- 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.
"I thought you said that fishing was difficult?" Judy was very excited and her sarcasm was loud enough that it carried across the calm, quiet waters that accompanied the still, late-summer night.
I tried to be calm while giving her some recognition for how well she was doing. I also hoped that her shouting would not disturb residents in the local community who might be sleeping.
Judy was new to Florida fishing and she was having a great time. I didn't see any house lights come on, but dogs began to howl at both ends of the bridge. She didn't notice. Ladyfish were slashing small baitfish on the surface and she was in a hurry to make another cast.
An inexperienced angler armed with light tackle can have a blast with a "poor man's tarpon."
Judy Kehrig, a transplant form New England, was joining my wife and me to fish for ladyfish late at night. I had noticed ladyfish repeatedly smashing into bait pods a few nights prior while fishing for tarpon around an inter-coastal bridge and decided to come back for some fast-paced, light-tackle action. A Florida fall brings cooler night air and the lights from the bridge, along with those of the small, nearby community, warmly lit the star-studded sky. The place we had chosen to anchor was anything but serene, however, as dolphin, pelicans, and ladyfish fed on the mass of mullet that had diverted their migration down the coast into warmer, inter-coastal waters and were now passing through the bridge's pilings.
The plan for my enthusiastic guest was pretty simple: Give her a spinning rod and reel spooled with light line and tie on a lure that looked like a small baitfish. I would show her how to cast, find some feeding ladyfish, and let my wife and her enjoy themselves. The probability of success is quite high and ladyfish provide a real thrill on light tackle for any angler. Besides, I always enjoy watching a newcomer react to the frenzied fight of a ladyfish greyhounding across the surface while they and their reel both scream with unbridled excitement.
Ladyfish are nomadic wanderers that can be found over a broad range of coastal water. They readily take small baits and enthusiastically entertain an angler using light spinning tackle with their acrobatic leaps and sizzling runs. During the day, ladyfish can frequently be found where two bodies of moving water come together. Examples of their frequent haunts are where two coastal rivers merge, on the down-current side of an island where the two branches of water come back together, or where an inlet's discharge flows into the ocean. In addition, small ladyfish can often be found up coastal rivers and creeks or feeding in basins and lagoons.
When ladyfish have the baitfish cornered at night, the action can be non-stop.
Ladyfish have large eyes that easily gather light, permitting them to readily see and feed under low-light conditions. Never reluctant to strike, ladyfish lose all inhibitions at night and feed voraciously on small baitfish. Frequently while fishing for tarpon during the wee-hours of the night around an inter-coastal bridge, I have noticed ladyfish smashing into bait pods and, when the tarpon refuse to strike, I have salvaged a night with "the poor man's tarpon."
Inter-coastal bridges are a good place to begin your search for nighttime ladyfish, especially the bridge closest to an inlet. Sand and sediment often settle to the river bottom in the eddy immediately behind a bridge piling and, over the course of time, form a sand bar parallel to the river channel. Baitfish hang around both the bridge pilings and the emerging sand bar, and ladyfish will herd schools of bait, frequently fingerling mullet, against the bar. Once the baitfish have been corralled and penned, they have no place to flee and become easy prey for the aggressively feeding ladyfish. In early fall, when finger-sized mullet migrate southward, the nighttime action can be non-stop.
Night Tackle, Light Tackle
I mentioned that ladyfish are great sport on light spinning tackle. My choice is a 6- to 7-foot spinning rod and reel combination spooled with 8-pound line. A medium-action rod will offer the necessary power to set a hook while having sufficient flex to yield to a fish that makes torrid runs and leaps repeatedly out of the water. You will want a drag that is smooth, as there is no question whether a ladyfish is going to make it scream. After all, this is why we are using light tackle.
Anything that resembles fingerling mullet is bound to produce (above); crimping down the barbs (below) will make for a safe landing and release.
I highly recommend a leader. I use the same tackle described above for both my redfish and spotted seatrout without a leader, but at night when ladyfish are my target, I will tie on about 3 feet of 15-pound fluorocarbon leader. I use the longer length of leader because ladyfish fray the line so badly that after each fish on regular mono, you will likely need to retie your lure. After each ladyfish, rub the last foot or so of your line between your thumb and finger and check for any frays. If present, and they likely will be, retie your lure. This means that you will also need a working flashlight. When the leader gets down to about a foot, add a new length of leader.
I prefer to use either of two classes of lures. The first class includes hard-plastic lures with multiple treble hooks. The MirrOlure in the 52M series is one of my favorites, although any lure that resembles a fingerling mullet would be at great risk if put into the water. During the day I prefer chrome or other brightly colored lures, but at night, I also use black, dark purple and other subdued colors. This is because baitfish only present silhouettes in the darkness and ladyfish
seem more concerned with the size and profile than the color of their would-be prey.
The 52M MirrOlures have three sets of treble hooks, and for my own safety I like to pinch down the barbs of the hooks with my cross-cut pliers, or even go so far as to cut off two of the hooks, leaving only one, on each of the three trebles. Ladyfish are quite slippery and their wild gyrations do not cease merely because they are out of the water. You never want to get a barb buried in your hand, especially at night. Pinching the barbs and cutting off hooks to leave three sets of single hooks also makes it much easier to release a ladyfish. They have no food value and returning them to the water unharmed is a fair price to pay in exchange for the outstanding sport that they provide.
The second class of lures that I like to use, especially at night, is a jig and soft-plastic combination. A -ounce jig with a 4-inch soft-plastic body has the size and profile of a fingerling mullet and ladyfish smash these at night. Bass Assassin makes a paddle-tailed lure in the "Seashad" series that I have used with great success. Although they come in several different color combinations, I am not convinced that color is as important at night as it is in the day. What is important, however, is that you bring plenty of the soft-plastic bodies because the ladyfish are tough on them. The jig and soft-plastic combination is safer and less likely to get stuck in you than will the swinging hooks on a hard-plastic bait.
Fly fishermen will also find ladyfish willing to take most any fly that has the size and profile of a baitfish. Remember to check your tippet, as it will need to be frequently replaced because of fraying.
A Night With The Ladies
Ladyfish may be the perfect species to pursue when introducing others to the fishing nightlife.
Fishing at night is often an adventure all of its own, with limited sight lending itself to all sorts of imagined possibilities. Sounds of fish smashing into pods of bait are magnified and pelicans diving into the water while dolphin work overtime add to the excitement. Add to this wonderful mix a fish that strikes savagely and willingly, leaps with unbridled energy, and makes spectacular runs against light tackle and you have a scenario that will addict experienced and novice anglers alike.
When my children started fishing several years ago, I often took them out for ladyfish and it was a great way for them to learn how to fight a testy fish. I have frequently done this same thing all around the state with friends and relatives who wanted to fish but were relatively inexperienced saltwater anglers. The probability of success is quite high as the strike of a ladyfish is obvious and forceful and the fight is likely to be memorable. It is a great way to hook a neophyte angler on the fun of fishing.
If you want to share the excitement of catching a feisty fish with someone less experienced, don't overlook ladyfish at night. Somewhere, there is a kid in the neighborhood that has not had the opportunity to fish, there may be an out-of-state guest vacationing with you, or there may be a friend who just does not understand your passion for fishing. Perhaps you have a boat but haven't had much of an opportunity to use it or haven't had much success when you were able to get out on the water. No special tackle is required and no sophisticated techniques are necessary. Fall nights are cool, the wind is usually calm, and there is a frenzy of activity as ladyfish feed under optimal, nighttime conditions. These "ladies of the night" are ready and willing to provide all the excitement you will ever want.