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Captain's corner

By DOUG HEMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 10, 2000


Looking for birds will increase your chances of finding a mud hole.

Mud holes are areas of brown sand kicked up by the tails of feeding tarpon. Most of these areas are near the shore. While driving the boat along the beach, I scan the horizon for clouds of birds over the water. When I see a flock, I stop in the area and drift across, looking for rolling tarpon.

If I see fish, I anchor with a throw-ball attached to the anchor for quick get-aways when there's a hook-up. Most of these fish will be feeding on the bottom and will strike dead baits as often as live ones. Most of our rigs are free-lined with no weight so they drift across the sand.

The best baits are pinfish, croakers, ladyfish and shad. Make sure you use a variety of baits, with some dead and others alive.

Tackle should start at 20-pound line and 50-pound leader with at least a No. 5 hook. Baits hooked through the upper lip have little chance of becoming foul-hooked. Have at least one live bait rigged with a cork in case tarpon are feeding near the surface. Try to keep your baits near the rolling fish. If the mud starts to drift, reposition the boat. Stay patient, the fish will turn on when they are ready.

The mud attracts bait, which in turn attracts other gamefish such as sharks, cobia, mackerel and jacks. These fish are a ball to play with when the tarpon fishing is slow. Mackerel can be caught with small artificial lures. Use a chunk of mackerel rigged to wire and leave it drifting with a chum slick to entice small shovel-nose sharks and blacktips that circle boats looking for a meal. If cobia are present, they probably will hit the tarpon rig with a cork.

Depending on the supply of baitfish in the area, mudding activity should last until the middle of September, giving the die-hard tarpon angler one last chance at putting silver in the air.

- Doug Hemmer charters out of St. Petersburg. Call (727) 347-1389.

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