ladyfish

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If all you’re catching is ladyfish — well, then have fun catching ladyfish.

When I arrived at Gasparilla Marina, the shrimp bait truck had just arrived. I got a dozen shrimp and frozen finger mullet as bait. I was fishing alone, and I prefer to use live bait when alone because I find it easier to watch three drifting lines than throw lures and paying attention to only one line. I headed out to Gasparilla Sound and arrived at Devilfish Key, a favorite spot, at 9:30 a.m.

According to the Tides4Fishing app, the wind was from the west at 13 knots with gusts of 17, but it seemed heavier with the whitecaps. The tide was predicted to be going out of Boca Grande Pass until 2:38, but the heavy west wind was winning the battle with the tide. I’ve been told by experienced people to go with the current, so I decided to do a slow drift against the tide to see if I could still catch fish. I drifted from the west point of Devilfish Key to the point of Cayo Pelau while trying to stay in deeper water of over 4 feet.

I had two lines with shrimp under popping corks. One was on a hook with no weight and the other was on a jighead to see which would work better. Then I had a third rig with the unweighted tail half of a finger mullet. I soon got a ladyfish that wiggled off as I was getting her on the boat. Later another small one hit the shrimp as I was reeling in but that one also wiggled off as well. Finally landed a ladyfish about 18 inches long and kept this one in the live well for future bait.

All three of these were caught on the popping cork rig with no weight. I lost my bait on the jighead rig but no hits. On the mullet rig, I hooked a small shark that bit through the heavy fluorocarbon leader at the end of the fight as I was bringing it to the boat. I switched that rig to a heavier rod with plastic-coated wire leader.

When I got to the Cayo Pelau point, I decided to head to the Boca Grande phosphate docks where I would be shielded from the wind by the condos and still catch the outgoing tide. I slowly ran to the pass through deep water with a trolling DOA Bait Buster all set to go. I looked behind me to the left and saw a flock of birds diving into churned-up water.

I ran back to the outskirts of this area and trolled. For a few seconds the rod started to aggressively bounce, but no hookup. Then the churning water and bird activity stopped. I went back on my heading to the pass still trolling. Up ahead I saw what looked like large white or silver tail fins coming out of the water. I don’t have enough experience to know what it was (tarpon?), but by the time I got there it was gone.

When I got to the phosphate docks, my assumption proved correct. It was near the end of low tide but the tide was still ripping through the pilings and the wind was blocked by the condos. I saw an explosion of activity with birds and churning water in the middle of the pilings and patted myself on the back for making a good call. I threw out my anchor so I was positioned just north of the pilings, still blocked from the wind.

I made a few casts so I could drift my bait to the pilings and then I realized that I was not alone. One of our gray dolphin friends had the same idea and was swimming against the tide to catch anything that would come by. It came right up to me, touching the port side of my boat, and with a big smile raised a flipper. I think it was laughing at me and was doing its version of giving me the finger.

Knowing I could not compete with Flipper, I decided to bring up the anchor, go around the pilings and drift into the Pass. I took my heavy rig with the wire leader, hooked my one lively ladyfish through the snout and live-lined it. Then I took a second rig and put on the head section of a finger mullet, thinking it would have more natural weight than a tail section (I was having better luck with unweighted baits).

As I was drifting into the Pass, now exposed to the west wind and watching increasing wave activity, the drag started to run on the rig with the finger mullet. I ran over to this rig, thinking I had hooked something big, but I couldn’t see the line in the water. I looked around and then realized the line wasn’t in the water — it was in the air.

I had caught a sea gull. I guess with that ripping current I should have used some weight. Fortunately it was not actually hooked, and I was able to gently pull the mullet head away by tugging on the line without jerking the rod.

As I drifted towards the middle of the Pass, the heavy west wind against the tide was causing huge swells and since I had drifted in from the north my boat was now facing broadside to the swells and was violently rocking: Another rookie mistake! I brought in the ladyfish (which was still healthy), let it go and got out of there.

As I was leaving the Pass, I noticed my sonar was marking fish. Lots of fish. There were more than I have ever seen, mostly between 15 and 30 feet deep. But I had other obligations, so they’d have to wait for another day.

So it wasn’t the most productive fishing day ever, but I had a good time. It’s amazing how much fun you can have learning and exploring even if you don’t catch a ton of fish. The more I think about it, the more I want to try the Pass again towards the end of low tide — as long as there is not a heavy west wind.

Readers Write is an open guest column for your fishing stories and other outdoor adventures. Send your submissions to Editor@WaterLineWeekly.com.

Readers Write is an open guest column for your fishing stories and other outdoor adventures. Send your submissions to Editor@WaterLineWeekly.com.

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