I am a recent resident of Florida, having retired and moved here from New York state less than a year ago. Carrying two homes this past year has been rough, which is why I am so grateful for all of the free fishing advice I have been receiving WaterLine, the people at Fishin’ Frank’s and the local guides. Fortunately, I’m able to afford free.
To express my gratitude, I told Capt. Josh I would write a guest column from the perspective of a newbie — so here goes.
I love fishing, which is one of the reasons we moved from New York to become full-time residents of Florida. I am happy to catch anything. My wife says I’m even happy to catch a cold while fishing. My main experience is freshwater fishing in lakes and reservoirs, so after moving down here I found that I have a lot to learn.
I have put myself at the mercy of the people at Fishin Franks for advice. If they told this New York Yankee that in order to catch any fish around Charlotte Harbor, I would have to take a dead chicken and swing it around my head 10 times while singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, I would probably do it.
However, even before you start fishing from a boat down here, you must get accustomed to the water in the Harbor and the sounds. This is a continuous learning process. I have been fishing near Catfish Creek, Sandfly Key and Bull Bay. To say the water can be shallow is an understatement.
My advice to other newbies: If you see birds walking on the water more than 100 yards from land, don’t say, “Wow, they have birds down here that can walk on water! How do they do that?” Do not run your boat over to take a closer look. Trust me on this one.
I’m so happy I kept my boat from New York. It’s an old 17-foot Bristol Skiff. With the outboard up, it draws about 8 inches of water. However, I still either run or drift onto sandbars frequently. I have a Garmin echoMAP, but these shallow spots can come up pretty fast — particularly during the winter.
I have a stout six-and-a-half-foot aluminum oar that I used on rowboats while fishing the New York City reservoirs. This has come in very handy for Florida. This oar has been such a good friend of mine to help push me off the sandbars that I have named it Orville. Since my wife accuses me of always having to be Wright, Orville and I get along well.
You also have to learn about what the terms on charts mean. Near Catfish Creek and Sandfly Key are several rectangular spots labeled “spoils.” My wife says I am a spoiled brat, so I thought it was suitably named as a perfect fishing spot for me.
Fortunately, I checked on my phone for the meaning of spoil and realized this it is where material from dredging is deposited, so the area can be very shallow. Being so satisfied for teaching this to myself, I made sure I used my Garmin to stay at least 50 yards away from the spoil. I ran aground again anyway.
Another lesson learned: No matter how good a fisherman you may think you are, it’s important to hire a guide due to the fact that the charts are not always accurate, or the bottom like the spoil can move over time due to the storms. I see the guides zipping around in their flying bridge skiffs and bay boats. (Editor’s note: We call them towers.) When your boat planes, the draft becomes shallower, but you still must know where you are and what you are doing. Watching where they go has given me better confidence on where to run my boat.
One of the first things to buy when fishing this area is to get a fish ID booklet with Florida regulations. The regulations can be a little wacky and can change during the season.
The best bait to use particularly when starting is live shrimp. Almost everything eats shrimp. I almost put Red Lobster out of business every year when they offer Endless Shrimp. I think Orville would eat shrimp too, if it had a mouth. With all the shrimp I eat and use as bait, maybe I can become a prawn star.
I started actively fishing this past September, mostly using popping corks. No champagne corks — I haven’t caught anything that big yet. I found drifting to be productive up north, so I have been doing the same thing here. I prefer to hook the shrimp in a manner that will keep it alive the longest. This is under the front horn but away from the gray matter which are the brains. That’s something we have in common with shrimp; we both have gray matter for brains. Some more than others.
I throw out two lines, one with a jighead about 2 or 3 feet from the cork so it doesn’t drag along the bottom collecting grass and one with just a hook but a longer distance from the cork. It has worked. I have caught fish off both rigs. In the fall I was catching seatrout, pompano and a lot of catfish, but throwing everything back to preserve the populations because of the red tide.
I got one of my biggest thrills this December. The marina was out of shrimp and I used Berkley Gulp shrimp smothered with Pro-Cure. I was getting hits, then set the hook and was greeted by a long, slender, silver fish about 20 inches long doing acrobatic dances. Oh boy, a baby tarpon! My first silver king and my first fish on an artificial.
Uh, oh; a tarpon, I better look up the regulations. With the way Florida regulations are so o-fish-al, I was concerned that there might be a wacky regulation like within 10 days of Christmas you can only net a tarpon while standing on one foot.
After I got the fish in the boat, I looked at it again. It was silver like a tarpon, and jumped like I have seen tarpon on TV, but its head did not quite look like a tarpon. I went to the fish ID booklet and realized I had caught a ladyfish. Some people call them a poor man’s tarpon, and some think they are a junk fish only good for bait. All I can say is that they are a lot of fun to catch for a mewbie. Since I am a gentleman, I threw the ladyfish back in the water. I think I last saw her swimming towards the mall with credit cods in her mouth.
However, during the recent winter months, I haven’t been doing as well as in the fall. I need more advice. Now I am told smell is even more important because the fish are lethargic — so I am cutting the shrimp in half, releasing more scent. I am even wearing the five-day-old sand-colored underwear with the plastic zipper I was told to use when fishing around Sandfly Key, but it does not seem to help. I’m going to have to go back to the bait shop to find out what else I’m doing wrong.
Well, we sold our house up north. I just found a great deal on a used 2018 Key West 239FS, putting us in debt again. (I guess I am a spoiled brat, although I don’t feel too gill-ty.) There will be more tales from a newbie.
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