We are definitely in the spring swing of things on Charlotte Harbor. The water has just come alive in the past few weeks.
The snook and redfish bite is incredible. Our sharks have returned and the blacknoses are bigger than last year. The tarpon up the river are starting to head down to the Harbor and the migratory tarpon are starting to fill the Harbor in search of food. There seems to be a good number of tripletail in the area and they appear to be hungry. I think the only fish that seem to be so-so right now are the trout.
The whitebait has already infested the usual areas of the Harbor. Everyone gets excited when the whitebait shows up, and that’s to be expected. Whitebait opens doors that have been creaky and stuck for the past few months.
The first few weeks are painful until you get back into “net shape” — at least they are at my age. I laughed at myself the other day. I threw the castnet about five times that morning and then laid down on the front of the boat. Eight years ago I could throw that net all day long. Now all I wanted to do was go back to bed. Another charter captain was beside me and hollered over and asked if I was OK. “Nope,” I said. He asked if I needed help. “Nope,” I said again.
There are two basic rules I have for this time of year. First, pack for bear. With our winter species still here and the summer species showing up, you never know what you’ll come across and you should be ready for it. You’ll hear me preach this every spring and fall, and that’s because I believe it’s important.
I want to bring everything from light tackle to shark and tarpon gear. You may want to fish for snook and redfish that day but what if you pass a cobia along the way? What if the wind and tides aren’t in your favor and you need to spend a few hours on the flats pitching artificial lures for trout while you wait for the water to come in? Don’t be afraid to change up your plan while you’re out there.
My second rule: Always bring shrimp. It doesn’t matter whether I’m going to throw that castnet for whitebait — I’m still going to bring a few dozen shrimp. Sheepshead are still a valid target this time of year, and the chances of them eating a greenback are pretty darn slim. The trout can go either way on bait — as can cobia, redfish, tripletail, snapper and tarpon — so having both will be a benefit. You’ll never go wrong having a few shrimp with you.
We’ve also been catching a lot of extras in our castnets that you might want to throw in the livewell too. The other day we caught all sizes of blue crabs and a few squid in our nets. The smaller blue crabs go in the livewell for tarpon, redfish, sheepshead, black drum, cobia and bonnethead sharks. I don’t keep the large ones as I don’t like eating blue crab, but if you do, have at it.
Keeping a squid or two isn’t a bad idea either. Snapper will eat it, and you can also cut it up and use it to tip your sabiki rigs. Just make sure you rinse any ink off your boat immediately as it will stain badly if allowed to dry.
Stick to these two rules and you should be able to have a good time out on the water for the next couple months. This is all good advice during the fall transition also, so cut this column out and paperclip it to October in your calendar so you don’t forget..