Destination Fishing

Many anglers seek warm weather angling destinations when they find themselves struggling to find fish during these colder seasons. And fishing the Florida Keys maybe the answer to that interruption for many of these anglers. That hundred mile string of islands has always been a huge draw because of the mild winter climates and abundance of species.

Regardless whether its structure, shallow water, or reef fishing, the experiences in the Florida Keys is one for the memory books. Structure fishing has become very popular in the keys even for the typical novice angler. And with over forty two bridges and well over hundred miles of shorelines, there is no shortage of places for either the casual or passionate angler to try their luck or secure an enough for a meal.

The standard skill sets used elsewhere for successful fishing should continue to apply here regardless of type of fishing. These will always include: know when to fish, where to fish, how to fish, what to use, how fish respond under certain conditions. But the most important and an angler’s best friend is know the tides and structure.

Gear and equipment are also crucial to a successful outing. Most local “keys” species are toothy and are considered predator. Any gear weakness will be exposed. Use only the top of the line gear – this is not the place for the angler to skimp.

Fishing a Florida Keys bridge is a unique experience. Conditions can change frequently under these structures. It can take weeks or even months to master these channels and the water flows. Trial and error, exchanging ideas with other anglers on the bridges and tackle shops, and even sacrificing a few rigs jig just to locate a couple of bottom snags is worth the cost most anglers pay for this indoctrination.

But many times, it’s that five pound sheepshead or mangrove snapper or even that dancing tarpon that make spending the afternoon experimenting and learning all worthwhile.

Look in future entries on various gear and equipment techniques that have made my many bridge fishing trips successful.

Until Next Time – Tightlines – Capt. Tony

Know the Rules

Fishing in Florida during the colder months can be an extremely rewarding experience if you know the rules. Now we are not talking about the rules and regulations on creel and bags limits. Although knowledge of these regulations are mandatory in every region, it’s the small subtitles that can make a difference of success for the visiting angler.

We hear all the time that fishing is the same regardless where you fish. But in Florida that can’t be further from the truth. The various species are stealth and they spook very easily. And catching them can test even the most passionate angler.

There several interesting techniques that can increase the potential for success.

Know your target. Some of the most important items to be aware of when fishing in Florida is to know your targets specific tendencies. Temperature preference, tide phases, feeding habits, and movements and means of comfort and hideaways are important tips that help the angler. Being familiar with these can help improve your success potential

Match the hatch is probably the second most important tip to remember. Many species are creatures of habit and they will feed on the most plentiful and easiest bait available. So the best way to increase the success rate is use a lure or bait that is similar to what’s in the water. Color is also important but it’s the contrast and presentation technique that can have more influence. The key: mimic the food source and try to “BE THE BAIT”.

Downsize your gear. The lighter the gear the easier it is to place the bait in the proper location, present it naturally and then feel the bite. Minimize any foreign objects from the environment. Anything outside the lure should appear natural. So use the lightest leader materials, limit you connections to only small knots and avoid any type of metal on your tackle or baits.

Technique and Presentation. Regardless of your lure or bait selection, it’s the natural presentation that can make all the difference. The retrieval technique can make the difference between a strike and spooking your target. Remember, most strikes occur during a pause in any retrieve when the prey is most vulnerable.

Change it up. Some anglers will switch their salt to fresh water gear to encourage the strike. Modifying baits such as adding a rattle or cutting a slice from a plastic swim bait that mimics a wounded fish may spark the interest of a feeding fish. As a general rule, “change is always good”.

Although there are dozens of other techniques, I have found these to help increase my catch rate.

Never be satisfied with the basic package, experiment and challenge yourself and you will not be disappointed.

Until Next time – Tightlines – Capt. Tony

Fishing the Florida Keys on Foot

Fishing on foot in the Florida Keys gives the angler many different opportunities to experience a unique fishery not found anywhere else. The Florida Keys boast over forty-two bridges with casting platforms and over a hundred miles of easily accessible shoreline where the angler can try their luck. And occupying these venues, anglers will find hundreds of different species of fish resulting in no shortage of saltwater targets.

Fishing on foot is one of the easiest and most popular type of fishing in the Keys. And even though it doesn’t require any special gear, the angler should be prepared for many unforeseen hazards before venturing out to any of these locations.

Anglers should use the same planning scheme when fishing in the Keys as they would in their home waters. They should become familiar with bag and creel limits and any special regulations applicable to the new area.

Bridges and elevated platforms offer the best opportunity for angling success. Moving water attracts many species of fish close to these structures in search of bait. And the tremendous amounts of water flow between the Florida Bay and Atlantic Ocean during the changing tides makes for a hot bed for both predator and prey.

Coral rock and rubble often line the base of many bridges and abutments adding to the turbulence.

These structures can also provide safety for many species but unfortunately add to the frustration when anglers cast too close and get caught in the debris.

This chaotic configuration of structures and easy access makes for the “perfect storm” resulting in an outstanding fishery.

Shorelines and rock seawalls also offer a similar opportunity to catch fish. Sandy bottoms and grass flats can extend hundreds of yards out from the water’s edge. Many bait fish will find protection in both the grass flats and under the thick shoreline vegetation. Both small and larger species can be found searching these areas for food. So anglers should focus their attention on areas that include both distance and close proximity to the shoreline.

Occasionally, anglers may want to wade into the flats but extreme caution should be taken if they are not completely familiar with the area. Swift water and deep holes can cause the angler to lose their footing and fall into the water

So regardless of whether the angler chooses a bridge or shoreline, they will experience nature at its finest. Most anglers typically catch something, others are lucky enough to catch dinner and a select few may catch that trophy where memories are made from.

One note of caution – The Keys is an open wildlife preserve with many wild creatures. These creatures make dens around many of the bridge abutments, the rock jetties and the mangrove shorelines. Extreme care should always be taken to keep your distance from any wildlife.

Shortly, we will be discussing which gear and various techniques that work best on bridges and shorelines. So check back soon.

Until next time – Tightlines – Capt. Tony

Are You Licensed?

North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries requires everyone who wants to fish on the Outer Banks to obtain a coastal recreational fishing license and become familiar with the rules that govern bag and creel limits.

All anglers are required to hold a fishing license if they intend to fish on any beach, bridge or private sound side pier in our local waters. It also applies to whether the angler chooses to fish in salt or fresh water sounds, lakes or ponds. And in some cases, fishing on different sides of a bridge could mean two different licenses – fresh water on one side verses salt water license on the other.

There are some license exceptions but basically, most anglers over the age of sixteen must purchase one before they wet a line. For more exceptions, see the NCDMF web site or check with a local tackle shop.

All ocean piers carry a blanket license that covers everyone who fishes on their pier. Keep in mind that sound side piers may not carry that same license so the angler needs to check with the pier’s owner.

Fishing licenses can be purchased at all tackle shops, pier houses and many small and large retail shops along the Outer Banks as well as on line. The fees are nominal price to help maintain our world class fishery.

Bag and creel limits are also an important component to maintain our fishery. These rules indicate the minimum size and sometimes the maximum size and the number of a specific species the angler can keep.  Pier staff and most local anglers can help with these rules in the field but it is extremely important to know the rules completely.

A copy of the bag and creel limits can be obtained at most locations around the Outer Banks. A copy can also be found on the tab “Fishing Regulations” on the web site.

For a complete list of the rules and regulations, you can check with the authorities at

Until next time – Tightlines – Capt. Tony

Preparation is One Important Key

There are many unique conditions an angler must consider when fishing in the Florida Keys.  And whether you are an experienced or a novice angler, or fishing in a familiar location or a strange one or even targeting a prey you have caught before, there are several keys you need to consider to even marginally achieve success.

Preparation is one of the many steps to a successful fishing strategy. And one of the key steps of this strategy is to know your prey and their comfort zone or environment. And how outside influences affect them.img_6246

Most fish species don’t achieve longevity or size by being fooled easily. Their environment is one of familiarity. And any unusual or unnatural condition raises a concern for their safety.

All natural underwater environments contain certain sounds and vibrations. These sounds can originate from structure, feeding activities, travel of other aquatic and non-aquatic sources or just a natural flow of above ground vibrations from greenspaces or surface encumbrances.

So the anglers first step of preparation is to know how each of the discussed conditions affect the species you’re targeting in their underwater environment.

Anglers should also know feeding patterns, temperature preferences, travel highways and how tidal changes affect your target.

One component not discussed but must be considered: How will your presence affect your prey when fishing from the shore or boat?

Most anglers just grab a rod and bait bucket and head to the nearest bridge or pier and expect a great catch. Sometimes this works but others times especially in aggressively fished areas where your prey is wise to anything unusual, preparation is the key.

Tackle shops are a great resource. But the best strategy is to study your prey and develop a comprehensive strategy. It will definitely improve your catches.

A good friend once told me, “More fish are caught the night before”.

Until next time – Tightlines. Capt. Tony

Discount Tackle is no Bargain

There is no sign that gets an anglers attention more than a sign that reads, “Discount Tackle”.

Many anglers have experienced the consequences of using “discount gear” at least once in their lives. And most smart anglers will try to steer as far away from places that sell discount tackle.IMG_1972

But there are many anglers who will still use anything they can to just wet a line. And they do this at the expense of losing that fish or having a disappointing experience.

Discount tackle can be typically found in most “big-box” stores and on the shelves of many small variety shops. And the quality of the tackle can be different depending on where you shop.

Many of the big box retailers will purchase large amounts of specific tackle because it can be purchased in volume and at a discount. By buying in volume and at a low price, they are able to sell it to the anglers at discount. But anglers should keep in mind that just because there is a large variety of inexpensive tackle doesn’t mean it is quality gear. Buying quality tackle at a discount store can be done but it requires a smart angler.

I have found that discount tackle from the big box stores has an overall lesser quality. Anglers may find some high quality gear there but overall they will have trouble differentiating the good from the poor quality. And the worst thing that can happen when you use less than quality gear, is that you lose your fish. And become frustrated when using something that doesn’t work well or last through the season.

When I purchase tackle and fishing gear, I always head to my local tackle shop, marina or pier house. I might pay a little more but the quality is always top notch. Ironically, if you price the tackle at big box and local tackle shops, prices are going to be the same or close to it.

Now the best advantage to shopping at our local tackle shops is the professional advice. Not only are you getting the best gear and tackle for specific species but also the proper techniques, times to go and the best place to fish. So when time is short, you can’t waste time trying to find a great spot. Let the tackle shop professionals do the homework for you – they will help put you on the fish “QUICK”.

So the next time you see a sign that reads, “Discount Tackle”, and you want to take a chance, then go ahead and shop. But if you are more serious about catching fish, do yourself a favor and pass it by and head to your local tackle shop. You will not regret that choice.

On the Outer Banks there are many shops to choose from and each one will gladly help you make that fishing memory.

Until next time – Tightlines. Capt. Tony

Time Well Spent

Most anglers spend hours fishing and enjoying the outdoors. But sooner or later, it might just be the catching that matters.

There are dozens of bridges and hundreds of miles of shoreline to fish on the Florida Keys. For the average visitor, it’s impossible to fish them all. To be realistic and if time were not a problem, you could work your way from Key Largo all the way to Key West and never run out of a place to wet a line.

To avoid this daunting challenge, my best bet was to ask for help right from the start. I stopped by a local tackle shop and picked up a fishing and boating chart. Most charts described bodies of water, bridges and many other topographical features. I found this chart to be the most valuable tool to finding fish.Chart 1

The chart turned my focus to several bridges located just south of Islamorada. The three bridges were Channel Two, Channel Five and Long Key Channel.

The topography showed that water flowed aggressively underneath these bridges during the four tide changes. This water movement swept current between the Atlantic Ocean and Florida Bay. And with this rapid movement of water, comes tons of bait fish followed by many predators.

Seemed like the perfect place to start.

All three bridges had adequate parking with walkways that run the entire length of each bridge. The walkways were parallel to the bridge and separated a short distance which allowed fishing from both sides. The walkways were encased with a four foot railing providing safety for anglers and families.

Every fifty yards or so, the walkway had a ten foot fishing platform extending out on both sides. This area allowed the angler to cast a little farther away from the bridge but also able to cast under the arch where many species hide and wait for bait fish to float by.

It seemed each bridge walkway area I visited favored the angler, but in reality I found the various species had the upper hand.

But with my plan in place, gear rigged and ready to go, I was ready to challenge any condition, any obstacle, even my in-experience in this new place.

Until next time – Tightlines – Capt. Tony