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Alabama Red Snapper

Snapper Anglers Can Offer Input at Gulf Council Meeting in Mobile

By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
from The Fishing Wire

Alabama red snapper


Gulf anglers who are dedicated to catching Alabama’s most popular reef fish species – red snapper – will have an opportunity to share their opinions with the policy makers at the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meeting in Mobile later this month. During the meeting, members of the Gulf Council will continue discussions on a change in red snapper management that would give the individual Gulf States more flexibility in establishing the length of the fishing season within each state.

Alabama Marine Resources Division (MRD) Director Scott Bannon and MRD Chief Biologist Kevin Anson urge all anglers who want to see the individual states manage the reef fish fishery to become a part of the process when the Gulf Council meets Oct. 22-25 at the Renaissance Battle House in downtown Mobile.

The Reef Fish Committee meets at 8:30 a.m., Tuesday, Oct. 23, to discuss Amendment 50, which deals with state management of red snapper. The segment of the Gulf Council meeting Bannon and Anson highlight as the chance for the public to participate in the process is the comment period from 1:30-4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 24.

“In this particular Council meeting, we really need to make some decisions on the state management plans that could come into effect after 2019,” Bannon said.

Alabama’s 2019 red snapper season remains under the exempted fishing permit (EFP) that NOAA Fisheries granted for the 2018-2019 seasons. That EFP allowed the individual states to set seasons that would allow harvest of a specific number of pounds of red snapper as long as it did not exceed the overall quota.

Alabama anglers showed a renewed enthusiasm for red snapper fishing this past summer, and MRD officials were forced to close the snapper season early. The Marine Resources Division based its proposed 47-day 2018 season on the data gathered from the 2017 snapper season. That data included daily catch rate, size of the fish and the amount of angler effort (man-days fishing for snapper).

Alabama closely monitors the red snapper harvest through its red snapper reporting program, known as Snapper Check. After the data came in on July 8, MRD realized that red snapper fishermen had taken advantage of near-ideal conditions to catch fish at such a rate that the quota of 984,291 pounds of red snapper would be exceeded unless the season was closed after 28 days.

“Everything that you would be concerned about as an angler wasn’t a concern,” Anson said, explaining why angler participation and harvest rates skyrocketed in 2018. “When you go offshore, you have to make sure you have enough money to pay for fuel and supplies. The economy is good. They didn’t have to worry about the weather, as winds and seas were great this year during the snapper season days for the most part. And, the fish are there and they’re easy to catch.”

Although the 2019 snapper season will still fall under the EFP, no plan is in place for 2020 and beyond. Without a new plan, the private recreational angler would revert to a federal season, which was ridiculously short before the EFP was granted.

“If we go back to a federal season, that may not work out very well for private recreational anglers,” Bannon said. “There will be a lot of discussion on Amendment 50 at this Council meeting.”

Anson, who is MRD’s representative on the Gulf Council, said Amendment 50 is an alternative to the traditional federal form of fisheries management. “Basically, it’s a form of management that apportions a percentage of the recreational quota to each state. Then the states set their seasons based on those available pounds,” Anson said.

“Amendment 50 states that the Gulf states have a portion of the total recreational allocation, which may or may not include federal charter boats,” Anson said.

Alabama’s charter-for-hire fleet opted to abide by traditional federal management for the 2018 season, which gave them a 51-day season, fishing straight through from June 1 through July 21.

Anson said charter-for-hire vessels are included in Amendment 50, although there is discussion to exclude them from the amendment.

Anson said several options are on the table in Amendment 50 to determine what each state’s apportionment would be, including traditional harvest data and a biomass estimate.

The biomass (number of red snapper in the Gulf) estimate may not bode well for Alabama’s share.

“The assessment estimates that the majority of red snapper are west of the Mississippi River,” Anson said. “That would be Louisiana and Texas. The proportion of red snapper for the other three states is lower. Compared to historical landings data, our allocation of fish would go down in that situation.”

Anson said if Amendment 50 is passed and goes into effect, it will give states as much control over the fishery as federal law allows through the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Congress must amend Magnuson-Stevens to give states more control than what is currently being considered under Amendment 50, Anson said.

“Under this amendment, states could set their seasons,” Bannon said. “The seasons will be set under a total allowable catch for the entire Gulf. Probably the number one topic for Amendment 50 is can the states agree on the allocation percentage for each state and vote that forward so that everything will be done in time for the 2020 season.

“The other topic has to do with the federal for-hire boats. Do they totally come out of the amendment? Two states are fighting very hard to keep the for-hire boats in the amendment, and the federal for-hire folks in the other three states would not like to see that. They want to keep the federal season. The meeting in Mobile is a chance for the owners of federal for-hire vessels to express that to the Council.”

Bannon said historically the private recreational anglers have been reluctant for whatever reasons to provide public testimony and participate in the process. He hopes that will change later this month.

“Red snapper fishing in Alabama is a huge deal,” Bannon said. “This Gulf Council meeting is being held in Mobile. I want to encourage people from Alabama who consider this to be very important to come and provide public comment during the process. My take is that if you can take a day off to go fishing, then you can take a day off to come to the meeting and be a part of the solution for 2020 and beyond. We get a lot of people whose response is ‘The process is stupid’ or ‘It doesn’t work,’ when they don’t know how it works. This is their opportunity to see how the Council process works.”

PHOTOS: (David Rainer) Large red snapper have become abundant in Alabama’s unparalleled artificial reef zones. Alabama-based charter vessels take advantage of the plentiful snapper during the summer federal season.

Shrimp Imitating Baits

The Wrong Place to be a Shrimp
Modern shrimp-imitating baits save live shrimp for the dinner table
By Dr. Jason Halfen
from The Fishing Wire

Catch big fish on shrimp


The ocean is the wrong place to be a shrimp. Here, you’re at the top of the menu – everybody’s menu. Not only must you avoid the diesel-powered trawlers, but you must also evade incalculable fish, honed by evolutionary pressures to become exceptional shrimp predators.

Anglers can exploit this innate relationship to catch more and bigger fish in the saltmarshes and on the flats. Indeed, live shrimp are a mainstay of light-tackle anglers targeting a wide variety of marine predators. Nevertheless, even live (or recently dead) shrimp presentations have their limitations: anglers must collect or purchase their own fragile crustaceans, maintain them in healthy, fishable condition throughout the trip, and rig the shrimp with extreme care to keep them feisty. And, like every natural presentation, live shrimp used as bait can result in deeply hooked fish, making injury-free releases a challenging proposition.

Meticulously designed and engineered for performance and durability, contemporary artificial shrimp reap all of the benefits of the natural predator-prey relationship that pervades the coastal flats, without any of the limitations that accompany the use of live shrimp. Perfect for any inshore predator, including speckled trout, flounder, snook and redfish, artificial shrimp can be presented using many of the same techniques that are appropriate for live shrimp. Two exceptionally productive methods are to present shrimp lures beneath a popping cork, and to swim or jig shrimp on or near the bottom.

Chug, chug, chug – the rhythm of the popping cork

To the untrained eye, popping corks look like clumsy, oversized bobbers bejeweled with clacking beads. Yes, popping corks do suspend a bait just a few feet below the surface, well within the strike zones of fish prowling these coastal flats. And yes, when the cork submerges, it’s time to set the hook – and hold on. But the link between conventional bobbers and popping corks ends there.

Generally constructed of foam, popping corks are tapered on the end closest to the lure and convex on the other. This curved face imparts the same chugging sound and water-displacing commotion associated with a traditional surface popper. Anglers can rip the popping cork forward aggressively to capture the attention of larger fish or twitch it more subtly when targeting trout.

These movements of the cork have a bite-triggering impact on the lure suspended beneath. Below the popping cork, separated by a 2-3 foot length of 30 lb. test Seaguar fluorocarbon, is where we’ve laid our trap – an artificial shrimp. As the cork chugs forward, the shrimp darts toward the surface; when the cork stops, the shrimp pendulums downward toward its original position – where it rests vulnerably until the next chug.

Two different soft plastic shrimp lures are particularly effective under popping corks. The LIVETARGET Rigged Shrimp is designed to accurately mimic the appearance of a live shrimp darting in a forward direction. Designed around a stout, saltwater grade hook and boasting an internal rattle to mimic a live shrimp’s clicking sound, the LIVETARGET Rigged Shrimp is available in 3” and 4” lengths that have broad appeal to coastal predators.

The Z-Man Rigged EZ ShrimpZ is another stand-out performer under a popping cork. With a sweet-spot length of 3.5”, a segmented, high-action body and a robust Mustad hook, the EZ ShrimpZ features a notched ¼ oz keel weight that can be easily trimmed to 1/8 oz to adjust the rate of the lure’s pendulum swing. Molded from Z-Man’s proprietary ElaZtech material, the EZ ShrimpZ won’t rip or tear, even after being extracted from the mouths of multiple toothy predators.

Fortify your popping cork presentation with the right line and rod. There’s a reason that most guides select Seaguar Smackdown braided line as the foundation of their popping cork combos: not only is it strong enough to withstand the unforgiving coastal environment, but its tight, eight-carrier weave gives it a completely round profile for long casts, as well as a velvety-smooth feel that resists kinks and wind knots. Smackdown in 30 lb. test (8 lb. test mono equivalent diameter) is a great choice on a 3000-series spinning reel, such as a Penn Battle II. A St. Croix Mojo Inshore medium heavy power, fast action rod in 7’ or 7’6” lengths pairs perfectly with popping corks.

The 7’6″, medium light power, fast action Legend Tournament Inshore rod is a great choice for speckled trout, while the 7′ or 7’6″ medium power, fast action Legend Tournament Inshore rods are terrific for snook, flounder, smaller reds, and more.

Jig it – shrimp on and near the bottom

When shrimp are un-harassed by predators, they swim leisurely in a forward direction. But when faced by their own mortality, trying to delay their final entry into the coastal food web, they pulse their muscular (and tasty) tail and flee backwards. This is the motion and erratic action we seek to emulate as we swim and jig artificial shrimp on and near the bottom.

Jigging presentations are particularly effective in regions with high water clarity, areas where the commotion of a popping cork would scatter wary predators. Think sand flats and marsh ponds – places where sight fishing for trout, reds, and more is possible. The deception here will be visual, using lures with the right profile, color, and action, supported by other sensory inputs like sound, vibration, and even scent, to elicit bites.

The Z-Man TroutTrick Jerk ShrimpZ is a great choice for tempting shrimp-munching speckled trout. This 3.5” soft shrimp lure boasts lively appendages and twin paddletail antennae, yielding strike-triggering action as the shrimp is hopped and twitched, especially when dressed on a 3/16 oz jig. The Jerk ShrimpZ also benefits from another unique ElaZtech feature: buoyancy. At rest, the head of the Jerk ShrimpZ rises gently off the bottom, creating a highly visible, upright posture complemented by gently swaying antennae – a lifelike stance and subtle action that trout can’t resist.

When bigger, older, and wiser predators are on the agenda, a soft plastic shrimp with extreme attention to visual detail will turn lookers into biters. Available in 3/8 oz and ¾ oz weights, the new LIVETARGET Fleeing Shrimp bristles with three-dimensional anatomical features and is armed with a corrosion-resistant hook. The Fleeing Shrimp’s proprietary skirt masterfully emulates the motions of a living shrimp’s front legs, both in motion and at rest. Coupled with a subtle internal rattle and a long-lasting shrimp scent, the LIVETARGET Fleeing Shrimp may be the ultimate artificial shrimp for deceiving inshore predators.

The Z-Man TroutTrick Jerk ShrimpZ is a great choice for tempting shrimp-munching speckled trout.

When casting these generally lighter shrimp lures, it’s best to back down in your rod’s power rating. When rod sensitivity is critical for bite detection, consider the SC-IV graphite St. Croix Legend Tournament Inshore series. The 7’6”, medium light power, fast action Legend Tournament Inshore rod is a great choice for speckled trout, while the 7’ or 7’6” medium power, fast action Legend Tournament Inshore rods are terrific for snook, flounder, smaller reds, and more. Spool up with 30 lb. test Seaguar Smackdown, and complete the visual deception by tying in a leader of 20 or 25 lb. test Seaguar Gold Label 100% fluorocarbon leader (available soon). Substantially thinner than any other fluorocarbon of comparable strength, Gold Label is less visible to fish underwater and also enhances lure action – two critical line attributes that dramatically enhance catch rates.

The ocean is truly the wrong place to be a shrimp. Use the innate connection linking predators and their favorite prey to your advantage by presenting artificial shrimp whenever you target trout, snook, flounder, or redfish on coastal flats – and save the live shrimp for the dinner table.

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 www.technologicalangler.com

St. Croix Mojo Jig Series Tackle

Power Up for Bottom Brutes with St. Croix Mojo Jig Series Tackle

Bottom fishing success requires more than heavy gear

By Joe Balog
from The Fishing Wire

Big red on St Croix rod


What kind of fish breaks eighty-pound line?

I asked myself that question repeatedly as I rigged my bottom-fishing rod. For the third time in twenty minutes, I had my butt kicked by a fish that I falsely assumed would be no match for my heavy tackle. This was starting to get old.

A freshwater transplant, I had dipped my toe into the saltwater world after relocating to Florida and purchasing a beauty of a bay boat. Fish tacos and snapper ceviche were soon to be on the menu, or so I thought. Yet, after nearly a full day of fishing, all I had in the fish box was one small triggerfish.

Photo courtesy of St, Croix Rod
For the first time in several years, the waters off the East Coast of Florida were hosting a red snapper season, and I planned to get my share of the now plentiful fish. The problem was, I couldn’t get them in the boat.

Dejected, I went home a lot lighter on sinkers; but no less determined.

That evening, I went through my gear. Hooks were stout and sharp, offering no flex, and my line was the heaviest I could find. Sinkers, swivels, knots – everything terminal was flawless. Going one step further, I studied my rods and reels.

Previously, I upgraded to St. Croix’s Mojo Jig series (Conventional and Spinning) for this style of fishing, and paired them with heavy-duty reels. Remarkably stout despite their light weight, I was certain the Mojos could handle anything a snapper could throw their way. I later learned they could, if I knew how to use them.

The following day again found me on the snapper grounds, accompanied by my wife, Kim, and friends. The bite was on, and Kim quickly hooked up. Her drag screamed as a big fish surged for the bottom. Immediately upon reaching it, Kim’s line broke. Disappointment again filled the boat.

Upon inspection of the heavy line, I found it cleanly sliced in two, as if by a pair of shears. Then, it dawned on me.

I quickly grabbed my rod, cranked the drag down as tight as it would go, and dropped down a fresh pinfish. Handing it off the Kim, I could see an instant strike. “Let him have it a minute, then wind as hard as you can,” I instructed. “And, whatever you do, don’t let him get back to the bottom.”

Kim grunted under the strain of the heavy fish. Playing it like a pro, she pressed her tackle to the max. When the big fish surged, Kim pulled back twice as hard. I added a third hand for even more leverage. To our delight, the fifteen-pound red snapper soon surfaced, was quickly netted, and hit the fish box flopping.

Again inspecting the line, I found it as perfect as when I tied it. We were on to something.

For the remainder of the day, and throughout the weekend, we would boat nearly every red snapper we hooked from that point on. Ten, fifteen, even twenty-pound fish came over the gunnels at a regular rate.

Reflecting, my lack of saltwater experience was to blame for our initial break-offs. Sure, I’d fished around line-shredding structures in freshwater; docks and rocks, for example. But nothing could prepare me for the damage inflicted by a sharp ocean reef.

Photo courtesy of St. Croix Rod
When fishing such structures, it’s absolutely imperative to win the first twenty seconds of the fight. Grouper and snapper instinctively know that, when in trouble, their best chance is to get to the bottom. It’s incredible how hard even a moderate-sized ocean dweller can pull when compared to a freshwater fish; a life in heavy ocean currents adding to their stamina.

Since my inaugural trip, I’ve used the Mojo Jig series to wrestle some real brutes from the depths below. Like all St. Croix rods, technology is at the forefront in this series, as they’re built using Advanced Reinforcing Technology; a carbon fiber material that adds incredible strength to the rod by keeping it true to form under the heaviest strain.

I’ve found the conventional Mojo Jig models to be perfect (I can’t get away from my 5’8” extra-heavy no matter what I’m fishing for), but Kim prefers the spinning models. She finds that, with her size and body frame, she gets more leverage by having the rod under her forearm when horsing a strong fish.

In any case, mark my words: the first twenty seconds is the key. Remember that, and you’ll save a bundle on sinkers.

What Are Smalltooth Sawfish?

Smalltooth Sawfish: On the Road to Recovery
from The Fishing Wire

Sign about smalltooth sawfish


A billboard in Florida City educates visitors to the Florida Keys about endangered sawfish. Credit: Mike Barnette

By Tonya Wiley, Havenworth Coastal Conservation
from The Fishing Wire

The U.S. Smalltooth Sawfish Recovery Team recently released a video which looks at smalltooth sawfish recovery in the United States, 15 years after its listing under the Endangered Species Act. To watch the video visithttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSRWUjVU3e8&feature=youtu.be

The video is themed around the “road” to recovery and starts with an aerial drive down US 1 into Florida City where Keys visitors are now welcomed by a billboard promoting sawfish conservation. The billboard highlights three key concepts of sawfish conservation: respect, release, and report.

Viewers are given a brief description of smalltooth sawfish biology, the habitats where they live, and why the population decreased to the point that it needs protection under the Endangered Species Act. The video then introduces the smalltooth sawfish recovery implementation team developed by NOAA Fisheries to aid in recovering this species.

“Our Smalltooth Sawfish Recovery Implementation Team is comprised of a number of partners from both federal and state government, non-government organizations, universities, and the fishing industry. Each year we get together to review what we’ve learned through our research in the previous year and set goals for the upcoming year,” states team member Tonya Wiley of Havenworth Coastal Conservation.

Gregg Poulakis of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spoke about the progress of the team since its inception, stating, “when the recovery team came into existence shortly after the species was listed under the Endangered Species Act, we knew very little about the species. Basically, any question that we asked, or anyone would ask, about the biology or ecology of the species didn’t have an answer, so we had a lot of priorities initially, and over the last 15 years we’ve learned a lot.”

The video progresses by briefly discussing current research on this endangered species before introducing team member and professional charter captain, Charlie Phillips of Hope Fishing Adventures. Charlie explains why he volunteered to become part of the team, “I’m an Everglades National Park permitted captain myself, and the sawfish is the heart of the Everglades. I mean it embodies the area that I fish, so having an opportunity for people to interact correctly with that endangered species is very important and trying to share that with as many people as I can…is why I’m here.” Charlie’s account as a recreational angler segues into the safe release guidance that the team has developed and continues to promote. Should an angler catch a sawfish, our guidance is to leave the sawfish in the water, cut the line as close to the hook as possible, release the sawfish quickly, and report to us the information about the encounter.

The video details what a recovered population of smalltooth sawfish in the U.S. might look like. While there is some uncertainty, John Carlson of NOAA Fisheries’ Southeast Fisheries Science Center states, “… sawfish historically were found in areas from North Carolina to the Gulf of Mexico so what we should see as the population recovers, is that abundance trends are increasing as well as seeing individuals in some of those historic areas.”

Juvenile smallthooth sawfish


A juvenile smalltooth sawfish swims in the shallows of Everglades National Park. Credit: Andrea Kroetz

With the evidence to date, the team thinks endangered smalltooth sawfish are on the path to recovery. “Based on the species current status and its life history characteristics, the smalltooth sawfish population is not likely to fully recover for at least 40 to 50 years,” concludes Adam Brame, the Sawfish Recovery Coordinator for NOAA Fisheries. “We are seeing signs of progress, however, and due to these modest improvements, we’re cautiously optimistic that the smalltooth sawfish is indeed on the road to recovery.”

Please check out the video and share it with others to foster support for this endangered species. To watch the video visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSRWUjVU3e8&feature=youtu.be And, as always, to report a smalltooth sawfish encounter call 1-844-4SAWFISH or email sawfish@myfwc.com.

For more information:

Internet: www.SawfishRecovery.org
Facebook: U.S. Sawfish Recovery
Twitter: @SawfishRecovery

Tonya Wiley, President
Tonya@havenworth.org
941-201-2685
www.havenworth.org

Tax-deductible donations to help us continue our mission to promote the sustainable use and conservation of marine resources through research, outreach, and education can be made at https://www.oceanfdn.org/donate/havenworth-coastal-conservation

800 Pound Marlin

Hand-to-Hand Combat Puts 800 Pound Marlin in the Boat
from The Fishing Wire

800 Pound Marlin


Team Silver-Rod-O poses with its potential IGFA line-class world record blue marlin.

Destin, FL – Trackers of trophy blue marlin call it “wiring,” wrapping lengths of wire or monofilament leader round and round your hands in hopes of finally bringing the big fish aboard. You’re just praying the furious bluewater giant doesn’t dismember your digits, or worse, pull you overboard with a single thrash of its weaponized skull.

Consider for a moment the primeval power of an 800-pound pelagic sportfish, amped up and attached to a hook on one end and your hands on the other. Imagine what can happen when a fish that big decides to sprint 50-miles an hour, and the potential for destruction to your hands—or your life. Now realize that the only thing protecting you is the right pair of gloves.

Some say luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity—an apt description of actually landing a giant blue marlin. For Gary and Sherrell Carter and their expert crew, locating, battling, wiring and finally boating a record-class marlin only happens when a thousand different possibilities fall perfectly in to place. Give or take a few tense moments, that’s exactly what unfolded on Monday, August 13, off the coast of Madeira Island, Portugal.

The Carters, a husband-and-wife team who began chasing dreams of colossal marlin in 2000, had just about wrapped their 35th day on the water when a silver-blue leviathan emerged behind their boat, the Silver-Rod-O. “In the nine long days leading up to August 13, we had only seen a single blue marlin,” recalls Gary Carter, holder of numerous IGFA line-class records. “It was 4:20pm and we were about to call it a day when all of a sudden a big fish came up in hot pursuit of our right long teaser.”

Special ‘wiring gloves’ protect hands from wraps of heavy leader while also freeing fingertips for essential tasks with tackle.
For the Carters and the four other members of the Silver-Rod-O team, the game is to pull a large, hookless, squid-like teaser behind the boat in hopes of enticing a blue marlin to the surface. That day, when Yoan Alcala, the Venezuelan captain of the Silver-Rod-O, spotted and called out the astonishing size of the pursuing fish, the crew flew into immediate action. The Carters quickly decided Gary would wield the “bait-and-switch” rod, rigged with 20-pound test and a squid. “Andy continued teasing the fish toward the boat, I made the pitch and when the bait intersected the track of the marlin, Andy quickly jerked the teaser away and the marlin pilled on the hooked squid. We were in the battle.

“The fish stayed within 300 yards of the boat throughout the fight—actually fairly close— giving us several really nice jumps. One hour and ten minutes in, the blue made a mistake and Andy Dow, our great wire man from Australia, was able to get a solid grip on the leader with his Fish Monkey Wiring Gloves. With only a 15-foot leader to work with, in order to do this properly, you have to be right on top of the fish. You need the exact perfect angle, and Andy pulled it off impeccably; got a great wrap and then another. At that point, Yefry Garcia made an excellent gaff shot followed by Brad Batterton with another.”

Back at the harbor, Carter and crew watched as the certified scale rolled to 366.0 kg (807 pounds). This now-pending IGFA World Record, if approved, will eclipse the current IGFA 20-pound test record Atlantic blue marlin by a substantial margin. (The current record, according to Carter— an IGFA trustee and active member of The Billfish Foundation— sits at 714-pounds, a fish caught off the Ivory Coast of West Africa in 1990.) After filing all necessary paperwork, photography and a line sample, Carter says IGFA certification typically requires a minimum of 90 days.

Interestingly, all the way back in May 1999, Carter achieved his first the Royal Slam, catching all nine billfish species in less than a year. Additionally, the IGFA recognized the Silver-Rod-O with an Outstanding Achievement Award; it was the first time all of the Atlantic and Pacific species of marlin were caught by one angler from the same vessel. In addition to the 807-pound blue, the angling couple has broken records with fish on 16, 12, 8, 6, 4, and even 2-pound test.

Reflecting on his recent catch and all that unfolded those 35 days at sea, Carter quickly praises his team. “This is a team accomplishment, not an individual one. Nearly every member of my crew is highly skilled and focused on the task—even after countless hours on the water. Most all of us rely on Fish Monkey gloves to perform our assigned task. Both my gaff men—Yefry Garcia and Brad Batterton—don a pair of Fish Monkey Crusher gloves for protection from the sun, the fish and the elements. We do the same while fighting fish.

Fish Monkey’s Crusher has proven itself as an exceptionally versatile fishing glove, endowed with UPF 50 sun protection and Kevlar-reinforcements that prevent cuts from leader, wire and fish.
“The wiring gloves Andy wears have a special Kevlar fabric, which keeps line from cutting and puncturing the skin. Underneath, layers of hard and soft EVA padding keep heavy leader material from crushing down. And the fabric itself offers minimal friction, so leader can slip off the glove quickly and easily—an absolute key to successful wiring. The gloves also have exposed fingertips for dexterity and handling rods and tackle.”

In quantifying the role of Fish Monkey Wiring Gloves, Carter gives credit to another legendary marlin man. “My friend Tim Mossberg, founder of Fish Monkey Gloves, worked closely with Captain Charles Perry—the most accomplished wire man in the history of the sport—to develop these specialized gloves. They’re simply the best and only ones we’ll use when a big fish is on the line.”

For more information, visit www.fishmonkeygloves.com or call (888) 659-8864.

View Online Version

FULL 2018-19 CATALOG

The Fish Monkey Story

No one is sure where the Fish Monkey first appeared. Some said it was in the mountainous jungles of Guatemala near the old Mayan ruins at Tikal, or at the foot of the volcano they call Fuego. Others said it was on the beaches of Isla Mujeres, Mexico’s famed Isle of Women. Still others reported seeing the mysterious creature in other places around the world: Hawaii, Australia, Costa Rica.

But all the reports had one thing in common: wherever there was good fishing, the Fish Monkey was there as well. It was reported to have a phenomenal grip, stronger and more secure than any human could ever have. No matter how slick or slimy, the Fish Monkey could handle the situation with ease.

With those legends in mind, the founders of Fish Monkey Performance Gloves set about to replicate that world-famous grip. Fish Monkey is the world’s premier manufacturer of gloves designed specifically for the water. Whether you’re on the deck of a sport-fishing boat wiring a thousand-pound blue marlin off Bermuda, casting jigs and poppers to giant trevally in the Pacific or poling a flats skiff in less than a foot of water off the Bahamas, Fish Monkey has a glove that’s designed just to fit your needs. Extremely durable, with padding in just the right places, and a fit like a second skin. Protection from sharp teeth and the sun. And all with that legendary Fish Monkey grip.

So when you demand the very best protection for your hands, reach for Fish Monkey Performance Gloves. Become part of the legend.

Help Snook and Reds in Florida’s Red Tide Areas

How Anglers Can Help Snook and Reds in Florida’s Red Tide Areas
By Brett Fitzgerald, Snook and Gamefish Association
from the Fishing Wire

(Hint: log more, log now – it’s never been more important!)

Red tide map of Florida


The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has temporarily mandated that snook and red drum are ‘catch and release only’ in the areas most impacted by the 2018 red tide bloom. The closure runs from the northernmost point of Anna Maria Island in Manatee County, and runs along the coast down through Collier County to Gordon Pass.

The change of status to “catch and release only” is set to expire at midnight on Oct. 12, which will allow commissioners time to hear an update the next FWC Commission meeting, (September 26-27 in Havana/Tallahassee).

An executive order has not been used to shut down the harvest of any “fin-fishery” to harvest in Florida since the historic 2010 cold-kill, which had massive impacts on the snook population. (Scallop seasons have been closed or delayed due to red tide in the past, most recently in 2016 and 2017.)

Similar to the situation in 2010, FWC felt compelled to take action to protect these fisheries without the benefit of hard supporting science. In circumstances such as these, it is understandable that the decision was difficult, but made with the best intentions. “We have no idea how much these fisheries have been impacted,” said Jim Estes, Deputy Director of Marine Fisheries Management. “We did see issues with recruitment after the 2005 red tide bloom for certain species,” Estes added. This, combined with other factors such as interviews with stakeholders throughout Florida, prompted the temporary change of fishery status.

Back in 2010, snook anglers were called to action – FWC and their research arm the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) worked with the Snook Foundation to develop a self-reporting system called the Angler Action Program, which led to the development of the iAngler smart phone app. “The information gathered by iAngler was very helpful after the 2010 cold event, and it played a significant role as the snook fishery recovered,” noted Dr. Luiz Barbieri, Program Administrator, Marine Fisheries Research at FWRI.

Once again, we are asking anglers to contribute valuable information through Angler Action. “I encourage anglers to report their catch in iAngler,” Jim Estes said. He has been a direct point of contact between FWC and Angler Action, and says this information can only help them understand the health of the fishery.

Over the next week, we at SGF/Angler Action will be working directly with FWC and FWRI staff to ensure that recreational anglers are dialed in. “Right now, our focus here is to help FWC get a handle on what is really going on with fish populations throughout Florida,” said SGF Chairman Mike Readling. “iAngler continues to be the best way anglers can communicate what they are catching – and not catching,” pointing out that ‘zero-catch’ trips are extremely valuable.

“We want to remind all anglers that using iAngler doesn’t mean that you must handle fish any more than a typical release,” Readling points out. Anglers do not need to include a photo with their report. While length information is very important, anglers can leave that box blank too.

For now, we ask that you stay tuned. Understand that the rule change means you CAN fish in the areas within the map above, you just must release any and all redfish and snook. If you are fishing anywhere in the state, these are our two asks of you: Log your trip in iAngler, and emphasize best-release practices.

Angler Action’s Best Practices for Catch & Release Fishing
Access to fisheries is an important part of conservation in America, and for many of us that access includes ‘catch and release’ fishing. In such cases, we want every fish we let go to survive so they can continue to thrive and contribute to the future of their species.

With that in mind, here’s a refresher on some pointers that will significantly increase the chance of survival of those fish you let to. If you wish to have something added to this list, let us know!

Fish Handling

Try to keep the fish in the water at all times.
Minimize handling, since this can remove protective slime from the fish.
If you handle a fish, use clean, wet hands.
If you do remove the fish from the water, support the fish beneath the head and belly.
Minimize exposure to air, maximum 15 seconds.
Avoid using mechanical lip-gripping devices on active fish, since this can cause jaw injury.
If a fish’s weight is desired, attach a cradle to the scale to support the fish’s weight.
Keep fingers away from the gills, damaged gills make it harder for the fish to breathe.
Hooks

Use barbless hooks, since this reduces the amount of handling needed to remove the hook.
When fishing with bait, use circle hooks.
If a hook is deep within the throat, cut the line as close to the hook as possible.
This causes less damage than removing a deeply-set hook; most fish are able to reject the hook or the hook dissolves over time.
Fight Time

Keep the fight short, but not too short.
Long fight times result in an exhausted fish, which is more vulnerable to predators.
A fish reeled in too quickly may thrash about, increasing it’s chances of injury.
Use tackle that matches the fish and conditions.
If a fish looses equilibrium (it rolls over or goes nose down on the bottom), retrieve it until it can swim upright, then shorten the fight time on future fish.
When retrieving a fish, be sure that water passes over the gills from front to back.
Move the fish forward or hold it upright in the water allowing it to pump water through it’s gills.
High water temperatures may negatively impact survival after release for many species. In warmer water, reduce fight and handling time.
Predators

Since predators can decrease survival of fish after release, when predators become abundant and appear to become attracted to your fishing activity, consider moving to another fishing location.
If you have caught a fish and potential predators are near, consider using a circulating live-well to hold your fish for a short time to allow releasing it some distance away from them, unless that fish is not legal to possess.

Count Your Catch

Use AnglerAction.org or the iAngler phone app to record your catch info while fishing or soon after. (Remember to record all sizes and 0 catch as well).
If you are fishing in areas where the fish population is stressed, remember that you don’t need to photograph each fish in iAngler.
If you are unable to obtain an accurate length without excessive handling, it is better to leave that box empty. However, provided lengths are immensely helpful when using this data to better understand the health of a given fishery.

Mullet Run

Southeast Florida’s Amazing Mullet Run
By Frank Sargeant, Editor
from The Fishing Wire

Hutchinson Island on Florida’s southeast coast is a bit of a secret spot in a state where there are hardly any secret spots left. This 23-mile-long spit of sand and sea has so far evaded the high-rise madness to the south, while still providing enough of the comforts of civilization to make it a great vacation spot.

With Fort Pierce Inlet at one end, St. Lucie Inlet at the other, it’s surrounded by water, with the blue-green Atlantic and all its gamefish on one side, the shallow Indian River Lagoon on the other.

And while the south end of the lagoon has had its woes due to algae blooms and sea grass die-offs in recent years, the waters along the beach still provide top quality angling as well as white sand beaches that are not nearly so crowded as those in many other parts of Florida these days. In fact, there are stretches where, even on weekends, you may have a mile or two solely to yourself, especially if you’re a sunrise surfcaster as I tend to be.

Mullet Run Madness

Prime time to go is coming up, with the mullet run usually getting underway along the beaches in late August and continuing until Halloween. When the mullet flow past in their annual migration toward South Florida, just about everything that swims in the ocean here shows up right on the beach to feed on them.

Finger mullet make great bait


The finger mullet show up first in the fall run along Florida’s east coast, followed later by much larger baits–both sizes are great for gamefish that swarm along the beaches to feed on them. (Frank Sargeant Photo)It’s common to see 100-pound tarpon, 40-pound kingfish and 20-pound snook all feeding right on the surface within casting distance of the shoreline–sometimes the water literally boils there are so many thousands of baitfish being harassed by the gamefish. The fleeing bait occasionally jumps right out on the beach, particularly when a horde of bluefish or jack crevalle gets in on the chase.

The fishing is dead simple when the run is on–you cast a large weighted treble into the balls of mullet, give it a snatch and hook a couple, haul them ashore, drop one into a bucket of sea water and put the other on a 4/0 to 6/0 extra-strong live bait hook, either hooked through the nose or behind the anal fin, and put it back out into the melee. The bite is often instantaneous–a wounded bait is immediately picked out by the prowling gamefish. (If you can handle a castnet, you can usually net several dozen on a short throw as they swarm in the surf.)

If you’re a devout plug flinger, you can also catch plenty on big topwater plugs worked with a fast zig-zag motion, and also with large, 8-inch swimmer-type soft plastics on a 1/2 to 3/4 ounce jig head with heavy duty hook in the 3/0 size or larger. (Don’t use freshwater jigheads for this–the hooks are likely to get straightened.) The DOA Swimmin’ Mullet and the DOA BFL in 8-inch size are killers for this–they’re made right in the area specifically for this fishing. The LIVETARGET Finger Mullet wakebait is also a good choice.

You need stout spinning gear to handle the fish here–40-pound braid is the minimum, 65 better. Medium-heavy action spinning rods 8 feet or longer and 5000-sized reels can handle most of what you’re likely to stick, though if you want snook and only snook you can downsize the tackle a bit–expect to get spooled by a tarpon on any given cast, though. If you’re looking for a king mackerel to put on the grill, a foot of number 6 wire ahead of the hook is a must to prevent cutoffs.

Surf casting often gets the job done, but there are many days when the fish are too far off the sand to reach–that’s when a kayak launched off the beach can put you in the action. Or, if you have a powerboat, you can run out St. Lucie Inlet and quickly be on top of the fish either north or south. In calm weather with moderate swell, the inlet is a pussy cat and even a 16-foot flats rig can get you to the fish. When wind and tide oppose, however, it can get very gnarly very quickly–keep an eye on the weather and the tide chart anytime you go outside the pass in a small rig.

The inlet itself is a prime spot for snook to ambush the bait–cast around the rocks and jetties, particularly on outgoing tides early and late. (The snook season is open Sept. 1 to Dec. 15 here, but the slot is 28-32 inches–many you will catch will be over that size during the run.)

Other than Fishing, What?

If mom and the kids are more into swimming, snorkeling and sunbathing than fishing, Bathtub Reef Beach is the place to go. A near-shore reef protects a clear water lagoon, taming the surf and fears of sharks for those new to ocean swimming and snorkeling. The beach has adequate parking except on weekends. There’s a bathhouse with showers to wash off salt and sand. On the inland side of the park, there’s a fishing pier on the Indian River. It’s located off the south end of A1A–Google 1585 SE MacArthur Boulevard in Stuart.

There are also numerous beach front parks north on A1A, and these are frequently super spots to fish, with little competition–you not only get a shot at the mullet run madness by hopping from one to the next along the entire 23-mile stretch, but can also find pompano, whiting and sometimes Spanish and blues in the cooler months.

Where to Hang Your Hat

Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort and Marina is my favorite spot to stay here because it has a marina on the lagoon as well as a great stretch of beach for surfcasting. It’s just across the A1A bridge from the swank village of Sewall’s Point. It sprawls over 200 manicured acres including an 18-hole golf course and lots of tennis courts, which I don’t use, with winding lagoons loaded with mullet and sometimes snook and baby tarpon, which I do use as often as possible. (A number 5 flyrod and a white bucktail catches these little guys when they’re active.)

It’s an easy walk to the beach from anywhere on the property, but there are also regular trams to get you where you want to go. The 77-slip marina can handle anything up to 50 footers, and it’s in a protected location where your flats skiff will be happy in the water overnight. It’s about a 3-mile run down to the inlet. The resort restaurants are great, though pricey; get resort details here.

If you can’t bring your own boat, there are numerous good light-tackle charter guys working in this area–Captain Mike Holliday is one of the best, and an expert in timing the mullet run to perfection. He stays busy when the run is on–book early. (You may recognize the name–Mike is also a regular writer for Florida Sportsman Magazine.)

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.