On The Hook: Angling's attractants
It's a windswept, chilly late winter morning and the party for the day's charter tumbles onto the dock and, after a cursory hello, announces: "All we want today, Captain, is nice big snook...the bigger the better!"
That's not a frequent happening but when it occurs, it's always a heart stopper for the captain. Many times conditions and seasons don't favor the demanded species, and for the balance of the trip, the captain is either apologetically tap dancing around the demand or wasting valuable charter time running hither and thither seeking a non-available species.
Thankfully, most folks approach the trip with the opening question as to "what's biting" and are satisfied with getting their share of action on those species. And, just as importantly, that allows time for investigations of the cascade of events that can occur on the water at any time, around any marker, sign, buoy, etc. that provide a piscatorial assembly point for other good fishing action possibilities.
So, with that said, let's go back to "the bigger, the better" gang. Their charter occurred a couple of years back and I remember it well (unfortunately). The crew were three guys from the Northeast metroplex down here for a "boy's week out" on a run and gun outing. These three were on a mission to achieve with everything they attempted...no holds barred.
I had already loaded the bait tank with live shrimp but, with the mandate for targeting snook, our first stop on this adventure would be to acquire some live thread herring which were like M & M's for the snook. So off we went heading to the Capri Pass Sea Buoy a couple miles offshore where we would attempt to "gold hook" (snag) a couple dozen thread herring before we headed back inshore for the marginally-available snook.
These Bronx warriors had never "gold hooked" before. Something new! They parked their Budweisers and paid attention. The gold hook rig is a fishing rig with a vertical arrangement of small gold hooks with a weight at the end that you cast out and move up and down while drifting through these schools of thread herring. Strangely enough, the herring get excited seeing the gold hooks and bite down on them in multiples; you can usually get two or three on every cast.
Our crew was enthralled with the exercise and wanted to continue even when I told them we had enough herring.
"Hey, this is really fun," blurted one of the crew "Let's keep doing it!"
The other two had to wrench the rod from his hands.
We powered up and moved slowly away from the melange of other anglers working the bait. All of a sudden, I saw a flash movement across the bottom and then it repeated again...kingfish!
The kings were working the massive schools of bait just like us. We hooked a fresh herring on two of the rods and loosened the drags. It took only milliseconds and both rods doubled over with fish going in opposite directions. The strikes and runs were screamers to be sure, and the two guys were hanging on for dear life. We lost the kingfish on the port side as it had emptied the reel; the one on the starboard side fought on for fifteen minutes or so before surrendering alongside: a nice 30" kingfish on 15# test was quite a feat. We gaffed the fish and he was quickly submerged in the iced cooler. High fives all around.
"Let's do that again," came from all three.
"Hold on, guyy...what happened to the snook hunt?" was my retort.
"Later...later on the snook. This is crazy action out here on these kings!"
So we pulled away from the traffic jam of boats tight to the sea buoy and deployed another two threads on the light tackle. Again, we had immediate strikes, but as bigger kings had surged into the fray, there was no holding them on the light tackle intended for the snook.
So here we were two hours into the trip. We hoisted gear and headed back inside running down the Capri Channel and heading for the now strong incoming tide heading for Johnson Bay for our (hopeful) snook action.
As we careened by the outer marker, one of the three screamed, "Stop! Look at the action all around that marker."
We put on the brakes and turned sharply back to the action pool. The water's surface was actually boiling with Spanish Mackerel shredding a massive school of bait; there were fish literally flying out of the water with dozen of gulls and terns descending from above.
"What's going on here? Looks like a bluefish slaughter back home. Can we work this action?"
I cut the engine and rigged up some jigs on wire and told them to go at it.
"How about bait?" they asked.
"You won't need any; they'll tear into the bare hook."
And tear they did. Nonstop for close to an hour. We boxed a few nice size Spanish Mackerel to chill down with the kingfish early on, but the action was so sustained, they barely had time to get their rig in the water before they had another strike and exhausting retrieve.
All three of them were slumped over cushions from the non-stop activity and nursing a cold one as I kicked the engine into gear and continued our quest for our designated target, making our run down the final length of the Capri Channel.
As we made our entrance to Johnson Bay, we slowed down considerably. That brought an inquiry from the crew: "What's up, skipper?"
"Slowing down here, guys; lots of shallow spots that will put us aground. Just take a couple minutes to get through."
Finally, we fired up and just we reached the marker that identifies the entrance to the creeks and deeper water, there was another surprise: a cluster of bull redfish were marauding back and forth in the incoming current.
We immediately cut the engine and opened the shrimp tank. Took a couple of minutes to re-rig with shrimp under a popper, but we managed as the drift moved us along the creek edges with the cluster of redfish.
We managed to get one rig in the water right in front of the small school and sure enough, we got a strike and redfish run off right back into structure where we got cut off. Too bad!
With time up, we headed home. As we moved into the marina basin, I "half" apologized for the snook-less event when the leader of the gang exclaimed, "Are you kidding? We had the greatest action in four hours ever, and learned a lot about fish action holding around markers and signs. We'll be using that when we get back home!"
Watch out, New York...here they come!
Capt. Bill Walsh owns a charter fishing business and holds a U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.