Archive by Author | manonthepier

October ‘Blood moon’ takes on new meaning

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Photo via Wikipedia

By MATT STEVENS
Man on the Pier

The bite last night was intense. Too bad it wasn’t the snook.

The real reason behind the October full moon being named the “blood moon” has nothing to do with the red color it was supposed to have taken on.

It’s because of the swarms of blood-thirsty mosquitoes patrolling the area’s old train trestles, which were converted into fishing piers. I knew it was going to be a rough night when, on the walk out to the Placida pier, I looked down and saw three mosquitoes chowing down on my hand. And those were just the ones I could see. Every few seconds I felt the telltale sting, constantly swatting at them, shaking my head and walking as fast as I could.

The assault was constant along the tree-lined path that leads to the pier, and it didn’t get much better out in the open. There wasn’t much of a breeze either, which sometimes deters the skeeters.

Dressed in my long sleeve Fishin’ Franks performance shirt, lightweight nylon pants, shoes and wearing a hat and a buff, I figured I would’ve been OK.

Not so much.

So I coated myself in Deep Woods Off!, but that didn’t seem to suppress the will of the persistent parasites. The constant bite of mosquitoes combined with the absent snook bite was enough to push me off the pier well before I had planned on leaving.

I have a feeling all the rain we’ve had recently is a big reason we’re seeing so many mosquitoes. Couple that with the temperatures staying on the mild to hot side and I don’t see the skeeters going away in the near future.

Plan accordingly if you’re heading out to Placida or El Jobean, especially, but really any of the area piers at night. Or else you might get eaten alive.

As for the blood moon itself, I didn’t think it looked that bloody. When I finally got a decent glimpse of it at 5:30 a.m. – there was a lot of cloud cover last night – it appeared more of a dark yellow color. The lunar eclipse had just started, covering about an eighth of the moon. Maybe I should have stayed up for the full eclipse. Oh well, maybe next time. We’ve got another blood moon coming on April 4, 2015, so mark your calendars.

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

Goodbye Rainy Season, Hello Fall

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El Jobean has been the early-season hotspot for snook.

By MATT STEVENS
Man on the Pier

The rainy season is going out like a lion, but its slowly relinquishing its grasp on Southwest Florida as we head into fall. Yep, that’s right: fall. One of the best times for fishing in our little corner of paradise. And while the days are still hot and rainy, you can feel a tinge of the crisp air late at night and early in the morning.

But as we transfer out of summer and into fall, keep in mind that it’s a gradual process. The fish aren’t going to change their patterns overnight, just like the weather isn’t going to change overnight. The change will be subtle at first and become more noticeable as overnight temperatures drop into the upper 60s and cool down the water.

September saw an abundance of rain that brought an influx of fresh water flowing into Charlotte Harbor from the Peace River, Myakka River and area creeks. While my first inclination is to curse the relentless rain for pushing fish out of the Upper Harbor due to a high concentration of freshwater, the fishing hasn’t been all that bad.

El Jobean has been the early-season hotspot for snook, with good numbers of fish coming from the trestle. If your after a slot fish then the Bean – and the surrounding seawalls – should be your first stop. Try a swimbait from the pier or a twitchbait from the seawall.

Laishley pier in Punta Gorda is still a little on the slow side, but if you’re fishing on that side of the bridge its your best bet for snook. An interesting note: there have been schools of small tilapia as far up as the U.S. 41 bridges (and occasionally running the seawalls at Laishley), and the snook and tarpon have been feeding heavily on them. They make great bait if you can castnet them, but be warned: A strange FWC rule prohibits anglers from using them as live bait, so kill them first. You also must either release what you don’t need immediately or kill whatever’s left in your bait bucket when you’re done fishing. Weird. I know. A better idea might be trying to match the hatch of the baby tilapia with an artificial lure.

There are also better numbers of finger mullet showing up, and they’re a great live bait to try at Laishley. You can freeline them under the pier for snook or cast them out for tarpon. You can also fish the bottom by using a 1-ounce – or heavier depending on the current – weight above your leader, which should be at least 30-pound monofilament, 3 feet in length. A No. 5/0 Owner live bait hook is ideal.

Another tactic to try is sightfishing tarpon off the seawalls in Punta Gorda (at Laishley or Gilchrist) when the tide is high around first light. These fish are mostly mini-Megalops atlanticus, but they are super fun to catch and there are some much bigger fish mixed in. Look for rolling fish and cast a soft plastic shrimp in the 1/8-ounce range or the MirrOlure 17MR MirrOdine.

There are also hungry jacks running the seawalls as well, and unfortunately, catfish are showing up everywhere in the Upper Harbor. You know the catfish are thick when you start catching them on artificials, but at least they’ll keep you busy until that snook or tarpon comes along.

As the rain slows and the water continues to cool, trout will start making a showing at their usual haunts. Try wading the holes around Ponce de Leon park, or casting soft plastic shrimp on a jighead at El Jobean or the Bayshore piers.

Target the significant incoming tides until the rain slows and the water comes up in salinity content.

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

You’re doing it wrong: Top ten rookie pier fishing mistakes

Editor’s note: This column first appeared in the October 31, 2013 edition of WaterLine Magazine.

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If you leave your gear unattended and don’t tie it to the railing, a strike from a big fish can send it flying into the drink, which is what happened to this Penn reel caught at Laishley Pier.

By MATT STEVENS
Man on the Pier

If you haven’t embarrassed yourself while fishing lately, you need to get out more.

Let’s face it, we’ve all been there. From throwing a castnet on top of an oyster bar to casting off the perfect — and only — live whiting we’ll catch that day, dumb moves abound when you’re fishing. For you, it’s a sinking feeling. For the people around you, it can be rather funny. And while I try not to laugh at folks, sometimes I just can’t help it — usually because it reminds me of some bonehead move that I’ve pulled off before.

And I’ve had my share of laughable mishaps on the pier.

So here’s a list of things you should try to avoid at all costs. Unlike me. But, hey, somebody’s got to experience them so you can learn from it. Good luck.

I see you’re fishing for Jaws: This never fails to crack me up. I see some poor soul stroll out on the pier looking like he should be boarding the Cricket II instead, carrying a 12/0 Penn spooled with 150-pound braid and attached to a broomstick rod the biggest Goliath grouper in Charlotte Harbor couldn’t snap. He attaches a whole bonita to a 16/0 circle hook and proceeds to cast it out about 10 feet off the pier. I stifle a laugh the best I can. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You’re not going to catch Jaws from a pier. At least not any pier around here.

You want to throw that castnet where?: Judging by the number of castnets I’ve hooked — and landed, mind you — fishing from local piers, this seems to be a pretty common occurrence. Which is troubling. I’ve caught castnets at El Jobean, Placida and Laishley; three places you’ll never see me throw one. If I can’t see bottom or I don’t know the area like the back of my hand, I simply am not going to take the risk. But what do I know? Go ahead and throw blind where the current is strong and debris is plentiful. I’ll pretend I don’t see you trying to wrestle your net back from the dead.

Of course it’s a good idea to put your rod down and drink a beer: Probably the most common offense in pier fishing is propping your rod up against the pier after you’ve cast out your bait and leaving it unattended. And it’s not a dual-drag reel. And you didn’t tie it to a piling. Or loosen the drag. Now it’s sailing over the railing and into the drink … ka-SPLOOSH! The sound of epic failure. If you’ve been burned by this phenomenon before, I guarantee you won’t make the same mistake again. It wounds your wallet as well as your pride. Oh, and good luck trying to catch your rig after it goes over. That’s for someone else to do, long after its been encrusted by barnacles.

That cast didn’t go far enough. Reel in and try another: In the early days of my saltwater career, I was a habitual line-stepper when it came to casting. If I didn’t feel I had made the longest, most perfect cast possible, I panicked, reeled in and tried to fire it all the way across Charlotte Harbor on the next one. I’m surprised I never threw my shoulder out. And using a conventional reel only exacerbated this problem. I don’t know how many times I watched a perfectly good baitfish flying through the air in the opposite direction of my line. It’s a pier. Unless you are casting 100-plus yards, it really doesn’t matter.

Saltwater catfish are harmless, right?: Yup. So go ahead and step on that one to get it to stop squirming. Oh, what’s that you say? Its fin went through your boot and is now lodged in your foot? Nothing screams “Free Trip to the Emergency Room” like mishandling a catfish. You can take it from me. I didn’t earn the nickname “Ol’ Catfish Finger” for nothing.

Birds are not in season: This one seems easy to avoid, but if you’ve fished long enough, you’ve hooked a bird. Sometimes you just can’t avoid it if they fly directly into your line. From seagulls to pelicans, birds can be annoying. But continuing to fish when they’re dive-bombing your lure or trying to inhale your live bait is asking for trouble. And in that case, it’s not the bird’s fault — it’s the angler’s. If you do hook a bird, please do not just cut the line. Reel it in gently, cover its head with a towel or shirt to calm it down and remove the hook.

The dock is the perfect place to clean your gear: Right up to the point where the spool from your brand-new Penn Conquer 5000 goes rolling into the Harbor. How would I know that, you ask? Silly question. Here’s a snippet from a 2011 misadventure: As the spool hit the dock it plotted a one-way course toward the edge. It could have just as easily rolled into the grass, but no, it had made up its mind. I watched helplessly, frozen in my chair, as the spool slid right off the dock and into the drink. Splash! … “Doh!” (Homer Simpson voice).

Pier net? What’s that?: If you’ve ever tried to haul a keeper snook up over the side of the railing and snapped your line, you know the answer to this question. Wherever I go, whatever I’m fishing for, I always bring my pier net just in case. It amazes me that more people don’t have one. And while I’m always willing to help someone land a fish if they need assistance, I might just have to start charging one of these days.

Why, yes, I am going to fish 10 poles at once: What could possibly go wrong? Besides being rude to anyone else who might just want to fish on the same pier, having too many lines out in the water is basically begging for something to go wrong. The scene that comes to my mind involves hooking a big fish and having it pull you into your other rods, starting a domino effect that ends up with the fish getting away and you trying to untangle the massive mess you made for the next hour.

I can just use my freshwater gear, right?: While some lures, gear and techniques flow seamlessly between freshwater and saltwater angling, I don’t advise making them interchangeable. For instance, if you’re the guy I’ve seen on the pier with a tackle box full of freshwater gear wondering why you’re not catching anything, you might want to rethink your approach. I’ve seen a lot of “Yankee” rigs (hey, I’m from Indiana — I can say that) wrapped around pilings and have gotten snagged on them bottom fishing. If you want to catch saltwater fish, fish saltwater.

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

First impression: Smith Optics ChromaPop lenses

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Here is a jack I sight-fished off the seawall at Gilchrist Park recently. A large school of jacks creates a v-shaped wake similar to a school of mullet, but the jacks create more water movement and are easier to spot.

By MATT STEVENS
Man on the Pier

One of the products that caught my eye at the ICAST show in Orlando last month were Smith Optics sunglasses with ChromaPop lenses. I checked out a pair at the show, but without really being able to tell much about the lenses inside the Orange County Convention Center I needed to take a closer look out on the water.

Last week I received my Docksides, and so far I’ve been impressed with them. The frames feature a full wrap for complete protection, and the glasses are super lightweight and have a comfortable fit – for the most part. They tend to rest a little heavy on the bridge of my nose. But when it comes to sunglasses, everyone has a different shaped face so one style will fit better on some than others.

I chose the Havana ChromaPop polarized brown lenses since I fish the darker waters of Charlotte Harbor more often the the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I’ve had them out several times sight-fishing mini tarpon on the Harbor, and so far I’m happy with their performance.

And the concept behind the ChromaPop lenses is pretty cool.

The eye perceives colors in waves of blue, red and green, but sometimes gets them mixed up. The ChromaPop polarized lenses are designed to correct this “color confusion.” This technology seems to give everything a brighter, more intensely true color, not to mention superb clarity.

Smith has a long way to go to give Costa Del Mar, king of polarized fishing sunglasses, a run for its money. The company is a relative newcomer to the angling market, but seems headed in the right direction with its products. Smith also has a great lifetime warranty, and will replace both lenses on your frames even if only one of them was damaged.

Smith Optics sunglasses will be available at Fishin’ Franks, so look for the new display case coming soon. The lenses I got are plastic, but Smith also offers glass lenses.

While the Docksides are my first pair of Smith sunglasses, they’re not my first experience with the brand.

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While climbing Oregon’s tallest peak, Mt. Hood, in 2011, my Smith goggles came in handy. We awoke to whiteout conditions complete with blowing snow and brisk wind on the second day of the climb. But the goggles allowed me to keep the blowing snow out of my face, didn’t fog up and helped keep me out of harm’s way.

Robert remembers Hurricane Charley

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This is a link to a blog about Fishin’ Franks general manager Robert Lugiewicz’s memories from Hurricane Charley. Click the link below to find out what Robert remembers.

Hurricane Charley memories: Stars and a cockroach.

National Cobia Day on Charlotte Harbor

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Top: My June 4th, 2013, cobia. Bottom: This year’s June 4th fish. Both photos: same lucky hat. Go Gators.

By MATT STEVENS
Man on the Pier

I’m declaring June 4 National Cobia Day.

Exactly one year ago on that date, I caught my only cobia of 2013 from the U.S. 41 bridge on a live sand trout. History repeated itself Wednesday, this time with my second cobia of 2014.

Cobia season is winding down in upper Charlotte Harbor, so it might be now or never if you’re still looking to land a brown bomber. So far I’m batting 2 for 5 (a .400 average for all you baseball fans). Of the fish I’ve hooked, two got away due to the hook popping out – before I switched from circle hooks to j-hooks – and the other escaped underneath the bridge. Both cobia I’ve landed in 2014 came from Bayshore, were caught on whiting toward the end of a strong incoming tide and measured 35 and 34 inches, respectively. The first came on May 8.

While neither of those fish were big by cobia standards, both were keepers that provided some fine table fare. I might keep one more fish if I get the chance this season, but I try not to get greedy when it comes to cobia. One thing I learned about cobia is that even if you do a hack job of filleting them – been there, done that – you still get plenty of meat. But a little practice will go a long way.

The biggest fish I saw caught this year was Austin Phelps’ 44-inch cobe that weighed over 25 pounds, a trophy by pier standards. That one was slightly bigger than my best cobia, a 43-inch, 23-pound fish caught on a DOA soft plastic in October of 2010.

June’s passing usually signals the end of the cobia run as far as the Charlotte Harbor piers go. By the end of the month numbers tend to taper off dramatically, with the rest of the summer yielding a few fish here and there. This season got off to a fast start in early March, much earlier than usual, but that didn’t last. The steady numbers started showing up on cue around late April/early May.

My rant: Two disturbing trends stuck out like a sore thumb this year. The number of anglers fishing the U.S. 41 bridges has skyrocketed, and this is bound to create tension with the runners and walkers. The last thing I want to see is fishing getting banned up there. So please be careful and courteous, clean up your crap, and if there are already a bunch of people up there find somewhere else to fish! It’s not like there are a shortage of spots. What really gets me is seeing guys up there who are fishing five or more poles at a time. Besides being dangerous and irresponsible, it’s just not necessary. Fish bait with one pole, and cobia with another. That’s all you need.

Also filed under the category of “on my nerves” is people using gaffs on cobia at the bridges. Stop gaffing these fish, you are killing the ones you “release.” And no, you can’t “tell if it’s a keeper.” Really? From 15 feet up you can eyeball a cobia and know if it’s 33 inches or bigger? Give me a break. Pier nets are not that expensive and they work. There are no excuses.

Cobia quickies: Rumor has it that the biggest cobia caught on the Gulf Coast this year officially weighed in at 101½ pounds. It was caught in Cocodrie, La., and was thought to weigh 137 pounds – which would have made it a world record – before making its way to certified scales. … The IGFA all-tackle record for cobia came in July of 1985 with a 135-pound, 9-ounce fish caught by Peter Goulding in Shark Bay, W.A., Australia. … The Florida state record is just over 130 pounds and was caught near Destin. … Cobia may be harvested with a castnet. … Good luck with that.

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

Picking up a Charlotte Harbor cobia assist

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Austin Phelps shows off a stud cobia caught on a live whiting in upper Charlotte Harbor. The fish was nearly 44 inches long and weighed over 25 pounds.

By MATT STEVENS
Man on the Pier

With so many people fishing the U.S. 41 bridges for cobia this season, some anglers have shifted their focus to the piers in upper Charlotte Harbor instead. Last week, that tactic paid off for me with a 35-inch, 20-pound cobe.

This morning it paid off even bigger for my buddy Austin, who caught one of the biggest cobia from a pier I’ve ever seen in the area.

I met Austin on the pier with the nearly full moon still hanging low over the Harbor, and we immediately went about catching bait since the whiting bite generally shuts down as the sun comes up. We managed to whack several whiting, and put baits out just before the sun started peaking up over the horizon behind us.

It didn’t take long for the action to heat up.

As I wandered down the pier looking for bait to castnet, Austin had the first run on his Penn Spinfisher 6500. The fish took the bait and ran straight toward the pier, exactly what the cobia I caught last week did. Unfortunately, Austin wasn’t able to get a good hook-set.

Not too long after that he got a little more excitement as he hooked a gar. The fish had taken out a good amount of line and we were hoping for that cobia, but would have to wait a little longer.

While my reel remained silent, just before 8 a.m. Austin’s Spinfisher again went off. Except this time it was the run we’d been waiting for. He got a good hook-set this time, and the fish exploded on top of the water. As he fought it, the cobia shook its massive head, looking like it was trying to come completely out of the water but was simply too big. I could have swore it was a snook. In fact, I even yelled “Is that a snook!?”

But Austin had already seen the fish on the surface while I was getting the net ready, and he assured me it was a cobia. I got my first look at it a few minutes later as he battled it in close to the pier, which is when I realized how massive it was.

“I think it might be 50 (inches)!!”

It took us several attempts to get the behemoth in the net, as the sheer size of this cobia hindered our landing efforts. But the drag on the Penn Spinfisher gave Austin good control of the fish, and he was able to keep it clear of the pilings with his 7’6” Star Rod – rated 15-30 pounds – until I coaxed it into the net.

We both had to grab the net and hoist it over the railing with a team effort. I was happy to help pay it forward, as last week my buddy Mike had done the same for me with my cobia.

Austin and I high-fived and started celebrating as soon as the fish hit the deck. It was a stud for sure.

While it wasn’t quite the 50-inch fish I had anticipated, it wasn’t too far off. The full length of this cobe was nearly 44 inches, and even after we gutted the fish it still weighed 25 pounds.

Tell me that’s not a trophy pier fish.

But the drama wasn’t over yet.

As I was taking pictures of Austin’s catch, my Quantum Boca PTS 60 Bait Teaser started going off.

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The bull shark I caught and released this morning.

This time it was my turn to miss a hook-up, and I reeled back in the head of a whiting. That was a big clue the fish that was after it wasn’t a cobia. I re-baited my hook with the last live whiting we had and cast out. It had barely hit the water when my reel started screaming again.

I followed Austin’s cobia up with a nice little bull shark that we quickly released. All in a morning’s work.

Upon examination of my cobia last week, I found a stomach full of catfish bones and fins, and even a hardhead skull. While there were a few bones in the stomach of Austin’s cobia, there were three other things that really caught our attention. Two of them were hooks – one circle, one j-hook – with steel leaders attached. This was a sure sign the fish had previously terrorized at least two unlucky anglers who weren’t able to land it.  The other item was a stingray barb that was sticking in the side of the fish’s inner abdominal cavity. You never know what you’ll find inside a cobia.

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

Cobia sneak attack

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My first cobia of the season, a 35-incher caught on a live whiting.

By MATT STEVENS
Man on the Pier

While cobia are big brutes that are notoriously hard fighters, they also have a sneaky side.

Sure, these fish can peel drag off at an alarming rate and have a tendency to slam a bait and double over a rod when hooked up, but if you’ve ever had a cobia creep up on you, you know what I’m talking about.

This morning at Bayshore I got to experience that first-hand.

After soaking live whiting for the better part of four hours all I had to show for it was a gar, and my buddy Mike and I were getting impatient. We started paying less attention to our lines and were more focused on telling fish stories.

The wind had picked up to a pretty good clip by about 9:45 a.m., making it tough to notice any subtle changes of slack in your line, sometimes the only clue that a fish has picked up your bait. But the fishing had been so slow that I wasn’t too worried about anything major happening.

Until, that is, something major did happen.

That’s one of the great parts about fishing: you can fish all day and not catch squat, but in minutes that can change completely. One minute you’re standing on the pier doing more talking than fishing, the next minute everything sets in motion and you’re hooked up to a big fish.

I happened to notice my line going slack at a pretty quick pace, a good sign a fish had taken the bait and was heading toward the pier with it. After picking up my rod and cranking the reel a few times it was obvious there was a fish running straight at me. I reeled in a little more slack and set the hook.

Time for the moment of truth … ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!! I was greeted by the sound of sizzling drag as the fish did a 180 and bolted away from the pier, smacking the surface after taking around 30 yards of line out and making quite a ruckus.

As I fought the fish I still wasn’t quite sure what I had; the beginning of the battle was intense, but as the fish turned and headed toward the bridge it seemed to settle down and I thought it might be a big ray. Then the fish did something that completely surprised me. It made a 90-degree, left-hand turn and started running toward shore, parallel to the pier. I quickly followed, with Mike behind me carrying the net. About halfway down the pier I got my first glimpse of the fish, and it was most definitely not a ray. It was a nice cobia.

“It’s a cobia, it’s a big cobia!” I yelled to Mike.

Worried that the fish wasn’t tired enough to land, I let it do what it wanted until it finally started getting too close to the pier for comfort.

“Alright, it’s ready. Drop the net!” I said.

But the cobia still had some gas in its tank.

The next few seconds were a bit dicey as the fish tried to dart under the pier, then came close to getting wrapped around a piling. Situations like that will make your heart rate double, and the fear of losing the fish takes hold.

But I was able to muscle it into the net and Mike hoisted it up and over the railing. I let out a huge sigh of relief and smiled. I had whacked my first cobia of the season.

The fish measured 35 inches, but was heavy, probably weighing over 20 pounds. It had been enticed by a live whiting, easily the best cobia bait for Charlotte Harbor.

After missing two cobia earlier in the season, this was a sweet catch. While I’ve had success using circle hooks for cobia in the past, those two fish I missed were both on offset circle hooks. So I had lost confidence in them and started using j-hooks – No. 7/0 Gamakatsus – instead. On this fish I got a solid hook-set, right in the meaty part of the fish’s mouth, and there would be no losing this one.

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

The wait? Yea, it’s over

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By MATT STEVENS
Man on the Pier

Well, whatever we were all waiting for seems to have shown up on our doorstep this week. No, not spring. Spring fishing.

As anglers sometimes I think we forget the fishing we wait all year for doesn’t just magically appear overnight. But once March comes around and we have a couple of 80 degree days everyone starts champing at the bit. Let’s not forget this: Mother Nature runs on her own schedule and the fish follow suit.

The talk around town lately has been “we’re about a month behind where we should be” and “there’s no white bait in the Harbor.”

Wah.

While white bait has been a little scarce so far, I think it’s our impatience as anglers that leads us to believe we’re behind schedule fishing-wise. However, the signs that “it’s on” I saw around upper Charlotte Harbor the past two days point directly to the fishing we’ve all been waiting for.

Cobia and shark season is in full swing, and the tarpon fishing is steadily heating up. And I know that not only because of the fish that have been caught this week but by the other occurrences this time of year that come with it. One of the things I love about fishing on the U.S. 41 bridge overlooking the Harbor is the vantage point. Recently I’ve seen sea turtles, spotted eagle rays – among legions of both cownose and stingrays – white butterflies (can you say tarpon?) and yes, some silver kings rolling around the bridge.

Sure, maybe the white bait could be more abundant. But there are plenty of whiting, sand trout, skip jacks, jack crevalle, etc. And the mullet are thick. So quit complaining and start enjoying the fishing. It’s pretty darn good.

Until next time, hook ’em up and fight ’em hard.

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.

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