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Calculating Fish Weight

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With most of us practicing catch and release fishing these days — and avoiding hanging a fish from a damaging gripping/weighing device, we need some way to calculate the approximate weight of a fish. Well there is a formula that is commonly used which, while not as accurate as actually weighing the fish on a scale, at least gives one some idea of what the fish weighs.

The Formula is this:

(Girth x Girth) x Length) / 800 = weight in pounds
(girth and length are inches)

For example:

If the girth of a fish is 12 inches and the length is 24 inches, the formula would be used as follows:

12 x 12 x 24, divided by 800 = 4.32 pounds

Bob O'Brien joined the 40-inch club on his first fishing trip, with Neil Taylor.

Canal Snook in Winter

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It’s mid winter and with it come those cold, brisk north winds — This is a time of year when many anglers — especially those who recently arrived from northern states —  hang it up until spring. But top Tampa Bay guide Capt. Fred Everson says the coldest months are really a great time to consider fishing in the many protected canals. Most snook plus numerous other species are back there, ready to grab your well-presented bait.

By Capt. Fred Everson

With the reopening of snook season every winter, there is not apt to be a big rush to the water as there is in September. Reason being, snook are a lot harder to catch in February than they are in September, and that has to do with water temperature.
During a normal winter, the average water temperature will hover in the mid 60’s. Snook do not like it this cold, and if water temperature drops into the high 50’s, some snook will perish. But lets assume we have a mid winter water temperature of 65 degrees, and you would like to catch a snook.

The best locations to try here would be residential canals and backwater potholes and troughs. Let’s focus on fishing canal structure. Snook will hold in these deep water canals because the water temperature remains higher. Often they will nestle right up against boat hulls where they can soak up the warmth of the sun, which radiates from the hull. These fish are not dormant, but neither are they up to speed. Early season canal fishing for snook requires a very slow approach. The cooler the water, the slower you need to move the bait. Greenbacks and pinfish are not the baits of choice for cold water snook fishing. Jumbo shrimp are what most live bait fishermen prefer. Shrimp are simply an easier target than frisky baitfish. Some anglers like to use small blue crabs or fiddlers, for their relatively slower presentation.

Anglers who prefer to use artificials for canal snook also fish slow, stealthy baits such as the DOA shrimp, and ¼ or 1/16 ounce jig heads with plastic tails, or pieces of shrimp. The idea is to crawl these baits across the bottom.

Fishing around moored boats and underneath docks is suited to short stiff rods capable of pulling snook away from structure once you hook up. This seems to bring on a rush of adrenaline in snook, and if you can’t get the fish coming your way instantly, the next sound you hear will be the popping of your line as the snook takes a wrap on the closest piling. In addition to a heavy action rod, many dock anglers have gone to fine diameter, low stretch super lines, which are also much more resistant to abrasion. Capt. Craig Richardson, who guides on the west side of the bay uses 30# Power Pro by Innotex, and he tells me that he has unraveled snook from pilings without breaking this line, which has the same diameter as 6 pound test monofilament, and no memory. But it also costs a lot more.

Most anglers prefer revolving spools reels for fishing dock pilings. One reason is control. When you set the hook with a baitcasting reel, you can assist the reel’s drag with thumb pressure in an instant. The glitch is that it is hard to skip a bait under a dock with a revolving spool without getting a backlash. But then nobody ever claimed that winter snook fishing was easy.

Capt. Fred Everson
P O Box 3261
Apollo Beach, FL 33572

(813) 645-9424

IHUNTSNOOK@aol.com

Case For: Custom Built Snook Rods

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By Capt. Fred Everson

Custom-built fishing rods have a lot more to offer an angler than they did 30 years ago. Once a custom built rod was little more than a sign of affluence, now it has more to do with function. Component technology has since outpaced commercial rod design, and continues to do so on a regular basis. Things are happening so fast with innovations in rod building components that rod design is now an open playground.

Anglers who fish a lot know best about what they want in their rods, better than manufacturers. Innovations in rod design will necessarily come from the guys who fish the most, rather than corporate professionals trying to keep profits in line.

Snook fishermen need to trust their instincts.  If there is something special an angler wants in rod performance, it’s easier to build it into a custom rod, than it is to buy over the counter.  Fishing lines, leader materials, hooks, and lures, also have an impact on rod design.  It is unreasonable to expect any company, or even the entire industry to keep pace with such rapid and diversified change. Rather it is up to anglers themselves to tailor their equipment to the changes in technology.

Here the would-be rod builder and designer has to trust his instincts.   For example, guide sizing and spacing ought to change if superlines (braids, etc.)  become more prominent than monofilament line. If a braided line has a smaller diameter, less memory, and much greater strength than monofilament, doesn’t it make sense that the size and spacing of guides should be adjusted accordingly?  You bet.  But it is going to take a while for the commercial guys to catch up.  They must necessarily market a product with broad , traditional appeal, whereas guys who fish for snook in shallow water have little interest in all purpose rods. Expert anglers want a rod to perform well in a particular environment.

To get to this high degree of specialization, the custom rod is the best answer.  Choose a blank according to length and line test preferences, install a handle length that suits you, and experiment with the size and number of guides so that it casts well.  It may take more than one rod, and you might have to make some changes, but if the rod finally fishes to spec, it’s worth it.

And that’s the reason to get into rod building; strive to make a better tool that is perfectly suited to the way you fish.  Of course, you will also be able to build rods for your friends, do some repair work, and maybe even turn a profit someday.

Catch Permit in Paradise

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By By MERRY BETH RYAN


Permit, sometimes referred to as “king pompano,” may be similar in coloration and shape, but the permit can far outweigh it’s cousin the pompano. Permit feed on bottom dwelling crabs, small clams and shrimp. Permit loves crabs. Offshore permit can be found on wrecks and debris as well as reefs. Inshore they are found on grassy flats, as well as sandy bottoms. Permit sometimes feed so shallow that, at times, their tails wave in the air as they root food on the bottom. Last week while out fishing some of our local reefs, we were fortunate enough to be having just another day in paradise when we stumbled into some healthy permit floating above the reef. This was a pleasant surprise for me because I have never caught a permit and have been looking forward to adding a permit to my catch list. As I stood on the bow and gazed down into the water looking at them swimming so gracefully, my mind was working overtime anticipating catching one. We were not prepared for fishing permit on this day so all I could do was visualize in my mind what it would feel like reeling up a permit. We decided to venture back out the next morning in our quest to add a permit to my catch list. On day two we were prepared and ready to cast as soon as we saw our first sighting of permit.

Permit can be as wary as bonefish so I knew I was going to have to be patient if I wanted to catch one. I could hardly wait to anchor the boat and get started on the challenge ahead of me. We were unable to get any crabs for bait so we made sure we had the next best bait, live shrimp, on board. My arms were shaking as I made my first cast to the school of permit just below the surface. I held my rod very still and waited for the bite. My excitement grew as I watched the permit frolicking below. After a few minutes had passed, I felt a powerful tug at the end of my line and I hoped it was the bite of the fish I was after. Sure enough, it was, and I got my first glimpse of the permit as it flashed below. I was full of excitement. I knew I had to land the fish first in order to add it to my fish catch list, so I concentrated on doing just that. I had heard the many stories of the power the permit have once they are hooked. Pound for pound, the fight is as good as it gets. I can now personally attest to that Permit provide a powerful fight once hooked, with steady fast runs, full of many quick direction changes. After hooking my first permit, I was not sure the fight was ever going to end. Permit have a reputation of never giving up and I also have that same reputation, so we both were in for a battle. This was a battle I will remember for a lifetime.

Reef fishing can be great fun. On any given day you never know what fish you will catch. As we were anchored up concentrating on permit fishing, spinner sharks entertained us with their many acrobatic jumps. There were several barracuda lurking near by as well. They did not want to miss out on anything, so they tended to stick close by the boat. Mackerel were shooting out of the water everywhere. We even saw a school of baby flying fish cruising low to the surface. Larger sharks also seemed to frequent the reefs. Everything seemed to come to life shortly after we arrived at the reef. Goliath grouper as well as gag grouper also came out from under their rock piles to grab bait every now and then. I was happy just watching the permit when we first found them on day one; I was happier on day two catching them. The reef was alive and full of life. There were fish everywhere and being able to watch the different species of fish all together in one area was a sight to see. The water slicked down in the afternoon and created a mirror-type image, so seeing a fish break the surface was easy to do. I watched in amazement as the school of permit tailed in slow motion across the water above the reef. I suppose redfish are not the only tailing fish out there after all.

Permit are a great eating fish as well. We shared our catch with friends and, as soon as they were done eating their fresh catch, our phone began to ring off the hook. They called thanking us for thinking of them and went on to tell us how much they enjoyed eating the fish. It’s a great feeling being able to share fresh fish with family and friends. So watch the weather and take advantage of some great action-packed reef fishing when you can. I promise you there will be enough action to keep you going back.

Catfish Encounter

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By CAPT. FRED EVERSON

It was a fine afternoon in late September, and we were fishing the backcountry of Little Cockroach Bay, trying to put a redfish in the boat. I had a live pinfish rigged under a float on one rod, and chunks of ladyfish on the other two. The float was tight to the shadowline of the mangroves, right where it should be when it went under. When the fish didn’t take any drag, and I could feel it shaking its head I knew I had another catfish.

I retrieved my dehooking tool out of its holder in the rod rack as I reeled the fish in and sat down on the side of the boat as I looked for the hook shank. I was using a small circle hook and it was right in the corner of the fish’s mouth – exactly where it’s supposed to be. I grabbed the leader with one hand and slid the tool onto the hook shank, and tried to shake the fish off into the water. But instead it went up into the air and bounced off the gunwale and fell back into the boat belly up. Unfortunately, my flip flop clad foot was directly underneath the fish as it came down, hard; dorsal fin first, right between my big toe and the next one.

It was like someone shoved a red-hot needle in my foot, and immediately the blood began to flow. The burning pain was absolutely incredible. I had two young boys on the boat, so my vocabulary was necessarily constrained, but they could see I was in a great deal of pain, and didn’t know what to do.

I don’t remember tossing the fish overboard, but I must have because it was gone. I quickly examined the wound, and I could see a deep one-inch gash through all the blood. I have been hit by catfish before, but nothing like this. This was more severe; more like what you would expect from a stingray. Sad to say, I have been there as well on three separate occasions. I’m beginning to feel like a saltwater pincushion.

From past experience with the stingray hits, I had some meat tenderizer on hand. It is supposed to reduce the pain, and this was my chance to experience it first hand. Capt. Mel Berman got hit by a stingray while wading with me some years ago, and I tried it on him. He said it seemed to help. I wasn’t sure it would apply with a catfish sting, but the pain was such I was ready to try anything. Mercifully it did seem to lessen the pain, though did little to stop the bleeding. This was a good thing I suppose, as some of the poison got flushed out of the wound along with the blood.

Our fishing trip was obviously done, and fortunately I was only a few minutes from the dock. I kept reapplying the meat tenderizer to the wound and it kept the pain to a manageable level until I got home. First thing I did was to fire up the computer and type “Saltwater catfish sting” into the search box on Google. The first topic was Hazardous Marine Life, under which was the sentence beginning “The pain from marine stings can be excruciating and lead to shock, … The fins of the saltwater catfish have a complex toxin…”This is exactly what I was looking for, and the instant remedy was at hand.

I read on and it seems that the venom in the catfish spine is also protein based and can be ameliorated with heat, just as the stingray hit can. I immediately hobbled into the kitchen and began running some hot water into a dishpan. The website said that the water should be 105 degrees to be effective, but my past experience with stingrays told me the hotter the better.

I added some table salt and vinegar to the water to deflect infection. After refreshing the hot water several times over the course of an hour and a half, the pain from the venom had subsided, but the wound itself was still pretty sore. I looked the puncture over thoroughly with a magnifying glass to insure that none of the fin remained in the wound. I went to bed that night feeling okay, but four hours later my foot was swollen and very sore. I got up and put more Neosporin onto the wound, and the pain seemed to subside, and I was able to get back to sleep.

Next morning after my first cup of coffee I headed off to the grocery store to get some Epsom Salts. The foot was still sore and swollen, and I intended to give it a good one hour soak in warm water and the salts. My grandmother was forever soaking my cuts and bruises with warm water and Epsom salts, and I still have all my fingers and toes, so I figured there must be something to it.
The one-hour soak seemed to reduce the swelling and the foot was not as tender. I looked the wound over again for bits of catfish, but found none. I reapplied the Neosporin and let it dry out. Later that night before bed, I gave it another one-hour bath in the salts.
Next morning I went to a walk in clinic to have the wound checked and get my tetanus shot updated.

All’s well that ends well, but experience is the best defense. All fishermen who read this should take it seriously. A hook-removing tool will save your butt 90 percent of the time. When it doesn’t, you had better know what to do.

Capt. Fred will host a three hour Inshore Fishing Class at Skipper’s Smokehouse on Tuesday August 12 at 7:00 PM. Cost of the course is $25 and includes a copy of the Captain’s latest book Fish the Flats. Wife, girlfriend or significant other gets in free. Call 813 830 8890 for information or directions.

Chassahowitzka River

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 B
y CAPT. PAT DAMICO, CapMel Fly Fishing Editor

I really enjoy getting away from the crowds and exploring new territory. My fellow Tampa Bay Fly Fishing Club fishing buddy Nick Angelo and I were going to meet the next day to fish a local river that empties into Tampa Bay. Nick’s phone call to finalize plans began with, “Pat, have you ever fished the Chassahowitzka?” Nick, “I can’t even pronounce it,” was my response. His enthusiastic assurance that I would like it was all I needed to say yes. We arranged to meet on the north end of Tampa where we would ride together in his vehicle towing his skinny running Hell’s Bay flats skiff. The predawn traffic thinned out as we made our way north into the country leaving suburbia in the rear view mirror.

As the sun began to rise, we arrived at the Chassahowitzka River campground boat launch, paid a fee, and slid the boat into the clearest, most pristine looking water I have seen in Florida. I felt like I was transplanted into bygone era as we idled down river toward the bay. Freshwater bass and bluegills scooted around the boat as we enjoyed the sounds of an awaking wilderness. Beautiful cypress trees, cabbage palms, saw grass, sweet gum trees and colorful red maples provided a canopy that widened as we continued our journey. A mature osprey flew ahead of the boat as a guide seeming to take us to his favorite fishing hole. Great blue herons, cormorants and anhingas loudly voiced their objections to our presence as we disturbed their awakening and stretching routine. The widening river revealed some fish camps and houses that must have been there forever. Nick grinned as he asked, “What do you think?” I was too busy digging for my camera to get some pictures of this pristine wilderness to give a very long answer other than, Beautiful!”

The tide was just beginning to slowly come in and the clear, very shallow water made me glad that we were not using my larger Maverick boat. Nick’s previous trips there were enough to keep us safe for the rest of the day. This is not a place for anything but the shallowest running watercraft. Approaching the salt, clusters of oysters, underwater obstacles, hard bottom, grass, thinly exposed flats, and patches of muddy water made navigation a nightmare. Many grass covered islands were visible as the bay unfolded before us. An overcast day with occasional short interruptions of sunshine did not improve visibility. When running the outboard, we mostly idled with the motor tilted. A bow mounted electric was also put into service several times. Poling is always the most effective means of making a stealthy shallow approach, so we took turns working some familiar areas where he had successfully fished on other trips.

We always check the weather before leaving, paying particular attention to the wind. Very little protection is afforded here, so a calm day would be ideal. I fished with a seven weight and Nick a nine weight, using weight forward floating lines and nine foot leaders with a twenty pound tippet. Our target species was redfish. On Nick’s last trip, a number of large jacks interrupted their redfish search. I kept a nine weight with a popper handy in case we had the same thing happen. We both love large jacks on the surface.

Fishing was slow until the tide began to go out at a very fast flow rate. A large school of mullet was spread over one side of a nearby island, so we headed there. I was on the pole and Nick, an excellent caster, began to ply the mullet with one of Leigh West’s green and gold clouser style patterns. A redfish was hooked on the second cast. After releasing it, a few additional casts were rewarded with another hookup. An anchor was quietly slid over the side to hold our position. Keeping a small plastic covered mushroom anchor in the boat with about ten feet of line on it to immediately deploy off the stern when school type fish are discovered is a great idea. Now I could also fish! My tippet sported a small gold and copper colored Mylar Kwan style crab pattern. Since we had located the fish, this choice proved to be a good one. A very slow retrieve on the bottom was needed for success. We worked the mullet school, occasionally lifting the anchor and poling another twenty feet or so to work a different section of water. When we left this location, we had ten reds that we released, as well as a few that managed to get off or avoid our strip sets. These fish were all very silver in color attesting to the excellent water quality. We caught several other fish later as we worked our way back toward the channel markers leading to the launch. A stop at one of the many fresh water springs had bluegills and large mouth bass chasing and hitting our smaller offerings. Where else could you combine such a variety of shallow water fishing with a breathtaking view?

We had spent almost an entire day there and had only touched a small part of what the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge has to offer. Federal, state and local agencies jointly manage over 35,000 acres which include many islands, estuaries, salt marshes, and coastal swamps. A Google search will give you a wealth of information for you to review in preparation for a very enjoyable day on the water. When the monotonous routine of urban fishing starts to gnaw at your interest level, head to the Chassahowiztka to cleanse your soul!

A certified casting instructor, Capt. Pat Damico fishes lower Tampa Bay and surrounding waters with light tackle and fly rod. His website www.captpat.com, will give you additional information.

Chokoloskee Island Fishing

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The Best the State Has to Offer
By CAPT. CHARLES WRIGHT

The State of Florida, with its vast coastlines, wonderful climate and impressive fisheries, claims to be the “Fishing Capital of the World”.   Few areas can dispute this claim. Its reputation is well deserved and touted by anglers worldwide.  The sugar sand beaches of the Panhandle, the tarpon flats off Homosassa Springs, Pine Island Sound, the marshes of the northeast, the lagoons of the west central peninsula, the sailfish alley of the southeast coast and the crystal clear waters of the Florida Keys comprise a big part this wonderful fishing paradise that we call Florida.  However, the crème’ de la crème’, the best the State has to offer, are the waters surrounding Chokoloskee Island in the western side of Everglades National Park.  It is rich in history, rich in opportunities, rich in diversity and rich in experience.

Located only 90 minutes from Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and Ft. Meyers, few places can rival the western Park area.  It is a massive nursery of marine life that feeds a diverse array of sport and food fish.  From its rivers, flats and islands spills the forage that nurtures the species that we sportsman seek … bass, tarpon, snook, redfish, trout, permit, cobia, shark, grouper, snapper, pompano, sheep head, triple tail, mackerel and kingfish.  All are fed by the rich waters of the Park.  It is very common on a single charter to catch a dozen or more species in a single trip.

The topography of the area alone provides some wonderful fishing opportunities whether you are fishing from a Kayak, jon boat, pontoon boat, flats boat or a center console. Consisting of over one million acres of flooded wonderland there is always somewhere new and different to explore and experience.

 Located in the approximate geographic center of the area is the gateway to this paradise, Chokoloskee Island. Chokoloskee is a 137 acre island, rich with history, on the southern side of the 10,000 Islands area.  To the north (actually northwest) are literally thousands of mangrove islands to fish.  Against the mainland’s southern shore, the waters of the tidal rivers have been flowing in out of the backcountry since long before we all were around.  These rivers provide excellent opportunities to fish oyster bars, sand and mud flats, scoured holes, river mouths, run-offs and feeder creeks. 

 While artificial fisherman and live baiters alike can fish these rivers effectively, this is perhaps the fly fisherman’s paradise. The “head waters” are crystal clear, though always tea colored from the mangroves, providing excellent site fishing opportunities. The rivers are littered with small mangrove islands and feeder creeks that are havens for fish.  The rivers all have “resident” populations of small tarpon year round.  The moving water scours deep “holes” and at the same time creates sand and mud flats.  Numerous oyster bars, natures little fortresses for crabs, shrimp and small fishes, are up and down the river creating natural rips and eddies.  The fishing opportunities are immense.  

 An angler can take a fishing life time learning just one river.  North of Chokoloskee lays the Pumpkin River, the Little Wood River, the Wood River, the East River, the Fakahatchee River, the Ferguson River, the Barron River and the Turner River.  South you will find the Lopez, Chatham, Houston, Lostman’s, Rodgers, Broad and Harney Rivers as well as, many unnamed “creeks” large enough to be called rivers.  You get the idea … lots of opportunity.

 The “north” rivers dump into large bays surrounded by literally thousands of islands.  Each provides opportunities for fishing its respective oyster bars, cuts, mangrove overhangs and rips.  The islands themselves form massive “passes” that tidal waters flow through.  These passes scour holes that are sometimes over twenty feet deep.  At various times in the year, you will encounter most all the fish area has to offer in these passes.  The smaller of the groupers, the largest of the black drum, Spanish mackerel and the cobia move into the passes in the cooler months.  As things warm up, the massive goliath groupers, large numbers of large tarpon and the biggest of the snook move in.  Snapper, jacks, trout, pompano and ladyfish are a ”given” almost year round.

 The “south” rivers are “fed” by the backcountry, a vast flooded area of saltwater bays, bayous, bights and islands.  Part of this country is the Wilderness Waterway, a marked boating trail, maintained by the National Park that runs for over 75 miles.  Higher in the backcountry, to the north, above the bays, are runoff creeks from the mainland.  Here you can catch a snook in one cast, and redfish the next and a large mouth bass on another.

 The mouths of the south rivers are defined by massive oyster bars and passes that cut through even larger grass and mud flats.  At the proper time, these areas concentrate large numbers of fish and wildlife. Fishing the mouths, it is common to be amongst hundreds of wading birds, manatee, alligators, porpoise, eagles and osprey.  You will even see deer, pigs, cats and bear on the beaches.  Have you ever seen a sawfish?  You might actual catch one of these dinosaurs here.

 The outside barrier islands, both north and south are lined with pristine, isolated beaches with grass flats just off the shoreline.  Snook, redfish, shark and jack roam the beaches making for excellent sight fishing opportunities.  Trout, pompano, ladyfish, flounder and redfish are up on the flats. Tarpon, shark, cobia, large jacks and porpoise will be there also hunting the smaller species.  While trout fishing with six to eight pound spinning gear, my anglers will almost always run into a school of ladyfish.  In the spring, summer and fall, quite often, a ladyfish will be gobbled up a marauding tarpon … show time!

 Just offshore, within sight of land, are natural and artificial formations that hold piles of fish … cobia, snook, goliath groupers, mackerel, kingfish, snapper and permit.  A typical day can consist of the inside/outside trip. Anglers get to fish “inside” amongst the rivers and islands in the morning and “outside” on the near-shore structure in the afternoon.  In the warmer months, I get often get to witness Mother Nature’s food chain first hand.  At least once a week I have an angler’s cobia, permit or snook inhaled by a giant goliath grouper or run down by a shark. It certainly makes for an exciting and varied day on the water!

 The typical angler can’t always choose to fish when the weather is perfect.  Most of us fish when other obligations allow, when we have time off or are on vacation.  Unlike, most every other fishery in the State, rarely are you “blown” out because of weather.  Because of the Western Park’s diverse fishing opportunities and its vast amount of sheltered water, you can almost always find good, sheltered areas to catch fish no matter what the weather guessers deliver.  Don’t get me wrong, when the sparks start to fly with the summertime thunderstorms, you can be run out of here just as fast as anywhere, but even in a 15+ knot breeze, you can still catch fish in the lee of the islands, river banks and creeks.   This fact alone makes the area an excellent destination.

 For some, including me, one of the most attractive features of the area is the solitude. I prefer to fish alone with my anglers, the wildlife, the islands and the fish.  If I had my choice, I would rather not see another boat the entire day.  I like the feeling of solitude, the feeling that this special place and time is my special place and time.  Here you have that choice.  It is very easy to get away from the others because there is just so much country available to explore and experience. 

 I feel very lucky to be able to live and work in this area.  One of my greatest jollies is watching people experience this area.  The look on angler’s face as he looks down at his reel to see the bottom of his spool appear as a permit streaks to the horizon or the excitement in a youngsters face when he sees a snook break the water is absolutely priceless.  I would not trade it for anything in the world.  I am passionate about the Chokoloskee area and love sharing it with others.  I grew up in Miami, fishing and diving the southeast Florida area and the Keys.  As well, in a “past” life, I fished the west coast of Florida extensively.  However, for all the reasons above, this is truly the best Florida has to offer. 

 If you wish to book a charter with Capt. Wright, call or email him at Chokoloskee Charters (239) 695-9107 CaptWright@ChokoloskeeCharters.com   More information can be found on the web at www.ChokoloskeeCharters.com .

Circle Hooks For Reef Fish

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Circle hooks for reef fish. It’s the law.
From Florida Sea Grant

Check current regulations on reef species!

A circle hook is a fishing hook designed so that the point is turned perpendicular to the shank to form a circular shape. The principal advantage to using circle hooks is that fish are almost never deep-hooked – research has found that circle hooks are more likely to hook a fish in the mouth rather than the gut, making them easier to remove and reducing harm to the fish. Watch the short video below for a quick overview.

The principle behind the hook is simple: after the hook has been swallowed the fisherman applies pressure to the line, pulling the hook out of the stomach. The actual curved shape keeps the hook from catching in the gut cavity or throat. Instead, the hook slides toward the point of resistance and embeds itself in the jaw or in the corner of the fish’s mouth.

Regulations
As of June 1, 2008, anyone fishing for any species of reef fish in Gulf of Mexico waters will be required to use non-stainless steel circle hooks when fishing with natural bait. If you accidentally catch a Gulf reef fish on a J hook while using natural bait, you must release it.

In Florida, it is required to use non-offset circle hooks when fishing with natural bait for reef fish in Gulf waters. Non-offset circle hooks are those in which the end of the hook is inline with the shank of the hook – rather than being angled sideways, away from the shank.

When to Use Them
Circle hooks can be used on any species of fish caught on hook and line. They have been used by commercial fishermen for decades due to their ability to efficiently catch fish.

Today both fresh and saltwater fishermen are using circle hooks to improve the survival of the fish that they catch and release.
How to Use Them

Bottom Fishing: Bait the hook as usual. When a fish takes the bait, allow time for the fish to completely swallow the hook before steadily reeling in the line. Do not attempt to set the hook by sharply jerking the rod – this will pull the hook out of the fish’s mouth.

Trolling: Attach to bait as for any other bait-trolling rig – often using a rubber band or waxed string to fasten the hook to the bait. This allows the hook to hang freely above the bait. Offshore fishermen are successfully trolling with their usual trolling rigs by simply replacing the old style J hooks with circle hooks.
Live Bait: Hook live bait through a fleshy part of the fish. This allows the bait to swim freely and allows the hook to set when a fish strikes.

Hooking Technique
Don’t set the hook! Slowly and steadily reel in the slack in the line until the hook sets itself in the fish. This requires some patience and restraint… patience to make sure the fish has had time to swallow the bait… and restraint in the initial urge to forcefully set the hook.

Benefits of Non-stainless steel Circle Hooks
Non-stainless steel hooks will deteriorate over time.
The hook sets itself when you reel in the line. This is great for inexperienced anglers and for deep water fishing. 

Circle Hooks

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By Capt. Dave Markett, FGA & Capt. Mel Berman, 970-WFLA

 Most who enjoy the sport of fishing are always looking for ways to help our precious fish species survive and multiply. And Capt. Dave Markett is one of our most ardent conservationists, always coming up with ways to assure a healthy fishery. In this regard, Capt. Dave sent us an email proposing the greater use of circle hooks. We also outlined some additional measures that could help our popular target species survive the catch and release experience.

From Capt. Dave Markett

Mel,

An idea has been forming within me that I would like your opinion of.

As Florida moves forward towards what will surely be a more demanding and more crowded fishing future, it seems to be more important that ever to eliminate as much unintentional catch mortality as is possible.

There is much indication and evidently some credible data that supports the notion that circle hooks result in far more lip hookups than any / all other fish hook styles. If that is indeed the case, then why not require this style hook in all live and dead bait angling in all the waters of Florida?

This seems on the surface to be an action that would nudge all anglers to take responsibility for being able to release unwanted catches in a safer and more healthy manner. The fish would benefit and all other anglers would also benefit if all anglers were better at letting ’em go in better shape.

In my experiences, with all skill level anglers, most fail to set the hook at the first indication of a bite, rather letting their fish “eat or take” the bait for some time. This act almost always results in a gullet or stomach hooking of a very wide variety of fishes.

Circle hooks absolutely reduce this type hookups by a significant amount and by that fact alone would reduce tremendously the number of mortally hooked fish which were to otherwise be released for any number of reasons.

This would seem to offer a viable opportunity to assure more fish in our waters for all users without the need for additional productive habitat or bag and size limit regulations. It is difficult for me to come up with a specie that would not benefit in a significant manner.

What are your thoughts on this?

Capt. Dave Markett
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Capt. Mel Berman’s reply

Dear Dave:

As you know I am always in favor of any idea that reduces fish mortality. I think the idea of encouraging the use of circle hooks an excellent one.

You are quite correct that most fish mortalities occur from deeply imbedded hooks, and the circle hook is definitely one way to reduce injuries and the death of fish.

We should also educate anglers that by simply cutting the leader when a hook is deeply imbedded dramatically increases the fish’s chances of surviving a catch and release experience. I am sure you are familiar with the Dr. Ron Taylor’s 5-year study of deeply imbedded hooks in snook. In it they determined that the great majority of snook released by clipping the leader lived to fight another day. It was only when the angler tried to retrieve the hook from down in the fish that caused its demise.
Certainly the practice of mashing down the barbs on hooks lowers the mortality rate as well. Just a bit of tension on the line is all it takes to reel in a fish on a barbless hook.

I also feel that how we handle fish in general has a great deal to do with their survival rate.

For example, when we catch larger species, it is always a good idea to keep it in the water — take the picture and release as soon as possible.

If you must take them out of the water, hold these bigger fish with wet hands and in a horizontal position; take pictures and gently put the fish back in the water as soon as possible. The bony structure of all fish is designed to hold its internal organs only in a horizontal position. When larger, heavier fish are held vertical they can be seriously injured.

We also need to teach our fellow anglers the importance of releasing fish with minimal touching — using any of an assortment of fish releasing devices. Grabbing a fish with a dry towel or hand removes the protective slime and leaves the fish open to disease and other ailments.

Finally, let me say that dragging a large species like a tarpon across the fiberglass deck of a boat is — in Dr. Ron Taylor’s words –“like dragging a naked human across a rough set of rocks.”  I have seen this too often in magazine pictures and we should speak up and let these publications know that this is not what we care to see.

I know we’ve all been guilty of doing many of these things at some time in our fishing career, be we should all be open to change and grow as caring anglers — protecting a limited resource for future generations.

Dave, I thank you for spearheading this circle hook idea. You are one of the ‘good guys,’ always in the forefront of fisheries conservation. I for one really appreciate all your efforts over the years.

Stay well and stay in touch,

Mel

Cold weather, shallow water: Big Crappie

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 By By JIM SHEPHERD, The Fishing Wire

 In the midst of a duck hunt in often cold temperatures, hunting and fishing guide Garry Mason turned to me and said “see those seagulls over there on that flat- I can go over there and catch crappie.” I had to laugh. After all, the water he was referencing may have been under attack by gulls on a school of shad, but good grief, we’re talking about cold water – as in ice around the edges.

No matter, said Mason, I have people laugh at me all the time when I tell them they can catch crappie – slab-sided crappie – in less than two feet of water in the wintertime.

The secret, he says, is to know what motivates the crappie. Like the seagulls, a school of shad equals nutrition. Food in cold weather means life. “Just look for the gulls on the shad,” Mason says, “then rig for shallow-water fishing and get ready to catch a mess of crappie.”

If it were anyone other than a lifelong angler and man who knows the waters of West Tennessee like only a lifelong resident can, I’d be skeptical. But Mason and his Adventures Outdoors Guide Service are known around the country for putting people on fish, deer, ducks or whatever the season dictates.

So, here’s Mason’s personal prescription for catching shallow-water crappie in very cold water.

Take an artificial grub (Mason prefers Charlie Brewer slider grubs) and put it on a 1/16 ounce jig head (he uses a red ball or a Blakemore road runner of the same weight).

That rig is then attached to your line, along with a small balsa wood or other style float from 12 to 18 inches up the line from the jighead.

“Cast it beyond the cover,” Mason told me, “then slowly reel it back through the cover, stopping every so often to allow the crappie time to catch up to the bait.”

He also let another secret ingredient slip. “I use a scent formula, too,” he says, “it’s Garry Mason’s White Lightnin by the Original Fish Formula Company.” Makes sense that Garry Mason would use that scent, doesn’t it?

A world class duck and goose caller, Mason interspersed the time spent calling ducks and geese into shotgun range by offering fishing tips. He shared much of the same information he uses for his highly entertaining and unique seminars, all while admonishing us to either “get down” or “get up and kill ‘em” as the ducks and geese flew overhead.

If the fish respond to his lure as well as the waterfowl did to his calling, you can expect to use this technique to keep on fishing no matter what the weather.