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Sunshine Skyway provides a bridge over busy waters

The silver king

Dobiesz and his fishing partners headed to the bridge for a reason. Tampa Bay Watch's Tarpon Rodeo was just a few weeks away, and they hoped a little "pre-fishing" might give them the edge when the tournament gets under way Saturday.

Seasoned anglers such as Dobiesz know fish travel with a purpose. Some are on their way into the bay to spawn. Others are headed out to sea to perform the same biological function. Then there are the predators who hang around the major intersections, hiding in the shadows, waiting for the chance to pounce.

Tarpon, for example, love to use the bridge supports as ambush points. They lie just out of sight, and when an unsuspecting fish swims by … wham!

These thick-bodied brutes probably know which pilings provide the best cover. But unfortunately for us humans, once you are under the bridge, everything looks the same.

Die-hard tarpon anglers eventually learn which sections of the bridge are more productive. But if you don't have that luxury, then you must get the fish to come to you.

The pit stop

There is a reason why they build fast-food restaurants at freeway exits. People in a hurry don't have time to look for food. They want to pull over, grab a bite and be on their way.

Fish aren't much different. They don't want to work too hard for a meal. They want a nice, convenient snack so they can get back to their fishy business. But unfortunately for fish, there are no billboards along the side of the road directing them to the nearest eatery.

You can have the biggest, fattest, most delicious-looking finger mullet in all of the seven seas on the end of a line. But unless the tarpon know where to find it, you are out of luck.

That's why the fishing gods invented chum. Sliced-and-diced fish occur naturally in nature. Every time a Spanish mackerel slashes its way through a school of bait, tiny pieces of fish drift with the current.

If enough predators feed at the same time, then the tiny heads and tails of oily fish form a slick that drifts with the tide, alerting other predators and scavengers that dinner is served.

The chum king

Chum comes in all varieties and can be store bought or homemade. Capt. Brent Gaskill likes to freeze the leftover bait from his charters then cut it up the next day to "match the hatch."

"That way, you are chumming with the same fish that are swimming around the boat," he said. "You get a good chum slick going, and you will attract fish from miles around."

On a boat, you can do one of two things, fish or cut bait. Anybody can fish, but you have to be skilled with a knife to create a good chum slick.

"Beautiful," Gaskill said, admiring my technique. "What a trail of chum. We'll have tarpon in no time."

Dobiesz, meanwhile, hovered over the rod next to my chum-cutting station. As I sliced and diced, I wondered why he picked that spot. Then the rod bent over under the weight of a fish.

"Just lucky, I guess," he said.

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ST. PETERSBURG — At dawn beneath the Sunshine Skyway bridge, which crosses the mouth of Tampa Bay, boats jockey for position. During the summer months, the channel that runs beneath the span is a veritable highway for marine life. Dolphin, sea turtles, sharks … you name it. If it swims, sooner or later, it passes through. For the boater, the trick is to anchor on or near one of these major thoroughfares. But with dozens of choices, deciding where to set up is part skill, part luck and usually frustrating. And on every boat, there are three of four baited fishing poles secured in rod holders. The trick for the angler is to stand next to the rod that gets hit first. "When it comes to fishing," quipped Norm Dobiesz, "I'd rather be lucky than good."

Sunshine Skyway provides a bridge over busy waters 06/09/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 9, 2011 10:20pm]
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