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Seasoned anglers take joy in the chase

By TERRY TOMALIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 14, 2001


TAMPA -- What's the difference between a fisherman and an angler?

TAMPA -- What's the difference between a fisherman and an angler?

A fisherman will do whatever it takes to catch fish. Heavy line, stout rods, live bait -- it doesn't matter -- as long as the fish ends up in the boat.

But an angler is more interested in how the fish is caught.

To call yourself an angler, you must appreciate the means as much as the end.

"It takes dedication," said Archie Gianella, a Tampa-based fishing guide who targets a less-than-cooperative species -- cobia. "And a willingness to fail on the road to that long-term goal."

Few local anglers target cobia. These superb fighters are usually caught while fishing for other targeted species.

In the spring, flats fishermen know to keep an eye out for stingrays and the cobia that are sure to follow. Occasionally, a grouper or king fisherman with a solid chum slick and a bait on a flat line will run across one of these monsters on a near-shore wreck or artificial reef.

But Gianella, like other purists, likes to chase cobia, one on one, around the buoys of the bay.

"It is a lot like hunting," said Gianella, who has been fishing Tampa Bay since 1968. "You push and you push, for hours. even days, waiting for that one big payoff. But when it comes, it is well worth the wait."

On a recent hot, muggy morning, Gianella took a few hours before work to scout the markers that line the shipping channel that runs down the middle of Tampa Bay.

"Some are better than others in terms of holding fish," he said as he idled around the marker, looking for shadows beneath the surface. "But you never know. One day it may be loaded, the next it may be empty. You just have to look."

Some days, Gianella can spot his prey with nothing more than a pair of polarized sunglasses. He idles up and tosses a live bait as close to the marker as possible.

"You get the best results if your bait hits the structure and the water at the same time," he said. "The commotion usually gets the fish going."

It isn't easy casting with such accuracy. Gianella gets great joy out of seeing a baitfish land 30 feet away on the exact spot he intended.

"You have to enjoy the technique," he explained. "That is half the fun."

Gianella approaches his target from the down-current side. Cobia are strong fighters, but they usually run with the tide.

"I use pretty light tackle -- 14-pound test -- and you don't want to have to fight the current, too," he said.

Baitfish use the structure to block the current. They hunker down in the lee and hide from predators.

"Cobia usually swim around the marker looking for bait," Gianella said. "The bait will stay in place a little longer if you hit that spot with no current. The longer the bait is in the water, the better your chances of a hookup."

It took Gianella about two hours to fish a dozen markers. The final result: five hits, three fish.

The cobia was too small to keep. But Gianella releases most that he catches, even a recent 45-pound brute he caught off a marker. But the Spanish mackerel and tripletail -- two-thirds of a channel marker slam (see chart above) -- went in the ice box for his guests' lunches.

"Not bad for a few hours' work," Gianella said. "It keeps the customers happy. But I enjoy the hunt."

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