spanish mackerel

WaterLine photo by Capt. Josh Olive

Kai with one of the bigger Spanish mackerel he caught while fishing with his aunt and grandpa.

When I go out on an educational trip, I always talk with them the day before and come up with a detailed plan. Once I have a solid understanding of what it is they want to do and what they need to learn, I take a look at tides and weather reports and figure out where we’re going to go and how we’ll be fishing that area or areas. I then make myself a few notes in my phone, just to keep me on track.

But after I do that, I start over from scratch. What if that plan doesn’t work for some reason? What if the marine forecast says we’re in for 1-foot seas, but then when we get to the pass we can see big rollers coming in? What if the baitfish schools we were planning to fish around suddenly evaporate? What if the wind pushes too much water out of the Harbor and the boat won’t go where I thought it would?

It’s called a backup plan, and you should have one every time you go out on the water. Really, you should have two: A backup, and a backup for your backup. Also, you should factor a few contingencies into your plan, your backup plan, and your backup backup plan (what if they don’t have any live shrimp, what if the water is murky, what if the people I’m going out with can’t cast, etc.).

In addition to three plans and multiple contingencies, you need to keep an eye out for spontaneous opportunity. Most people are pretty good with planning or with playing it by ear, but not with both. That’s why so many anglers miss out on catches that should have been. Those of you who are regular readers have seen us harp on it before, but it bears repeating: Be ready for whatever.

That means, for example, having a rod rigged to cast or troll a lure anytime you’re running offshore. When you spot a bunch of little tunny busting bait, you don’t have time to re-rig one of your grouper poles. If you see a shoal of cobia lazing on the surface, a speedy reaction is crucial. You need to get something in the water now, if not sooner.

So, my real world example: I was out with a lovely family last week — Grandpa with his daughter and grandson (her nephew). The plan was to go out to explore some of the nearshore reefs off Stump Pass. That means fishing for snapper and grunts, not grouper and amberjack, so we didn’t need heavy bottom rigs. I brought four medium spinning rods and one heavy spinner (in case of cobia, sharks or tarpon), frozen squid and shrimp, and my tackle bag (which has stuff for about anything).

The backup plan? Spanish mackerel, somewhere between the beach and Gasparilla Sound. That required no additional rods, but I double-checked my spoons and silly jigs. Plenty of both. Good to go on Plan B.

My backup backup was tougher to select. The boat is not a shallow runner by any means, nor does it have a trolling motor. I decided if it came down to it, we’d fish the ICW docks and bridges as best we could — but I wasn’t really looking forward to it.

Fortunately, that plan wasn’t needed. However, the backup plan was. Grandpa’s fishfinder went on the fritz. We could have navigated to GPS coordinates with smartphones since we were only going a few miles out, but without any way to see bottom structure our efforts would have been hampered.

We put the backup plan into action, scouting down the beach in search of activity. We saw nothing but a couple random flipping baits — until we got to Boca Grande Pass and were awed by the sight of feeding birds and skyrocketing mackerel spread out over a square mile or more. The rest of the morning was just a haze of flying spoons and mackerel blood. We did have one good shark run, on a whole Spanish mack, but he cut off two feet of steel and 12 feet of 80-pound mono in a successful bid for freedom.

Now, we might have come up with that plan on the fly. But we didn’t have to, because it was already built in, and so getting a few spoons and jigs cut off was no problem (I brought 15 spoons and 30 jigs — we were prepared). And there was no “what do we do now?” moment. We just carried on, and they had a great day out there.

Having a backup and a backup backup isn’t about being anal or wanting to overplan. It’s about keeping the good times rolling. Fishing should be fun, and a solid plan helps you ensure that.

Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or

Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@


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