sheepshead

Photo provided

Cheryl Karlgaard with a fat 17-inch sheepshead. Once you master the basics of local fishing, you can start catching fish like this.

I’ve been working at the tackle shop for 20 years now. In that time, I’ve been asked tens of thousands of fishing questions. I always take the time to not just answer them but also explain the answers, even though many of the questions are the same.

Since there are a lot of questions that get asked over and over, I thought it might be a good idea to answer a bunch of them all at once. Actually, there are too many to fit in one column, so this will have to be continued next week. So, let’s stop wasting space and get started.

I have no idea how to fish in salt water. Where do I start?

If you have experience with fishing for largemouth bass or walleye, you already know a lot of things that will apply to our inshore saltwater fishing. You know to fish around structure — timber, pilings, dropoffs, points, etc. You probably know that predatory fish use these areas as ambush points, and that water flowing around them is going to be key to how the fish are oriented. Use that knowledge. One big difference: Most of our fishy activity occurs in water less than 6 feet deep.

None of what you just said made any sense to me. Can we start at the beginning?

Alright. If we have to start there, you can try saltwater panfishing. Basically, you fish with small hooks and little bits of shrimp around pilings and seawalls, and you catch pinfish and pigfish and those types of things. Once you can do that consistently, you can graduate to bigger fish. Alternatively, you can hire fishing guides and try to learn from them. But be aware — there is a lot to learn. Don’t get frustrated, and remember you have to crawl before you walk and walk before you run.

What’s the difference between freshwater and saltwater tackle?

OK — good news. If you have heavy bass tackle (a 3000 to 4000 size reel, a 7ish foot rod rated for about 8 to 20 pound line), you already have gear that will work for saltwater. One big difference is that we don’t use spincasting reels, since they get too much salt inside. Baitcasting reels aren’t very popular here either, mostly because we tend to cast lighter baits (mostly a half-ounce or less). Many of the lures are the same, but often beefed up a bit and given corrosion-resistant hooks.

How big a boat do I really need to fish here?

To fish the flats, you can use anything from a kayak to a bay boat. Bass boats and jon boats are great. The goal is to have a shallow draft (less than 18 inches, or better yet less than 12). You’ll really want to have a trolling motor to navigate shallow areas. Pontoon and deck boats work, but you’ll be blocked from a lot of the shallow spots. For the open Gulf, bay boats are good on calm days. For bumpy days, the bigger the better. What you don’t want here: Small boats with deep drafts. There’s just not much use for them.

Which lures really catch fish?

Because there are so many kinds of fish here, almost any lure can be used successfully. We use a lot of soft plastics (not so much worms, but flukes, craws, shad, etc). Lipped plugs like the Rapala minnows are awesome. Shallow-running crankbaits are good. Topwater plugs like the Zara Spook are killer. Spoons (usually a half-ounce or less) catch a lot of fish. Inline spinners can be used to good effect. We don’t have much use for small lures that run deep, but you’ll be able to use most of what’s in your tackle box. As for what’s currently hot, it changes, so ask at your local tackle shop.

Which fish here are edible?

Local favorites that you’re likely to catch include whiting, sea trout, mangrove snapper, sheepshead, black drum (smaller fish under about 10 pounds), and bonnethead and blacktip sharks. If you’re going offshore, grunts, porgies and lane snapper are common and delicious. If you like yellow perch, you’ll like squirrelfish. Some people also eat jacks, gafftopsail catfish (the ones with the very long fin spines) and stingrays. Most people avoid ladyfish, hardhead catfish (the ones with the short fin spines). The really prized fish — grouper, hogfish, tripletail, etc — are unlikely to be caught by newbies. Snook and redfish are good, but they’re closed to harvest until further notice.

What are those jumping fish and how do I catch them?

They’re mullet, and you’re gonna have a tough time getting one hooked. The diet of a mullet is 98 percent vegetable. You can try to snag them or net them. They’re oily and strong-flavored but a lot of people like them. Otherwise, they’re important forage for gamefish.

OK, that’s all the space I’ve got for this week. We’ll continue this next time.

Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle, located at 4425-D Tamiami Trail in Charlotte Harbor and at 14531 N. Cleveland Ave. in North Fort Myers. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing info, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.

Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle, located at 4425-D Tamiami Trail in Charlotte Harbor and at 14531 N. Cleveland Ave. in North Fort Myers. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing info, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.

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