On The Hook: Shady fishing

BILL WALSH

You think air temperature is cooking around here ? Take a look at the water!

Those insufferable afternoons with the 90 degree heat and the lack of any appreciable rain has driven the Gulf water temperature to heights unknown for the middle of May. Even in the relative cool of the day’s first light, the water temperature gauges on the boat show low 80s right here in our backwaters. And you just know, the heat of the day will push that up a couple of more degrees or more.

So, what’s that do to the fishing?

Well, first of all we have our warm water fish here now; those that like the warmth but not the hot. You see species that love the heat (to a degree) around here now. Sharks are everywhere; most small, some large. Mangrove snapper are everywhere as are jacks, ladyfish and blue runners. Mixed in, on the right day and tide, you might find some finicky pompano or maybe even a speckled trout. But none of them are “jumping in the boat.” It takes work and cunning to make your “bones” now in fishing Southwest Florida.

One way perhaps to change the circumstances might be to change the time you fish. Sounds simple, right ? But not so quick.

Fishing after dark has always appealed to some; nice and cool for the angler; no sun block required; water is cooler; fish are still feeding if the tide is active but half the fun of fishing is seeing the snook break water or the pompano surge under the boat or the permit show in the clear emerald water not all just pop up alongside the boat exhausted in the spreader lights. Plus you’re out alone; think about getting a jump start at 11 p.m.

But how about starting early.

One angler saw my ad “Dawn Patrol Charters” and surmised that defined starting time. (Not so; it was a military call sign.) He called and asked what time I could start.

With the heat, had been thinking about moving the starting time forward for those who rank the potential fishing action above a good night’s sleep. Apparently this caller was in the former category.

“As an exception. I’d be ready to roll about 6:30 a.m., which is just about the time of first light these days” was my response.

My early bird jumped on the offer.

“Done deal. There are three of us. There will be two teenage sons and my name is Cliff.” He gave me a cell phone number and told me to call the evening before if anything went haywire.

It didn’t and our morning cracked open with a brush fire smoke ridden sky turning the first rays of the day blood red and awesome to behold. So, under the canopy of crimson first rays and the acrid odor of smoke we started our day.

The air temperature was definitely cooler but the laser water temperature gauge still was recording a warm water temperature of 82 degrees. We’d have to see if any of that made a difference.

We had a good very early morning incoming tide and, even in the murky morning light you could tell the water was clear. So we had some definite pluses.

We went straight to the “good spots” – ones that had given us trouble on some of the charters during the mid-day earlier in the week. We’d see if the non-direct light spill and the cooler water would make a difference.

It didn’t take long to get an answer to that question. The early morning conditions did definitely make a difference. The fish were more active immediately; as soon as baits hit the water. We were working one of the mangrove edges up along the ICW and although most of the fish were small, we were able to box four or five snapper “take homes.”

And the action stayed strong as the morning began to mature and the sun’s rays began peeking over the mangrove tops. Cliff and his two boys were invigorated with the continuing action.

Then, even with the incoming tide running strong, about 9:30 a.m. things began to turn off. You could then see the water depths as the sun’s rays sliced into the water and the fish, literally, sought the shade. Snapper, that heretofore had followed hooked fish to the boat, were now assembled under a couple of downed branches that provided shade.

Amazed at the uniform and immediate reaction by the fish to the sun’s rays now penetrating the heated water, we tossed some baits up under those shady spots and again had action on the fish. Baits worked in the area where we were fishing and getting good results earlier, went untouched.

Wanting to confirm what we were seeing as a pattern and not a anomaly, we picked up our gear and headed to a spot with equitable credentials. A spot that almost always produced but had slowed during the recent superheated days.

This was a spot where there was a dock and pilings that held the fish; a superlative piscatorial ambush point. The sun’s rays were still at an angle and portions of the dock were still providing shade to the waters below. We had the kids change their casting angle so that the baits ended up in the shade (Well, most of the time anyway), and the strikes and fish came, just like the good old days. And if a cast was on open sun filled water it, literally, just sat there.

We had a good day with a enough fish for a family dinner for Cliff and the family. His boys had a great time. And we all learned something ...

Starting early helps but the key point was to get those baits in the shade on these screaming hot and sunny days.

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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