One of the comments we at Fishin’ Frank’s hear all the time is, “I’m from Up North and I have no idea how to fish here.” If you resemble that remark, I have good news for you: You may know more than you realize. Freshwater fishing experience can apply to Florida saltwater fishing.
For example, snook are a lot like largemouth bass, except on steroids. Both are ambush predators that are usually structure-oriented, and both can be caught equally well on live or artificial baits. The types of areas that hold bass – docks, weedy shorelines, downed timber — are also often snook hotpots in our shallow backwaters and bays. The difference, of course, is that a snook is much stronger than a bass of similar weight and fights quite a bit harder. In general, saltwater fish are more powerful swimmers and tougher combatants than their freshwater counterparts.
Think of a redfish as a cross between a largemouth bass and a carp. They can be found in the same types of areas as bass (around structure) or out on the open flats like carp that are found in open water. Like bass, they are predatory — but like carp, they’re also scavengers. As with snook, reds are more pugnacious than bass or carp.
If you’ve caught walleye, you will notice some definite similarities to seatrout. Like walleye, they’re not the hardest fighters — they give up pretty quick. You don’t really expect to have one peel drag. And like walleye, they don’t like to have to chase a bait that moving too fast (most of the time, anyway). Live or artificial baits fished at slow to medium speeds are ideal. Another similarity is that both species can often be found suspended in the water column, though trout frequent grassy shallows as well.
Panfishermen who are used to bluegill and perch will be right at home fishing for mangrove snapper. Like bluegill, they’ll steal bait after bait until you develop the touch for hooking them. Like bluegill, they’re usually willing to hit on a variety of natural baits or artificials.
Like bluegill, the ones that live around docks are often well-educated and hard to catch — especially the bigger ones. Like bluegill, they’re delicious if you gut them, scale them, cut the fins and head off and fry the rest whole. And like bluegill, they’re usually very dependable. When all else fails, you can still catch mangrove snapper.
Sheepshead — not the sheephead that live up north, I mean the prison-striped porgies — are also a little like bluegill, but much better at bait-stealing. They’re a bit pickier in the baits they’ll take, preferring shrimp and crabs. It’s quite rare to catch one on anything artificial (though it’s not unheard of).
Now that we’ve looked at the similarities in the fish, let’s pause for a logical thinking break. If the fish are a lot alike, maybe the tackle you would use to catch them would also be a lot alike. And that is correct. Your bass fishing tackle can be used to catch reds and snook, your walleye outfit will do fine for trout, and your bluegill rods will catch snapper (though maybe not sheepshead, which are much larger than bluegills).
Again, though, there are differences. Freshwater reels often don’t have long lifespans in marine conditions, though some do better than others. We often use braided line for saltwater fishing instead of mono. Braided line is hell on the plastic guides that were common in older freshwater rods, so you probably want to upgrade to a rod with ceramic guides. And of course, tackle maintenance becomes much more important in saltwater fishing – brine has a way of wrecking fishing gear pretty quick.
Rigging for saltwater fish is not too different from your familiar freshwater rigs. Bass rigs are good for snook, trout and reds, and simple bottom rigs like those used for catfish are ideal for snapper and sheepshead. One of the major differences is that there are no barnacles or oysters in fresh water — here, they’re everywhere. Plus, many of our favorite fish have sharp teeth or other parts. That means a leader is necessary. In almost all circumstances, a monofilament or fluorocarbon leader is better than steel, which will reduce the number of bites you get by a huge amount.
As you learn more about saltwater fishing, you’ll notice there are actually lots of little differences in our fish and the ones up north. But as you begin to climb the learning curve, thinking about the similarities will help you get started catching fish instead of simply practicing your cast.
Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle, located at 4425-D Tamiami Trail in Charlotte Harbor. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing info, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.