Fishing trips sometimes go for endless hours; but how about the catching? How much of the trip did you really have hot action?
I'll submit that those times usually are but a slim portion of the total trip time. Here in the salt, and especially in backwater and coastal fishing, there are so many factors at play that affect the action level.
A literal litany of nature's circumstances stand ready to make or break your trip every time –water temperature, water clarity, tidal reach, tidal speed, moon phase, wind direction, wind speed, just to enumerate the more obvious. On top of that add the controlled factors like fishing location, interruptive boat traffic, time of the day and, last but not least, angling skill and you're confronted with a complex algorithm for success.
But wait, there is one factor that over arches all the above. Put very simply, it is the fish. These creatures possess extensions of the senses that we can't even perceive and therefore are unfathomable. Why on two consecutive days when conditions are exactly the same do you have good fishing on one and a flame out on the other? Or why, in the middle of a hot bite does it suddenly shut down; and your friend, fishing miles away, calls you on the cell and reports the identical happening?
You may answer, that's what makes fishing fishing and what brings us back to the water's edge again and again. But I think there are some little "fish secrets," that we all concoct, that are seemingly consistent and may help us decipher their code. That's our story for this week.
Adult fish are just like us, why work hard when there is an easier way to get food? So we have a racing tide and it's hard to hold position in the fast current, it takes a lot of energy to find food. So what would you do? Why not wait for the tide to slow and then move out to chow down on those shrimp and pilchards. Good idea!
Have a couple of live examples of how the theory works that went down a week or so ago. This was the week of the full moon tides. The tidal flow was screaming, moving close to four feet in a little over six hours. We had a charter with a nice family that wanted to do a little sightseeing and a little fishing. No great expectations; just maybe a couple of filets for lunch. We saw some dolphins cavorting up close and even saw a manatee moving down the Intercoastal.
When we set up for fishing in Hurricane Pass, the incoming tide was ripping and an hour away from it's crest. After three tries, we finally got the anchor to hold and got some lines in the water.
Even with one ounce weights on the lines, we had difficulty holding the bottom. The action was super slow and the occasional strike and catch was on very small snapper that the kids named as “snaplets.” Time was waning, and Dad was showing his anxiety as thoughts of those luncheon filets we're skittering away.
“Can’t we work another spot?” was his plea after a half hour of poor action.
Explaining the theory that we were on the right spot and the big fish would show just as the water slowed was met with a roll of the eyes, kind of like telling the creditor that the check is in the mail.
But we stayed the course. The water began to slow noticeably and the anxiety levels of the gang began to rise. Still nothing.
Then, just as the water looked almost dormant, one of kids hooked into something significant and was struggling to get it under control. Before we have that nice mangrove snapper aboard another line went off and then another. Dad was smiling; his confidence restored, as a total of six nice fat snapper were loaded into the box before the tide stopped along with the bite.
His only exclamation was, “you were right; that was some 20 minutes.”
Amazingly however, we were the only boat there when the 20 minutes went down. The other three boats pulled off as the water began to slow.
They obviously aren't tuned into the theory.
Just to prove the consistency of the theory, we repeated the exact circumstance on a charter the very next day. We had almost a total repeat of the disbelief –
the anxiety and the excitement of the catch in those last tidal moments. See, there’s some consistency and forecasting ability in fishing after all.
Bolstered by the two days of good results using our new theory, I didn't hesitate to take a third charter to the same venue and circumstance a few days later, we had this thing figured out.
The conditions were identical. The racing tide began to slow; assuring the customers of our past results here, they waited for the 20 minute action to begin.
They waited and they waited. Nothing. Nada. The tide went slack along with my theory. We salvaged the trip with a few fish once the tide switched but these customers looked at me with a skeptical smirk each time I suggested anything, and why not.
So the fish, with their deeply imbedded intuitive sense that can turn on a mere shade of difference, finished as the winners. Just when you think you got this fishing game figured out … fogettaboutit.
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