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Nosy neighbors

Published April 14, 2007


Focus - it's a double-edged sword for anglers.

On one hand, directed attention keeps you dialed in with details relevant to capturing your quarry.

However, when focus becomes fixation, it's like strapping yourself with blinders.

The bottom line is this: A heightened state of readiness puts you in position to capitalize on the many different opportunities abounding in area waters.

Typically, this time of year there is an inshore preference for snook, redfish and seatrout. Cozy water temperatures and abundant baitfish supplies have ignited the shallow scene, and the big three keep plenty of rods bent.

In coastal waters, grouper, Spanish mackerel, kingfish and cobia top the common targets. Ditto on the temperature and food thing.

While pursuing these popular game fish throughout Nature Coast waters, keep watch for bonus action coming from two peripheral species: pompano and bluefish.

Often feeding in the same neighborhoods as your targeted species, these fish are no less worthy of your effort. It's just that patterning their comings and goings has typically proved tougher than the more mainstream game fish.

Measured by table fare, the pompano's firm, succulent fillets take a landslide victory over the strong-tasting bluefish.

That's okay; blues win the aggression category.

Both spirited fighters offer great fun on light tackle. A little about each of these fish:


Undoubtedly one of the most high-strung species in Florida waters, pompano are a here-today-gone-tomorrow kind of fish.

Roaming grass flats and channel edges in schools ranging from a couple dozen to a couple hundred, pompano often disclose their position by skipping in boat wakes. Maybe the sudden turbulence startles the jittery fish; or maybe it's just a playful fancy.

Regardless, anytime you notice what looks like a pie plate tumbling across the surface, work the area for its pompano potential.

Given the fish's restless nature, anglers are wise to cover the water by fan casting with jigs. Models with weighted hook shanks, and bullet-head bucktail jigs do a good job of fooling pompano.

The key to pulling off the impersonation is understanding what pompano eat. Crustaceans and invertebrates top their diet, so they're not used to watching prospective meals hopping a foot of more off the bottom.

Save the high, sweeping presentations for trout, and keep pompano jigs near the bottom where crabs and shrimp are usually found. With each short hop, let the jig fall to the sand. The impact kicks up a little puff of dirt that resembles a crab or shrimp scampering away from approaching fish.

For maximum presentation, fish a tandem rig. Start by connecting about 2 feet of 20-pound fluorocarbon leader to your main line and sliding a jig about halfway up the leader.

Double the leader's tag end over the standing line to form a loop with the jig in the center. Tie a simple overhand knot by passing the loop and jig around the double line. This forms a dropper loop off the main leader.

Tie the second jig to the leader's tag end and you have a double dose of pompano attraction.


Hunting baitfish around nearshore reefs and rock piles, these toothy terrors also travel in large, highly mobile schools. Anglers often find blues interspersed with Spanish mackerel.

Watch for the telltale signs of bluefish feeding: baitfish frothing the surface and birds hovering near the water to pick off scraps.

When you locate a school of blues, a live shrimp or pilchard under a cork will meet with quick acceptance. Spoons, Gotcha plugs and crankbaits also work, but leave the soft-plastic baits in your tackle bag.

Bluefish are like saltwater piranhas, and you'll burn every soft bait you own on an active school.

For incredible fun without the hassle and hazard of handling bluefish, remove the hooks from a topwater plug and work it across the school.

Feeding competition drives these fish into frenzied fits and watching a bunch of fired-up blues elbowing one another for a leaping shot at your plug offers an entertaining lesson in bluefish behavior.

Whatever baits or lures you offer, rig them with at least a foot of No. 3 wire leader. Like mackerel, blues make short work of monofilament leaders.

Bait up

Sporty predators are not the only ones offering spontaneous opportunities. Warm-season baitfish schools also present spontaneous targets, and augmenting your arsenal, or freshening up an existing supply makes good fishing sense.

Cast nets are the obvious tool, but coastal and offshore anglers also gather bait with Sabiki rigs. Essentially a string of small gold hooks dressed with glow beads and plastic or fish skin quills, Sabiki rigs resemble the tiny forage the baitfish eat.

When several sardines, threadfin herring or pinfish attack the rig, they hooks snare them for easy capture.

Inshore fishermen can employ Sabiki rigs over deep grass flats and along channels and cuts where baitfish travel. The key is to avoid snagging on bottom vegetation, so use a 1/2-ounce weight and keep your rod tip high.

For an oddball application with remarkably effective results, affix a popping cork on your main line just above the swivel connecting to the Sabiki. This allows you to limit the depth to which your hooks will fall.

Jigging for baitfish offers obvious benefits for those seeking large predators, but there's another benefit worth noting. This low-impact tactic offers a fun and easily mastered tactic that will keep children involved and interested.

Start young anglers with the fun stuff and you'll have an attentive audience for teaching them how to pursue higher levels of angling opportunity.

David A. Brown covers area fishing tournaments and can be reached at

[Last modified April 14, 2007, 07:24:31]

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