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Nature Coast: Waiting on a spot can be worthwhile

It was a break in character, but Capt. Clay Eavenson had a good reason for his contradiction of style.

"I'm not usually patient with a spot," the Land O' Lakes angler explained. "If I don't see anything in about five minutes, I'm gone.

"But I'm going to wait for this spot to get right because I know the fish are going to be here."

Like many Pasco County anglers, Eavenson often runs south of the Anclote River into neighboring St. Joseph Sound — technically in northern Pinellas county, but close enough for sentimental annexation.

On recent outings, Eavenson had caught several snook, trout and redfish on one location. The spot was nothing secretive, but the action depended on an outgoing tide.

The plan

Joined by Ohio angler Mike Kelley, who was in town for a business convention, Eavenson launched at 10:45 a.m. at Anclote River Park and went south to set up for a tide that would start falling a little before noon.

Exiting the main boating channel, Eavenson idled toward a mangrove edge on the sound's eastern edge. A sandy strip between the trees and the shallow sea grass presented a natural transition edge over which our captain said he had caught several fish.

Deploying three live pilchards under corks, we diligently watched the water for signs of game fish.

"We're just going to sit here and wait for the fish," Eavenson said. "I haven't figured out exactly what (concentrates) them here, but they have consistently been here on the leaving tide."

The fish would not let us down.

How it works

Stepping back for a moment, you don't have to be a professional guide to locate a productive fishing spot. Just learn to identify the whens and wheres of inshore fishing.

The key concept: Fish don't just appear randomly.

At least for inshore waters, the dominant influence is the tide. Daily ebb and flow alters water levels, replenishes oxygen supplies, moderates temperature and ushers food sources to hungry predators.

When the tide is moving, you'll notice floating grass, bubbles and other debris. Sea-grass blades bending toward or away from the shore indicate incoming and outgoing water.

Some scenarios find fish congregating on incoming tides. Other times it's the falling water that turns 'em on. Knowing the difference comes only through experience, so spend time on the water and log observations.

Watch for baitfish schools such as scaled sardines ("whitebait"), threadfin herring ("greenbacks") and finger mullet gathering. Food is the ultimate motivator, and predators are constantly watching for groups of forage.

The scents

If you're chumming for mackerel, cobia and similar fish, it's imperative that you give your scent trail time to disperse. Once the oils and bits of ground fish drift over grass flats, potholes and channels, predators will start sniffing around for the food source.

Look behind the boat and you'll usually see hundreds of pinfish, threadfins and scaled sardines gorging themselves in your chum trail. Such accumulations are attractive to predators looking for the chow line.

If the baitfish suddenly vanish or shower (leap from the water), you've attracted something with a big appetite, so float a live baitfish close to the boat.

The culmination

As the outgoing tide gained steam, snook started cruising mangrove edges. Still out of sorts from a recent cool spell, the fish wouldn't eat, but any activity is encouraging.

Soon, we noticed mullet cruising the flats, and then Eavenson spotted distinct silvery white flashes over sandy potholes in the grass beds.

Mullet definitely roll and wiggle subsurface, but these were larger, more purposeful movements — the kind often belonging to redfish.

We each plucked a slot-sized red from a small pod of reds, but there was more action to be had. Something else was lurking in the dark grass.

Normally, when you start seeing the flashes of redfish milling about in active schools, you'll see their distinctive wakes as these stout-bodied fish push water.

"Could those be big trout flashing?" Eavenson pondered.

An hour later, he had his answer. Like someone had flipped the switch, the trout bite ignited, and we boated about a dozen hefty specks in the 2- to 3-pound range. So voracious was this brief feeding period that several of our live bait offerings were eaten right as they hit the water.

Multiple doubleheaders told of a high degree of feeding competition — clearly triggered by the right tide stage.

When the bite subsided, Eavenson noted: "Oh well, we go looking for redfish, and we find a school of big trout — no complaints."

Sometimes, your spot might not develop exactly as you had envisioned. But if you patiently wait for key conditions to develop, you'll get your shots.

Nature Coast: Waiting on a spot can be worthwhile 05/16/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 16, 2008 4:31am]
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