By Robert Lugiewicz
Every winter, we get a good number of customers in the shop who are new to fishing here. Some of them have tried with limited success; others walk in having never made a cast in Florida. Most of them have fished before, so they already have a lot of the basics down. It’s our job to educate them and get them on the right road.
Depending where they come from, some anglers already have a lot of the tools they need to be successful. Those who have done their fishing in inland areas, targeting bass and catfish, have a much easier time adapting to local conditions. Fishermen who are used to saltwater angling along the Atlantic seaboard usually have to learn an entirely different way to fish — there’s not much similarity between how it’s done there and how it’s done here.
A lot of folks are under the impression that “saltwater gear” means 12-foot surf rods and monstrous reels spooled with 50-pound line. Although such tackle does have a purpose, it’s not really appropriate for most of the local fishing opportunities. Anglers who are used to bass fishing are already familiar with the type of gear that we usually use, because bass tackle (spinning or baitcasting, not spincasting) is about what you want for most Southwest Florida inshore angling.
In fact, it’s pretty easy for a bass fisherman to transition to Charlotte Harbor. When I talk to guys who are bass anglers, I explain it this way:
Me: “If I were to take you to an unfamiliar lake and ask you to catch a bass, where would you start?”
Them: “Well, I’d look for a point or aquatic vegetation, or maybe some good structure.”
Me: “Exactly. Now go catch a snook.”
OK, maybe it isn’t quite that easy, but you get the point: Bass fishing and local inshore fishing have a lot in common. Both involve working similar types of habitat, often using similar (or even identical) lures, and structure is usually the key to finding fish.
Of course, we often use tackle that’s designed to hold up better against salt water. It’s also important to use a tough monofilament or fluorocarbon leader, since you’re guaranteed to be pitting it against teeth, barnacles and/or oysters at some point.
Bass anglers are also accustomed to changing tactics based on weather conditions. They know when it’s cold, they need to slow down their lure presentation. When it’s sunny, don’t expect to have a great bite on a topwater lure. Snook, redfish and trout behave much like bass in these ways.
Even the time of day to fish is similar. Early morning is good when it’s warm, but when it’s cold it makes more sense to wait for the water to warm up a bit. The best action is often in the afternoon as the sun is sinking.
Many of the lures we use for local saltwater fish are the ones bass and walleye fishermen have used for generation. Ever fished a Rapala original floating minnow? It slays snook and trout here. What about a Johnson spoon? Killer for redfish, mackerel and a whole pack of other predatory fish. How about a Zara Spook? That lure has a dedicated following that use it for almost any gamefish Charlotte Harbor has to offer. Many of the jigs we use for pompano and flounder are repurposed walleye jigs.
Guys who are used to catching catfish in the rivers also have an advantage. One of the most common rigs used by catfishermen is an egg sinker above a swivel with a snelled hook tied to the leader. That’s pretty much our basic bottom rig, used to catch a wide variety of bottom-feeding fish — grouper, snapper, whiting, redfish, black drum, pompano, etc. There are lots of other rigs that are used for bottom fishing, but the simple slider rig will get you started.
Of course, there is so much more to fishing in Southwest Florida — things like tides, salinity, baits and dozens of other variables will be big factors. Those are all things you’ll get better at with time, but applying what you know from freshwater angling should get you started catching something.
Robert Lugiewicz is the longtime manager of Fishin’ Frank’s (4200 Tamiami Trail Unit P, Charlotte Harbor) and a co-host of Radio WaterLine every Saturday from 7 to 9 a.m. on KIX 92.9 FM. Contact him at 941-625-3888.