Home Drifting Easy - Fishing Tips Fishing during your Florida Vacation
Fishing during your Florida Vacation
It’s the last Coastal Fisherman for the year, at least until
the “winter edition” of the paper. Since it’s the end of summer,
many people start thinking about their “Florida vacations,” and ask:
“What do I take to Florida for fishing? What is different about fishing
there than fishing here?”

I have the luxury of spending a several weeks in the Florida
Keys every year and have learned a few pointers over the years
about “fishing in Florida.”

Water in Florida is sometimes crystal clear. The bottom
is corral and rock rather than all sand and mud. The currents
can not stir up the bottom so often times you can see the bottom
in five to ten feet of water. Sometimes, in the ocean, you can see
as far down as twenty or even thirty feet! This is intimidating
the first time you trailer your boat down to the “Keys” and think
you are going to run aground because you can see the bottom so clearly!

This brings us the main subject of line. Since the water is so
clear, you want a line on your reel that is not visible in the water.
Stick to clear, gray, dark green, or the new Shakespeare Cajun line
that disappears in the water. Stay away from Fluorescent lines such
as Fluorescent yellow, orange, or green. If you use one of the new
“super lines” such as Power Pro use the moss green or gray over the
Fluorescent colors.
If you are fishing from the shore stick with line that is not too “thick.”
Use Power Pro size #15, #20, or #30 or monofilament line in the 12 to
15 pound test range.

“What kind of rod and reel should I take?”

Fishing inshore cries for a rod much like you would flounder
fish in the bay with. You will want a 6 ½ to 7-foot rod in the 8
to 17 pound test class matched with a spinning reel that holds
about 160 yards of 12-pound test. This would be any of the Shimano
4000 or Daiwa 400 sizes.

Fishing in Florida is just like Ocean City. You could use 4
or 5 different rods and reels for different occasions. If you
go up on a high Bridge, you may want a rod a little heavier (in
the 10-20 pound range.) If you plan to fish North of the Keys
at an inlet or off the beach you may want a longer rod, such as an-8 footer.

“I was going to go out on a party boat.”

If you plan to go out on a party boat in Florida, you will want
a rod and reel similar to sea bass fishing for bottom fishing.
They will use 4 to 8-ounces of weight, just like we do here, so
you will want to take a rod in the 15-30 pound test class for
that. (Have your reel spooled with 20 to 40 pound test.) Sometimes
party boats in Florida do what they call “yellow tail” fishing.
If you get into that, you need to get yourself in the stern of
the boat (make reservations in advance) and carry a spinning rod
in the 10-20 pound class range with a reel spooled with 12-pound test line.

“Yellow tailing” or “flat lining” is very similar to tuna chunking.
(On a much smaller scale of course.) The Captain chums up the fish,
you tie on a small hook, lead head, shad dart, with little or no weight
baited with a little piece of ballyhoo, shrimp, or squid. You put the
reel in “free spool” and start pulling out line so your hook and bait
looks like a little piece of the chum that the yellowtail snappers are
coming to feed on. You want the piece of bait to move at the same rate
of speed as the chum. As soon as a fish grabs it and starts running
with it, flip over the bail (don’t set the hook too soon) and
hopefully you will catch the snapper or Spanish mackerel! (If you rent
or trailer your own boat down, you can “flat line” anywhere in the bay
or ocean. Just remember the chum and the chum bag!)

If you decide to bottom fish on the party boat (or your own boat),
you will be going for Mangrove snappers, grouper, hogfish, porgies
and grunts. Bottom fishing in Florida reminds me a lot of tautog
fishing. If you get a fish on, you have to get him up off the bottom
before the fish goes into a hole, under a rock, or around a sea fan.
The super lines such as Power Pro have become popular in Florida
because of their no-stretch features. In deep water, this gives you
the advantage of getting the fish coming “your way” quicker. Just
that little bit of stretch in monofilament can give that 20-pound
grouper the chance to slip under that big rock!

“What kind of rigs do we use for bottom fishing?”

Leave the bottom rigs and bank sinkers at home. All you need in
Florida is loose hooks in the #4 to #5/0 sizes, barrel swivels,
and egg sinkers. For grouper fishing and other large bottom
creatures, you want to use a rig very similar (or the same as)
a striper rig. Put your egg sinker on your line. Tie on a barrel
swivel to the end of your line. Then tie a piece of monofilament
or Fluorocarbon leader material (30-50# test) 12 to 18 inches
long onto the barrel swivel and tie your #3/0 to #5/0 Octopus
style or circle hook to the end of the leader with an improved
clinch knot or palamar knot and you are ready to “go fishing.”

If you are in shallower water in the ocean or in the bay or
fishing off a bridge, use the same rig, but scale down on
the hook size. In the bay or Bridge, you will usually need
egg sinkers in the ½ to 2-ounce range, hooks in the #1/0 to
#2/0 range, and leader material in the 15 to 30 pound range.
I usually carry some of that tieable wire in a light pound
test as well, in case some toothy critters such as Spanish
mackerel come along. Lead heads are always good to have
along as well. If you see fish on the surface, you can tie
on a lead head, bait it up with a shrimp or piece of ballyhoo
and let it down towards the bottom. If the fish are feeding,
it won’t make it to the bottom!

The joy of fishing in Florida is that you can see the fish
on the bottom. (At night you can see them on top.) Buy a 5
pound block of chum, insert it in a chum bag, and you can see
hundreds of fish come up and start feeding! Look at the current
and see which way the “chum-line” is going and cast your bait
in that direction. (The larger fish hang back a bit.)

“What baits do we use in Florida?”

The best baits are live shrimp and fresh ballyhoo. Never
buy the frozen bait shrimp if at all possible. Buy live
shrimp and put them in an aerated bucket. If you buy live
shrimp at a bait store, always take a bucket. (Most places
will give you a very funny look if you ask for a plastic
bag in this part of the country.)

There are several ways to use a live shrimp. I take
the tail off the shrimp and thread it on the hook
through the tail. I bring the hook out through the
belly under the head. Use ballyhoo much the same
way you use finger mullet in Ocean City. Fillet it
and use a strip or cut it in one-inch chunks. For
grouper or snapper fishing offshore, use a ballyhoo
plug. Cut off the head and tail, and put the whole
section on the hook. (Bigger bait- bigger fish.)

If you miss fishing with live spot, you can chum up
pinfish and catch them with little hooks and squid,
keep them alive, and use them for bait just like you would live spot.

“I want to catch a tarpon!”

Go at night with a circle hook tied right to the
end of your 12-pound test line. Don’t use any weight.
Flash your flashlight into any marina basin, edge of
a bridge, or place on the bay and look for the red
eyes of the tarpon. Attach a live shrimp, cast it
towards the red eyes, and let it rip!

“We are staying on a canal, and I see fish in the water,
but they won’t take my bait!”

Fish in the canals are very, very leader shy. Use a 8 to
12 pound test Fluorocarbon leader tied directly into your
line off your reel. (No swivels at all!) Tie on a circle
hook in the #2 to #1/0 range, slid on the live shrimp as
directed above, and let it slowly drift down into the water.
Do this at daybreak or between 5 P.M. and sunset. Let
the fish take the bait for 5 or 6 seconds before flipping
over the bail. And if you’re lucky! Dinner!

Good fishing…