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Fishing Sarasota, Florida | Targeting the Pelagic Fall Run with Captain Jim Klopfer

Written by: Captain Jim Klopfer

Fall is a great time to be fishing Sarasota, Florida. The crowds are gone, the weather is pleasant, and the fish are biting! The changes are subtle, but fall does arrive in Florida. Shorter days and the change in the angle of the sun result in water temperatures dropping into the mid-’70s. This triggers an awesome fall run of pelagic species including false albacore, king and spanish mackerel, sharks, and cobia.

Weather and conditions are critical components to our great fall fishing. Normally, high-pressure systems sit off of Georgia and north Florida coastline. This results in days of northeast breezes. The result is calm, clear water along the Gulf Coast. This brings in massive schools of baitfish such as threadfin herring, scaled sardines, and glass minnows. This abundant forage is the key to the fishing action.

Fishing Sarasota, Florida: Sight Fishing Pelagics

Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of this style of fishing is that much of it is visual. Anglers cruise the beaches off of Sarasota and Siesta Key in search of signs of fish. As in all fishing, bird activity is always a good clue to feeding fish. Quite often, fish are seen feeding on the surface. 

This is easy to see when the water is calm.

Once fish are found, the technique is fairly straightforward. Anglers position the boat upwind of the action. Once within casting range, lures or flies are cast into the breaking fish. Any lure or fly that resembles the bait that is being devoured will draw a strike. 

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Top lures include #8 Rapala X-Rap in white, ½ ounce silver spoons, and 3” shad tail baits on a ¼ ounce jig head. 

Fly anglers will score using any white baitfish pattern. Live bait will certainly produce, but this situation is perfect for anglers casting artificial lures.

While fish are often very aggressive and will hit just about any flashy lure, this is not always the case. This is especially true when false albacore are feeding on tiny glass minnows. In this instance, anglers need to ‘match the hatch’ and use small lures and flies. Flies are perfect for this! Diamond jigs are an excellent choice for spin fishing anglers.

Patience is also required at times, especially when targeting albies. While Spanish mackerel will oftentimes stay up on the surface in one spot for quite a while, false albacore can move much more sporadically. They will pop up in one spot, then disappear, only to surface again a hundred yards away moments later. When this occurs, the best approach is to sit still and wait for a good opportunity.

Fishing Sarasota, Florida: Trolling and Fishing Artificial Reefs

While surface action is very exciting, there will be times when fish are not seen on the surface. There are two strategies that produce fish under these conditions; trolling and fishing artificial reefs.

Trolling is a great way for anglers to locate fish when they are not feeding on the surface. In fact, most king mackerel are landed by anglers trolling. Spoons are usually trolled behind #1 and #2 planers at 5 to 7 knots. This combination allows anglers to cover a lot of water and several depths in search of fish. 

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Mackerel, kings, false albacore, and cobia will all hit a trolled spoon. Diving plugs are also excellent lures to use when trolling.

There are several artificial reefs within a few miles from shore off of Sarasota. These are fish magnets! The submerged structure will hold bait which in turn attracts the game fish. Trolling works well as does anchoring and chumming with live or cut bait. Fish will often be seen feeding on the surface.

Sharks will also be found near the schools of bait and mackerel. They are the perfect size for light tackle sport, averaging 10 to 30-pounds. Blacktip and Bonnethead sharks are most common. The best way to catch one is to land a Spanish mackerel, fillet it, then float half a fillet out near schools of bait and mackerel. The predatory sharks will hover at the edge of these schools looking to pick off stragglers.

In conclusion, anglers seeking some great fishing will find it fishing Sarasota, Florida in the fall!

Snook Fishing Tactics: How to Target and Catch Snook

Down in Central Florida, about an hour north of Tampa, we met up with James Sauer, ANGLR Expert, to get some insight into snook fishing tactics. Besides taking a short break to pursue teenage dreams, Sauer has been a fisherman his whole life, and an avid one at that for the past 15 years.

What Is It About Snook Fishing That Draws Anglers In?

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Snook are extremely smart fish, and they’ll fight like nobody’s business. They’re just pure power! When you get a snook on the line, they’ll grab that bait and sit there for a second before running the opposite direction. They jump out of the water with a powerful headshake, making them a really exciting catch.

Snook Fishing: Where to Look

Snook are around our area all year long. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) keeps a close eye on these fish placing two closed seasons on them each year. While you can’t always take them home, snook can be caught no matter what the fickle Florida weather has to bring.

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Depending on the water temperature, snook generally stay in the same area most of the year. Many of my areas are spring-fed salt water with natural springs that pump in fresh water. So when it’s extremely hot, they’ll push back into the spring areas to remain in about 72℉ water. The same thing happens when the water turns much colder. They’ll push back towards the springs where there’s a more consistent water temperature.

They seem to like fast moving current, be it in spring water, or open water.

Before I head out, I usually have a pretty good idea of where I’ll go. I look at online maps and mark spots in the ANGLR web app, then look at the tide frames. You want to look for corners; points where there is lots of fast-moving current.

They’ll sit on the backside waiting to ambush the point where baitfish swim past.

You’ll usually find snook as deep as 10-15 feet, or shallower. I’ve caught snook fishing in as much as 20 feet and in as little as eight. It really depends on the area, and how much baitfish there are. It’s pretty straightforward. If you find a spot where a little creek comes out into a bigger body of water and there’s a hard current, they’ll be waiting in that corner for baitfish to come by. They’re opportunistic feeders, so if they see one come by on that corner, they’re going to be attacking it.

Also, if you’re snook fishing at night, the residential canals and docks usually have green lights in some spots. Snook will hide just outside the green light and wait for baitfish to come into the light, then they’ll swing in and grab a couple before swimming back out again. I’ve caught some of my biggest snook off of a dock under a green light at night.

Gearing Up For Snook Fishing

Snook like to feed on bait fish like pinfish, whitebait, greenbacks, or pilchards. They’ll also eat shrimp.

I only use artificial baits when I go snook fishing. I just don’t usually throw live bait, just as a personal preference. Many anglers will use live pinfish, whitebait, or greenback. You can put it underneath a torque-based reel or depending on how deep the water is, you can free-line it on 1/0 or 2/0 circle hook and let it float through the current so there’s more of a natural presentation as it’s floating by.

I like the walk-the-dog style topwater as well. That’s my go-to for snook. I prefer those with a red head and white body or just pure white. If I’m using soft plastic, I’ll use a white-colored fluke. If they’re in the deeper 15- to 20-foot water, I’ll use flarehock or bucktail jigs and get them off the bottom.

I mainly use spinning rods and reels, but some like to use baitcasters like they use in freshwater. I use a 7’-7’6” rod from medium to medium heavy and 2,500 to 4,000 size reel. I prefer 15-20 pound braid. Depending on the area, my leader will be 20-30 pound fluorocarbon or monofilament.

Snook Fishing: Landing a Snook

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You’ll feel a solid thump as soon as they take the bait. Then, one of two things will happen: they’ll either take it, and sit there for a second, or take it and immediately take off. The minute they takes off, just give them drag. Usually the mid-sized snook (in the 24-30-inch range) will come up and start jumping like a freshwater bass almost immediately. Some will even come completely out of the water. The bigger ones or a heavy breeder female can’t get their whole body out of the water, so will just come up and head-shake.

They act just like a bass, so they’re often referred to as salt-water bass. Many of the same tactics you use on largemouth bass will work when snook fishing as well.

One thing that you definitely want to remember is to not let any slack get in your line when fighting snook or when they jump. Their gill plates are razor sharp and will break you off with no problem. When the line gets wrapped around their gills, it frays until the line is cut and they’ll break off and swim away. Always keep the line tight when reeling them in. That’s one of the reasons they’re targeted so much: because they’re such a challenge to catch. You really have to know what you’re doing, or you’ll get broken off 9 out of 10 times.

That being said, don’t ever grab one by the gills, or you’ll filet your hand faster than you can imagine. You lip a snook like you do a bass.

They can sometimes tire out easily because they use all of their energy in the fight. By the time you get them to the boat, they’ll be pretty much worn out, so you can lip them to get them up into your boat.

When you’re ready to release them, it’s imperative that you wait until they’re ready. They’ll suck on your thumb for a little while until they’re ready to leave, just holding onto your finger. Slowly rock them back and forth until they’re ready to go. When they are, they’ll kick off on their own.

Cobia Fishing Offshore & Along the Coast of Florida

It’s almost that time of year again, when the manta rays are making their way back through the Florida waters. Right along with them, you’ll find the huge Cobia tagging along for the ride. This time of year, cobia fishing reaches its peak!

ANGLR Expert, Josh Baker tells us all about the Cobia runs in Florida and why they’re such a popular time to head out.

Cobia Fishing: Chasing Them Down  

Everyone loves the thrill of catching these fish. They’re fun to find and even more fun on the end of your line. They’re a brown capped fish with a white belly. Cobia are a real goofy-looking fish. They have flat heads with eyes on both sides of the head. They resemble the remora sucker fish that follows along with sharks and whales and collects their remnants.

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While their habits resemble remora, anglers must remember, these are some pretty big fish!

The state record is currently just over 130-pounds, caught near Destin, FL. The last one I caught was around 65-pounds.

They’re coveted, not just for their spunk on the hook, but for their flavor, as well. They are a delicious fish that eats very well, as it’s a firmer, thicker filet almost like a steak.

The Cobia come through Florida twice a year: on their way down from as far north as Massachusetts in the fall, and then back up from the Gulf of Mexico in the spring.

How to Sight Fish When Cobia Fishing

There are a few different ways to fish for Cobia. With the runs we have here in Florida, people are looking to find them inshore. They’ll go sight fishing for Cobia, running along the beach lines looking for giant manta rays and the Cobia that will be following. Many of them swim with the manta rays that run along the beaches inland. The Cobia tag along because they feed off of what the manta rays pick up. As the rays swim in the 10- to 25-foot waters, their wing movements kick up sand. With it, comes the bait.

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The Cobia will tail along behind and get the scraps.

When that massive run happens, that’s when you’ll see a lot of people sight fishing for them. There’ll be tons of boats just off the beach watching for the manta rays. It’s like a game of hide and seek for fun, so the thrill of the chase is all apart of it.

These fish are already looking for food, so you want to throw anything that will draw their attention and pull them off of the manta ray. Pitch baiting with live eels and threadfins is usually the way to go, but a lot of people also have really good luck with brightly colored bucktail jigs. They’re a real inquisitive fish, so they’ll usually come over to check the bait out and see what it is.

Cobia Fishing: Finding Them In the Summer

At other times, you can find them offshore around the metal shipwrecks. They tend to draw a lot of Cobia. I’m not sure what, specifically, it is about the metal they prefer over other structures, but they do seem to like their metal wrecks. I catch most of my Cobia in the summer this way.  When we fish on a wreck, we look for fish markings on the depth finder to be above the wreck by about eight to ten feet. They won’t hang out right on top of the wreck, so anything that you’re seeing around that range is probably going to be Cobia.

Over on the Tampa Bay side, it’s a little more shallow. Cobia are usually found inshore around the buoys and pilings. You’ll see many guys over there catching them around channel markers.

Offshore, you should be looking to use anything like live crabs, small bait fish, and frozen threadfins or grunts.

Gearing Up For Cobia Fishing

You should be rigged with 40-50-pound braided line on a heavier class spinning rod with anywhere from a 50-80-pound leader. You can catch them on lighter tackle, too. You just have to fight them a bit longer, making the lighter tackle more fun. Let them run a bit more by using a 30-pound braid with 15-30-pound leader and turning your drag way down so you’re not testing your equipment.

Cobia Fishing: Prepare for a Hard Fight

Once on the end of the line, Cobia are a hard-fighting bulldog of a fish. They’re not known for jumping, but they’ll put up a good fight. They’ll go on long runs, pulling a lot of drag. That constant tug and the sound of it is fun for new and younger anglers. You usually don’t have to worry about them wrapping themselves around structure, as they tend to stay higher up in the water column and just put up a nice fight. Once they get near the boat, you’ll have to worry about the props and things, because they just keep running around.

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Usually the first sight of the boat causes them to take off and run again, which is what helps to keep things interesting.

A typical fight will last anywhere from 10-14 minutes, depending on how big the fish and what he’s got left in the tank for you. Your heavier tackle can bring him in more quickly, but you wind up with a little less of an exciting time.

Be very careful bringing Cobia on board. It’s once they’re on the boat that they really can be dangerous. You don’t want to bring one up on the boat when he’s too ‘green’, or you’ll really have a tough time of it. They’re like a giant, tough muscle. Once they hit the deck they thrash around with the power of an angry linebacker, beating the daylights out of the boat. They’ve been known to snap rod holders and break legs. Fight them a bit to tire them out so they’re not so ‘green’ before gaffing them up onto the boat.

Either way you go about cobia fishing, you’re bound to have a great time and go home to a delicious meal.

Flipping Jigs Around Reeds for Florida Largemouth

Flipping jigs in Florida is a little different than anywhere else. For starters, you’re fishing in nasty cover for monster bass. So the jig you’re flipping needs to be a hoss. A big hook, double weedguard, heavyweight hoss.

The one I use is made by a guy by the name of Joe Medlock down in Florida. I, like many anglers, had never fished a jig like this until Joe’s son, Brandon Medlock, started dropping 30-to-35-pound bags on us in tournaments down there. After watching Brandon win back-to-back EverStarts I decided I better call up ole Joe and order a few.

Since then I caught two of the biggest fish I’ve ever put in the boat on Okeechobee on the Medlock Jig and several other good ones on Toho and other lakes in Florida as you can see here in this video.

So What Makes Flipping Jigs So Effective in Florida?

Well, let’s start off by looking at when the jig is most effective, which is around the spawn. Florida lakes are littered with big largemouth bass. These bass, like all others, are looking to bulk up during pre-spawn and then replenish their lost energy from the spawn at the beginning of the post-spawn. So presenting them with a big meal like this is a great way to trigger strikes.

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Keep in mind, when these bass are on a bed they are very territorial.

I would venture to say 75% of the fish I’ve caught on a jig like this were actively spawning when I caught them. Not all of those are giant females however. Quite often you’ll catch several small males between each big female. But that’s often a good sign, especially if you’re practicing for a tournament as a wave of big females are probably on the horizon. I’ve gone through an area on Lake Okeechobee before and had five 2-pounders one day only to come back through the same area the next day and catch 22-pounds of females.

Although I catch a lot of fish spawning when flipping jigs, I’m not actually sight fishing. Most of the time the water is a little tannic or black and I’m fishing in 3-to-5-feet of water.

So how do you know they’re spawning?

Well one of the telltale signs that bass are spawning in an area can be derived from the male bass you’re catching. If the males were trying to fertilize the bed when you catch them, they’ll still be doing so when they leave the water.

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Where to Look When Flipping Jigs in Florida

Knowing where to look is one of the biggest keys when it comes to flipping jigs like this. You obviously want to fish in or around a spawning area.

But what does that look like?

Well bass in Florida want a hard bottom to spawn. Certain types of vegetation like Arrowheads tend to only grow in areas with a hard, clean bottom.

Once you find an area with signs of a hard bottom, you want to pitch your jig to anything a fish could spawn next to. These bass like to have their back up against something. It may be as little as one pencil reed if that’s all they have in the area or it may be a clump of reeds the size of a bass boat. Just be sure to never overlook the small, isolated clusters.

Also, if I’m fishing a line of cover, I like to focus on the irregularities. Whether that’s the occasional point that juts out or a cluster of a certain type of vegetation that’s appearing every 30-feet or so. I’ll still fish the whole stretch thoroughly, but become hyper-vigilant around certain aspects of the cover as patterns start to form.

As far as how you actually fish the bait, I often get bit on the initial flip. If not, I’ll almost swim it along the bottom for a few feet. Kind of like a slow hop with 2-to-3-second pauses in between hops. Usually the bite comes on one of these pauses and the fish is there when you pick your rod back up.

Gear for Flipping Jigs in Florida

One of the keys to flipping jigs is remembering that the bait is bulky. I use either a 3/4 ounce jig if I’m mostly pitching to the edges or a 1-ounce jig if I’m pitching into thicker stuff. The double weedguard is great for keeping trash off the hook, but a firm hookset is needed to make sure you punch the big hook past the weedguard and through the mouth. A lot of those bigger bass are gnarly and old. A good hook is key for punching through their mouths.

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For the trailer, you also want something bulky.

I usually use a Gambler Mega Daddy for a trailer or a full-size Strike King Rage Craw. I always go black and blue when flipping jigs in Florida but I’ll mix up the trailer color sometimes, still always leaning towards something dark though because of the tannic water color.

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You want a fairly long and strong rod, something in the 7’ 6” and up range with a pretty good bend to it.

The fish from the above video were caught on a 7’ 6” Extra Heavy Duckett Fishing rod that has since been discontinued. Though it was labeled ‘Extra Heavy’, it was really more of a heavy action rod. Fitzgerald Fishing makes a good rod for this in their 7’ 8” Big Jig Heavy Mat Flippin’ Rod which doubles as the rod I use to punch.

You also need a good strong reel and braided line when flipping jigs. I use a Lew’s Super Duty spooled with 65-pound Sufix 832 Braid. As you can see in the video, some of these fish will make really fast runs as soon as you hook them or even be toting the jig away from the bed before the hookset and have slack in your line.

The braid helps minimize missing these fish with it’s lack of stretch. But you also want a fairly fast reel so you can catch up to the bass quickly. The reel I was using in these catches has since been discontinued as well, it was a Lew’s Offshore Speed Spool. But I’ve always had just as much confidence in the Super Duty for big braid applications like this and punching.

With these tips, you’re ready to go! Remember to pay attention the what section of the reed clumps you’re getting your bites on so you can find the pattern within the pattern. You won’t catch fish in every reed clump, so keying in on areas where you find a cluster of fish will be important. Pick apart those areas with your hoss of a jig, and you’ll like the results!

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Fishing from a Paddle Board for Exotics in South Florida

Bullseye Snakeheads, Mayan Cichlids, and Blue Tilapia

Florida… it is the “Mecca” of Sport Fishing. Here in Florida, you can catch so many different types of fish that the choices are endless, in fresh or saltwater. One of the most interesting aspects of fishing in Florida is the introduction of “Invasive” or “Exotic” species in several waterways throughout South Florida, and how basic bass fishing techniques can land these fish. Fishing from a paddle board simply makes it more interesting!

From the small bodies of water near exit ramps to the canals that run through developments, these Exotics are becoming a sought after game fish.

Let me review a few ways I catch them…

Snakehead Fishing From a Paddle Board and Tackle Used

As I said, I don’t have to change techniques that I use when bass fishing to land one of these feisty fighters. One of my favorite ways to catch bass is to work a soft plastic frog around and through vegetation fields. My go-to is a Bass Addiction Gear Kickin’ Frog in Houdini color, or a Scumfrog Chugger in Black, both of which are a great imitations to the natural look of the frogs down here in South Florida.

For the Kickin’ Frog, I rig it on a 4/0 VMC heavy duty swimbait hook with a bait keeper. The weedless design allows me to work the frog through cover and not get hung up, and the heavy duty hook is very strong, which is key for aggressive fish like the bullseye snakehead. Now, while Bass will frequent these vegetation fields in a variety of depths, the bullseye snakehead will remain in parts that are closest to the bank where there may be a foot or less of water.

I believe that they do this simply to remain close to the pods of fry that stay within these areas, thus keeping them close to an abundant food source.

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Working these frogs parallel to the bank near vegetation patches will surely bring an aggressive strike.

For my rod and reel, I love using a MH 7’ Falcon Bucoo spinning rod with a 2000 sized Daiwa Tatula spinning reel with 15 pound braided line tied directly to the hook. The medium heavy action rod has a soft tip to cast the frog a good distance, but the backbone to turn the fish when needed. As far as using braid, I normally prefer monofilament, but snakeheads love to hang close to structure as well and the braid helps me keep the fish on without worrying too much about line breakage.

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I will turn to the Scumfrog Chugger when I am working vegetation fields with large open “pockets” that allow me to slowly work the chugger.

For this bait, I use a Falcon Cara T3 Jason Christie Frog Rod paired with a Daiwa Tatula CT with a 8.1:1 gear ratio to allow me to quickly pick up slack before setting the hook. As for the line, I upgrade to a 20 pound braid.

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Fishing From a Paddle Board for Mayans and Blue Tilapia

Another of my favorite ways to catch bass is to work a spinnerbait around structure. My go-to is a RedLine Lures Pro Series in Houdini color with a double Colorado blade configuration. I love to throw it around brush piles, docks, and fallen timber.

I will use a 6’6” Medium Action Falcon Bucoo SR Casting Rod with a moderate taper paired with a Daiwa Tatula CT with a 5.5:1 gear ratio. For spinnerbaits, as well as lipless crankbaits, I prefer the slower gear ration so I can work the bait nice and slow and the soft taper of the rod allows me to softly drop the bait on the cast.

Now, while bass will often be caught in these areas, Mayan Cichlids are also inhabiting these same spots and will readily hit these baits.

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While they are small in size, the Mayan Cichlid fight is very similar to a peacock bass…running side to side with small bursts of speed and pulling straight down.

Another rare species to get on the end of your line is the Blue Tilapia. This fish is much harder to catch, but when hooked…the fight is incredible. I have caught just a handful of these fish, but found that when a lipless crankbait is worked in deeper waters over submerged structure, if near a nest, a Blue Tilapia will strike in order to protect its territory.

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The Blue Tilapia will fight similar to a redfish…it will continuously fight “downward” causing a great deal of stress to the line.

Their fight is unique, so if I get one on, I will quickly loosen the drag so the lure does not pull from the mouth and to release strain on the hooks which will possibly bend. These fish will eventually wear themselves out so let your rod and the drag do the work and you will eventually boat these feisty fish.

Why I Prefer Fishing From a Paddle Board 

While the kayak industry has exploded over the last 15 to 20 years causing kayaks to evolve into fully outfitted fishing vessels, my preferred method for fishing is from my Kaku Kahuna paddle board. I do this for two reasons. One, I love a clean, flat deck. I feel that they are the most comfortable platform for me to fish from.

While I find the room to be beneficial for a variety of reasons, there is also a method to my madness. Many of these exotic species are brutal fighters and the bullseye snakehead is at the top of that list with regard to fighting until the end. These fish, in addition to their power, will also perform what many call the “Alligator Deathroll”, and these rolls will NOT stop when they get into your craft. These fish have been known to break their own jaws trying to escape fish grips, causing your line to wrap around a variety of items, and even in the net, they just simply don’t stop fighting.

I know all too well how self-destructive these fish can be when caught so I want to get them off the hook, photographed and back in the water as quickly as possible. A clean deck without pods, pedals, and rod holders, allows me to have a better chance of safely handling these beasts and my Kaku Kahuna allows me to do just that.

Secondly, I believe that a SUP is even stealthier than a kayak.

Due to the smaller overall size of my SUP, I can have even more of a chance sneaking up on Snakeheads. As I previously mentioned, Snakeheads loom close to the banks in less than a foot of water, and the fully padded, uncluttered deck of my Kahuna allows me to stand quietly in just a few inches of water so I can cast that frog just off of the bank and catch some giants that are just lying in wait.

Fishing From a Paddle Board: Closing Thoughts

I have learned over the years that for me, when it comes to kayak fishing, less is more. Fishing from a SUP may limit my ability to cover big bodies of water, but affords me the right amount of space to outfit my trips and find myself slipping into areas that even kayaks may not enter.

If you are looking to possibly hook a exotic species here in Florida, just bring your bass gear, because down here, when you feel that thump… you just might hook yourself a new species to check off your bucket list.

 

How to Find and Catch Peacock Bass in South Florida

Over the past 18 months I’ve been re-learning the waters of South Florida, where I spent the first 18 years of my life. Now, living in Miami with my wife and two toddler aged sons, I’ve had the opportunity to spend significant time exploring the vast Miami canal system and its adjoining lakes and ponds which are home to several fresh and saltwater species.

Although there are many species to fish for in the inland waters of South Florida, the most pursued species by far is the Butterfly Peacock Bass!

While peacock bass are native to South America, they were originally introduced in South Florida in 1984. Since then, they have become a highly sought after fish as a result of their aggressive nature and majestic colors.

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Peacock Bass are plentiful in South Florida however over the past 18 months I’ve learned that in order to consistently find and catch peacock bass, you have to cover water, know what to look for, and vary your presentation.

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Covering Water In Pursuit of Peacock Bass

Nearly every type of bridge, spillway, seawall, or shoreline connected to the urban waterways and canals in South Florida can potentially hold Peacock Bass, so it is very important to cover as much water as possible in order to find fish. Since the lakes and canals in Miami are generally clear, the vibrant colors of Peacock Bass make them easily noticeable in most conditions and provide natural opportunities to sight fish.

In re-exploring the urban canal system, I made a habit of stopping at nearly every urban body of water that I could find in neighborhoods, near shopping malls, parks, highways, and various other locations in Miami. Most of the time my reconnaissance of potential locations was without a rod in hand while I was on a lunch break or running errands.

My aim was simply to determine if these various locations held fish that I could come back to at a later date.

While I now use the ANGLR App to mark spots where I find fish, I previously made mental notes or took map screenshots with my phone which I would later review to determine other potential ways to access the same bodies of water where I knew fish were present.

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By taking the time to cover lots of water, I quickly found numerous locations that continue to produce healthy peacock bass year round.  

What to Look for When Locating Peacock Bass

While peacock bass can be found in nearly every body of water in Miami, when searching for new locations, I generally look for deep drop offs near hard structure such as limestone, boulders, or large pieces of cement along shorelines. I’ve also had success finding peacocks in deeper water under lily pads that line seawalls or shorelines. Although peacock bass prefer clear water, they can also be caught in areas where water visibility is limited due to pollution, cloud cover, or tidal flow.

One trick to identifying Peacock Bass in the water during low light or limited visibility conditions is to look for the bright orange color on their anal fins. Similar to other species, when in spawn, bedding Peacock Bass will typically be observed in pairs, and sometimes with small fry nearby. While they are other times observed in large schools, my favorite way to target peacock bass is when they are swimming in smaller groups of 3 to 4 and feeding on small baitfish in the shallows.

Focus on Presentation to Catch Peacock Bass

Due to their predatory nature, Peacock Bass are voracious eaters that can be caught on live bait, artificial lures, and even flies. Unlike species such as Largemouth bass, Peacock bass can be more aggressive with increased sunlight and warmer temperatures. When turned on and active, Peacock bass will devour nearly everything you put in front of them, especially by live lining wild shiners or small cichlids using small circle hooks.

When the fish appear uninterested in live bait, I will often switch from live bait to various small flies which I find to be the most effective method overall to entice slow moving fish. There are also ample opportunities to catch them on topwater lures and flies, which makes for an explosive bite. At the same time flashy artificial lures such as Mirrodine’s, or Rat-L-Traps work well as they mimic small baitfish.

Despite their aggressive eating habits, peacock bass often become less active when in spawn and protecting their beds, and also tend to turn off as a result of significant cloud cover, cold fronts, or rain.

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The key to enticing inactive Peacock bass to bite is changing your presentation.

When attempting to use artificial lures with slow moving fish, I like to downsize my lures and retrieve the lure in a more erratic nature in order to provoke the fish. I find that they will sometimes try to bump the lure, or push it away, yet with repetitive presentations of a lure the Peacock bass will usually bite once they are sufficiently irritated.

When casting a fly to a hesitant Peacock bass, I like to slow down the strip of the fly, and at times will stop the fly right in front of the fish and will even let the fly drop to the bottom near the fish before stripping line quickly to elicit a response. This retrieve tends to irritate or provoke the fish and results in consistent bites from seemingly lethargic and inactive fish.

The Miami canal system is one of a kind, and provides as an opportunity for anglers of all skill levels to catch trophy Peacock bass. The next time you make a trip to Miami, be sure to focus on locations with drop offs near hard structure or lily pads and if you don’t see peacocks after a short time, continue to cover as much water as possible.

Once you find the fish and determine their level of responsiveness to your tactics, don’t hesitate to switch up your approach if the fish initially appear lethargic and uninterested. With the right presentation, you can be sure to elicit an incredible bite!

Chad Nelson is an ANGLR Expert and a Miami-based fishing guide who specializes Peacock Bass and has experience guiding families. To book a Miami Peacock Bass trip with Chad or to find out more about catching peacock bass and other prized species in Miami such as tarpon, snook, and bonefish contact Chad on Instagram @cnelson4. A portion of all proceeds go to support 501(c)3 non-profit organizations working to help underprivileged kids and transform communities in Panama and Afghanistan. Chad was featured on Episode 20 of the ANGLR Tour. Check it out below! 

 

Episode 21 | Offshore Fishing New Smyrna Beach and Mosquito Lagoon Fishing with Capt. Josh Baker