tarpon Acoustic Tagging is addressing the following questions:

Is the tarpon population large and robust or small and vulnerable? If anglers in a particular location are fishing for the same fish every year, then the tarpon population is probably smaller than we think, and issues like shark predation will become a bigger concern. If fish move among regions every year, and anglers are fishing for different fish each year, the tarpon population is probably relatively large.

Do tarpon gather in the same areas for spawning each year or move among areas? On average, ocean currents will carry the larvae from a spawning site to juvenile habitats in a specific geographic region. If it’s the same adults at the spawning site every year, then local adult losses will cause local declines in juveniles. If tarpon move among spawning sites, then the population will be more resilient.

How do changes in freshwater flows into coastal waters influence tarpon movements? Do the problems with Lake Okeechobee and Everglades restoration impact tarpon? Are the water issues in Apalachicola causing changes in tarpon movements?

What are the movement patterns and habitat use of mid-size tarpon (20-50 pounds)? How will these tarpon be impacted by coastal water quality issues? This size class, which is the future of the fishery, is very vulnerable to changes in coastal habitats and water quality.

Until the Tarpon Acoustic Tagging Project began, there was little information available to answer these questions. Satellite tagging provided spatial and temporal data that was limited to tarpon weighing 80 pounds and larger. After a few months, most satellite tags detached from the fish, making it difficult to study their movements over the important multi-year time frame. Acoustic telemetry has helped to combat these limitations.

Why Acoustic Tagging?

Acoustic tags provide the ability to track tarpon for five years. They are also small enough that they are being used on tarpon as small as 5 and as large as 200 pounds!
Acoustic telemetry has helped to broaden the scope of tarpon research. When deployed, a tag is surgically implanted in the fish’s abdomen before safe release. The tagged fish swims within range of an underwater receiver, which detects and stores the tag’s unique code. BTT and collaborators have approximately 100 receivers deployed, but we are also able to take advantage of the network of receivers being used by collaborators studying everything from redfish to sawfish. This vast network exceeds 4,000 receivers deployed from Chesapeake Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. As scientists detect tagged fish on their receiver networks they share data with other scientists, effectively expanding the study area.

How You Can Help

Sponsor a Tarpon: Sponsor an acoustic tag for $3,000. You can name your tarpon and will receive a certificate with its name and initial capture info (general location and measurements). Sponsors will receive access to a password protected site where they can see periodic updates of their tarpon’s movements.
Sponsor a Receiver: Sponsor and name an acoustic receiver (listening station) for $3,000. Sponsors will receive periodic reports summarizing the tarpon detections it has recorded.
Help us tag tarpon: Prior to every tagging trip, our team of scientists will notify sponsors about when and where they will be working, along with contact information. If you are fishing in that area on tagging dates, all you need to do is call us when you catch a tarpon. We’ll come to your boat, transfer the tarpon to our sling, and take implant a transmitter. Remember to always keep the tarpon in the water!

For more information and to sponsor a tag or receiver, please contact Mark Rehbein, Director of Development at 703-350-9195 or mark@bonefishtarpontrust.org

Independent Study of Gulf Red Snapper

Independent Study of Gulf Red Snapper Population Announced
from The Fishing Wire

Studying red snapper

A team of university and government scientists, selected by an expert review panel convened by the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, will conduct an independent study to estimate the number of red snapper in the U.S. waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

“American communities across the Gulf of Mexico depend on their access to, as well as the long term sustainability of, red snapper,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “I look forward to the insights this project will provide as we study and manage this valuable resource.”

The research team, made up of 21 scientists from 12 institutions of higher learning, a state agency and a federal agency, was awarded $9.5 million in federal funds for the project through a competitive research grant process. With matching funds from the universities, the project will total $12 million.

“We’ve assembled some of the best red snapper scientists for this study,” said Greg Stunz, the project leader and a professor at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi. “The team members assembled through this process are ready to address this challenging research question. There are lots of constituents who want an independent abundance estimate that will be anxiously awaiting our findings.”

Recreational anglers and commercial fishermen will be invited to play a key role in collecting data by tagging fish, reporting tags and working directly with scientists onboard their vessels.

“The local knowledge fishermen bring to this process is very valuable and meaningfully informs our study,” Stunz said.

Some stakeholder groups have expressed concerns that there are more red snapper in the Gulf than currently accounted for in the stock assessment. The team of scientists on this project will spend two years studying the issue.

In 2016, Congress directed the National Sea Grant College Program and NOAA Fisheries to fund independent red snapper data collections, surveys and assessments, including the use of tagging and advanced sampling technologies. Sea Grant and NOAA Fisheries worked collaboratively to transfer federal funds to Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant offsite linkto administer the competitive research grant process and manage this independent abundance estimate.

“Today’s announcement is welcome news for all red snapper anglers in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama. “As Chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, I was proud to author and secure federal funding to address the need for better data, which is a fundamental issue plaguing the fishery. The management of red snapper must be grounded in sound science if we want to provide fair access and more days on the water for our anglers. It is my hope that these independent scientists will be able to accurately determine the abundance of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico once and for all.”

“This research will be driven largely by university-based scientists with partners from state and federal agencies.” Stunz said. “This funding will allow us to do an abundance estimate using multiple sampling methods with a focus on advanced technologies and tagging for various habitat types.”

“I’m pleased to see that the independent estimate is moving forward and including the expertise of recreational fishermen,” said Rep. John Culberson of Texas. “I will continue to work with Texas fishermen and NOAA to address the inadequate access to red snapper.”

The project team will determine abundance and distribution of red snapper on artificial, natural and unknown bottom habitat across the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Scientists on the team include:

Greg Stunz, Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi

Will Patterson, University of Florida

Sean P. Powers, University of South Alabama, Dauphin Island Sea Lab

James Cowan, Louisiana State University

Jay R. Rooker, Texas A&M University at Galveston

Robert Ahrens, University of Florida, Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences

Kevin Boswell, Florida International University

Matthew Campbell, NOAA Fisheries (non-compensated collaborator)

Matthew Catalano, Auburn University

Marcus Drymon, Mississippi State University

Brett Falterman, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries

John Hoenig, College of William and Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Matthew Lauretta, NOAA Fisheries (non-compensated collaborator)

Robert Leaf, University of Southern Mississippi

Vincent Lecours, University of Florida

Steven Murawski, University of South Florida

David Portnoy, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi

Eric Saillant, University of Southern Mississippi

Lynne S. Stokes, Southern Methodist University

John Walter, NOAA Fisheries (non-compensated collaborator)

David Wells, Texas A&M University at Galveston

Guatemala Sailfish by Kayak

Guatemala Sailfish by Kayak
from The Fishing Wire

Anglers fish “Billfish Capital of the World” in Old Town Predator PDL kayaks

Old Town, ME – Angler David Hadden’s eyes light up when asked about kayak fishing Guatemala’s Pacific Coast, what many consider “The Billfish Capital of the World.”

If big game fishing in world-renowned billfish waters wasn’t enough, Old Town’s David Hadden and Sport Fishing editor Doug Olander took it one step further, hauling Old Town Predator PDL kayaks some 40 miles offshore, “mothership fishing” from one of Casa Vieja’s charter boats under the expert direction of Captain Chris Sheeder.

“It was a life-changing experience,” says Hadden. “For anglers, it’s the zenith of the sport. You get out there in the blue with big fish and it’s heaven. The first day Captain Chris took us right to a ledge, we dropped the kayaks in the water, and within 30 minutes we were doubled up.”

Although Hadden’s no stranger to big fish like tarpon and tuna, his first Pacific Sailfish pushed the limits of what he’d accomplished from an Old Town Predator PDL kayak.

“I fought that first sail like I’d fight any big fish from a kayak, and it took me all of twenty minutes. The first couple runs a sailfish makes are part sleigh ride, part acrobatics display, but after five to eight minutes, the combination of warm water temperature and lactic acid buildup run down the fish. Captain Chris pushed me to lock down the reel and get it done. With a single swipe of the tail they can go 10 feet in any direction, but you don’t want to completely exhaust the fish.”

Drag tightened and a quick fight routine dialed in, sailfish releases from the Old Town Predator PDL jibed well with Casa de Vieja’s catch and release conservation program.

“Casa Vieja takes the ‘The Billfish Capital of the World’ designation seriously, protecting all billfish to fight another day. That was the beauty of Predator PDL kayaks; we could hold the bill with one hand and pedal and revive the fish after the fight. That might have been the most satisfying part,” says Hadden.

And many successful releases there were. Hadden, Olander, and two other kayak anglers fished for three days, doubling up on countless occasions, with double-digit fish totals some days. “I was able to fight, land, and release every fish that bit. At the end of the three days, I went seven for seven. But I had to work for them. We pedaled up to 10 miles a day in 90-degree temperatures with high humidity while deploying baits, re-rigging, fighting fish… It was very physical and very rewarding. We always kept the mothership within range and Captain Chris and crew kept a close eye on us.”

Along the way, Hadden and crew planted their flag in some new angling territories, including being the first anglers to fish sailfish from pedal-driven kayaks 40 miles off Guatemala’s Pacific coast. And on the last day, they pioneered a unique play that merged charter boat outrigger teaser bait tactics with precise kayak angler boat control and bait placement.

Sailfish anglers will often use long outrigger poles when trolling to place baits high in the water column off both sides of the boat. When a sailfish is teased up on an outrigger bait—essentially used as a decoy—they’ll quickly pull in the outrigger and line and use a rod to flip a bait to the fish.

“On Day 3, Captain Chris yells from the charter boat to me, ‘Get right next to me!’ So I pedaled to stay right with the moving boat, and sure enough, he yells ‘Behind you! Behind you!’ and a sailfish had emerged right behind the boat to the outrigger bait. At the last minute Captain Chris swings the outrigger off and tells me to swing the kayak in with my bait. As I came off the wake and into the spread, the fish surfaced right behind my bait! It was so close, but the fish didn’t eat. Still, it was the coolest thing I’ve ever done.”

Hadden eventually caught the lingering sailfish, but catching the fish on the fly in a seamless choreography is his future goal. “That moment when you’re pedaling and then slip the kayak over the wake and into the spread right next to a high-rising sailfish is pretty magical. Those fish are fired up and ready to attack. I know Captain Chris and I could get the same scenario to work on the fly.”

Familiar with the latest in kayak fishing tactics, techniques, and trends, Hadden believes he and Captain Chris were the first to attempt precise pedal-driven kayak boat and bait placement in tandem with a trolling charter boat on an outrigger-teased sailfish.

GEAR

While Johnson Outdoors Watercraft manufactures numerous kayak models suitable for saltwater big game fishing, the Old Town Predator PDL has quickly become a favorite with anglers.

“It all comes down to the hands-free fishing experience the rugged and efficient Old Town PDL Drive provides. Especially with fighting any kind of big billfish species, having forward and reverse right at your feet is a huge asset for controlling the fish. Trolling and deploying baits is also made that much easier than having to work a paddle. Of course, the PDL Drive itself is built for saltwater use and the 10.3:1 gear ratio allows speeds up to 5.5 mph for reaching and returning from distant spots quickly and efficiently,” says Hadden.

In terms of tackle, Hadden and company fished live blue runners on circle hooks with 80-pound Seaguar braid main line and an 80-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader.

“Live bait was definitely the way to go for multiple fish days. I paired Accurate reels with St. Croix Mojo Salt rods, which had plenty of backbone to put the wood to fish after I locked up the drag. I held the rod and line in my hands so I could feel the take and drop back. A couple guys were just free-trolling. My thing was having a rod that was sensitive to feel when the bait got nervous—the calm before the storm.”

TRAVEL & LODGING

Logistically speaking, Hadden says the trip to Guatemala’s Casa Vieja Lodge couldn’t have been easier. “I flew from Portland, Maine to Atlanta, right into Guatemala City. The whole trip took about six hours. I was greeted at the airport by Casa Vieja staff and we were bused right to the gated lodge. Seamless, safe, and super professional.”

Once to the lodge, Hadden and crew were met with first-class accommodations. “The lodge was as nice as anything in the Bahamas. Fine cuisine and a great beer, scotch, and rum selection. Five-star all around, but what really impressed me was their staff.

From the servers to the guides, I can’t imagine a better operation. Every morning they came to your room with coffee, a really nice touch. And Casa Vieja guides are as good as they get. Captain Chris Sheeder is the best blue-water guide I’ve ever fished with. It was an honor to learn from one of a handful of anglers who’ve released 20,000 billfish.”

To learn more about Guatemala’s legendary billfish angling, visit www.casaviejalodge.com.

Want to win a brand new Predator PDL, St. Croix Legend Tournament Inshore rod, plus lots of other St. Croix and Old Town gear seen in the video?

Enter here:

#AdventureLivesHere

About Old Town:

JOHNSON OUTDOORS is a leading global outdoor recreation company that inspires more people to experience the awe of the great outdoors with innovative, top-quality products. The company designs, manufactures and markets a portfolio of winning, consumer-preferred brands across four categories: Watercraft Recreation, Fishing, Diving and Camping.

JOHNSON OUTDOORS WATERCRAFT RECREATION includes Old Town canoes and kayaks, Ocean Kayak, Necky kayaks, Carlisle paddles and Extrasport personal flotation devices. Old Town canoes and kayaks have created genuine watercraft with innovative designs for over 100 years.

Visit Old Town canoes and kayaks at www.oldtowncanoe.com

Visit Johnson Outdoors at www.johnsonoutdoors.com