Category Archives: Saltwater Fishing

Everything saltwater fishing

NOAA Fisheries Calls on Anglers to Report Sturgeon Sightings and Catches on Sturgeon Hotline


Wild animals, especially those living underwater, can be hard to find and track. Biologists compile and use public sighting information to learn more about different animal species. Atlantic sturgeon are found along the Canadian and U.S. Atlantic Coast as far south as Florida. Understanding where they go, how they get there and where they spawn (lay their eggs) is important for resource  managers. It helps them to put protections in place for this endangered species. With their built-in “armor,” also known as scutes, sturgeon appear to be indestructible. They actually face a number of threats including:

Unintended catch by fishermen

Dams that block access to spawning areas

Poor water quality

Water withdrawals from rivers

Vessel strikes

NOAA Fisheries monitors a sturgeon hotline, (844) STURG-911, as a way to collect sightings information. Recent reports to the hotline have come from as far away as California and as far north as Maine!  One of the most common reporting locations is New Jersey.

About a week ago, while walking along the shore in Cape May, New Jersey,   a family discovered a sturgeon that had washed ashore. The fish, which was about 2.5 feet long, did not appear to be injured. The family found an odd yellow “streamer” with number 53869 attached to the animal. It turns out that yellow streamer was actually a scientific tag applied by a sturgeon researcher!

Our partners with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed the tag was issued in North Carolina in 2019. Thousands of miles away, we received another tip via the hotline that a sturgeon was spotted off Marina Bay Beach in Richmond, California. The animal had a large bite on its underside. Based on what we know about the abundance of sturgeon in the San Francisco Bay area, this animal was likely a white sturgeon. Without photo evidence, it’s tough to know for sure.

Regardless, calls like these provide valuable data to NOAA researchers. Closer to home, we’ve had more than a dozen reports so far this year. There were two from North Carolina, one from South Carolina, three from Georgia, and three from Florida. You might wonder, how can scientists learn anything from a dead fish, but depending on the animal, we gain lots of useful information. We can determine if it’s been growing, we can determine where it might have hatched using genetics. We can also get a sense of where and when they are migrating (traveling between locations).

For example, by re-sighting a sturgeon, like the one tagged in North Carolina but found in New Jersey, we are able to compare size. We can tell how much the animal has grown between when it was first caught and when it washed up dead.

Your information helps! If you find a stranded, injured, or dead sturgeon, please take a photo, if you can do so safely. In the Southeast you can report it to (844) STURG-911/(844) 788-7491, or send us an email at NOAA.Sturg911@noaa.gov

In the Northeast please call the NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office at (978) 281-9328.

Provide additional information such as: Where you saw the animal (latitude/longitude)Approximately how big it was

Any weird marks (like a tag) or wounds you notice when you saw it These are also very helpful pieces of information! 

5 Things We Know About Juvenile Tarpon


From Bonefish & Tarpon Trust
from The Fishing Wire

1. They begin their lives looking like a clear worm

Adult tarpon spawn offshore: 80-100 miles in the Gulf of Mexico and 5-10 miles in the Atlantic Ocean. Once eggs fertilize and hatch, tarpon begin their larval stage looking like a transparent flat ribbon. This particular larva, similar to eels, bonefish, and ladyfish, is known as a leptocephalus. Although leptocephali do have the ability to swim, they are mostly drifting with currents to make their way back inshore. A study on the Indian River Lagoon found that tarpon larvae enter the passes at night and make their way into far reaches of the estuary to find calm, tidal backwaters where they metamorphose into juveniles.

2. They can breathe air 

Although we can’t exactly compare juvenile tarpon to Flipper, tarpon have a unique capability of taking oxygen from above the surface instead of relying on dissolved oxygen in the water. Tarpon have a modified swim bladder that has rows of vascularized (i.e. spongy) tissue that can act as an extra set of gills. In contrast, other fish typically have a balloon like swim bladder that can only help with buoyancy during pressure changes. Gulping air is a major benefit to juvenile tarpon who seem to prefer habitats with low dissolved oxygen that exclude other fish that could be competition or predators.

3. They eat anything and everything

Another good strategy for juvenile tarpon in backwater habitats is that they are opportunistic feeders. A study on the east coast of Florida looked at the diets of juvenile tarpon compared with prey availability for seven locations and concluded that tarpon eat everything. The only limiting factor was if the food would fit in their mouth; therefore the larger the juvenile tarpon grew, the more things it could eat. Fish and copepods are the main organisms consumed, but tarpon also eat ants, crabs, shrimp and fly larvae. (Photo: Jeff Harrell)

4. Their growth rates depend on habitat quality

Although the scientific literature is limited on juvenile tarpon studies, there are some that show tarpon in captivity and natural habitats exhibit growth rates of 10-12 inches per year. Likewise, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) found comparable growth rates of juvenile snook (who use similar habitats) in the Tampa Bay estuary. However, BTT studies in southwest Florida and coastal South Carolina of juvenile tarpon in human degraded habitats found average growth rates of 1-2 inches per year. These studies underscore how detrimental coastal development, altered waterflows and nutrient runoff are to our fisheries.

5. About 2/3 of angler reported juvenile tarpon habitats are degraded by humans

 In 2016, BTT started a juvenile tarpon habitat mapping project to find locations of tarpon 12 inches and smaller.  Anglers reported almost 300 locations and were asked to described the site as natural or altered. About 64 percent of reported sites were described as having some level of degradation. Couple this information with our slow growth data in human impacted sites and it’s clear just how important habitat protection and restoration are.

 Click here to learn more about BTT’s habitat restoration efforts. (Photo: SWFWMD)

FREE RELEASE TOOLS OFFERED FOR GULF OF MEXICO FISHERMEN

Free Release Tools Offered for Gulf of Mexico Fishermen

Return ‘Em Right is launching its program to offshore anglers throughout the Gulf of Mexico today. By participating in a short online review of best practices anglers can receive free release gear valued at $100 to help reef fish survive release.

Each year, more than 10 million federally-managed reef fish are released, and at least one million of those will die after being released. A main reason is due to barotrauma, a pressure-related injury fish experience when reeled up from depth. Anglers may observe barotrauma when they release a fish, only to see it float away on the surface. For every one percent of landed and released fish anglers save through learning and using best release practices, over 100,000 reef fish could survive to grow, possibly spawn, and be caught again.

“I have enjoyed teaching my daughter to fish and know one way to keep the fisheries healthy for her generation is to release them properly. I hope Gulf anglers take advantage of Return ‘Em Right – free gear and training to benefit the fishery is a win-win,” said JD Dugas, recreational angler from Louisiana.

Return ‘Em Right promotes best release practices, with an emphasis on proper use of descending devices, which research shows can improve long-term survival of reef fish by up to three times. Descending devices are weighted devices that help fish overcome buoyancy and injury by releasing them at depth. These devices come in a variety of forms including weighted inverted hooks, lip clamp devices, and weighted crates and boxes.

“I used descending devices for the first time recently, and I’ve seen them work firsthand. Not a single fish floated back up the entire day offshore fishing,” said Alexandra Spring, three-time IGFA World Record Holder.

Gulf of Mexico reef fish anglers 18 years and older are now eligible to visit the Return ‘Em Right website, review best release practices, and receive a package of release gear to use out on the water. The educational review is available to all individuals who are interested in learning best practices when encountering barotrauma, regardless of your age, location, or role in the fishery.

“Return ‘Em Right welcomes all anglers to participate in the program and we are excited to be a resource to a community committed to preserving the future of the sport,” said Nick Haddad, Fisheries Communications Manager, Return ‘Em Right.

About Return ‘Em Right

Return ‘Em Right is a program that aims to reduce catch and release mortality from fish suffering from barotrauma in the Gulf of Mexico. The program is led by Florida Sea Grant, University of Florida, Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, NOAA and a coalition of anglers, industry groups, state agencies, universities, government and non-government organizations committed to maintaining healthy fish stocks and fishing access in the Gulf of Mexico. The project was selected by the Deepwater Horizon Open Ocean Trustee’s as part of a 2019 Restoration Plan.

Where To Go Inshore Fishing To Get Hot Bites from East To West


INSHORE FISHING: HOT BITES FROM EAST TO WEST

from The Fishing Wire

Inshore Fishing: Hot Bites from East to West

Angling angst is peaking across the US. Open-water fishing throughout the north and much of the country’s mid-section has been stymied by Mother Nature for weeks or months. Depending on their location, many coastal anglers, too, are pining for the warmer water temperatures that bring increased angling opportunities. For most, this is the time of year when the angling itch is most persistent. The gear is prepped and there’s so much to look forward to. But will winter ever end?

Resourceful anglers know there’s always a way to scratch the itch, even during the waning weeks of winter. Steering for the nearest coast is a good bet. The fish are always biting somewhere, and our St. Croix pros in Florida, Texas and California are anxious to share three distinct inshore options for your angling consideration.

The Florida Keys

Laying claim to the southernmost geography in the continental USA, the Florida Keys are always open for the business of rewarding angling. “Key West will have the best permit fishing of the year in late February and early March,” says St. Croix stick, co-host of the popular Saltwater Experience TV show, and host of the uber-entertaining and informative Tom Rowland Podcast, Captain Tom Rowland. “Fish are active, aggressive and willing to play ball for the fly fisherman or the spin fisherman.”

Rowland says rising water temperatures bring fish that have been wintering offshore and in deeper channels back to the flats. “Cold fronts can negatively affect the fishing this time of year, so you are really looking for times in between fronts when the temperatures rise into the high 70’s and the permit and bonefish will respond favorably. Early-season tarpon will also flood in on nice weather.”

Rowland gets the best results free-lining live crabs to the permit, casting jerk baits for tarpon, and tossing small jigs or live shrimp to bonefish, adding that all of these species will also respond well this time of year to a properly selected and well-presented fly. His gear most often consists of a 7’ St. Croix Legend Tournament Inshore spinning rod – the medium power model (LTIS70MF) for permit, and medium-light (LTIS70MLF) model for bonefish – as well as a 7’ heavy power St. Croix Triumph Inshore spinning rod for tarpon. When casting flies, he selects a St. Croix Imperial Salt fly rod, typically an 8-weight for bonefish, a 10-weight for permit, and an 11- or 12-weight for tarpon.

When spin fishing, Rowland advises against the use of monofilament line. “Matching all the spinning rods up with a high-quality braided line is a must in my opinion,” he says, “because it allows for at least 40% farther casting and will result in more fish. I like 15-pound braid for bonefish, 20-pound for permit and 20-30-pound for tarpon.”

Rowland says sight casting from the bow of a skiff can be intimidating and often frustrating, especially when flyfishing. “Soft, accurate casts are often a must, and when the wind starts blowing it can be daunting even for experienced casters. Anglers without a lot of experience in this type of fishing should practice their fly casting before they go. Get instruction from someone in your area who knows about saltwater flyfishing and flyfishing from a skiff. Some good instruction goes a long way!”

Saltwater Experience co-host and St. Croix pro, Captain Rich Tudor, says anglers visiting the Keys during cold weather snaps can still find good fishing. “The water levels are really low and we have some of the lowest tides of the year right now. Combine that with cooler water temperatures and it really concentrates fish in the deeper holes and channel edges.” Tudor says those deeper holes can be anywhere from two to ten feet. “Those conditions can condense 100 acres of water into one acre,” continues Tudor, who often targets concentrations of redfish and snook at low tide. “Then, if the water warms up those fish will spread out onto the flats once the tide comes up,” he adds.

“In addition to numbers of fish, anglers can expect a lot of variability in size, both for the redfish and the snook,” says Tudor, who keeps rigging simple and universally appealing, typically casting light bucktail jigs tipped with shrimp on a 7’ medium-light power St. Croix Mojo Inshore or Triumph Inshore spinning rod with 15-pound braid and a 30-pound fluorocarbon leader.

Texas Coast

“Here in Texas, the hardcore anglers know this time of year is the time to catch big – and I mean really big – speckled trout,” says St. Croix pro, tournament angler, and Texas native, Joseph Sanderson. “Grab your waders, head for waist- or chest-deep water where you find any bait whatsoever, and you have a really good chance at a fish of a lifetime.”

Generally speaking, Sanderson advises wading anglers to look for a slightly muddier bottom because it may be a few degrees warmer than surrounding waters. “If you can find some grass mixed in, that doesn’t hurt anything either,” says Sanderson, who also urges anglers to be on the lookout for bait. “Bait becomes scarce this time of year, so if you see a mullet jump or a school of other baitfish scatter, that can be a really good starting point.”

Sanderson says Matagorda Bay and Baffin Bay are two legendary Texas spots where anglers can chase the “gator” trout bite at this time of year. “February through April is prime time, and the prize you’re after is a fish upwards of 28 inches. My personal best this time of year is 31.5″ and pushing ten pounds,” Sanderson adds.

A Corky is the bait of choice this time of year for Texas trout. It’s a soft plastic suspending bait that Sanderson says anglers should plan on working painfully slow. “The fish are lethargic this time of year and are looking for an easy meal, so the suspending characteristics of a Corky really shine,” he says. “It is a big, heavy bait, so this is the one time of the year that I put the medium-light power Mojo Inshore spinning rod down and pick up the casting rod. I like a 7′ medium power, fast action Mojo Inshore or Triumph Inshore for this bite. It helps having a little beefier casting rod for the bigger baits and also aids in landing some of the more powerful slot redfish you might also hook up with. In the summer, I like a medium-light power rod, but not this time of year. The bite can be really subtle – even from a big fish – so I like rigging with 30-pound braid for sensitivity along with a 17-pound fluorocarbon leader.”

Sanderson says late-winter trout fishing is anything but a numbers game. “You need to have patience to chase this bite,” he says. “It would be comparable to swimbait fishing for largemouth bass in freshwater. You go out chasing two or three bites per day knowing the potential rewards. A 30-inch speckled trout compares to a 10-pound bass in my opinion, both of which are considered the pinnacle of the respective pursuits. Don’t get discouraged if you have a few fishless days on the water, either. Those who are persistent will be rewarded.”

Sanderson’s final tip to late-winter speckled trout anglers is to stay mobile. “As the day warms, you might consider moving a little shallower,” he says. “It isn’t uncommon to catch these big fish in knee-deep water in the dead of winter. The shallow water warms quickly, and deeper fish will move up just as fast as the temperature rises. Keep your eyes peeled for any sign of bait or surface wakes. If there is surface activity, you are likely in a good spot.”

Southern California

Anglers who may not know his name or job title will likely recognize Morgan Promnitz’s smiling face, which is most-often seen peering from behind some massive saltwater fish he’s gripping aboard his Hobie kayak. The Director of Fishing Development for Hobie, Promnitz makes his home in San Diego and is also a world-class and well-traveled angler who serves as a St. Croix pro and advisor.

“Southern California has some really consistent fishing in the surf and bays in late February and March,” says Promnitz, who also regularly ventures offshore in his Hobie in search of the yellowtails that often remain off the coast of Southern California through winter and early spring.

“The barred surf perch and halibut bites can be great right off the beaches, and surf anglers can expect plenty of croakers and corvina to keep things fun, too. Flyfishing is also a good option,” says Promnitz, who adds area bays always have spotted bay bass, halibut and other species like corvina, croakers, and even bonefish, to name a few. “The halibut come into holes in the surf or patchy cuts in the reef to ambush baitfish that are in the shallow surf,” he says. “Check the schedule on the grunion runs, as this is when the halibut like to move in close and gorge on the stragglers. Try a medium-light to medium power Mojo Inshore spinning or casting rod in that 7’-to-7’6” range with 10-20-pound braided line and a 12-20-pound fluoro leader,” Promnitz advises. “That’ll give you a really versatile outfit that pairs nicely with the wide variety of fish you might encounter along the beach. A 3” soft-plastic swimbait paired with a ¼-ounce lead head jig will draw bites from almost anything around here. A Lucky Craft SW 110 jerkbait does a good job at imitating grunion and is a deadly choice for halibut in the surf.”

For perch, try fishing a 1.5-inch motor oil/red flake colored grub tail or brown/green gulp sandworm, Carolina rigged with a ¼-ounce egg sinker on an 18”, four-pound fluorocarbon leader,” Promnitz says. “Weight size and line size can go up depending on the conditions.”

Promnitz says the bays stay warmer in the colder months and the fishery remains steady and is more consistent in winter when it’s not too warm. “The bigger halibut come into the bays to spawn in the early spring, and larger barred sand bass hold on deeper structure in the mouth of San Diego Bay throughout the winter and can also provide some great action,” he says. “For the bigger halibut and sand bass, step up to medium or medium-heavy power Mojo Inshore or Triumph Inshore rods and use lures in the ½-ounce-to-1-ounce range, especially in deeper water.”

Promnitz says a 40+ pound fish in the bay is always a possibility. “There is plenty of bait in the bays during the early spring and water temps are ideal. They also provide shelter from winter storms and turbulent waters,” he says. “Bay fishing is fun and exploratory fishing. You can fish shallow or deep, over open water over rock, sand, or grass, or in tighter spaces like docks, harbors and marinas. Everything from livebait fishing or casting and retrieving artificials to trolling, jigging and flipping comes into play here. It all depends on the species you are targeting and the technique you have the most fun with or confidence in.”

Promnitz urges bay anglers hoping to target halibut, spotted bay bass or other larger species to remember that these fish are ambush predators. “Look at shapes of the fishery, the drop-offs, contours, grass beds and other structures, then consider tidal flow to try and locate where the predators will stage. A stop at a local tackle store or two will also pay dividends. Spend a little money in the store and you’ll usually get some great intel to go along with your fishing goodies or snacks,” he says. “You can also learn the better access spots. You can fish the beaches or bays on foot, but the bay can be more productive in kayak or boat.”

Parting Words

Springtime will be here soon, but for millions of anglers locked in by ice and snow, that knowledge doesn’t make the coming weeks any easier. What likely will make a difference is a trip to the coast – whether that’s Florida, Texas, California or somewhere else. So, take steps to improve your angling outlook. Gear up, then follow our pros’ advice on the whats, wheres, and hows.

Indeed, the fish are always biting somewhere.

TWO MUST-FISH BAITS FOR REDFISH

Two Must-Fish Baits For Redfish

Part of what makes the redfish so popular is their affinity to bite. They’re generally a willing predator, making them a favorite target for inshore anglers no matter where they live. From the Gulf Coast and north to the Atlantic, redfish have the hearts of many anglers due to their hard fighting ways. Texas Capt. Brett Sweeny of Matagorda and Ken Craig of Florida’s Nature Coast make their living because of the species and catch redfish with a plethora of different artificial lures, but each has one that they never leave at the dock.

Saltwater Swimbaits

Captain Brett Sweeny of Matagorda, Texas, guides over 200 days each year, focusing on wade fishing for trophy trout and inshore redfish. Redfish are a popular target and he says there is one lure that produces fish for him when fishing redfish tournaments up and down the Texas coast and also for his clients throughout the year: a paddle tail swimbait.

“It’s foolproof and always works for redfish around here,” he says. “No matter what the skill level of my client is, it works because it’s so simple to fish and catches fish year round. There’s no wrong way to fish it; throw it out and reel it back in.”

Most of the time, Sweeny will have three rods rigged up at all times and two of them will be swimbaits because of how well they work. He’s a fan of the 3 ¾” MirrOlure Marsh Minnow swimbait on a ¼-ounce jighead.

“That combination gives you long and accurate casts when you see fish, but it also works blind casting to areas the fish are using,” says Sweeny. “During low tide, redfish like to get in the ditches and the swimbait is perfect for fishing these areas. I’m always searching for the ditches and pinch points and places the fish can pull up on flats to feed.”

For colors, he also keeps it simple with some tried and true hues that perform day in and day out. The sun is the most significant factor for deciding which color to tie on.

“The brighter the skies, the brighter the bait,” he shares. “I like pearl white when the sun is out and go with something with a darker back when fishing on overcast days or during lowlight conditions. The water isn’t very clear here in most places, so it needs to be something that will stand out a little bit.”

Sweeny prefers 6’9″ medium heavy Waterloo Power Mag rods paired with a 7.3:1 13 Fishing Concept C2 baitcast reel spooled with 30 to 40 lb. Seaguar TactX braided line without a fluorocarbon leader.

The 30 lb. casts a little better, but sometimes you have to go to 40 lb. when fishing around those gnarly shell beds,” he says. “TactX casts great, holds up very well and has great abrasion resistance. The camouflage color is another big plus and blends right in with the brackish, stained water we fish around here. We don’t even need to add a fluorocarbon leader and they still bite it just fine.”

The Classic Weedless Spoon

Fishing lures for all species come and go in waves and trends, but some remain for decades. One timeless lure is the weedless gold spoon. It was once a very popular freshwater bass lure for fishing aquatic vegetation but it has remained a top lure for the inshore saltwater anglers. Captain Ken Craig of Ken’s Custom Charters in Homosassa Springs, Florida, believes the spoon is an underrated lure.

“It’s year round and versatile,” he said. “You can use the cheapest version you find at Wal-Mart or go and get the best quality spoon money can buy with 24kt gold plating and they all work great. There’s something about that flash and action that gets a reaction from big redfish.”
Fishing the spoon is simple and Craig slowly retrieves it so it gently rocks, walking and flashing near the surface to entice redfish.

“Keep your rod tip high and just make sure it doesn’t start to spin,” he shares. “It will walk right under the surface and cause a reaction strike. During the colder months, the fish will stay right on the bottom to stay warm and you can also bounce it off oyster beds and hard bottoms to make some noise to get their attention.”

Capt. Craig prefers spinning tackle for fishing the spoon; a 7’6″ medium Bull Bay Rod paired with a 2500-sized Shimano spinning reel. Braided line is a must and he prefers a 10 lb. braided line with a leader of 25 lb. Gold Label leader material.

“The light braid is crucial for making long casts to spooky fish,” he shares. “Our water here is so clear that my clients often say it feels like we are floating in an aquarium. So getting the bait away from the boat is very important because the fish know when you are getting too close.”
The gin clear water near Homosassa Springs and Crystal River is unique and produces big redfish, with many over 30 inches long and trophy fish up to 37 inches. In the past, using a heavy 30 or 40 lb. monofilament line was common due to the size of the redfish and snook living here.

“Gold Label is so thin and makes small, tight knots, and you get more bites,” he says. “We all used to use monofilament for abrasion reasons from these bigger fish, but Gold Label has outperformed it in every way because it’s thinner and stronger. Almost every Captain in my circle has switched over to it because of how well it performs in our waters.”

Redfish are a top species for the coastal crowd from Texas to Florida. They grow big and fight hard and keep anglers coming back for more. According to two popular inshore guides, they will bite many lures, but a paddle tail swimbait and weedless spoon are must-haves for any redfish angler.

Seaguar TactX Camo Braid is available in 10 to 80 lb. test on 150 and 300 yard spools.

Seaguar Gold Label fluorocarbon leader is available in 25-yard spools in 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 & 12 lb. test for fresh water use, complementing the 15, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, 60 and 80 lb. test leaders available for saltwater.

Captiva Island Snook Fishing with Captain John Houston

Fishing Captiva with a Snook Guru

By Frank Sargeant, Editor

from The Fishing Wire

Captain John Houston is a Sanibel Island, Florida, guide who grew up on the backwaters between San Carlos Bay and Charlotte Harbor, building a guru-like knowledge of the movements and preferences of the snook in his areas, and no matter what the weather, he usually is able to solve the daily puzzle and put his anglers on fish.

I was apprised of that fact on a trip with Houston a few weeks back, on a morning when a chilly wind was whistling out of the north at close to 20 knots. Normally, for snook anglers, the best strategy on a morning like that is to turn over, pull the covers up and sleep until noon.

Houston and I didn’t have that option–he had one morning when he could fit me into his busy winter schedule, and this was it–we were going snooking. We met at the ‘Tween Waters Marina at a leisurely 8 a.m., because the guide had been out since daylight loading the live well with an assortment of pinfish, grunts and pigfish that would allow us to target big snook.

“Young snook will take shrimp about as well as anything, but when they get up in the 30-inch range and bigger, they want some meat,” Houston told me. “I do especially well with the grunts and pigfish. They make a lot of noise on the hook, so they’re snook magnets.”

Houston is an easy-going guy who bounces around the world between sessions of guiding on his home waters. He has a second home in Costa Rica and has hiked the mountains of Columbia, including the drug-lord territory, as well as regularly visiting island communities all over the South Pacific. He’s also a yoga instructor–needless to say, his resume is a bit different from most skiff guides.

Houston advised me that the south shore of Redfish Pass–which is the cut that separates North Captiva island from Captiva Island proper–is usually stiff with undersized snook (less than 28″) along the south shore, while the rock jetties that jut out from the north shore–where the Kohler Plumbing mansion is the most visible structure–is the home of much larger fish much of the year.

“The big ones get in the pass starting in late April pre-spawn, and they’re in there pretty much into early November most years,” he told me. “A lot of them go out to the reefs when it gets colder in December and January, and some go up into the rivers, but other than that you can catch trophy snook in the pass most any trip.”

We made the 10-minute run across the choppy water, dodging spray blown up by the howling wind the whole way. We were in the lee as we moved in close to the jetties, but waves generated by the combination of the wind and the strong current through the pass had Houston’s center-console bucking so hard it was tough to get an anchor to stick.

After a couple of attempts, we were finally in position. I sailed an unhappy 6-inch piggy out toward the end of the rockpile, where the green water of the pass swirled in a foam-capped eddy. The bait went down, the 20-pound-test braid jumped a couple of times, and I was hooked up to what felt like a submarine. One big head roll, mouth the size of a coffee can, and I got the mauled pigfish back sans snook.

Next cast, basically the same result, but even faster. Third cast, a good stick but then Flipper showed up. The dolphin chased the fish around the rockpile at flank speed, and the hook pulled. I couldn’t tell if the fish went down the hatch or got away clean, but in any case it didn’t come to the boat.

“The dolphins here have really learned to home in on fisherman,” lamented Houston. “Some days it’s tough to get a fish to the boat, and if you do get one in and release it, they eat it right away.”

That was the end of the story for the jetty–the next pigfish that went in the water got chased all the way back to the boat by a dolphin that came up right next to us rolled on his back, I swear grinning an evil grin.

No problem, Houston had plenty more spots up the sleeve of his foul-weather gear.

“There are quite a few people who live on the water and dump their live bait and their fish carcasses by their docks, and the snook get on to that pretty quick,” he told me as we motored into a series of canals on the back side of the island. “If you throw a few sardines or shrimp in there as chum to get them started, you can get bit pretty quick.”

He wasn’t wrong–the second dock we tried produced a pair of 28-inchers, both legal fish if we had been in harvesting mode. The limits on the Gulf Coast are 1 fish per angler per day from 28 to 33 inches long.

We caught a few smaller fish at another location, then finished off with a muscular lunker that was over 30 inches. Not bad for a three-hour trip on a 20-knot morning.

Houston said snooking is good in the area year around except after severe cold fronts, but if he had to pick two prime times they would be April and late October, when water temperatures and weather combine to create the most reliable action.

The Gulf Coast snook season is closed December 1 to the end of February to protect cold-shocked fish, and from May 1 to August 31 to protect the spawning period. For more information, Captain John Houston can be contacted at www.nativeguidesfishing.com. Houston also runs tarpon charters, chases trout and reds, and offers shelling and diving trips as well.

Is Winter Fishing on Tampa Bay’s South Shore Any Good

Winter Fishing on Tampa Bay’s South Shore


By Frank Sargeant, Editor

from The Fishing Wire

Though Florida fishing stays a whole lot more comfortable than that found in the rest of the country in the winter months, it’s definitely a different ballgame so far as the fish are concerned. The broad, shallow flats that are loaded with trout, reds and snook along much of the West Coast in the temperate months empty out almost completely after a few cold fronts blow through, and by mid-December in most years, it’s hard to find fish anywhere outside the deep (and warm) coastal rivers and canals.

The South Shore area of Tampa Bay is classic habitat for this type of fishing. The Little Manatee and Manatee rivers, along with vast acreages of small creeks and canals, create ideal winter hideaways for fish and bait seeking to escape the chill of the shallow flats.

Not only are the big three of the flats here, but there are plenty of sheepshead and mangrove snapper for those seeking tasty fillets, along with sometimes countless ladyfish and jack crevalle chasing glass minnows for those who simply want to keep the rod bent–great targets for kids and anglers with less experience.

This is great country for flats boats, of course, but it’s also fine for bass boats, jon boats, canoes and kayaks because the water is protected from wind and waves. There are even some areas where fishing from shore or wading can bring good action.

The fish gather pretty much anywhere there’s a deep hole or rocky ledge. Sharp bends are often good, as are areas where side creeks fall into larger rivers. And, on sunny afternoons between fronts, the fish sometimes prowl into shallow bays with black mud bottom, which create a sort of heat-sink that keeps them comfortable for a few hours.

Plastic shrimp like the DOA are also deadly for this winter fishing, for those with the patience to fish them properly. Basically, you cast them upstream and allow them to drift down, then repeat–move them any faster than the current and they catch little, but do it just right and they’re as effective as live shrimp much of the time.

For those seeking big snook, the rivers are also a good winter target. Some find them by towing big diving plugs in the deep river holes. Drifting large pinfish or jumbo shrimp in the rocky holes and around docks and bridge pilings can also do the job.

Smaller snook (and sometimes keeper trout and reds, too) hang around the creek mouths on outgoing tides, and you can sometimes catch these fish on topwater lures like the Rapala Skitter Vee. A live shrimp under a popping cork is also a good offering at these locations.

For sheepshead and mangrove snapper, a size 1/0 hook and a fresh-cut shrimp tail is hard to beat–add just enough weight to sink it against the current around barnacled bridges, pilings and rock ledges. Reds like this approach, too.

*****

Where to Stay for South Shore Fishing

The village of Ruskin, about 20 minutes south of Tampa, has several resort choices where you can simply step out the door and be in prime angling and boating country.

Little Harbor Resort is the largest and best-equipped of these locations, and also the only one directly on Tampa Bay. In fact, the harbor itself is known as one of the best snook spots in the area, as linesiders often stack up under the docks and feed under the lights at night. Both reds and trout also push into the canal that runs to the on-site marina in winter, providing a potpourri of angling possibilities.

Or turn up the Little Manatee River, just a few hundred yards south of the resort. Good fishing starts right at the mouth around residential docks, and gets even better in some of the deep holes at the bends upriver. Go upstream above the I-75 bridge and you’re in largemouth bass country–though the snook go all the way up there in the colder months, too.

The marina is a full-service location capable of handling boats to 50 feet and more, and also has fuel, bait and repair service.

For anglers who bring their own boats, there are several concrete ramps, and the marina offers dockage and fuel as well as live shrimp and fishing supplies. There’s also a kayak rental, and this is a great spot to make use of one of these shallow-draft vessels.

While you’re enjoying the fishing, Mom and the kids can rent a jet ski or a stand-up-paddleboard, play tennis or enjoy the beach right in front of the resort.

Harborside Suites is set up to function as a sort of home away from home, with larger units offering full size kitchen, living and dining areas as well as separate bedrooms. And all units have a patio or balcony, great to see the local wildlife or to take in a Tampa Bay sundown.

Little Harbor Resort, Harborside Suites and marina–as well as the Sunset Grill, a pleasant open-air Tiki bar and restaurant overlooking the bay–are located at 536 Bahia Beach Blvd. in Ruskin. The website is www.staylittleharbor.com.

TIPS ON AVOIDING BAROTRAUMA IN RELEASED FISH

Tips on Avoiding Barotrauma
from The Fishing Wire

Device taking fish to bottom


NOAA’s Deepwater Horizon restoration partners at the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission selected three new partners to conduct studies on reef fish restoration in the Gulf of Mexico. They were chosen through a competitive process, and the awards total approximately $690,000.

These studies are contributing to a $30 million project to encourage anglers to use fish descending devices. These devices increase survival of reef fish experiencing barotrauma in the Gulf’s recreational fisheries approved by the Deepwater Horizon Open Ocean Trustees.

Barotrauma is damage caused by the rapid expansion of gases in fish that are caught in deeper water and quickly brought up to the surface. As the gases expand, they can damage the eyes, stomach, and other parts of the fish. This makes it difficult for them to swim back down and survive once released. Descending devices help fish by quickly releasing them at their normal depth, reducing the number of reef fish that die from catch and release fishing.

Coming to a Charter Boat (or Inbox) Near You

Decender Device on Charter Boat


An angler holds a red fish with a fish descender device, about to release it back into the water.
Fish descender devices come in multiple forms, this one is pressure activated, releasing the fish at a specific depth automatically. Credit: NOAA Fisheries, Florida Sea Grant
All three studies will focus on the use of descending devices to help fish return to their underwater habitats, away from predators. Anglers can help restore fish populations impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill by using these devices.

The first two studies will be conducted offshore, working with close to 40 recreational charter boat captains. Captains will:

Recapture fish previously tagged and released using descending devices, to increase understanding of survival rates
Deploy underwater cameras to shed light on whether predators, like sharks, are targeting fish when they are released with descender devices
Receive training on best practices while using descending devices
Gulf reef fish anglers should also be on the lookout for mail and email surveys from partners at Southwick Associates. These surveys will help the project team understand barriers to using descending devices. By participating in the studies, anglers will help inform future angler outreach and education methods.

Study Descriptions

Results from the three studies will contribute to restoration efforts that increase the health of reef fisheries impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, while improving angler experiences. The work will be carried out through 2025.

Determination of Predation Mortality, Barotrauma Survival, and Emigration Patterns for Catch-and-Released Red Snapper
Partner: Dr. Stephen Szedlmayer, Auburn University School of Fisheries, Aquaculture, and Aquatic Sciences
Award: $250,750
Timeline: 20-month project, ends December 2022
A team from Auburn University will collaborate with eight charter vessel operators to better understand the survival rates of red snapper released with descending devices. The team will tag and release red snapper across a range of locations and depths off the coast of Alabama and Mississippi. Participating captains will return to the tagging sites within 2 to 4 weeks to recapture as many tagged fish as possible. A combination of different tagging methods will provide a robust evaluation of descending methods and their effect on red snapper survival.

Barotrama make fish easy meals

A shark opens its mouth for a struggling fish underwater.

This fish was an easy lunch for a bull shark after being released without help from a descending device. Credit: NOAA Fisheries, Florida Sea Grant
Do Descender Devices Increase Opportunities for Depredation? A Gulf-wide Examination of Descender Device Depredation Rates and Depredating Species
Partner: Dr. Marcus Drymon, Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center
Award: $238,981
Timeline: 32-month project, ends December 2023
Working with 30 charter boat captains, this study will document whether hooked reef fish are eaten by predators and which species are responsible. This team from Mississippi State University will train and incentivize captains across the Gulf of Mexico to use descending devices and film fish releases with cameras. The team will then analyze the video footage, and results will be used to inform best release practices and address depredation concerns with descended fish. The project team will make short videos to train captains on data collection processes and share project results with stakeholders.

Measuring Changes in Angler Awareness and Use of Fish Descending Devices
Partner: Southwick Associates
Award: $200,000
Timeline: Baseline study in 2021, follow-up study in 2025.
Southwick Associates will assess recreational reef fish anglers’ current knowledge of fish descending devices. The goal is to establish an understanding of anglers’ perceptions about releasing reef fish and identify barriers to using descending gear. Understanding barriers will inform future education and outreach, and help anglers learn the advantages of best release practices. In 2025, the team will measure the change in anglers’ awareness and adoption of descending gear over time.

Improving Recreational Fish Survival is One Project Among Many Restoring Marine Resources After Deepwater Horizon

Fish showing barotrama damage


An angler holds a fish, its mouth open and air bladder inflated from barotrauma.

Barotrauma expands gasses in a fish causing the air bladder and other organs to expand as well, making it difficult for fish to swim after release. Credit: NOAA Fisheries, Florida Sea Grant
These studies are one part of a comprehensive $30 million project reducing barotrauma injuries and deaths in reef fish. The project also aims to increase successful use of fish descender devices by distributing them to recreational anglers and providing information on their use. Supplying fishermen with the tools and knowledge to minimize barotrauma-related fish death and injury will result in increased survival of species released during recreational fishing activities.

This barotrauma project was one of four fish restoration projects funded by the Deepwater Horizon Open Ocean Trustees’ 2019 $226 million restoration plan. The remaining 14 projects in the plan are restoring sea turtles, marine mammals, and deep-sea coral habitats.

Hundreds of fish species were exposed to oil during and after the Deepwater Horizon spill. The exposure killed fish larvae that would have grown and contributed to the food web and fisheries. It also impaired fish growth and reproduction and caused changes in reef fish communities. Recognizing these and other impacts, the settlement with BP included $380 million to help restore injuries to fish and water column invertebrates.

Trolling Seattle’s Puget Sound for Blackmouth

FEATURE
By John Keizer, Salt Patrol
from The Fishing Wire

Connected to the ocean, Puget Sound is a massive inland sea that at its beginning marks the northern boundary between Washington State and Canada before turning southward past Seattle-Tacoma all the way to Olympia. And while Puget Sound’s many rivers support salmon that migrate to the ocean and back again years later, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife manipulates the release timing of some hatchery salmon (referred to as Blackmouth) such that they stay within Puget Sound their whole lives.The name Blackmouth comes from the black gum line that identifies the fish as a chinook salmon. Resident Blackmouth salmon range in size from the just legal 22 inches up to fish nearing the twenty pound mark.

We have all heard the line, “Find the bait and you will find the fish.” It sounds so easy but many anglers ignore this simple advice when trying to locate salmon. Blackmouth salmon are voracious feeders and will be constantly on the search for Sand Lance (candlefish) or Herring to fill their bellies. And while food sources are a big draw for Puget Sound Blackmouth, where these salmon might be lurking and when they’re willing to bite has a lot to do with bottom structure and what the current is doing based on the in-and-out flow of daily ocean tides.

The Sand Lance, also known as “candlefish,” because pioneers used them to make candles due to their high oil content is an ecologically important forage fish for salmon throughout Puget Sound. As you might guess the salmon crave the high oil content of these small forage fish. According to recent studies 35% of juvenile salmon diets are composed of Sand Lance and Blackmouth salmon depend on them for 60% of their diet.Herring tend to linger in resting spots that are dictated by the ever changing current. As in river fishing, the bait and following salmon will be pushed into the lee (downstream) side of a current flow behind points of land and islands. The same is true in Puget Sound, knowing the position of the tide will allow you to find the best locations where baitfish are likely to linger and salmon congregate.

Trolling your gear in combination with a downrigger is in my opinion the best method for consistently catching Blackmouth from Puget Sound. I spend much of the winter fishing season employing this fishing method. So much so that I run three Hi Performance Scotty downriggers onboard my 27 foot “Salt Patrol” North River boat. Being able to cover lots of water with your tackle at a controlled depth is an extremely effective way to fish for Blackmouth salmon in the deep waters of Puget Sound.For salmon trolling my rod and reel outfits include Shimano Tekota-A 600 line-counter reels matched with a G. Loomis E6X 1265 moderate action rods. The reels are spooled up with 30-pound test monofilament line.

And while we have used many different lures to catch salmon over the years the all-new SpinFish bait-holding plug has been a game changer for us. In addition to its unique vibrating, spinning, wounded-baitfish action the SpinFish features a pull-apart bait chamber design that disperses scent as it’s pulled through the water column.I was lucky to get to test prototypes of the SpinFish last fall. My first experience with the SpinFish started with targeting winter Blackmouth out of Port Townsend located on the northern part of Puget Sound. To attract salmon to our gear we ran the SpinFish in combination with 11” rotating flashers and medium size Fish Flash.

This combination produced immediate results for Blackmouth up to 15 pounds. The first thing we noticed was that the strikes on the SpinFish were vicious as compared to using just bait. The Blackmouth hit the SpinFish hard, running a bunch of line off the reel before racing to the surface. Several times the rod tip would be in the water and the fish pulling line right from the get go.To add bait to the SpinFish you just pull apart the lure body and fill with any bait. What we often use is herring or sardine cut bait. But what seems to work best on Puget Sound is canned Chicken of the Sea Tuna packed in oil. We just mixed the canned tuna, making sure to include its natural oil, with Pro-Cure’s Bloody Tuna scent and fill the bait chamber with it.We rigged our SpinFish 25 to 40 inches behind a Fish Flash or 35 to 45 inches behind our rotating flashers. While SpinFish come pre-rigged from the factory when re-rigging we snelled two 4/0 size Mustad octopus hooks close together using 30 pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader and add one glow bead above the top hook to act as a bearing for the SpinFish. We then slid the SpinFish down the leader and attached a swivel to the lead end before attaching to our flashers.

The 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 holes in the SpinFish will disperse the scent into the water and salmon will follow the scent trail back to the lure. Because there are undersized Blackmouth around, we check our gear every 30 minutes or so to make sure we are not pulling around an undersized fish. My routine is to have four or five SpinFish pre-loaded with bait and ready to swap out each time we catch a salmon or conduct a gear check. Blackmouth bite windows are short and you don’t want to waste time rigging tackle when the best bite of the day is happening.

The new SpinFish comes in two sizes, a three inch and a four-inch version. And while we have had the best success using the three incher early in the season, the four inch model will likely be the go-to sizes as the baitfish get larger.Blackmouth 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. You may have heard that the best fishing for salmon is one to two hours before or after a tide change. What we have found is the very best bite is right before or right after the change, when currents are soft.

While trolling I spend a lot of time with my eyes glued to my Lowrance HDS Live sonar screen watching for where bait or salmon are congregating and adjusting my rigger depth accordingly. I often bracket the water column by adding depth on each pass until I hook a fish or locate where the bait and salmon are holding. And while I do change depth based on what my electronics reveal my go-to depth, when all else fails, is to run my SpinFish tight to the bottom.As you might guess, my early success using this all-new lure has me jazzed up for fishing it more and more. I know how well it works for Puget Sound Blackmouth and got to believe it will work for other fish too.

For more information on the Yakima Bait SpinFish visit: www.yakimabait.com
Capt. John Keizer
SaltPatrol.com

Tips for Catching Trout and Redfish on Soft Plastics

By Daniel Nussbaum, Z-Man Fishing Products
from The Fishing Wire

All along the Southeast and Gulf coasts, redfish and spotted seatrout are primary targets of most inshore anglers, and for good reason, too. They are relatively abundant most everywhere, can be targeted year-round, and are accessible from land or boat. Redfish are dogged fighters that never seem to give up, and sight fishing for reds or watching them run down a well-presented bait is an absolute hoot. While targeting trophy trout is a borderline obsession for some, for most, speck fishing is more about action, numbers, and aggressive bites, which they willingly seem to provide throughout their range.

Most importantly, both reds and trout can be consistently targeted using soft plastic lures. While live bait can often be more effective, that isn’t always the case, and most would agree that casting lures and tricking a fish into eating something fake is simply more rewarding and fun. That said, there are a few mistakes that we see inshore anglers making time-and-again.

Getting a handle on some simple technique and gear-related missteps will definitely help you put more redfish and seatrout in the boat. Fishing Too Fast. As one of the best inshore fishermen I know once told me, “If you think you’re fishing too slow, then slow it down some more.” Whether simply reeling too fast or working the bait too quickly with the rod, most folks would be well-served by slowing down their cadence a bit. For starters, gamefish are looking for an easy meal, not a tough one; they’re wired to expend as little energy possible to run down their prey. Fishing baits at a slower pace often garners more strikes for this reason, particularly when fish are pressured, lethargic due to very high or low water temperatures, or stingy due to bluebird conditions.

Many types of forage that artificials mimic – shrimp, crabs, worms, and baitfish – spend most of their time on or close to the bottom. Gamefish themselves often stick close to the bottom to maintain a stealthy profile for ambush feeding, avoid predation, and consume less energy by staying out of high water flow zones. Fishing baits slower mimics bottom crawling forage and keeps them in the strike zone for longer rather than zipping by quickly overhead. Sure, there are times when rapid retrieves generate reaction strikes from passive fish or accurately mimic baitfish moving quickly at mid-depth or on the surface. But perhaps more often, simply dragging and dead-sticking baits along the bottom will consistently get bites. To this point, one mistake anglers make is not letting the bait work for them.

With buoyant baits made from ElaZtech, the tails float up off the bottom at rest, coming to life and drawing strikes even on the slowest retrieves. Poor Line Management. Line management is a concept that is difficult to explain and takes time to master. While a straight retrieve can be effective, more often than not, inshore anglers find success by imparting some kind of action to their lures by working their rods. Giving the bait an erratic, rising and falling motion that imitates an injured baitfish or fleeing shrimp and can trigger aggressive strikes. On the period immediately following the jerk or twitch, the bait is allowed to settle to the bottom, and most strikes occur at this time—on the fall.

The key to line management is allowing the bait to fall naturally, while still maintaining enough tension so that light bites can be detected. Some of the biggest fish are the lightest biters, as they strike by simply opening their mouths, creating a vacuum and sucking in the bait without aggressively striking it. If there’s too much slack in the line, you might never even feel the bite. Conversely, if you apply too much tension on the fall, the bait may look or feel unnatural, and the fish may not strike or could spit the hook when it feels pressure. This is a difficult line to walk and takes time on the water to master. Line management is particularly important on the initial cast and descent. The small ‘splat’ that a softbait makes when it hits the water can be like ringing the dinner bell for a hungry redfish or seatrout. In many cases, strikes occur on the initial descent before many even engage the reel. If you allow the bait to fall freely to the bottom and allow too much slack in the line, you may be missing bites. Instead, try to allow the bait to settle to the bottom naturally while maintaining a bit of tension on the line so quick strikes can be detected. Using Tackle That Is Too Heavy.

When many think of saltwater fishing, they envision using big, stout rods and reels capable of horsing in sea monsters. As far as technology has come, this certainly is no longer the case. Nowadays, the best inshore rod and reel combos are more akin to freshwater tackle than saltwater tackle of yesteryear. The advent of microfilament braided lines, carbon fiber drags, composite reel bodies, lightweight rod guides and reel seats, and resin infused high modulus graphite rods allows saltwater anglers to tackle some pretty hefty fish on featherweight gear. Keep in mind that the lighter the rod and reel, the easier it is to feel light bites, and the less fatigue you will experience from continuous casting throughout the day.

Superbraid lines have changed inshore fishing for the better as the thin diameter and lack of stretch allow for a more natural presentation and far greater sensitivity. The smaller the line diameter, the further you can cast light weight lures. Being able to reach fish from longer distances allows for a stealthier approach in shallow water, and longer casts allow you to cover more water. Due to the incredibly thin diameter of the 10 to 20 pound test line used for inshore fishing, line capacity is no longer a concern, allowing you to use small, lightweight spinning and baitcasting reels. Nowadays, my entire inshore arsenal is comprised of 1000 and 2500 size spinning reels or baitcasters in the 70 to 100 size range mounted on medium light or medium power, fast or extra fast action rods in 6’6″ to 7′ range.

Rods with fast or extra fast tapers are critical, as their light tips provide sensitivity and help sling light lures long distances, while the stiff butt and mid sections offer the backbone needed to turn stubborn fish. Don’t skimp on a quality outfit either; it’s amazing how well high quality graphite rods cast and how sensitive they are, and a decent sealed saltwater reel will provide years of service under normal use, even when subjected to blistering redfish runs. Unless you’re fishing around structure or for larger fish, there’s simply no need for heavier tackle for day-to-day redfish, seatrout, and flounder fishing in the backcountry or marsh, as long as you’re using quality gear. Limiting Bait Selection. Without a doubt, everyone has their favorite confidence bait—the one that you’ve caught more or bigger fish on than anything else and that you always seem to have rigged up. Undoubtedly, you will catch the most fish on whatever is tied onto the end of your line, and more often than not, you’ve got your go-to bait tied on. Do you catch more on that bait because it works better or because you use it more often?

There is no doubt that certain bait profiles and colors are consistent producers, but on any given day, the best bait profile, size, or color likely varies based on a variety of factors, including water clarity, forage, weather conditions, tidal flow, water temperature, and who knows what else. Pigeon-holing yourself with one particular pattern is simply a mistake. On every inshore trip, I set out with an assortment of softbaits in various shapes, sizes and colors.

My typical selection consists of 4″ and 5″ Scented Jerk ShadZ, 3″ Slim SwimZ, 3″ MinnowZ, 4″ and 5″ DieZel MinnowZ, 4″ Scented PaddlerZ, 3.5″ EZ ShrimpZ, 5″ TroutTricks, and some Ned Rig baits like the Finesse TRD or TRD TicklerZ, along with a variety of Trout Eye and NedlockZ Jigheads and ChinlockZ swimbait hooks. These baits and hooks will cover just about all of your bases, from shallow to deep.

Reading conditions is critical to selecting the right bait for the situation. If terns are swooping down overhead and baitfish like glass minnows or fry are flickering the surface, then a smaller profile bait like the 3″ Slim SwimZ gets the nod. If herons are picking off shrimp on the shoreline, tying on an EZ ShrimpZ makes perfect sense. If mullet pods are running the banks, match the size of forage with a swimbait with aggressive swimming action, like the 3″ MinnowZ or 4″ or 5″ DieZel MinnowZ.

If the water is clear, the sun is high, and fish are laid up or not aggressively feeding, something super subtle like a Ned Rig might be the best approach. And perhaps most importantly, if you feel like you’re around fish and what you’re using isn’t working, change it up and try something different. Going Crazy with Colors. Yes, you are reading this correctly: a lure company is telling you that you don’t need to run out and buy every color we make. That said, having an assortment of different colors for varying situations is definitely important. The fact that companies offer literally hundreds of colors seems to complicate things, but following a few simple rules will help get your tackle selection dialed in. First and foremost, matching the hatch is always a good rule of thumb. If mullet are the predominant forage in your area, colors like Mulletron or Smoky Shad are good to have on-hand. If fish are feeding on shrimp, some natural looking shrimp colors like Greasy Prawn, Houdini, or Laguna Shrimp are good matches.

If reds are rooting around for crustaceans, earthy tones that blend in with the bottom, like The Wright Stuff or Redfish Toad, are solid choices. One of the key factors in color selection is water clarity. In clear water, I usually opt for more translucent and natural tones, like Opening Night or Smelt. In stained or tannic water, darker colors with a little bit of flash like Gold Rush or New Penny seem to perform well. In muddy water, brighter colors, particularly those with chartreuse like Space Guppy or Sexy Mullet are good choices, as are luminescent glow in the dark colors. Through fishing a number of locales from the Carolinas to Louisiana, a few other solid color trends have emerged.

First, Pearl (or some close variant like Pearl Blue Glimmer or Slam Shady) seems to produce in a variety of situations and water clarity scenarios. White shows up well in dark or muddy water and isn’t too unnatural or loud in clear water. Most baitfish have white sides, so it appears natural most everywhere, and it stands out against dark mud bottoms while still creating a natural silhouette over light sand.

Second, baits with chartreuse tails simply work. A lodge owner in Louisiana once explained to me that this is because shrimp ‘light up’ in a chartreuse hue when chased, and I have personally noticed tails of baitfish like menhaden exhibiting a yellowish tint. I feel that part of this is the contrast between the body and tail and believe that gamefish key in on this contrast. Baits with bright tails work in both clear and muddy water. In clear water, I prefer a color with a clear body like Shrimp Po Body, while in stained water, a bait with a darker body color like Rootbeer/Chartreuse is a good choice. In the muddiest water, the Glow/Chartreuse color seems to show up best.

Finally, wherever you go, redfish like the color gold. Everyone knows that a simple gold spoon is a redfish staple, and for good reason. Having some baits littered with gold flake, like Golden Boy or the new Beer Run color, is always a good idea when reds are the target. The bottom line is that while colors matter, having a few different options for different water conditions, along with a few other favorites, is really all that’s necessary. Again, if what you’re using isn’t working, don’t be afraid to switch it up and try something different.