Where are you from? I’m from right here, but I’ll bet not many of you can say that. Most of the people currently living in Southwest Florida spent the majority of their adult lives someplace else. Don’t worry, I won’t hold it against you — everybody has to be from somewhere.
For folks who move here from points north, figuring out the fishing is often a complex and frustrating hassle. Why can’t the fish just act like they did back home? Why does everything have to be so different?
Well, what if I told you that it may not be as different as you think?
Most American fishermen, no matter what part of the country they hail from, have done some largemouth bass fishing. That’s because largemouths have been stocked all over the place, far outside their native range in the southeastern U.S. Let’s take a look at how that bass fishing experience can be put to good use in our local marine environment.
What’s your favorite freshwater bass lure? A Rat-L-Trap? A Rapala minnow? A soft plastic swimbait? How about the good old Zara Spook? All of those are also great lures for Southwest Florida saltwater fishing. Now, there are some we don’t use too often — deep-diving crankbaits hang too much grass and mud in most places (though we fish some big ones out in the Gulf) and spinnerbaits tend to scare more fish than they hook in our shallow, heavily fished waters. But some others that you might have used back home, such as small inline spinners and Jitterbugs, are fish-catching machines that are very underutilized down here. Even the humble plastic worm can be a good saltwater lure for those who bother to give it a shot.
Ever used a drop-shot rig? You can use it here for fishing soft plastic baits around deeper structure or under docks. A similar setup called the chicken rig or porgy rig is the cat’s meow for bottom fishing on the reefs. How about a Texas or Carolina rig for soft plastics? The Texas rig is made to slither a worm through weedy ares without getting hung up, and the Carolina was developed to keep a soft plastic out of the grass where it could be seen by fish. If it sounds like both of those would work on the grassy flats, you’re right.
Bass are ambush predators. They use things like aquatic vegetation, stumps, rocks and dropoffs as hiding places, skulking in the shadows and darting out to grab whatever will fit in their mouths.
Many saltwater gamefish do the same thing. In many cases, the structure itself is quite different — mangrove roots instead of reeds and cattails, bridge pilings instead of drowned timber — but the way the fish use it quite similar. Snook are the most bass-like of our marine species, but other structure-oriented saltwater fish include redfish, trout, grouper, sheepshead, snapper, flounder and black drum.
Your familiarity with this one will depend on where you did your bass fishing. If you were on natural lakes or ponds, water flow was probably less of a concern. But anglers used to fishing river systems, reservoirs and other flowing bodies will be intimately familiar with how current affects the bite.
Current goes hand in hand with structure. Fish rely on current to bring them food, but they themselves need places where they can hide from it. Constantly swimming against flowing water burns way too many calories. So the predators position themselves on the downcurrent side of some sort of structure. There, they can take advantage of still (OK, still-ish) water to rest while also being hidden from whatever the flow might bring their way.
Of course, most rivers only flow one way. Here, when the tide switches, the river is suddenly going the other direction. That might take some getting used to — for you, anyway. The fish were already expecting it and knew they’d need to move to another spot, or at least around to the other side of the piling.
We see this all the time: Anglers moving to the Sunshine State give away their freshwater tackle and buy some saltwater gear. Then they see us out on the water fishing with what looks a lot like bass tackle and wonder what we’re doing. For the majority of our local saltwater fishing, here’s the ideal rig: A 2000 to 3000 size reel, spooled with 10- to 15-pound braid and slung under a 7-foot rod rated for line between 8 and 20 pounds.
Do we use heavier stuff? Sure, for specialty things like grouper digging or taking on tarpon. But most of the time, tackle that would be right at home on a bass pond is just right, and way more fun.
Hopefully you’re getting the idea here. Yes, our fishing is different than what you’ve been doing for years — but it’s not as foreign as it first appears. Fish are fish, and their behaviors work in ways that can be at least partially predicted. Once you understand how and why one species does what it does, you’ll have a pretty good grasp of what similar fish are going to do. All you have to do is apply what you already know to the new situation.
As the Fish Coach, Capt. Josh Olive offers personalized instruction on how and where to fish in Southwest Florida. Whether you’re a complete beginner or just looking to refine your techniques, he can help you get past the frustration and start catching more fish. Lessons can be held on your boat, on local piers or even in your backyard. To book your session or for more information, go to FishCoach.net, email Josh@FishCoach.net or call 941-276-9657.