Category Archives: Saltwater Fishing

Everything saltwater fishing

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:

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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

Reds Run Deep

When Reds Run Deep
By David A. Brown
from The Fishing Wire

Mention redfishing and a lot of folks will envision technical poling skiffs or a kayak sneaking up on skittish tailers. If that’s not your jam, maybe you like Chatterbaits to marsh pumpkins; or launching topwater baits toward schools of bull reds rumbling across a coastal bay.

What’s the common denominator here? Shallow water — the default choice for redfish anglers from Carolina creeks to Northern Gulf marshes. That’s because redfish are often a visual target; they either show themselves directly or with obvious movement (pushes, boils, wakes) or they reveal their position by scaring the heck out of baitfish and shrimp, which dimple the surface and flip skyward as auburn gluttons approach.

Fishing pressure, weather extremes and feeding opportunities are the common motivators for redfish moving deep.
However, this is not the only option. In fact, a bounty of redfish revelry awaits anglers with the ambition, aptitude and technical savvy to seek a deeper playing field.

For clarity, it’s well known that those adult “bulls” spend their lives outside the marshes and estuaries of their youth; so it’s not unusual to find these jumbos patrolling coastal and offshore reefs, Northern Gulf drilling rigs, etc. But the younger “slot” fish also occasionally seek deeper habitats; and that can present a bounty of opportunity.

DEEP THOUGHTS

Spawning activity typically occurs in deeper, offshore waters; but for those sub-adult slot fish, heading to greater depths within their inshore/coastal zone often makes a lot of sense. Raymarine pro Capt. C.A. Richardson said fishing pressure and extreme weather events will push redfish to deeper, more insulated waters, but the allure often involves the prime motivators: food and water temperature.

“Most of the time, they’re on those deeper spots because the food source in undeniable,” Richardson said. “When I use my Raymarine RealVision 3D or SideVision and see giant schools of baitfish it’s hard to think that predator fish won’t be there.”

Not only does Raymarine RealVision helps anglers locate fish off both sides of the boat and below, it reveals exactly how deep in the water column.
Indeed, from rock jetties to bridge pilings, to the debris piles dumped near a bridge, deep habitat with greater warmth and feeding opportunities often goes overlooked by anglers fettered with a one-dimensional mindset. Another example: oyster reefs that never see direct sunlight. Outgoing tides expose a lot of shallow shell mounds, but those below the mean low tide line remain covered.

“In colder months, redfish aren’t going to be on the flats at 8 o’clock in the morning; often times, they’ll be on those inlets and those passes and bridges when it’s really cold in the dead of winter,” said Richardson, who runs a Raymarine eS12 Hybrid Touch and a 12-inch Axiom Pro unit on his bay boat and a 7-inch Axiom on his poling skiff. “As soon as we get to midday, they’ll often move up to a nearby flat to warm up and feed.

“As an angler, you always gravitate to those zones. Anytime you have fertile shallow water with a history of producing fish and there’s a deep water relief nearby, it’s always worth scanning that stuff with your Raymarine unit.”

As Richardson notes, the evolution of CHIRP sonar simplifies the search by providing ultra-clear returns with verifiable target separation. Other words, wishful wondering is a thing of the past.

Anglers can easily customize Axiom/Axiom Pro split-screen views to suit exactly where, how, and what they’re fishing.
“There’s no guessing; a lot of times the Raymarine CHIRP sonar technologies will show the outline of a fish,” Richardson said. “You can see ‘That’s a tarpon. That’s a bigger, fatter fish; that’s probably a grouper. That’s a longer fish, that’s likely a snook or a redfish. You can literally see a signature on the screen and have a pretty good idea what you’re looking at.

“If there’s a pretty good wad of (baitfish) there looking for a thermocline where they’re going to be more comfortable, those predator fish are probably going to be close by.”

Wherever redfish run deep, you’ll be wise to keep a diverse selection of baits handy so you can dial in their preference. Lead head jigs with shad or curl tails are always a good bet, as are the flutter spoons and slender blade jigs, which dance in the water column like wounded baitfish. Deep diving crankbaits, Carolina-rigged plastics and a beefed-up dropshot will also tempt these fish.

CANAL CORRAL

Richardson describes one of his favorite scenarios for redfish, as well as a mixed bag of cast-worthy species. When cold, blustery weather turns the shallows uncomfortable, he looks to the deep residential canals, especially the ones where yachts or big sailboats mean at least 8-15 feet of depth in front of their docks.

“I’ll idle my skiff through those areas with my Raymarine SideVision and DownVision on and look for the bait schools or the fish that are piled in there,” Richardson said. “Especially the first day after a cold front, you’ll see them stacked up and that’s when I start fishing with very small Z-Man Ned Rig jig with a Z-Man Slim SwimZ or Finesse ShadZ or fast-sinking MirrOlures (32M, 4M or 52M).

“Let your bait go all the way to the bottom and then just barely flick them off the bottom. You’ll get a really soft bite; it will almost be like there’s some weight there and you just lift your rod tip and start cranking down as fast as you can to come tight on them.”

Richardson suggests a slow, measured pace controlled with light rod tip motion. Employing this technique, catches redfish, snook, trout and the occasional doormat flounder.

“The action on this technique is so much fun,” Richardson said. “You catch so many fish that you don’t care if the fish aren’t all big. It’s just the fact that you’re coming tight on something every other cast.”

In the Northern Gulf, drilling rigs commonly attract the larger bull reds.
Here, again, Raymarine’s ultra-clear CHIRP sonar plays an invaluable role in the angler’s time management. Rather than hitting every dock in a canal and hoping he’ll run into a few fish, Richardson looks before he casts.

“You don’t have to guess which canals have fish; you just turn on your Raymarine and slowly idle until you find a canal that’s stacked up with fish,” he said. “Then, you think about why the fish are there. Maybe it’s a east-west canal that doesn’t have the cold north wind blowing into it. Maybe the fish are in a corner that faces south and it’s on a northern seawall that absorbs the sun’s heat all day long.

“Some people just go in there with a shrimp on a split shot rig, and go from canal to canal, hoping to catch a fish. But when your Raymarine unit tells you there are fish there, you have the confidence of knowing ‘I’m going to catch fish here.” You just have to figure out how.”

Granted, it can be much easier to find redfish in shallow areas — sight fished, or not; but the deep stuff merits a spot in your game plan. For one thing, the fish are almost always biting and you’ll rarely have to worry about company.

So, shhhhh — don’t tell anyone.

Captain C.A. Richardson is among the featured speakers at the Reel Animals Boat Show and Fishing Expo today through Sunday at the Florida State Fairgrounds east of Tampa. Visit www.reelanimalsboatshow.com for schedule and other details.

Mote Snook Shindig

Mote Snook Shindig catches valuable fisheries data
Mote Marine in Sarasota, Florida, has an on-going snook rearing, stocking and tagging program, and each year recreational anglers assist in the research–by fishing!

By Hayley Rutger, Mote Marine
from The Fishing Wire

More than 40 anglers participated in the 2017 William R. Mote Memorial Snook Shindig, a research-based catch, sample and release tournament on Nov. 3-4. This unique tournament involves the public in monitoring for snook released in fisheries enhancement studies.

Jennifer Castilow and Dr. Nate Brennan of Mote Marine Laboratory measure a snook. Credit Cheri Tardif.
Snook are one of the most sought-after catches in Florida’s saltwater recreational fishing industry, which draws more than $7 billion to the economy annually. However, increased fishing pressure, habitat loss, and natural challenges such as cold weather and red tides have contributed to declines in snook populations. Thus, for more than 30 years, Mote Marine Laboratory and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) scientists have partnered in research designed to evaluate whether hatchery-raising and releasing snook into the wild can be an effective fishery management tool.

“The Snook Shindig is the only scientific tournament in which anglers focus on hatchery-reared and wild common snook,” said Dr. Kenneth Leber, Mote Senior Scientist. “Our goal is to estimate the contribution of previously tagged-and-released snook to the Sarasota Bay snook fishery, and to learn valuable information such as how different habitats affect snook growth, survival and migration patterns. Our research and this important tournament can help us understand how stock enhancement may help this snook population recover from large mortalities in the wild.”

Over decades, Mote scientists have released more than 61,000 snook into Sarasota-area waters. Past Snook Shindig results have revealed that changes in snook-release strategies, based on Mote pilot studies, have improved survival of stocked snook by as much as 200 percent.

Snook born and raised at Mote Aquaculture Research Park (MAP) in eastern Sarasota County are fitted with passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags and released for research on responsible restocking practices. PIT tags provide a “barcode” identifying individual fish and containing other specific data, which can be “read” using a special scanner.

During this year’s Snook Shindig, 224 snook were caught and released. Though none of these were recaptured fish with Mote tags, all fish caught, measured and released yielded valuable data.

“From this year’s fish, we’re able to learn about the size distribution of the fishery in our area,” said Dr. Ryan Schloesser, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Mote. “If we don’t see our hatchery snook in the catch, that may mean that there are far more wild snook out there — so they’re likelier to be caught — and it may also mean that our hatchery-raised snook haven’t yet grown to the sizes likeliest to be caught in the area of the tournament. We think it’s a combination of these factors. We released 5,620 PIT-tagged snook in the past two years, and they may just need to mature into the size being caught. We hope to find out at our future Snook Shindigs!”

During the Nov. 4 awards dinner in Mote Marine Laboratory’s WAVE Center on City Island, Sarasota, Mote President & CEO Dr. Michael P. Crosby greeted guests.

“Thank you all for making this a memorable, meaningful Snook Shindig by fulfilling the essential role of citizen scientists,” Crosby said. “For more than 60 years, Mote’s independent researchers have worked with caring and knowledgeable community members like you to bridge our scientific discoveries with local, traditional knowledge and decision making at all levels, to support conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. You are part of a time-honored tradition that aims to preserve this beloved fishery for future generations. We couldn’t succeed without you.”

Crosby recognized presenting sponsors Carol and Barney Barnett, who have donated $3 million to help Mote implement its Fisheries Conservation & Enhancement Initiative — a science-based, community-wide, grassroots partnership initiative aimed at fisheries conservation and sustainable use in Sarasota Bay. The Barnetts’ leadership gift challenges others to match this critical support toward this important initiative.

To support Mote’s Fisheries Conservation & Enhancement Initiative, contact Erin Kabinoff at ekabinoff@mote.org or (941) 388-4441, ext. 309.

Crosby also recognized two pioneering senior scientists at Mote: Dr. Ken Leber, manager of Mote’s Fisheries Ecology & Enhancement Program, and Dr. Kevan Main, manager of Mote’s Marine & Freshwater Aquaculture Research Program, for their tireless and visionary efforts to improve snook aquaculture and enhance this critical fishery. Leber and Main were presented with fish art prints by Steve Whitlock.

Mote fisheries scientists thanked and recognized the entire team of dedicated volunteers, sponsors and attendees who helped make this year’s Snook Shindig possible, including Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staff in attendance, fisheries conservation advocate Capt. Scotty Moore, this year’s featured artist for the Snook Shindig graphic, Steve Whitlock, and others (full sponsor list below).

“It was exciting to see a real range of ages participate as citizen scientists; many of the youth came up to give us a big hug and said they are going to go fishing next weekend,” said Mote staff scientist Carole Neidig, who coordinated the team effort for this year’s successful event.

Shark Fishing Tips

Shark Fishing Tips from NY DEC
from The Fishing Wire

Sharks are some of the sea’s most well-known but misunderstood inhabitants. They simultaneously provoke fascination and hysteria wherever they appear. Excessive fear of their ferocity and aggression has tainted people’s relationship with sharks, threatening their populations around the globe.

Sharks belong to the class of cartilaginous fishes that also includes rays and skates. They are primitive fishes whose skeletons lack true bones and instead are made of cartilage, the same material our ears and nose are made of.

There are over 500 species of sharks known through the world and are found in all seas, from near shore estuaries to the open ocean beyond the continental shelf. They are found in temperate, tropical and arctic latitudes as well as depths up to 6,000 feet.

New York’s marine waters are home to a variety of native shark species, as well as migratory species during the warmer months. During shark week, we will explore some of the lesser known sharks species found in New York’s marine waters and celebrate this misunderstood ocean predator.

‘Sharking’ in New York

Today, recreational and tournament anglers go shark fishing, also known as ‘sharking.’ Before heading out to try your luck at sharking, you must first register with the Recreational Marine Fishing Registry and apply for a federal Highly Migratory Species (HMS) permit

When fishing for sharks, you should be able to identify what species you are prohibited from taking. For a list of shark species you are prohibited from taking, as well as those you are allowed to take, visit Saltwater Fishing Regulations for Sharks.

If you catch a prohibited shark species while fishing from shore, please do not drag the shark onto the beach. If you hook a prohibited shark species you must return the shark to the water at once, without unnecessary injury to the shark. The easiest way to do this is to cut your leader as closely to the hook (as safely as practicable), while the shark is still in the water. Non-stainless circle hooks will rust free from the shark’s mouth in a short period of time.

For best practices, view NOAA’s Atlantic Recreational Shark Fishing: Handling and Release of Prohibited Species video.

If you’re going shark fishing please be familiar with prohibited shark species, and always follow the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) guidance, “If you don’t know, let it go!” For more information on how to identify shark species, visit NOAA’s Atlantic Shark website.

When fishing for sharks with baited hooks, you are required to use non-stainless steel, non-offset circle hooks.

Non-stainless steel hooks deteriorate over time, reducing harm to a fish if you are unable to retrieve the hook. A circle hook’s point is turned back toward the shank, forming a semi-circle shape. A circle hook is preferred to a J-hook for sharking. A circle hook is more likely to lodge in a shark’s mouth. A J-hook is more likely to be swallowed and damage a shark’s internal organs.

Keep your circle hook’s point in line with the shank. When a hook’s point bends sideways away from the shank, it becomes offset. Offset hooks can potentially injure a shark when you are removing the hook.

Ecological Role

Sharks have been roaming the seas for over 400 million years, predating the dinosaurs! They have survived many mass extinctions, including the event that extinguished the dinosaurs about 6 million years ago. Sharks have survived successfully for so long due to their ability to evolve. As a result, sharks have become the ocean’s top predators, also known as apex predators. Most sharks are aggressive apex predators that consume fish, turtles and marine mammals. The exceptions are the whale sharks, the basking sharks and the megamouth sharks, which are all filter feeders that consume plankton.

Apex predators are at the top of the food chain and generally have no natural predators. They play a vital role in maintaining a healthy population of organisms they prey upon. Ecosystems are extremely complex. Even small changes can have significant consequences in a variety of ways. Removing or reducing the population of an apex predator has the potential to upset the population balance of both prey and predators. This can have far-reaching negative consequences throughout the ecosystem.

Sharks had always been the apex predators of the oceans, until humans began refining our ability to harvest marine resources. Technology has improved many aspects of human life, but it has also given us the capacity to over-harvest finite resources.

Shark Conservation

Historically, sharks have largely been an underutilized resource in North America. Small, limited fisheries have existed for many years in areas along the U.S. coast. Large, well organized fisheries have occurred occasionally, but have been relatively rare and short lived.

The earliest known local commercial shark fisheries on the east coast occurred in the 1930s using long lines, chain nets and gill nets. Most of these fisheries were near shore and localized. Sharks were mainly harvested for their liver oil for the production of vitamin A and their hides for leather. Prior to the 1970s, there was little utilization of shark meat for human consumption in the U.S. Improvements in methods for handling sharks at sea, along with a marketing program promoted by the government, increased demand and consumption of sharks. Today, commercial fishing for sharks uses primarily long lines and gill nets.

Recreational fishing along the U.S. east coast was popularized in the 1970s. Advances in boat construction, efficiency and size of marine engines, fishing tackle and electronics technology, along with the ability of the public to purchase and own boats, made shark fishing much more accessible to recreational fisherman.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) finalized a fishery management plan and began managing the U.S. shark fishery in 1993. Measures adopted included commercial quotas, a commercial observer program, regulations regarding the retention of shark fins in proper proportion to carcasses, recreational bag limits, and prohibition of sale of recreationally caught sharks. As sharks continued to be overfished, subsequent addendums in later years included size limits for both recreational and commercial fisheries, permitting and reporting requirements, expansion of the observer program and limited commercial access.

*Special thanks to all our photograph contributors.* Many organizations who helped us with photographs are conducting exceptional work in shark research and conservation. For more information on how DEC administers permits for research and handling of native New York shark species, visit our Special Licenses Page.