I don’t know about ya’ll, but if I don’t get out offshore ever so often I tend to get slightly unpleasant. By UNPLEASANT I mean depressed, tired, moody, sick, and somewhat “completely unbearable,” as my wife might put it. I know that might sound a little crazy, but I love my offshore fishing. I can be on this pollutant-ridden land mass most call home for only so long before having to escape to the never ending expanse of blue water that cements the little bit of sanity left in us! Anyways, at the risk of sounding like a complete psycho, I am going to let you in on secret prescription for those days that are too rough to go offshore or, better yet, days when your wallet is not feeling quite fat enough to burn 200gal. of fuel at around four bucks a gallon. What I’m talking about is post-winter time Grouper and Snapper fishing in the bay on bridges, public reefs, reef balls, and those public numbers that come on your GPS that we all look past. As you have probably heard, the Snapper here in the bay from north of the Skyway all the way to Boca Grande Pass and further are described best as, EVERYWHERE! I am not talking about those little 5–8 inchers with occasional 10s either. I am talking about 2, 3, and 4lb (if not bigger) mean red hungry swarms of ferociously violent piranha-like Snapper ready to attack and kill anything that dares cross their bait-forsaken path! OK, maybe that was a little much, but they are big and do show up in these large red-looking boiling masses of 50–200 fish that sit behind your outboard like a scared school of pilchards offshore, and that's not an exaggeration.
In case you were not aware, as of last month we are once again legally allowed to anchor up within the previous limit of 100' of the Skyway bridge. I for one have definitely been taking advantage of this new allowance. When the bridge was previously off limits for anchoring it, for the most part, deterred a lot of weekend warriors as well as everyday regulars from fishing the bunks and rocks. So as you would expect, this little break gave all of the local fish plenty of time to recover and rebuild there numbers. The Snapper, Grouper, and Grunts, as well as the other little rock lovers, are now ready for round 2. I have had multiple 50 fish days and haven’t gone home empty handed yet! -tip- Keep the small baits you catch fresh. Most live wells are not able to support the small fragile sardines, threads and shiners. But it’s good to throw some of the bigger ones in to keep alive. What I do is fill a five gallon bucket almost full of the bait, layering ice in between every 5 or so inches, so the baits stay fresh.
As far as bait goes all you need is a ¼" mesh cast net to fill a five gal. bucket full of fry bait from the flats or from around the bait piers. Although that will suffice, some live pens and big shiners always pick up the slack when things are slow. When you’re figuring where to set the hook you should take the tide, lunar phase, and water temperature into consideration for the best action. On those faster tides you probably want to keep it a little shallower or on the back side of whichever way the tide’s moving, so you can fish the area that’s void of tide behind whatever you’re fishing, which is usually where the fish are holding anyways. If you have a bottom finder now would be a good time to turn it on. The Snapper are hanging off the bottom anywhere from 2-10 ft. They show up as a decent size ball usually holding around a good piece of rock or structure. When the water is clear though you can actually see them holing up in the water column. -TIP- Find your own piece of bottom. I can almost guarantee that if you take the time to drive around a little and find a piece of good bottom that’s up the Egmont Channel, or at least away from the obvious spots everyone fishes, you will find a better bite as well as better quality of fish. Also when you find those stray patches of bottom, they tend to hold more keeper Grouper.
BoatU.S. Angler is a membership program that’s part of the nation’s largest association of recreational boaters whose mission is to protect the interests of boat-owning freshwater anglers. With that in mind, it recommends that anglers should ask these five questions when shopping for insurance for their fishing boats: 1. Do you need an “actual cash value” or “agreed value” policy? If you have a claim, actual cash value policies take depreciation into account when reimbursing for a loss. For example, if your 12-year-old bass boat is totaled, you will be reimbursed for its current market value. Actual cash value policies are generally the less expensive option. On the other hand, agreed value policies are more expensive, but pay for repairs or replacement up to the value stated on the policy—except for a few specified items—regardless of the age or condition of the boat or equipment. 2. Is my fishing gear covered? Any fishing boat insurance policy should automatically include some type of coverage for expensive tackle. If the boat is trailerable and used in freshwater, you may find a policy that includes this coverage without any additional cost. 3. What is the fine print on using towing services? Some fishing boat insurance policies include on-the-water towing or roadside assistance service. The problem is that when you need to call upon these non-emergency services—such as an on-the-water gas delivery, a tow back to the launch ramp or roadside tow vehicle jumpstart—it counts against you as an insurance claim.
Find an insurance company that offers them but does not require you to file an insurance claim in order to use them. You shouldn’t be penalized when taking advantage of these valuable services. 4. Where can I go? Unlike car insurance that is good for every state you drive in, most boat insurance policies have what’s called “cruising areas” limiting where the policy is in force. Trailer your fishing boat outside those areas and you’ll need to call your insurer for an “extension” to ensure coverage remains in effect. Find an insurance policy that doesn’t put limits on where you can trailer your boat. 5. What about tournament coverage? If you fish tournaments, make sure you have the liability coverage required. What if you’ve paid your entry fee but miss the tournament due to a breakdown while trailering? Look for a policy that offers some type of reimbursement for your entry fee if trailering troubles or other covered losses prevent you from competing.
May has arrived and so have the Tarpon. This is the time of the year Tarpon hunters live for. Time to tango with a Tarpon. Tarpon season is in full swing. Anglers from all over the world come to Florida for some of the best Tarpon fishing in the world. Some anglers prefer to sight cast to pods of Tarpon on the beaches while others choose to fish the world-famous Boca Grande Pass for Tarpon. Tarpon can also be caught from other locations such as jetties, docks, passes, and rivers. Tarpon are one of the most sought after gamefish in the world. If you ever hook into one of these silver kings you will remember if for a lifetime. Tarpon put on quite an acrobatic display as they get some real air time when they explode out of the water once they are hooked up. Seeing this up close and personal gets your heart pounding as your rod bends over, so be ready to enjoy the ride of a lifetime A variety of baits are used when targeting Tarpon. The Tarpon crab, also known as a “pass crab,” is one of the baits of choice for many anglers and Captains. Squirrel fish are a popular bait in the Boca Grande Pass. Large threadfins as well as crabs are used as baits when aiming for Tarpon from the beaches. A certain bait may work better at certain times depending on such variables as tide flow, moon phase, location, and time of the day, as well as what the Tarpon seem to be feeding on that particular day.
Tarpon have an air bladder which allows them to absorb oxygen. You can see Tarpon on a regular basis come up to the surface and gulp air. When you see this happening for the first time your knees get weak and your adrenalin level rises. It is a magnificent sight. Tarpon have a mirror-like shine that comes off their diamond-plated bodies. Fishing for Tarpon can be a test of your patience as well as your discipline. There will be times you find Tarpon rolling all around the boat and you cannot get one of them to take your bait. At other times they seem to be in a feeding frenzy and will eat anything you toss in their direction. Usually the fish you see rolling will not be the fish that are feeding. You will need to cast your bait up ahead of the leader of the pod and let your bait sink below, where the bigger fish will not be able to resist such an inviting snack.
For recreational boaters, a simple fall overboard is the number one boating accident “event” that leads to the most fatalities. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that in 2006, 275 persons died in 721 boating accidents that began with or involved a fall overboard. While some of these accidents involved other factors, being able to quickly get back in the boat–without help–isn’t easy as a BoatU.S. Foundation test of 11 portable boarding ladders recently found. “A fall into the water can turn into a life-threatening situation very quickly,” said BoatU.S. Foundation President Ruth Wood, “It doesn’t take long for exhaustion or hypothermia to drain the life out of you. Boaters and anglers need to be prepared, especially if you are alone. It can happen to you.” While many larger boats have built-in boarding ladders, the Foundation tested portable models on a 17-foot Boston Whaler, 14-foot Jon boat, and 12-foot rigid-hull inflatable.
What follows are five important tips that will help ensure a fall overboard doesn’t become tragic. To see a complete report on the tests as well as video of the ladders in action that will help you select the right one for your boat, go to http://www.BoatUS.com/Foundation
1. Wear your life jacket. All of the BoatU.S. volunteers participating in the testing program wore a life jacket–before they voluntarily went over the side. All agreed that a fully clothed adult with no buoyancy would have difficulties attempting to get back aboard using any type of ladder.
2. You don’t need to spend lots of money for a functional boarding ladder. Testers found an affordable model fashioned from four-inch wide yellow webbing proved best. Simplicity also ruled the day as the highest-ranked ladders all had fewer than three steps. The ideal ladder length, measured from the water’s surface to the bottom rung, averaged 20 inches.
3. Some ladders work better with certain types of boats. Hard sides or soft? Low or high freeboard? Depending on a boat’s construction or deck layout, most ladders performed well with one particular kind of vessel, and did poorly with others. It’s important to match the ladder to the boat.
4. Before you head out, your boarding ladder needs to be positioned so it can be reached from the water. Also, attaching the ladder to the wrong spot on a narrow, lightweight boat can increase the chance of capsizing, especially if there is wave action.
5. Practice is a must. Many ladders were difficult to use on the first try. Take the time on a warm, sunny day to fine tune any adjustments, get in the water and use the ladder. Some ladders threw testers off-balance when weight was placed on them, causing the device to swing underneath the boat. Only practice solved this problem.
The BoatU.S. Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit education and research organization primarily funded by the voluntary contributions of the 650,000 members of BoatU.S. The Foundation operates more than a dozen programs including the only accredited, free, online general boating safety course, a low-cost EPIRB rental program, the “Help Stop the Drops” national clean fueling campaign, and a free kid’s Life Jacket Loaner Program. It has awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants for nonprofit groups for boating safety and environmental projects.
This month we’re going to take a look, at not a fish, but at a mammal that can really wreck a good day of fishing—or at least a good spot! I’m sure you know who I’m talking about… Flipper, that’s right, the Florida porpoise. It is what I believe to be the epitome of a love-hate relationship. You cannot help but love them, yet at the same time you abhor what they do as they swarm the area you’re fishing and kill the bite, as well as steal the fish, often right off your line! Amongst others, the previous three fishing trips I did in the bay for a little Snapper action proved to be more of a challenge than usual.
I experienced an unexpected rendezvous with the crooks that led a full-out assault mission on my plans of fried Snapper for dinner. Now don’t get the wrong idea and think that I’m saying I have the sole right to harvest the fish that are in their habitat, because that is not the case. All I’m saying is that these dolphin are ruthless! We were out on this particular day catching 2-5 pound Snapper, as well as a couple of keeper Gags here and there, releasing most of them. But our mission quickly became a quest to fill the cooler, seeing as they were meeting the same fate no matter what. EVERY fish, and when I say every, I mean EVERY fish we released might as well been handed over to the dolphins on a silver platter. In fact, we pulled anchor and left after about the sixth or seventh fish was stolen straight off the line. The dolphin would take the fish before we even had the chance to decide whether it was a keeper or not.
The dolphin are not picky eaters either—they took Snapper, Grouper, Seabass, Mackerel, and Jacks, all with the same merciless attack. The fish didn’t stand a chance, often succumbing to the double-teamed assault. It’s just not fair—they’re out-sized and out-numbered! The only thing we could do was step up the tackle (which lessened our hook up ratio), and reel like there was no tomorrow. For a little while, we were actually pulling the fish so hard and fast across the surface it seemed as if they were just oversized top-water lures. Occasionally the dolphin would have our fish within seconds of the hook set. They never got a hook in their mouths, though. You could actually watch them grab the fish by the tail and just swim off until the hook bent. Porpoises have an amazingly strong and powerful bite, and once they have your catch there is no getting it back. As for the undersized fish we caught that needed to be released… well, let’s just say that it was a short swim to the bottom… of Flipper’s stomach. The only chance for the undersized fish to make it was if they instantly took off towards the rocks, carefully eluding the porpoise by taking refuge in the crevices of the rocks at the bottom.
The dolphin are tricky as well. Sometimes they would stay under for a lengthy period of time, making us think that they had gone to plunder helpless Snapper elsewhere. But then, to our surprise, just as soon as we thought it safe to fish and hook up, they would be right there, ready to eat! As for my advice on how to beat them…you can’t, and it’s not worth the effort. Just move! As always, Good Tides and Tight Lines! Trever Flathman
Boating with young children isn’t really all that different from putting them in the car and going out to the playground or swim park. You must have a process for preparing, traveling and enjoying your destination. You must use safety gear and take precautions. And you must be vigilant while still giving them their own space to operate and learn. The most important thing for you to have is a positive attitude. Before your child ever sets foot onboard you need to “childproof” it, just as you would if you were visiting the home of someone who is childless: basically, stow everything that’s breakable or dangerous. Winches, windlasses, ropes, gear boxes, ground tackle and other topside equipment should be out of reach, battened or otherwise secured.
Make sure all safety gear, such as EPIRBS, flares, and flare guns, are up out of a child’s reach—but never locked away—just in case you need them. Areas where ropes and halyards are located should be off limits, since it’s easy to trip or to get a foot or hand wrapped up or caught. Investing in a good lifejacket or life vest with an age-appropriate design is a must. Look for one with a collar that turns the child face up in the water. Look for strong waist and crotch straps, and a handle on the collar. It should have a plastic safety whistle and you should practice your toddler in its use. (Take the child with you when you buy the lifejacket; it will help with sizing and it will get them involved.) That said, have a realistic approach to safety. They’re still the same kids you have at home, so expect the same behavior.
Establish clear, enforceable rules and set boundaries for your kids. They need to be safe, but they also need to have a good time so that they will want to share boating with you in the future. From here on out, making the trip enjoyable is just "Parenting 101." • Bring lots of fluids, particularly water and fruit juices. Remember baby bottles and/or sippy cups, and extras, just in case. • Pack snacks that are not too salty or too sweet. Fruits and granola bars are great. Bring some not-too-salty crackers or, better yet, ginger snap cookies, which can help settle queasy stomachs. Ginger ale is good for this, too. • Your diaper bag (or substitute a daypack) is a must. Pretty much you want to bring one extra of everything you’d normally carry: a full change of clothes, diapers, any lotions or creams, and wipes—bring plenty of those. They’re great onboard for everything, since freshwater is limited. Bring plastic bags to keep wet things away from dry things. Make sure you bring a hat, sunscreen and sunglasses, as well as a jacket in case it turns cool.
ou’ll probably also want to stash a rain poncho aboard. • Remember that your young one may not be riveted by the waterfront mansions or sunset like you are. Bring crayons and drawing paper, and toys that can take the dampness. Bath toys are excellent choices, as are bathtub books, which fare better than paper books.
Few boat owners or anglers with fishing boats think about their boat trailers until something goes wrong. But this out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude unfortunately leads to problems that a little planning and attention could have helped prevent. Mike Pellerin, director of BoatU.S. Angler, which offers both on-the-water and on-the-road assistance to its members, says that even the best boat trailers, without regular maintenance, may develop problems due to the stresses caused by rough roads and owner neglect. In 2007, the BoatU.S. 24-hour dispatch centers reported the top five reasons for boat trailer service calls and their frequency of occurrence: · Flat tires (44%) · Bearing problems (20%) · Axle problems (14%) · Suspension problems (9%) · Tongue problems (5%) Does this mean today’s boat trailers aren’t well made? “Boat trailers are better than ever,” said Pellerin. “However, because they are constructed so well, boat owners tend to overlook things such as checking tires for wear and forgetting to grease wheel bearings. Driving over the unavoidable rough patches and potholes contributes to early trailer or tire failure.” Many national roadside assistance clubs do a great job helping stranded motorists. But when it comes to boat trailer breakdowns, boaters need to know that their “auto” club may not be their best option because boat trailer assistance often isn’t included. When that happens, boats are left stranded on the side of the highway while their owners seek help. However, most such auto/RV clubs will provide boat trailer assistance for a small additional premium. So will most auto/RV insurance providers, as well as the four major marine emergency/tow programs from BoatU.S., Sea Tow, Vessel Assist, and NBOA. A little extra paid now can prevent a huge expense and a whole lot of hassle later. Whether you buy an assistance program or not, the best thing to do is provide regular inspection and maintenance of your trailer just like you do your auto and other vehicles. From BoatU.S. www.boatus.com
It was more than 10 years ago when I bought my first boat in Florida. A good friend, who's been guiding out of Fort Myers for many years, found it for me. "It's a real plain-jane," he said, "but it'll get you around to learn the water and you'll never get hurt ‘cause it doesn't go fast enough. Besides, you'll always get your money out of it." Know what? He was right on all counts. Mostly because I was just smart enough to ask for advice. Such as: "Dave, how much anchor line should I have?" "Oh, 200 feet," he immediately replied. "Really," I said, chuckling. "How much anchor line should I have." Dead serious he said, "Oh, about 200 feet. See, there were these guys in a small boat like yours who were fishing in the Gulf. When it was time to come home they couldn't get the motor started and they were in water too deep for their short anchor line. "Four days later they washed up some place in Mexico." Oh! I used that little boat for four years. I drove it all over Charlotte Harbor, went night Snooking, and explored waaaay up the Myakka River amid gators that were positively scary. And I learned safe boating as well as where to fish.
What I was told many years ago about wading unfamiliar Trout streams is just as true for novice boaters: "When in doubt—don't." But, common sense is in short supply sometimes. During the years since my indoctrination to south Florida flats and backcountry fishing I managed to acquire a Captain's license. I've guided an awful lot of anglers on my boat, of course, but also give "lessons" to newbies on their own boats. Recently, one of them confidently assured me that he didn't need an anchor "because I just drift the flats." "Well," I said, "let me tell you about a time when the ignition switch on my boat decided to die just when the winds started blowing 25 and I was heading aground on Long Bar up in Sarasota Bay. "I had two clients aboard, and it wasn't looking good. I dropped anchor as soon as I cleared the channel, and a friend came to my rescue. I transferred my clients to his boat and he towed me back to the 10th Street ramp.
Since Central Florida Trolling Motors opened in 1982, they have seen the trolling motor lines increase to keep up with the digital technology that is available. In the past few years an increase in power and performance has been offered to the trolling motor consumer. The trolling motor choices now range from a 12V, transom mount system, suitable for any small craft, to the 36V models. Some of the larger motors now offer wireless remote controls, a lever to easily stow/deploy the unit, and a built-in sonar transducer. There are a few things to consider when purchasing a new trolling motor, so that the unit you purchase will provide the performance you want: • Your boat size and type • The type of fishing you usually prefer • Additional features to meet your fishing needs It is better to choose a motor with a higher thrust rating to compensate for environmental conditions, such as wind or currents that add extra resistance to the boat. The motor series and the shaft size will depend on the boat size and the type of water in which you will use it. Each line starts with a freshwater and saltwater series; then the other features are built on the motor from that point. The other basic decisions include hand/foot controls and bow/transom mount. After that, it is time to choose from the variety of features and accessories that will enhance the trolling motor’s performance. After the purchase of a new trolling motor, there is some simple preventative maintenance that will keep the motor running strong. After each fishing trip, check behind the propeller and remove any weeds or fishing line that maybe wrapped around the propeller shaft. This alone could save on costly repairs from stress on the lower unit. Also, it is a good idea to check the prop nut occasionally for tightness. Another tip to help keep the trolling motor performing at its top speed is to lube any pivot points on the unit. This can be done with any non-aerosol lubricant. This will help to prevent dirt and grime to build up and keep things running smoothly. It is also a good idea to purchase a spare prop, prop nut and pin, in case of loss or damage on the water. A knowledgeable dealer can help navigate the variety of choices, to find a trolling motor that will suit your fishing and boating needs. William L. Phillips Central Florida Trolling Motors www.centralfloridatrollingmotor.com
Tarpon are still a major target species thru July and August. We do have several other options if you want fresh fish for your dinner; redfish, trout, permit, snapper and Spanish Mackerel are offered. Snook are ready to fool around with if you want catch and release action. Our weather is hot now so start out early and beat the heat. Also be careful in the evenings: it’s the rainy season and we get dangerous thunderstorms. Tarpon may require some effort to locate after the intent pressure of the prime season; but the crowds will be gone after the Fourth of July. Most of the locals work together; our “coconut telegraph” and cell phones help us stay on the schools of fish. Since many fish showed up late this year I expect good catching to linger indefinitely. We still have new schools of fish migrating in as I put this together. Crabs are difficult to even buy this season, but “pass crabs” work also. It should change but God only knows. Rains usually push pass crabs from the rivers downstream to hungry tarpon. T
he Boca Grande Pass will still hold concentrations of silver kings but sharks can spoil this fishing as it has in recent years. The sharks are chummed up by the lighter gear employed by the out of town fisherman and accustomed to eating tarpon during the day while they control the “Pass” in season. Sharks have even run the fish outside the Pass, when the mono crowd goes home. If sharks are eating your tarpon please stop and go shark fishing instead; or move on to other areas. The big secret to real tarpon fishing is simple take your time and make your efforts count. Observe the fish until you understand their movements, do not charge in and screw em up. Set up to present your baits or lures naturally ahead of the movement. Happy fish feed much better than scared fish. We frequently hook up on our first cast because the fish are unruffled and we do not push them. It’s hard to stalk fish if you are not properly equipped. Electric motors make repositioning possible close to fish. If you crank up a combustion engine too close it spooks fish! As you look for fish try to travel inshore or offshore of the path fish are using. You will not make friends of other anglers by scaring fish for miles as you travel on the path of fish movements. Your lack of knowledge still scares the fish! Enjoy this wonderful opportunity. Ask for help before you step on toes and most of us are glad to help if we can at the time. Also just stay back and watch a real pro work fish, the key is to anticipate fish movements. You can learn from experienced anglers with out messing up their trip. No one was born an expert, we all paid our dues gaining experience and do enjoy helping anyone that respects us and the fish.
Redfish are not thick but around. Trout are rebounding well from the “05 & 06” red tides. Both will benefit from the abundant spawn of baitfish we have now. Minnows are tiny but will grow rapidly. You will need your smallest mesh net or learn a hard lesson about gilling fish. Some are so small they gill in a glass minnow mesh. Use corks to help cast these tiny baits. Size down on hooks and rigs also. Look for fish around the bait masses. Permit can vary in size but can make your day if you are prepared to catch them. They like shrimp or crabs. Some can be found near shore but most larger ones are on the wrecks. Snapper are fattening up fast on those minnow schools also. You’ll need to go light here. Use fluorocarbon and small hooks. Circle hooks are required in Federal waters but recommended inshore also. Reel before you pull; they do work. Spanish are around the passes and scattered on artificial reefs too. We like the tiny minnows here. Dead or alive they work just set out a chum bag and let it work for you. Use 30 or 40 pound mono or fluorocarbon here. Light long shank hooks are perfect. You will get cut off bring extra. Try to concentrate on tide changes or slow tide days. Current flow can be so fast it scatters your chum too far to fast. Carry plenty of ice cuz it’s hot and fish need to be kept cold. Fishing is fine if you work with Mother Nature. Please use caution with those evening thunderstorms; safety first. Let’s go fishin’ soon. Capt. Van Hubbard Past President of Florida Guides Association and Winner of 1999 Mote Marine Award firstname.lastname@example.org