- Black sea bass have dangerously sharp spines on their dorsal fin that can puncture human skin.
- The all-tackle world record for black sea bass is 9 pounds, 8 ounces.
- When hooked in deep water and brought quickly to the surface, a black sea bass will often regurgitate its stomach contents.
When I moved to Tampa, Fla., three years ago, it was the first time I'd been in a saltwater environment since I was in high school. I was fascinated by the idea of fishing in all that blue water, but where to begin?
I'd been away from saltwater fishing for so long that the only bait I could remember was shrimp, and I didn't have a clue how to set up a saltwater rig. A visit to a local bait and tackle shop got me started in the right direction of where to go and what to do when I got there. And in the process, I discovered that bait shops do much more than just sell shiners and shrimp – a good one can serve as a great source of information for anglers who are visiting or who are new to an area – or even new to saltwater angling in general.
Captain Patti Sunderland is a licensed guide on Florida’s east coast and runs Florida Fishing Outfitters, an inshore specialty shop. She says that whether you've moved into an area or are just visiting, the local bait shops are your first best source for information on where to fish.
"If it's a good shop, they'll put out charts and tell you where they've located fish in the past 48 hours," Sunderland says. "Generally speaking, people try to be as helpful as possible, because they know that if anglers go out and catch fish they're going to come back and buy more bait and more tackle. So finding a good tackle shop and bait store is your best bet."
When she says a "good store," she doesn't mean K-Mart or Wal-Mart, and she doesn't mean a little roadside stand that just sells bait. These sources often will have bait and tackle at better prices than a locally owned full-service shop, but their level of service, and the amount of information they provide often doesn't measure up. For a few more cents, you can learn a great deal about the area and where to fish.
Guiding The Way
The next level of information comes from local guides.
"Many times, going with a guide is a good way to get some exposure to the area,” says Lance Robinson, the Galveston Bay Ecosystem Leader with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
"Hire a guide for a day, or even a half-day," she says. "Personally, I'd rather have the client tell me what he's doing. When I know he's looking for places to fish, I do more showing than I do fishing. If you're honest with the captain, and tell him or her that you're learning the area and that you want to learn to fish better, in most cases he or she will take the time to educate you."
These same principles apply when you start looking for places to fish from land. Whether you're looking for a pier or a beach to fish from, or you're interested in wade fishing, a good bait and tackle shop should be your first source of information. However, a guide can help you here as well.
"If he's a good guide, he should be able to show you areas that are accessible via the land," Sunderland. He also will be able to show you places such as islands that you need a boat to reach, but then are better fished by wading.
Know What You Want To Know
Before you walk into a bait shop and start asking questions, think about what you want to know.
"When someone walks into my shop and asks, 'where can I go fishing?,' I ask a number of questions," Sunderland says. "I need to know what the person wants, what he has, and what he's capable of doing."
These are the kinds of questions you should be prepared to answer for the person who's helping you:
What kind of fish do you want to catch? Or do you just want to wait for whatever comes swimming by?
Do you want to use bait or lures or both?
What kind of tackle do you have?
Do you have a boat, and if so, what kind?
When you can answer those questions for the person who's helping you, then he or she can give you specific, rather than general, advice about where to go and what to do.
If you're interested in places to fish from land, one of your first stops should be the state department of wildlife and fisheries. Depending on the state, they'll either have the responsibility for saltwater resources, or they'll direct you to the appropriate agency.
"People also should check with state parks in the area," Robinson says. "And bait camps are a tremendous source of information. They're familiar with the area in which they're located, and they have the pulse of what's going on in fishing that area."
And don't overlook county parks that are on the water. Although they're generally not as well known at state parks, they frequently have public fishing piers that don't show on maps, and some have designated fishing beaches.
One more tried and true method for finding places to fish is to just drive around and look. For instance, if there's a long causeway that crosses a bay, see if there's an access road that parallels the main highway. Frequently, those access roads are open for recreational activities, including fishing.
Look under bridges, along the shoreline of canals and channels, and on public beaches to see if other people are fishing there. Some small places like these may harbor very good fishing, but you have to observe carefully to find them.
With all the saltwater resources available to anglers, there's no excuse for not finding a good place to fish. Learning where to go just takes a willingness to ask questions, and to get out and explore a bit until you find the spot you're looking for.