- 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 die, I hope Heaven is an inshore saltwater fishery the likes of what we on Earth have in the Southeastern United States. Nowhere is fishing more exciting. It’s light tackle. It’s action. It’s a sextet of diverse game fish that thrill with every cast, hookup and foul up.
Actually, this region could be Heaven right here on Earth.
Redfish (channel bass or red drum) occur along the Atlantic seaboard from Massachusetts to Texas and can grow to 40 pounds or more. “Bull” reds, as the larger fish are commonly known, commonly weigh in the 20-pound-plus range. Young redfish, “rat” reds or “puppy drum,” generally weigh less than 10 pounds.
Redfish, always a favorite of surf casters, can also be successfully targeted in the shallows on flats and in backcountry regions. As bottom feeders, reds are attracted to a wide range of live baits and readily hit artificial lures. Live shrimp, crab, cut mullet, as well as spoons, jigs and even topwater lures like a Rat-L-Trap Spitfire or Zara Puppy, all attract this hard-fighting species. In many areas, the hands-down favorite is a gold spoon. Recently, even gold-tone spinnerbaits have been found productive.
Redfish are arguably the most popular inshore gamefish, especially bulls.
Shallow water oyster beds, grass flats and structure (such as docks) that attract or hold forage are high percentage fishing sites. When in the extreme shallows, many times “tailing” fish can be spotted as they root around in the grass and bottom for food with their tails piercing the surface. Potholes or drop-offs on the deep-water sides of grass flats and oyster beds also hold fish. When the tide retreats, the reds feed on forage carried out by the current.
Spotted Sea Trout (specs, speckled trout)
Where you find redfish, you’ll also often find the handsome speckled trout. Many of the baits and lures used for redfish are equally effective on “specs.” Specs are prevalent from New York, to Florida and along the Gulf Coast. A mature fish weights about 4 pounds and 7- to 8-pound catches are common.
Potholes on flats are great locales, but so too are docks and near shore platforms (oil rigs). Shrimp are the most popular bait for specs. A shrimp under a popping cork is a common and very effective. The popping/gurgling action on the surface draws speckled trout like a magnet grabs paperclips. In the summer, small live grunts are excellent baits for big trout.
Spinning tackle is the right choice for both reds and specs. It’s easier to use than bait-casting gear when throwing light live baits. Lines of 6- to 8-pound-test generally do the job. If structure or heavy grass is prevalent, jumping up to 10-pound-test is a good idea. In all cases, using a 20-pound-test leader on the running line is important because line abrasion is inevitable in most redfish and speckled trout habitat.
In the U.S., the common snook, a warm water fish, is found throughout most of Florida and in southwestern Texas. As predators, snook primarily feed on fishes like finger mullet and grunts, but they’ll readily take a shrimp or other crustacean. Snook also respond well to flies, jigs (Mann’s Preacher and similar jig styles) and topwater lures that generate action and commotion.
Target regions where the opportunistic feeder can ambush easy prey. Snook feeding patterns are closely tied to tidal activity, so the downtide sides of sandbars and oyster bars, mouths of creeks, and deep spots at the edge of current are good choices. The shell-encrusted roots of mangroves are also prime honey holes.
When gearing up, generally a stiff-tipped spinning or bait-casting rod—slightly heavier than typical largemouth bass fishing gear—is a good choice. In most cases, the length and strength of a bait-casting rod are needed to handle larger artificial lures and for properly setting the hook. However, among the tangle of the mangroves, where short accurate casting is necessary, spinning gear is the better choice.
Snook fishing often necessitates the use of leader material between the main line and terminal tackle (hook or lure). Both wire and monofilament shock leaders are employed to circumvent break-offs. The size, length and material of the leader depend upon the type of cover and structure present, the bait being fished, and the size of the snook being targeted.
Bonefish And Permit
For these magnificent species, the premier locations in the U.S. are the flats of the Florida Keys. Outside the States, numerous locales, such as the Bahamas, Belize, Venezuela and the Yucatan Peninsula, offer great flats opportunities.
Primarily a shallow water species, bonefish enter the flats on the flood tide and drop back to deeper water on the ebb tide. Bonefish are schoolers, usually running together in precise formation, especially the smaller fish. Singles and pairs are generally the larger fish, the 7- and 8-pounders, or the occasional trophy 10-pound fish.
Sight casting with live shrimp, crab or perhaps jigs on spinning gear is the method most often preferred by anglers. However, fly-fishing is incredibly popular when targeting bones. Stalking by boat and by wading are both effective.
The key to success is identifying productive flats and becoming accustomed to spotting the fish in the water. Visual clues of bonefish are the subtle wake they create as they travel or the signs of feeding activity from mudding (bottom disturbance created by feeding fishing) or tailing fish.
Permit are seen far more often than they’re caught. Thus, the fierce fighting permit is a trophy catch no matter the size. A 20-pound fish is fine catch. A 40-pounder -- the fish of a lifetime.
Like bonefish, permit school and travel to the flats under the flood tide. They’re also bottom feeders. Occasionally, the spikes of tailers can be spotted. But, because the permit’s ghostly silhouette often goes unseen against the grass of the flats, successful permit fishermen must be visually tuned in. Anglers have a better chance of sighting the surface disturbance caused by a school than seeing the fish.
Live crabs, rigged on medium spinning gear with 10- to 14-pound test, are prime permit ammo. Precision casting is also required when sight casting. Permit hone in on the bottom and sight feed. The bait must be placed directly in the path of the fish. Often, the splash of the crab will entice a permit; many times it will spook the fish. Only experience can determine proper presentation.
When the permit hits, strike hard and often, and keep the line tight. Sinking a hook into the sole of a hard rubber hunting boot, is easier than penetrating a permit’s mouth.
Finally, be prepared for a fight that can for last hours. Permit run, and run, and run. They stop and bang the bottom to release the hook. They drive deep and drag the line across all types of sharp submerged objects. The permit isn’t the biggest fish in the sea, but pound for pound, there are few tougher or more thrilling fights.
Size, strength and fighting ability put tarpon in their own class.
Of all the inshore game fish species, there’s no doubt that tarpon put on the grandest show. Leaping skyward, glistening like foil, their powerful and passionate fight make them favorites of anglers throughout their international range.
Tarpon are found on both sides of the Atlantic. In the U.S., they’re primarily found from Cape Hatteras southward to Natal, Brazil. In the Eastern Atlantic, they range from Senegal to the Congo. They grow to massive sizes, well over 200 pounds.
There’s no doubt Florida is considered the prime tarpon fishery in the U.S., but the shores of Georgia, the Carolinas and the Gulf Coast also offer viable opportunities.
Often found in shallow waters running the beaches, tarpon also frequent deep-water regions such as channels or passes where baitfish are funneled and concentrated by underwater structure and the tides. A prime example of this is see at Boca Grade pass in Florida, often called the Tarpon Capital of the World.
Still or drift fishing with live or dead mullet, crabs and shrimp or large breakaway jigs (such as the original Coon Popper) are the primary tactics used when targeting tarpon. But, many Gulf Coast fishermen troll for tarpon. Keys anglers also enjoy site casting to flats tarpon. In other regions, casting from the shoreline is equally productive.
The standard gear for larger tarpon is a 50-pound-test outfit, but many anglers enjoy the thrills and foils of lighter tackle (heavyweight spinning with 12 to 20-pound test), especially when site casting to schools of smaller fish. In any case, leaders (wire and monofilament) are necessary. Because of the tarpon’s boney mouth and the difficulty in setting the hook, about one in seven fish jumped is brought to the gunnel.