Coastal Angler Magazine | January 2021 | North Central Florida/Nature Coast Edition

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NORTH CENTRAL FLORIDA/NATURE COAST EDITION

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Wintertime

SHEEPSHEAD

ON KITES!

BIG FISH FOR YOUR

BUCKET LIST PHOTO CREDIT: ERIC HUFFMASTER VOLUME 26 • ISSUE 310

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O P P O R T U N I T I E S

A V A I L A B L E

JANUARY 2021

W O R L D W I D E


GO FROM FISH TO WAKE TO DAD OF THE YEAR IN THE SAME AFTERNOON.

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This Is the End

The U.S. Silver Dollar Is About to Change...Forever!

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ach year, millions of collectors and silver stackers around the word secure freshly struck American Eagle Silver Dollars. Minted in one Troy ounce of 99.9% pure U.S. silver, these legaltender coins are perhaps the most widely collected silver bullion coins in the world... and they’re about to change forever.

Final Release of Original Silver Eagle Design

Since 1986, the design of the “Silver Eagle” has remained unchanged: Adolph A. Weinman’s classic 1916 Walking Liberty design paired with former U.S. Mint Chief Engraver John Mercanti’s stunning eagle reverse. But in mid-2021, the U.S. Mint plans to replace the original reverse. This initial release is the FINAL appearance of the U.S. Silver Eagle’s original design! $27 $26 $25 $24 $23 $22 $21 $20 $19 $18 $17 $16 $15 $14

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AN AMBITIOUS 2021

BUCKET LIST

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By Gary Turner

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his year has not been my best fishing year. I did end up doing a little fishing, just not nearly as much as usual. So, this is the list of fish I want to catch in 2021. Some of these will not be very impressive to some of you, but some of them might seem worthy of adding to your own bucket lists. Here is my list, in no particular order: 1) Swordfish: With my friend Jimmy Dean’s help, I hope to land a swordfish out of the West Palm Beach area. This will not be easy, but hopefully I can get a shot or two. 2) Salmon Shark: This smaller cousin of the great white weighs up to 1,000 pounds and can measure 10 feet long. I plan to fish out of Resurrection Bay, Seward, Alaska. As of right now, I don’t have a captain selected, so kindly e-mail recommendations. 3) Halibut: I’m hunting a halibut heavier than 300 pounds. This will also most likely be out of Seward, Alaska. I have several friends who fish out of Seward for halibut, and it might take several years to find this fish, but every halibut is an adventure. 4) Blue Catfish: I would like to catch a 100-pounder or better. I like the Tennessee River in the Guntersville area for good odds of making this happen. 5) Snakehead: Why? Because I’ve never caught one. The Miami area is where I plan to look for these fish. 6) Oscar: I’d like to catch a very large Oscar. I love these fish, and years ago I used to raise them. The fact that they grow wild and big in south Florida makes me want to catch them, and they are supposedly very tasty. 7) Alligator Gar: This is a trip I have talked about for years and haven’t

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been able to pull off. A friend and I have talked about fishing for giant alligator gar, so I just have to get out to the Trinity River in Texas to make it happen. 8) Tarpon: I have caught tarpon but never one of great size. Hopefully, on one of my trips to Florida, I will catch the right time and place and make it happen in 2021. 9) Bluefin Tuna: This one might be on the list for a few years, but I’m giving it more and more thought. A friend has been telling me about catching tuna in the Prince Edward Island area. The more we talk, the more I want it. My other choice of locale is North Carolina. 10) Goliath Grouper: I’d like to reel one up and take some awesome pictures before release. Again, this is a Florida trip. I have several friends who want to do this, too, so it should be a great trip. That’s my list for now. If you have time, email me and tell me about your list for 2021. Contact Gary Turner through email at gary@purgeright.com.

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THE TENDENCIES OF

BIG TROUT PHOTO COURTESY OF KNOCKIN TAIL LURES.

By Capt. Michael Okruhlik

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ow that we are in the clutch of winter’s grip, let’s talk about how if affects speckled trout and what you need to do to catch them on the coldest of days. Several years ago, I fished a south Texas trip with my brother and brother-inlaw. We planned it with one thing in mind and one thing only: big speckled trout! As luck would have it, the coldest front of the year blew in the day before our three days of fishing began. We had anticipated a wade-fishing event on muddy bottom in waist-deep flats, but with the water temp at 38 degrees when we reached our spot, we had to adjust. The muddy shallows were no longer waist deep as the tide was blown out by stiff north winds. They were also void of visible baitfish. With hands so cold they refused to move without assistance, we decided to grind it out in a deep channel in the vicinity of our original spot. When most would have stayed in the hotel, we decided to give it a try since we had driven hours to get there. We threw slowsinking lures and soft plastics on a jighead. When we decided to call it a day, we had one small red and an 8-pound trout, which made it all worthwhile. Anytime I see a fish of that magnitude, it doesn’t matter what else was caught. On day two, the weather warmed only slightly, but the wind had died down considerably. Rather than make the long run to mostly barren grounds, we decided to fish closer to the ramp in an area with multiple deep dead-end channels in close proximity to each other. In these channels, we bounced soft plastic off the bottom and had a banner day. The three of us easily landed 40 to 50 trout. Most of these fish were solid 2- to 4-pound fish with a few 5- and 6-pounders and one heavier than 7 pounds. The bite was very subtle, and the jig had to be on the bottom. The sun came out in the afternoon, and the water began to warm considerably. The wind also shifted to the south, and the evening temps didn’t drop nearly as low as they had been. The next day we went back to the exact same location and only caught a few trout. The lesson from this trip is the trout don’t want to be in those dead-end channels, but that’s where they need to be during cold snaps. They did not go in to feed; they were there to survive. Once they knew the threat of the freeze was over, they left and went back to the open bay. Although these canals can be a great place to fish when it’s cold, timing is everything. Capt. Michael Okruhlik is the inventor of Knockin Tail Lures, Controlled Descent Lures, and the owner of www.MyCoastOutdoors.com.

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THE ALTERNATIVE TO BUYING A NEW BOAT

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Re-Discover Old Florida

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You Probably Need A

JACKPLATE By Bernie Schultz

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ydraulic jackplates can vastly improve the performance of your bass or flats boat—both at the top end and in the ability to run shallower. They can even improve the ride. A simple touch of a switch allows the operator to raise or lower the outboard engine while under power, at any speed. Combine that with the engine’s power trim and you’ll realize advantages beyond the obvious.

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When dealing with vast, shallow flats, covering water is required to find fish. Idling with the main engine, rather than using the trolling motor, makes more sense. But without a jackplate, you have to trim the engine up, which squats the stern and bogs the engine down, making maneuvering difficult. It also adds disturbance in situations requiring stealth. With a jackplate, you can raise the engine and adjust the trim to give the boat a flatter attitude. This improves maneuverability and allows increased idle speed with less disturbance. The ability to raise the engine also allows you to plane off in much shallow water. A trick I learned from fishing saltwater flats is to take advantage of the clockwise rotational lift of a spinning prop. By turning the steering wheel all the way to the left, (which puts the leading edge of the skeg facing right, the same direction of the prop’s clockwise rotation) you realize added lift when applying full throttle. This kicks the stern around and throws a small wake, which provides a slight increase in water depth for the prop to bite. With the engine cocked at an angle, bottom contact is minimized. As the hull begins to plane, gradually lower the engine to submerge the water pickup.

Digging Deeper Hydraulic jackplates also enhance performance in deep water. Because they set the engine farther from the transom, it increases the overall length of the boat. This is good, especially in rough conditions. But the biggest advantage is additional leverage. Dropping the jackplate and tucking the engine under greatly improves handling in choppy water. This forces the bow down to create a flatter ride.

Need for Speed Jackplates can also add top-end speed with better handling. By lifting most of the lower unit out of the water, you minimize torque at the wheel and decrease drag. Add a bit of trim and the bow will lift while increasing speed. The trick is finding just the right height and trim to reach ideal RPMs while maintaining sufficient water pressure. Every boat is different, so it may take tweaking. There are a number of quality jackplates, including CMC, SeaStar, Bob’s Machine Shop and T-H Marine. I run a 12-inch Atlas by T-H Marine. Most brands offer a console gauge to monitor engine height, but they won’t tell you if your water pickup is submerged and functioning. For that you’ll need a reliable water pressure gauge. Believe me; you can fry your engine if you jack it so its starved for water. Follow Bernie Schultz on Facebook and through his website at www.bernieschultzfishing.com.

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Covering Water:

Anglers tend to think covering water is reserved for boat anglers who drift or troll, or for anglers casting artificial lures. There is a general failure to recognize the immense potential for covering lots of ground with natural baits, and this doesn’t just apply to freelined live baits, either. Chunk baits, whole dead baitfish, worms and shellfish baits can be manipulated to get the most out of the water you’re fishing; it just takes a few refinements to your approach. Unfortunately, most anglers employ a standard, inefficient procedure when fishing these “passive” bait items, and this serves to limit their success. It consists, simply, of an angler casting the bait out as far as he or she can, letting it sit for a while where it lands, and then retrieving it all the way back only to re-bait and repeat the process. The tactic fails entirely to cover any of the fishable water between where the cast lands and where the angler is positioned. The solution to this is simple: cast a bait out as you normally would, let it sit a few minutes, and then retrieve it 5 or 10 yards to let it sit a few minutes more. Repeat this, allowing the bait to sit for a few minutes at intervals until the bait is at your feet. This staggered retrieve will put your bait in many different positions during a single cast, ensuring you thoroughly cover the area in front of you as opposed to only one point at the end of your cast. Apart from being a devastating search tactic, there is an added benefit for those using rigs with sinkers—you can actually feel the bottom contour as you retrieve. This allows you to identify fish-holding structure such as holes and bars. When your sinker “falls off ” an edge, leave your bait there a moment longer—this might be just the type of deeper, more stable habitat fish By John Saporito crave when the thermometer takes a plunge. Self-anchoring sinkers, such as pyramids or the Hatteras variety, are especially effective at grabbing onto edges and other types of bottom contour. Don’t sell yourself short when fishing natural baits. To find gamefish that are hunkered down during cold spells, you have to bring the bait to them. Ditch the sand spike, employ your bait as an active offering, and put the entire ater temperatures are headed toward their annual valley, and length of a cast to work for you. Do this, and you can keep a bend in your rod that means most of our favorite gamefish will be transitioning no matter what the thermometer is telling you. to their winter patterns. Their metabolisms will slow down and, accordingly, they will become far less active. This makes covering water more John Saporito is a lifelong fisherman and student of the seas. important in winter than during most other times of the year. Visit him online at guerillaangling.com. PHOTO BY RUTH HARTNUP/FLICKR.COM

NOT JUST FOR LURE ANGLERS

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ith 11 sailfish releases, Capt. Brian Cone, aboard his charter boat Contagious, led anglers to the winner’s circle at the 57th Annual Islamorada Sailfish Tournament Dec. 4-6. While COVID-19 restrictions were in place at the Whale Harbor kick-off, the sailfish didn’t practice social distancing on the water. Over three days of fishing, 90 sailfish were released out of 103 hookups. More than $90,000 was paid to winners, and Contagious, with anglers Mark Mitchell and Kenneth Padgett, from Charleston, N.C., Travis Bennett and Andy Cone, from Tavernier, Fla., and Greg Tolpin from Key Largo, Fla., took home $42,390 and sailfish sculptures sponsored by Caribee Boat Sales and Yamaha Outboards. The first Keys cold front of the season greeted 98 anglers fishing on 21 boats. At the end of day one, 32 sailfish were released. Cloud Nine led with five fish. Day two started early for Tackle Center, as Capt. Charlie Scoble called in a triple-header at 8:42 a.m. Tackle Center released two of its fish quickly, but the third fish was not so easy. The fleet released 11 other sails before Donny Lange released the third fish of Tackle Center’s triple-header at 10:12 a.m. At the end of the day, Tackle Center led with eight releases, followed by Contagious with six and Cloud Nine with five. The final day of fishing was calm and cloudy. Contagious picked at the sails all day to release five more. Contagious angler Travis Bennett released five of their 11 total to win the Bill Hirni Highpoint Angler award and a Sammy Milazzo painting. Andy Cone, 10, took first in the junior division with three releases. Tackle Center anglers Donny and Brad Lange along with Jeffery Dickman and Fritz Zeher, all from Tavernier Fla., took home Tackle Center of Islamorada-sponsored second-place trophies with a total of nine releases. With Capt. Justin Baker at the helm, the Yellow Tale edged out Cloud Nine by one fish on the final day. Anglers Clarke and Phil Harlow, Patrick Nutt, Nick Caito, Ken Stiles and Eric Turnoff, all from Ft. Lauderdale, along with Islamorada’s Jimi “The Worm” Fickling, released seven sails for third place. Debbie David, of Hollywood, Fla., fishing aboard Capt. Paul Ross’s Relentless, released three sailfish for Top Lady Angler. Also aboard Relentless, second- and third-place Junior Angler awards went to Laurel David with two releases and Christopher David with one. The Challenger took home most tagged fish team awards with four tagged sailfish. The largest tuna, a 24-pounder, was caught by Mike Slocum, of Philadelphia, Penn., fishing aboard the Last Dance. Mike also weighed in the largest Dolphin at 9.8 pounds. The Largest Mackerel Award went to Michael Varney, from Tavernier Fla., with a 26.6-pound Kingfish. The Islamorada Sailfish Tournament is the first leg of the Florida Keys Gold Cup Sailfish Championship. The next leg of the series is the Islamorada Fishing Club’s Captains Cup Sailfish Tournament on Jan. 20. Champions will be crowned during the Cheeca Lodge and Spa Presidential Sailfish Tournament Jan. 23-24. For more information, visit www.islamoradasailfishtournament.com.

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MEETING

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lorida certainly has its share of rare and endangered animals—panthers, Key deer, seaside sparrows, caracaras and crocodiles, to name a few. But topping that list in popularity is the manatee—Florida’s answer to Australia’s koala bear. Somehow, these 10-foot, 1,000-pound, pudgy animals with leathery, whiskery skin come across as warm and cuddly. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not mocking them. I know, just looking at them, that given the chance, I’d want to pet them or scratch them behind the ears… if they had ears. Of course, touching manatees is prohibited by federal law, but I can dream. I’m not sure how something without ears can be cute, but they are! Yes, swimming with manatees has long been on my bucket list. It has stayed unchecked—not for lack of desire, but because it’s too easy. Crystal River, manatee capital of the world, is only a few hours drive away. Bucket list items should require meeting some real challenges, not just hopping in

16 FLORIDA

JANUARY 2021

PHOTO BY ANDREA WHITAKER

By John Lidington

the car with snorkel gear. This year I’m going to do it. With covid introducing a lot of uncertainty into international travel, now is the time to pursue adventures locally. Swimming with manatees has moved to the top of the queue, and Pura Vida Divers’ 2021 Manatee Trip will give me the perfect opportunity to check it off. Having run these trips for years, they have the logistics for the weekend down. This year’s trip will run Jan. 22-24, right in the middle of manatee season. Manatees are sensitive to cold, and can’t tolerate prolonged water temperatures below 68 degrees. So, in the winter months they congregate in the 72-degree water flowing from the springs feeding the Crystal River. The Plantation at Crystal River is the base of operations. This very comfortable, waterfront resort on Kings Bay offers direct access to the Kings Bay Manatee Refuge, where the federal government allows “passive observation” of manatees. It’s right where the action is. The trip runs manatee encounters on two mornings. After Friday checkin, everyone wakes early on Saturday, grabs a hot breakfast, then heads to the waiting boats. With proper winter conditions, several hundred manatees often gather in the refuge. Law forbids harassing them, so they’ll have to come to me. While manatees are shy animals, some can be quite curious. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Saturday continues with a light lunch, then an afternoon snorkel/SCUBA trip down the Rainbow River. (Obviously, a Palm Beach County shop can’t run a trip without at least one drift dive.) Saturday evening, many participants opt for the group dinner, where they can get together and recount the day’s adventures. Sunday is a reprise of Saturday morning—early wake-up, hot breakfast and off to more manatee encounters. Returning to the Plantation, it’s time to check out and make a big, bold check mark on my bucket list. On the drive home, I might even figure out why ugly can be so lovable. Join Pura Vida Divers’ 2021 Manatee Trip by calling 561-840-8750 or e-mailing travel@puravidadivers.com.

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FLORIDA 17


NEVER V

Haddon By Capt. Quinlyn

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lthough colder weather might have you ready to for a voluntary quarantine, there is a great winter fishery out there waiting to celebrate the New Year with you. Here on Florida’s Gulf Coast, cool water temperatures have changed habits of many fish species. The same fish that would have skyrocketed on your lure during summer are loafing around looking for easier, slower-moving prey. It is important to adjust the presentation of bait and the speed of lures. Whether you are targeting sheepshead, trout, snook, redfish, hogfish, flounder or grouper, one of the best investments you can make for January fishing is shrimp. It is reliably obtained this time of year, and all of the sought-after winter species eat it. Smaller jigheads are a great way to fish shrimp, whether freelined under a dock, under a bobber over deep pockets in channels and flats or up under the mangroves. Between the weather and harvest closures we’ve experienced due to red tide, anglers will have to work harder to fill coolers this January. While hogfish are always in season and are easy to catch this month, the quickest meat-hauls right

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now are sheepshead and stone crabs. Stone crab season is open until May 1, and it’s a fun way for recreational fishermen to bop out on the water for a quick grocery trip. Regulations changed this season, so check the latest FWC guidelines. A notable change is the increase of harvestable claw size from 2 3/4 inches to 2 7/8 inches. Fish are affected by cold, and fishermen also have to adjust. Dressing for being on a boat all day in January can be little tricky. Even getting slightly wet in bone-chilling wind can ruin your day… without the right gear. The most important investment for winter fishing is a pair of slickers and good boots. You won’t even have to leave your fuzzy wuzzy pajama pants to get out on the water, just tuck them into your socks and pull your slickers and boots over the top. When I began my fishing career, I found some male captains who refused to hire female deckhands because of the toilet issue. On boats

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without a head, it’s a hassle for ladies to utilize a bucket on a busy deck. I discovered my slickers are the best tool to fix this issue. The Grundéns I purchased in the smallest size available are still quite large on me. After unsnapping a shoulder strap and dropping the fuzzy pajamas, it is straightforward to use a cup to empty my bladder and get back to work. As crass as it sounds, it really is a game-changing tip during slicker-season. Alternatively, you can book a charter on a boat with a toilet and keep your cups for mixing drinks. Fish with Capt. Quin and Reel Lucky Fishing Charters out of St. Petersburg by calling or texting (504) 920-6342. They have boats for offshore, nearshore and inshore which are all equipped with a toilet.


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TO BUILD A ROD By Chris Beardsley

T

he story To Build a Fire by Jack London is a tale of pain, suffering and ultimately death. Fortunately, none of those things apply when building a custom rod. Ok, maybe a little pain and suffering, but certainly not death. Building a custom rod was something I’d considered but kept putting it off. Reason being, I already have great rods. Nothing particularly expensive, they’re just great rods with plenty of power, great casting and good sensitivity. They’ve held up to the saltwater over the years, and I’m firmly in the if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it camp. My wife was the one who put an end to my procrastination by giving me a rod building kit for Christmas. It was very exciting for sure, but now what? Where does one start? Decisions had to be made regarding blank length and material, type of handle and guides, etc. It can be a bit overwhelming, but nothing insurmountable. Function and form were at the top of my decision list, so I decided to build a rod similar to one of my favorite saltwater spinning rods. I chose an 8-foot, moderate-fast, light saltwater blank to accompany a Penn Spinfisher 4500. I primarily fish the surf and often visit bays and estuaries looking for big reds, trout, black drum and the like. It wouldn’t replace my much larger surf rods, but it would need to cast a variety of baits a good distance and handle virtually anything within casting distance from the beach. A critical step in rod building is identifying the spine of the blank and determining guide placement. Neither is difficult, but they do need to be done with care and precision. Take your time and get it right. The handle and reel seat are a bit different and can be adjusted to fit your fishing style perfectly. I chose a split grip, and it fits comfortably in my hand while the butt rests exactly where it should on my forearm. There are differing opinions on rod balance in relation to seat placement. Mock it up and test it. The beauty of building a custom rod is if you don’t like it, you can change it. In the end, it really comes down to what suits you best. When selecting guides, a reel seat and handle, be sure they fit your blank. There are too many options to list here, but your blank specifications will help determine handle and reel size. The number of guides needed and the appropriate spacing are typically provided by the manufacturer. But since it’s custom, you might need to adjust accordingly. The great thing about building a custom rod is just that, it’s fully customizable. In the end, the rod you build will reflect your personality. With any luck, it will be something that you’ll be proud to own and use for a very long time. And unlike the character in Jack London’s story, you should still be alive when it’s all over.

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SNOOK SEASONAL CLOSURES IN EFFECT

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statewide closure to recreational harvest of snook is in effect for state and federal waters of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Anglers may continue to catch and release snook during the closed season. Gulf-side recreational harvest of snook, including Monroe County and Everglades National PHOTO COURTESY OF CAPT. QUINLYN HADDON Park, will re-open March 1. There is an exception for those waters heavily impacted by red tide—state waters from the Hernando/ Pasco county line through Gordon Pass in Collier County (includes Tampa Bay and Hillsborough County)— where catch-and-release-only regulations will continue through May 31. Snook also has a regular season closure in the Gulf that runs May 1 through Aug. 31. On the east coast of Florida in state and federal waters including Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River, recreational harvest of snook reopens Feb. 1. Season closures are designed to help protect snook during vulnerable times such as cold weather. For more information, visit MyFWC.com/Marine and click on “Recreational Regulations” and “Snook.” Improve data and report your catch on the Angler Action Foundation iAngler app at AnglerActionFoundation.com.

Study Sees Released Fish Caught Repeatedly

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recent study from researchers at North Carolina State University reports that for several species of fish, the likelihood of individual fish being re-caught after release is higher than scientists anticipated. The findings are worth consideration for fisheries managers, who use catch data to assess fishery health. The study examined decades of Atlantic tagging data for black sea bass, gray triggerfish, red grouper and Warsaw grouper. “Fisheries researchers who work in tagging programs have long noticed that certain fish seem to get caught repeatedly, and we set out to determine the implications of this phenomenon,” said study co-author Jeff Buckel, a professor of applied ecology at N.C. State. For sea bass and both types of grouper, survival was found to be considerably higher after the second, third and fourth release. “Think of it this way,” said Brendan Runde, first author of the study and a Ph.D. student at N.C. State. “Let’s say you tagged 1,000 fish and recaptured 100 of them for a first time. After re-releasing those 100 fish, you would only expect to recapture 10 of them a second time. But that’s not what we’re seeing. We’re seeing much higher numbers of fish getting recaptured after the second time.” One theory is that individuals robust enough to survive their first capture were more likely to survive subsequent catch-and-release events. Since catch rates inform fishery management, the number of unique fish released is important for accurate assessment of populations. On the bright side, the study suggests release mortality might be lower than previously thought.

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PHOTO COURTESY OF CAPT. TIM CUTTING

R

SIT-AND-WAIT

REDFISH By Nick Carter

edfish are solidly in their winter patterns. Capt. Josh Boyles said it’s possible to put up huge numbers when reds bunch up in big schools this time of year. The secret is to get close enough to cast to them. Boyles guides in the marshes around Bluffton, South Carolina. His tactics for targeting schools of redfish that number into the hundreds involves stealth on a low tide. With the large tidal fluctuations of the Lowcountry, the fishery is unique, but not so unique that similar patterns don’t exist wherever redfish roam. Finding the schools is the key if you’re going to have any luck at all. “You might go for miles along the grass and creeks and not see a living thing,” Boyles said. “Then you’ll pull into a cove and see 200 redfish.” This is a low-tide game. As opposed to summertime flood-tide sight fishing for tailing reds in the grass, you’re searching the mud flats when the water drains out of the marsh. The water is very clear this time of year, so it’s not hard to spot fish once you encounter them. In 8 to 12 inches of water, the schools sometimes cause a visible surface disturbance, and you can also see their belly flashes as they slowly cruise the shallows to feed. This time of year, when the massive schools of menhaden and mullet have headed south, dolphins feed heavily on redfish. This puts the reds on high alert and also pushes them very shallow to feed where dolphins can’t get to them. Getting close enough to catch skittish redfish can be tricky and requires long casts, stealth and a shallow draft. It is not a situation where you can follow them around in the boat. It’s sometimes better to get out of the boat and wade. “You can see them doing laps. They’ll go from a grass point to an oyster bed and then another oyster bed,” Boyles said. “They’re doing a circuit, and if you can set up where you can intercept that lap and put a cast in front of them, you can catch a few before they realize there’s something fishy going on and move off to that next oyster bed.” This tactic requires patience, as it’s tough to hang tight when there’s a school of feeding fish visible 100 yards away. It might take 15 minutes for the school to make its next pass, but they will come back if you didn’t spook them too badly. Use the downtime to reposition the boat or check your tackle. Boyles said sitting and waiting can lead to an hour or two of extremely intense fishing before the tide returns. Josh Boyles guides local and international fishing experiences. Contact him at joshboylesfishing@gmail.com.

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GO FLY A KITE!

A

Tim Barefoot

s I’ve written before, we’ve all experienced the slowdown that happens around 10 a.m. You might have seen my column last month, in which I covered slowing it all down and sending baits deeper during the middle of the day. Like I said, wahoo don’t have Maui Jims… so they use water depth to get the right amount of light they want and constantly look up to see the silhouette of any given bait. This is exactly why all the dark colors work best, and only the planer rod is the one producing bites during the middle of the day. Again, who says you have to go 6 knots, and/or have to use a ballyhoo? Slow it down. Fly a kite with artificials, and use big natural baits on the downrigger to get results. A big beautiful squid on the downrigger on a Barefoot Cats and Tackle Chin Weight and a spread of artificial squid and/or flying fish on the kite, along with the outriggers loaded up with natural squid is a beautiful spread. With one squid at 50 feet and one at 75 or 100 feet, you are putting a completely irresistible bait at the depth of the fish. The squid on the downrigger will be the “hot” rod on a consistent basis. It’s a complete no brainer… this is the food they eat… at the correct depth. I’m not saying the surface bite does not work during the middle of the day. There have been many beauties caught on a ballyhoo during the middle of the day. All I’m saying is, I’ve fished many times when the bite died right around 10 a.m., and only the planer rod got bites. The kite adds a completely new dimension to the spread, and it also adds reality to the spread. When squid and flying fish get pinned against the surface and they’re scared, they jump! The kite picks the baits out of the water and makes it look like they are jumping. This is a good reason

GO DEEP FOR WINTER CONVICTS PHOTO COURTESY OF DARCY HILL

By CAM Staff

D

uring winter, there’s a fish we can usually count on to provide consistent action and high-quality fillets for the table. Even when a cold snap shuts inshore fisheries down, bait-stealing Sheepshead will still be chewing shells with their hook-crushing chompers. They are almost always game once you find them, and cold, calm days can bring

to keep at least one red squid in the spread. When squid get scared, they turn red. A red squid coming out of the water is another “no brainer.” Pancake trolling weights for the downrigger are the way to go. They are slimmer, have less resistance and have less “blowback” with more speed. A stout release tension is best for this application. As a matter of fact, the tension should be tight enough to “set the hook” and allow the slack to come tight after the strike. The stinger hook will hook the fish 90 percent of the time with a squid, as the fish almost always eat the back half of the squid to disable the squid’s beak. This is the only thing on a squid that could injure a fish.

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some of the best fishing of the year for both numbers and size of these black-barred convicts. Year-round, sheepshead can be caught wherever structure makes a home for barnacles. Bridge pilings, piers, jetties, wrecks, sea walls, oyster beds, any type of structure will suffice as long as it’s been in the water long enough to develop growth. This time of year can be the best time to target larger breeding-size sheepshead. When inshore waters cool, it sparks an offshore migration. Ahead of the early spring spawn, convicts in the 5- to 10-pound range congregate on deeper structure in 30 to 60 feet of water. This can make for easy pickings… if you can figure out how to get a hook-set. Those black-and-white prison stripes aren’t the only reason sheepshead are called convicts. They are thieves and will chew through a boatload of bait if you don’t pay attention and get a feel for that light, nibbling bite. Even in 15 feet of water, it takes practice to time the hook set. The challenge is amplified when you’ve got 40 or 50 feet of line out. A vertical presentation and staying in touch with the bait are absolutely critical when targeting deeper winter sheepshead. You want to drop baits straight down, as close to structure as possible. The limited stretch of braid paired with a short fluorocarbon leader of a foot or less helps with detecting the bite. Abrasion resistance around all that structure is also important. Using 20-pound-test for mainline and leader is usually enough to muscle a hard-fighting sheepshead out of structure. A simple fishfinder rig with just enough weight to keep your presentation vertical in the current is a tried-and-true rig. The lighter the weight, the easier it is to feel the bite. Find the sweet spot where your bait stays put. A small short-shank bait hook works well. Take a variety of baits and see what works. Fiddler crabs are the all-time sheepshead favorite, and convicts also crunch up live or dead shrimp, crab parts and clam or oyster meat. Drop that bait straight to the bottom, lift it up a few inches and then wait with a tight line. If you’re not getting nibbles within 15 minutes or so, it’s time to move. If you do feel light pecks or even a little added resistance on the line, set the hook immediately with a short, sharp upward jerk. Then haul the fish as quickly to the net as you can. Sheepshead are known for snapping lines on structure as well as with their teeth.

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OFF THE JERSEY COAST

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stuttering buzz from the stern brought Ken to his feet. He cranked in a Spanish mackerel to get things started. It was followed by a bluefish, and then Adam got a second Spanish. Here off New Jersey, this trolling bite was what we had hoped for. Things were good. With patience restored, we got reoriented and trolling. I was tying on a green crocodile spoon when one of the reels started screaming. Ken let the fish run a long time before he tightened the drag and started gaining. When he first saw the fish, his face lit up. He kept saying, “It’s a king!” in a high, tight voice I’d never heard before. Off New Jersey, a king mackerel might be once-in-a-lifetime. As Ken brought the beast boat-side, Adam swung and missed with the gaff, then hit it square in the head with a second shot. Ken took his fish and stood there grinning while Adam and I muttered, “yeah, great job.” We trolled another hour. While Ken grinned at the horizon, Adam focused on the depth sounder to hide his jealousy. I was jealous, too, so I stared at my rod, blinking one eye at a time. The jealousy ebbed once we got on plane headed home. We’d all caught dinner. I’d made peace with my lone bluefish when Adam hollered, “Woah!” He slammed the boat into neutral. “That was a cobia! I thought it was a shark, but it was a cobia!” Adam was excited, talking fast. I didn’t see anything. Neither did Ken. Adam swung the boat around, retracing his wake. “There! Throw something! Cast!” he shouted. My eyes focused in on a lumbering golden-brown cobia. The fish swam closer to investigate. Ken cast. The fish didn’t see his lure and kept swimming… toward me. Just feet away, I plunked an epoxy jig in the water. I saw the wide mouth open and inhale my lure. I froze. The huge fish, old and ragged and covered in scars, was looking me in the eye. I was hypnotized. With Adam and Ken yelling, I snapped out of it and set the hook. It felt like a brick wall on a medium-heavy spinning rod. I cranked twice and my rod bent double. Too much drag. I moved to loosen the drag and saw the cavernous mouth open and the head shake. The fish was still looking at me as if to say, “not today.” The rod slacked. I heard the jig whiz past my ear. My jaw dropped as I watched the fossil swim away. The boat was quiet for a minute, and then they started busting my chops. That went on for the whole ride in. By the time we hit the inlet, I was able force a laugh. Looking back, maybe I’m glad I lost it. A fish that old deserves to swim. From now on, though, I’m keeping my drag nice and light.

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ow’s this for a bucket-list fish? There is a potential new all-tackle world length record for Siberian taimen. According to the International Game Fish Association’s Facebook page, Maxim Mamaev caught this 156-centimeter (more than 61inch) fish while fly fishing Russia’s Tugur River. If approved, it will best the previous record by 16 centimeters (about 6 inches). Siberian taimen are the largest, most ferocious species of salmonid on the planet. Growing to weights in excess of 100 pounds, they look and behave like giant trout and feed on fish, ducks and small mammals like muskrats. Their home waters are the rivers of northeast Asia, where they can live up to 50 years. Over the last few decades, the rise of taimen as a spectacular gamefish is a good thing. They have been fished and dammed almost to extinction across much of their native range. There are just a few large and remote drainages left where they thrive in Mongolia and Russia, and their appeal as a sportfish, especially for fly anglers, has helped develop strict regulations to protect them. The Tugur River is home to the largest Siberian taimen in the world. Isolated in Russia’s Far East, it feeds the Sea of Okhotsk and runs through an 80,000-acre nature reserve that protects many species of fish, including the

PHOTO COURTESY OF IGFA

Pacific salmon that pile into the river in late summer to spawn. It doesn’t hurt that much of the drainage is accessible to anglers only by helicopter, but the salmon run definitely contributes to the unparalleled growth of Tugur taimen. The nutrient transfer from saltwater to fresh during a large salmon run is well documented. Everything feeds on salmon and their eggs, and large taimen are capable of gorging on whole adult salmon. The current world record Siberian taimen by weight was caught on a fly by taimen researcher Matt Sloat on the Tugur. That fish, caught in 2018, weighed 101 pounds. There are multiple un-certified Tugur taimen reported to weigh into the 150-pound range. According to National Geographic, the largest Siberian taimen ever caught weighed 231 pounds and stretched a tape to 83 inches. It is rare, however, for anglers to encounter taimen of such enormous size. With such long lives, they grow slowly, and the larger individuals are old and wise. Most taimen caught on the fly weigh less than 20 pounds. But you can keep those 100-pounders in the back of your mind when you’re packing up your 9-weight rod for a trip to Siberia.

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Catching Cold-Water Bass In Small Lakes By CAM Staff

t’s the time of year when big-water bass anglers bundle up in their bibs and parkas and slug it out through bitter reservoir winds to drag jigs on the bottom. For some of us, finding joy in such misery seems masochistic. Why brave the cold winds of big water when countless sheltered ponds and small lakes are there to provide winter bass fisheries that’ll scratch the itch? Small waters often fish very well this time of year. Whether casting from the bank or a jonboat, here are a few tips to take with you. 1) Find Warmer Water: Carry a thermometer. Water temps just a couple degrees warmer than surrounding water will consolidate baitfish and bass. In spring-fed lakes or ponds, an underground spring will provide relatively stable temperatures year-round. During winter, flows from a spring are likely warmer than the main body. Where there are no springs, look to sun-warmed rock or metal structure. Muddy shallows are also known to warm more quickly in the sun. 2) Play the Weather: The smaller the volume of water, the more easily influenced it is by weather patterns. On a small lake, water temperatures can increase dramatically with a single day of warmer-than-normal weather. The bite can go from non-existent to wide-open in an afternoon. String together a threeday warming trend, and your pond might exhibit spring-like feeding patterns. 3) Find the Fish: On small waters there are limited areas where bass can go to find comfort. Rather than spreading out in search of forage, bass group up in areas where they are comfortable. If you don’t find fish on sun-warmed rip-rap, look to the steep drop-offs at pond dams or creek channels. They might be down there stacked up in 10 feet of water. 4) Match the Hatch: Bass are not as aggressive when they are cold, which means you have to go with a more natural approach. Bugs and frogs aren’t on the menu this time of year, so baitfish imitations like jerkbaits and crankbaits are your best bet. Reel them down to depth and fish with slow twitches. If crawfish are active year-round where you fish, a jig is absolutely a good option. 5) Cover Water: Covering water is relative. This time of year, you’ll want to slow it down. Yet you still need to encounter fish to catch them. One of the great things about small waters is you can fish a lot, or all, of a small lake or pond in a single afternoon. Fan cast and work your baits slowly enough to be effective, but keep moving until you find that area where fish are piled up.

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