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Captain’s Corner: Dense baitfish schools attracting predators to coasts

By Ed Walker, Times Correspondent

With strong easterly winds blowing for nearly a week, offshore conditions have been difficult. The upside is that east winds provide calm and clean water along the beaches, and the baitfish have moved in heavily. Dense schools of mixed species of baitfish are so thick in some coastal areas that they create large "muds" in the water where they stir up the bottom. Some of these bait schools are several acres in size and will black out your sonar screen as you pass through them. Anytime you get this many forage fish together in one area, the big fish will also stack up. The feeding activity around all this bait is amazing. There are mackerel, kingfish, jack crevalle, bonito, tarpon, bluefish, sharks, giant redfish and many others swirling through the rich waters gobbling up everything they can. There are several fishing approaches that will work around the bait biomass. Some anglers are trolling spoons around the perimeter. Others are slow trolling large live baits on the surface for the bigger kings. Another method is to anchor and cast live bait or small spoons or jigs into the melee. There are so many mackerel in the schools that it is difficult to use a sabiki bait rig to catch the baitfish. More often than not, the mackerel see the small, shiny hooks and bite the entire rig off. To secure live bait, you are better off leaving the action zone, casting a net along the beach then returning to where the fish are feeding. Bring plenty of tackle; with so many sharp teeth, losing hooks and rigs to cutoffs is a regular occurrence.

Ed Walker charters out of Tarpon Springs. He can be contacted at [email protected]