Follow the crabs, wind up with tasty catch

By ED WALKER Fishing
Published May 19, 2007

Full moon tides are helping fire up the fishing this weekend. The extra-heavy flow of water moving in and out of the estuaries, coupled with the annual spawning run of swimmer crabs, creates a huge feeding opportunity for different types of fish. During peak ebb stages of the tide, millions of these small crustaceans, often referred to as "pass crabs, " ride the outgoing water from the bays to the open Gulf. At nearly every stage of their journey they are preyed upon by fish.

Sheepshead, redfish, pompano, tarpon, black drum and even fish that seldom eat crabs such as snook and mangrove snapper, will set up camp at the passes to gorge themselves on this easy-to-catch food source as it is funneled through. When the outgoing tide is strongest, and the crab flow is greatest, the big redfish and snook often can be seen floating just below the surface and making a loud popping sound as they inhale each crab. When the crab flush is on and the fish are focused on them, many other baits are not effective. This is actually good since the best available bait can be scooped up with a dip net for free.

When rigging a crab on your line, be sure to use a hook size that does not hamper its natural swimming motion. The best presentation is one that allows the bait to drift through the spot where the fish are feeding without sinking too deep or being pulled against the current. In some places, such as the northern and southern shorelines of Anclote Key, anglers can cast baits perpendicular to the beach and slowly walk as their bait is carried by the current. This produces a variety of fish.

Farther offshore the crabs create a different feeding opportunity. Once they are flushed from the passes, the tiny travelers wander the deeper waters of the Gulf where they are preyed upon by groupers, spadefish, permit and others. If you like permit fishing, this is a great time to check out the bigger wrecks from 25 to 100 feet.

These tasty members of the jack family can be found milling around over the tall structures and when there are crabs swimming the surface, they can be fairly easy to hook, provided you have a live crab to toss them. Once they take your bait, however, the easy part stops. They are very strong and have a knack for racing to the nearest piece of wreckage and breaking your line. They are line shy and are reluctant to take a bait that is presented on leader much heavier than 25-pound test. This means you cannot muscle them away from the snags.

By not trying to stop them from racing to the wreck by locking down the drags, they sometimes will merely by-pass it and swim out toward open water.

Another big problem for permit fishermen out on the wrecks is goliath grouper, which will run down a struggling permit and eat it in a few gulps. On many occasions we have had 400-pound goliaths chase permit to the surface and steal them. Trying to keep the goliaths off your permit is difficult but we have had some success by opening the bail and freespooling the line when the monsters are sighted chasing the fish. This allows the permit to escape ...temporarily. Unfortunately, most of the trouble takes place down deep where you cannot see.