On The Hook: Moments of mayhem


I’ll bet you’ve never been on a fishing trip where you got a strike and a landed a lunker on your very first cast and the action continued non-stop to the point of exhaustion, hours later.

Me, neither.

With rare exception, fishing trips are hours of effort punctuated with moments of unbridled action. But it’s extremely difficult to convince anyone of that, especially those who invested in a charter trip. But expectations run high anyhow, how high?

I’ve asked anglers, that seem disgruntled with the action, what were their expectations. Would a fish every five minutes in the three hours of fishing on a half day charter about do it ? Usually, being unsure to response, I’ll fill in for them; “that would be 36 fish for you and total for the party of four would be a whopping 144 fish not counting the stolen bait, break offs and lost fish. Sound reasonable ?” They shake their heads. Most times.

Even in a short four hour span, significant factors can influence the bite. The most prominent are the state of the tide and the clarity of the water. Maybe the best way to explain the influences and the impact is to tell you about a recent charter that fit the bill of “disgruntled” to a tee.

The Hogan clan from Grand Rapids called to make a charter for the “guys” of the family while the wives were planning a spirited take off with the family plastic towards the mall later in the week. Had a date open for them, so we booked a backwater trip on one of those days unfortunately while we were hosting a full moon hereabouts.

Full moons mean one thing – racing tides and unusually high and low tide levels. So we elongated the normal four hour charter to one just over five hours so we could fish that first and last of the weaker part of the tides.

Fish are like us guys; they want to get what they need but don’t want to work any harder than they have to. Why swim out there to that bait and fight a three knot current when I can wait a little while and mosey on out when the current drops below one knot ?

Smart fish, huh?

There were four Hogans who boarded that morning from three generations. They made it known in full order even before we took in the lines, that they were Lake Michigan anglers. That information decoded meant that they trolled lures called J plugs on downriggers and leaped into action once a rod went off; landed a fish and went to the back of the line.

True to form, as we made our way down the river, they pelted me with questions: “Fishing better in the morning here, eh? Where are the trolling rods? Your fishfinder is showing 6 ft. Can that be right? Is it broken?”

We had deliberately timed this trip to coincide with the first movement of a strong flood tide and as we distributed the rods, instruction and bait you could see the first ripples of incoming water movement behind the channel markers. Our timing was right on.

We had set up close to the sand edges of Capri Pass in nice gin clear water. We were using small tipped jigs on two rods and plain shrimp rigs on the other two. It didn’t take more than two or three minutes and we had our fish on one of the jigs. You could tell by the fight that is was a pompano. Hogan #2 did a good job swinging the pompano aboard with shouts from all just as a second and third rod went off.

Missed one and landed one on those two. Obviously the Hogans were thrilled with the action but threw me skeptical glances as I urged them, “to fish hard; this bite will quit in about 15 minutes.” The full moon tide was already beginning to run hard bubbling a rising wake behind the channel markers.

Sure enough it shut off, just as predicted, just like that. “What happened?” was the obvious question. I explained the racing tide. They just stared at me. Didn’t dare tell them what the next four plus hours would be like – till the tide weakened again.

Oh, we caught fish but the action level was nowhere near those opening moments. We’d move around a lot trying to stay in clean water but we were catching small mangrove snapper that they sarcastically named “snaplets” or out of season juvenile sheepshead that are always on the feed.

We even latched onto a stingray that fascinated them till they saw what is was – they had predicted anything from a shark to a tarpon before the ray flapped up boatside. They were not very happy campers. They were catching fish, we even had a keeper or two but nothing like those opening minutes.

Asking them to hold on and that we would see some good action as this tide slowed drew looks that rivaled reactions to hearing that your check is in the mail.

We moved to an great outgoing tide spot near Hurricane Pass early. Wanted to get the spot and be ready. For the first fifteen minutes we, literally, didn’t get a strike. I was about to get the “final straw” treatment when two of the rods went off simultaneously. A mackerel on one and a big speckled trout on the other and then a third with a big mangrove snapper.

Frowns turned to smiles and arms and hands began to ache as the catch went into high gear and then, once again, shut off as the tide went slack.

Finishing on a high note always brings out the positives.

As we finished cleaning the dozen keepers and were bidding adieu I asked their overall satisfaction with the trip as they slipped the nice dinner filets into the cooler.

“Great trip. Good results. You were right on the action segments. We should have anchored up and played poker in between”

Not a bad idea!

Capt. Bill Walsh owns an established Marco Island charter fishing business and holds a current U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments or questions to dawnpatrolcharters@compuserve.com.

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