On the Hook
For angling may be said to be so like the mathematics, that it can never be fully learnt; at least not so fully, but that there will still be more new experiments left for the trial of other men that succeed us.
- The Compleat Angler
That quote is from the 1653 classic English book and, after the centuries since that publication, the venerable Izaak Walton seems to be correct. Braided line, full-color sonar fishfinders and non-corrosive fishing reels milled from solid blocks of aluminum seem to fit right in with his prediction of modern experimentation, no matter when the angler.
And yet, as anglers will always be anglers, fish will be always be fish. When Walton wrote of treating salmon bait with oak oil mixed with turpentine and fresh honey, he was interested in what may be the biggest concern of any angler - what a fish wants to eat.
Finding the prey of a fish is only half the battle, though. The other half is finding the location in which the fish wants to eat.
Niche-fish such as flounder have obvious built-in preferences for finding food. A flounder or stingray would be hard up to crash a topwater plug in 50 feet of water. Most other fish aren't nearly so obvious in their anatomy, yet diet hints may still be there.
Redfish, whiting and bonefish have one obvious common feature: their mouths are located on the bottom of their heads. Given their diet of shrimp, small crabs and other bottom-dwelling baits, their very bodies have been engineered to take advantage of their diet.
Grouper, largemouth bass and snook are found in completely different habitats, yet also have a similar feature: mouths that rapidly expand to a huge size, sucking in any nearby bait. These fish love the ambush and will find their dinner while lurking near any available structure. They will hit a variety of baits, but their method seems to prefer an unsuspecting small fish.
The upturned mouth of the tarpon and the flat upper planes of the cobia show a preference for cruising for bait off the top of the water column, and both species have an insatiable love of swimming crabs.
Surf fish such as whiting, bluefish and pompano prey on what the churning breakers throw back into deeper water. These fish stay back from where waves can cause them damage, yet close enough to where the same waves can toss loose sand fleas or stunned baitfish.
Like anything in life, fish guarantee nothing - redfish can and do grab pulled gold spoons in mid-water, and have been known to take a topwater plug once in a while. A snook will pick a shrimp off the bottom in the middle of a cruise over the empty flats. Cobia will pluck dinner from schools of baitfish off of wrecks in many fathoms of water. But, when fish seem to have lockjaw, it never hurts to play to the diet and habitats they seem been designed to exploit.
The 20-mile Canaveral NOAA buoy registered 11- to 13-foot waves over the weekend, which killed any offshore activity. Three days before there was a gentle foot and a half swell, so the weekend warriors were frustrated with what seems to be a typical pattern. If the weather holds up for this weekend, the warming waters should bring some baitfish back, followed closely by kingfish in the first few miles, and mahi nearer the Gulf Stream.
The same cold front activity shut down any hope of fishing from the beach this weekend. Die-hard surf fans can take advantage of piers at these times. Though not a hot weekend, Sebatian Inlet fishermen were pulling in whiting, redfish, and even 20- to 24-inch snook from the north jetty, behind the curl of the waves. The fish still eat what is being kicked up, so when casting beyond waves becomes impossible, go behind the waves on jetties or piers.
The warming waters after the last cold front should turn on redfish and trout from Mosquito Lagoon down the Indian and Banana Rivers. Live shrimp should turn them on. On days calm enough to keep shrimp or fiddlers near bridge pilings, the sheepshead should still be biting until the water gets warm enough to drive the bulk of them offshore.
The weekend weather was bad enough for whitecaps on most Brevard lakes and the St Johns River. Anglers hiding from the wind in sheltered locations were still finding specks' though boating was more work than fun. There are some scattered reports of shad in Brevard, though not yet the run that shad watchers are hoping for this year.