Cures for Your Summertime Fishing Blues
By Capt. Mel Berman, Florida Fishing Weekly
With water temps pushing into the 90s, fishing in the “dead of summer” can be quite slow and challenging. Yet, there are many ways that we can enjoy a pull at the other end of the line. We just need to know where and when to go – and how it’s accomplished. With that in mind, I queried many local experts to learn about their tactics and techniques for dealing with the summertime fishing blues.
Capt. Woody Gore targets redfish early in the morning or late in the afternoon and evening. He said that “the fishing during these cooler times is better — and it’s easier on you.” He highly recommends getting off the water by midday “or you just sit out there and cook, particularly when the breeze dies down. “
Contrary to what you might have heard, Gore believes that one can actually do quite well using artificials in the summer. He suggest tossing them up along the mangroves on high water, because that’s where the shade line is “and most of those fish are gonna be laying up tight in that shade and the cooler water.”
Capt. Mark Hubbard, skipper of the overnight party boat,” The Florida Fisherman” has been scoring on good catches of red and mangrove snapper, grouper and amberjack — all in at least 120 feet of water. “Because the fish are so much further out this summer, we’ve been stretching our 10-hour trips to work areas that are some 40 miles out to fish that hard bottom and structure.” Inside of about 80-feet and shallower, Hubbard reports catching just a handful of keeper grouper, and said that most are “shorts” which are caught along with a few Key West grunts and tiny juvenile sand perch.
Tom Merryweather, former president of 12-Fathom Jigs, suggests the common theme expressed by most of those with whom we spoke. “Start early. Get out before the sun cooks you.” He prefers deeper water this time of year where the bigger fish will be seeking their comfort zone. His preference is tossing artificials on a low tide.
Echoing Merryweather’s point, Terry Russell, Manager of the popular Seminole Ramp in Clearwater, advises that “you have to be out very early and in your spot before first light. “ He believes that the angle of the sun is very important to how the fish will respond. “And, this time of the year, there’s bait everywhere – so the fish are able to gorge themselves. I try to present them with something different – something they’re not accustomed to.”
”Fireman John “ Litz who fishes mostly the Dunedin area enjoys drifting the deeper flats on a swift moving tide in the early morning. He catches good numbers of trout, mackerel and bluefish –all of which are great fun using small jigs. He’s also has done well tossing topwaters, especially a MirrOlure Top Dog that he fitted with a prop on the rear hook. “When that slurps through the water, the blues and trout can’t resist striking it.” Litz adds that topwaters seem to work best in the early morning hours. He also fishes for catch and release snook at local freshwater spillways. “They bite especially strong after we’ve had our heavy afternoon rains.”
Top Manatee County Guide Capt. Rick Gross has a complete summer fishing agenda. “What I’m doing is getting out early and go after mackerel first thing. There are plenty in the bay or out in the Gulf.” His next target would be mangrove snapper which he said is really fun fishing for his clients.
Gross said that this is also a good time to fish the near shore artificials reefs “because you never know what you’re gonna catch – it’s kind of a ‘grab bag’ of fishing where we catch Key West grunts, white grunts, triggerfish and snapper.“
Gross talked about the “one thing that works for me in the summer when snook are real lethargic is to use dead bait. Now it requires more patience, because you need to just let it sit there and allow the snook to pick it up.” The same concept works for redfish. He usually cuts the bait in half and “dead sticks” it – letting it sit there until a red comes by to grab it. “ On the other hand, Gross uses smaller livelier baits on lighter tackle for mangrove snapper.
Working the waters off Dunedin and Tarpon Springs, Capt. Fred Kremer tends to go deeper and where there’s moving water. “That’s where I find the fish. I like to work the mangrove points where there’s current flowing through.” Kremer specializes in artificials only charters and said that “this time of year, when it’s hot, I just free-line a shrimp imitation towards the bottom — try not to move it at all – just let the current supply the action.”
Most of the year, Capt. John Griffith prefers fishing for snook well up in the bays and creeks. But here in summer his recommendation would be to get out of the backwaters, which are much hotter that the waters in and near the Gulf. “So in the summertime I target snook on the beaches and in the passes. That’s gonna be your best bet.” He also believes that tides are very important during summer. “If you can fish that fast part of the tide, that’s when they’re bound to eat.”
As for baits, Griffith said that snook just want good sized threadfin herring or even finger mullet. “I was having better luck with them than I do with big sardines.” He said that the larger threadfins are quite abundant this year at the bridges and other structures. “I don’t chum for them and actually find that they stay in much better shape when I Sabiki them up. Then for snook fishing in the passes, I will use the biggest threadfin I can find.”
Capt. Randy Rochelle is one of the premier offshore Gulf skippers whose first suggestion would be to run deep. “That minimizes the effect of the hot water that one finds in shallow depths. But if you can get out past 130-feet, fish aren’t nearly as affected by the warmer conditions.”
Rochelle has been doing very well on the grouper and snapper fishing right through the summer. “It has been as good as I’ve seen in a number of years,” he said. “I also like to fish at night as a way to avoid the heat. It’s also a great time to target mangrove snapper.”
He told me that tuna fishing this season has been a disappointment. They usually hang around moored shrimp boats after their trawls have been emptied – which acts like a giant chum slick for the tuna. “Unfortunately, the shrimpers never showed up in force like they normally do over the spring. And when the shrimpers don’t show up, the tuna don’t come in real close.”
And how is Capt. Randy coping with the price of fuel? “I had to raise the prices and I gotta tell you, it’s been really tough. And what’s making it even tougher is that I have to make those long runs, because fishing inside of 100-feet has been nonexistent.” He concludes that the price of fuel has also had a great impact on offshore recreational fishing. “The number of fisherman I see outside of 20 miles is down substantially from what it was in past years. I don’t know if it’s hurt the boating market as of yet – but I think it’s going to. There’s nowhere near the number of boats offshore than we’ve seen in the past.”
Again, the singular common thread endorsed by our entire panel of experts can be summed up with one simple phrase – “The best bite is at