Find nature's windbreakers
By DAVID A. BROWN
Published April 21, 2007
A blustery spring has robbed Nature Coast anglers of many fishing opportunities. The big fan has brought swollen seas offshore, stirred water near shore and been a general navigational nuisance.
Fortunately, we're coming out of the traditional windy season, but when "weather" days occur, those who cherish their time outdoors shouldn't let rustling trees scratch their plans.
Windy day strategy
-Fish the lee: Land, trees and buildings break the blow and offer relatively calm areas on the downwind side.
Look for such protection around coastal islands from the St. Martin's Keys off Homosassa, Durney Key near the Cotee River, Anclote Key and the many barrier and spoil islands reaching into St. Joseph Sound.
Rivers, canals and creeks also offer shelter, as do the backwaters of the Nature Coast marshes and bayous. Fish as you would in exposed locations, but note how the wind may concentrate baitfish in certain areas, and concentrate on where predators may find easy meals.
This strategy won't work offshore, because there's nothing to break the wind. If you're up to the challenge of working in rough water, check the National Weather Service forecasts www.nws.noaa.gov to get an idea of where you can run and how conditions may improve or decline in deeper water.
-Slow down: The good thing about wind is that it facilitates drift fishing over flats or offshore structure. Of course, too much of a good thing can stymie your efforts by pushing you across your spot too quickly for an effective presentation.
For inshore drifts, a light, mushroom-shaped "sand anchor" decreases your drift speed by dragging along the bottom. Smooth, rounded edges prevent sea grass damage.
Coastal and offshore anglers can decrease their drift speed by towing a drift sock ("sea anchor") or a 5-gallon bucket drilled with flow-through holes. Tethering the sea anchor or bucket to your upwind stern cleat keeps your downwind side facing the drift area for optimal presentation.
Towing buckets or sea anchors from both sides of the boat keeps your bow facing into the drift zone. This is best when slow-trolling baits off the stern.
-Punching through: Dense, low-profile objects offer less wind resistance, so your casts reach farther. Gold spoons, slender soft-plastic jerkbaits and suspending plugs offer optimal distance, especially when fished on braided line.
For natural baits, a live shrimp threaded tail-first onto a quarter-ounce jig is hard to beat. If you're using live baitfish, such as pilchards or threadfin herring, you'll get more distance by free-lining, as opposed to the wind-grabbing cork rig.
If habitat merits floating baits, use a slip cork with a stop knot. With this rig, your cork rests aerodynamically against the bait when casting and slides up to the stopping point when the bait hits the water.
Fashion this rig by adding a plastic bead and then a sliding cork to your main line.
With a small piece of monofilament, tie a double overhand knot around the main line and snip the ends closely. Adjust the cork height by moving the stop knot up or down the main line.
With any rig, sidearm casts keep your bait flying under the wind, while overhead lobs often lose velocity and fall short of the target. Also, with high casts, the wind blows a "belly" in your line and lays excessive slack on the surface.
The problem with the latter is twofold. First, a lot of slack means slow reaction time should you draw a quick strike. Moreover, when the belly in your line falls to the surface, you end up retrieving in more of a soft curve than in a straight line. When targeting specific structure, this can take your bait off course.
Sometimes, windy conditions are just too much to overcome. Nevertheless, the Nature Coast still offers plenty of productive activity, even when the lines remain limp.
On foot, or silently drifting inside a leeward area, observant anglers will enjoy candid glimpses of diverse bird populations. From shy sanderlings and sandpipers foraging along beaches, to Great White Herons regally perched atop mangroves, to ospreys snatching fresh fish dinners from the flats, stunning photo opportunities abound.
Elsewhere, coastal cleanup is always a productive activity. A healthy environment helps ensure good fishing when more favorable conditions prevail, so consider filling your downtime by collecting trash and debris that mars the natural beauty and imperils local wildlife.
In addition to generic trash, such as bottles and cans, look for plastic six-pack holders. Particularly dangerous for marine birds and sea turtles, the latter often ends up around their necks, impairs feeding and may lead to strangulation.
Monofilament also accumulates in the environment when anglers break off snagged lines, or dump old line into the water. Look for wads of mono near mangrove shorelines, docks and oyster bars. Removing these death traps helps protect what makes the Nature Coast special.
David A. Brown covers area fishing tournaments and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.