This past week, I took a four day vacation with my family to visit other relatives. For our vacation we traveled to the West central side of Florida. Though most of this trip was not spent on the water, beach, or pier, I am glad that I was able to try out salt water fishing while on vacation as it was a whole new world for me.
I will say that prior to my arrival; I had relatively no knowledge or knowhow in the realm of salt water fishing. I didn’t do any research, and got all my information from a few older guys fishing on a beach that I was visiting. Admittedly, the men weren’t too enthused at me asking them questions while they were trying to fish (which I understand), though I will blame it on their East coast attitude, rather than irritability. The little information that the men did offer me was useful, though nothing out of this world.
They advised me to use a rod that could handle about 20-30lb line. The line that they recommended my reel be spooled with was something they considered “light weight”. I heard a wave of laughter when I asked if they were using 4lb monofilament line. They recommended that I use 15-25lb braided line, though I found this recommendation interesting, yet internally conflicting.
These guys were fishing off of a concrete dock/pier built on the beach and into the water. Many fish were using the structure for its shade from the hot sun. I could see it being an issue if a fish takes your bait and runs under the concrete structure as this would cause abrasion on the line. Braided line is typically not ideal in these situations, and many would recommend monofilament or fluorocarbon line.
Beyond the choice of line, they talked about using a leader that was composed to a design that I feel is similar to the Carolina Rig, which I detail how to make on my YouTube channel. For this leader, you could use a monofilament or fluorocarbon line of equal or greater strength to that of the line on your reel.
They didn’t really specify on what bait or hooks to use for this setup, but it seems that it wasn’t too important, as everyone fishing on the beach seemed to use a variety of live baits and artificial baits.
I only got to go fishing one day, though the day was very eventful and interesting for us. I hope that you can potentially gain a little more insight on salt water fishing as a whole and maybe find my story a bit interesting or entertaining. I will try and give you as much detail about all things I consider relevant and important to the story in regards to location, differences in gear, bait, species we caught, and what I learned or would do differently.
1. The Pier
When discussing a spot to fish at, I initially imagined I would either be fishing from my relative’s boat in the ocean, or from a beach shore like the gentlemen I questioned earlier in the story. My cousin rejected my proposals and took me to a spot that he felt would be more convenient and just as lucrative in regards to fishing success.
This spot was a little pier/boardwalk attached to a restaurant, which stretched over the water, where supposedly no fishing license was required to fish (though I am still a bit skeptical on the legality of the sign/writing as it had no affiliation with the Florida Department of Fish and Game).
We arrived around 11 or noon to start fishing and rented some poles from the local bait and tackle shop and used them to go try our hand at whatever was biting.
The pier/dock was long, about 200 feet or more and was surrounded by docked boats at a marina a few feet to the right of the dock. There were a few groups of guys around fishing with their kids or alone, seeming to have some luck. Intermittently, there would be overhead roofing with benches where most people tended to set up at due to the abundance of shade in those areas. Along the entirety of the boardwalk, there was railing preventing people from falling in, while also have cutting boards for bait/filleting fish every 10 feet or so.
The water was a beautiful blue and you could see boats traveling in various directions around the area.
Boats next to the resteraunt
2. The Difference In Gear From Freshwater Fishing
Honestly, the gear wasn’t too different from the same gear I would use for freshwater fishing. It reminded me a bit of catfishing, though it had a little more technique involve. Since we rented rods from the bait shop, we were at the mercy of chance in regards to what the setups were and the overall quality of the gear.
All of the poles were Zebco, cheap Walmart rods with some braided line or monofilament. They had tiny egg or barrel sinkers on above, and were typically hooked with a type of circle hook, or typical J hook, though this all varied form pole to pole.
There were no leaders on this trip and no special equipment, giving me a bit of skepticism to what we would be able to catch that day initially.
3. The Bait I Used
I had little to no clue what bait would be ideal in our situation, I didn’t know what fish would be biting, nor did I know what the fish liked in salt water environments. If it were up to me I would’ve stayed true to what I know and started off with a night crawler, though I wonder if anything would’ve taken that bait.
We ended up just buying the live bait offered in the tanks at the bait shop were rented our poles from. It was our one stop shop for the day. They sold various minnows and shrimp form what I could tell. It seemed that most people just stuck with the shrimp they offered and didn’t dabble too much with bait fish or minnows.
We ended up having the most luck with the shrimp out of all of the baits we used, the fish didn’t seem to like the minnows we cut up, though I wonder if they would have done better if we used the whole. I wish we were able to try out that theory but we were stuck with less than ideal sized hooks for that job.
4. Species We Caught
At the beginning we were initially having issues landing fish. This was due to the high amounts of minnows and other non-game fishes that were stealing our soft-bodied shrimp when we would cast out and let our bait sit in the water for longer than a few seconds without moving, or jigging.
Once we started figuring that out and learned where the fish were we began having a lot more success. The first fish we caught was a long (about 8-12inches) and brown fish, with a broad, reptilian-like head. We didn’t really know what it was until we asked other people fishing, but the common name for the fish is lizard fish. Lizard fish are what I believe to be non-game fish as I couldn’t find any rules/regulations in regards to creel limits, though people told us that they make great bait. We caught a few of them throughout our time fishing.
Another species we caught was a black grouper. Black grouper are a sandy color, with dorsal spines and dark bands or blotches running down their body. This species of fish seemed to be a sought after fish, though the rules/regulations make it more challenging to take one home to clean it as the minimum length was 24 inches. The three of us caught all together more than 10 grouper, though all of them were far too small to even consider taking them home to eat them, but it was just fun to catch them.
One of the last fish we caught was a very beautiful fish. It was a mangrove snapper. The color of its face and lower body was a warm, tropical looking fish that had a reddish mango color decorating it. I recall this fish having 2 fangs in the front of its mouth as well, which was fascinating to see. It was so interesting to see such a vibrantly colored fish.
5. What I Would Like to Do in The Future
If I were to do it all again I would really push myself to research the species of fish more and focus on targeting a few of them. Understand where they like to hang out at, as well as the food the like. From there I would start fine tuning gear to be more species or method specific. This would allow me to most likely catch more fish and keep more bait as that was an issue that we experiences that day. I would also keep a pair of cloves or a towel at hand as these fish are slick and my cousin actually got bit by a pelican while racing to put a fish back in the water that I dropped.
I had a lot of fun experiencing ocean fishing in Florida. It just goes to show that you don’t need the best gear to catch fish! It was very interesting to go out and expect nothing, while being able to see so many different fish I have either never seen before or only seen in a jar from the ichthyology course I got to take in college.
I hope to be able to travel out there again and get some more experience identifying and catching salt water fish, but for now I will keep trying to get a better grip on freshwater fishing.