A guest on my boat spoke loudly to another about the size of my fish cooler. I like to hear stuff like that because we’re catching fish. Temperatures are warming all across the bay and so is the bite.
That particular day started out with me stopping at the new South Bay Bait Shop in Ruskin. Picked up 10 dozen shrimp, and they sure looked good. I was thinking about whether it’s the bait or the fishermen when another customer there whispered me the secret: “Big baits for big fish.”
He was getting some select shrimp. I had smalls and planned on using them with thin-wire 1/0 Eagle Claw circle hooks for the mature men I had with me that day.
I thanked him for the advice and wished him luck. When the tide turned around 11:30 a.m., my luck was on and fun talk started. These guys baited up circle hooks, set their rods in holders and sat down to chat but couldn’t. Big sheepshead stopped their small talk each time. Singles, doubles and sometimes multiple fish following the hooked ones came up on their lines. After a while, one fellow said we needed a bigger cooler.
A trick to try with all types of hooks used for sheepshead is to add a small piece of sponge above the bait. Sheepshead use their teeth to crush food, drop off any shell, and then swallow what’s left. Too often they crush the bait off before you get a decent hook set. I think the sponge keeps hooks in their mouth a bit longer giving you a better chance to set the hook.
A few snapper and some mackerel joined our catch. I stopped it before we ran out of cooler space. It was fun times along the South Shore coastline, where I could see Little Harbor the entire time.
The number of mackerel that have wintered in our waters surprises me. For these fish try using baits suspended up in the water column but switch to a longer shank hook to reduce bite-offs. You can even use small jigs cast in the water column and brought back slowly. Unlike hot-water times, these mackerel seem to be a bit slower now, so I doubt if they will react to the typical spoons we pull quickly in the summer.
Local rivers are holding huge amounts of minnows. I see snook and redfish feeding right below some minnow schools. There are so many minnows I keep waiting for the big fish to act like a whale feeding on krill.
Was it the bait or the fishermen? There were many others at the cleaning table when we got back. It was probably just one of those biting days.
Get out there, folks, and …
Catch ‘em up.
Larry Malinoski, aka the FishHawk, is one of three Ruskin-based fishing guides and charter captains who share this column. He can be reached at (813) 469-7251 or firstname.lastname@example.org.