Archive | April 2014

don’t push the reds

been down sick the last couple days, But I have heard the red fish are really thick in spots on the west side, find a fishy looking spot Anchor up a good cast from the mangroves and toss cut bait towards the trees, one should be close or under the branches the next ones should be out from the trees, the hard part to predict is where they will be So cover it all. Oh and the more you chase them the more they run, So for right now sit and wait is the key

Stomach offers clues to fish’s diets

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These unlucky crabs ended up in the stomach of a hungry cobia. While cobia also eat a variety of fish, crabs make up a big part of their diet.

By MATT STEVENS
Man on the Pier

There is no better indicator of what a fish has been eating than its stomach. And while catch-and-release fishing doesn’t lend itself to this practice, when I keep a fish I generally take a look at the contents of its stomach to see what it’s been feeding on.

A sheepshead’s entrails are often packed with undigested bits of barnacles, as these make up the bulk of their diet. Could you imagine trying to digest the equivalent of a handful of gravel?

If you’ve ever opened up a cobia, chances are good you found a couple of blue crabs inside it. Also not uncommon are the skeletal remains of bigger baitfish, and even hardhead catfish.

When you catch a Spanish mackerel in the middle of a feeding frenzy, you’ll often see the fish coughing up whole greenbacks or whatever other prey it’s been gorging itself on.

I decided to keep a small blacktip shark for the table recently, and as I gutted it I asked my girlfriend Lisa what she thought would be inside.

“Shrimp,” was her reply.

She hit the nail on the head, and I held up a whole shrimp to show her. The chunk of whiting I had caught the fish on was also in its stomach. Another angler on the pier commented that he never knew sharks ate shrimp, and I told him that it was common for juveniles of some species.

Then there’s that famous scene in “Jaws” where Richard Dreyfuss’ character Matt Hooper pulls a fish head, whole fish, tin can and Louisiana license plate out of a tiger shark as Roy Scheider’s character Martin Brody looks on. (Watch the clip)

Here’s a list compiled by The Discovery Channel’s website of odd items found inside sharks, and it features a tattooed human arm and a pack of cigarettes, among other things. (View the list)

Among the stranger things found inside a fish, a Norwegian fisherman caught a cod recently with an adult toy in its stomach. Now that’s just plain weird. I wonder what that fish was thinking. (Read the story)

On a more practical note, you can use what you find in a fish’s stomach to your advantage by using the same thing for bait or matching an artificial to the type of baitfish.

Anyway, all this talk about stomach contents is making me hungry. I’m going to go have dinner.

Until next time, hook ’em up and fight ’em hard. Fish on, fellow anglers.

Shark Season

As the water warms up the bigger fish start to move in.  This is great news for fishermen who wait all year for the great spring fishing season across south west Florida.  Larry & Beulah Grindle visit every year and were staying locally in Englewood.   We’ve caught the grand-kids sharks almost every trip they’ve been down visiting so this time it was all about them!   We planned an evening of night fishing and arrived a few hours before sunset to set up and take baits out in the kayak.

Larry & Beulah joined us a short while later.  We were excited for a great evening of fishing and the water really seemed alive.  Large schools of jacks were riding in with the incoming tide, and lots of dolphins.  This is always a great sign to me, dolphins that are chasing bait and staying in the area lets you know there is a great food source and a reason for the sharks to stick around as well.  By the time Andrew was on shore from dropping baits we had already had a small run on the 80w.  It was going to be one of those nights!

About 20 mins after our first run the fish came back again only on the other rod!  As soon as I picked up the rod to help Larry with his belt the shark swam at me.  Sandbar sharks have been doing this regularly all year and can easily shake the hook out by putting slack in your line, try your best to always keep your line tight and keep up with the fish.  Larry gained on her and after a short battle of the black 80w he landed a healthy 6’1 sandbar shark!   She was feisty and we were able to de hook her and tag her before her release!  This is the 13th sandbar shark I’ve tagged this year its great to see their numbers so strong.

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We set baits back out and missed about 3 other fish.  One which completely stole my stingray from two 16/0 owner circle hooks. Sneaky!  All we had left was stingray wings to replace what was stolen off the hooks.  If theres sharks in the area they will eat almost any tasty fresh bait you put in front of them.  Two years ago i used a piece of sting ray no larger than a hotdog and landed an sizable bullshark.  Larry also threw out a bait from shore on the Penn Spinfisher 10,000.  This bait was no more than five feet off the shore line when it got slammed at sunset.  We right away got Beulah set up on the reel.  This shark was hooked and not happy about it.   Taking about 2-300 yards before rubbing on some pilings and breaking the line.  We hoped he would be back for our other baits still soaking!  This has also prompted me to buy one to play with in the future!

Darkness fell and the conditions REALLY changed.  I guess anyone can be a weather man now a days! forecast for tonight was ESE winds at 9mph.  Winds picked up to about 20-30 mph changing direction before eventually settling in an east direction.  We stuck it out through the gusty winds and cool weather and before 9pm Beulah was hooked up on the avet 80w!  This was a good fish,  it was really pulling drag and putting on a show with some really long runs!  She really got to feel her power as she approached the beach and her belly touched the shallows she would take off again with a burst of energy.  Andrew finally leadered her fish and discovered it was the first bull shark of the season!  We measured her at 6’8 inches and Beulah tagged her for NOAA before her release.  This was her FIRST shark ever and an awesome one at that.

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We have some great video footage of their catches that I tagged for the Fishin Franks Facebook page!   I said in my previous blog that I would eventually help all of members of the Grindle family catch their own ocean giant, I think were making great progress!  Who’s next?  I hope someone is planning a summer vacation!   If your headed out this weekend and do not plan on harvesting your catch please take extra care to release quickly, there are a lot of pregnant sharks this time of year who are larger and more delicate than your average shark.  Show them a little extra love

Never underestimate the brain power of the fish

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There is nothing magical about this hole in my net … at least I don’t think there is.

By MATT STEVENS
Man on the Pier

Whoever said fish are stupid never met the sand trout I caught for bait the other day.

I have an old mesh net that I use to keep live bait in when I’m fishing up on the U.S. 41 bridge in Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte. It’s great for holding trout and whiting, and can be tied off with rope and let down into the water from up on the bridge. But I’ve had it forever, and it’s pretty beat up.

After one fish mysteriously disappeared out of it, I guess I should have investigated the matter. Instead, I chalked it up to the top opening not being cinched properly, hoisted the net a little farther up out of the water to avoid a repeat offense and didn’t give it another thought.

That is, until I happened to glance down at it while trying to catch bait.

One particular trout was seemingly stuck to the side of the net, something that isn’t uncommon with the combination of the fish’s teeth and the mesh. But I almost didn’t believe my eyes when, after about 15 more seconds of watching it, the trout seemed to magically pass through the net and swim away.

Had it found a portal in the space-time continuum? Did it teleport to the other side? Perhaps it rearranged its molecular structure and simply passed right through the net?

While all of the above would have been more interesting and made for a better story, turns out there was a hole in the net.

This wasn’t a big hole, mind you, this was basically a bait-sized trout hole. So I was pretty impressed with the fish’s ability to find its way through it. From my vantage point up on the bridge – granted it’s not exactly easy to see down to the water – it looked like the trout had seen the hole and started poking against the net until it found the mark. If you ask me that’s one smart trout.

I suppose the tricky trout could have just gotten lucky, but I’ll chalk this one up to the fish’s problem-solving ability.

Until next time, hook ’em up and fight ’em hard. Fish on, fellow anglers.

Lemon Bay Top Water Fishing

Over the weekend we intended to fish on the gulf.  Mother nature woke us up to a different scene than we had planned on.   We arrived to one of our favorite beaches in Englewood to find wavy blustery conditions.  Winds blowing 20-30 mph.  There was no way I wanted to spend the day fighting the waves to keep a bait out or the current and wind while im trying to cast a lure.  We drove all the way out here so we might as well search for another place to fish in the area.

My friend’s family beach house also had access to a nice dock in lemon bay.  We decided to try there.  As we walked up David was on the dock with a nice keeper trout!  He told me ” Every time I throw a line in I am getting bites, its been a great morning for fishing”  It wasn’t long before we found out for ourselves!  Andrew and I both caught a snook with in the first 10 mins of being on the dock!   Andrew also hooked a snook that later threw hook that was a MONSTER!  You don’t hook them all with top water but its so much fun to try!  The bite went on like this for about an hour.  Almost every cast you were hooking something.  Trout, Snook, & Jacks were all over and hungry!   We weren’t using any live bait today, which made all the bites we were getting that more exciting.  Only gulp, and various top water lures such as Rapala and a Zara Spook Jr in bone white.

I was using a gulp and switching on and off of a popping cork.  I wasn’t getting too much action so I switched to a top water lure.  I’ve never used top water before but watched Andrew fish it countless times.  I think its so exciting to see the fish on top water smash your lure before getting hooked.  We were throwing on to a grassy flat area near some broken down old docks.  Andrew showed me how to work the lure and get the action right so it would make that unmistakable “gulp” sound across the top of the water.  Out of nowhere from around the corner came a very large school of jacks eating some glass minnows!  Ive never caught a jack larger than my own hand so I was hopeful to get one of these to bite!    I threw into the school of them with no luck they seemed to completely ignore my top water lure.   One last cast into the back of the school and a big hungry jack smashed my top water lure making a huge splash and commotion.

It was a fun afternoon with some great fish!  Andrew even went out wading on the grass flats and caught the fourth trout over 20 inches this morning. The fishing here is very versatile.  This would be a great location for kayaking on a day with less wind.  Boat traffic was pretty quiet and there are plenty of grass flats and mangroves to explore across lemon bay.  We plan a return trip soon with our kayaks in tow.  Im sure hooking these bigger jacks and snook in the kayak would be a blast!  Im loving the new Penn Conflict, awesome drag and really smooth casting!  I’m looking forward to testing its durability all summer to see if it can live up to the battle!

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Throwback fish tale: My first cobia

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ICYMI Editor’s Note: This article originally ran in the October 7, 2010 edition of WaterLine Weekly Magazine. For more on cobia fishing from the Man on the Pier, check out this week’s (April 10) WaterLine.

 

By Matt Stevens
Man on the Pier

Sometimes the greatest moments in fishing come when they are least expected.

It was an agonizingly slow day at the old Bayshore Pier in Charlotte Harbor. I had walked up and down the pier and cast until my arms were getting tired, but the only thing that was interested in my lure was a croaker. I decided it was time to hang it up for the day — but the Gods of Fishing had other plans.

On my way off the pier, I spotted a big wake about 30 yards out, and figured I would see what would materialize from the murky water. I quickly realized that the wake was being created by a rather large manatee, so out of instinct I dropped a cast in front of it just in case there might be a cobia hanging around. Nothing happened, so I waited for the manatee to cruise under the pier so I could get a good look at it. As I leaned over the side of the pier, something caught my eye that immediately had my heart racing.

There was, in fact, a big cobia riding the back of the manatee in search of an easy meal.

Wasting no time, I made a short cast that landed in front and to the right of the manatee and started jigging furiously. The cobia shot off the back of that sea cow like a rocket and slurped up my bait.

It was game on.

Cobia have a reputation for being hard-fighting brutes, and this fish did not disappoint. My rod was doubled over as I tried to keep the beast from getting under the pier and breaking my leader on the pilings. I was also worried that the leader itself might just snap. My plan had been to target trout, so I was using 25-pound monofilament and didn’t exactly feel confident in its cobia-holding ability.

Battling to keep the fish out of harm’s way, I slowly walked it down toward the base of the pier. About that time I realized I was totally unprepared to land this bad boy. My pier net was sitting in the trunk of my car — a lot of good it was doing me there. Thankfully, a fellow angler saw my plight and had come down to lend a hand. When I thought the fish had tired enough to land, I handed the rod off to him and climbed overboard into the drink. Since I had planned on wade fishing that day, I luckily had my hip waders on.

But when I tried to get a hand in the cobia’s mouth, it became clear this fish was nowhere near tired out yet. After several very dicey minutes trying to corral the cobia, I finally got a good grip on it. My only option at that point was to walk it around the mangroves and through the grass at the base of the pier, so I could get it up safely on the sand. Except that carrying a 22-pound cobia while wading through the muck of the Harbor is much harder than it seems. And by the way, thumbing a cobia’s lip is a one-way ticket to raw thumbs. Cobes are not able to remove the fins from a hardhead catfish with their good looks.

At one point, I lost my grip and dropped the fish into the grass and was convinced the hook had popped out. It hadn’t, but I bear-hugged the cobia anyway, determined not to let my trophy get away. After what seemed like an eternity, I flopped the fish down in the sand and started my celebration.

The quest for a cobia was finally over.

“Oh, you big beautiful baby!” was what I think I remember saying. I stood there looking at the fish in dismay, still not fully believing what had just happened. Cody, the guy who had saved my butt by helping me land the fish, came over to check it out and I thanked him profusely as he snapped a picture with his iPhone.

It was time for the moment of truth, so I pulled out my tape measure to see just how big the beast was. But my tape measure tops out at 33 inches, ironically the minimum length a cobia has to be to keep. And this fish was much bigger than that. Another angler brought out a sufficient tape measure and the official tally was 43-3/4 inches.

It was the biggest fish I had ever caught, and I was glad to have that black cloud lifted from above my head concerning cobia.

During the spring and summer I had spent countless hours up on the U.S. 41 bridge fishing live bait in hopes of bagging a big cobia, but my efforts had been futile. It was simply a slow spring for cobes, and I never got a chance at one. But here it was almost October, and my first brown bomber had fallen for a an enticing artificial.

Until next time, hook ‘em up and fight ‘em hard. Fish on, fellow anglers.

Grindle Family Vacation

Every year the Grindle family spend their spring break in Florida!  We met them about 4 years ago and we have so much fun with them yearly helping them to catch some BIG fish in our local waters.  My Goal eventually is that all member’s of the Grindle family will reel in one of our local ocean giants!  This year the bite started out strong!  The first day we headed down to the beach we arrived to David, already hooked up on his spinfisher 10,000!  I’ve been waiting to see this reel in action since he told us about it!   This fish had us walking about 50 yards down the beach as it was ripping the 80lb line off the reel.  David finally got the fish turned when it surfaced near a crab trap,  we could see it was a shark over 6 feet! Unfortunately it later broke him off on the rocky reef bottom!   They don’t call it fishing for nothing!  We walked back down the beach and started setting up our bigger gear to see what else was out there, and hoped that the sunset bite would produce a toothy creature!

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As you can see in the picture above there wasn’t much room to set up on the beach!  The winter winds are still effecting this rocky natural beach.  Luckily we found a sandy location with just the right amount of space to set up our gear.  Tonight we used stingray and mullet, kayaking baits no further than 100 yards.  Baits soaked only about an hour and we had our first run of the night!  Steve was up first on the reel.  He was the first to use my new custom Barrett rod!  It performed very well.   This fish was pretty strong, running left to right getting all the lines tangled in the process.  Due to the tangle we then we were faced with the task of walking Steve safely down the rocks all the while hooked up on a shark.  Not the easiest thing to do in the dark.  After about a 15 min battle on the Avet the sandbar shark was in the surf.

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She measured 7 feet long and was beautiful.  Very light sandy color, I was able to point out her well defined interdorsal ridge, which is the raised skin between her dorsal fins.  This is the easiest way to identify a sandbar shark.  We were able to remove the circle hooks quickly and get a tag in for NOAA.  This was one of the more feisty sandbar shark’s that Ive seen all season, trying to take a bite out of us a few times during the measuring and de-hooking process.  She must of been hanging out with some bull sharks to get that kind of attitude problem.  After a few quick pictures Andrew walked into the wavy dark Englewood waters and released her.  I look forward to clearer water this spring and summer for some great go pro underwater footage!

We had only planned to stay until about 930pm so we started packing up and David’s spinfisher went of again!  Bait on this pole was a few finger mullet we cast out into the surf maybe 30-40 yards into the water.   He handed the rod to Raygin for her shot at a shark!  What a great cousin.   Raygin climbed down the rocks on to the sand and after a quick battle reeled in a juvenile nurse shark. Very cool at this size.  Of all the years fishing at this location this was the first nurse shark caught.  Raygin’s husband Steve helped her pose with it for a snapshot before its release!   The newly weds did an amazing job with the sharks this week.  Must of been those lucky Fishin Franks shirts.  You can watch Steve’s shark catch HERE on our YouTube channel!

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Monsters of the shallow

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This picture, shot from atop the U.S. 41 bridge, doesn’t really do the size of this stingray any justice. It was a giant.

By MATT STEVENS
Man on the Pier

It’s that time of year again. The big boys are showing up in upper Charlotte Harbor, which means it’s time to target sharks and cobia, among other monsters of the shallow.

What had been a slow morning fishing the U.S. 41 bridge finally produced a little excitement today. As I was waiting for something big to hit the whiting I was soaking, I noticed the guy fishing just a little ways down from me had a run. When he set the hook the drag started screaming, so naturally I went down to investigate, thinking he had hooked a nice cobia.

The fish was really running in the beginning, and the guy – I never did get his name – figured it was a pretty big shark. I stuck around hoping to get a glimpse of the fish, but after several minutes I got called into action instead. This guy was tiring out quickly fighting the fish, and he handed the rod over to me. He was using a conventional setup, but the drag on the reel left a little to be desired for what was on the end of the line.

But I was able to put pressure on the fish, and after several minutes of hard fighting I gained some ground and got it closer to the bridge. It wasn’t really acting like a shark, and for a few seconds I had visions of a 100-pound cobia in my head. Either that or a goliath grouper. That’s when I asked the guy what kind of leader he had on, to which he replied “60-pound mono.”

No steel leader? That pretty much ruled out any lingering possibility of a shark.

After the fish tried to make an unsuccessful run under the bridge, I finally got it up to the surface to catch a glimpse: it was one of the biggest stingrays I’ve seen in Charlotte Harbor. My “guesstimation” put the fish at close to 150 pounds, and its circumference appeared much bigger than that of my pier net, which is 30 inches.

Probably for the best, the line finally snapped before we could decide what to do with the stingray, and it disappeared back into the shallows of the Harbor.

I also hooked and lost a large gar this morning; there are loads of them around the bridges right now. And while not really considered a worthy game fish, a gar the size I hooked, which was around 4-feet long, can put up a pretty good fight. These fish shake their heads and come up out of the water – while not really jumping – and put on a decent show. It’s hard to get a good hook-set in them, with their long, toothy mouths, and the hook popped on the one I was fighting before I got it in the net.

The cobia bite was non-existent the past two mornings, but that should change for the better in the coming weeks. The fish made an early showing this season, but the recent rain seems to have pushed them out for the time being.

Until next time, hook ’em up and fight ’em hard. Fish on, fellow anglers.

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