I remember when I was about 15 years old and caught my first big King Mackerel. I was on a drift boat out ofMiamimarina and was drifting a dead ballyhoo on a large feathered jig in about 100 feet of water over a deep reef. What I remember most was the initial strike as I made the mistake of keeping my reel in free spool with my thumb as the only tension on the line. Man! Did that burn when the line began ripping off the spool. Since then I have caught more King Mackerel than I can count and always suggest them as a great entry in to ‘kind of’ offshore fishing for those friends who have just gotten their first boat or just started upping their game when it comes to salt water fishing.
King Mackerel, also called Kingfish make there way up and down the coast ofFloridaand depending upon where in the state you are you can be pretty sure about what time of year the King Fish run in your area will take place. In the summer months the northern Gulf of Mexico and areas near the panhandle will have good numbers of fish, while during the winter monthsSouth Floridaand the Keys are prime King Mackerel fishing regions.
These members of the Tuna family are great fighters and I can definitely confirm from my first ever King Mackerel hook up that they will peel line off your reel at an amazing speed. Because the are usually found in good numbers and in relatively shallow water (60-250’) off South East Florida’s reefs and wrecks, (the gulf side might require a bit more running to find deeper water and structure) they are a very popular quarry. Trolling and drifting baits are the most common methods to catch King Mackerel with live bait fishing being my favorite.
Trolling spoons or feathers rigged with Ballyhoo are generally the most used methods but rigging the ballyhoo properly is the key to being successful using this method. It is vital that the bait resembles a fish swimming normally and not spinning. There are many products on the market that can assist you in getting a rigged bait out with a natural action or you can also buy pre-rigged frozen ballyhoo and just put a skirt (plastic or nylon covering) over it. Spoons and other types of deep running lures can work as well. Many people use planers, downriggers or various types of weights to work different areas of the water column when trolling. You can also troll live baits, but its very important to remember that you are now slow trolling for Kingfish and may even consider bumping your engine into neutral from time to time to let the bait swim and drop a bit deeper. When trolling or live baiting for Kings you also have the chance of catching numerous other types of game fish including sailfish, Dolphin and lots of other fun creatures.
Since I mostly do catch and release fishing when it comes to King Mackerel, I prefer to use a 2/0 to 3/0 circle hook, this can vary a bit depending upon the size of the fish that have been reported but it allows me to pretty much let the fish hook itself and is much easier to unhook as well. It’s very important to use a few a length of wire leader to your hook, at least 6-12 inches (although people prefer even longer) as Kings are known for their razor sharp teeth. Connect the wire to your monofilament with a small barrel swivel. If you are drifting dead Ballyhoo then just try and hook the bait through both lips or sideways through the bony part of the nose after you have snipped off the beak. The key is to have it drift naturally and almost like a wounded baitfish. If you are using live baits such as Pilchard, Pinfish or the like, the three most common hooking points are through the lips, sideways through the nose or just in back of the where the gills and body merge underneath. Keeping this bait lively and swimming is key. Some people like to place what’s called a stinger hook on a piece of wire attached to the main hook and then into the bait near the tail for fish that bite short. Since I practice catch and release, I’m not a big fan of this method.
These fish can range anywhere from a few pounds over 50 lbs so the range of tackle used can be wide. My preference is to use pretty much anything that can handle a good amount of 20-30 lb test line. Some people prefer heavier spinning rods while others like more conventional type tackle. With the stronger thinner lines available now no matter what your choice you should be able to have enough line to handle deep diving fish without sacrificing strength. If the fish seem to be finicky you can try lighter leaders and shorter wire. For trolling a good 30lb class outfit should serve you nicely.
To find fish, just always keep searching the horizon for birds diving on bait, this is always a good sign that fish are near. Tide lines and changes in water color are also a great place to try. Just remember to take notice of the depth, direction and area your are fishing when you do hook a fish as King Mackerel are likely to hold over a certain structure or water feature. Keep an eye on the GPS fish/depth finder so you can return to a spot that is producing and better understand the patter that is working. The same goes for drifting baits at certain depths and bottom will hold more fish.
Lastly, be very careful when unhooking or gaffing these fish as we have stated they have incredibly sharp teeth and can get a bit nutty when brought on board. Many a fisherman has suffered a nasty injury from a berserk Kingfish. These fish are great sport and reasonable table fare but not my first choice, great when smoked which is why large Kings are called smokers. If you want to get out and try some entry level off shore fishing of the coast ofFlorida, King Mackerel are a great way to begin.
I’ve been spending quite a bit of time lately with my good friend Jack Hays at the local gun range. Jack has always had an adventurous nature to him but to be honest, he is among the most stubborn men I have ever met! He, like many others, (especially business owners) have gone on a gun-buying craze over the past year, spurred on by the constant political discourse regarding gun owner rights and possible bans to various types of weapons. Jack, like many others has gone out and purchased guns that are mostly tactical in nature. Not exactly the type you find in the hands of a deer hunter sitting in a tree stand on a cold fall day. So as part of my master plan to have my good friend become my local hunting buddy, I began having contests with him at the range (whenever I could persuade him to put down his beloved Glock 19), and pit my Ruger Super Red Hawk .44 mag at 15 yards against him shooting slugs at a marginally shorter distance. Although I primarily enjoy bow hunting, it was time to get my close friend out hunting any way I could. Thanks to outfitters Bob Cain and Jon Slick of Boarsight Outdoors, I was able to do just that, in a way that I knew would excite him and create an urge to take hunting to the next levels.
Hunting seasons in South Florida can be a difficult proposition for a newcomer, as much of the public land is overrun by hunters, many of whom are seasoned veterans. To be fortunate enough to apply for, and win a drawing for a quota hunt permit for most species and seasons is like playing the lottery and can be very frustrating. I had to think of something that would be filled with adventure and excitement, yet would be an experience that would make a newbie want to learn more about the sport and lifestyle. It also had to be simple and easy, with some greater chance of success than that of sending a person who just purchased their first shotgun into the woods to hunt an Osceola Turkey on their own. It came to me as I was looking through some pictures of my favorite past hunts and saw a few pictures of a hunt I had done last year thru Boarsight Outdoors. A Wild Hog hunt is about as exciting as it gets!
South Florida is overrun with wild pigs and many landowners will lease out the hunting rights to their property to outfitters, for a fee and the chance to curb the massive destruction done by these animals. Although I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to hunting and rarely hunt with dogs or guns, I always jump at the opportunity to go after Wild Hogs. The adrenaline rush of riding in a swamp buggy while specially trained dogs search the palmetto thickets to find the pigs is incredible. This is the perfect type of hunt for those who are just beginning and need the supervision of a qualified guide and are not ready or willing to be sitting in a tree or blind an hour before first light.
Two phone calls later and my buddy and I were all set for a Wild Pig hunt just outside of Okeechobee, Florida on what turned out to be a spectacular Sunday morning. There was a chill in there air when we arrived and were greeted by Blaine, who would be our guide for the day. Blaine was a very personal fellow with a great laugh who taken part in a team rodeo event just the night before, but still was ready and willing to be part of our adventure. I was so happy with Boarsight Outdoors for being able to put this together with a great guide on such short notice. So after getting the dogs into the buggy and giving Jack some last minute instructions we were off to the lush thickets and Cyprus Hammocks where we would hunt. Of course Blaine and I couldn’t help the good-natured ribbing of our new hunter Jack and his SWAT team style shotgun.
Before I go any further I’d like to say that setting up a hunt with an outfitter such as Boarsight Outdoors is the perfect introduction to hunting in South Florida. It’s difficult for a new person to get started and with these guys Hunters of any level are welcome. You can use whatever weapon you choose within reason, there are even those who like to live on the edge and go after Wild Boar with a spear. These guys really go out of their way to make it an enjoyable experience, whether you are alone or making it a family outing. Kids love to sit and watch all the excitement from atop a swamp buggy and learn as they observe. Bob Cain has often arranged for me to simulate my other big game hunts by setting me up in a tree stand with my bow or .308 at O’dark-thirty in the morning to practice well in advance of any specific hunting trips I may be considering. Since Hogs may be taken on private property all year long they are the perfect game for not only sharpening your skills but to add tasty meat to the freezer as well. The guide will skin and quarter your animal right there so be sure to bring a big cooler!
Okay, back to the hunt. We were cruising in the buggy watching the dogs work the dense brush when all of a sudden they started howling! A large boar broke out of the brush and Jack was out of the buggy in a flash and in perfect position for a shot. The dogs were barking…Jack had his finger on the trigger…the boar was now only 10 yards away and had to pass him to get to safety! Jack had the boar in his sights, the boar had Jack in his sights…Jack then began to squeeze the trigger and brace himself for his first shot at a angry Wild boar…we waited for the shot with the anticipation of watching Jack harvest the pig, then… Nothing! With the classic rookie mistake of forgetting to take the safety off, we watched a 150lb hog run by Jack, run through the palmetto, through the fence line and just keep going. We reassured him that he was not the first person to make this error and it was better than the other classic rookie mistake of forgetting to load the gun.
It wasn’t much longer before the dogs had found another large Hog deep in the brush and shortly after that with a big bang my good friend had taken his first Wild Pig. The look on his face was priceless, and he learned of the elation and sorrow that only a hunter that has harvested an animal can feel. My buddy has now asked me to schedule another hunt and is bringing along another friend who has never hunted before. This other friend is also at the range every week practicing with guns that would never see the light of day without South Florida Hog hunts.
Outfitters such as Boarsight Outdoors can schedule all types of hunts, from year round hog hunts to Spring Turkey, as well as Alligators and exotics. I love the Hog hunts as they are relatively inexpensive, can be done with any weapons at any time you and your friends feel the need to have an adventure, while filling the freezer with excellent meat. With the abundance of Wild pigs in South Florida, Bob Cain and John Slick of Boarsight Outdoors have also been able to set up unique hunts to offer me the opportunity to practice long range shooting to practice for my Fall Wyoming Antelope hunts. If you are itching to get out and use that assault weapon that never sees the outside of your neighborhood range, or want that extraordinary adventure for the entire family, or just can’t wait for the fall hunting season to begin. Give these guys a call, because when everyone else is sitting behind their computer or lying on their recliner watching television…We Are Out There!
This article is being written for a friend who is soon to be making a journey along that great North-South highway known as the Appalachian Trail. The reason I am not going to spend a great deal of time telling you of how to outfit yourself, what shoes to wear or the essential elements of hiking and camping, as you should already be proficient in such areas if you are taking on such an adventure. What I am going to explore are some elements that the novice hiker may not think about and give you a better understanding of what lies in store for those who are ready to get up and go. First what the AT or Appalachian Trail is before you decide to tackle it. It is roughly a 2000 thousand-mile trail following the crest of the Appalachian Mountains (this means that its not just long, but high as well) from Springer Mountain in the state of Georgia and terminating at Mt Katahdin in Maine.
Those who have made hiking trips of more than a few days understand that it is not all a bed of roses, for all the talk of beautiful sunsets and sunrises, the waterfalls, spectacular views and great experiences along the trail, there are the also the tales aching knees that no aspirin can cure, the insects that make you want to jump off a cliff and the mornings that you just can’t seem to get out of your sleeping bag. I remember a trek in the Himalayas on the route to Everest base camp, I wouldn’t have traded it for anything, but along the way, at times I just wanted to survive it. For everything that is worthwhile, it seems you always have to take the good with the bad. I’ve read somewhere that the vast majority of those who being a thru hike finish it. This is not a camping trip, it is a hiking adventure. For those merely taking a week out their busy schedules to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail, it’s still hard! Its not like you can check into a motel 8 if the weather turns bad, be prepared, always be prepared.
When preparing for your Appalachian Trail adventure, don’t go into it without training. Spend a few weeks walking on relatively flat ground with a light pack to get the feel of it. Adjust the straps and other components to give you the most comfortable positions. As you get closer to your hike add some weight to the pack and find some hilly areas to walk. By the time you are ready to go you should feel comfortable with a full pack and able to walk uphill relatively easily. If you are not prepared and push too hard early in the hike you may develop overly sore muscles and blisters, which can make the adventure feel like a trip through purgatory. Start your trip easy to ensure that you have enough left in the tank to finish.
As you get more acclimated to the trail and you own abilities, you can gradually increase the pace, but here is a good piece of information, if at all possible, hike with other that are of your own level. No one wants to fall too far behind or have to slow down too much to wait for others. It’s always a great idea to set goals for the day and adjust these goals depending on conditions, such as weather, injuries or the all too frequent, unexpected incident. Realize that you may have to hike through inclement weather and sore muscles.
The Appalachian Trail is a spectacular hike, not only will you get the chance to see magnificent scenery but an abundance of wildlife as well. It’s a smart idea to become familiar with the flora and fauna of the area you will be covering and what types of creatures to avoid. If you really want to see some incredible wildlife then you must be on the move at the same time they are, most commonly early in the morning and first light. Yes, there is a chance that you will see bears, but for the most part, they will leave you alone if you do the same to them. Just don’t startle or surprise them on the trail and don’t leave food open in and around your tent, that’s like a neon deli sign to a bear. Many people carry bear spray, but I feel its just extra weight and fairly unnecessary if you just use common sense, and can run faster than those you are hiking with, Just Kidding!not really).
This is a hike that you want to have fun with, don’t be concerned with anyone’s habits but your own. Find a good pace and enjoy it. Before you set out on your journey do some research and find out where the shelters are along the trail in the areas you will be hiking. Although occasionally crowded and musty they can be a great port in a storm. Check by distance and elevation on the Appalachian Trail where these shelters are located to find them. You can also find via the Internet, food re-supply locations, but make sure you know how far off the AT they are. All in all, prepare well and you will have a great Hiking trip!
I was checking my mail this week and was happy to see that many of the non-resident Wild Turkey Hunting permits I applied for in other states had started to arrive. It got me thinking that Turkey Season is just around the corner and that I had better start getting my gear ready and making some calls to see what public and private land was available for me to hunt. I thought about how I had the benefit of some very experienced hunters teaching me how to scout these incredible birds, and how finding birds during hunting season is not always as easy as merely sitting under a tree in the early morning hours and having birds fly down in front of you.
It’s a lot easier these days to get a great lay of the land as the Internet and programs such as Google Earth can give you a great idea of possible hot spots where the Wild Turkey may want to roost, or even where they may want to go during various times of the day. This can be especially helpful if you are hunting public land and can see the probable entry points less experienced hunters who will invariably push many birds to where you can lie in wait. There is however no substitute for boots on the ground and the ability to read sign and deduce potential patterns. Get comfortable with that area if possible, knowing the terrain, water sources, types of trees and wind patterns for certain times of the year. This all should be done well in advance of the actual Wild Turkey season. Driving around the area, if possible is a great way to cover distance and with the use of a good pair of binoculars allow you to find birds and determine a ratio of Gobblers, Jakes and Hens in that flock. Remember that Jakes quite often like to associate in small bachelor groups.
Take your time and enjoy the day, as the area you are in may be showing dozens of birds at one time of the day while looking barren just an hour or two later. I once noticed group of Osceola Turkey in Florida showing up just before noon in a particular field just before the season opened. I created a brush blind and on opening day sat there for an hour until my very punctual friends showed up on the opposite site of the field and worked their way right to me. I didn’t use a Turkey decoy or Turkey call, I just waited and within 45 minutes noticing them, had a nice bird.
If you know you are in an area that has a flock of Turkey, spend some time patrolling the woods for sign. A sure sign of a tree that is popular for roosting will have Turkey droppings and feathers scattered below the branches of the tree. Mark this tree on your GPS so you can find it on an aerial map and be able to get stealthily near it when it comes time to hunt. Even before the season begins it’s a great idea to sit a few hundred yards away in the morning to hear any gobblers that may be vocalizing at first light. You may also hear them actually flying down as well. You can also do the same in the evening just before dark to hear or see birds that may be heading to those trees to roost. Just don’t get so close that the Turkey then may begin to see this area as dangerous.
Strolling through the woods you need to keep your eye out for areas that have been scratched by Turkey looking for food. An area that has leaves on the ground that have been pulled back by birds feeding on bugs and grubs is actually quite easy to spot and usually will have a good number of tracks as well. Remember that scouting in the summer when insects and corn, etc are plentiful may be a bit easier than scouting in early spring, but remember Turkeys are eating all year long, so adjust your scouting a little bit as needed for the time of year. Scouting a week or two before the season should give you an excellent idea of their current pattern and allow you choose an area for your Turkey Blind. Although Wild Turkey tend to use the same trails and patterns in the Spring as they do in the Fall, keep in mind any changes in food availability, water, construction and adjust accordingly.
Okay, we covered enough to give you a good idea about the habits and patterns of the elusive Wild Turkey, however there is one more tactic to employ and could quite possibly be the most important of all. The night before you are going to hunt it is a good idea to get to the woods an hour or so before dark and do a bit of watching and listening.
More than likely knowing where a flock of Turkeys are roosting for the evening will give you a great idea of where they will be at first light. “Putting the Birds to Bed” as it is most often called is the method that allows you to be set up in a blind or close proximity to where the birds will fly down in the morning. As dusk falls in the woods you should be listening for the beat of wings as the birds fly up into their roosting tree. This is a sound that once you hear it, you will never mistake it for anything else. Keep an eye open for birds coming in from an unexpected angle. If they are on the ground and you can see them, then more than likely they can see you too, so stay still and wait for dark before leaving. You may also listen for Gobbles, yelps, purrs and all other Turkey sounds coming from a particular spot seemingly without changing distance. Once it’s dark, it’s a good bet they are in the roost for the night.
Try and get to the Turkey woods about an hour before first light and slowly make your way to either your blind or another good spot to wait. If you plan on using decoys, make certain you set them out with as little motion or noise as possible. Try and walk to your blind in the shadows along a tree line as well. This is especially important if it’s a clear morning with a bright moon. Then listen and look, because if everything goes well, you’ll be at the diner about 30-60 minutes after sunup having a cup of coffee and telling tall tales about your Spring Turkey hunting adventure.
Walleye fishing is an art. I have been out on the lake and seen several boats in close proximity to one another and one guys is doing a number on the fish while the others are starting at him like he just won the lottery and rode off with the prom queen. The truth of the matter is Walleye fishing is not all that difficult if you just know what to do. Depending on what time of the year you are fishing, here are some great tips to make you more successful and the guy that everyone else is trying to figure out.
The key is to understand that at different times of the year and at different water temperatures the fish will have different patterns.
It is vital to understand these habits and to search those types of locations that the fish are most likely to inhabit or move to at that time of the yearand what they most likely will be feeding upon.
After the snow melts and the first signs of spring are in
air the Walleye will usually be very close to the shore and should be found in
sandy areas with patchy sand bars along wild rice beds. Also, look for rocky
jetties or structures that are close to sandy bottom. At this time of the year
the sandy bottom is key as this is where the Walleye will spawn. Early spring
Walleye will be very aggressive and a variety of baits will work especially
jigs. Fishing with jigs is relatively easy once you develop the touch and you
can use various jig heads from 1/8 oz to ¼ oz fitted with a Twister Tail. Have
an assortment of white, Yellow, green and black and try different colors until
you find the one that gets them to strike. In the spring, adding a small piece
of bait such as a worm or belly strip works great all year, but spawning fish
are usually ravenous to begin with. You will find some colors work best at
certain times of the year while others work year round.
When you find an area that is holding fish, understand that
the males, which are a bit smaller, will usually stay shallower and closer to
the sandy areas, which are the spawning areas. If quantity and hot action is
what you are looking for these are the areas to work, if you want a bigger
fish, the females which are larger can be found in the same general vicinity
but just a bit deeper.
I like to cover some ground so I enjoy trolling along the
shore until I get a strike then I will either begin to jig or begin casting
various crank baits and lures such as shallow running Shad Raps, Floating
Rapalas and Junior Thunder sticks. I have had the best results using silver and
blue. Just because it’s still spring and possibly still a bit chilly, do not
forget about fishing at night for Walleyes. This is the time when the larger
females will make their way closer to the shoreline. Remember that this time of
the year, the sandy bottom is key. If it’s the big Walleyes that get your
juices flowing, then try the above-mentioned techniques, but at night. Also, be
on the look out for any weed lines and grassy cover in close proximity to the
sandy bottom, as the big ones will be moving out from that cover to feed. If
you are trolling, go a bit slower than you would during the day.
Towards the end of the spring and throughout the summer, you will need to
modify your Walleye Fishing techniques to account for the warmer waters. Just
like beach-goers heading for shade or under their umbrellas in the summer,
Walleye too will head for the weeds or into deeper water. You can get down to
them with jigs and the Infamous TwisterTails, white seems to work the best
during the warmer months but again, bring an assortment of colors as what works
in one area may draw blanks in another. Like most fishing, you have a good idea
of what works but still need to experiment. Work the deeper weeds and
structures drifting until you find fish.
In the warmer months you can use the same night Walleye fishing techniques
as at other times of the year and troll until you find the fish. Again these
will more than likely be larger fish and the big females will be in deeper
water than the spring so troll appropriate lures to cover more area at the
right depth. Fishing for larger fish during the day requires you to get down
deeper to where the larger fish will be and once you locate them, mark the spot
so you can repeat that drift. Remember that surface water is considerably
warmer than that at the bottom and you need to identify and fish below that
temperature change to effective go after big fish, usually near the bottom.
In the summer you should also look for baitfish on the surface possibly even
in open water as schools of Walleye may be suspended under them waiting to
feed. Trolling the open water with a fish finder is a great way to locate them.
Again, pay attention to possible water temperature changes if possible. If you
have no depth finder you can try blind trolling if you see schools of baitfish
and then jig or cast the area if you get a strike.
Remember that the bigger Walleyes will usually be found nearer to the bottom
and depending upon the area you are fishing and depth of the lake this could
vary greatly but depths from 15 to slightly over 30 feet seem to produce the
bigger fish. Weeds and rocky jetties that drop off quickly are always a great
place to try, and don’t be afraid to experiment with various jigs, lures and
even baited bottom rigs. Those guys that are catching all the fish have figured
something out by experimentation, you can too!
As I crossed my friends’ hay field in the dim morning light, a distant flash of lightning started my internal timer. “If only I could
find a way to put thunder in a can”, I thought to myself, “I’d be a millionaire”. Sure, manufactured crow calls, owl calls, coyote howlers and
the like all have their place in shocking a gobbler into giving up his location, but nothing beats a booming assist from Mother Nature. “Eighteen
Mississippi, nineteen Mississippi…” At 20 seconds I finally heard the low rumble of thunder. Even before the simple calculation of 4 miles
distance to the lightning came to mind, the gobbler sounded off. He was kitty corner across a county road, on private property I couldn’t hunt. I tried my
best to ignore him, but a second lightning and thunder combo, this one a bit closer, generated another throaty gobble. It reminded me that I should probably
not stray too far from my vehicle with a possible thunderstorm brewing. It also reminded me that late season gobblers that sound off with gusto can be some of
the most fun and most reliable birds to hunt.
My home state of Wisconsin has a fairly brief but rich tradition of turkey hunting. Restocking of wild
birds beginning in the early 70′s has turned into a quantity and quality of harvest that game managers could only dream of. When hunting turkeys was first
allowed there were quite conservative quotas and seasons put in place. Those restrictions have been gradually liberalized over the years, based on solid
harvest data and research that followed the upward swing in bird numbers statewide. In the just-completed 2012 season the previous scheme of 6
individual turkey seasons consisting of 5 days on, 2 days off, was changed to allow hunting all 7 days. Those extra 2 days, Monday and Tuesday, make even
more hunting opportunities for hunters still holding tags. Despite the extra opportunities, it’s still human nature to want the first crack at the birds
each season and that’s why the first couple seasons are the most heavily subscribed in the lottery drawing. I’ve gotten those early tags enough times to
know that the birds are plentiful, gobbling activity is usually pretty good, and the loud-mouthed 2 year olds fill many a hunter’s game bag. I also know
that the weather can be nasty, foliage cover for moving on the birds can be nonexistent, and competition from other hunters is at its peak.
Enter the late season.
Mid May takes on a whole new flavor from mid April. The leaves are fully out, especially after the recent mild winter. Hens are busy
with nesting duties, so the remaining gobblers still interested in some company are less likely to get it. This is the time of year when you might catch the nearly constant calling of a “troller” – a gobbler that does a lot of
talking while also doing a lot of walking. Sometimes he’ll frustrate you to no end, answering all your calls but still not turning back to check out the “hen” that’s pursuing him. But there are other times when things work
out in your favor. That’s what I was hoping as I quietly closed the tailgate of my truck and slipped off through the woods to try to intercept the thunder bird I’d heard 10 minutes earlier. With only 3 days left ’til the end of the season,
it was game on.
He was on the ground now, gobbling on his own without any prompting from the thunder, which had since vanished. By the time I got settled
in and ready to call to him I realized he’d already crossed the county road and was now on my side. While that was good news for me, unfortunately he was still well to my south on unhuntable private land. As he continued east I called to
him sparingly with my diaphragm. He answered, but each gobble was further and further away. He was paralleling me so I picked up the pace and jogged through
the woods along the old barbed wire fence separating the properties. I knew from aerial photos that there was a large grass field on the neighbor’s land
and that’s where the gobbling stabilized to a single location. Since I couldn’t see that far through the thick greenery, I could only imagine that bird
strutting and gobbling out in that field, trying to coax me out of the woods from the north.
I knew the woods well – setting up against a big oak just 50 yards downhill from a favorite tree stand that had yielded several deer in past
years. My calling was very low-key, interspersed with a lot of scratching in the leaves to simulate a feeding hen. No need for the long strings of yelps from the earlier seasons. Single or double clucks kept him interested, and it
was clear that his gobbling was getting closer and more insistent. Finally, I saw that black form slinking through the woods that all turkey hunters long to see. He set up shop in an opening between some mature oaks that gave him a sight line to his expected hen. Trouble was, he managed to put a wind fallen dead pine tree right between us. From under my facemask I was chirping clucks
out the side of my mouth to try to get him moving to my right and away from the tree, but he liked his spot and let me know it by alternately fanning and gobbling, but without moving his feet. After a few tense minutes of enjoying
what I like to call “The Greatest Show on Earth”, I straightened my back against the tree and gained just enough height to manage a shot between the branches of the downed pine. At 35 yards the Hevi-shot 6′s caused massive
head and neck damage, anchoring the bird in place. I rushed over and steadied his wings so he wouldn’t break any feathers when he thrashed. The tom was my first 5 year old – with inch and a half spurs, an 11.5 inch beard, and weighing 22.6 lbs. As I stood over this beautiful bird and gave thanks, I thought about the friendly location, the 2 hours of elapsed time from when lightning-caused thunder gave way to shotgun-caused thunder, and the quarter mile this talkative old bird walked before turning to my calling. It all convinced me in an instant
that he’d be mounted in full strut to preserve the memories of a very satisfying late season hunt.
It was 7am as we headed out of Boynton Beach Inlet in South Florida for a crack at the schools of Mahi (dolphin) that were reported to be prowling the weed lines that had blown in with the mild easterly winds. It was pretty calm despite a few passing rainsqualls that moved by along with a small waterspout that just couldn’t seem to touchdown. It was the beginning of another wonderful day fishing on “The Wet Spot” along with my close Captain Mitch Dinnerman and our friend Bob Crapo. Bob and I began preparing the rigs while we all kept an eye out for Patches of Sargasso weed and diving birds. Our initial plan, as usual was to troll rigged baits until we had fish around the boat and then begin to through chunked baits at them. Our rigs were the basic for trolling for Mahi (Dolphin), ballyhoo rigged to swim without spinning, with or without a colored skirt such as an Ilander. A rigged ballyhoo is probably the most often used bait for trolling, as this is due to the fact that it’s easy to rig and easy to use and most importantly very effective for a variety of species such as Mahi (Dolphin), King Mackerel, Sailfish and Tuna among others.
We found a weed line only a few miles offshore with only one other boat working the area and began to troll, this was not at all a joyous experience as there were many tiny patches of weed that kept fouling our rigs and it became a never ending battle of clearing one line then putting it back out, only to have to bring in another to repeat the process. This quickly became tiresome, quite boring actually when the sound every offshore angler longs to hear, the sound of the clicker indicating line leaving the spool quickly, Fish On! I’d love to say that battle was epic, one for the ages, but unfortunately a 3 lb dolphin is not quite the stuff legends are made from. We released this undersized fish unharmed and decided to go further offshore in hopes of getting away from the vast amounts of patchy weed in order to troll up something bigger.
After Trolling around some current lines and smaller patches of weeds for time we noticed several birds searching the surface and then diving, we then noticed fish breaking the surface. After a few minutes it was determined they were Skipjack Tuna and although lots of fun on light tackle we decided not to re-rig with feathers and try for some. About 20 minutes later and about 15 miles offshore we saw a floating lobster pot buoy with a lot of rope hanging down from it near a relatively large carpet of Sargasso weed. We immediately hooked up! Again not an overly impressive battle but a nice Dolphin (Mahi) came over the side in just a few minutes, this time a bit bigger but still only about 9 lbs. We were hoping for those in the 20-40 lb range. As it was a beautiful flat calm day and we had plenty of bait on board, we decided to chum using some chunks of pilchard and other baits we had and it wasn’t long before swarms of small Dolphin (Mahi) were darting out from under the weeds like squadrons of fighter planes going off on a mission.
If you have never seen Dolphin all lit up hoping to feed in the brilliant blue offshore waters you are missing one of fishing’s grand spectacles!
To catch Dolphin by chunking them is relatively simple, depending on the size but for these school-sized fish a spinning rod with 15-20 lb test line and pretty much any fish sized appropriate hook will do the job. They key to this type of fishing is to keep the fish around the boat. To do this you can either keep one hooked fish in the water as the others will swarm nearby hoping for a snack, or just keep chunking pieces of bait into the water, but just enough to keep them interested. This type of fishing is not rocket science although finding the fish is usually much more difficult than catching them.
You never know what type or size fish you may encounter when drifting around these offshore weed patches and you should be prepared for anything. Frequently we will catch a small jack or baby tuna and rig it up and drop it down a bit deeper for a shot at a big Dolphin or Wahoo. It’s important to practice conservation when catching a lot of school sized Dolphins and you need to pay attention to size restrictions and catch limits, as it’s very easy to limit out if the fish are around. You don’t need to take home every legal size fish you catch, just take what you need and try your best to release the others in good shape, circle hooks help in this area. Who knows, the ones you release today might become that giant Bull Dolphin of a lifetime in a few years!
Florida has some of the finest fishing in the world, and contrary to many opinions it is still part of the United States and relatively simple to get to. If you are traveling to the state and are not a part –time or full time resident here and have no boat then your best bet is to charter one of the fine captains in the area and head offshore for a day of blue water, blue skies and hopefully lots of action. If you have your own boat and have long dreamed about leaving the sheltered waters of the bay and heading offshore in search of the many game fish that call these South Atlantic waters home but are not sure how to get started than this article is for you! If you are an accomplished offshore angler, adept at rigging baits and following thermo clines then pass this by, as you know this stuff already. I mean c’mon! We can write a whole article just on what knots to use!
To start off, ask yourself the question, “am I experienced enough to fish offshore and is my boat adequate for the adventure?” If you are not sure, then do not go offshore, or at least not without an experienced person on board. It is also a very good idea to carry a PLB or personal Locator Beacon, this is a device that when activated will send a signal to the search and rescue teams to come and get you, immediately. The great thing about fishing off the coast of Florida is that you really don’t have to go that far to catch a variety of species such as Sailfish, some Tuna species, King Mackerel, Dolphin and Wahoo to name a few. While there is a resident population of these species present pretty much year round, some times of the year are better than others. I’ll give a brief rundown of the usual suspects.
Sailfish can be had pretty much year round, but the best fishing is usually in the winter and early spring. When South Floridians feel those cold fronts of November and December you can be certain that the Sailfish wont be far behind. You don’t have to run as far offshore as one may think for them, as although they can be caught in almost any depth, they are typically caught between 90 and 200 feet of water. The simple way to catch them (remember this article is for the offshore newbies) is trolling with rigged ballyhoo, place a skirt in front of this and troll a few rods at varying distances behind the boat and you’re in business. When you get a bit more experienced you can also drift live bait such as Pilchard and Goggle eyes and if you really get going you can learn to fish with a kite to dangle your bait on the surface making it an enticing treat for a variety of game fish. Have a pair strong gloves and a pair of pliers to remove the hook while the fish is still in the water and pull him along until he regains strength and watch him swim away. This of course is after you all lean over and take pictures!
Dolphin, also known as Mahi Mahi can be caught year round as well with the best fishing taking place in spring and early summer. The methods used to catch Dolphin are pretty much the same as for sailfish or any of the other species we will mention with the subtle differences primarily coming in depth, color of skirts and thickness of leader or wire line. If you are not skilled at rigging, a newbie to this type of fishing can just purchase rigged ballyhoo at the bait shop and be done with it. Slip a skirt over the rigged bait and go for it! Don’t forget to buy some non rigged bait as well because small to medium sized dolphin travel in schools and if you troll one up, keep him in the water for a bit and look for some of his friends to be lurking near the boat. If so, tie a hook to the end of a line, place a chunk of bait on the hook and you can limit out in just a matter of minutes. Dolphin are usually found in deeper, cleaner blue water, and although they can be caught blind trolling along currents and just about anywhere, they do prefer weed lines and flotsam. Larger dolphin can be caught with live bait under the weed lines and around floating objects trees, cargo pallets and even abandoned crab trap buoys.
King Mackerel or Kingfish as they are sometimes called are another year round resident but as with most of our South Florida Game fish, some seasons are better than others. They can be caught using the same methods as Dolphin or Sailfish but require a wire leader as they can bite through most lines like they were butter. King Mackerel are predominantly found in 60-200 feet of water and tend to hang around structures or changes in the bottom contours which cause current variations. In Summer months when trolling seems to work best you may try using a planer or trolling weight to get your baits down a bit further, but during the spring there is nothing more fun than drifting live baits while listening to some tunes and munching on some chips. If you have trouble finding live bait (pilchards, Pinfish, etc.) dead ballyhoo will produce as well. Wahoo can also be caught in the same areas you fish for all these fish; they are incredible fighters and one of the tastiest fish in the ocean. You would need a bit more expertise to actually target them with bigger rods and lures. To target Wahoo, many anglers do what is know as High Speed trolling, in excess of 12 knots with lures covering the surface and deeper into the water column. Wahoo seem to be most active around the full moon.
As for Tuna, most of the species that you will catch in the areas you can safely fish will be Blackfin Tuna; they are tasty, great fighters and can be part of a mixed bag while fishing for the above-mentioned species. For the bigger Yellowfin Tuna, well, if you are reading this article, you are probably not ready to go out on your own, as they require long-range trips, better equipment, bigger boats and a good crew. But the thrill is amazing as line rips off the reel and you are holding on until that initial run has subsided. When fishing the far offshore trips there is also the possibility of running into a big Blue Marlin or a White Marlin, but that’s for another story!
So, You have some basic information now on how to fish for some of South Florida’s favorite offshore game fish. Keep in mind that in most parts of South Florida the depths you will fish may be only 2-5 miles from shore. Pick out your favorite rods in the 20-50 lb class grab a friend and some rigged baits and head out for a great adventure! A friend once asked me when is the best time of day to catch Sailfish and the others, my reply was quite simple, “anytime you can get out there!”
Can you smell it? All across the country hunters are patterning their shotguns, checking their decoys and are driving the wife and kids crazy by constantly listening to their audio cd’s while practicing to get the tones and cadence of their favorite calls. Spring Turkey season is in full swing! Bad calling technique and decoys that couldn’t fool Wyle E. Coyote can do more harm than good on a hunt so you better get started now to have it all down pat before that first gobble is heard just before dawn on opening day. The Wild Turkey’s proclivity to let you know where he is gives the shrewd hunter an occasional advantage, but only if he or she knows what to do next.
Calling a Turkey to bring him closer to you, or coaxing him to give away his position is probably the most enjoyable method of Turkey hunting, and since this incredible bird is gifted with incredible eyesight, calling the Turkey is probably the best way to get into position for a shot. Combine this with proper decoy management and you have a great chance of harvesting a nice Tom. Remember, it only takes one bird to let you know what direction he is, and then you will have to judge the distance for yourself. When the birds are silent it can seem as if you are all alone in the woods as they can go completely quiet when alarmed.
Turkey’s breed primarily in the spring months of April and May, during this period they can become extremely vocal and learning the differences in each sound can tell whether your quarry is a Tom, Jake or possibly even a hen. One of the first things I was taught when using my calls was what type of sound to imitate to elicit the desired effect. Sitting in the dark an hour or so before dawn during Turkey season is very exciting and when the sound of a mature Tom breaks though the darkness it will be something you won’t ever forget!
Turkey’s can be located using a variety of calls; you can imitate a hen, or the unmistakable call of a big Gobbler or even those sounds such as crow and owls. The sounds of thunder have also been known to cause a Wild Turkey to give away his position. These locator calls are a hit and miss situation and usually work best in areas that you know Turkeys have been seen in sufficient numbers. Locator calls are used to identify position not to bring birds in.
With so many calls on the market, its hard to figure out what might work best for you, but the bottom line is know how to properly use the call before taking it into the field. I prefer the box call as it is easy for me to use since my attempts to use a mouth or diaphragm Turkey call have similar results to Roseanne Barr singing the national anthem. However, the diaphragm calls give the hunter who can properly use them, are great bit of versatility. The problem with a box call is that there is motion involved and the hunter will need to put down the call in order to lift his shotgun.
Turkeys make a number of different sounds depending on what they are doing at the time; it can range from a series of purrs, clucks, yelps or a combination of sounds. Remember on windy days your sound will be limiting in the distance it projects and trying to hard to increase volume might through off the proper sound. Cadence is also of great importance and it’s usually a good practice for novice hunters to merely try to match the sounds of birds they can hear. Combine this with some life-like decoys set out at a know distance such as 20yds and you are just about ready. In some areas, the use of decoys may actually hamper your hunt as the birds have been pressured greatly and are wise to the decoys. But all in all, 1-3 decoys depending on the circumstance should suffice, and by the end of the day you may have an incredible dinner that the whole family will enjoy and a great story to tell around the table.
The last few hunting seasons I have noticed a very strange occurrence, either the trees are getting much, much higher, or my ability to climb them to get into my tree stand is getting severely diminished. It is usually after about a mile hike into the woods and have tied the cord that pulls up my compound bow around my waist, that I start thinking more and more about using a ground blind for deer hunting. Don’t get me wrong, I love the view from the trees and how the little critters come around after a short while, and how the Hawks make a bee line for me when a twitching finger reminds them of squirrel. It seems sometimes that I just like to take it a bit safer and easier when I am not at the top of my game, or the surroundings dictate a change in tactics. It is for that reason that last season I hunted out of a ground blind as well. It worked well for me during Turkey season and I had deer coming within a few yards of my blind then.