As one experienced angler once told me “it’s just like the real estate business that I’m engaged in … all the equipment and sales technique I can muster won’t work without focus on the right location; you can fish a spot, till the lights go out and, if there’s no fish that’s exactly what happens.”
I recall a charter I ran one early spring morning a year or two back that echoed that lament further proving the premise; thought we’d share that experience this week.
Late evening and the phone rang. A polite but rather tense gentleman introduced himself, “I just bought a place here on Marco Island and having both experience on the water up north and access to a boat, we have spent the last two weeks fishing your waters here. We are all experienced anglers from back there … and, as painful as it is to admit, in many trips during those two weeks. We’ve either caught nothing or dreadful catfish. We need help.”
Fearful that he was at the point of heading for the analyst’s couch, we talked for a few minutes and agreed on a charter trip where the focus would be on “them doing” rather than a day’s fishing catch. He was noticeably relieved.
We met up that appointed morning at the marina. It was the caller and has wife, accompanied by an in-law couple. Opening comments reiterated their frustration and call for help, again. I assured them, I would do my best to ease the frustration.
All five of us, now equipped with a morning cup of coffee grabbed a picnic table at the marina and had at it; didn’t even try to board the boat, just yet. We needed to analyze their procedure/process before we headed out.
When questioned they all gave evidence of using high quality light spinning tackle outfits all rigged with 12-15# mono. Reels and rods were all first-class equipment. They even expressed their acumen on landing catfish. “Not one has ever gotten away. We’re batting a thousand!”
They further described their terminal tackle as jigs, touts and basic bottom rigs always tipped with the freshest bait the marina could furnish.
It all came down to my “real estate agent’s simplification assessment” location. I asked them about nautical charts they were using. “Oh, yes we have chart for the waters ... it’s regular navigational chart. I try to find spots that look like walleye spots back home but all we get is, you know what.”
Ushered them to seats on the boat and made a quick trip to the Ship’s Store Fishing Department returning with a brand-new version of the infamous Hot Spots Chart. These charts that are regular navigational charts overlaid with good spot markings and associated index of species caught and indicating their seasonal availability.
Back aboard, we went over the features and spots marked that were in our range that morning. Got them to agree that we would only visit spots listed on the chart. Today was for learning; results or not. They agreed and off we went.
Our first chosen “hot spot” was east on the Marco River. The overlay showed a small red striped circle with the associated legend that this was a primary mangrove snapper spot. We set up on the spot now sporting a nice incoming tide and went over technique. Showed them how to access current fish population by cutting the engine and running the fish finder at max sensitivity as we current drifted the area.
The irregular bottom structure was evident immediately and we neared the end of the drop off you could spot small clusters of predators holding in ambush. We rushed back to the drift spot.
On their second drift, one rod jerked and the drag squealed a tad as one of the foursome swung a nice 14” snapper aboard. They all gave each other high fives but before you that activity, remember that is first fish sans whiskers they had seen in the two prior weeks.
They were into it now as the bite roared. “This is what we were looking for all along.” When I urged their patience and that we were just at the bottom of the learning curve they racked rods reluctantly and we moved on.
They took over operational control as we eased into the second hot spots chart location. They did a good job in locating the deeper hole and scouted the bottom for activity as we drifted the spot. Let them engineer the anchoring and all four had their baits in the water before the engine was secured. No immediate hard strikes however. They went back to the hot chart and the legend indicated black drum were a working species here early spring. We changed technique to a slow bottom movement of a more formidable shrimp bait.
A few strong very noticeable nudges of their baits was followed by a raucously strong strike that activated the drag. The in-laws struggled with a formidable black drum being drawn through a surging incoming tide that wasn’t about to surrender. Took a good ten minutes to get the net under this nice eighteen inch black drum.
High fives all around again and photos before they released the drum. From the smiles on the faces it was obvious that eighteen inch drum looked better to them than a couple 100-pound marlin.
We visited two other hot spot locations before we finished that day with them making decisions on current, location and action decisions on the fish. That was the day they kissed the catfish curse goodbye!
They left the marina that day clutching the hot spots chart like it was Blackbeard’s treasure map.
Never heard from them again; guess it worked, right?
Capt. Bill Walsh owns a charter fishing business and holds a U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.