Archive for the ‘Reader’s Write’ Category

“Tips for introducing kids to fishing”?

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Each month I field a question from a reader and answer it as best I can, focusing on those inquiries and responses that I believe will be of general benefit or interest. I recently received this email from Frederick, who asks: “Any tips for getting a child interested in fishing?”

Good question. I have fantastic memories of my childhood, sitting for hours on my grandparents’ lake, catching one panfish after another on wiggling earthworms uncovered in their garden. Some kids have that natural passion for angling, and if anything, watering down their zeal is the challenge. But I’ve found that while most little ones are at least somewhat interested in fishing (and bright, lively fish, in particular), their attention spans are very limited. This is especially true of very small children. So, if getting a kid to love fishing is the goal, job one is to set aside any notions about hardcore adult fishing trips. Pack cold drinks and snacks, opt for bait over lures, protect them from too much sun, and set up in a cool spot where action trumps quality – that is, where they’re very likely to fish, even if it’s what you’d normally consider “trash” species. Focus on their experience, and limit the trip to an hour or two. As they get older, they’ll hang in for longer periods, fueled by their own interest. If a child sees you enjoying yourself, they’ll identify angling with fun, and you’ll be well on your way to developing a lifelong fishing buddy.

“What’s the best way to learn new water?”

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Each month I field a question from a reader and answer it as best I can, focusing on those inquiries and responses that I believe will be of general benefit or interest. I recently received this email from Tom, who asks: “As a retiree who has relocated to Florida, how can I get a jump-start on learning how to fish this new water?”

guide-skiffA great question, and an easy answer: hire an accomplished guide. Sure, you can slug it out yourself and learn the ropes in time, and yes, guided trips can be expensive. But if you’re earnest about learning how to fish Florida’s shallow salt, a guide who knows his stuff can significantly flatten out your learning curve. Good guides are patient and liberal with advice, and if you take the time to listen, you’ll leave the dock at the end of the day with a wealth of valuable insight. Just remember: fishing guides rely on hard-earned secret spots for their livelihood, so don’t return to target the areas they show you. Have the courtesy – and the personal pride – to find your own. If you can’t afford a guide or you prefer to do it all on your own, there are scores of books that do a good job of covering the basics. In fact, here at Shallowfish we’ll soon be offering “The Redfish & Snook Book”, a concise, no-nonsense tool that will cover the most important aspects of the sport, including tides, weather, lure and bait-fishing, and much more. It will make an ideal gift for aspiring skinny-water anglers.

“Artificial lures or live bait”?

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Each month I field a question from a reader and answer it as best I can, focusing on those inquiries and responses that I believe will be of general benefit or interest. I recently received this email from Tom in Georgia, who asks: “Is live bait always a better choice than artificials?”

I just finished reading an article in a prominent fishing publication that read (and I paraphrase a bit): “Nothing will out-produce a flipping live bait..you’ll catch more and achieve the kind of gratification that only comes with enticing quality fish on live bait…” My reaction: “Huh?” While live bait can be super productive and a ball to use, it is not the best answer all or even most of the time, as the article implied. Used correctly, in certain situations artificial lures can easily account for more fish than live bait. I recall a summer evening in which a buddy and I caught three snook on jigs for every one caught by a crowd of live baiters. And in shallow backwaters, covering water with a plug is far more efficient than constantly changing “livies”. As for the “gratification” thing, does anyone really believe that it’s more fulfilling to catch a fish on a baitfish than it is to fool them with a chunk of plastic or a tuft of fur and feathers? I think not. So…while both have their place, in many situations artificial lures can be just as effective – and far more rewarding – than the real deal. Bonus: they smell better, too.

“What mistake do novice anglers make?”

Saturday, December 13th, 2008

Each month I field a question from a reader and answer it as best I can, focusing on those inquiries and responses that I believe will be of general benefit or interest. I recently received this email from Mark in Texas, who asks: “I’m just getting started in fishing shallow saltwater. What’s the biggest mistake you see novice anglers make?”

There are quite a few mistakes made by novice anglers – and I made most of them myself when I was getting started. The single biggest? Tough to choose, but I’d say the tendency to use tackle that’s too heavy for the job. I believe this stems from uninitiated anglers (many of them with freshwater pedigrees) assuming that saltwater species are bigger and tougher than their sweetwater counterparts, so it’s natural that beefy tackle should be used. While that logic holds up well when pursuing offshore species, heavy-duty rods and reels and big clunky lures make for short and inaccurate casts and loud presentations in the shallows. Saltwater game fish are nothing if not wary, so subtle, accurate and lifelike presentations are critical. And with so many well-crafted rods on the market and the advent of ultra-strong, super-thin braided line, subduing big saltwater fish on modest-sized tackle is not just possible, it’s preferable. Keep your line and tackle on the lighter side, and you’ll fool more fish and have far more fun catching them.

“What variable matters most?”

Friday, July 11th, 2008

Each month I field a question from a reader and answer it as best I can, focusing on those inquiries and responses that I believe will be of general benefit or interest. I recently received this email from Tom in Port Charlotte, FL, who asks: “If you could pick one variable to control – wind, tide, moon phase, etc. – what would it be? Oh, and where the hell have you been?”

tidemarker-thumb.jpgHaw. I like the second question, which is a fair one, and which I’ll address. But as for your first question, I’d take the ability to command the tides, without question. Wind can be a real pain in the caboose, but I’ve caught lots of fish, and good ones, on windy days. Moon phase certainly affects feeding habits, but just when you think you have it all figured out, fish disappear when the moon’s “just right” or explode on lures when it’s “all wrong.” But I seldom see fish feed on a slack tide. Moving water is a dinner bell, and no other factor – in my humble opinion – affects the behavior of shallow-water game fish more. As for where I’ve been: I’ve been working on a long-standing project that will soon redefine this site. I apologize again for the long lag between posts. I’ll post some extra content this week to catch up a bit, but my focus is on the redesign until it’s complete. Thanks for your patience, and stay tuned.

“Secrets to catching really big snook?”

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

hawgsnook.jpgEach month I field a question from a reader and answer it as best I can, focusing on those inquiries and responses that I believe will be of general benefit or interest. I recently received this email from Jonathan in Ohio , who asks: “Are there any secrets for catching really big snook?”

Yes, there are. There was a time when oversized snook were my single-minded focus. For a number of years I was obsessed with catching monsters on artificial lures, and I’ve been fortunate enough to land more than my share. (Click small image to left for a closer look at a plug-caught 46-incher). I stopped targeting them years ago, however, after a friend convinced me that I should avoid putting pressure on the large (primarily female) fish that are so important to producing little snook. I now see big fish as an occasional surprise to be enjoyed, not as a primary goal. In fact, I prefer to catch fish in the 30 to 35-inch range, since they tend to be far more explosive than 40-inchers. So yes, there are secrets that can significantly raise your odds of catching huge snook, but it’s not something I share or promote. Note: I can’t say that I wouldn’t enjoy besting a true giant on a fly rod – something I’ve never done. But if it happens, it’ll be in the course of a normal fishing day, not the result of a “big fish hunt.”

Push pole or trolling motor?

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

Each month I field a question from a reader and answer it as best I can, focusing on those inquiries and responses that I believe will be of general benefit or interest. I recently received this email from Saul (who recently relocated from Kansas to south Florida), who asks: “Do you recommend a pole or a trolling motor for my new shallow-water skiff? I plan to do a lot of sight fishing.”

skiffdeck.jpgIf you earnestly intend to do a lot of hardcore sight fishing — and you have a hardy buddy who will take turns on the platform — then there’s simply no more effective means of sneaking up on fish than to pole your boat.

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“Favorite time of day to fish Florida’s shallows?”

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

Each month I field a question from a reader and answer it as best I can, focusing on those inquiries and responses that I believe will be of general benefit or interest. I recently received this email from Ted in south Georgia, who asks: “What’s your favorite time of day to fish shallow water in Florida?”

sunup.gifThat’s a deceptively simple question, since the time of day I prefer to fish changes with the seasons. Of course, in southwest Florida we essentially have two seasons: summer and winter. (That’s generalizing things, but it’s fairly accurate). During the long summer months when the sun is relentless, I prefer to fish early and late in the day, with the two hours after sunup and the two hours before sunset accounting for most fish. In the winter time, once the weather (and water) cools significantly and stays that way for weeks on end, I prefer to fish late morning until late afternoon, since fish in the skinny stuff tend to get more active once the sun is overhead and warming things up. Of course, there are times when all of this fine logic amounts to a hill of beans, and you catch fish in defiance of the clock. But as a rule of thumb, the aforementioned approach will serve you well down this way.

How important is lure color?

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

Each month I field a question from a reader and answer it as best I can, focusing on those inquiries and responses that I believe will be of general benefit or interest. I recently received this email from Dan in South Carolina, who asks: “Do you believe lure color makes a difference when fishing shallows?”

electric-chicken.jpgThis one is dicey since folks seem to have firm opinions, either way. In the end it comes down to just that: opinion. On the one hand, I’ve witnessed certain lure colors seem to make a difference in attracting more fish. But more often — in my experience — it seems irrelevant. Now, some general rules do have merit. Dark lures do seem to work better in low light conditions or in murky water (likely because they create more contrast so fish can see them), and light-colored lures can work better in clear water or on bright days (likely because they more closely mimic semi-translucent baitfish than do dark, opaque offerings). But I believe most lure manufacturers offer scores of colors to entice fishermen, not fish. (more…)

“What kind of tackle for the Everglades?”

Friday, October 12th, 2007

Each month I field a question from a reader and answer it as best I can, focusing on those inquiries and responses that I believe will be of general benefit or interest. I recently received this email from Dean in New Jersey, who asks: “John, I’ve been fishing for striped bass for most of my life, and I’ll soon be taking my first trip down to fish the Everglades. Can you tell me what kind of tackle I need to bring, and which lures to buy? I’m primarily a spin-fisherman.”

snookhead.jpgDean, I’ve been lucky enough to fish the Cape Cod area a few times with a buddy, and I’ve caught stripers there using the same tackle and some of the same lures I use for snook and redfish down here. So, assuming you use relatively light equipment for striped bass, the tackle you own should suffice. (more…)