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Topwater Time!


 By HAYLEY LYNCH, Kentucky Afield magazine

Along with warm temperatures and long days, summer brings topwater action to bass anglers. Now is one of the best times of the year to catch fish on surface presentations. “When fish are more active because of warmer temperatures this time of year, they are more likely to feed on the surface,” said Dave Dreves, a fisheries research biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “A lot of people think when it’s hot, the fish don’t feed as much. Well, their metabolisms are higher, so they have to eat.”

Dreves says largemouth bass are biting on the water’s surface in ponds now, while white bass and hybrid striped bass, as well as largemouth bass, are biting in reservoirs. Smallmouth bass are feeding on top in streams. Bass generally bite best on topwater baits during the morning and evening.

Shad that were spawned a few months ago are now big enough to catch the attention of bass. Try chuggers that resemble these baitfish, such as a white or silver Pop-R or Chug Bug. Dreves also recommends surface lures with propellers on the back or both back and front. Size can range from 2½ to 5 inches. Dreves suggests fishing a Zara Spook using a “walk the dog” retrieve. Use your wrist to create a rhythmic retrieve, letting the lure twitch back and forth on a slack line.

Dreves notes that since the 17-year cicada emergence has ended, bass may now key on frogs and other surface prey. Try a frog-imitating lure in green or brown.

“I grew up fishing in farm ponds where I would throw a Snag Proof Frog around the edges of the pond on top of filamentous algae – commonly called moss,” said Dreves. “You can throw a frog on top of those thick mats, and the bass will blow up through the vegetation and eat the frog. It’s a real exciting way to fish.”

Anglers should also try buzzbaits and spinnerbaits for summer topwater action. “Most of the time, buzzbaits are used in the early morning,” said John Williams, southeast fisheries district coordinator for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “Anglers switch to something a little slower and a little deeper later on.”

Some anglers prefer a double buzzbait for added noise and action. Bass strike these lures out of irritation, to get the intruder out of their territory – so the more commotion, the better. Good colors are white, chartreuse and black. Buzzbaits must be retrieved quickly so they don’t sink.

“The water’s warm so the fish ought to be active,” said Williams. “I would think burning them, with a fairly fast retrieve would work right now.”

Night fishing is warming up now as anglers try to beat the summer heat. Try spinnerbaits in black, fished just under the surface at night. Jitterbugs in black are another good choice. Use either a steady retrieve or work the lure 4-5 feet at a time, and pause for a few seconds between retrieves. Chuggers also work well at night. Williams recommends anglers try fishing these lures over shallow flats.

Finally, be patient. The thrill of watching a bass strike your lure on the water’s surface may cause you to set the hook too quickly.

“If you set the hook when you see the strike, you’ll pull the lure out of the fish’s mouth,” cautioned Dreves. “Make yourself wait till you feel the strike before setting the hook.”

Author Hayley Lynch is an award-winning writer for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. She is an avid hunter and shotgun shooter.

Tough Days: How To Succeed



Even the Tough Days Can Be Great


Capt. Doug “Butch” Rickey


I woke up at 5:30 AM on March 14, to rain. It had been blowing 20 to 30 for the last several days, and I was sick of fighting the wind. Now, it was raining, to boot. The plan was to catch my bait around the Sanibel causeway and leave to pick up my party on the north end of North Captiva by around 8:30 AM. Catching bait was going to be a trick.

I was without a trolling motor or a passenger to handle the boat while I threw the net around the bridge pilings. Sunday, as we stood on the bow with baits in a snook hole, we all heard a sort of sizzling sound. I thought it was coming from the nearby mangroves, but didn’t know for sure. We looked at each other, puzzled. Suddenly a sense of panic ran through my gut as a cloud of smoke rose from the bow filling our nostrils with the unmistakable odor of burning electronics components. My 712 SS Minn-Kota trolling motor main circuit board was going up in smoke. I snatched the power wires apart with a quick jerk and put a stop to the cloud, but it meant that I would be without a trolling motor for the rest of the week. The motor can be very instrumental in boat control while throwing for bait, and I also use it to make the final approach to the holes when I’m live bait fishing.

Anyway, I was without a motor, and handling the boat in a 20+ mph southeast wind running across a 6 knot current while throwing a 10 foot cast net was almost impossible. But, I knew that bait was be the key to any success that day, so I threw that net for over two solid hours without catching so much as a single pilchard. I was way off schedule calling my party, but decided to stay with it. Finally, I moved to a nearby flat that bordered the ICW channel. I figured maybe, just maybe, I could chum some bait out of the deeper water. And chum I did. And the pilchards and pinfish came. Not it great numbers, but enough for a day of fishing as long as I didn’t use any of them for chum. By 9:30 I just couldn’t bare the thought of throwing that net one more time and called my party. I finally picked up Joe O’Neil of Billings, Montana, and his daughter Lisa, and her boyfriend Kirk, both going to school in Alaska, about 45 minutes later. They were referred to me by Julie Ryan and Bill Krell, a great couple I took out back in December, who are also from Billings. We had a couple of days of great fun on the water together, and caught a lot of fish. Julie works at a travel agency with Joe’s lovely wife Gale. Bill and Julie dug me a hole I figured I’d be buried in, telling Joe I’d take them out for 30 to 40 snook and reds. That’s a tough trick to pull off in the winter months, especially when bait is scarce and the wind is blowing 25. But I was resolved to do my very best.

We took a long, slow ride across Pine Island Sound, running almost straight up the wind. Finally, we found relative refuge from the wind on the flats north of Demere Key, where I wanted to fish some holes for snook. We were too late getting there. There was already too much water on the flats, and these are low tide spots. We fished hole after hole for several hours, all of which were exposed to the wind. There was so much wind, often my anchor would pull loose and we’d blow the hole. Finally, I took refuge on the lee side of one of the larger keys where I’d scored the day before. Finally, we got into fish. Through the course of the afternoon we got 10 to 12 snook and reds, with a nice trout thrown in. Lisa got a couple of snook, but also lost a couple. Joe fought a nice red and lost it at the last minute. Kirk caught most of the fish, and lost several, too, and was the star of the day. We had a chance for a redfish triple while we were on a small school, but didn’t pull it off.

At the last stop of the day, we put out some of the remaining few baits. I expected to find reds in this hole, but a large snook hit Kirk’s pinfish, and headed west for Captiva. As far as I know, he made it to Mexico. Kirk couldn’t even get his attention.

As we arrived back at Upper Captiva it was threatening rain again. Kirk proudly took the only fish we kept, a nice speckled trout, to the table to clean it. We hadn’t landed any keeping size snook, and the big reds we caught are out of season. But Kirk was happy to have had a West Coast Slam, and on a day when conditions were really tough, everyone had a great time. Joe included a promise to return when the weather is warmer along with his generous tip.

It’s certain that as the weather heats up, so too will the snook action. They’re already showing up in good numbers, and we’ve been getting some 27 to 30 inch fish in the last week. Joe, I can’t blame you for leaving Billings, Montana, in the dead of winter, but you’ve got to come fishin’ here when it’s warm. It’s great.

Trading Up To a New Kayak


By Neil Taylor, March 2011

Choosing a Kayak or “The Up-Grade”

March 1, 2011
It could be a canoe.   It could be a discount store kayak that paddles like a waterlogged two-by-four.    That first paddle-craft got you on the water, and you had some fun but eventually you’re hearing about and seeing other options, many of which are far better than what you already have.    If you are in this situation, you might want to trade-up to a new paddle craft.  Changes in fishing kayaks in the last six to seven years translates to improvements in boat handling, fishing layout, comfort, durability and stability.    Many of these things were mentioned in a past article I did: “Myths About Kayaks.”  A kayak of today is 1000% better than what was available just a few years ago, particularly when it comes to fishing kayaks.

The beauty of The Trade-Up is that your existing boat has value.   It is usually pretty easy to sell off what you have and apply that money toward a new boat.   This is something I’ve seen people do for years.   Most kayak anglers are what are “marine buy-ologists” and they have owned a wide variety of paddle craft.   Eventually people identify their favorites and that is what they keep and use.

If you are in the “Trade-Up” category, or you are completely new to kayak fishing, you should try various kayak options before you make your boat selection.  My own preference is the Native Watercraft line of boats.   With their fishing kayaks, look closely at the Ultimate 12 and 14.5, the Versa Board, Mariner and the Manta Ray series.   Different boats suit different needs.   Some are built for rougher water conditions, for standing and others you would simply not want to use in the more turbulent situations.   Kayak anglers who do a variety of fishing will often have multiple boats appropriate to those varying situations.

When kayak owners use the Native Ultimate for the first time, they realize this boat provides extra opportunities.   Standing to sight-cast to fish, fly-fish or all the extra deck space are things that expand their opportunities.   Definitely what sets that model boat apart from every other option: The seat.   The other performance factors are important but, for sure, you do not want to be uncomfortable sitting in your kayak.  

There are things you won’t know about how the kayak fits your needs until you actually get out on the water in different boats and see how they work for you.   Space utilization, how the boat handles for you and other small things that add up to the overall decision on which boat will be best for you.  Often overlooked, kayak anglers need to consider how they will be transporting their watercraft and how easy it is to lift by themselves.   While there are excellent loader systems that eliminate a lot of the effort, for the people who want to keep their costs down, they need to make sure they can safely lift their boat up and down off their vehicle.

Inexpensive options for “being mobile” on the water: Kayaks are much different than they used to be.   Like any decision in your fishing equipment choices, you have to figure out the kayak you like the most- and this is quite simply a very fun process.

Trailering Tips


By Boats Express, Clearwater, Florida

When you are pulling a trailer, one thing is undisputed. Trailer towing is a special situation which places demands on your driving skills, and on your tow vehicle. We have included a few basic tips that you should know in order to transport your boat and trailer safely, comfortably and without abusing the towing vehicle.

1. Weight Distribution.

– For optimum handling, the trailer must be properly loaded and balanced.

– Keep the center of gravity (CG) low for best handling.

– Approximately 60% of the boat’s weight should be positioned on the front half of the trailer and 40% in the rear (within limits of tongue weight capacity).

– The boat should also be balanced from side to side. If the vessel has side mounted fuel or water tanks and only one side is filled, then this will lend the rig to maneuver poorly. Proper balancing will also prolong the life of your trailers tires.

– The boat should be firmly secured with at lease two ratchet type straps, attached from the trailer to the stern eyes and one ratchet type strap from the trailer (to the rear), to the bow eye to keep the boat from shifting forward. The bow eye should also be attached to the trailer’s winch which is mounted forward of the bow.

2. Before Starting.

– Before hooking up to the trailer, make sure your tow vehicle is full of oil and fuel. Remember, it is a lot easier to fuel your tow vehicle at a gas station without a boat and trailer attached. You should also make sure the vehicle has plenty of water in the radiator and fluid in the transmission. Towing a large load can often times heat up a motor and strain a transmission. If you haven’t already done so, look into installing a transmission cooler on your tow vehicle.

– Check the tow vehicle’s tires for proper inflation. If you have a dual wheeled vehicle make sure there aren’t any “hidden” flats.

– Connect the safety chains, and if equipped, attach the safety brake chain.

– Before starting out on a trip, practice turning, stopping and backing up your trailer in an area away from traffic. Make sure your mirrors give you ample vision around both sides of the boat and trailer and if not, look into getting modified mirrors for your tow vehicle.

– Check the trailer’s turn signal, running and brake lights.

– Check the trailer’s tires and make sure the lug nuts are tightened. A partially flat trailer tire will heat up and eventually disintegrate. And, losing a wheel can prove to be disastrous, especially if the loose wheel strikes another vehicle.

– Double check that the boat is secured properly to the trailer.

– Check the reservoir on the trailer’s surge brakes.

– Check the trailer’s connection to the hitch to make sure it is fastened properly and latched. A pin, such as a cotter pin or a bolt should be placed through the latch itself to prevent it from coming loose or being undone by vandals while the vehicle is parked.

– Check to make sure the trailer ball on your tow vehicle matches the coupler on your trailer. The three major sizes of trailer balls are: 1-7/8″, 2″, and 2-5/16″. Make sure the ball is fastened properly to the tow vehicle and that the mounting will handle the capacity equal to or grater than the weight of the trailer and boat. If you have a receiver type hitch, make sure the insert (the bar the ball attaches to) is secured with a retaining pin and that it has a locking clevis pin on it.

3. Backing.

– Back slowly with someone outside the rear of the trailer to guide you.

-Place one hand at the bottom of the steering wheel and move it in the direction you want the trailer to go.

– Make small steering inputs….slight movements of the steering wheel result in a greater movement at the rear of the trailer.

– Use your mirrors. Always watch both sides of the trailer.

4. Braking.

– Allow considerably more distance for stopping with a boat and trailer attached.

– If you have a manual brake controller, “lead” with the trailer brakes first, if possible. To correct trailer side-sway, touch the manual trailer brakes with out activating the tow vehicles brakes.

– Be sure to steer as straight as possible when stopping a rig. Turning while making a radical stop can cause the tow vehicles rear end to be pushed forward of the front…this is called “jackknifing”.

5. Downgrades and upgrades.

– Downshifting assists braking on downgrades and provides added power at the drive wheels for climbing hills.

6. Parking with a trailer.

– Whenever possible, vehicles with trailers should not park on a grade. However, if it is necessary, place wheel chocks under the trailer’s wheels as follows:

a. Apply the foot service brakes and hold.

b. Have another person place the wheel chocks under the trailer wheels on the downgrade side.

c. Once the wheel chocks are in place, release the foot service brakes, making sure that the chocks are holding the tow vehicle and trailer

. d. Apply the parking brake.

E. Shift the transmission and make sure it is latched there. If your tow vehicle has a manual transmission, put the gearshift lever in reverse.

Note: With 4-wheel drive, make sure the transfer case is not in neutral.

– To start again.

1. Apply the foot service brake and hold.

2. Shift the transmission into park on automatic transmissions and neutral on manual transmissions.

3. Shift the transmission into gear and release the parking brake.

4. Release the foot brakes and move the tow vehicle uphill to free the wheel chocks.

5. Apply the foot service brakes and hold while another person retrieves the chocks.

7. Acceleration and passing.

– The added weight of the trailer can dramatically decrease the acceleration of the towing vehicle. Exercise caution.

– If you must pass a slower vehicle, be sure to allow extra distance………remember, you also have the added length of the trailer which must clear the other vehicle before you can pull back into the lane.

– Make your pass on level terrain with plenty of clearance.

– If necessary, downshift for improved acceleration.

8. Driving with and automatic overdrive transmission.

– With certain automatic overdrive transmissions, towing, especially in hilly areas with heavier boats, may result in excessive shifting between overdrive and the next lowest gear.

– If this occurs, it is recommended that the overdrive gear be locked out to eliminate the condition and provide steadier performance.

Note: See the tow vehicle’s owner’s manual for more information.

– When there is no excessive shifting, use the overdrive gear for optimum fuel economy.

– Overdrive also may be locked out to obtain braking on downgrades.

9. Driving with speed control.

– When driving uphill with a large boat, significant speed drops may occur.

– A speed drop of more than 8 to 14 miles per hour will automatically cancel the speed control device.

– Temporally resume manual control through the vehicle’s accelerator pedal until the terrain levels off.

10. On the Road.

– After about 50 miles, stop in a protected area and double check:

1. Trailer hitch attachment.

2. Lights and electrical connections.

3. Trailer wheel lug nuts for tightness.

4. Engine oil…..check regularly throughout the trip.

– If a flat occurs on the tow vehicle, do not use a small “donut” type

spare tire as this will drastically reduce the maneuverability of the rig.

11. Launching the boat.

– Evaluate the pitch and length of the ramp as compared to the length of the boat and trail

– Line the boat and tow vehicle up with the ramp in a straight line.

– Prepare a bow and stern line for easy retrieval and make sure any plugs are installed prior to launching.

– Back down the ramp slowly, using someone at the back of the boat to guide you. Make sure the wheels don’t drop off the end of the ramp.

– Submerge the trailer only as much as necessary to float the boat or roll it off, depending on which type of trailer you have. Keep in mind that if you have a multiple axle trailer, if you back one or more of the axles over the edge of a drop off, the remaining axles will be supporting the weight of the boat, unless, of course, the boat is supported by its own buoyancy.

– When the boat is clear of the trailer, make sure there is nothing still attached, such as the bow strap or cable, then slowly pull the trailer from the water.

12. Retrieving the boat.

– Evaluate the pitch and length of the ramp as compared to the length of the boat and trailer

– Line the tow vehicle and trailer up with the ramp and back down the ramp slowly

– Submerge the trailer only as much as necessary to float the or roll the boat on, depending on which type of trailer you have. Keep in mind that if you have a multiple axle trailer, if you back one or more of the axles over the edge of a drop off, the remaining axles will be supporting the weight of the boat, unless, of course, the boat is supported by its own buoyancy.

– Gently drive the boat onto the trailer as recommended by the manufacturer using the trailer’s winch as directed by the type of trailer you own. – Once the boat is straight on the trailer, double check to make sure the bow is latched to the winch and all lines are free from the undercarriage of the trailer.

– Gently pull the trailered boat forward, making sure not to spin the vehicles tires. Once the tires start spinning traction has been lost and it will be almost impossible to remove the trailer from the ramp. If the wheels start spinning, try to add more weight to the rear of the tow vehicle. Be careful about having people climb onto the bumper of a tow vehicle as this could create an accident.

– If the tires continue to spin, gently apply the parking brake while simultaneously applying power, a little at a time until the wheels grab the ramp surface, and the rig moves forward.

13. Parking the trailered boat.

– Once the trailered boat is ready to be parked, make sure you pick an area which is well lit and free from falling debris, like tree leaves and other things which can clutter up you boat.

– After situating the trailered boat in the spot where you want it, place chocks at the front and rear of all the tires. – Carefully disconnect the trailer coupling from the hitch, and unplug all connections.

14. Long term maintenance.

– After each use, the trailer’s brakes should be flushed with fresh water, regardless of whether you submerged it in fresh or salt water.

– Use a petroleum based solution to wipe the tires and prevent dryrot.

– Periodically grease the axle hubs, making sure not to overfill grease retaining hubs. This could blow out the “o” ring seals and promote premature failure.

These trailering tips have been provided by:

Odessa. Fl  33556
Phone. 813-920-8200
Fax.    813-920-9844
Email: Quotes@boatsexpress.com 

Web Site:  BoatsExpress.com

Transporting Your Boat


Moving? Here’s how to safely transport your boat
 By Greg Hutchens, CEO Boats Express Corp.

In this highly mobile society, we might have to, at some time, pull up stakes and set up your homestead in some other part of the country. Among your prized possessions is your boat, and here are some valuable tips from Greg Hutchens on transporting your pride and joy.


This boat preparation guide was compiled to assist the boat owner in properly preparing and securing the boat for overland transportation. Please make every effort to prepare the boat according to these guidelines. Oversee the preparation yourself or have a qualified yard do so. The carrier cannot be responsible for damage due to improper preparation or loading by the shipper, for faulty or defective cradles, trailers, chains, binders, or other equipment provided by the shipper to secure the cargo.


The legal height for transporting over the road is 13′ 6.” Please choose a marina or boatyard with at least 14′ overhead clearance, with no low tree branches or wires on its approach.

If you choose a marina or boatyard to which there is no clear access, the carrier cannot accept responsibility for damage caused by branches or wires. The larger the boat, the higher the load, the more clearance required. Unless previously discussed, freight amount quoted is for legal height of 13′ 6″ loaded on the carriers trailer. If your boat loads higher, a freight surcharge will be added to your freight amount.

The driver will perform a survey only of the exterior of the boat. The condition of the boat will be noted on a condition report. You or your agent will be asked to sign this report at the point of pickup; a copy of this report will be given to you or your agent at that time. At delivery, the boat will again be inspected; the condition report again signed and another copy will be given to you or your agent. Any damage noted by you or your agent upon delivery must be noted on the bill-of-lading that you sign when you or your agent accepts delivery of the boat.


1. Stow all loose gear and secure. All gear stored below must be well secured. The carrier will not accept responsibility for damage caused by loose gear. Lock the cabin.YOU keep the key. DO NOT give the key to the driver.

2. Boats cannot be shipped with fuel or water in tanks. Drain fuel and water tanks. Remove any drain plugs from the hull. There should not be any water in the bilge while it is being transported. During winter months, water should be drained from water systems, pumps, air conditioners, etc.

3. Disconnect batteries and secure. Remove anchors from the deck.

4. Wooden boats can be expected to dry out. A coat of linseed oil will help. Please expect normal road dirt on the boat.


5. All canvas covers must be removed as they will tear or fly off during transit. If they are not removed, the carrier cannot be responsible for damages.


6. If your boat has its own cradle, please inspect it carefully for loose

bolts or weakness of any kind. If your cradle breaks in transit, causing damage to your boat, the carrier cannot accept responsibility. If you are shipping your boat on its own trailer, the carrier cannot accept responsibility should the rollers or frame cause damage, or if the trailer breaks apart, causing damage.


7. If you are shipping a dinghy on board or if you have had to remove any superstructure, these items should be well padded. DO NOT leave dinghy on davits.


8. All electronics, radar, hailers, horns, antennas, propellers, flag masts, lights, anchor lights, etc., must be removed, packed securely and securely stored below. The carrier will not be responsible if they are damaged or if they vibrate off. HATCHES

9. Tie and/or tape hatches from the outside. The carrier cannot be responsible for the damage they may cause if they blow off in transit, or for damage to the boat caused by rain water if a hatch blows off. 10. If the hatches leak, seal them. A boat will not sit in the same position on the carrier’s trailer as it does in the water and the carrier cannot be responsible for rain water entering through a leaky hatch or deck.


11. Cabin windows should be latched and taped from the outside.

12. All windshields and/or Plexiglas that protrude over the flying bridge should be removed, packed with a cargo blanket and should be well secured below. The carrier will not be responsible for any damage that occurs if they are not removed and properly packed and secured.


15. Remove all propellers, flag masts, lights, outriggers, antennas, etc.

16. If your boat is low enough to ship with the flying bridge on, remove all lights, wheels, masts and windshields that protrude over the bridge. All Plexiglas should be removed and packed below with a cargo blanket. If your power boat is not low enough to ship with the flying bridge on, you will have to have a cradle built for the bridge to be shipped in on the forward deck or cockpit area. Every point touching the deck or rails must be sufficiently padded. Remove all electronics and valuable items from the bridge, pack securely, and store below.

Article Courtesy:
Greg Hutchens. CEO
Boats Express Corp.

1-800-926-2875 X 100

Email: greg@boatsexpress.com

Web Site: www.boatsexpress.com

Tripletail Fishing


Like Panfish on Steroids
 By Capt. Mel Berman,
Florida Fishing Weekly

While most of his clients prefer targeting the more popular snook, reds, cobia, snapper, sheepshead, tarpon and trout, Capt. Rick DePaiva is absolutely fascinated by tripletail. “They are just a heck of a lot of fun to track down and catch,” said the popular Pine Island Sound guide. “The main reasons I enjoy catching tripletail is that they do occasionally jump and test the skills of any angler They readily strike artificials lures and flies – and will give you all you can handle once hooked.”

On the other hand, tripletail are what one might call “a laid back species,” often preferring to drift the currents along with floating debris or vegetation. In this posture, tripletail go unnoticed because they blend in with the floating flotsam. This enables them to prey on smaller unsuspecting fishes that might pass by their drift. More often than not, their attraction to floating objects causes them to collect around crab traps buoys, markers, and even barges and moored boats.

Not the most attractive fish in our waters, the tripletail somehow looks like it could be a prehistoric freshwater panfish on steroids. It is relatively flat, with a mottled brown color – deriving its name from the unique juxtaposition and closeness of the ends of dorsal and anal fins to the caudal (tail) fin. As a dinner fish, their texture and taste is often favorably compared with grouper. For that matter, some say the fillet might be a bit “sweeter” or better tasting than the gags.

Anglers are allowed two tripletail per person – with a 15-inch minimum length. They can grow into some impressive sizes, attaining weights of 20-pounds and more. For example, on March 4, 1999, an angler named Thomas Lewis caught a 40 lbs. 13 oz record tripletail at Ft. Pierce. Cape Canaveral is probably the most consistent location for some of Florida’s largest, with many IGFA tripletail records achieved by great anglers like Al Perez.

This unique species is also found in great abundance here on Florida’s west coast where many tripletail enthusiasts like Capt. Rick DePaiva target them on a regular basis. He has developed a summertime tripletail tactic that can be highly productive. “At the height of the rainy seasons of June, July, August, those very strong winds and downpours shake the trees – and cocoanuts fall in the water,” he said. “As they drift out to sea, you’ll quite often see tripletail floating right along with the cocoanuts. But you gotta look closely because of the water’s tannic coloration from the constant rains, tripletail will often be on their side as a sort of camouflage,” he said. “They can actually change appearance to match the color of the floating cocoanuts and palm fronds.”

However, DePaiva believes that the most reliable way of locating triplefish is looking for them around the crab pots and buoys – reef markers and other floating gear. And even though we are into summer, with stone crab season closed, there are always many abandoned “ghost traps” – and of course still some blue crab pots that tend to attract the tripletail.

Are they spooky? Well, DePaiva believes that they are “kind of like cobia – half your cobia are gonna be curious – and the others not so. But I would say that tripletail are usually less spooky than most species. I know of some people who have actually caught them with a four stroke engine idling.” He also points out that they’re certainly not as spooky as reds or snook. “But when they are fished heavily – and then you come up to that fish, he’s gonna be shy and more spooky than an undisturbed fish.”

What are some recommended tactics and techniques for catching tripletail? DePaiva tells us that he’s an artificial and fly-only guy, “but a lot of folks use small pinfish or crabs.” He also said that since tripletail have small mouths for their size, one should use smaller baits – about the size of a dollar coin. “Shrimp lures and jigs work very well for me. And certainly shrimp fly patterns are very effective. But my number one favorite for tripletail is a crab fly.”

What kind of presentation should an angler make when casting for tripletail? ”Now, you’re always taught in saltwater that when cast to the fish, you want it to sweep naturally with the current so that it comes to the fish – and then you strip your fly in – or you work your artificial away from the fish. This makes it look like the bait is actually fleeing,” notes DePaiva. “But to my knowledge, the tripletail is the only fish that doesn’t respond to that presentation. It actually wants the bait item to come to it.”

Floating up against a chain or rope line, the tripletail can be a master of camouflage. It is one species that loves to blend in with its surroundings – so it would be very easy for the inexperienced angler to miss seeing the fish. “They will always set up into the wind or to the current, whichever is stronger,” advises DePaiva. “And a lot of folks will get upwind or up current from the tripletail and let fly or bait sweep by the fish – but again, that doesn’t work with tripletail. In most instances, they will follow the lure or fly a short distance then turn around and go back. In other words, it might look like he’s gonna eat – but wont. Then, after two or three times they wise up and won’t even follow the bait coming at them.” He recommends getting down tide, and cast up-current at the fish – instigating it to feed. “And nine out of ten times that tripletail will eat using that presentation.”

Once hooked, the tripletail will give any angler a very strong initial burst of energy. “They can wrap your line up on the crab trap, so you need to work it away from there. I had 10-pound tripletail take an angler into the backing of a flyfishing outfit, so I would suggest using somewhat heavier tackle like a 9-weight fly rod. DePaiva said that sometimes tripletail with jump way out of the water – and they can vibrate that huge tail – so anglers should always use a good braided line.

“I would say Tripletail are no slouches. They can be quite a sporty target species. I’ve had people hook them, thinking it was a big snook. Most of my first time tripletail clients say “wow, I can’t believe they fight that hard.”

As for filleting a tripletail, DePaiva recommends wearing gloves because, like sheepshead, they can be somewhat difficult to clean. “I just cut a straight line from the head toward the gut – and another line on top along the dorsal and along the bottom—then just slice that fillet away from the skin and you wind up with a good chunk of meat.”

Above all, DePaiva loves the challenge of targeting tripletail. “Its really great fun stalking them – making the presentation– watching it all develop, when suddenly, the tripletail will try to rip that rod out of your hand.”

Capt. Rick DePaiva charters out of Ft. Myers and fishes mainly in the Pine Island Sound area. He can be contacted by calling (239) 246-8726.

Trolling For Grouper



Most grouper diggers are eager to rush out to their GPS numbers, look for good structure, then drop the anchor and start bottom fishing. Needless to say, this often results in successful fishing days. Yet, talk to some of the old-timers, and you will soon learn that they don’t ever drop a bait until that locate the fish — not using electronics — but by trolling a likely area until catching a fish or two. This time proven technique will always get you on fish — and it’s definitely worth a try

Here’s a typical message from a woman who, speaking on behalf of herself and her husband, would like to give trolled baits a try:

Hi Capt Mel
My husband and I are grouper fishing enthusiasts. Our method has always been “drop the bait to the bottom and wait”. However, lately, I keep suggesting we do some trolling. We’ve never trolled for anything and he keeps coming up with an excuse not to, i.e., we need plugs, we don’t have outriggers, or some other reason. Do you really need outriggers to troll and can you troll with the same bait we use for bottom fishing? I can’t find anyplace on the web that gives specific instructions on how to troll and what you “must” have to troll.
This probably sounds like a beginner computer user asking how to turn on the computer, but I’d really appreciate some info on trolling to give us another method. Sometimes we go out and sit over a hole that’s supposed to be good, and all we get is a suntan.
Thanks in advance for any help you can give us.

Here was my response:

Dear Joan:
For many years — before there was loran, GPS, depth recorders – grouper diggers located the popular bottom fish by trolling until they located a school that was hungry enough to go after a trolled bait. And you want to know something, grouper still respond the very same way today.

Most of today’s bottom fishers have that irresistible urge to head straight out to their favorite rock pile or ledge, anchor up, drop a bait and catch fish. This usually works well enough to hook a few grunts and an occasional keeper grouper, but it is nowhere near as productive as trolling can be.
There is a somewhat different mindset to trolling as opposed to bottom fishing. You get your trolled baits out, sit back, open up a cold one and enjoy the ride. Head for those same hard bottoms and ledges areas, but troll over them using a planer or downrigger and a large spoon, plug or skirted bait, fitted with a strip of mullet. You will be pleasantly surprised at how much action you ultimately will get.

Once you get into trolling, you’ll find it a very pleasant way to fish, and you’ll be able to find several new grouper spots.
I should hasten to add that trolling for grouper does not preclude bottom fish. As a matter of fact, after locating that school of hungry grouper, you simply mark the spot, anchor up and bottom fish. You will most certainly enjoy considerably more productive bottom fishing trips.

The most popular technique for finding good grouper bottoms is to troll until you get a strike. When you do, have someone throw a jug to mark that spot. Then go back over that some pile of fish and, when you hook another, toss another marker. Now, all you have to do is anchor up in-between to two markers, and you should get into lots of bottom fishing action.

Most Suncoast anglers use larger planers tied off to a cleat on the stern, with at least 30-feet of leader going to the lure or bait. A swivel in the middle of the leader is a good idea, to minimize bait twisting. You can also use a downrigger to accomplish the same thing. With a downrigger, you will be able to troll a bait using your rod and reel, with the line going through a release clip attached to the downrigger ball. You can also attach a release clip to a planer and troll using rod and reel.

Remember, as with conventional grouper digging, the bait has to be right on the bottom when trolling. This entails letting the planer drop until is just begins bouncing off the bottom.

Finally, I would highly recommend going with someone who knows how to troll for grouper. This way you and your husband can see first hand how it’s done. You might also want to invest in an offshore charter with a skipper who specializes in this technique. You can also consider joining one of the many fishing clubs. There you’ll be able to meet and fish with other more experienced anglers who would be happy to take you under their wing and show you the ropes.

Trolling For Grouper in Tampa Bay


By CAPT. MEL BERMAN, Florida Fishing Weekly

Slicing through the heart of Tampa Bay is a major shipping highway known as the Ship’s Channel. Its depths through the shallow estuarine area have been dredged out of the limestone and sand bottom to accommodate larger freighters and ships. It’s purpose is to provide commercial access to the great population centers surrounding this great body of water. Along many of the channel’s edges are huge rubble piles of dredged material which have become ideal fish havens for a variety of bottom dwellers, most notably an abundance of grouper.

They’re mostly gag grouper but, every once in a while in some smaller areas of hard bottom, one might occasionally catch a red grouper. But 99-percent of the time, Tampa Bay trollers will catch the gags.

When’s the best time of the year to fish for grouper in the bay? We posed that question to Vance Tice who has, over the years, honed his skills catching bay grouper. “I would say that it’s all water temperature driven. Once the water temperature gets around 65 degrees and above – late March or early April and into June, fishing for them is pretty good. Then when the water really begins to warm up, they tend to slow down.” He adds that one can catch fish year ‘round, but spring is the peak grouper trolling time in the bay. “The grouper just get into a thermocline and as the water gets warmer. their metabolism slows down, and they just aren’t as aggressive. Then, when that water temperature cool back down in the fall – around late September, the bay grouper bite picks up. And if we have a mild winter they will still be ready to strike a well presented bait.”

Now, one can troll for these bay grouper 100-percent of the time. Or upon finding a good pile of fish trolling in the bay, they can anchor up and bottom fish for grouper using live pinfish and frozen sardines – much as you would when fishing offshore in the Gulf.

But most locals prefer trolling Tampa Bay, mostly round the Ship’s Channel and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge area. The Ship’s Channel is easy to troll because the depth stays pretty uniform. Tice suggests trolling along the Ship’s Channel right on and off the edge. “And I’ve got most of the ruble piles beside the channel dialed into my GPS so I can drive over them when I want, But I think a lot of the fish live right on the sides of the structure and, as the tide slows, they come up on top to feed. That’s when you’re going to catch them – just easing along on and off the top of the channel edge.”

Tidal movement is the most critical aspect of trolling for bay grouper. Ideally the best times are the last hour or the change in the first hour. Of course, four tide days are ideal because grouper prefer the change. On two tide days, the slow incoming and outgoing water movements are never productive.

What’s really amazing is the size of the grouper that area anglers catch right in Tampa Bay. “I’ve caught quite a few big ones up to 20 pounds, and have gotten broken off by bigger fish,” said Tice. “And I would say that most of the gags we catch in the bay average about 6 to15 pounds. And think of it — for just waiting for a tide change and being 15 minutes from the ramp– Tamps Bay is a great, convenient and highly affordable fishery. Compare that with all that expensive gas you’d burn on an offshore Gulf grouper trip — or fighting some of those nasty offshore sea conditions.

Tice originally trolled for grouper in the bay as many did using planers or big lipped plugs. But some years back, Capt. Van Stockwell showed Vance how to use downriggers for grouper trolling and he’s become a local expert.

“What I very much like about using the downrigger is that your bait is in the sight zone one hundred percent of the time,” he said. “Once you learn how to do it, and what depth your ball and your lure runs, you’re always in the fish’s face.” Tice adds that “there are many who are real good with a planer and plug setup. They’ll mark their line, and get it dialed in. And as long as they don’t break anything off, they’re pretty accurate. But the downrigger is by far the easiest, most precise way to troll your bait.”

The precision in getting a bait down to the exact and ideal zone is one of the main reasons Tice prefers the downrigger. This is especially important when targeting bottom fish like grouper, where being a foot or two off the bottom is critical.

Another advantage of the downrigger is that it is possible to deploy lighter lures. “Using the ball and release, I can place the lure where I want it. And of course, with a downrigger, I’m able to use lighter tackle, so it’s not necessary to use a stout rod to handle the tug of a planer and the larger plugs,” he said.

Tice said that any angler coming down from the north who is familiar with using downriggers “just has to get geared up with the right tackle. Then they need to learn where to troll, what they’ll be looking for. But they’ve got the mechanics of downrigger fishing down pat.”

The most critical part of trolling for grouper in Tampa Bay is learning where and when to troll. You’ll also need a good measure of patience, waiting for the tide for the fish to feed. “Now I’ve caught many a grouper 5-minutes into the trip, and then we’d had trips where we’ve gone out and trolled for 4 hours without catching a fish. And then the tide gets right, and we catch 10 fish in an hour,” said Tice.

As for trolling speed, Tice recommends start at about 900 RPM, taking into account the tide and the wind. “I’ll look at the cable and kind of dial it in to the speed I’m going. Now this could change according to heading of the boat. If I’m going against the tide or with it, I will determine just how fast that lure is traveling over the bottom.” Again, the ideal is to get that bait about a foot off the bottom, otherwise you’re not going to do much catching. Tice said that the simple way to determine how far to get that lure down is to drop it a foot at a time until you see the rod tip bounce. “Then you know where your lure is and you bring it back up a foot until it stops bouncing – and your bait is a foot off the bottom.”

Tube Baits


A Winter-time weapon the “Tube bait”

When water temps start plummeting during the “dead of winter”, inshore fishing can get very tough. Since fish are cold-blooded, their appetites are generally suppressed during colder periods… this creates quite a challenge for those of us who enjoy throwing artificial baits. In fact, it requires us to painfully slow down our presentations and choose bait profiles that appear natural and easy for game fish to catch. The tube bait has always been my “go-to” lure when confronted with these demanding conditions!

The attributes of the tube bait are numerous because it can imitate bottom dwelling prey like a crawling shrimp or a distressed baitfish trying to flee. If I’m fishing a cold, clear shallow flat for big winter specks or tailing redfish… I’ll Texas-rig my tube with a 3/0 rigging hook and a small 1/16th or 1/8th ounce worm weight. I like to crawl or drag the tube through the grass and add a very slow subtle “lift and fall” movement in the potholes… being careful not to lift the tube more than a few inches off the bottom. Natural colors that match the bottom are good choices for this presentation… green pumpkin, root beer, and watermelon with red flake are some of my favorites. When fishing in warmer residential canals or around the power-plant outflows in the winter months, I opt for an internal jig head presentation. The internal jig head gives the tube more of a slow erratic gliding action… mimicking a dying baitfish. I still like to use as light a jig head as possible because more weight destroys the spiraling and gliding action inherent in the tube’s descent and retrieve. My preferred presentation for imitating a dying minnow in cold water is to let the tube fall on slack line so it spirals down to the bottom… then lift, with rod only, up from 9 o’clock to 12 o’clock in three separate motions (9 to 10, 10 to 11, 11 to 12) then let tube fall again, take up slack with reel and repeat. Experiment with color for distressed minnow presentation… I gravitate towards baby trout, pearl, and clear gold flake but darker colors will work better at times. The most important thing to remember is the action has to be slow in cold water!

I’d be remiss not to mention that the hollow cavity of the tube is perfect for holding a scent attractant and greatly enhances catch ratios on slower presentations. Some anglers like to soak small pieces of sponge material in natural fish oils and place it in the tube for scent but I favor ready-to-use products such as (Pro-Cure gel scents) that are easier and less messy to use.

Tube baits have been around for decades in the freshwater arena but they have always been overlooked by inshore anglers. Because of the tube’s “less than popular” following in the salt… the fish rarely see this versatile bait which makes it a deadly winter-time weapon in my tackle bag!

Until next time, keep’em bent!

Tug Orange


 Pinellas County Utilities South County Reef

By Jim Cline, Pinellas County Reef Construction Program

 Probably once a week someone calls the Pinellas County Reef Construction Program offering to “donate” some kind of material they believe would make a “Wonderful Reef’ usually it is a disposal problem and they are looking for a way to get rid of it.

When Richard Noble from Seabulk Towing Inc., A Seabulk International Company called, it sounded interesting and we decided to go take a look.
After we worked our way through the heightened security at the Tampa Port Authority we found a real Prize- in the eyes of a reef builder.

The Tug Orange is an 80 foot steel-hulled harbor tug. She is a hundred years old built in 1903. The owners had tried to sell her. No one wanted to buy her. The Liberty Ship Museum People were interested in her, but it would have cost too much money to restore her. The tug was now a burden that was taking up valuable dock space and had the potential of becoming an environmental problem.

I told Richard we would love to have her, but the problem was the same problem most feel-good government programs have, no money. The cost to properly clean a hull to the strict environmental standards is very expensive. I told Richard he would have to remove all the fuel, clean the tanks, remove the huge Fairbanks-Morse main engine, two generators, two compressors, hydraulic lines, electrical wires, the wooden pilot house, and 100 years of stuff accumulated in the bilges, that I don’t even want to think about. I really had my hat in my hand when I told him that the Pinellas County Reef Construction Barge the “M/V Tortuga” was too small to tow the Tug Orange, and we couldn’t afford to pay to have it towed. I was waiting for him to kick me out of his office, but he said, “let me see what I can do”. I honestly thought I would never hear from him again.

Months later he called back and said the corporate office had approved it, and the Tug Orange was sent to Gulf Marine Repair Shipyard to be cleaned and prepped.

The fishermen and divers, and the marine life of the Gulf of Mexico can thank Seabulk Towing for the generosity of $60,000.00, the approximate cost of this project.

The Orange passed the Coast Guard inspection and the proper paperwork was filed with the Army Corps. Of Engineers.

On April 8th the Seabulk Towing vessel, “Canaveral” wrapped her lines around the Orange and started her last voyage. A 40- mile waltz from Upper Tampa Bay to her final resting place 45 feet deep in the Gulf of Mexico. When the two tugs arrived on site they were lashed together with so many lines it looked like they were hugging. I wonder if boats talk to each other.

The first week of April the Coast Guard Cutter Joshua Appleby had placed 80 tons of obsolete, unserviceable concrete buoy sinkers on the South County Reef, the sinkers were positioned North, South, East, West. The plan was to 4- point moor the Orange, and sink her by flooding, using multiple pumps and massive amounts of water; it would take over 62 tons of water to put the old workhorse down.

It is always exciting when we sink a wreck. You may plot and plan, and try to control everything you possibly can, but when the last gasp is made and the ship starts to go under, Mother Nature and the Gulf of Mexico take over. The forces of nature will have their way.

We anxiously waited ten minutes to let her settle and allow the water to clear up, then went down to make our inspection dive.

The sinking went perfect, the lines and the sinkers held. The Tug Orange sets at about a 45-degree angle on her port side. The depth of water at the reef is 45 feet. The water temp was about 72 degrees; the visibility was 23 feet, all the conditions for a good dive.

The wind and the current was strong out of the south, so that is the way we moored her, and that is the way she lays, her proud bow pointing to the south, and sleeping peacefully on her side.

All mariners know boats have personalities and characteristics of their own, but boats also have memories. The sounds of the deckhands, working the lines, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, playing hearts, cribbage, and talking about what they are going to do after the next crew change. Dark, moonless, rainy nights when the Captain couldn’t see his hand in front of his face, and he gripped the wheel so hard his knuckles were white.

Sunny days when her powerful bow plowed the bay making a wave of white water that the dolphins surfed, and played on. Early mornings when sheepshead and mullet swam around the pilings while the Orange was tied to the dock waiting for the next call. The memories they give to the sailors, who ride and work on them, the Orange gave a lot of memories to a lot of mariners in a hundred years of service.

The memories will continue for the fishermen and especially the divers that visit her. When the divers visit her they should realize they are making memories of their own. Remember the fish you see, the grouper, and snapper. The schools of bait that change direction and flash in the light like a million mirrors hit with a powerful spotlight. The loggerhead turtle, and Goliath Grouper that let you approach them. Stop to wonder why and continue to be amazed.

Remember the season, the exact water temperature, the tidal stage, was the current out of the North or the South? Did you see more fish this time or last time? Be aware of everything you possibly can during the dive, remember it and take it home with you.

The Reef Program would like to thank Seabulk Towing for the generous donation, and the U.S. Coast Guard, and Pinellas County Sheriff Marine Unit for their support.

Tug position N 27*43.375 W 082*58.450

Capt. Jim Cline Pinellas County Reef Construction Specialist