Lessons afloat

Published May 19, 2007

As long as you don't bring a handheld GPS unit to mark his fishing spots, Capt. Mike Locklear gladly will teach you what you need to know for a safe, productive day on the water.

"I don't mind showing people around, but if I think that they're just out there to (identify) my fishing spots, I'll take them to where they can catch jacks and catfish, " Locklear joked.

That's a reasonable expectation - learn the basics, but don't exploit the knowledge and experience a professional guide uses to make a living. Most who lead others on the water feel the same.

The bottom line is this: Learning how to find your own fishing holes is infinitely more valuable than simply running to a spot someone showed you in confidence. Call it business etiquette or common courtesy, but those who hire guides will do well to focus more on the how and when, than on the where.

A day of learning

Recently, Keith Lozott drove to Homosassa from Polk County and met Locklear at MacRae's Marina. Locklear would be his fishing guide, but also his instructor.

"I don't care what we fish for - I just want to learn how to fish this area, " Lozott said as we boarded Locklear's 24-foot tower skiff.

Locklear graciously invited me to tag along, provided that I stayed out of the way and refrained from excessive talking. The deal worked and I noted several nuggets of wisdom during casual conversations.

Where to look

On this day, we faced a morning low tide that prevented us from approaching the island shorelines Locklear wanted to fish. No problem. We kept busy with a warmup exercise.

As we waited for the tide to rise, we drifted across a shallow bay and worked the waters around shallow limestone outcroppings that rose from about 2 1/2 feet to just below the surface.

Locklear kept watch for snagging hazards and occasionally advised us to modify our retrieves accordingly. "Keep your rod tips up guys, we're coming up on a bunch of rocks, " he said.

He also told us to look for changes in water color when targeting our casts. Actually, it's often the bottom composition showing through the shallow brine, but Locklear said that understanding the difference between the deep browns of rocks and the white tones of sand will help keep you in the strike zone.

"One shade off the white is what you want, " Locklear said in reference to the trout's preference for the perimeter of rock structures.

"Now these trout have soft mouths, so you don't want to lay into them, " he said.

The trick, Locklear said, is to fish soft plastic jerk baits with the hooks exposed. That improves hookups and eliminates the need for stern hook sets that often result in lost trout.

When the tide rose sufficiently, Locklear began working island shorelines. As we rounded the tip of a particular key, the captain instructed Lozott to keep his eyes peeled for movement.

A broad, sandy area attracts large stingrays and their foraging stirs up crustaceans that free-loading cobia gobble. Find the rays, Locklear pointed out, and you often find cobia.

Later, we made our way out to the St. Martin's Keys, northwest of the Homosassa River Channel. The wind was blowing about 10-15 knots, but Locklear instinctively targeted the leeward shores.

"As soon as we get around this corner, it'll be a lot calmer and those redfish will probably be stacked up in there, " Locklear said.

As we rounded an island point, the wind-driven water transitioned through a rippled sand ridge and quickly dropped into placid brine. We peeked into the shoreline pocket and immediately saw the blue tails and silver-white belly flashes of active reds


One of the reasons Locklear runs a towerboat is the inherent vantage point. From his elevated perch, he pointed out the smattering of treacherous rock clusters scattered randomly throughout area waters.

Rocks represent a blessing and a curse. They attract plenty of fish, but they also claim a lot of propellers.

As Locklear noted, newcomers are wise to stay in the marked channels. And if you see a lone PVC pipe standing in the middle of an open area, you can bet some benevolent soul has placed it there to warn others of a rock they probably found the hard way.

By day's end, Lozott had boated a half-dozen redfish, a handful of trout and released his first flounder.

"This is just a great fishery, " he said of Locklear's classroom.

Who said school isn't cool?