On The Hook: Complicating a simple sport

Bill Walsh

An acquaintance who was our neighbor in Chicagoland had retired and headed south to the warmth posthaste last year.

Attributes of anglers fishing for predatory fish.

We had “Christmas Card” communicated over the years and he had repeatedly lamented about the Midwestern weather and his quest to get to water and the fishing down here. Retirement to him was wrapped in swaying palms and fishing, gin clear emerald water and fishing, and tropical breezes and fishing.

Need to say no more: it was all about the year-round fishing opportunity.

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It wasn’t even a couple of weeks after he announced his departure from Chicago that the phone rang and Marty arranged for a morning backwater fishing trip to introduce himself to the fishing opportunities here. He was accompanied by a fellow corporate colleague who had retired a couple years earlier and was already “deeply ensconced” in Southwest Florida backwater fishing and would assist in his orientation trip.

Marty stopped down at the boat one afternoon before his scheduled trip and we had a chance to chat. He admitted that his fishing experience Up North was mainly Great Lakes salmon and trout fishing.

Now, for the uninitiated as to how that goes...

From either a private or charter boat you tie a artificial lure known as a J-Plug on heavy tackle and then hook the line to a downrigger (a contraption with a big heavy wire reel and a 10-pound weight and then descend the J-plug to a 30-40’ depth) and then you troll. When the fish strikes, the line releases from the downrigger and you grab the rod and reel in the fish. If there’s five or six anglers on the boat, you take turns on the strikes. When it's not your turn, you sit and watch.

A little different than the light tackle and casting required in our backwaters. I assured Marty that we would go though all the different tackle and procedures with him on that first charter trip.

Our morning arrived with nice clear water and a good moderate tide. Marty and his corporate colleague, Sid, arrived early. Marty had a lunch pail; Sidney had two overstuffed tackle boxes and three rods.

As we readied the boat before getting underway, Marty showed me a list of “requirements” that Sidney had emailed him that he should have in his possession before we headed out on the briny. The list had the names of at least two to three dozen lures, spinner baits, top water plugs and artificial baits.

As Sidney prepared his arsenal, I took Marty aside and showed him the simple lindy rigs on 12# test line and the cooler with the “just purchased” live shrimp.

“But where’s the rest?” Marty asked.

My retort: “The rest of what? We use these lindy rigs for most everything with the exception of small feathered jigs that we use on pelagics...mackerel, pompano, etc.”

Sid was all ears to that conversation as he readied his 500-piece arsenal.

“My experience hereabouts, Captain, is that you need a wide range of equipment to handle the various species and situations you’ll face in this subtropical environment.”

I think I said something like, “Different strokes for different folks. Let’s see how it works out today."

With that we got underway into 75-degree clean water running on a moderate incoming tide.

Couldn’t help but watch Sid rummage through the literally hundreds of artificial lures: vinyl shrimp in four enticing shades of brown; top water plugs of every color of the rainbow; and lures with propellers fore and aft.

I leaned over to Marty and quietly asked, “How much money do you think he's invested in that trunk?"

“A fortune” was the response.

“Our equipment consists of hooks, sinkers and swivels and a few jigs, probably less than $50 for a couple weeks of fishing and of course a couple dozen shrimp per trip.......quite a contrast, don’t you think?"

Marty nodded.

On our first spot close to Rookery Bay, I was engrossed in introducing Marty to light tackle casting and retrieve. We worked baitless shrimp lindy rigs until he felt reasonably proficient. Sid was in the front of the boat racing back and forth changing lures trying to induce some strikes. He said he had a couple of bumps, but no fish.

We moved on from the “training spot” in Rookery Bay to a spot close to Sea Oat Island where we experienced some good mangrove snapper action the week before. We had Marty go “live” with shrimp-laden rigs along a edge with lots of downed marine faunas. He was a tad erratic at first, but then with the first strike, retrieve and landing, he was “baptized” into the thrill of backwater fishing. He was all smiles as we eased a nice 12” snapper into the cooler.

Sid was still running around changing lures and profoundly expressing that he had lots of hits, but had nothing to show for it. By mid-morning, Marty had deposited four nice snapper in the cooler and had a grin from ear to ear.

I even, quietly, offered Sid some tads of fresh shrimp to tip those wild looking artificials; he not only rejected the offer, but was all in a huff about my trying to taint the purism of artificial lure fishing.

We moved to several other spots along that shoreline and Marty limited out on snapper (five) and had a couple whiting. Sid finally registered with a spec trout that took a tout lookalike and a couple minimum size snapper. You could tell that Marty was in fishing nirvana: all that he had hoped for. Sid, on the other hand, was caught giving the lindy rigs the once over.

Bottom line lesson for the day: you don’t need a steamer truck of plastic and wood. Equip yourself with a modest array of hooks, weights, swivels and a modest number of jigs. All are simple to use and present a consistent interface with the targets. Backwater fishing is a simple sport that requires skill and patience...don’t try to complicate it.

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Capt. Bill Walsh owns a charter fishing business and holds a U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments to dawnpatrolmarco@cs.com.