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Full Contact Fishing

by Rusty Weller

"Zzzzz-zzzzz-za-zzzz!" The rod bends, jerking severely, as your heart leaps into your throat.
The thrilling sound your reel makes, in grudgingly giving up line, signals another wet-and-wild adventure of full-contact fishing. Pulse pounding, you hang on for dear life as an unseen trophy fish tries to rip the rod from your grasp.
Forget bigmouth bass, boys! Go after something worth catching -- a raging two-foot Redfish, who'll leave you tired and satisfied by the time he's on your stringer. Wade into the water and battle brutes on their terms.
Full-contact fishing is a blast! It's a true challenge, a real test for a man, compared to inland forms of fishing.

How so? Well, wade fishermen typically are waist deep in murky water known to harbor dangerous creatures. Often far from help or shore, they must be self sufficient and self contained for equipment.

Whatever problems arise out there, you alone handle them.

    That's the bad news.

    The good news? Hey, leave that boat at home. You don't need one. Or any fancy tackle or lures. Just bring your sense of adventure, as well as a reel with decent drag, to the Texas Gulf Coast. Aransas Pass and Galveston will be spotlighted, but most any location from Sabine Pass to South Padre Island will do.

    You can do this! Keep repeating that. Experience is helpful but not necessary. It's entirely possible to catch a Red or Spec that'll turn your bass buddies as green as a six-inch schoolie.

    Just walk out into a bay, bait up and let the fun begin. Honest! Here's all you need to know to get started:


    To be fair, let's start out your preparations with some cautions:

    * Footing -- Steer clear of mud, of course. Some ankle-deep muck is OK, but don't risk getting stuck. Seek out sand, which fish prefer as well. Oyster reefs often offer the best fishing, but be careful! Tangling with their sharp shells inflict nasty cuts that'll end your day if not your stay.     

    * Tides -- Be aware the water level changes a foot or more. What was belly-button-deep a few minutes ago may soon be up to your chin. So check the change of tides to be safe, or just don't wade through any deep water.

    * Creatures -- Beware stingrays and jellyfish. Rays' tails have painful barbs they can whip into your calf when spooked. So always shuffle your feet while walking to warn the stingrays to get out of your way. A barb in your leg will send you to ER. You thus don't want to catch a Ray, so cut your line as soon as you recognize one.

    Only jellyfish with strings or tentacles are poisonous. Don't sweat the round ones. Contact with a string gives you a stinging, burning sensation that definitely will distract you from fishing. The worst is the Portuguese Man-o-war, which typically has a bubble-like sail above the water, signaling tentacles below that can immobilize you or worse.

    Also, watch out for the spikes on catfish, which carry an annoying sting. As for sharks, they tend not to like bay water. Avoid surf and deep channels near the gulf.

    A lot of people praise Rockport or the Laguna Madre. Listen to them. My experience, though, is with the area from Aransas Pass to Port Aransas, as well as the island of Galveston.

    Aransas Pass -- Well known for Indian Point, a peninsula separating Corpus Christi and Nueces Bays. Waders like to free-line shrimp beside the 24/7 fishing pier for Speckled Seatrout at sunup. Many have success walking out into Nueces Bay along the causeway during the day for Specs and Reds along with Black Drum and occasional Flounder.

    Redfish Bay -- Great for Reds, naturally, but hard for waders to reach. So cross the Intercoastal Waterway or busy shrimp boat channel quickly any way you can: kayak, canoe, innertube, boogie board. You'll find great wade fishing on the grassy flats and among the spoil islands.

    Port Aransas -- The bay side of Mustang Island, from Charley's Pier on out, is good for wading to the dropoff of the ship channel. Sharks could be present, though, so don't keep your catch on a stringer. Stay off the jetties, unless you like losing tackle among the rocks. Due to sharks, it would be best to keep clear of all gulf surf until more experienced.

    Galveston's best fishing is on either end of the island. Galveston has a great place, though, near mid-island at the west end of Sportsman Road on the bay side. For Specs, walk toward the mainland to locate an oyster reef that runs parallel to the island. For Reds, search around the small islands along the coast.


    Forget artificial lures. Sure, they work, but live or fresh bait is better. Use live shrimp when possible. Get 'em from coastal bait stands near where you plan to fish and keep 'em in a flow-thru bucket tied to your belt with an eight-foot cord.

    Specs love shrimp. Reds also like shrimp but are suckers for finger-length mullet. Go armed with both.

    To save money and always be ready to fish, buy a small cast net and take a few minutes to learn to throw it. Be sure not to cast where the net might get snagged, but it's easy to get free mullet and other small fish that Reds eat. It's also possible to net your own shrimp at the right spots -- great for when the white flag isn't flying at the bait stand.

    By the way, cut up any bigger mullet you net for bait. Reds also love cut bait.

    Keep it simple and light. Remember: you'll carry everything through knee- to waste-deep water often the length of, say, three or four football fields.

    One pole will do for now, although a belted rod holder allows a second rig. You can also make and take a wooden pole holder to stick in the sand.

    Spinning reel or baitcaster, it doesn't matter IF the reel has a good drag. Pull on the line to make sure the drag will slow a big boy down, or he will snap off at the start. Remove old line and arm your reel with an ample amount of 10-pound test in marine green.

    It's good for your pole to have a long handle. It takes the pressure off your wrist and provides control when braced against your forearm during prolonged fights.

    You'll need a long hook remover, a landing net, a floating stringer, a utility belt or fishing vest to hold tackle, long knife, nail clipper, flow-thru bait bucket, sturdy shoes or hiking boots. That's all.


    Use two-drop bottom rigs with bowed (catfish) hooks. Anchor rigs with two- or three-ounce sinkers, depending on the waves or tide current. Be well stocked with several rigs, expecting to lose a couple to oyster shells or violent attacks. With frozen, cut or dead bait, a bottom rig is best.

    Use a Carolina rig to free-line live shrimp and mullet. That way the shrimp or fish will dart around as an easy target behind the sinker. Rather than using undependable knots on either end of a swivel, some waders tie in a sinker two feet from the hook for increased line reliability.

    Slowly retrieving this rig allows you to cover a lot of area, but bait tends to come loose. Hook shrimp through the top back part of their heads. For mullet, put the hook through the area immediately behind their eyes. In both cases, the bait has mobility and stays alive longer.

    Oh, yes, watch out for the shrimp's front horn, which can draw blood. Shrimp also like to spank your hand with their tail, which also has a short horn.

    You might also try a so-called Alameda float rig, which makes the sound of a feeding Spec as you pop it on the retrieve. This is a surface rig that causes your bait to enticingly undulate behind the orange float. The sound supposedly inspires lazy-but-greedy Specs to bite. Again, use shrimp or mullet.


    Seek out either oyster reefs or grassy flats with sandy areas. Either way, bottom rigs and free lines work. Cast to the edge of a reef or just into the sandy area. Take up slack, especially with a bottom rig, to hold the bait up for fish to see.

    For fun, use a light crappie pole and a three-ounce sinker. Take up slack until the rod tip bends over. Then when a Red bites and momentarily lifts the sinker, the pole automatically sets the hook by reflex. And landing a keeper Redfish on a flimsy crappie pole is a definite hoot.

    With experience, you can stalk Reds. Look for them feeding, nose down with spotted tails sticking above the water.

    But, for now, search out a promising location, cast and be patient. Ask locals for hot spots. Bait shops are great for crucial info. Be honest about your lack of experience, and people usually confide useful tips.

    Such as? Well, in residential Portland, a little stream emptying into Nueces Bay contains eating-size shrimp most months of the year. A steep drive takes you down a cliff to a shell beach offering plenty of mullet and shrimp for your cast net. There's a reef straight out from that beach where keeper Reds come to feed shortly after dark during the summer. But -- shhhh! -- don't tell anyone.

    Here's another secret: Get your hands on a canoe and paddle from the Aransas Pass causeway across the shrimp boat channel to an opening among the spoil islands north of Hog Island. Making a mental note of twists and turns to find your way back out, quietly paddle into the maze of shallow streams and ponds. Wade around to get your limit of Reds, which reportedly are there throughout the year.

Talking to the Bluefish

by: Dr. Earl R. Smith II

Years ago, I was introducing one of the Shoal N Reef guides to the difference between fishing and catching. Art of the possible Aikin and I found ourselves on my boat and out on the Chesapeake Bay. In those days I kept a 26 Bertram at the Breezy Point Marina on the western shore just south of Chesapeake Beach.

It was a late summer, early evening as I remember it. We left the dock around four in the afternoon and headed south to the mouth of Parker’s Creek. As neared the channel that the creek had dug in the muddy bottom, I noticed a large area of riffled water just south of the channel. As we drifted into it my fathometer began to show solid black from just below the surface right down to the bottom. We had stumbled onto a huge school of bluefish.

The wind was light and onshore so I decided to do a series of drifts from the deep water towards the shore. I circled around and got the boat in position. The bucket of razor clams that I had picked up in Chesapeake Beach looked to be exactly the right bait to use. So I put the bait table on the gunwale and set out a few clams.

Now, I’ve got to say in his defense that this one of the very first fishing trips that Possible had ever been on and, as a senior scientist at NASA, nothing in his professional life had prepared him for what was about to happen.

The routine was simple you baited the hook cast it into the water waited a second or two then reeled in another one they were that think. By the time we starter the first drift, the bluefish were chopping up the surface driving the baitfish up and then charging through the schools. The breeze had dropped to almost nothing and the boat drifted gently towards the shore. The sun was heading towards the western horizon and life was very good. I set to work hauling in my share.

In a break between fish I became aware that Art was muttering something about how inconsiderate that kind of thing was. Darn things at least you could wait! I looked over and noticed that he had not boated a single fish I had half a dozen nice ones in the fish box on my side of the boat. So I decided to watch for a bit and see if I could. This is what I saw:

Art would start with a clean hook - bait it with a nice piece of clam. And then, being a fastidious type, he would place the rod in the holder and turn back to bucket of water I had placed in the middle of the cockpit and wash his hands. By the time he got back to the rod, the bluefish had cleaned the hook and the process started all over again. You see he had enough line out so that the hook was in the water.

I looked down in the water just aft of the transom and saw a bunch of bluefish lined up waiting to be fed!

What was funniest was Possible’s reaction to the discovery of the bare hook. You darn fish could at least wait until I was ready! That is very inconsiderate! I watched this cycle a couple or times. The fish got fed and Art was getting madder and madder at them. Finally I just had to make a suggestion.

Art, when you put your rod in the holder, crank in a little line and keep the bait out of the water until you are ready.

So here he goes baits the hook puts the rod in the holder cranks the reel until it is just above the surface and turns back to wash his hands. As he did we heard this splashing turned to see the bluefish coming out of
the water and a clean hook dangling at the end of the line. We both broke out in a fit of laughing.

Well that was many years ago and Art is now a fine, battle tested fisherman - but, every once in a while, I still remind him about talking to the bluefish.

Fishing Definitions

WEB (n): A bothersome, arrogant creature that hibernates from about mid-September to mid-June, emerging most often around holiday weekends. Similar to hammerheads and calm tossing tourists, WEB's are more likely to be jet-skiers, sun worshippers and jetty sightseers who believe it is their life's mission to muck up your fishing, the roads and make a general nuisance of themselves.  WEB is an acronym for Week End Bastage. 

Note:  This term does not apply to courteous fishermen who actually know what they are doing or are at least trying to figure it out.

Knitting a sweater (v): The act of tangling your line in a hopeless mess while fishing.   Usually associated with fly fishing, it is most commonly the Gordian Knot that shoots up out of the basket, snags on the stripping guide and ruins the beautiful 120' cast you where making to that 50 pounder.  Usually accompanied by uncouth language.

Marine Hackle. (n): A fly fishing term for bait, usually uncomplimentary in nature, generally referring to some type of living creature impaled on a curved and barbed piece of steel. Derived from the freshwater fly fishing term: Garden Hackle, i.e.: a night crawler.

unicorn-(n): An elusive creature that swims in all our salt and brackish waters. It has stripes, but no horn. This term is used mainly when said creatures are least abundant...almost makes you wonder if they really exist at all!

hammerhead-(n): An angler with little or no knowledge of the quarry he seeks or the water in which he is seeks them. It's a stage, many hammerheads will one day be freed of this title. Generally, hammerheads will carry with them a lantern, bucket, at least one Ugly Stick, and will often hold their spinning rods upside down. Give them room lest you put yourself in danger of becoming impaled or hopelessly tangled with them.

LARGE-(n): This term is relative to the areas in which it is used. In coining this term over 6 years ago, I was given the responsibility of defining it for the areas in which I fish. Locally, a LARGE is a striper over 25#. In some areas the minimum size for LARGE can vary much from this weight. Please consult your local sharpies.

sharpies-(n): I hate this term, it has become hopelessly overused. At one point, a sharpie was an angler who had mastered all things striper, now it is used to described anyone catching a couple bass when others are failing. Please help to elevate the sharpies back to the status they deserve and use this word only when someone is scoring double digits in tough times! :)

blood sucking night demon-(n): This term was coined some years ago by Jerry and myself while catching the now nearly extinct whiting that used to hit our beaches. It is in reference to the skates that would constantly be hammering any baits intended for said whiting. Also see rat-tailed flounder.

blitz-(n): A widely misused term. In it's proper context, blitz describes many anglers taking many fish on many different lures over a wide area. Sadly, it's now used to describe a couple guys witnessing a school of bait being pursued by a couple fish. In it's present context it is used to attract the unknowing to the beaches and sell lures and bait. It's not a blitz unless the fish are plentiful and easy, please use this term correctly so as not to add to it's misuse! :)

rat-tailed flounder-(n): A newer term used to described skates caught during the day light hours while throwing clams for striped bass. See also blood sucking night demon.

unbuttoned-(n): When a fish just mysteriously falls off the hook, even though the rod was bent and no slack given...a sad occurrence, but fairly common.

dillies-(n): See hammerheads.

plastic Doodle-(n): Any one of a number of species of plastic things that can be caught while surf fishing. Most are small and harmless plastic bag parts, but occasionally you can stick a real monster...I landed my first gallon milk jug last week, a real fighter was that doodle!

boardwalk Fishing-(v): This rude and lazy behavior can be seen up and down the Jersey coast, anywhere the surf is visible from the boardwalk. This is when a lazy person dons binoculars and just stands on the boardwalk, looking for bent rods. They are too lazy to actually walk down and fish for themselves, they'd rather wait until others do all the work and problem solving, then they will rudely come down to where they are catching fish and be sure to cast over their lines and cause trouble. This is the lowest point to which a fisherman can be reduced.

clam tossing tourist-(n): Yet another negative connotation for the clueless angler who chooses to throw bait. Said anglers will have no idea what they are doing, but will no doubt be doing it in such a fashion that they will preclude other anglers from fishing a productive stretch of beach. Also used as a term to describe would be "professional" anglers who really don't have any idea what they are doing when it comes to fishing artificials, they can only take bass with bait but pretend to know all things striper.

chunkin'-(v): Fishing with pieces of fish for bait. Originally used as a term to describe the chumming of pieces of fish, this term has now been accepted as just fishing with chunks of fish for bait. Also can be the result of sea sickness and too much lunch.

snakes-(n): American eels, used live or rigged for bait. Generally refers to big eels, but can be used to describe any type of eel.

nuts-(n): Immature or smallish bunker. Also known as peanuts.

razor Lips-(n): Nasty, oily, tooth ridden bullies of the sea....bluefish.

suds-(n): Any place where the ocean and the land meets. Usually a beach, but not necessarily.

rat-(n): An endearing term used to describe a very small striped bass. See also "Maryland Keeper".

skunk-(n): The skunk, what a sad thing to means that you got nothing, nada, no fish, zero, got skunked!

salad-(n): Many types of vegetation and flotsam that can mess up your fishing. The green leafy stuff that most resembles actual lettuce is the least of your's the stringy, small pieces choking your fishing areas that will send you home pulling out your hair!

turtlehead-(n): This is a sad,biological event that inevitably happens when you are a substantial distance from the nearest restroom. At the end of a long jetty is the last place you want to be wrestling the turtle!

air hanky-(n): A method of removing mucus from your nose in the event that your long sleeves are no longer conducive to wiping your nose on them. It's not a pleasant thing to see, but sometimes it can buy you some time till you can get to a tissue!

nest-(n): This is an occurrence unique to my friend Charlie. You will see these nests on long stretches of beaches that we fish together. They happen when I think there are fish around yet haven't stuck one in a while..Charlie will lose interest, retreat some feet from the water, settle into the sand and kind of hollow out a that will support him so he can see if I am into fish or's almost like boardwalk fishing, he doesn't want to give up and go back to the truck, but he doesn't want to expend any more energy in the hunt. As I move down the beach, just before I get out of sight, he'll pick up his camp, follow a bit, build another nest, and wait. On a long night, there could be as many as four or five of these nests....feel free to use them if you come across them, he rarely uses the same one twice!

rip-(n): A rip is where shallow water, deeper water, and current all come together. It's a place of fast water, seams, and a bottom change..a great spot to hunt unicorns. Rips will move sometimes, as the depth of the water changes, they will sometime get stronger and sometimes die out. They all have their moments, some are best for only short periods of a tide, others are great regardless of tidal stage or direction.

handwarmer-(n): There are many names for this finest of God's creations, the female of our species! This term was coined on one of those cold striper hunts a few years ago, we looked longingly at a fine specimen, certain that she could drive the cold from our hands...thus, the name.

"the birds"-(n): This is a sad thing, when guys spend more time looking for "the birds" than they do fishing, what are these guys after, birds or fish? "The birds" is a term used to describe the seagulls and/or terns that will scream and dive into schools of baitfish that are pushed to shore or against the surface as the unicorns or razor lips tear into them. It's this time of year I wish seagulls were migratory, leaving for Florida in September...if it wasn't for the seagulls diving and screaming, about 3/4 of the guys out there would stay home, for they aren't interested in just fishing, they are looking only for "the birds"'s so sad, I like to fish!

slob-(n): A very big fish. Also, what you would think of a guy who fished 42 out of 48 hours one weekend while driving 85 miles each way to do so if you looked in his truck window. See also LARGE.

headache birds-(n): My own personal term to describe the Gannets that show up in October. These great birds are unique in that they will circle the schools of bait from heights of 100 feet, then lock up their wings and dive full speed into the water...ouch! The term "headache birds" was my obvious choice the first time I forgot they were called gannets!

mugged-(v): A phenomenon common at Montauk and other striper hot spots is which you are the only one on the beach/jetty/inlet/point who has hooked up or landed a fish and suddenly you find yourself surrounded by people. The most common method of mugging is the beach/jetty/inlet/point two-step, where you are approached two steps at a time until the actual mugging. The incidence of mugging is inversely proportional the amount of fish caught and density of hammerheads present. In general, the fewer fish caught in the presence of a greater number of hammerhead the more likely you are to be mugged and the more severe the mugging is likely to be!

denizen's of the deep-(n): Any and all of the vast numbers of spiked / long tailed / toothy / generally unpleasant creatures which would typically arrive in great waves at low slack water to devour or maim the hard-to-come-by live spot being fished at Cape Henlopen, DE for the wonderful, now, sadly MIA, weakfish.

ebb-(v): Refers to the outgoing tide, when the water is getting shallower. Not to be confused with the accepted Cape Cod terms of east and west when referring to tides. Also, what the bass are doing from our area as we speak!

flood-(v): Refers to the incoming tide, when the water is getting deeper. Also, not to be confused with Cape Cod tidal references of east and west. Hopefully, what some LARGE will be doing to our area in the next couple weeks!

pick -(v): A low, but steady catch rate while fishing, i.e. slow pick - 1 or 2 fish per hour, steady pick - 3 or 4 per hour. More than 3 or 4 fish per hour is referred to as "catching." See also catching.

rock Snot-(n): The super slippery coating present on continually wet rock jetties. Much beloved by true jetty fishers for it's ability to keep away undesirables, such as hammerheads, clam-tossing tourists et al.

boomer-(n): Large wave which crests and breaks against the side or front of a jetty with a loud crash and much soaking spray. Also much beloved by true jetty fishermen, (see rock snot).

roller-(n): Large dangerous wave which crests and breaks on top of a jetty. Not beloved by true jetty fishermen. Also known as "sweeper" for obvious reasons.

catching-(v): The actual hooking, landing, and releasing of striped bass. As the fishing picks up beyond the definition of "pick", you begin catching. The varying degrees of "catching" are catching a few- 4 or 5 fish per hour; catching a bunch- 6 to 10 fish per hour; catching the crap out of them- 11 to 16 fish per hour. Anything above 16 fish per hour is considered "killing them" or often referred to as "they are committing suicide!" NOTE: At 16 fish per hour, the entire act of casting, hooking, fighting, landing, unhooking, and releasing each fish can take at most 3 minutes and 45 seconds. This is quite a frantic pace...but it's been done more than a few times! About the maximum catch rate I would guess would be about 30 fish per hour, or 2 minutes between fish landed....and this is only possible when the fish are small and close...I've only reached this level a couple times in my's frantic, you will get sore bloody thumbs from handling 30 fish per hour!

sausages-(n): Used to describe toes that are so cold from wearing wet waders into the 30 degree air and standing on cold rocks. The toes feel as if they are swollen like sausages and then crammed into boots that are too small!

gator-(n): A bluefish over that 10-12 pound mark...a nasty food processor with fins...see also razor-lips.

mohawk-(v): Describes super striper fishing, where you are getting hits almost every cast for a good period of time. For example, "Last night we caught 50 fish, we mohawked them!"

trigger-(n): This describes one or more things that are found to be the feature/color/action that the stripers are keying in on a particular trip or under certain conditions. In the spring, a touch of orange on the chins of flies is a trigger when the fish are feeding on shrimp. Likewise, when sand eels are around, a long, thin silhouette is often a trigger.

sucker fish-(n): A fish, usually alone, that hits just as you are leaving or moving, suckering you into spending more time in the place you know you should be leaving. This usually occurs as soon as it's agreed that you are moving to a new spot after this cast...that's when the sucker fish always seem to pop up!

Fling Zone-(n): The area east of Ocean Avenue spanning from the north side of Manasquan Inlet to the south side of Shark River Inlet. This covers Manasquan, Sea Girt, Spring Lake, Belmar, the waters of Manasquan Inlet and the waters of Shark River Inlet.

Homer-(n): A fisherman/woman who won't even bother to leave their homes without verified and confirmed reports of at least 3 previous days of blitzing fish. They also need to know exactly where, exactly when, and exactly what to throw....if you could put their feet in your old boot prints, it would be appreciated. Needless to say, Homers don't fish much ;-)

4-Cornered Grouper-(n): Generally found in waters with a fair to heavy amount of drug smuggling...this delightfully flavored critter is best served amongst friends over a very open that is ;-) Caution: It is illegal to posses any portion of a 4 cornered grouper and the authorities should be notified immediately upon discovery....well, maybe clip a fin or something...then call the cops ;-)

topshot-(n): Addition of line to the top of a spool, usually just a very long leader, but sometimes as much as a 100 yds or more. Used generally as the fishing line and the line underneath the "topshot" is used as a backing of sorts. In the case of a short topshot, it's used as a very long leader. If the leader reaches the spool and has many turns on the spool, consider it a topshot. It it reaches the spool with a few turns on the spool, it's considered a "shock leader"...if it doesn't reach the spool, it's just a plain leader.

A Reel Mixed Catch

My old fishing buddy's face had a perplexing look upon it when I told him we had caught a real mixed catch. But when I explained that the fish were both saltwater and freshwater species, all taken from the same spot, the look became more transfixed.

This in itself is not an unusual occurrence in Venice, Louisiana, during the fall season when the Mississippi River begins its annual fall. It is during this time of year the river stage drops below 3 feet, allowing saltwater to move north up the river, bringing with it saltwater species. 

Though weather conditions both locally as well as up north have a bearing as to the time the river stages reach their lowest levels, it generally occurs in late September. It will stay clean and low through fall, and then around December it will routinely rise and muddy up again. As this occurs, it gradually pushes the "saltwater wedge" back out into the Gulf of Mexico, taking with it its resident species. 

Nevertheless, upon hearing the report, my old fishing buddy invited himself to my honey hole. And to ward off any consideration to my declining, he volunteered his boat with me at the helm.

Now how could I refuse such a bribe, since his boat was a much newer, faster, and fancier model than mine? 

After launching at Venice Marina, we headed south down the east side of the Mississippi River toward the location designated on a map as the Delta National Wildlife Refuge. This spot is situated right before Main Pass and is identified by a tall, red and white lookout tower and a concrete bulkhead that boarders the river’s edge.

Once we arrived at the spot, I hardly turned the ignition off, let alone anchored, when my vivacious old friend had already hooked up with two nice sized largemouth bass on a tandem sparkle beetle rig. His audible reaction could be heard way back at the launch, as he continued reeling in amazement.

Feeling left out after making two casts and coming up blank, I began to wonder why I showed them this spot to begin with. On the third cast I became more frustrated, when I hung up on the bottom and had to break my line free. Re-rigging wouldn’t have been so bad had they ceased catching and swing fish past my nose.
Using tandem, clear/silver flaked sparkle beetles with ¼ oz. jig heads can put a hurtin’ on the fish in this area––both fresh and saltwater species alike. The reason being is that these old-faithful lures closely resemble live river shrimp, a crustacean predator fish can't seem to resist.

 It’s a good idea to keep up with the type of fish species being boated and the limit for each, since the area produces a wide variety of freshwater fish that you may not be readily  familiar with. Certain freshwater species, like white bass and small striped bass, can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between the two. To overcome such a problem, brining a book or chart that has color illustrations of different fish species, and always consult with the local *Wildlife and Fisheries for the bag and size limits before you plan a trip. *(web site addresses at the end of article)

In any case, a live well can prove handy if you want to cull through the fish in order to keep the larger ones. This is particularly useful when catching stripers and largemouths (black bass) that usually run small.

As alluded to earlier, the water in this area is both freshwater and saltwater during this time of the year. Therefore it's to be noted that the saltwater––being the heavier of the two––will remain below the freshwater. Thus, it is good to know the location of each species preferred haunt. First of all, both species can be caught within forty feet of the wall. But more specifically, saltwater species are taken in the deeper and lower levels of the water table, while the freshwater species prefer the shallower water closer to the wall structure. Average depths range near the wall is 14 to 25 ft.

One of the more productive areas is close and parallel to the concrete and wooden bulkhead where it joins together near the south end. Fish like hanging here because of the protection that is provided by the wooden stumps and other debris that lurk below. Also, bait-carrying waters flow in and out between the broken wooded planks and concrete wall.

Therefore, fishing on the bottom where most of the fish like to hang, you’re going to experience a lot of snags. That is why it is advantageous to bring plenty of pre-made, tandem sparkle beetle sets, and fish them just off the bottom with a slow retrieve and light twitching action.

Passing ships necessitate proper anchoring when fishing this area. To prevent hitting the wall with your hull, anchor the boat on the least amount of rope as possible, keeping it clear of the wall. If you have at least 8 ft. of chain on your anchor, this can be accomplished without it breaking loose.

Ship wakes are usually slow, non-cresting type rollers, but cargo vessels and crew boats can produce a bit more of a punch. For this reason it’s beneficial to keep one eye on the lookout, ready to sound a warning to hold on if you see one approaching.

After fishing this area for many years, you figure out how to prevent the loss of too much tackle and at the same time avoid getting shaken up by the wakes. If you're the adventurous type, you might want to try getting out of the boat and fishing on top of the wall. If you decide to do this, however, you want to leave someone aboard the boat that knows how to drive, just in case it breaks free. From this vantage point you’ll probably catch more freshwater species but experience less hang-ups.

It wasn't long before certain crew members decided to get on the wall and join one of their fellow fishing companions as they observed him hauling in an eight-pound striper, followed by several black and white bass. Certainly, Louisiana isn't exactly noted for striped bass, no more than the crew was noted for freshwater fishing, but you'd never know it just by looking.

Casts made away from the wall and toward the deeper water often produced saltwater species that you wouldn’t expect catch in such a location. For instance, there were times when one angler hooked and landed a Spanish mackerel or speckled trout, while at the same moment his fishing companion–fishing closer to the wall–grappled with a white or striped bass.

Even while such action unfolded, it wasn’t uncommon to see passersby looking at you as if to say "what in the world do you think you're going to catch here?" But when you see them back at the launch, and they gaze inside your ice chest, their attitude changes quickly.

At noontime we just about had our 98 quart ice chest full with fish, reaching our bag limit for stripers and largemouths. But the ice chest also boasted of specks, redfish and a few Spanish mackerels––a real mixed catch in anyone’s book. Or should I say box?

The Wildlife Refuge wall is not the only place in Venice that you can reap such a mixed catch in fall. Two other nearby spots that can easy be found on a map are Tiger Pass, on the west side of the river, and Baptiste Collette Bayou, on the east side of the river. The only difference between the wall and these other two places is that redfish dominate the latter. Also, the many other passes and tributaries that lie off the main river stem produce similar catches, but if you aren’t familiar with how to navigate them, you could get stranded on a sandbar.

At the end of the trip, we approached the launch where four boats waited in line to be picked up by the hoist. As we positioned our boat for pick up, the operator turned toward us with a curious smirk and blared out, "How’d y'all do?" In response my old fishing buddy opened the ice chest lid and gruffly bellowed, "Just a real mixed catch, cap! Just a real mixed catch!"


A number of years ago, my buddy John and I decided to take a trip to the pristine Everglades. Billy, a friend of John’s, operates a rustic fish camp that I was told was quaint, remote and just “perfect.” It was located in a little town called Everglades City. Maybe you have heard of it. It’s like a spot in the desert. Even if you’ve seen it before, an unmarked route makes for challenging navigation. Thank goodness John was familiar with the backcountry or we would probably still be driving around the wetlands. 
We took Hwy 41 to an old road that branched off in the direction of the camp. We wanted to arrive in the afternoon, but with heavy traffic through Naples, we finally rolled in around 6:oo p.m. John was right when he said the camp was rustic. The cabins had more moss growing on the shingles than the oak and cypress trees surrounding it. The huts had thatch palm roofs. You actually had to duck down to get through the doorway as the palm fronds hung only a few feet off the ground. The circular cabin we were in was half porch and half sleeping quarters (unscreened by the way), with two single beds constructed on 2x4s with four-inch foam mattresses. As I stood in awe assessing the situation, I couldn’t help but ask John, “How about those two cabins over there across the way?”

“One is a combination kitchen/dining area with an old couch, TV and VCR. And the other, well that’s Billy’s place,” answered John. Billy’s place, too, was rustic, but five-star compared to where we were going to be spending the next couple of days. His cozy cabin had a shower, toilet, a plush double bed, sitting area and screened-in porch.

Regardless of first impressions, I was excited about fishing and wanted to get my rods rigged so we could get an early morning start. As we started to unpack, I remarked to John about the large birds that were zipping around our hut. “Those aren’t birds Henry, those are bats!”

John reassured me that the bats weren’t the blood-sucking variety and that they were quite large due to the vast amount of insects in the area.

After settling in, John strolled over to the kitchen to help Billy with dinner and suggested I come over as soon as I was done rigging my gear. I didn’t make too much progress before I decided it was a good time to grab a cold one. I walked the dimly lit 60-yard stretch of marsh to the cabin with the kitchen. As I pushed open the creaky screen door, I could see the guys were one step ahead of me, talking big fish stories with beer in hand. Dinner wasn’t going to be ready for another 20-minutes, so I grabbed a beer and wandered back to the cabin to finish my rigging duties. As I entered, I suddenly felt something on the back of my neck. Instantly, I dropped the beer, fell to the ground and screamed like a little girl. I don’t have too many phobias, but spiders and big bugs weaken my knees. Unsure as to what sort of flying monster was attacking me, I cautiously moved my head to the left and didn’t see a thing, then to the right, nothing there either. My eyes drifted to the thatch roof and as I trembled in fear, I laid my eyes on the largest man-eating locust that I have ever seen! Yuk! 

I wanted to handle this all on my own and said to myself, “Henry, be tough. You can do this!”

After a quick deliberation, I devised a master plan, which at the time seemed like a good idea. I grabbed one of my casting rods and proceeded to stare at this ugly insect that I desperately wanted out of my life. I slowly raised the butt of the rod as I prepared to compress him into immediate death. On the count of three, I forced the butt to his thorax. Crunch…I got him! Well, sort of, but I forgot one thing. The thatch roof offered no support and as I fired the rod upwards, so went a good portion of the roof. The locust was trying to escape even tough I had him pinned. In fact, he was still wriggling around. I panicked and needed help. I felt ashamed for doing this, but what choice did I have? “Hey John! Billy! Get over here quick!” I exclaimed.

Having heard my screams, the guys were only seconds away. One of them blurted, “Henry, what the hell are you doing?”

“Don’t ask; just help me!”

Laughing hysterically, Billy grabbed a chair and calmly reached for the locust. I felt relieved – that is until Billy obnoxiously held the bug in front of my face and shouted, “BOO!”

Third Time's A Charm


There’s nothing like hooking and landing a monster fish, and I have had my share of great catches over the years both with and without a television camera peering over my shoulder. Now, everyone has heard about goliath grouper. Their shear size, relentless power, and most of all their tenacity, place these beasts in a league all their own. This is why I jumped at the opportunity when a young guide called me and said, “Henry, do you want to do a big-fish show, a really, really big-fish show?” 
He told me he had been experimenting with monster goliath grouper for quite some time and that he put together the gear to handle them. The nice thing too, Captain Ben mentioned, the fish were right in my own backyard of Boca Grande Pass. We scheduled our big-fish excursion and I proceeded to get the entire rundown on the type of equipment we would be using. I told Captain Ben that I had similar gear which I would prepare for this special day.

As always when filming a television show we have two boats, one for the camera crew and one for the guest captain and myself. Captain Ben said it wasn’t imperative that we start too early, the tide needed to be just-right and he wanted to catch some large bait (jack and ladyfish).

The day came with beautiful skies and perfect weather. When we joined boats to discuss the game plan, Captain Ben went through the drill which seemed quite a feat for only a two-man crew.

The idea was to hook a five-pound jack in its back and with the addition of a large weight, get the bait to the bottom as quickly as possible. We were fishing heavy 200lb. test monofilament leader with 250lb. test PowerPro. The most important factor here was a locked-down drag. Zero drag out of the reel, nothing! Now the scary thing is that you make the drop in shallow-depths of approximately 15-feet where a monster goliath could inhale the bait at any moment, so you need to send the offering down in a hurry and quickly push the lever drag to full-strike. As soon as you feel a thump, hold on and yell, “Fish On!”

Now you better be prepared as the boat operator, in this case, Captain Ben would reverse the boat to help persuade the gargantuan away from its lair.

First Try

The bait’s on the bottom…one thousand one…one thousand WHAM! FISH ON!
“You got ‘em Hank.” Ben screamed, “HOLD ON – HOLD ON!”

Wow, what a heavyweight! The rod doubled-over and as I held on with all my might, within seconds the line parted. What the $#%@ Ben? I exclaimed. He responded, “You want to try my rig,” which consisted of an old Penn Senator loaded with what appeared to be cord mounted on a broom-stick of a rod. “No thanks,” I said.

Second Try

This time I doubled my 250 lb. test braid into a Bimini twist and added another four-feet of 200 lb. test mono so we had some stretch, as my braid running line offered zero give. I told my cameraman to board our boat so he could film some quality close-ups of the drop and hook-set. I plunked another five-pound jack into the water, free-spooled it to the bottom, and locked the lever drag. Just as I pushed the lever forward, WHAM! He was on again, maybe the same one or another one, but definitely another monster.

With Captain Ben in full control of the boat, we were winning the battle. I could feel it; this fish was going to be mine. Just as the rod powered down with a heavy pull, Captain Ben hollered, “REEL…REEL…REEL…Don’t let him get in the hole!”

I cranked down with two-turns of the handle and pulled with all of my might! I was thinking to myself, this is going to make for great TV when suddenly, SNAP! The line broke, the rod came jerking back and smashed me right in the forehead. I lost my balance and with a quick bobble, fell right into the drink with microphone, rod, gear and all. As my head bobbed on the surface with no sight of my cap or sunglasses, Captain Ben offered me a helping hand. All the while, I could see my cameraman filming away with a big smile on his face. So much for ego.

Third Try

Now I am mad, real mad and for some reason, we’ve gathered a crowd of four boats trying to figure out what we’re up to. With one microphone out of commission, I asked for the shirt off my cameraman’s back as mine was now laid out to dry. Captain Ben said, “Hey Henry, do you want to try my rig?”

“Yes,” I said in a humble voice. The cord on the old reel was thick; even pulling off a foot or two was a chore as it barely fit through the guides. We positioned the bow of the boat and with lively bait in hand; I remarked how this felt like déjà-vu.

“Alright Henry,” Ben exclaimed. Down went my bait…one thousand one…one thousand WHAM! “FISH ON!” I shouted.

Same deal, this goliath gave all that it had with powerful body-slams at the bottom of the structure. Not a breath was taken as I struggled and exerted all the power I had. I held on and so did the fish for what seemed like forever. The monster goliath grouper came to the surface for the first time in three attempts. After a five-minute tug-o-war – man against fish – I finally won! What a giant, what a catch! With bruised ribs, a throbbing headache and a deflated ego, I earned respect from a young guide that acknowledged me as the most persistent angler he has ever fished with. I was still dripping wet from head to toe and for some reason, the fish appeared to be grinning from gill-plate to gill-plate.

Henry Waszczuk is the host of the award-winning Fishing the Flats and Fins & Skins Classic Adventures television series. Henry has produced and hosted over 1,000 TV shows and is entering his 24th season on air. 

A Legend is Born

Every sports legend has one. A moment in which he or she rises above all expectations, breaks through the shackles of mortality and becomes a sports hero. It’s this very moment that a legend is born. I was born on November 18, 1974, and as a strange looking baby my arrival had little public fanfare. On July 18, 2003, I was reborn as a fishing legend! 
It was a blustery summer afternoon and my cousin Jeremy and I decided to brave the unfavorable weather and fish the so-called late bite. Inexplicably, perhaps by fate, we invited my dad to join. I say inexplicably because even in ideal conditions, he has the fishing patience of a five year old.

As we left the dock my dad began laying the groundwork for a short trip. He had to go to the store, was expecting an important phone call, and most notably did not want to be struck by lightning. Jeremy and I ignored, even pretended not to hear this first wave of resistance because we knew there would be more.
After netting a livewell full of pilchards, we bounced out the inlet like a novice skier cautiously navigating a field of icy moguls while my dad moaned, winced and grunted his disapproval. We plodded offshore and within a mile spotted a bird. Jeremy and I quickly deployed three trolling lures, while dad questioned why we were fishing for a seagull. For the record, it was not a seagull, but a prized frigate. Regardless, the demon bird seemed more intent on leading us into a tempest than to fish. For nearly an hour we followed, seemingly deeper and deeper into a maelstrom as dad's objections grew louder and louder.

Soaked from the combination of ocean spray and pounding rain, my dad finally ordered us back to shore. As I dejectedly took course for home I caught a glimpse of a livewell filled with promise in the shape of dozens of darting pilchards. The sight initiated both hope and defiance.

I nonchalantly told my dad, “I’ve heard some good sailfish reports. Before we go in, I want to try it.” I was hoping that my casual delivery would somehow soften the news. It seemed to work, as he offered moderate resistance, but not nearly enough to overcome the sudden enthusiasm Jeremy and I shared.

At the time, the prospect of hooking a sailfish seemed as likely as landing a mermaid. But I did hear reports that people were catching them. Amidst the building waves and heavy downpour, we setup our drift and floated out a couple of frisky baits. The depth finder read 120-feet…the supposed mermaid depth.

Wet, cold, hungry and annoyed, my dad reached for the keys and within seconds the boat was started. I was tempted to acquiesce and concede defeat. Yet despite all of the elements and unlikelihood of our quest, something drove me to press on. Still, I would have to overcome my dad's persistence, which had now manifested itself in him being poised at the helm and bumping the throttles into gear.

“Dad, just wait a minute and I will catch a sailfish,” I said.

I hardly believed my own words, but like a battered boxer I simply wanted one more round. My dad responded to my ludicrous request like only he could.

“ have one-minute!” He stammered as he turned off the engines.

Then he began his countdown. “60, 59, 58…” “Dad, stop!” “45, 44, 43...” I tried to block out his rhythmic count, but it was impossible. “38, 37, 36…” And his pace was increasing. “30, 29, 28…” The booming countdown now faded like a distant echo as my concentration was fixed on the line suddenly uncoiling from my spool at an astonishing pace. “20, 19, 18…” 

“Dad, you can stop counting. I have my sailfish,” I said.

The instant I uttered my prophetic words the line came tight, the reel made its glorious scream and a beautifully lit sailfish erupted from the water. “You do! You do!” He shouted.

The only one more surprised than him was me. For the next half hour I battled my first billfish, all the while my dad excitedly snapped pictures as Jeremy coached me with words of encouragement. I finally brought the fish boatside and we proudly posed with our catch for a quick photo. As I watched the fish regain its brilliant colors, kick and swim off, I felt a sense of gratitude. It was gratitude not only for the terrific battle that I have come to appreciate in every sailfish I have fought since, but also for providing me with my legendary fishing moment.

My dad has fished with us countless times since, and on needed occasion, has resorted to his countdown tactic. So, in truth, that day and catch did become legendary…a legendary family moment. And there are no moments more important than those! 

– Brent J. Mechler II

Words of Wisdom

I recall my father providing my first fishing lesson when I was a young, easily frustrated angler. "Patience is a virtue," he would repeat. At the time, I had no idea what virtue was, but knew enough to associate this refrain with a lackluster day of fishing. As I grew older I either acquired this virtue or caught more fish. Maybe it was a little of both. Regardless, it was the first of many adages that I would validate through my fishing experiences. But surprisingly, while many sayings have stood the test of time, there are many I would debunk.
“The sargassum is always greener on the other side.” The original refrain was not about sargassum, nor is this fishy flotsam green. Still, no part of this proverb is true. Many times I’ve left a promising weedline in search of one with more life. I find neither. Instead, I end up furiously seeking that original location and the fish I left for better pursuits. So, I have left my last weedline in search of yellower pastures!

“The end justifies the means.” Look only at my not-so-graceful art of gaffing to validate this age-old philosophy. I have fished for 20-years, and have swung the gaff countless times. While not always pretty, my efforts have rarely been ineffective. I have whiffed, bounced, dropped, slipped, tripped, splashed, ripped and missed. But on all but a lone occasion, I have hoisted a fish over the gunnel. While it may have required an extra swing, caused an additional hole, or warranted ridicule…the end justifies the means with gaffing!

“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” We are trolling offshore with a perfect spread. Suddenly, the planer rod doubles over. The unknown predator doesn’t jump, but digs deep as line continues to peel at an alarming rate. "It’s probably a wahoo! Keep the boat in gear," someone exclaimed. Excitement reaches a boiling point as a long, silvery fish glimmers below and comes into focus. “It’s…a barracuda.” If it seems too good to be true, it probably is a barracuda.

"Don't throw the baby out with the bath water." Though a strange and confusing saying, I did use it to spin-off my own angling variation. Make sure to throw out the bait with the livewell water. This is a mistake I made once, emptying the livewell and forgetting to remove the leftover offerings. My subsequent outing was greeted with a horrific stench and a plague-like swarm of black flies and maggots. I have yet to repeat my folly.

"Don't look a gift horse in the mouth." Nor a gift fish. And is there a fish that qualifies any more than the loved, hated, but always willing to battle bonito? When these powerhouses invade our reefs, reels scream and anglers curse. Yet the much-maligned bonito gets no respect, earning dubious nicknames. But not long after they depart our waters like an unwanted guest, do we find ourselves mired in a slow day and yearning for that gift fish and its great fight!

"Grab the bull dolphin by the horns." While dolphin have no horns, grabbing one remains ill advised. I learned this following an aforementioned gaffing incident. It was a big bull and I was determined to get it in the boat despite losing the gaff overboard. I grabbed the fish by the tail, though an argument could be made that the tail grabbed me. The battle ensued and I was thrown about as if holding an uncontrollable paint mixer. I finally boated the fish, but only after refuting this silly suggestion.

"Loose lips sink ships." Actually, defective bilge pumps and three days of rain sink 'em. This is another one that I learned the hard way. On a side note, an equally unfortunate boating incident gave merit to the saying, "Where there is smoke, there is fire."

"Never leave for tomorrow what can be done today." A fisherman certainly did not author this nonsense! An angler's version would more likely read. "If it can wait until tomorrow, do it tomorrow and fish today.” Consider the original version another misguided motto.

"A watched pot never boils." I have never tested this one, but I can tell you this for certain. A watched fishing rod never bends. In fact, I have proven that an ignored one will instantly attract fish. I cannot explain how or why, but the rod I am furthest from and least accessible to will always get whacked first. Perhaps the fish enjoy watching me scramble, tumble and plow my way through an obstacle course of buckets, coolers, rods, hooks, etc. only to dejectedly arrive at my destination too late. I have tried to fool the fish and pretend not to watch, even utilizing mirrored lenses to hide the direction of my gaze. But they know, and so do I – a watched fishing rod never bends.

"Waste not, want not" A more applicable mantra for our glorious sport does not exist. Whether adhering to limits, properly reviving a sailfish, utilizing circle-hooks or venting a grouper for release, our collective actions today determine the health of our fisheries tomorrow. The fishing community must continue to lead conservation efforts, cherish the ocean's resources and always “Waste not, want not.” 

The History of Tarpon Fishing

It probably all began on a hot summers day when one of Southwest Florida's Native American Indians cast his gaze out over the Gulf of Mexico and marveled at the sight of a gigantic silver fish propelling itself completely out of the water. I can imagine the feeling that this image must have invoked, as to this day I still get a tingle up my spine with every leap made by the might Silver King.

The concept of trying to catch one of these mighty brutes I'm sure caused many to wonder and question the probability of hooking, subduing and then actually landing a fish of such phenomenal size and strength. I am sure this was a topic of numerous heated discussions among the early anglers and although no one knows for sure who actually landed the first Tarpon on the southwest coast of Florida we do know that it was accomplished with a twisted cotton hand line. What battles they must have been, having only a pair of leather and cotton gloves as protection from the blistering runs of the Silver King.

As the sport progressed into the mid 1800's the advent of the rod and reel came into play. The first successes were accomplished with a typical outfit consisting of a twenty five dollar, one piece, six and a half foot rod, with agate guides and tip, a big forty dollar reel, a four dollar twenty-four tread line, two hundred yards long tested to forty eight pounds and a one dollar hook usually dressed with a strip of fresh mullet for bait. 

From the onset the anglers knew that as the Tarpon felt the steel of the hook this fish had a propensity for skyrocketing from the water and ejecting both bait and hook high into the air. Even when an angler was lucky enough to actually survive this first burst of aerobatics and succeed in finding a place for the hook to imbed in the Tarpons bony mouth, then and only then did the angler truly understand not only the awesome strength but also the tenacious will to survive of the mighty Silver King.

Soon the word spread through out the angling world and by the late 1800's anglers from around the globe were making their arrangements to come to southwest Florida to pit their skills against this mighty adversary. The only mode of transporation was the Flagler railroad and the most common destinations were Fort Myers and Boca Grande. Once here it depended on your financial resources as to how you would fish for your Tarpon. Whether you stayed on your own yacht, rented a houseboat or stayed on land the most common method of fishing was to hire a boatsman. For a sum of two dollars on the low end to six dollars on the high end you could hire a boatsman to either paddle a canoe, row a small skiff or operrate a small skiff with a tiny outboard. Anchoring and bottom fishing for Tarpon was considered the lazy mans way and trolling was considered the sportsman way. But either way, once the hook was set the real fun began and the method with which it was achieved became immaterial. From now on the battle was just a test of will, yours against that of the mighty Silver King. 

It is important to note that the times have changed. The tackle, boats and guides are more specialized and do cost a bit more now but the things that have not changed at all are the graceful leaps and the tenacious will to survive that set this one fish apart from the rest. It is because of this that anglers from around the world still flock to the legendary Tarpon haunts along Florida's southwest coast to once more test their strength and endurance and to more often than not be subjected to a lesson in humility from one they call the Silver King.

Safety : Marine Critters To Remember


Salt water has been and continues to be a strong lure for people. Annually, millions of residents and visitors head to the coast to enjoy a few days at the beach or some salt water fishing. 

Like any other segment of the outdoors, the marine world has some organisms that are better to avoid or at least handle with extreme when you're on these animal's home turf. None of the marine critters that you're likely to encounter Florida are out there waiting for you, the unsuspecting victim, to get close enough so they can attack. The problems arise when these organisms try to defend themselves from what they perceive as a danger of unknown origin.

Jellyfish are marine invertebrates that cause problems for swimmers and surf anglers. Their nearly transparent tentacles contains thousands of stinging cells that erupt on contact and release a microscopic thread laced with a toxin.

The Portuguese man-of-war, a relative of the jellyfish, is actually a colony of animals living together and sharing a common gas-filled float. It's tentacles can be more than 10 feet long and each is armed with thousands of stinging cell. The bluish to pinkish float is a distinguishing mark for this potentially dangerous organism.

Under the right conditions, the wind may blow jellyfish and Man-of Wars into the surf zone and onto the shore. As the waves slosh the animals around, pieces of the tentacles break off and can sting people in the water. Also, curious kids and adults may pick one up that's washed onto the beach and be stung.

When stinging jellyfish or Man-of-Wars show up along the beach, it is usually newsworthy enough to merit coverage by the local media. At this point, staying out of the water is the only sure way to prevent being stung. If you are stung, an anti itch lotion will help relieve the discomfort of the painful stings.

Anyone who walks in the surf zone along the coast needs to know about stingrays. Some species inhabit the shallow waters commonly used by anglers and swimmers. The sting from a stingray comes from a serrated edged barb at the base of the fish's tail.

People are stung when they accidentally step on a stingray. It is the fish's way of protecting itself from what it considers a threat. The best way to avoid being stung is to shuffle your feet rather than taking normal steps. 
Shuffling increases the chances that, if a sting ray is in the area, you will only bump into the edge of the animal. That usually sends the stingray scurrying off to a safer place rather than initiating a defensive response. 

Wearing a pair of old sneakers when walking through shallow waters, is also a good idea especially if you're surf fishing.

The puncture wound stingrays inflict is painful, causes swelling at the wound site and often becomes infected. Because of the high probability of an infection, if you are stung, seek medical attention.

The sting from this fish is a problem for anglers who catch either the common Florida saltwater catfish or - the sea catfish (sometimes called the hardhead) or the gafftopsail catfish. both species have poisonous barbed spines in their dorsal (top) and pectoral (side) fins.

Anglers are susceptible to stings from these fish when trying to remove the hook from a fish they've caught. It usually occurs when you try to grab the fish and it slips from your grasp as it thrashes. There are also many documented cases of stings to the feet resulting when anglers try to step on the fish in order to stop the thrashing so they can remove the hook. The barbs are very rigid and can easily penetrate the sole of a sneaker.

Catfish stings must be carefully monitored. If swelling, redness or tenderness develops, consult a physician. 

FWC promotes boating safety, conservation at Super Bowl events

Be smart and safe outdoors.  That's the message the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will promote at 2010 South Florida Super Bowl celebrations.

FWC law enforcement officers will be on hand for two of the events: the Kids Fishing Classic Jan. 30 and the Super Celebrity Fishing Classic Feb. 3.  Officers will educate participants on boating safety basics, such as wearing a life jacket, maintaining proper lookout and developing a float plan.

"I encourage all participants, experienced or inexperienced boaters, to stop and chat with our officers.  Everyone can use a refresher on boating safety.  It's a matter of personal responsibility," said FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto, who is also chairman of the South Florida Super Bowl Host Committee.

The Super Celebrity Fishing Classic will celebrate the lives of three athletes, tragically killed last year when their boat capsized in the Gulf of Mexico.  The lone survivor of the accident will be on hand at the event.  Proceeds from the event will go to the victims' families' charities of choice.

The Kids Fishing Classic promises to be a day of fun for more than 150 inner-city kids.  Some of them have never been on a boat, let alone fished.

"Kids will learn how they can help conserve nature by catching and releasing fish," Barreto said.
For more information on boating safety, visit

For more information on the South Florida Super Bowl, visit

Our Diving Trip This Past Weekend

Just some photos from our diving trip over the weekend with the Bottoms Up Girls (Sandy, Alicia, Mandy, Susan and Brittany).

Wahoo! Yahoo!

They're the meanest, fastest and biggest mackerel in American waters, said to reach speeds up to 60 mph. Anglers fishing the blue water zones of the Gulf of Mexico are often pleasantly surprised by incidentally hooking them while trolling for other species like tuna or marlin. Wahoo can also be found from Virginia to South America, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean and can be found in a large number of other areas around the world. They seem to be mysteriously elite, especially to those who have only heard or read about them through an informative channel.

What is this fish- reputed to be the fastest gilled creature of the sea? It is the wahoo! (Acanthocybium Solanderi) Also called queenfish by the natives of the Caribbean, Ono by those of Hawaii, Peto by those of the Bahamas and Springer by the Brazilians. However, no matter what name you call it, the wahoo is most impressive in both appearance and fighting challenge it provides.

To Gulf anglers, nevertheless, the name "wahoo" perhaps lends more to the audible reaction of the recipient upon a jolting hookup with one of these lean, sleek, torpedo-like speedsters, than to a definitive scientific parallel. Here is a fish time and again confused with its cousin the king mackerel- due to its similar shape. But besides other identifiable traits, they're easily distinguishable from the kings if the color hasn't faded; a normal occurrence soon after death that renders the numerous dark vertical bands that extend to below the lateral line totally invisible. These bands are not found on the king mackerel, consequently you can see where the confusion may start if it is not freshly identified.

Besides the aforementioned, there are other discerning characteristics or identification marks (traits), such as its long snout which is about half the length of its entire head section, and the fact that king mackerel infrequently venture into the same territory where wahoo roam. This is because wahoo are more often found in deeper, blue water zones where dolphin and billfish occur.

Another difference between the king mackerel and wahoo lies in the tail section (caudal fins). On wahoo the tail fin projections are straight up and down; the kings have an arched shape projection.

Nevertheless, one of the greatest differences, if the others possibly fail you, is when it comes down to taste. Wahoo have snow white meat lacking heavy blood lines as do others in its clan. Here’s a meat that is firm in texture and uniquely mild tasting, even after extended freezing. In short, it is a connoisseur's delight.

There is much pro and con as to whether wahoo are more abundant in one place than another. There again, it probably depends on what source you listen to. If you are one to hold the National Marine Fisheries Service studies in high esteem, it's interesting to note what their study turned up. For example, a study of catches per hour of the top ten fish by offshore ocean trolling (excluding all near shore waters) showed that wahoo were not among the top five fish anywhere, and not among the top ten in either northwest Florida (Panama City Gulf Coast) or south Texas. Does this mean that the Gulf of Mexico is not a good place to hunt wahoo according to the N.M.F.S.? No way!

The study further showed that the catch rate was the highest by far off Louisiana’s coast, with one wahoo caught for every five hours of offshore trolling. That's five times higher than off the North Carolina coast, and six times higher than off south Florida's coast.

Wahoo are subject to being caught throughout the seasons in blue water, but in the Gulf area they begin breeding in May, reaching a peak in June and continue until October. They grow rapidly from birth, where some say they start out two-thirds fish and one-third alligator. Then, by the first year, they attain the length of about three feet. Between the ages of two and three, they are 4 to 4 1/2 ft. long, and four year olds are usually in the five foot range.

Interestingly, nowhere to date are wahoo sought commercially and normally they are not even a by-catch of longliners; neither are they vulnerable to traps, drift gill nets or trawls since it is even difficult to hook one on rod-and-reel due to their hard mouth and caninelike sharp teeth. Hence, they are often lost as often as landed. What this boils down to is that wahoo are not under much fishing pressure and no regulations to date have been imposed- creel or size limits.

Any angler familiar with catching wahoo can attest to the fact that they indeed grow larger than king mackerel and are more dominating in strength and beauty, vaunting brilliant vertical bands on their sides, and brandishing mighty teeth capable of slicing through 100 lb. test monofilament like a knife slicing unrefrigerated butter.

Obviously, going after these fish requires hefty equipment comparable to that used for catching tuna and marlin. Though one might get away with catching the aforesaid fish with the use of mono leaders ahead of the bait or lures, that's not the case with wahoo. You’ll need an 80 lb. test steel leader in 4 ft. length, either single strand or multi-strand, in order for the mono line to survive the vicious initial blow of its powerful jaws.

rapala2.JPG (89921 bytes)Some long-type lures (hard plastic, wood, etc.) like the Rapala Magnum 26 (one ft. long) may be able to get by with a bit shorter leader since its solid length offers additional protection from the wahoo swallowing the complete lure. Using leaders longer than 4 ft. in length really isn’t necessary and doing so can impede the lure's action. Of course it’s a different situation if you are drift fishing live bait. In such a case longer leaders of up to 6 ft. in length would be necessary.

Off the Louisiana coast, wahoo are repeatedly caught within the depth range of 15 to 20 ft. below the surface, particularly during spawning months as mentioned earlier. This is quite contrary to some other places that almost always use baits off planers or downriggers to get down deep where they normally like to stay.
This is not to say downriggers are never used off the coast of Louisiana to catch wahoo. When water conditions are murky or during the off season when better strikes occur down deeper, downriggers are more productive. Understandably, if strikes are not occurring at or near the surface, try your baits on downriggers starting at depths in 30 ft. increments until a hookup is made.

While Louisiana wahoo are mostly caught by trolling, there are other techniques that also catch them, like free-lining live mullet or large porgies while drifting near blue water rip lines or over a major structure. This is generally a slower and less convenient method that requires the use of a round live bait tank as well as a good source for obtaining such baits- usually captured with a cast net since they are not available alive commercially. As with any other sport fish, knowing what they the fish prefers to eat can aid in selecting the right kind and color lures for a more effective presentation.

Wahoo like feeding in the upper layers of the Gulf where they can find such species as small mackerel, flying fish, butterfish, herrings, spiny boxfish and squid, along with anything else that strays to far away from its sargassum grass cover.

Despite popular belief that big baits catch bigger fish, this is not the case with big wahoo which will tear up even small sized lures. I’ve seen 4/0 triple x treble hooks completely removed from the tail section- split ring and all- of a Rapala CD18 lure, leaving it splintered and mangled as if it were hit with a sledge hammer.

Wahoo, after taking the bait, run fast, straight and hard, but don't rocket down deep as do yellowfin tuna that are more relentless. Without a doubt, their stamina far exceeds that of the king mackerel under battle. Their fight can be likened more to a fight with a billfish but without its leaping.

The IGFA world record is just under 150 lbs. but they do get much larger, with one reported going 183 lbs. The Louisiana state record is 139 lbs. 4 oz. caught by Myron J. Fischer in April, 1976. As far as maximum size, biologists admit they do not know fully how big wahoo may reach, since many pelagic fish continue to grow all their lives. Unlike other species of fishes, wahoo don't get relatively stockier with age, but continue to become bigger and stronger as well as more athletically muscular and contoured.

Unlike other fish that school, the wahoo is basically a loner, only converging on a feeding area in a group briefly to take care of its seemingly endless appetite. For this reason catching two or more fish in one area isn't rare, once the feeding zone is discovered.

In Louisiana, the oil production platforms are the most popular locations for anglers, including the sea buoys that are sometimes located near these structures. Strikes can occur as close as 30-40 ft. from these steel-legged reefs, generally on the down current side. A considerable number, however, are also caught along the open waters of the 100 fathom curve where the continental shelf serves as a wahoo.jpg (118537 bytes) current deflector for moving bait.

The six-foot long, eighty-pounder shown here battered a Rapala Magnum 26 lure in blue water out of South West Pass, Venice, La., in seas in excess of six foot. The picture could not be taken until one hour later due to the extreme rocking of the vessel, but by that time the distinctive vertical side bands had vanished. The result is a picture to the unfamiliar eye that could pass for a huge king mackerel.

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