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Fishing school: Tips from the pros

Inshore slam

Jim Huddleston

The inshore slam is defined as catching a spotted seatrout, a redfish and a snook. Being able to accomplish this all in one day is an extraordinary feat. These three species are all creatures of habit, so the key is knowing what triggers them to move from one situation to the next. Tides, water temperature, available bait and time of the year all play important roles in their migratory patterns.

Whether using artificials, live bait or even cut bait, stealth always helps when working a flat. A good trolling motor or a push pole helps in setting up to attack from the right angle. Remember to always start far away from the target. It is better to make a couple of casts that land short than it is to get too close and blow the fish off an oyster bar or trough. Anglers will find that these fish are much more receptive when moving into the shallows with an incoming tide. During this tidal phase, they are aggressive because there is more water coming in behind them.

West-central Florida has the best fishing situation for attacking an inshore slam. For the most part, the water temperature stays within the boundaries that allow an angler to pursue these species year-round. Peak conditions for each species vary throughout the year. The cooler months (December to March) are great for spotted sea

trout. Late spring and into summer (April to July) are ideal for snook. During the late summer and into the fall schools of redfish will cover the many flats and bays.

Jim Huddleston charters out of Tampa, Palm Harbor and Clearwater and can be reached at (727) 439-9017 or at


Larry Hoffman

Fishing for greater amberjack is a year-round pursuit in our area. "Jacks" are strong fish that test an angler's skill. Unlike other bottom fish, amberjack can handle catch-and-release well because they are able to adjust their swim bladders. We rarely lose a jack when released.

Amberjack are found near springs, shipwrecks and large ledges from as shallow as 70 feet in the winter to 90 feet out to 170 feet in the spring, summer and fall. The deeper you fish the larger the jacks. And bigger baits produce bigger jacks.

We use three proven tactics for amberjack. The first is using large blue runners hooked just behind the eyes on top of the head. The hook points forward so when the jack feeds he takes the bait headfirst; this increases the hookup ratio. Drift over the spring or shipwreck. This pulls the jacks away from the wreck and reduces cut-offs. Good drags, tackle in the 60-pound class and a fighting belt are essential equipment. Long leaders of fluorocarbon, 6 feet or more, get the sinker away from the hook. Let the jack take the bait; don't set the hook until the rod is bent over.

The second method is jigging from an anchored boat just off the wreck or spring. The traditional diamond jigs work well. There are new expensive jigging systems that are also effective.

The third method is to slow-troll live baits using downriggers. Deploy the downrigger at the depth that your fish finder shows fish and put 30 feet of line out from your downrigger ball. This method is more effective in water deeper than 120 feet.

Larry Hoffman charters out of John's Pass, Treasure Island. Call (727) 709-9396 or e-mail

Gold in the gulf

Bill Hardman

No, we're not referring to sand-covered mounds of Spanish gold, we're talking about grouper.

Grouper come in many colors, and these fish even change colors throughout the stages of their life and throughout a typical day. Gag grouper are brownish-grey or sometimes an olive-grey, and many divers also know that they are sometimes white. And while red grouper are never simply red, black grouper are well, black.

And gold grouper? Do they really exist? Where are they? How do we fish for them and what do we know about them? The good news is that these gold grouper are in the Gulf of Mexico, and we have found that more seem to appear each year.

You will be introduced to the Gold Groupers, getting a diver's perspective on the behavioral aspects of all these groupers, in the hope that some of this knowledge will help you successfully land your next Gulf of Mexico grouper dinner.

Bill Hardman teaches scuba, spearfishing and free diving through Aquatic Obsessions Scuba in St. Petersburg. Call (727) 344-3483.


Doug Hemmer

Most trout will be found in areas of grass and sand 3 to 4 feet deep. These areas will be just outside of a shallow flat or bar. The larger ones will be closest to the drop-off. The farther you move from the drop-off the smaller the trout. The best time to catch the larger ones is at sun-up.

A top-water lure worked along the drop-off will draw strikes until the sun becomes bright. Then it's time to switch to jerkbaits or jigs and work the areas outside the drop-off.

The best action comes when the tide has a strong movement. During the tide's strongest movement you can fish just about anywhere. As the tide starts to slow, work the areas closer to a bridge or pass. These areas will have stronger movement because the water is being forced through a smaller opening.

Jig colors are important. North of Clearwater, trout feed best when the jigs are dark green or motor oil. In the lower parts of Tampa Bay, use a red or strawberry color. This will hold true on most days, but not always. When the water clarity is poor, use a darker version of the jig. If the water is extremely clear, use a lighter color.

Remember, trout are always on the move. Drift the areas you want to fish until you locate the schools. Once located, you can then anchor.

Doug Hemmer charters out of St. Petersburg and can be reached at (727) 347-1389.

Kayak fishing

Neil Taylor

There are distinct advantages for using a kayak: access to shallow waters unreachable by a power boat, the "low profile" in approaching fish and the "stealth factor."

Kayaks are the no-maintenance, low-cost option to fishing inshore waters. There's also the convenience; launch locations are abundant in the Tampa Bay area.

The basics of a properly equipped kayak are: an anchor trolley system, a paddle clip or leash, rod holders, a life vest and a whistle. The trolley is important for positioning the boat by having the anchor coming off various angles of the kayak. The paddle clip or leash allows you to stow the paddle during "fishing time" and also prevents the loss of that vital piece of equipment. The vest and whistle are required safety equipment for the kayak.

Multiple rod holders allows for rods equipped with lures for different situations, eliminating wasted time changing lures. Lure selection should consist of an assortment of soft-plastic jig tails, on 1/8- or 1/16-ounce jigheads, and one rod rigged up "weedless." One plastic tackle tray should contain all the lures you need for a full day.

Neil Taylor charters kayak fishing trips ( and can be reached at (727) 692-6345 or

Giant tarpon

Robert McCue

In the 1980s it was estimated that Florida anglers were intentionally killing 5,000 to 8,000 tarpon annually. During the 1988 legislative session, state lawmakers passed a permitting system that requires anglers to have a $50 tag to possess or harvest a tarpon. In 1989, the state recorded the sale of 963 tarpon tags and by the fiscal year of 2006-07 the number of tags sold fell to 294.

A decade later, tarpon records began to shatter along the gulf coast. In 2001, Steve Kilpatrick guided Jim Holland Jr. to a 202.5-pound tarpon that toppled a 19-year fly rod record of 188 pounds and is the first recorded tarpon of more than 200 pounds taken on fly.

In 2005, Kenny Hyatt guided Terry Sopher to a 216-pounder that is recognized as the largest tarpon ever taken during a Boca Grande Pass tournament. In 2007, Ernie Rubio guided Al Willis to a 233-pounder that is holding as the largest tarpon taken in the 73-year-old Suncoast Tarpon Roundup. Remarkably, Willis' fish edged out Tim Deacon's 222-pounder for the win.

While these fish were caught using various methods, the key factor for giant tarpon is more likely related to timing in the progression of the tarpon's reproductive cycle. Most giant tarpon are females.

As tarpon migrate to the shoreline in the spring, the females begin to develop and hydrate their eggs until the fish is "ripe" and ready to spawn. A fish in this stage of reproduction will carry extra weight, sometimes in excess of 30 pounds, which is often the difference between a tarpon and what would be considered a giant one.

Robert McCue can be reached at 1-800-833-0489 or through his Web site,

Wade fishing

Rick Frazier

Wade fishing is stealthy. It allows for a quiet approach to that tailing red. Being able to see is imperative while wading, so a pair of good polarized sunglasses is a must. A wide brim hat will also help shade your face and eyes to see in the water even better.

Low tide is the perfect time to wade. Cuts, holes, and structure are all exposed and easy to see. Plus low water congregates the fish. Heavy, cumbersome rubber or neoprene waders are hard to walk in and will wear you out. Neoprene wading boots are nonrestrictive, inexpensive and will protect your feet from unseen debris and stingrays as well. Never stay in one place, keep moving until a productive spot is found.

Bridge and pier fishing is all about choosing the right tide. The best times are right before and after tide changes. Water flow isn't at its peak and allows for better presentations.

Target a certain species and rig accordingly. For example, Pier 60 in Clearwater is famous for big snook at night during the summer. Remember, when fishing from a fixed structure heavy tackle is necessary to control the fish. Spinning or conventional tackle in the 20-pound range is recommended. Braided line is another good investment since it is much stronger than monofilament and doesn't get cut by wood or concrete pilings.

Rick Frazier runs Lucky Dawg Charters out of St. Petersburg and can be reached at (727) 510-4376. or


Rob Gorta

The No. 1 mistake that people make when targeting redfish is making too much noise. Take the time and move the boat as slowly as possible. Moving too fast creates a strong push and alerts the fish before you even see them.

Move the boat with a push pole and control the speed. When fish are spotted, spike the pole into the bottom to stop the boat. When using a trolling motor, use the lowest setting possible.

Start around a shoreline lined with oyster beds. Mullet schools also in the area are another good sign. Usually redfish hang with mullet.

Align the boat upwind to allow for long casts. Redfish will eat just about anything. If the fish are finicky, then use shrimp. They land soft on the water and are easy to get from a bait shop.

Rob Gorta charters out of St. Petersburg. Call (727) 647-7606 or visit www.


Dave Mistretta

Here's some advice for anyone wanting to give kingfish tournaments a try. First, practice makes perfect. Get as much time on the water as you can to understand their feeding habits.

Water temperature dictates their arrival, but a common food source is worth observing. The speedy pursuit of quick darting baitfish can get a big king really worked up. A large mullet is a perfect example. These hearty fish can leap from the water long distances to avoid kingfish. Their frantic leaps won't detour a hungry king.

Massive schools of whitebait and threadfin herring are some of the biggest draws for kings during the spring and fall migrations. If there is a large concentration of bait, eventually there will be big kings. Sometimes it takes a day or two for the giant "macks" to locate their food source. But eventually, it will happen. Mark the schools of baitfish with the GPS plotting system.

Then it's time to play "hopscotch." Troll around each of these bait schools of bait until you get a strike. Most schools will stay in the same area for a weeks, until a major weather or tide change.

Dave Mistretta captains the Jaws Too out of Indian Rocks Beach. Call (727) 595-3276, e-mail or see

Monster snook

Dave Walker

Large snook are different than their younger peers. Statistically, each snook in Tampa Bay over 26 inches, has been caught at least one or more times. Therefore, they require a different approach.

To trick educated monster snook, start by being extremely quiet. Long casts help dramatically for snook on the flats.

Gargantuan snook tend to hang out in the same areas, sometimes for weeks on end. Drastic weather changes will move them a bit, but for the most part, if they are sighted they will be there the next day.

Big snook are particularly demanding on drag systems. Make sure your gear is in good shape and use braided line.

Dave Walker charters out of Tampa. Call (813) 310-6531, e-mail captdave or visit

Shallow-water grouper

Troy Sapp

Trolling the shallows off our coast can be effective for catching grouper and locating areas that hold fish all year. Study bottom contour lines starting at 15 feet, and look for areas on charts that show small break lines. These lines may only represent a couple of feet in depth change but if lime rock and coral are present they will hold fish.

Late fall and early spring will provide the best opportunities as calm, clear water and the annual migration of baitfish are all prime ingredients for successful trolling. Watch for indicators such a surface bait schools, location of crab trap lines and, on occasion, dark areas of bottom that are visible from the boat to help narrow the search.

Use large-lipped lures or planers to get a variety of diving plugs to within 5 feet of the bottom. Try varying speeds of 5 to 7 mph until you begin to get strikes and mark the location on your chart plotter to return for another pass. Many times the fish face into the current, so it's best to take that into account as they only feed from one end.

Secret: Keep a magic marker handy to mark your line at the reel when you catch a fish. It's nice to know when you're in the zone.

Troy P. Sapp of Fins and Tails Guide Service can be reached at (813) 920-6928.

Tackle tips

Tyson Wallerstein

Knowing the right size hook, what pound test, or the right rod and reel to use for every situation will help you become a better angler. Learning the right knots and practicing them until you can do them quickly and perfect every time, will give you the ability to use your tackle to its full potential.

Like in any other sport, fishing equipment is constantly being refined. Lighter, stronger, smoother, more durable are all words synonymous with fishing tackle innovations, both inshore and offshore.

Offshore, for kings, cobia and tarpon, deep-water high-speed jigging is getting a lot of attention these days.

Inshore fishing and rigging is as diverse as ever. With so many different types of rods and reels to choose from, it can be confusing. Spending more money on an outfit doesn't necessarily mean it will last longer; proper preventative maintenance will help you get the most life out of your equipment.

Tyson Wallerstein is a fishing guide who works out of Seminole's Dogfish Tackle.

Offshore basics

P.K. Lichtenberger

When using frozen bait, break off the tail before sending it down — it will help the bait spin less, and it also leaves a little more scent in the water.

Spend a little extra and use good fluorocarbon leader. Pure fluorocarbon refracts light at the same rate as water, which allows light to pass through without bending. Fish aren't as shy of the line as they are of an unnatural change in the light. It won't guarantee a more bites every time, but we have seen a significantly better bite with fluorocarbon than without. Fluorocarbon-coated leaders and fillers don't work as well.

One of the things we see a lot when we're showing people bottom-fishing equipment is people standing up and trying to reel with the rod under the arm. While that's a good way to wait for a bite, it's a lot harder to actually fight a fish that way. It's okay if you have strong arms and good upper-body strength, but you'll get a lot more leverage against a big fish if you hold the rod in front of you with the rod butt in belt so you can use your whole body.

When fighting a big fish never give it any slack. Pull up, and reel as you drop the rod tip. If the fish takes drag, don't be in a hurry to tighten it up, remember to let your equipment help you tire out the fish. Make sure the fish is really taking too much line before you turn the drag knob, and when you do, tighten it in small increments.

To really get the bite fired up, send a chum block down a couple of feet off the bottom. Use a cage or an aggressive grouper may eat the whole thing. We usually attach the cage to the downrigger.

For a little extra action, always have a "flat line" out when bottom fishing. Use either a spinning or light conventional rod and throw a live bait out with no weight, and a cork or balloon to keep it on the surface. Let it drift 50 feet or so off the back of the boat, and then just leave it in a rod holder with a light drag and the clicker on.

Check all your safety equipment before going offshore, and make sure everyone on the boat knows where it is stored. Always have cutters capable of cutting the largest hook you have on the boat. If you travel offshore regularly, invest in an EPIRB with GPS. If you're making a onetime trip to deep water, you can rent an EPIRB from Boat US.

P.K. Lichtenberger is an avid tournament angler who works at Bett's Fishing Center in Largo.

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Begin your next (most) productive fishing trip by taking notes

Don't head off to the tackle shop until you've heard our panel of anglers give advice on their areas of expertise on March 15 and 16 at the Tampa Bay Boat Sale at Tropicana Field. Topics range from inshore, offshore, kayak and wade fishing to tips for specific species, such as the ever-popular tarpon.

Fishing school: Tips from the pros 03/07/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 9:30am]
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