Category Archives: Saltwater Fishing

Everything saltwater fishing

Massive Goliath Grouper Bites–On Camera

Fishing guide Paul Hartman and stepdaughter Reegan Werner with a record-class goliath grouper, named My Lord.

from The Fishing Wire

Crosslake, MN  – A 29-hour drive to escape the Minneapolis riots had landed fishing guide Paul Hartman and his family in Marco Island, Florida. On May 31, Hartman, his wife Kimberly and stepchildren Reegan and Owen Werner would be 50 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico, wrestling a record-class goliath grouper. Before the battle ensued, they’d watch the mammoth fish bite on the screen of their Aqua-Vu underwater camera. 

Early in the day, on the way to their offshore fishing spot, Hartman and family had tried to catch a few amberjack for grouper and shark bait. Each time they hooked one, however, a barracuda attacked and stole their prospective bait. After boating two of the big ‘cuda, Hartman finally decided to cut the tails off the toothy fish, and rig each on a 12/0 circle hook in hopes of tempting a hungry shark or goliath grouper.

Attached to heavy-duty rods and Penn International reels loaded with 250-pound braided line, the baits plummeted into 50 to 70 feet of water.Hartman and his family watched the grouper eat the bait on the screen of their Aqua-Vu HD10i Pro underwater camera.

Endeavoring to witness and record the actual bite, Hartman and his son attached one of the fishing lines to the “Live Strike” release clip connected to the lens of an Aqua-Vu HD10i Pro camera.

“We had rigged the camera to face at about a 45-degree downward angle, keeping the lens just a few feet above the bait,” said Hartman, a well-known fishing guide specializing in trophy muskellunge back in Minnesota.

“We watched on screen as the big chunk of ‘cuda sank down toward bottom. Almost right away, my son Owen excitedly described the action as he watched a massive grouper charge over and eat the nearly 50-inch bait in one big gulp.”

“When Owen saw the fish coming, he screamed, ‘It just ate the whole thing! The whole entire bait is gone!” recalled Hartman. “I reeled down, got the fish hooked and the fun began.”

Unfortunately, in the heat of the moment, the family forgot to hit the record button and failed to capture the underwater video with an attached recording device. “But watching that giant grouper engulf the entire bait in one powerful snap has given us ample incentive to try again. What an experience!

”Equipped with 125-feet of heavy-duty cable, the Aqua-Vu HD10i Pro high-definition underwater camera houses internal weights and allows the user to attach additional 1-pound weights as well as the XD Live Strike™ accessory, via Aqua-Vu’s Quick Attachment system. In effect, the camera acts as a weight, pulling the bait toward bottom. The Aqua-Vu XD Live Strike accessory lets anglers watch fish react to lures and baits in real time.

The Live Strike accessory slides easily onto the camera lens housing, terminating with a downrigger-style line clip. Anglers can instantly attach their fishing line to the release clip and monitor the lure or bait on the LCD display above. When a fish strikes, the line is effortlessly pulled off the clip for a direct rod-to-fish battle.

The Aqua-Vu XD Live Strike system is the only fishing-ready video device that allows for full HD viewing of lures and striking fish in real time.

“Having just witnessed the sheer size of the animal as it swam over and engulfed the bait, Owen was buzzing with excitement,” recalled Hartman,” “That got us fired up, too. I asked Kimberly to back the boat away from the structure, while I gently towed the unsuspecting fish to smoother bottom, where it would be more difficult to wrap the line around an obstruction and break off.

As Reegan strapped on the fighting belt, I handed her the rod and told her to get ready for a battle.“Once the fish realized it was hooked, it began thrashing and surging. Reegan is an athlete with lots of competitive spirit, but at 115-pounds, she was in for a major challenge versus a fish five times her weight. After just ten minutes, with assistance from her brother Owen, Reegan managed to get the fish up off bottom and into view, so we could get a good idea of its enormous size.

After working the fish hard for another 5 minutes, I was able to grab the 400-pound test cable leader and begin measuring the fish boatside. We got the hook out, took a few photos, and let the fish give us shower as it kicked and swam back to the depths.”

Later, looking at the photos, Hartman realized the goliath grouper was almost certainly the same fish caught by a friend in April of 2019, a specimen named My Lord. Just 14 months later, the fish had grown three inches and gained 50 pounds, now measuring 83-inches long with a 75-inch girth and estimated weight of 583-pounds. According to the International Game Fish Association, Reegan Werner’s fish was the largest grouper ever caught by a female angler.

“The first time my friend Captain Ben Olsen saw the fish, all he or his crew could say was ‘oh my Lord, look at that!’” said Hartman. “Eventually, the name stuck and when we got back in and looked at our photos, we realized, the fish was indeed the same one.” 

Hartman notes that responding to declining goliath grouper populations, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission prohibited all harvest of the magnificent sportfish from U.S. waters in 1990. Since then, goliath grouper populations have rebounded in certain areas around Florida’s Gulf Coast. “It’s not like these fish are super abundant,” Hartman added. “You can find five to ten fish living on one particular structure. But then you might not find another big grouper for 30 to 50 miles. Releasing these fish safely and carefully is a must. Who knows, next year, we might come back and watch My Lord eat on the camera again. Who knows how much bigger she’ll be.

This time, you can be sure, we’ll hit the record button.”About Aqua-VuThe Original Underwater Viewing System, Aqua-Vu® is manufactured by Outdoors Insight, Inc., and has led the underwater camera category in design, innovation and quality since 1997. The Central Minnesota based company builds other popular outdoors products, such as the iBall Trailer Hitch Camera (iballhitchcam.com).

For more information on Aqua-Vu, visit www.aquavu.com

Measuring Atlantic Bluefin Tuna With a Drone

Drone image of Atlantic bluefin tuna in ‘soldier’ school formation off Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Measuring Bluefin Tuna
This novel use of drones is a promising way to remotely monitor these hard-to-see fish.
From NOAA Fisheries
from The Fishing Wire

Researchers have used an unmanned aerial system (or drone) to gather data on schooling juvenile Atlantic bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Maine. This pilot study tested whether a drone could keep up with the tuna while also taking photographs that captured physical details of this fast-moving fish. The drone was equipped with a high-resolution digital still image camera. Results show that drones can capture images of both individual fish and schools. They may be a useful tool for remotely monitoring behavior and body conditions of the elusive fish.

Individual fish lengths and widths, and the distance between fish near the sea surface, were measured to less than a centimeter of precision. We used an APH-22, a battery-powered, six-rotor drone. The pilot study was conducted in the Atlantic bluefin tuna’s foraging grounds northeast of Cape Cod in the southern Gulf of Maine.Mike Jech about to launch the APH-22 from the bow of the F/V Lily. Photo @2015 Eric Schwartz.“Multi-rotor unmanned aerial systems won’t replace shipboard surveys or the reliance on manned aircraft to cover a large area,” said Mike Jech, an acoustics researcher at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts and lead author of the study.

“They have a limited flight range due to battery power and can only collect data in bursts. Despite some limitations, they will be invaluable for collecting remote high-resolution images that can provide data at the accuracy and precision needed by managers for growth and ecosystem models of Atlantic bluefin tuna.”Results from the APH-22 study were published in March 2020 in theJournal of Unmanned Vehicle Systems

Researchers conducted their work in 2015. They then compared their study results to values in published data collected in the same general area. They also compared it to recreational landings data collected through NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Recreational Information Program.

Taking up the Bluefin Tuna Sampling ChallengeAtlantic bluefin tuna is a commercially and ecologically important fish. The population size in the western Atlantic Ocean is unknown. Fishery managers need biological data about this population, but it is hard to get. Highly migratory species like Atlantic bluefin tuna often move faster than the vessels trying to sample them. The tuna are distributed across large areas, and can be found from the sea surface to hundreds of feet deep. Sampling with traditional gear — nets and trawls — is ineffective. Acoustical methods are useful but limited to sampling directly below a seagoing vessel with echosounders or within range of horizontal sonar.

It is also difficult to estimate the number of tuna in a school from an airplane. Both fish availability and perception biases introduced by observers can affect results. Estimates of abundance and size of individuals within a school are hard to independently verify.  Taking precision measurements of animals that are in constant motion near the surface proved easier with a drone that is lightweight, portable, and agile in flight. It can carry a high-quality digital still camera, and be deployed quickly from a small fishing boat.

Short flight times limit a drone’s ability to survey large areas. However, they can provide two-dimensional images of the shape of a fish school and data to count specific individuals just below the ocean surface.New Capacity for Bluefin Tuna Monitoring The APH-22 system has been tested and evaluated for measuring other marine animals. It’s been used in a number of environments — from Antarctica to the Pacific Ocean — prior to its use in the northwest Atlantic Ocean. Previous studies estimated the abundance and size of penguins and leopard seals, and the size and identity of individual killer whales. Hexacopter image of a school of Atlantic bluefin tuna taken northeast of Provincetown, Massachusetts in the southern Gulf of Maine.

 “The platform is ideal for accurately measuring fish length, width, and the distance between individuals in a school when you apply calibration settings and performance measures,” Jech said. “We were able to locate the hexacopter in three-dimensional space and monitor its orientation to obtain images with a resolution that allowed us to make measurements of individual fish.”

As new unmanned aerial systems are developed, their use to remotely survey Atlantic bluefin tuna and other animals at the sea surface will evolve. It may minimize the reliance on manned aircraft or supplement shipboard surveys.

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas governs tuna fishing. It is entrusted to monitor and manage tuna and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas. NOAA Fisheries manages the Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery in the United States. We set regulations for the U.S. fishery based on conservation and management recommendations from the international commission.

For more information, contact Shelley Dawicki

California Catch of Swordfish Takes Off as Anglers Embrace New Technique

Catch Swordfish

From NOAA Fisheries
from The Fishing Wire

Researchers have tagged swordfish off Southern California for studies evaluating new ways of fishing for the species. Credit: Pfleger Institute of Environmental Research (PIER)Recreational fishing for swordfish off southern California has surged over the last year. Fishermen have started borrowing a strategy from East Coast anglers and the commercial fishing world: going deep during the daytime.

Tagging and tracking research by NOAA Fisheries and the Pfleger Institute of Environmental Research (PIER)revealed that swordfish spend most of the day at depths greater than 700 feet. Commercial fishermen on the West Coast originally began fishing in deeper waters for swordfish. They used buoy gear in part to avoid protected species such as sea turtles and marine mammals.

Now recreational anglers on the West Coast have caught on to the technique and have seen their catches increase dramatically. Chugey Sepulveda, PIER Director and Senior Scientist, said anecdotal numbers suggest that recreational swordfish catches off southern California have jumped. They’ve gone from fewer than 30 in a typical year to hundreds in a matter of a few months.

“It’s been a real boost for the recreational fleet because it now offers anglers a new and exciting quarry that was previously considered extremely difficult to target,” he said.

Research shows that swordfish spend most daytime hours at depths of 700 to 1,400 feet, coming only occasionally to the surface. Recreational fishermen had once primarily pursued them only when swordfish were spotted basking on the surface. Days of excitedly dragging a bait in front of a sunning swordfish have turned into long days of staring at rod tips.

“Swordfish have always been considered the pinnacle of fishing success since the days of Zane Grey,” said Bill DePriest, publisher and editor of Pacific Coast Sportfishing Magazine. “Now it’s something more people are experiencing.”

Catch and Release Ethic Emerges
As catches have increased, many fishermen are now discussing bag limits and potential catch-and-release measures to prevent exploiting the swordfish stock, Sepulveda said. Swordfish populations in the North Pacific include two stocks: an eastern Pacific Ocean stock and a Western and Central North Pacific Ocean stock. There continues to be discussion as to which stock southern California fish belong. This is one reason why Sepulveda and his team have headed up NOAA Fisheries-sponsored research on stock structure.

The 2018 stock assessment for the Western and Central North Pacific Ocean swordfish stock found off the West Coast shows that the stock is not overfished. It is also not experiencing overfishing. The assessment also found that the stock can support more fishing while remaining sustainable. It found that the biomass shows “a relatively stable population, with a slight decline until the mid-1990s followed by a slight increase since 2000.”Figure.

Recreational fishermen have employed similar methods on the U.S. East Coast and other areas. Recreational anglers on the West Coast have caught on to the strategies and techniques more recently as the new deep set commercial fishery has taken off. The main season for swordfish off southern California is roughly from late summer into winter, DePriest said.“It’s a healthy hobby. And with swordfish, it’s definitely always exciting,” DePriest said. “It’s great to see so many people interested.”

Pacific swordfish are highly migratory and often travel thousands of miles across international boundaries. Since many nations target the species, effective conservation and management requires international cooperation as well as domestic attention.

Scientists are now seeking funding for a study to collect more data on the growing recreational fishery. Data is needed to evaluate the survival of swordfish that are caught and then released. While there are best practices for choosing the right gear and handling with care when catch-and-release fishing, survival rates vary by species.

Recreational anglers can also contribute to swordfish research by participating in our Southwest Fisheries Science Center’s Cooperative Billfish Tagging Program. The program, started in 1963, provides tagging supplies to anglers. It helps us better understand movement and migration patterns, species distribution, and age and growth. Anglers tag the fish before releasing them.

Manta Ray Conservation and Best Cobia Fishing Practices

Photo: Cobia swimming with a manta ray. Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Manta Rays and Cobia
from The Fishing Wire

Cobia frequently follow giant manta rays in their migrations, and fishermen targeting the cobia sometimes accidentally hook the rays. Here’s a Q&A from NOAA Fisheries with two well-known Florida skippers on the process and on protecting the relatively rare rays.

As cobia season gets underway in the Southeast U.S., NOAA Fisheries reached out to one of our best resources: our fishermen. We wanted to find out what they do or recommend to fish for cobia while protecting threatened giant manta rays. Understanding the challenges fishermen face helps NOAA biologists and fishery managers find a way to protect threatened and endangered species and still offer fishing opportunities.

 Captain Butch Constable and Captain Ira Laks both helped us answer the following questions. Capt. Constable has been fishing offshore in Jupiter, Florida for more than 45 years. Capt. Laks has been a charter captain and commercial fisherman out of Palm Beach, Jupiter, and the Treasure Coast for more than 30 years.  Both fishermen observe individual giant manta rays along the beaches of southeast FloridaWe appreciate the input these captains provided when we asked questions about cobia fishing. What time of year do you typically see manta rays arrive along Florida’s east coast? 

Capt. Constable: The manta rays used to show up in March, sometimes as early as February in cold weather years, and stay through May. Manta rays would move up the coast as water warmed. However, now there are no manta rays any more off of Jupiter in the early springtime. Warmer water temps have caused a shift in species and now the giant manta rays seem to stay further north. These days no mantas seem to be found in the spring south of Hobe Sound. I discovered another large ray, the Roughtail stingray, often has cobia swimming alongside so I look for them when sight casting.

Capt. Laks: Most of the sight casting for cobia from Jupiter south is done around big sharks. The challenge with that kind of fishing is keeping a hooked cobia away from the shark so that it does not get eaten.

What are some of the best fishing techniques you use when fishing for cobia around manta rays? 

Capt. Constable: The best advice is to practice and really have good casting skills from behind and to the side of manta ray. Do not cast in front of the manta ray. That way you can make a bad cast or two and reel in and recast without spooking the fish or hooking the ray.

Capt. Laks: I like to come up slowly and from behind on either side of the manta and keep as much distance as possible to make a good cast. My best approach is with the winds behind me and the angler. That allows for a longer cast and it’s less likely to spook the manta with the boat. It also allows for several attempts in order to make that perfect cast to catch the cobia and not hook the ray. Are there any specific tackle or lures you would recommend to reduce foul hooking manta rays but still are effective at catching cobia? 

Capt. Constable: Single hooks! No reason to fish any sort of treble hook. Safer for angler when unhooking, safer for reducing snagging the ray. It would be good if a single hook series of baits and lures came out promoting cobia fishing in a responsible way. Also, anglers should use an oversize landing net and not a gaff for most cobia. Safer for fishermen and for cobia if kept or released.

Capt. Laks: I specialize in live bait fishing and use only single hooks. Treble hooks are not necessary when live bait fishing for cobia. A single hook reduces the chance of snagging a manta ray if a bad cast is made in front of the ray.

If a manta ray becomes foul hooked or snagged, what can fishermen do to reduce injury and trailing line?

 Capt. Constable: I recommend moving the boat in front of the ray, reeling up the line and trying to pull the lure gently from that direction. The hook will often pull out of the fish and not leave the lure or trailing line. If not cut the line as close to the ray as possible.

Capt. Laks: I like to position the boat and move carefully as close as possible to the manta. Then I cut the line so as to leave the minimum amount of trailing line as possible.

Have you ever seen a hooked manta ray or a manta ray showing evidence of vessel interactions (e.g., prop scars or cuts)? 

Capt. Constable: I have seen a few lures and jigs in rays but cannot recall prop scars or major injuries.

Capt. Laks: I have seen a few with larger scars but not sure the cause of those injuries.

What are some best practices for safe maneuvering your vessel around manta rays? 

Capt. Constable: I believe approaching slowly and carefully from behind so that it allows the captain to position the boat in a safe way and not spook the ray or the fish. This gives anglers the time to set up their cast and when the fish is hooked, it will usually swim away from the ray at first. Cobia will sometimes try to return to the ray but if the boat is behind, you can often hold the fish away from the ray and land the fish safely and determine its size.

Capt. Laks: Do not set up in front of the ray. I recommend staying a distance away to allow the manta to stay calm and act normally. I can then set up to fish for cobia from behind and to the side of the animal. 

Capt. Laks: I also wanted to remind anglers that just seeing one of these large and amazing creatures is a thrill all by itself. It is a fortunate part of an amazing day of fishing and the overall fishing experience.

Removing Billfish from the Water: Don’t Do It!

Don’t do this!
Don’t Remove Billfish from the Water

Anglers love hero shots with their fish, especially if it’s their first one. Of all the billfish species, sailfish lend themselves particularly well to this type of photo, since they’re usually small enough to lift up, have particularly gorgeous colors and that massive sail to hold out like a giant flag.

But don’t do it! Removing any billfish species from the water, even for a few moments for a photo, is illegal, both in Costa Rica and the United States. Studies have shown that by scraping the fish over the gunwale of the boat, we are actually harming internal organs and removing the fish’s protective slime layer that acts as a barrier coat against harmful diseases, parasites and infections. Even though you intend to release the fish, by removing it from the water you may have just signed its death warrant instead.

Here are a few things you can do to still get a great photo of your catch. First, be ready with the camera. Few things are more frustrating for your captain or mate than having the fish ready at boatside while someone fumbles for a camera deep inside a duffle bag or backpack. Be ready! Take a few shots during the fight, with the angler grinning from ear to ear.

Once the fish is ready for release and the leader has been cut, the angler can don a pair of gloves, lean over the side and hold the fish by the bill and the sail as it’s revived alongside the boat. The cameraperson should lean out over the side and shoot back toward the angler and the fish. After a few moments, the fish is ready for a healthy release.

Another option: the extended selfie stick and GoPro. Many crews are now using this setup to shoot wide-angle shots back at the boat and anglers. It’s simply a GoPro set on camera mode to shoot every second or so after the shutter is activated. It’s mounted to a long pole that’s held out away from the boat, and the images it reveals are usually very memorable.

Video is a third way to remember the fight. Using that same GoPro, mount it to either a fixed mount on the boat or just hold it in your hand to capture a full video of the fight and the release. All smartphones have a video capability these days as well.So really, the need to remove a marlin or sailfish from the water just isn’t there. Be smart, keep them in the water where they belong.

Courtesy The Presidential Flamingo Fishing Rodeo, Joan Vernon: www.preschallenge.com

Tactics for Tempting Speckled Trout

Speckled Trout

Timely Tactics for Tempting Speckled Trout
from The Fishing Wire

“I can see the grill marks on that one already,” exclaimed Capt. Ryan Lambert as a beautiful Gulf of Mexico speckled trout was wrangled into the net and deposited in his boat’s ice chest.

Lambert, the owner of Cajun Fishing Adventures in Buras Louisiana, has been guiding clients to spectacular speckled trout, boisterous bull reds, and more for over 41 years. Collectively, Lambert and his guides spend tens of thousands of hours on the water every year, and one lesson they have gleaned from these fertile marshes and bayous is not about baits or locations, but instead, about their lines and leaders.

“Many of the largest trout we see every year come from water that is surprisingly clear,” notes Lambert, “and those fish can be pretty skittish. The key to getting more of those fish in the box is to rig up with a clear fluorocarbon leader.”

Lambert and his guides like Seaguar Gold Label for its low visibility, knot strength and its toughness.One of Lambert’s guides, Capt. Joe DiMarco, puts it this way: “in the fall, trout move off the shallow flats and into cuts and channels where the water is deeper. There, they sit close to the bottom, in water that is warmer, saltier, and cleaner. The water might not look great from above, but often, just below the surface, chocolate milk-colored water can rapidly change to a perfect ‘trout green’.

That’s where a Seaguar Gold Label leader can make the difference between a few small fish and some spectacular photo-ops.”

Gold Label from Seaguar is a 100% fluorocarbon leader manufactured using a proprietary coextrusion process that unites a strong, sensitive core with a soft, supple exterior. The result is a double-structure fluorocarbon leader that exhibits the beneficial attributes of each of its two resins. With line diameters that are as much as 23% smaller than comparable fluorocarbons, Seaguar Gold Label is the thinnest 100% fluorocarbon leader available and is perfect for stealthy trout presentations. “Thinner leaders are always better,” asserts Capt. Mark Davis, host of BigWater Adventures TV. “When I fish with Gold Label, baits swim more naturally, triggering more bites and helping me to catch more fish.”

Yes, thinner is better. But that’s not the end of the Gold Label story; rather, it’s just the beginning. Seaguar Gold Label excels at any presentation for line-shy fish, like fall speckled trout, because it is nearly invisible underwater. With a refractive index that more closely matches that of water than any other line choice, Seaguar 100% fluorocarbon leaders virtually disappear beneath the surface, ensuring that fish see your bait long before they ever detect your line.

In addition, because Seaguar fluorocarbon leaders offer enhanced abrasion resistance compared to monofilament or braid, you’ll experience fewer line failures from sharp speckled trout teeth, or from the shell beds they frequently hold near.

Moreover, the supple outer shell of Seaguar Gold Label ensures that knots snug down tight and strong, whether you’re connecting Gold Label to Seaguar Smackdown braided main line, or tying a jig to the business end of your leader. The exceptional tensile and knot strength that you’ll experience with Gold Label means fewer heartbreaks after the strike.

Lambert says he targets speckled trout with one of two presentations – either tight-lining with a jig, or with a bait suspended beneath a popping cork.”I prefer tight-lining because the sensitivity of Gold Label, when paired with Seaguar Smackdown braid, lets me feel everything that is happening to the jig,” says Lambert.

Gear up with a 7-foot, medium-heavy power, fast action rod equipped with a 3000-series spinning reel. Spool the reel with 30 lb. test Seaguar Smackdown in Stealth Gray, and use an Albright or Double Uni knot to tie on a 3-foot section of 20 lb test Gold Label. Add a ¼ oz jig like the Z-Man Trout Eye jighead dressed with a Z-Man Swimmin’ TroutTrick, and you’re ready for fall trout.”The wide spectrum of Z-Man TroutTrick and Swimmin’ TroutTrick colors will help you trigger speckled trout under lots of sky and water conditions, but if I had to choose just one, it would be Pumpkin/Chartreuse tail,” says Lambert.

The ultra-thin diameter, near invisibility underwater, abrasion resistance, and exceptional knot and tensile strength of Seaguar Gold Label will elevate your speckled trout fishing to the next level. Gold Label leader is offered in 25-yard spools, and is available in 15, 20, 25, 30, and 40 lb tests with MSRP $18.99-$34.99.For more, visit www.seaguar.com.

About Seaguar Fishing Lines
As the inventor of fluorocarbon fishing lines in 1971, Seaguar has played a prominent role in the advancement of technologies to improve the performance of lines and leader material for both fresh and salt water anglers. Seaguar is the only manufacturer of fluorocarbon fishing lines that produces its own resins and controls the manufacturing process from start to finished product. Today, Seaguar is the #1 brand of fluorocarbon lines and offers a full spectrum of premium products including fluorocarbon mainlines and leader material, 8-strand and 16-strand braid fishing lines.

Puget Sound Blackmouth

Blackmouth

“Spinfishing”  for Puget Sound Black
mouth
By Captain John Keizer So how do you find Puget Sound winter blackmouth? The answer is don’t look for the blackmouth but rather look for what attracts blackmouth.

Blackmouth are a delayed released hatchery king salmon that don’t migrate to Alaska but instead inhabits the waters of Puget Sound after being released. The name blackmouth comes from the black gumline that identifies it as a resident chinook salmon. Blackmouth range from the legal size of 22 inches up to fish taken in the upper teens.

In the many years I have fished Puget Sound I have found that Puget Sound blackmouth relate to three things, structure, current and food.We have all heard the line, “Find the bait-find the fish.” It sounds so easy but so many anglers ignore this simple advice in locating blackmouth. Blackmouth salmon are voracious feeders and will be looking for sand lance (candlefish) or herring to fill their bellies year around in Puget Sound.

The sand lance, which are also known locally as “candlefish,” because pioneers used to dry them and make candles out of them due to their high oil content are an ecologically important forage fish throughout Puget Sound where they school in many bays, banks and inlets. Sand lance are important food for young salmon who crave the high oil content; 35% of juvenile salmon diets are composed of sand lance and blackmouth salmon depend on sand lance for 60% of their diet.

Sand lance spawning occurs at high tide in shallow water on sand-gravel beaches. Sand lance will also use sandy beaches for spawning. Knowing when and where this food source is will directly reflect on locating winter blackmouth.

Herring can be located at resting spots that are dictated by the current. As in river fishing, bait will be pushed into the lee of a current flow behind points, islands and land masses. The same is true in Puget Sound, knowing the position of the tide will allow you to find the best location to find baitfish and salmon feeding on it.

Trolling a downrigger is in my opinion the best method for consistently hooking blackmouth. I spend much of the winter season employing this method of fishing. I run 3 Hi Performance Scotty 2106 downriggers onboard Salt Patrol my 27ft North River O/S. Being able to cover lots of water with your tackle at a controlled depth is an extremely effective way to fish for winter chinook that like to inhabit the deep waters of Puget Sound.

My rod & reel setup is a Shimano Tekota-A 600 Line counter reel matched with a G. Loomis E6X 1265 moderate action rod. The reels are spooled up with 30-pound test mono main line. Yes, downrigger fishing is the one fishery that I still run mono line for.

New from Yakima Bait is the Spinfish bait-holding lure, representing a new design in combining lure-and-bait to produce more and bigger salmon. The SpinFish features a pull-apart fillable bait chamber with a scent-dispersing design. When trolled behind a downrigger this lure will produce a vibrating, spinning, wounded-baitfish action that salmon can’t resist.

Yakima SpinfishI was lucky to get to test the prototypes for the Spinfish last winter. My first experience with the Spinfish started with targeting winter blackmouth out of Port Townsend located on the northern part of Puget Sound. We ran the Spinfish behind 11” rotating flashers and medium size Fish Flash and had very good success on blackmouth up into the mid-teens. The strike on the Spinfish is not like on light tap on a bait bite. The blackmouth will hit the Spinfish hard, run a bunch of line out of the reel and then race to the surface for the rest of the fight.

Several times the rod tip would be in the water when we went to take the rod out of the holder.

To ready the Spinfish you just pull apart the body and fill with any bait including tuna, herring or sardines. I had the best results using canned Chicken of the Sea Tuna (packed in oil). Pour the canned tuna into a plastic container with the all the oil in the can. At this point I will add scents from Pro-Cure. Mix in some Bloody Tuna or your choice scent and mix and you’re ready to charge the Spinfish body. Pack the Spinfish body with tuna and put the two parts back together.

I rig my Spinfish 25-40 inches behind a Fish Flash or 35-45 inches behind rotating flashers. My setup last year was to tie two 4/0 Mustad octopus hooks close together on 30lb Seaguar fluorocarbon leader and add one glow bead above the top hook to act as a ball bearing. Slide the Spinfish on the leader and tie to swivel and then attach to the Fish Flash or rotating flasher and you’re ready to fish.Yakima Fish FlashThe SpinFish can be rigged to spin clockwise or counterclockwise and unlike other bait holding lures, it needs no rubber bands to keep the lure together. The precisely drilled sent holes in the Spinfish will disperse a sent pattern into the water and salmon will follow the scent trail back to the lure. Just like any lure bring your gear up every 20 minutes and check it for shakers (undersize salmon) and re-charge the Spinfish body with fresh tuna.

I normally have 4-5 Spinfish loaded with different bait scents and ready to swap out each time I check my gear. Blackmouth bites windows are short and you don’t want to waste time during the prime bite times rigging tackle.

The new SpinFish comes in two sizes, a three inch and a four-inch version, that now both come fully rigged and ready to fish. The three-inch size comes in 20 of the hottest colors Yakima Bait producers. The four-inch version comes in 10 proven fish-attracting colors. All the Spinfish colors are coated in UV blackmouth catching finishes.

Blackmouth like to do their feeding where the bait is. They are aggressive feeders and tend to feed when the current is minimal to expend as little energy as possible. That means the best time to catch them is when you’re fishing in the right current flow or lack of current movement. You may have heard that the best fishing for blackmouth is one to two hours before or after a tide change. Really its right before or right after a current change as that’s when the water goes slack and the fish will expend the least energy finding baitfish.

The Salty Ned Rig

Red on Ned

The Salty Ned Rig, with Captain C.A. Richardson
Captain C.A. Richardson believes the ‘Salty Ned’ shines during the toughest conditions.

Ladson, SC  “We call it the ‘Salty Ned,’” quips exceptional inshore guide, Captain C.A. Richardson. “A lot of days, it’s even better than livebait.”

In recent years, as Richardson and other intelligent inshore anglers recognized the parallels between freshwater bass tactics and those for redfish, seatrout and other saltwater species, a fresh approach began to emerge.

“We followed the evolution of freshwater finesse techniques and the rise of the Ned Rig for smallmouth and largemouth bass,” says Richardson, the brains behind Flats Class TV and University. “It made perfect sense that similar methods and baits could excel in saltwater for a lot of reasons.”

While cold-fronts, heavy fishing pressure and other adverse factors often make bass tough to catch, these same dynamics can have a multiplier impact on saltwater species. “From the first day we experimented with a Ned Rig under cold, bluebird skies our results spoke volumes. Three little baits—a 2-3/4-inch Finesse TRD™, TRD TicklerZ™ or TRD CrawZ™— on a 1/10-ounce Finesse ShroomZ™ jighead are all you really need to continue catching fish when conditions turn tough. With water temps in the high 50s and low 60s, we start fishing a Salty Ned around December 1 in Florida and catch fish with it all the way through the first half of March.”

Richardson, who today focuses much of his redfish, trout and snook efforts on the fertile though popular waters between Tampa to Fort Myers, believes a Salty Ned easily outfishes previous-era finesse baits like a 3-inch stingray grub or a small bucktail jig. On some days even a live, juicy shrimp or strip of cutbait can’t equal the appeal of a soft, buoyant ElaZtech® bait on a small jighead.

“Even for a novice or someone accustomed to using shrimp on a jighead, it’s an easy-to-fish bait that also eliminates pinfish and other nuisance biters. Admittedly, you’ll often catch smaller reds, trout and flounder, but you certainly won’t lack action.“The buoyant nature of ElaZtech and the mushroom-shaped jighead make the bait pivot and float tail-up off the bottom when you stop your retrieve,” says Richardson. “These baits are the perfect match for so many of the small creatures eaten by inshore predators—marine worms, shrimp and other invertebrates as well as sea horses. The upright posture of a TRD on a jighead shows fish a lively morsel that moves with the slightest underwater current—even when you’re not moving your rod at all.”

A Z-Man Ned rig remains affixed to Captain Greg Peralta’s inshore rods at least eighty-percent of the time, all year long.Like its freshwater counterpart, fishing the saltwater Ned Rig is all about keeping the bait close to the bottom, letting its buoyancy and soft, active composition do the heavy lifting. “We might fish the Ned a little more aggressively in saltwater,” notes Richardson. “The best presentation I’ve found is to let the bait sink to bottom and then shake the rodtip to make it quiver. Give the jig a 6- to 12-inch pull, pause and then reel slack and repeat. You’re making the back of the bait quiver; when you stop, the bait pivots and goes tail-up.

With a bait like the TRD TicklerZ or TRD CrawZ, you’ve also got little appendages that undulate subtly in the current. The bait never really stops working for you.”Even while fishing high-pressure zones like Tampa Bay, Richardson says the Salty Ned remains a non-threatening presentation to which fish react positively. “What’s also cool is you can sight fish for really spooky reds up on clear shallow flats because the bait touches down with such a small, compact signature.” To fish the Salty Ned on featureless flats, in depressions on flats and bends in creeks with deep holes, Richardson rigs one of the aforementioned Z-Man TRD baits on a 1/10-ounce Finesse ShroomZ jighead. He spools with 6-pound test braid and a 50-inch leader of 15-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon. Wielding a medium-light to light action 7-foot spinning rod, he can cast a light jig close to 30 yards.

For fishing around heavy cover or docks, Richardson switches to abrasion resistant monofilament line and a Pro ShroomZ™ Weedless jighead.The TRD TicklerZ quivers subtly, even at rest.

Summer Catches “Although we primarily finesse-rig in the winter, I’d argue with my guide buddies that even in the warmer months, when spooky, pressured fish won’t hit a faster-moving reaction bait, I can still get bit with a Salty Ned,” Richardson offers.It’s a notion shared by Charleston, South Carolina based Captain Greg Peralta, a now-retired guide who still fishes almost every day of the season. “Several years ago, we started fishing a Finesse TRD with a 1/5- or 1/6-ounce NedlockZ™ jighead and found it to be a super productive coldwater and post-coldfront bait. But when it got warm, we kept fishing the Ned Rig to see when they’d stop biting it. They never did.”

These days, Peralta says he fishes the Salty Ned about eighty-percent of the time. Particularly when the water gets warm, Peralta prefers a slightly more aggressive retrieve to entice a reaction. Keeping his rodtip low, Peralta gives the bait a hard snap, followed by a pause. He describes the cadence as similar to working a jerkbait.Z-Man Trick ShotZ on a NedlockZ HD jighead.

“Snap and give slack,” he explains. “The lure will pitch or roll left or right, showing fish alternating flashes of dark and light. Color becomes a critical factor because flash is a key indicator of something alive—dark on top, light on the bottom. It’s why I choose colors like The Deal in clear water. As clarity fades, I go brighter with patterns like Hot Snakes—still has that dark-to-light transition, but with a louder chartreuse belly.

”Peralta notes that the length of the pause between snaps depends on conditions. “Colder water, coldfronts and when the barometer is switching from low to high, I go with a longer pause. Because fish typically strike after the snap, when the bait is descending, I like using high-vis 8-pound braid. You don’t always feel the bite on the rodtip; you’re watching your line for a pop or a sudden acceleration.

“I can’t say the TRD looks like anything they eat. The action you give it just instinctively makes fish react to and bite it. But it’s so versatile, durable and buoyant you can fish it almost anywhere. I can even throw it on top of an oyster bed or other gnarly areas in a foot of water. The bait’s buoyancy largely keeps it out of trouble. But it also works for fish hunkered down in 15-foot holes. Catches all three of species—redfish, trout and flounder— with regularity; what we call a Lowcountry Slam.”Texas angler Chris Bush fooled a rare 30-inch seatrout with a Finesse TRD on a NedlockZ jighead.

The Speckled Truth Even while redfish and snook garner much of the spotlight, select anglers like Chris Bush place the highest esteem on seatrout of trophy proportions. This past September, Bush, who authors a blog called the Speckled Truth, caught a monster 30-inch trout from Upper Laguna Madre, Texas. Stuck in the fish’s jaw was the bait Bush describes as possessing “magic appeal.”

A PB&J or The Deal-pattern TRD rigged on a 1/10-ounce NedlockZ, says Bush, has proven itself when the water’s warm and seatrout aren’t responding to traditional presentations. “A Ned Rig has been really effective when other baits aren’t—when there’s so many baitfish in the water that trout aren’t looking for huge meals, but for selective opportunities. Same deal under heavy fishing pressure. The fish are just chilling, feeding opportunistically for short windows. That’s when it’s so effective to put a little TRD down there and sort of invade their personal space.

“I give the bait one or two hard twitches and let it fall back to bottom. I try to maintain contact with it at all times, because these big, sluggish trout don’t thump the bait aggressively. Rather, they sort of sit on it, and all you feel is a sudden weight on the line, almost like you’re hung on the bottom.Bush adds that the smallest 3.5-inch Trick ShotZ™ rigged on the same jighead, at times, yields equally productive results as the TRD. “Fished on light tackle in the most grueling situations, these little bitty baits just seem to have a magic appeal for really big trout.”

About Z-Man Fishing Products: A dynamic Charleston, South Carolina based company, Z-Man Fishing Products has melded leading edge fishing tackle with technology for nearly three decades. Z-Man has long been among the industry’s largest suppliers of silicone skirt material used in jigs, spinnerbaits and other lures. Creator of the Original ChatterBait®, Z-Man is also the renowned innovators of 10X Tough ElaZtech softbaits, fast becoming the most coveted baits in fresh- and saltwater. Z-Man is one of the fastest-growing lure brands worldwide. 

About ElaZtech®: Z-Man’s proprietary ElaZtech material is remarkably soft, pliable, and 10X tougher than traditional soft plastics. ElaZtech resists nicks, cuts, and tears better than other softbaits and boasts one of the highest fish-per-bait ratings in the industry, resulting in anglers not having to waste time searching for a new bait when the fish are biting. This unique material is naturally buoyant, creating a more visible, lifelike, and attractive target to gamefish. Unlike most other soft plastic baits, ElaZtech contains no PVC, plastisol or phthalates, and is non-toxic.

Florida Sawfish

Sawfish

Florida Sawfish–Help to Keep Them Healthy
By Jasmin Graham, FFWCC

When I started graduate school at Florida State University, I had never seen a sawfish in the wild but I was excited to be part of the recovery of a species I had been so awestruck by in aquariums.

The smalltooth sawfish, the only sawfish found in Florida, has been protected in Florida since 1992 and became federally listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2003. Little was known about the species when it became listed but since that time, scientists have learned a lot about its biology and ecology.

As sawfish recovery efforts continue, we expect there to be more sawfish sightings, especially in Florida. This includes anglers who may accidentally catch one on hook-and-line while fishing for other species.

Sawfish encounters Sawfish can be encountered when participating in a number of activities including boating, diving and fishing. Further, the species may be encountered by waterfront homeowners and beach goers in the southern half of the state where juvenile sawfish rely on shallow, nearshore environments as nursery habitats. 

When fishing, targeting sawfish is prohibited under the ESA, though incidental captures do occur while fishing for other species. Knowing how to properly handle a hooked sawfish is imperative as sawfish can be potentially hazardous to you. One of the first things that stood out to me while conducting permitted research was the speed at which a sawfish can swing its rostrum (commonly referred to as the saw).

For creatures that glide along the bottom so slowly and gracefully, they sure can make quick movements when they want to. It’s best to keep a safe distance between you and the saw. If you happen to catch a sawfish while fishing, do not pull it out of the water and do not try to handle it. Refrain from using ropes or restraining the animal in any way, and never remove the saw. It is important that you untangle it if necessary and release the sawfish as quickly as possible by cutting the line as close to the hook as you can.

Proper release techniques ensure a high post-release survival of sawfish. Scientific studies show us that following these guidelines will limit the amount of stress a sawfish experiences as a result of capture. Note that a recent change in shark fishing rules requires use of circle hooks, which results in better hook sets, minimizes gut hooking, and also maximizes post-release survival. In addition to capture on hook-and-line, sawfish can easily become entangled in lost fishing gear or nets.

If you observe an injured or entangled sawfish, be sure to report it immediately but do not approach the sawfish.

Seeing a sawfish up close can be an exciting experience but you must remember that it is an endangered species with strict protections.If you are diving and see a sawfish, observe at a distance. Do not approach or harass them. This is illegal and this guidance is for your safety as well as theirs.An important component of any sawfish encounter is sharing that information with scientists. Your encounter reports help managers track the population status of this species.

If you encounter a sawfish while diving, fishing or boating, please report the encounter. Take a quick photo if possible (with the sawfish still in the water and from a safe distance), estimate its length including the saw and note the location of the encounter. The more details you can give scientists, the better we can understand how sawfish are using Florida waters and the better we can understand the recovery of the population.

Submit reports at SawfishRecovery.org, email sawfish@MyFWC.com or phone at 1-844-4SAWFISH.

Sawfish background Sawfishes, of which there are five species in the world, are named for their long, toothed “saw” or rostrum, which they use for hunting prey and defense. In the U.S., the smalltooth sawfish was once found regularly from North Carolina to Texas but its range is now mostly limited to Florida waters.

In general, sawfish populations declined for a variety of reasons. The primary reason for decline is that they were frequently caught accidentally in commercial fisheries that used gill nets and trawls. Additional contributing factors include recreational fisheries and habitat loss. As industrialization and urbanization changed coastlines, the mangroves that most sawfishes used as nursery habitat also became less accessible. For a species that grows slowly and has a low reproductive rate, the combination of these threats proved to be too much.

Engaging in sawfish recovery During my thesis research, which focuses on tracking the movements of large juvenile and adult smalltooth sawfish, each tagging encounter is a surreal experience.The first sawfish I saw was an adult, and what struck me the most was just how big it was. I also remember being enamored by its mouth. Like all other rays, its mouth is on the underside of its body. The mouth looks like a shy smile and I found it almost humorous how different the top of the sawfish was compared to the bottom. After seeing my first baby sawfish, the contrast seemed even greater. It’s hard to believe upon seeing a 2 to 3 foot sawfish that it could one day be 16 feet long! No matter the size, anyone who has encountered a sawfish will tell you it’s an experience like no other.

The hope is that one day the sawfish population will be thriving once again, and more people will be able to experience safe and memorable encounters with these incredible animals. Hopefully, we can coexist with sawfish in a sustainable and positive way in the future.For more information on sawfish, including FWC’s sawfish research visit:
MyFWC.com/research, click on “Saltwater” then “Sawfish.

”For more information on smalltooth sawfish and their recovery watch:
YouTube.com/watch?v=NSRWUjVU3e8&t=3s

Alabama’s Coastal Hatchery


Young Pompano

Alabama’s Coastal Hatchery Restocks Gulf Coast Waters
The Alabama Marine Resources Division (AMRD) maintains the Claude Peteet Mariculture Center (CPMC) located in Gulf Shores, Alabama.  CPMC was created in 1970 when 40 acres of land were donated to the State by Ms. Mildred Casey.  An additional 5 acres was purchased by the State which provided access to the Intracoastal Waterway and a brackish water source needed to fill ponds. 

By 1973, thirty-five (35) 0.2-acre ponds and a small pump station located on the intracoastal waterway were installed on the property.  A small hatchery building used for broodstock holding and egg fertilization and hatching was completed in 1975.   From 1970 through the early 1980s the infrastructure and operational costs of CPMC were primarily funded with federal grants related to the culture and stocking of Gulf of Mexico strain striped bass (Morone saxatilis)in Alabama waters.

During the mid-1980s through the mid-2000s, a variety of species were cultured at CPMC including spotted seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus)red drum(Sciaenops ocellatus), Eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica) and red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus).  During this period the ponds were lined with high density polyethylene to prevent seepage and greenhouse structures with tanks and recirculating water systems were completed.  Beginning in the mid-2000s, shrimp and Florida pompano (Trachinotus carolinus) were the primary species cultured at CPMC.  A saltwater supply line which begins at the Gulf State Park Pier was installed in 2004 but the intake was destroyed by hurricane Ivan.  The intake was not replaced until 2009. 

In July 2013, a new 23,000 square foot hatchery building was completed replacing the old hatchery building.  The new building provides a significant upgrade in fish production capacity.  It contains areas for broodfish spawning, algae production, live food production, egg incubation, larval rearing, and juvenile holding.  The hatchery also includes a greenhouse complex containing several re-circulating tank systems.

Currently, three species of fish popular among Alabama saltwater anglers are cultured at CPMC including red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus), Florida pompano (Trachinotus carolinus), and southern flounder (Paralichthys lethostigma).  Southern flounder broodstock were collected in 2018; however, due to a protracted acclimation period documented by other southern flounder researchers spawning is not anticipated by CPMC staff until early 2020. 

Although most fish reared at CPMC are primarily for stock enhancement purposes, some fish may be tagged prior to release to assist with determining growth rates and movement patterns.  AMRD is also planning to modify the infrastructure to allow for the culture of the Eastern oyster by Spring 2020.  Oyster spat produced in the hatchery will be used to repopulate natural oyster reef areas in Mobile Bay and Mississippi Sound which have degraded in the last decade due to various natural and man-made causes.

Fish Culture Method:Juvenile Florida Pompano Raised at CPMCBroodstock (parent fish) are collected from local waters and relocated to maturation tanks within the hatchery.  Collected fish undergo temperature and photoperiod manipulation within the maturation tanks to mimic natural conditions and stimulate spawning activity.  Broodstock will spawn on their own within the maturation tanks or be removed from the tanks and strip spawned, the technique of manually removing eggs and milt (sperm) which are combined to initiate fertilization.  Fertilized eggs collected from egg collectors built into each broodstock tank or from mixing containers used during strip spawning are counted using a volumetric method and distributed among hatching jars/tanks.   

Eggs hatch within a 36-48-hour period and larval fish are counted by sampling a portion of the water column.  From this point, larvae will either be stocked into ponds or remain in within the hatchery. Tank Culture:Conditions affecting growth and survival are maintained much more easily in a tank system; however, labor and operational costs needed to maintain fish in an indoor culture system are greater than a pond system.  Larval fish are maintained in a temperature-controlled re-circulating system using full strength seawater (salinity greater than 30 ppt).  Twenty-four hour care is provided for larval fish in a tank culture system soon after the eggs hatch.  Once eggs hatch, the hatchlings are considered yolk-sac larvae.  At this point, they have no mouths or eyes, but will develop them over the next 36-48 hours.  

Once fish develop their eyes, they need to eat immediately.  From here, the fish need to be moved from hatching containers to the larval rearing systems for further grow out.Larval fish cultured at CPMC require live foods for the first 14-16 days after hatching.  The fish require a certain size of food particle that can be captured and ingested.  Two types of zooplankton are used to feed the young larval fish.  Rotifers are used as a first food for the first 8-10 days after hatching.  Brine shrimp (Artemia spp.) is used as a second live food.  As fish continue to grow, they require larger sized prey items, thus the need to change food sources.  Larvae are weened onto brine shrimp Artemia spp. starting around 8 days after hatching.  At the same time, larval fish are also introduced to a formulated feed.  Fish will be completely weened to an artificial diet by approximately day 16 after hatching.

CPMC Tank Culture Facilities For red drum and Florida pompano, the culture period is approximately 35-45 days to grow to a 1-2-inch fingerling.  Southern flounder require approximately 60-75 days to grow to a 1-2-inch fingerling.  At 1-2-inches the fish are of ideal size for harvesting and transporting to the release site.  Once fish reach the appropriate size and after a sample of each group of fish pass inspection for common diseases, they are released in coastal Alabama waters.Pond Culture:For extensive systems, ponds are utilized, and less care is required.  Prior to a spawning event, ponds are filled with brackish water, then fertilized with both organic and inorganic fertilizers to establish a phytoplankton bloom. 

This phytoplankton bloom is the food source for the zooplankton in the water.  As the phytoplankton blooms, the zooplankton populations will increase and “bloom” as well.  These zooplankton are the food source for newly hatched fish. Once fish develop and eye, they are transferred to the ponds for further grow out.  During the transfer process, fish are acclimated to pond temperature and salinity.   Fish will grow on the natural foods in the ponds for approximately 20 days.  After that time, a crumbled, pelleted feed will be provided for the rest of the culture period.  The culture period lasts approximately 45-60 days after which fish will be 1-2 inches in length.  Once fish are of size and after a sample of each group of fish pass inspection for common diseases, they are harvested from the ponds and released in Alabama waters.

In recent years, the operations and maintenance of CPMC has been funded through the Fish and Wildlife’s Sport Fish Restoration Program, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and your fishing license purchases.