It is getting to be that time of the year again. Spring is in the air. March will bring warmer water temperatures as well as warmer weather. “March Madness” will not only being taking place on the hardwood in March it also will be occuring on the water welcoming the spring king fish run. When the gulf water temperature reaches 68-72 degree’s which is the optimum temperature for king fish get ready for some screaming reels when you meet up with these southern speedsters. The spring king fish run usually starts in March and runs through May. The best place to find king fish are wherever the bait is most plentiful. Usually this is near hard bottom, in the passes, or even right up next to the beach. If you are looking for a place to troll look for birds working on the surface diving into the water in search of baitfish. Pelicans are the bird of choice to watch for. They can be seen alot further away than gulls. Pelicans will feed deeper in the water.
Many times feeding birds will work just as well as your electronics if not better at times. They usually are a sure indicator that bigger fish are present feeding under the pods of bait . If you see bait showering on the surface even without bird activity go ahead and get your lines in the water and begin fishing. Baits tend to come to the surface when something bigger is eating them from below. In their frenzy to escape the predator the bait will break the waters surface causing it to shower up. If your fish finder screen lights up large clouds of bait begin trolling that area. King fish like any other wild animal tend to stay in an area where there is food. When that food moves so do the king fish. Troll your baits approximately twenty feet behind the boat for the closest bait or lure, and fifty to seventy five feet back for your furthest bait or lure. Try to avoid trolling two baits at the same length because they will tangle as you circle the school of bait. Stagger the lengths keeping your longer lines on the outside and the shorter line trolled from the center. Do not run over a school of bait. Stay on the outside of the school and circle them in order to catch the fish that are feeding on them. If you run through the bait you will split the school into two or three pods thus making them harder to follow.
Fishing is a great sport for families to spend some quality time together. Not all kids are created equal when it comes to sports, but fishing is different, and any youngster can learn the basics and catch fish. In fact, fishing is 20% knowledge and 80% luck. Let’s start with the basic tackle. A saltwater rod and reel combo can be purchased for under $40.00 at most tackle stores. Add a small tackle box, some hooks, sinkers, lures and swivels, all which can be purchased for under $50.00. For less than the cost of one football game, a family of four can get started for under $200.00. The next question is where do we go from here? That’s easy, because the Tampa Bay area has plenty of fishing piers both inside Tampa Bay and on the Gulf of Mexico.
Pier fishing is simple. Just pick an open spot, especially next to the guy catching fish (just kidding) and ask questions at the bait house. This could be your best source of information on what is biting and how to rig for them. Look for the anglers with wagons or small shopping carts converted to carry rods and tackle. These guys are what I call pier pros and they know their stuff. Fishermen are good-natured and most are always willing to extend a helping hand to get someone else started. Different baits are used for different fish. Trout, Mackerel, and Redfish prefer greenback sardines, and they can be caught using sabiki rigs or throwing a bait net. Cobia, Grouper and Tarpon prefer pinfish, and they can be purchased or caught using a small gold hook tipped with shrimp.
Sheepshead love fiddler crabs. When my kids were young this was a favorite of ours to catch. Fiddler crabs are those small quick running little crabs you see along the shore line on low tide. My kids really enjoyed chasing them down to catch them. There’re fast and run into holes they have burrowed in the sand. To catch one, first get a small, slender stick about six or eight inches long. Stand very still in the area of the holes and wait until a fiddler starts to poke his head. Place the stick behind the hole about three inches and place the other hand in front of the hole so when the fiddler is forced out he has nowhere to go except into your hand. It’s a great way to start the day. Surface feeding fish like Cobia, Mackerel and Tarpon can be caught by free lining your bait with the current.
Perhaps the greatest challenge to rookie saltwater anglers is understanding the importance of tidal flow, coupled with wind direction and velocity. Freshwater anglers accustomed to Trout streams or Bass lakes “up north” are frequently mystified the first time they book a guided saltwater trip. “I want to fish Charlotte Harbor next Thursday,” I once was told by a client. “Been hearing a lot about Bull Bay. Can we get out early? Maybe around seven and do a half-day trip?” “Let me check,” I replied. Then, “Nope. Thursday morning won’t work until at least nine.” “Why not? I LIKE fishing early in the morning.
I’m always on the lake first thing back home to avoid the crowds.” Which is easily-enough done “back home.” Anglers simply find an access point, get into the water, and have at it for as long as their casting arms hold out. “Down there,” I explained, “we’ll have a negative-low tide of six inches starting at 7:04 Thursday morning. That means the water will be half-a-foot lower than average. “On top of that, winds are forecast out of the northeast at 10 knots for Thursday. That means there just won’t be any water in Bull Bay. “Kinda hard to catch fish in dirt.” It got quiet then. “I, uh, don’t understand what you’re talking about,” he said next. “A lake is a lake, isn’t it?” “Yes,” I replied, “ but the water level in THIS lake rises and falls, sometimes twice a day. And Thursday morning it’s going to fall really low. Which means it’s highly unlikely we’ll catch any fish. “Of course, if you just want to take a boat ride and look at the scenery we can do that. If you want to catch any fish, though, we’d better not leave the ramp until at least nine.” The moral of this story, obviously, is that it’s critical to analyze what the tides and wind are doing to the area you plan to fish.
Probably the easiest way to start is by purchasing the Fishing Planner published by Florida Sportsman magazine, which provides the tides tables for every area in Florida. That will give you an immediate heads-up on the tide depth (or lack of it), along with the Master Tides times, along with the Correction Tables for your entire area. There have been many times when a planned trip to Little Sarasota Bay turned into a jaunt way south to El Jobean, for instance, because of time differences in the tides. The main point is to “stay ahead of the boat”—and the weather! Check the forecast frequently, and spend time in your favorite tackle shop asking questions if you’re unsure of conditions. Trust me, nobody will laugh at you for being cautious. If they DO, find another shop in which to hang out. An unproductive fishing trip is merely a minor inconvenience. Sinking your boat is bad. Having someone die is, well, just plain stupid.
Winter stayed away mostly this year. Of course they had some really cold snow storms up north and I’m glad I live in Florida. Even North Florida had plenty of cold this year we have been lucky on our lower Gulf Coast. Snook season opens on the First of March, finally. Redfish and trout will help provide fresh fish dinners. Mackerel and pompano are already moving in and should be abundant now. The big mackerel migrations are due any time along the Southwest Coast and could make it into the Tampa Bay area before the end of March. Grouper are closed in Federal waters, till mid month, and for most charter boats in state waters. Closures are a challenge to keep up with check with local Fish & Wildlife offices. Concentrate on snapper and macks offshore.
If the weather continues to cooperate we will enjoy some gear fishing now. Winds are expected now so we must work around them. Use weather forecasting to help plan your fishing trips. If you have some flexibility with setting up trips, use it. I frequently get the call from visitors wanting to go fishing tomorrow. Some times it works out; but repeatedly they failed to plan ahead. Tomorrow’s weather forecast is not for the warm south breezes you enjoyed today, its northwest at 15 – 25 with rain. I explain this and ask if they will still be able to go in a few days when we warm up again; “gee I wish we could but we leave day after tomorrow”. If you plan to go at the beginning of your trip, odds are good that you can get out some time in good weather while you are here. Down here we joke about our weather, “if you don’t like today’s conditions don’t worry it’ll be different tomorrow”. The atmosphere varies dramatically and temperatures can drop or increase by 20 - 30 degrees or even more in a few hours. Winds can increase in minutes and seas grow into dangerous waves in little more than a blink of your eye. Look at the tornados we had last month because of these big temperature changes in the mid West. Understanding of wind direction can help you determine where to rescue a safe days fishing. We can almost depend upon a warm windy day ahead of strong cold fronts. Plan to work an area protected in these south winds, if you can. Look at options that allow you to safely get to and from such areas. North winds are cold but can be productive because the barometer is usually still dipping and water temps are just starting to fall. Northeast winds are cold and a high steady barometric pressure; slow fishing, cold, and uncomfortable. When heading out on cold days allow the sun to warm the waters before starting out and fish late. Pre dawn starts can help out once we get into the warm summer weather. Fish live under water, so take the time to observe the animals you can see. If the birds are active this is a good time to fish, if they are napping catch up on boat work or just relax. Do not over think fishing, keep things simple. Just use the tools available to make life easier and enhance your catching odds. Sometime soon we will enjoy some awesome fishing. The timing depends upon the water temps. When to Gulf temps in your area approach seventy degrees you need to be ready; and it will be soon. Migratory schools of mackerel, sharks, and all of their schooling buddies will pop up. Baitfish will lead the schools north as waters warm up. East winds will draw these minnows ashore into our range. Some of our best king fishing is near shore with fresh northeast winds and warmer water. Note there are exceptions to general patterns. We had kings and tarpon off shore of Boca Grande into December last year so schools could be closer than usual. Be prepared, make up rigs, and change your gear ready. Snook opens on the First of March this year. Fish will begin to turn on early as water temps are close to the mid seventies already. Minnows are the easy way to catch spring snook if you can catch them. White baits have remained here all winter so far; let’s se if they stay when we need em. Lures are productive, especially when minnows are tough to catch. Learn to fish one or two lures successfully then move on to others. The trick is to take small steps master the knowledge and then apply the experience to new areas/lures. Reds and trout are beginning to get more active also. With tight snook slots look at other species too if you’re planning a fish dinner.
Q: What should I do before I bring my pet on board? A: Get a checkup, make sure vaccinations are up to date, carry a signed vaccination certificate and or health certificate, get a stool test to check for worms, check for heartworm and make sure the dog is on preventative medication. Make sure nails are trimmed and pads are in good shape.
Q: What should I carry in my pet's First Aid Kit? A: • Ears: Panalog Ointment • For Minor Scrapes: Panalog Ointment • Eyes: Eye washes or artificial tears. Triple antibiotic ointment without cortisone • Shampoo: Quality conditioning shampoo and crème rinse. When you can't give your dog a real bath use waterless shampoo or grooming. Or sprinkle on some baking soda and brush. • Hotspots: Panalog ointment • Nails: Bring a nail trimmer
Q: What should I do if my dog gets seasick? A: Once a dog gets sick it is too late to give pills. Start pills a day or two ahead. Begin with 1/4 of the adult dose of human remedies (Dramamine) and work upwards for individual pets. Pills may cause drowsiness and like with all human medications, double check with a veterinarian. Q: How do I check for heatstroke and what should I do? A: Rectal temperature is normally 101 to 101.5; temperatures of 105 to 106 can cause irreversible brain and nerve tissue damage. If this happens immediately immerse the pet in cold water and call your vet.
Q: What else should I do to prepare for boating with my pet? A: While on the boat: • Make sure the pet is always wearing a floatation device, preferably one with a handle so you can lift their head above water or help lift them out of the water. • Make sure dog had identification or has been micro-chipped • Put the pet's bed or bedding in a quiet area. • Carry a fresh water supply and keep water available at all times and avoid allowing your pet to drink the local water. • Carry enough food to cover the trip plus a couple extra days. Limit the dog's intake prior to the cruise. After 4-5 hours give your pet more food. • Medications: Make sure to carry a supply of any medications that your pet may be on. • Keep a long handled crab or fish net within grabbing distance on deck to retrieve small pets that fall overboard. • For cats hang a strip of carpet overboard in case they go overboard. They may be able to grab onto it and climb back up. • Exercise: Make sure your dog is exercised either by swimming or running around the deck. Bring floatable toys for the dog to play with and also chews. • When on land never allow your pet to roam off leash, never allow your pet to go visit with a strange dog. Clean up and properly dispose of any feces.
Backcountry fishing provides a special kind of tranquility that only shallow water fishing can provide. It is a world hidden deep in the mangroves where your GPS and fish finder will not come into play. Backcountry fishing, also referred to as flats fishing, is all about precision. There is something for everyone when it comes to fishing in Florida. If bluewater fishing is not your forte, and you want to avoid sea sickness at all cost, backcountry fishing is a true “get away from it all” adventure. If you are not up for a long offshore deep water fishing trip, backcountry fishing is for you. Backcountry fishing can be enjoyed by the entire family. More and more woman have gotten involved in this type of fishing, which is sometimes referred to as “skinny water” fishing. Being able to see the shoreline, and land in general, is a prerequisite of many anglers.
Backwater fishing is a good introduction to fishing in general. The pure beauty around you is enough to get your attention; catching fish is simply a bonus to an already perfect day in paradise. A fringe benefit of fishing the shallows is the scenery. You will witness ospreys, eagles, white pelicans, and spoonbills, as well as many other tropical bird species for no extra charge. You, the angler, have to do your best to not be distracted by all the beauty that surrounds you. The herons wading nearby or the pelicans and gulls diving to dip up their meal will at times get your attention. Dolphin and manatee, as well as alligators, will be among the many sights during your marine version of Jurassic Park. If you like the challenge of stalking and having to make a near perfect cast to a fish, you will be right at home in the backcountry shallow water.
Ladies can master this form of fishing just as well as their male counterparts. There is not a more relaxing form of fishing out there. Woman are often hesitant to go offshore to the deeper bluewater. The rough water sometimes encountered, as well as the travel time to reach your offshore fishing destinations, is not for everyone. I was recently able to go inshore fishing with a family who owns a 65 foot sportfishing boat. This particular family was used to catching Marlin and Swordfish, as well as Sailfish. An inshore slam was something they never had heard of. That was about to change. After reeling up Snook, along with some keeper Redfish, until their arms hurt, I do believe it is something they will definitely do more of in the near future. If you have been reluctant to even consider heading into the backcountry due to your boat’s draft, or maybe because you doubted there were really any fish up those creeks, you will be surprised at what you have been missing. There is a whole new world out there you have yet to explore. A large amount of water is unreachable by the casual angler, thus providing some of the best fishing you could ever wish for.
White Sands Marina of Sarasota is proud to announce their newest boat line. After months of searching, Marc Luft and Betty Hon have chosen the widely respected and J.D. Power top-rated Triton Boats. From 19' to 35' Triton offers the top-of-the-line bay boats to the awesome power of the 351 Express and 351 Center Console. The all new 281 CC is in stock and ready for the World Premier. This state-of-the-art “Baby 351” boast a 9'8" beam in a 28CC! Powered by twin 300hp 4-Stroke Suzuki’s featuring “Fly by Wire” shift, this speed demon is a must see and must drive. Also White Sands has the all new more affordable 22L TS series bay boats, with some scaled back options this Triton is priced so low you won't believe how affordable it truly is. Marc and Betty are awaiting the arrival of the all new 301 Express Triton. This express cruiser/fishing machine is what the west coast of Florida truly needs. A 30' boat with 10'10" beam deep Vee running with shallow draft. Aft cabin, luxury and as in all Triton’s, almost every option is standard. Speaking of standards, inspect each Triton below deck to see what quality looks like. From Corian counter tops to china heads to top-of-the-line sound systems, before you consider what you thought was a top brand, see the Tritons for yourself. As far as new models go, White Sands also carries World Cat and currently has the all new 290DC in stock. This first new boat from World Cat in five years is a huge cruise fishing machine. Also White Sands has the all new Azure line of deck boats by Bennington with Yamaha 4-Stroke power.
If you haven’t been out for a while, it’s worth the time to go to White Sands and see what Hi-Def in boating looks like. White Sands Marine is located at 5611 S. Tamiami Trail in Sarasota, just north of Clark Rd on US 41. The boat business is booming at White Sands Marine, as Betty Hon says, “We have the right boats that people are searching out, with the best ride at the best price.” Marc and Betty invite you in to see why they are so excited. Stop in or give them a call at 941-922-8700.
From Alaska to the Florida Keys, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans, from four inches of water to a hundred fathoms, Carolina Skiff boats are at home anywhere. Recently, Carolina Skiff found a new home in Southwest Florida by naming Manatee Mobile Marine as the latest Carolina Skiff dealer in Palmetto. Now, you to team with Manatee Mobile Marine and Carolina Skiff to customize your new boat to suit your individual lifestyle. Whether you need a pleasure boat, a fishing boat or a commercial work boat, you’ll find the boat that carries more weight farther, faster, with less horsepower and less fuel consumption. Carolina Skiff boats are built tough with the highest quality materials available and designed for style and performance. Choose from five distinctive hull designs ranging in size from 13 to 27 feet. It’s no wonder that Carolina Skiff is among the industry’s top boat builders and Manatee Mobile Marine the the top boat dealer in Southwest Florida.
Manatee Mobile Marine is the dealer for the Panga Boats and McKee Crafts and is located at 3806 U.S. 41 North in Palmetto. For prices and sea trials, call 941-722-1980 or 866-432-8570 or visit the web site at www.manateemobilemarine.com.
Easter is early this year; let’s see what our fish do with this crazy weather. All winter was warm and now we have winter in spring! Everything in spring fishing revolves around weather. March is supposed to roar in like a lion and go out like a lamb, so let’s see what she does? So far it’s huffed and puffed but it’s not over. Colder water temps have slowed the Snook down. Baitfish that were abundant on Boca Grande area beaches have been blown away by fifty mile per hour winds on the Eighth of the month. Some more should move in time, but it’s challenging until they do. Reds are OK and Trout pretty good. We have some fish, but recent Redfish tournaments have added extreme pressure to this fishery. Competitors fish hard for fifty grand with little consideration for other anglers too. You can not imagine the speed at which many race around our area; some run up as far as Tampa Bay and back for their fish. Pre-fishing destroys area Red fishing the week before a big event, plus fish are moved from natural areas to weigh-ins far away. I can not believe these events don’t prohibit pre-fishing like the Bass tourneys do? Anyway, Trout have saved several trips for us while it’s been cold. Pompano were here and some should be up by Tampa Bay now. My best bet now is to target Mackerel, if the winds allow. With a 15 fish limit on Spanish and two fish for Kings, you actually could have enough to share with friends and family. Best of all, both Macks are usually easy to catch.
Why fish crowds that scare fish when you join the easy fun? Our Snook fishing should be OK, but I’m just spoiled because I was able to enjoy the Boca Grande area since I moved down here in the early Eighties. No one else even used white baits then. Now the sea gulls flock all over if you try to chum minnows around Bull or Turtle Bays. Please try circle hooks on Snook if you want to see real improvement of their stocks. “j” hooks just kill too many valuable Snook. Watch out for the bottle-nosed Dolphin because they have learned to sit back and let you catch them dinner. It may look cute at first, but it’s not legal and decimates fish stocks fast. Fish are confused, so look for them everywhere. They got crazy with the warm and now cold waters. Lure might be a good way to start out because you can cover more water faster.
Enough about Reds; it’s challenging, but you’ll get a few Snook fishing anyway. Trout are dinner savers on cooler trips. They are bouncing back OK from those red tides of recent years. So far things are really looking up for the season and even a few Flounder are showing up again. Pompano were good around Boca Grande early March and more should move ashore up and down as this coast’s waters clear up after the blows. Many are already moving north, so be ready around Tampa Bay when you read this. I like the small custom Pompano jigs and Doc’s Goofy Jig styles. Try various colors because some days pink is hot, or green, or white, and even yellow. I rig ‘em tandem and try two colors at once. It helps figure out what they want today. If you want to catch a bunch of fish and show your kids or friends that you can catch ‘em, try the Mack Attack. Spend some time and money at a local tackle shop. Get acquainted with the staff and let them show you exactly what you need and how to set it up. Macks are smaller and lighter gear with smaller spoons or lures works. Kings get huge and you want stronger gear with some larger spoons and big lures. You will require wire for those Kings. Learn the correct way to haywire twist the coffee-colored wire. It will take some time, but you need to be prepared if you want to be successful. If you have trouble locating schools of hungry fish, look around for groups of boats with bent rods. Let ‘em help you, but please be considerate and don’t bite the hand that is feeding you. Troll around the edges and observe their patterns so you don’t disrupt them. Live minnows are great if you know where to catch ‘em and have the baitwell to hold ‘em; if not use hardware to get started.
Remember to carry extra ice for Macks because they need to be stored properly for your dinner. Try Captain Wilson Hubbard’s simple recipe: Put fresh Mackerel filet skin side down on foil, with Old Bay and Everglades seasoning added to your taste, under a red hot broiler for a few minutes. Remove and add a liberal coating of mayo, then watch closely until it starts to brown. Shut off oven and let the fish soak up the juices for a few minutes while you get everything else ready. Serve hot and enjoy. Get out and go fishing now. Like the old captain said, “if you’re to busy to go fishing, you’re just too busy.” Let’s Go Fishin’ soon. Captain Van Hubbard www.captvan.com
Tarpon were reported popping up off the beaches of Venice and Englewood unusually early this year—and it really wasn’t an April Fool’s joke. Even though they’ve become hard to locate recently, it won’t be very long at all until they’re greyhounding by the thousands across the nearshore water off Casperson, Grassy Point and Stump Pass. That means anglers have to be ready! Tackle is, of course, of paramount importance.
Migrating Tarpon come here from who-knows-where to spawn in the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico, about 100 miles offshore. These are fish that range from 100 pounds to nearly 200. Most of them caught are between 100 and 150. That means rods must be heavy-duty. Put away the flimsy sticks that did so well on Spotted Sea Trout or Bream all winter. Same for the medium or medium-heavy gear that whipped tailing Redfish or Snook under the lights. What we’re talking here is a “telephone pole” that has enough backbone to lift these prehistoric creatures to the surface. Speaking of “lifting,” be aware that the Fish and Wildlife Commission has changed the rules regarding “possession” of Tarpon. It’s now defined as “possession” if you even lift a Tarpon from the water to take photos. That requires a $50 Tarpon tag, or you might get handed a different sort of “tag” from your friendly FWC Officer. Speaking of “possession,” there is ABSOLUTELY NO REASON to ever kill a Tarpon. These wonderful animals can live as many as 80 years, and face myriad challenges from Barracuda, Mackerel, Cobia, and—ultimately—Hammerhead Sharks to survive even their first year of existence. Please don’t waste this incredible gamefish because of misplaced pride. Today’s reproduction mounts are far superior to any of the old-fashioned “skin mounts.” A local taxidermist can give you all the details.