By Captain Mel Berman


“Wonder what the poor people are doing today?” That time worn, slightly elitist phrase is often invoked in these shining environs. No harm meant. Just an expression of joy when coupled with a spring fishing trip. Forget about the work-a-day world. Let’s play hooky! Your only concentration is to find out where the fish are, and what they’re eating this glorious day. THE MACKS ARRIVE In the spring there is a real slugfest between those peacefully calm days and a series of rugged, windy blasts which invariably disrupt the peak offshore fishing season. Ironically, it is usually when the winds howl at highest velocity that the main schools of king and Spanish mackerel, blackfin tuna, bonito and other spring visitors choose to parade through our near shore waters. Those with lower seasickness tolerance must wait for a break in the gusty winds to venture out with their spoons, planers and plugs. Upon passing the outer buoy, you notice the crystal clear character of the spring offshore waters. The surface is busy, pock marked with burbling, shifting schools of roaming baitfish. Birds dive into this feast, loading up on calories missed during the austere winter. Somewhere under the pods, large groups of equally hungry pelagics survey the scope of the baitfish banquet, ready to feast on these beleaguered silvery forage fish. It is also your turn in nature’s food chain. If wrestling with “smoker kings” is your passion, slow-trolled live bait is just what the doctor ordered. Larger horse minnows, shad, and mullet work best. Some chum and a good sized cast net is about all you need to load the baitwell. A net with heavier leads is going to get down quickly enough in the deeper waters to capture sufficient greenbacks. If you’re not yet ready for all that fuss, there is the time honored and highly productive technique of trolling artificials. Most choose spoons and plugs trolled on small planers or downriggers. It’s not too soon to start dragging your spoons right at the outer buoy. Keep your eyes peeled for birds diving on bait. Never drag planers through the greenbacks. You’ll spook the bajeebers out of the fishes feeding on them down below. Try pulling your spoons or plugs so they skirt around the edge of a bait school. Sooner or later a mack will make a big mistake and lunge at that piece of metal. Many anglers, not too keen on trolling, prefer anchoring up and still-fishing for mackerels using live bait, spoons or jigs. First, you can prime the pump by setting up a chum line. Many tie off a prepared chum block the to the stern. There it can dribble out a line of goodies that’ll draw just about every fish in the neighborhood. Some prefer their own chum mixture, mushing up canned jack mackerel in bread and water, or simply cutting up bait with shears, dropping small pieces off the stern. All of these tactics get the chumming job done, calling the fish over to within casting range. IT’S PRIME TIME FOR GROUPER One of nature’s springtime pranks is that when the kings are in and biting, every other sportfish species… inshore and offshore… busts loose. This is evident as you pull your planers where it’s not uncommon to have an occasional grouper striking your bait. Before GPS, lorans, color machines and chart recorders, most old-time Florida anglers trolled until they located a bunch of hungry gags. Once hooking a grouper or two trolling, they’d mark the spot, anchor, and bottom fish. This is still a valid technique, breaking that “fish by the numbers” mentality, especially during the active spring fishing season. The grouper have now returned from the winter spawning haunts in the bays and from deeper offshore waters to converge on what locals call “the short rocks.” (Translation: rocks a short ride from shore.) It is not uncommon during spring months to catch reds and blacks up to 20-pounds in waters as shallow as 10 feet. Remember, in spring you don’t want to head out too far. You could very well be riding right over the grouper motherlode. Start by looking for good structure in the shallowest of waters. The aforementioned trolling actually speeds up the process of finding fish. It will enable you to cover vast areas until you locate a pack of hungry fish. If you’re in the “dip and drop” crowd, not into the trolling scene, simply motorfish a “fish show” on a ledge or set of rocks. Here’s how that routine goes: As you move around your loran coordinates, keep that bottom machine chugging. When you spot a stack of fish on the recorder, have one of your buddies drop a bait down as you keep the vessel held over the spot with the motor. Should he catch a grouper, fling a marker jug over the side. Then simply set up right on the jug. Remember, most grouper are lazy and will not leave their cozy rocks. Therefore, anchoring is very critical and it’s important to know how the boat is going to hang. One way is to observe the direction in which other anchored craft are pointing. If you have a buddy who’s already on his spot, give him a blast on the radio to check out his anchor heading. That can save a lot of aggravation and valuable fishing time. As for baits, since there are so many live shiners showing up, why not load up on the freebies before you hit the trail. Outer buoys with good structure are often the scenes of swarming schools of greenbacks. Here too chumming before you toss the net makes a big difference in how many shiners you catch per throw and, thus, how much time you’ll be spending with this chore. When you set up on your grouper hole, it helps immensely to drop a weighted and filled chum container down to the bottom. This gets the grouper show on the road, calling the fish over from at least three surrounding counties. One cheap chumming technique that works is to put several soggy old sardines from previous trips on a hook, drop them down to the bottom and shake loose. This definitely gets a grouper’s motor running. Bear in mind though, as soon as you stop chumming, the fish stop eating. THE FANTASTIC FLATS OF SPRING In spring the entire world of fishing is a bountiful cornucopia of profuse potential, Sounds kind of flowery but, when you think about it, these are the golden days of our fishing year. And nowhere is this more evident than in back country fishing. Once dormant winter flats are now alive with activity. A first generation of spring baits percolate across the grasses. Vast schools of mullet push massive wakes as they pour out of creeks and passes.

Not far behind are foraging herds of big-shouldered reds and trout eager to replace the lost calories of winter. Near the mangroves and other shallow water structures, the prized snook slashes at the slightest moving target. And in April, the second level species such as jack cravalles, ladyfish and even big gafftopsail catfish provide plenty of good pulls, enthusiastically slam dunking virtually any bait in your tackle box. It is now time to pull in your seat at the table and partake of nature’s most bountiful feast. Topwater lures, virtually unproductive in the cold waters of January and February, now, in April, regain their magical powers. Buoyant floaters like the famed Zara Spook, Norman’s Rat’lure, Rebel’s Jumpin’ Minnow, plus the MirrOlure 95-M and 97-M, all on-water walkers, draw several menacing wakes and splashes. There is absolutely nothing I can think of that’s more satisfying than to entice a fish into reaching out and touching a well worked plug. Even if you don’t always connect, the exhilaration of a massive splash if often enough to satisfy the inner soul of most anglers. These topwaters work best when “walking the dog,” twitching it from side to side as you work it in. You’ll produce the best action with a light and longer-than-usual rod of 7-feet or more. This facilitates those vital long distance rocket casts and, when shaken briskly, walks the topwater enticingly across the water’s surface. These topwalkers need to be worked with a determined steady cadence, occasionally halting the action to give the fish a unobstructed shot at the lure. As a matter of fact, it is usually on the stop that you’ll get the most aggressive strikes. The next category of topwaters, when worked, pull slightly below the surface. At rest they pop back up on top. That momentary pause on top could very well be the precise moment when a fish nails it. There are several choices in this category including the MirrOlure 7-M, Mann’s Stretch 1-minus, Woodwalker, Bomber “Long-A” 15 AX and Bagley’s finger mullet. For the most part, these are all twitch type baits. Flip them out and reel, adding a twitch every so often is all it takes to get a fish’s attention. Some of the lipped jobs can simply be reeled, supplying their own action as they move through the water.

Many anglers, myself included, can’t resist twitching it, lipped or not. Either way, you’ll have to experiment with various retrieve and twitch rates determined by existing fishing conditions. Once you ascertain the most effective reel/twitch ratio, you can begin sight casting to areas where you spot fish moving about. If you readily don’t see any target species, simply “blind cast” your lure until you produce a strike. Often fish are feeding or laying in the deep grasses down below and can readily be distracted by a well-worked plug on the surface. An don’t be too quick to put away the jigs and spoons. My friend Captain Rick Grassett calls the small ¼-oz. gold spoon his “fishfinder.” It’s a great blind-casting tool. Usually, you can achieve good distance with a spoon, slowly reeling it back over a broad target area. To avoid grabbing the bottom in the shallow grass flats, close the bail before the spoon hits the water and immediately start reeling. Most species, especially redfish, can’t stand it when they see that flashing piece of gold metal wobbling by. As for jigs, pick your poison. Most any brand works. I favor our local manufacturers, not only because it’s good for our economy, but also because they were designed with our target fishery in mind.

I have whaled on all flats species with virtually every home grown brand. The Love’s Lures Tandem and Floatin’ Jig; all the wonderfully soft, pliable, colorful and sparkly Bubba Jigs; the remarkably effective 12-Fathom striped and polka dot jigs, the new D.O.A. CAL jigs series, their Terror-Eyz; plus a host of other local favorites are all efficient fish catchers. Since you’ll be working in the shallow grasses, select the lightest jig head that’s castable. When tossing jigs in the skinny waters, you’ll do best to reel and twitch as opposed to the more conventional drop and twitch jigging technique. As a matter of fact, most experienced anglers jig fish in shallow waters employing a hybrid jigging/plugging action. There’s plenty of action built-in to the curly and shad tails so that you can simply cast it out and reel slowly back in. Most of the freshwater “rubber worm” styles are also extremely effective for springtime flats fishing. I have had outstanding results with the scented Mister Twister “Exudes” and “Slimy Slugs,” but just about all will catch fish.

As for rigging, it’s your call. You can do so conventionally with a worm hook and possibly a weight or, as many saltwater aficionados prefer, affix the rubber worm to an ordinary light weight jig head. The easiest and most effective way to work the worm is simply to cast out, let it drop slightly below the surface, then reel slowly. Being an inveterate twitcher, I can’t resist putting in a flick every so often. Also at your spring flats fishing disposal are other style baits that are a combination of any of the above major categories. April… a month most Suncoast anglers covet. Active, hungry fishes are everywhere. Pick from “Column A” and head offshore for the vast array of enthusiastic Gulf species, or select from “Column B” working the treasures of the flats for your springtime fishing fix. It’s your call… a time of year you hope never ends. Let’s play hooky! Your only concentration is to find out where the fish are, and what they’re eating this glorious day.   Help me! I can’t stop buying tackle!    ** By Capt. Mel Berman, 970-WFLA If we really wanted to be honest with ourselves, a couple-three rods and reels should be more than enough to satisfy most of our fishing requirements. Yet, after a mere few years of fishing, our tackle collection somehow magically grows exponentially. I personally have gotten to the point where I purchased one of those multi-rod tackle racks on wheels – and today that sucker’s cram full of rods and reels of every size, shape and description.   Is it a compulsion? Is there a cure? Should I sign up for “Tackle Buyers Anonymous?”   My only consolation is that this personality flaw is apparently quite common with most of the fishing addicted.   I recently went on a trip with my friend, guide and radio competitor, Capt. Ray Markham. We met at his waterfront home in Terra Ceia, launched and had a very productive fishing day.   Upon our return, Ray took me proudly into his garage to show off his pet project. There in the ceiling were many – and I do mean many rod racks fastened to the ceiling. And every available slot was crammed with rods and reels of every configuration.   His collection made me feel like a downright piker when it came to accumulating fishing outfits.   ”Just how many fishing combos do you have Ray,” I asked incredulously. “I think at least 85,” he replied sheepishly. “Why in the world would you need all those rods and reels,” I asked.  “Believe or not Mel, I get to use almost every one of those babies,” he said, as if to justify his tackle addition. “Yeh—sure Ray.”   But it does take one – to know one! And I must fess up – If I see a new rod or reel design that looks oh so perfect for my fishing needs, I can’t resist the temptation. Going to the nearest tackle store to get the feel and heft of that new fishing innovation, I cannot overcome the urge. Almost uncontrollably, my hand reaches for the credit card and yes, I walk out with my latest possession.   Now us guys always rag on women about their impulsive shopping habits – purchasing handbags, shoes, and other perceived must-have items that when acquired seems to satisfy their inner being.   But you know, truth be known, us anglers are just as bad – and maybe worse.   Well this year, I have resolved that I must fish with the tackle I now have on hand. I promised myself that I would simply ignore the urge to buy that newer, lighter, longer, more sensitive rod that everyone’s talking about. And I’m really good to go on that score – that is until my next trip when one of my buddies hauls out his new rod and/or reel and invariably says “Here Mel, try this!”  And yes, I’m hooked once more. I must have it!   Now, next time I go fishing, if one of the guys has the urge to hand me his new fishing outfit to try, I would very much appreciate it if he resists that devilish temptation. The tarpon is a large thick-bodied fish generally silver in color other than its back, which can range from a dark green to gray. It has a large scoop shaped mouth and the last ray of its dorsal fin is greatly elongated. Its scales are large and thick like a coat of armor. The Tarpon is a large, hard fighting fish and is judged by many to be the worlds most exciting gamefish. Once it feels the hook being set it begins the spectacular display of frequent, twisting, acrobatic leaps into the air to free itself from the hook. Most Tarpon landed are between 25 to 80 pounds on average but can range from a few inches in length to about 300 pounds. The world all tackle record is 283 pounds 4ounces. Tarpon are found in the western Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, the west coast of Central America and the coast of northwest Africa. They prefer water temperatures in the 74 – 88° F range. Tarpon can be found through out the coastal areas of Florida. On the Atlantic coast they are most prevalent in the southeast areas. They can be found from in large inlets such as Port Everglades, Government Cut and south to Biscayne Bay from January to June and along coastal beaches and inlets during late summer. They are caught all the way up to Amelia Island but the fishing in south Florida is the best. On the West Coast of Florida Tarpon can be caught from the Everglades up to the Panhandle. The most renowned area for Tarpon is Boca Grande where during May and June hundreds, if not thousands of fish are caught. Also in this area is Homasassa Bay has great shallow water flats fishing for Tarpon during May and June. Apalachicola Bay and St George Sound also offer good fishing during the summer. The Everglades National Park and Ten Thousand Islands area has Tarpon fishing year round with the largest fish being caught from mid-spring to mid-summer. The Keys also offer year round Tarpon fishing. The best times to fish are mid-March starting on the Florida Bay side through mid-July on both the Bay side and Atlantic side. Fishing EquipmentTarpon come in all sizes and can be caught with all kinds of fishing equipment and using various methods. These fish can be caught with artificials and natural bait by casting, drifting, trolling and still fishing. Those big fish anglers will need some sturdy medium to heavy rods with 30 to 50 pound saltwater reels and lines. For average and smaller tarpon just about all medium baitcasting, spinning and fly fishing tackle can be used effectively. Baitcasting and spinning gear should be equipped with 15 pound line and heavier leader material based in the size of Tarpon you are pursueing. Fly fishing tackle should consist of a 10 –13 weight rod a high quality reel with a capacity to handle 300 yards of 30# backing. Natural baits used in the pursuit of Tarpon can include live shrimp, live crabs and live baitfish such as Pinfish, Mullet, Pilchards and Squirrelfish. There are many locations around the state that a particular method of fishing for Tarpon works best. Check at the local Bait and tackle Shops for advice or hire a Professional Guide to teach you the techniques for a particular area to catch this spectacular gamefish!       No Respect For Sheepshead By MEL BERMAN Tribune correspondent While others spend countless angling hours pursuing politically correct species, sheepshead enthusiasts go quietly about their business catching those tasty members of the porgy family. Yet, for some reason, the sheepshead is the Rodney Dangerfield of fish — it gets no respect. One has to wonder why, because sheepshead can be very elusive, they put up a good fight and are ultimately a delicious dinner treat. David Hack of Venice has focused his fishing passion on these striped “convict fish.” Known as “Mr. Sheepshead,” Hack fishes for them on rocky bottom along the Intracoastal Waterway and at the popular Venice jetties. For bait, Hack definitely has a preference. “My cooked, frozen sand fleas work better than the live ones,” Hack boasted, “and they’re better than any other sheepshead bait.” Hack loads his light spinning combo with 30-pound braid, plus a small swivel attached to 20-pound fluorocarbon leader. He prefers 1/0 Eagle Claw hooks. “I like the shiny chrome ones for sheepshead,” he said, “and always keep them sharp because sheepshead have really tough mouths.” He also attaches a tiny freshwater-type bobber, plus a medium split shot on the leader. When fishing, he estimates the depth and sets his bobber so the bait is just off the bottom — then slowly lifts up to feel the strike. Another angler who has been fishing for the sheepshead all his life is captain Woody Gore, a South Shore guide. Gore loved fishing while he was a teenager, often accompanying his Uncle Talbert to his bridge tender job at Tampa’s Platt Street Bridge. “The nights were long and boring, so ‘Uncle Tub’ taught me to fish for what he called ‘convicts,’ ” Gore recalled. Gore said his uncle would rig a short, but stout cane pole with 6 to 8 feet of braided fishing line, a heavy split-shot weight and a small hook. “We would buy frozen shrimp, bust open oysters on the rocks along the river’s edge, or work the shoreline to catch a few fiddler crabs for bait,” he said. “Back then, the rules and restrictions were laid back so climbing down to the bridge fenders was not a big deal, especially if you knew someone.” After five or 10 minutes of scraping barnacles with an old piece of galvanized pipe, young Gore would get plenty of chum in the water. “We would bait up and lower the rig into the water, holding it still and close to the pilings,” Gore said. “It usually didn’t take long before you would feel a light bump or sometimes a hard pull. Then we’d just snatch up on the pole to set the hook.” Across the bay, another sheepshead expert, captain Rick Frazier, has fished for these crafty fish all his life. “I really like chumming for sheepshead with crushed Asian green mussels — shell and all,” Frazier said. “Then I use the green mussel meat as bait.” Green mussels are an exotic species found in abundance throughout Tampa Bay. Frazier said some excellent locations in his area include the rubble piles along the north and south Skyway piers, the rock jetty at Albert Whitted Airport and just about all the fixed piers in the Bay area. “To catch sheepshead, you need the touch,” he said. “It’s a matter of feeling the tension. Keep the rod tip pointed down to the water and slowly lift up. When you feel any tension, start reeling.” Captain Jim Huddleston, a Clearwater/Dunedin guide, also prefers green mussels as bait. He fishes for sheepshead around pilings and docks with strong current, plus the channels such as those going into local docks, such as Fast Eddies and Pats Landing. Sheepshead are around Florida all year, but the big breeders show up during cooler months and can be found congregating around close-in artificial reefs, jetties and other near-shore structures. Always allow some extra time to clean them.When filleting, you have to work your knife around a fairly complicated rib/backbone structure. Be very careful of the needle-pointed fins. Skin and de-bone the fillets once they’re off the carcass. As for cooking sheepshead, you can broil or bake, or dip in egg and roll in your favorite coating — then fry to a golden brown. One favorite is to cut the meat into chunks and cook them quickly in boiling water seasoned with Crab Boil. Then just dip the pieces in drawn butter and lemon. When prepared this way, these crustacean-eating fish taste almost like very tender lobster or crab.   The “Mystery” of the DOA Shrimp By Capt. Mel Berman, 970-WFLA  ** Among the great and varied topics presented by callers to my 970-WFLA radio program, and here via listener emails, none show up with more frequency than queries on how to work the DOA shrimp. It is however, a mystery that is easily solved.   There is a distinct divide between those who have figured out this unique bait, and those who apparently are struggling with learning how to make that shrimp look-alike catch fish. For anglers who have mastered this small but effective bait, you will find dedicated and avid proponents. For those who have yet to unravel the mystery of how to catch fish with the DOA Shrimp, it all sounds like a bunch of malarkey.   Here’s a typical email from one of the unconvinced:   “Re: DOA shrimp and TerrorEyz: I have heard how great these two baits are and I’m sure from the amount of them sold they work. However, for two trips and a total of est. 6 hours of chunking and winding I have naught to show for my efforts. Is there a secret formula for these two baits? I’ve tried going slow and steady, slow and slower, popping cork etc. to no avail. I even tried them tying your loop knot shown on your knot tying 101 page. Can you help or am I beyond hope.   And here was my response:   First of all let me state with all honesty that I have caught the overwhelming majority of fish over the last several year using those very two DOA lures. And more recently, with the introduction of the CAL jigs, have caught a great many fish with this newest of DOA products.   Now I will ask what might seem like an impertinent question, but I mean no malice. Were you where the fish were? I don’t care how effective a bait is, if there are no fish in the neighborhood, you will not catch fish.   My suggestion to you would be to find yourself a nice grass flats, with lots of sand holes and start a drift across them. If the waters are shallow, use the DOA Shrimp, casting along the edges of the sand holes and then reeling slowly back to the boat. You can give it a very slight twitch every so often to emulate a shrimp jumping out of the way of a predator. Remember, the DOA Shrimp is not a jig – it’s an imitation shrimp and should be crawled along the bottom just like a shrimp.   I assure you that, as you drift over a large area of flats, using the technique just described, you will definitely catch fish. Once you do, you should develop a “feel” for this unique bait and gain a great deal of confidence in its capabilities.   If you drift deeper flats, switch to the DOA Terror-Eyz or the new DOA CAL jigs. The Terror-Eyz itself is used like any other jig –you can swim it through the water column and jig it up and down. Most times the fish will strike on the drop.   You can also drift the flats with a DOA Shrimp rigged on a small float or a “Cajun Thunder” cork. Flip it out and twitch. When the Cajun Thunder again sits upright, twitch again, etc. Each time the Cajun Thunder flips upright, the shrimp is dropping slowly to the bottom, which is very enticing to the fish.   Thus it is my sincere hope that with the emailed response, I have cleared up “The Mystery of the DOA Shrimp.” 12 “killer” flats fishing tips By Captain Mel Berman, 970-WFLA   ** Ever since the precedent setting Florida Net Ban became law, the ranks of flats anglers have grown exponentially. And, at the risk of sounding somewhat elitist, the vast majority of anglers working the bays and bayous are not really very good at it. Therefore I present for your consideration 12 steps that you can take which should bring your flats fishing skill level up a notch or two.       1.                   Our first tip goes right to the “jugular.” It’s the shorthand way to make wondrous leaps in your flats fishing capabilities. The quickest way to learn your way around the flats is to spend three or four trips with an experienced friend or area fishing guide. They not only with educate you to the kinds of terrain to search in your quest for fish, they’ll also freely give pointers on the type of tackle required, the best baits, artificial and natural, and how to deploy them for most effective results.   2.                   One of the major lessons learned during these guided outings are the types of habitat where most inshore gamefish can be found. You could employ the best baits and techniques, use top-of-the-line tackle, and be spinning your wheels if the are no critters lurking about. Thus, the major key to unlocking the door to successful flats fishing is simply to “be where the fish are!” So, on that first couple of trips with a guide or experienced friend, pay attention to where he or she is looking for fish. Make a mental note of the kind of habitat, water depth, etc. that ultimately produces fish. Then, go out on your own and “practice, practice, practice!”   3.                   Reds, snook, sea trout and other species generally prefer very shallow grass flats near mangroves or sandy areas. Snook especially like the security of dense mangrove stands. Thus, your productively spend your angling time learning how to throw a lure or live bait at the base of the mangroves. Reds and trout also will hang in close to these structures. If not, they get that sense of security hanging along the edges of potholes and drop-offs. Just wore these three area types during the right tides and weather conditions, and you too should become a more proficient flats angler.   4.                   Once you locate these prime pieces of fishing real estate, open those big blue eyes. Look around for any unusual disturbance of the water’s surface. Often you can observe fish foraging for food in the grasses. Reds do this all the time, digging down in the grasses and moss to dig out the tasty little morsels of food inside the watery vegetation. Unwittingly, their tail fins protrude out of the shallow water,  revealing their location. This is called “Tailing,” and since they are in an eating mode, they are prime candidates to strike your baits, and strike with a vengeance.  This is called “sight-fishing”… one of the most exciting and rewarding of all flats fishing techniques.     5.                   When no fish are sighted, you can simply “blind-cast” into these likely places until a hook-up is achieved. Then you can work the area with artificials or live baits. I call some lures my “fishfinders.” Simple ¼-oz gold spoons can be cast of a radius of good bottom until you get a fish’s attention. Most species can’t resist that shiny piece of metal wobbling by, and will try to snare it.   6.                   Most fish prefer hanging around the edges of the sandy areas. Therefore, it is best to cast your bait into the center of a sand hole and work it slowly back toward the grass edge.   7.                   Chumming with live pilchards over a spot will frequently get the attention of the snook or reds. They will respond by attacking these chum baits. Those areas of attack would be precisely where you should toss your hooked baits.   8.                   Check your tide charts and solunar tables. Most of the time the fish will only bite on a moving tide. If an incoming or outgoing tide is combined with a major or minor solunar period, chances are you’ll have lots of hook-ups.   9.                   The most effective baits are live shrimp and pilchards. Artificial lures might not produce as much, but they are fun to use. Work an area by casting in all directions to find the hungry fish.   10.               Topwater plugs are a big favorite, because of the ‘explosion” an angler witnesses when a fish strikes. Learn how to properly work the plug for best production.   11.               The most effective artificial baits are small spoons and most lightweight jigs. With spoons, you simply cast it out, then slowly reel it in with just enough speed to keep it from getting snagged in the grassy bottom.   12.               Use the lightest weight jig heads fitted with either plastic shad or grub tails. Bucktail jigs also produce outstanding results. Just cast the jig out. Then, before it has a chance to grab the bottom, jig it up and let it drop again. The fish will generally bite on the drop. Many also get hook-ups by simply casting and slowly retrieving the jig.       Everything you wanted to know about artificials – Part 2 By Captain Mel Berman, 970-WFLA  ** In the first part of our series, we talked about a type of artificial bait that reaches back into antiquity – the jig, its evolution and all the modern-day configurations of this utilitarian design.Next we turn our attention to another lure class that is possibly as old as the jig: The spoon. Here is a highly productive, easy to use artificial bait that will catch virtually any species that is foraging for darting, flashing, and wobbling baitfish. It is possible that somewhere down through the eons an ancient took an ordinary dinner spoon, broke off the handle and attached it to a fishing line. Retrieving this contraption through the water, this early lure designer must have observed that his converted spoon wiggled and flashed enticingly. And all those early spoon fishers had to do was determine how to attach it to a hook, and they were in business. These days, the typical spoon is configured not really too dissimilarly from the earliest versions. All have a “blade” of varying sizes and finishes, depending on the type of fishing for which it will be used. A hook, often attached with a split ring and swivel, or hook built in as an integral part of its design. The latter type often comes with a piece of wire extending from the hook point to the end of the spoon and acts as a “weed guard” permiting the angler to work it through heavy cover or grasses without snagging. Spoons are the easiest of lures to use. Just cast it out, let it drop to the desired depth and begin reeling. As it is reeled in, the flashing of the metal surfaces and the wiggle of the spoon itself can be quite irresistible to most species of fish. If one uses a spoon in shallow waters, it’s best to close the bail on the reel just before it hits the water, and start reeling immediately. Spoons of various configurations can also be quite effective when trolled. Here again, the wobbling, flashing action can prove to be enticing to most species. Plugs Most lures are designed to emulate some kind of bait. It’s the old “match the hatch” concept. True there are many lures that have been designed to annoy or agitate a fish species, but for the most part, designers craft their products to look and move like a popular forage species. In the case of fishing plugs, almost all of them have been created to represent favorite forage of various fishes. Therefore we see an infinite number of plug shapes and sizes. Yet, all essentially serve the same purpose – to look like something that a fish would want to eat. These baits are available in several different configurations, from surface to deep diving varieties, and everything in-between. There are basically two main categories of fishing plugs: “crank type baits” and “twitch type baits.” Crank baits are plugs that have been designed to have a specific action when retrieved. In the most instances, crank type baits have a lip that causes the lure to move with an enticing wiggling action. This emulates a struggling wounded bait, or some other action that replicates what the natural forage fish do under a threatening or injured circumstance. Crank baits get their name because, in use, that can be simply cast and retrieved (cranked,) or deployed as a trolled bait to initiate the built-in movement that will provoke a fish eat. The worst time can be the best time to fish By Capt. Mel Berman, 970-WFLA  ** Most of us crave those trips when fish bite like crazy. You know what I mean — days where no matter what you toss their way, snook, reds, grouper, kings, trout, etc. act like they haven’t had a meal in weeks. I’m talking about the kind of outings that make all that time, trouble and expense of a fishing passion worthwhile.   Unfortunately such exhilarating excursions are all too rare. The norm seems to be days that are long on casting and short on catching. The funniest thing is that we work so hard to avoid these unpleasant circumstances. We devour any morsel of information that might give us a leg up on the fish — studying tide charts, solunar periods, weather data, barometer readings, etc. Yet, somehow, too many of our efforts are rewarded with slow, boring, unproductive days. However, I genuinely believe there is a silver lining in that cloud of slow fishing days. First of all, you’ve got to come to terms with the fact that the majority of your trips will not be gangbusters. Live with it – and learn from it. As my friend the Canoeman says, “go when you can get out.” And if you do, you could very well be honing fishing skills that might make you more productive under any set of circumstances. There’s no doubt that those slow, boring, miserable trips can be quite instructive. Each and every fish that you catch had to be enticed with a very special bait and fishing technique. They wouldn’t have bitten had you not worked assiduously to figure out what they really want to eat, and how to present it. And when it comes top lures, I can tell you from personal experience that those difficult fishing days really separate the winners from the losers. When those finny critters hunker down and take a siesta from eating, it really proves the metal of any bait that can get fish to eat under those highly negative circumstances. If you persevere and stay with it, you will eventually find out which lure will catch fish for you no matter what the conditions. As a matter of fact, I have chosen my all time favorite “confidence baits” after testing them in the crucible of those lousy fishing days. Some of the ones that I have determined will catch fish under the worst possible conditions actually top my short list of popular favorites – very likely the same artificials you’ve heard me talk about on my 970-WFLA “Capt. Mel Radio Show.” Topping my list is – you guessed it – the DOA Shrimp. I know, many say they can’t “catch a cold with that darned DOA,” but once you really learn how to work that bait, it could very well be your first choice too. As far as I’m concerned, that imitations shrimp will catch fish when virtually no other bait can. Next is the venerable small gold spoon. I happen to like the Love Lures Lovin’ Spoonful, but most spoons will wobble and flash their way to fishing success no matter what their configuration and no matter how bad a case of “lockjaw” the fish have. Then there’s the generic jig. It has to be one of the oldest lure designs, ably catching fish for generations even under the most adverse conditions. There are many variations of the jig from which to choose, including all styles and colors of plastic tails, bucktail jigs, jerkworm, tandem, the DOA Terrorize and CAL Lures – the smelly Exudes, etc. They all work and will deliver for you even under the most adverse conditions. There are also plugs that can be classified in that “sure-thing category.” I’m talking about old standbys like the Zara Spook, 52-M and 7-M MirrOlure, Rapala, Long-A Bomber, Rat-L-Trap, etc. These plugs didn’t get to be popular because they look pretty. They became hot sellers because they will catch fish under most conditions. So next time you find yourself typically in the middle of a slow fishing day, take advantage of the experience. Try different baits, work them slow, work them fast, twitch, walk it, etc. – See what gets the job done. You’ll be pleasantly surprised when you discover what really catches fish during those less than ideal conditions. You could very well become a much better angler for it. I know I have. Do you get my drift? By Capt. Mel Berman, 970-WFLA  ** After 33 years as a fishing Floridian, it’s been my pleasure to fish all venues – offshore, back bay, bridges, wading from shore and freshwater lakes. I have enjoyed working mangrove edges, casting my baits under docks and from the beaches. But now I have concluded that, given a choice, I would much rather spend my fishing time floating across our lush grass flats. It could very well be a sign of age, but I find that kicking back and tossing lures into a never ending tableau of grasses and sand holes is my idea of a relaxing and agreeable day of fishing. Sure, coaxing that big snook from under a dock or mangrove stand still makes my pulse quicken. And should I spot a huge herd of redfish “tailing” around shallow oyster bars, my bait would be the first to fly out past them like a bullet. But for the sheer pleasure of a laid back drifting day on the water is awfully hard to beat. It’s often been said that most fishing trips with friends are in actuality “social events” – wise cracking, telling jokes, talking about our favorite sports teams, the opposite sex, etc. And the setting that ideally accommodates this personal fishing forum is a drifting the flats. However, the main joy of this mode of fishing is the fact that one never knows exactly what will strike our baits. One might say that it is almost like participating in a grab bag of fishes. My angling cohorts and I have always been amazed at the great diversity of species one encounters on a drift. A short list would include the ever-present sea trout, flounder, jacks, ladyfish and lizardfish. But there are invariably other surprise species that show up — mackerel, bluefish, even an occasional snook, redfish or cobia. Of course, no drift would be complete without hooking the occasional sail cat, puffer fish, seabass, pinfish or grunt. It just goes with the territory. Drift fishing sites are not only very easy to find, they are available virtually everywhere along our expansive Florida coastline. The first thing we look for are the broad meadows of lush grasses, pock marked with numerous sandy “potholes.” Our primary choice of baits would be sub-surface lures, mainly jigs or DOA Shrimp. I often rig my offering on a cork, slurping the cork which in turn, raises up the lure. Then on the release, the lure drops and becomes a very enticing presentation for most species.  We cast along the transitions between the sand holes and the grasses or along drop-offs and other structure. These are all natural ambush points for foraging predators.   When the fish are feeding heavily, we break out our surface lures and plugs. Top walkers and chuggers are my favorites. Most agree that there is nothing more exciting than watching a large fish “wake” after a plug and then unleash a punishing strike. It’s all a blast. But then the main attraction is spending the day with friends, sitting back, relaxing, and casting. Then it’s just a matter of time before we learn what variety of species the fish gods have to offer on any give day. From this angler’s perspective, it’s awfully hard to beat a day of drifting the flats. When fishing, don’t ignore the shade The dog days of summer push a good portion of the gamefish into the shade. And these finny creatures basically stake out positions where the sun’s rays are minimized for two reasons: comfort and concealment. If you have any doubt how much cooler the shady side of a dock is in comparison to the side steeping in full sunlight, dip a toe in one side and then quickly submerse the same digit on the opposite side. I’m betting one will seem “water conditioned” to the other’s poaching effect. There is a second comfort element in play. Fish don’t have eyelids, and they have trouble seeing or even preserving their eyes when the sun is full in the daytime sky. Just as human hunters learn to take up ambush positions in the shade as opposed to full sunlight, a bass in a feeding posture will seek out lowlight areas in the hope prey species will not detect them and move within striking distance. All of this translates into taking care to place your bait or lure on the shady side of any obvious structure, which includes stumps, lilypads, hydrilla banks, docks, bridges and oysterbars. I’ve even come to the realization a reef or rock outcropping 50-100 feet below will have a bright and a shady side. Longtime readers know I have almost made a career of advising you to fish the shade alongside and beneath docks, piers and seawalls. Almost 20 years ago, I ventured north about 400 miles seeking a flyrod world-record shellcracker at Merritt’s Mill Pond near the panhandle community of Marianna. A few days into the trip, I had my record, and when I returned, I wrote an account of the catch. Close friends taunted me when the story revealed with all the natural cover in this world famous fishing hole I had enticed my record from beneath a dock. A few months ago, after returning from a few days fishing at Lake Okeechobee’s Buckhead Ridge Marina, I marveled at how the bluegills, shellcracker and bass had moved from the shade of the docks and seawalls. In my excitement, I told readers most of the fish seemed to be snuggled up against lilypad beds – I neglected to note they were still in the shade. If you’ve ever taken a trip in one of the submersible boats located in some of this state’s Pre-Disney tourist attractions you might have noted most of the gamefish are positioned well back in the thicket of sunken treetops or logs. And this time of year, it is sometimes possible to concentrate on the bottom underneath Anna Maria Island piers. Invariably in those spots where snook are “stacked up like cordwood,” they will be in the shady portion of the pier bottom. On that note, Florida Sportsman editor and wag Vic Dunway, himself a tremendous fisherman, once noted he had made a trip up north and found they have cordwood stacked up just like snook. The secret to fishing success By Capt. Mel Berman, 970-WFLA   ** If there’s one comment that has consistently confronted me throughout my many years of being a sort of local fishing guru, it has to be — “I love fishing, but can’t figure out how to do some catching!”  I know it sounds condescending, but I’m sorry to say that the majority of folks who fish our waters don’t have a clue. These wannabe fishing wizards start each trip the same way every time — making the ritualistic pit stop at their local bait and tackle store to load up on several dozen shrimp. Then, it’s off to the old honey hole. Sitting there soaking up the sun and scenery is pleasant, but a few good pulls would sure make the day. Uh-oh! A fish woke them up. Rats! It’s a nasty catfish. Oh well, back to drowning shrimp.   I think that pretty much describes a typical trip for many in our midst. In my opinion, these bait bucket brigadiers go fishing mentally blindfolded.   It doesn’t have to be that way. One simply has to open those big blues, ears and minds. If you do, you’ll be astounded at the vast improvement in your fishing prowess.  For example, how long since you paid attention to all phases of the atmospheric conditions? We’re talking wind, tides, barometric pressure, moon phase, solunar period, etc. Every single one of these environmental factors has a significant impact on your fishing success. And the only way to learn is for you to personally observe the effects of all these elements on your favorite species.  Take a notebook with you and, when you do have success, write down all the conditions that produced a winning day. And, of equal importance, take notes on those awful, skunked days. Eventually you’ll get a feel for the kind of atmospherics that are most amenable to fishing success.  An outing we had a few weeks back illustrates my point. There was a good incoming tide, the wind was blowing a bit and producing a slight chop on the water’s surface, it was a somewhat cloudy day. Drifting the flats near Ft. DeSoto ramp, we had the pleasure of catching a big trout with virtually every cast.   At midday, when the skies cleared, the wind laid down and the tide stopped, our catching came to a screeching halt.  Ironically, we passed several boats who had just launched and were heading out. Undoubtedly these folks believed such a visually pretty time of day would also be a rewarding fishing period. They would soon discover that their outing began at precisely the wrong time.   From our observations during numerous past trips, we knew instinctively that these conditions – picture postcard perfect though they may be — were sure to be barren and unproductive where fishing is concerned.   For expending a bit of observational effort, these anglers could have avoided what had to be a less than satisfying trip.   Now I know it sounds like a real nuisance, but try it for your next few trips. Take a notebook and write down the actual atmospheric conditions. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to fish. But, over a short period of time, you will find yourself automatically mentally calculating when and where to go fishing and know exactly which scenario will produce results. Best of all, you’ll enjoy the pleasure of coming home with something to show for all your time and effort. Mark Nichols – master lure designer  ** By Capt. Mel Berman Many think of lure makers as one-dimensional – people with their eye on the bottom line, not really interested in the fine art of fishing. That’s definitely not the case where DOA Lures founder-in-chief Mark Nichols is concerned. In addition to designing quite unique and highly productive baits, Mark is also one heck of a fisherman.  And that passion is reflected in every one of his DOA lure designs. It’s often been said that a bait will not succeed in the highly competitive world of artificials if it does not competently catch fish. This is where Nichols designs excel.  Over the last several years I can say without fear of contradiction that I have caught more fish using Mark’s products, especially the much heralded DOA Shrimp than any other lure. Now it appears Nichols has hit another home run  with his new CAL jigs. But what is the philosophy behind these innovative creations? It’s spending days and weeks contemplating how, when and why fish feed. What actually get their attention, what turns them off? Now some say that most good anglers are those who “think like a fish.” But this is not the case where Nichols is concerned. Mark thinks like the “prey,” constantly studying the way natural baits respond when pursued by our popular fish species. Thus his lure designs studiously emulate anything that looks like dinner to a fish.  An ardent advocate of fisheries conservation, the overwhelming majority of Nichols’ baits are single hook designs. Thus release is quick and safe for DOA caught fish.  But getting back to my original premise, Mark is one superb angler. On a recent outing with his alter ego, DOA’s Jerry Rosen, he caught this  remarkable ten-pound-plus sea trout.  How and where did he catch this lunker? Well here’s a play-by-play from Nichols himself.  “Just another day in paradise. Capt. Jerry Rosen and myself decided to take a two-hour fishing trip a couple of weeks ago. We wanted to be at work before 9 so we launched at 5:30am and headed to a quiet little spot on the Indian River to fish the last hour and a half of the outgoing tide.  Something I learned a long time ago is, trophy fish bite best the same time the bugs bite best. Also when trophy trout are in less than a foot of water, you better be sneaky and you better be very early or very late.  The trout, which weighed a little over the 10-lb. mark, was bonding with a little finger mullet when it made the mistake of trying to eat a little plastic one with a very sharp hook in it known as the DOA Baitbuster-Shallow Runner in our new color #372 — Pearl/green back/red chin. With very light but consistent pressure, I managed to land the lady in a couple of minutes. She was persuaded to pose for two pictures to show just how a beautiful a 10-lb. trout can be.  We released her quickly and she bolted off giving me a soaking. I’ll take a soaking like that any day. Several other nice snook were caught that day but only one large trout. ”  In an earlier time, a legendary lure inventor named Harold LeMaster used the same philosophy as Nichols in designing his baits – observing how fish feed and how baits respond. And, as we all know, MirrOlure has been the plug of choice for anglers all across the nation over the last 50-years. I genuinely believe that in the future, Mark Nichols will ultimately be regarded as the Harold LeMaster of the new millennium. “The Redfish Boys” By Capt. Mel Berman, 970-WFLA  ** If you’re ever going to catch a big red, the upcoming spring season has to be your best shot. That’s the recommendation from two of the most skilled redfishers there are on the planet earth. The Watts Brothers say that during spring water temperatures, weather conditions and tides converge to make redfish “happy and hungry.” Bryan and Greg Watts are identical twins, both of whom have devoted all of their waking hours in the last 10 years to learning about a species that not too long ago in Florida was often called “a trash fish.” The red drum, known as “reds” or “redfish,” have become an obsession with these two guys, who honed their angling skills in central Florida bass lakes and phosphate pits.  Then, back in the early 90’s, the Watts brothers plunged head-long into the world of saltwater fishing – and never left. These days, while Greg still resides on bountiful Eagle Lake near Winterhaven, he and brother Bryan cannot resist the siren’s call of the state’s rich, abundant coastal fishery. Add into that mix the challenge of competing with other anglers, and you have the combustible motivator that keeps these two constantly fine-tuning their chosen way of life –pursuing redfish for fame and fortune. But the biggest siren’s call for these two scrappy fishers is that challenge of tournament fishing.  “Now I really enjoy going out and catching fish with friends,” said Bryan, “but have someone bet me just one dollar on catching more fish than him, and you’ve got my adrenalin going.” Thus, when the Redfish Tour came on the scene, Bryan and Greg found their calling in life. And when not fishing one of these tournaments, the two travel all across the Southeast U.S. to learn more about their crafty and always spooky target species. ”The only place in the world that you can drop a lure right on top of redfish is Louisiana,” said Greg. “There are so many there that they will fight off the others to get to your bait.  But here in Florida, you have to be very stealthy in approaching these skittish fish.”  The Watts brothers have developed a special method for hooking reds in the Sunshine State. They call it their “cast-reel-and-drop” technique. When you see some reds tailing or pushing through the water, cast just beyond them — quietly reel your bait until its right over where the fish are feeding and then let it drop down. Works every time — saw it with my own eyes fishing with the Watts Brothers recently in Lemon Bay. As for baits, Greg and Bryan are hard-core artificial users. “I just find it is a much more enjoyable challenge to catch reds using lures,” said Greg. And their bait of choice — the old bucktail jig. The Watts boys contend that they have caught more fish using this old time Florida fishing favorite that most any other baits. “When you jig or swim a bucktail,” Bryan explained, “it actually “breathes” like a real live bait – and the reds can’t stand it.” They also have pioneered the use of many heretofore freshwater-only lures, like spinner baits and jerk worms for catching redfish. “They main thing you really need to learn,” recommends Greg, “is how to read your waters and see your fish.” And these two lads are as good as they come in spotting reds.  It’s almost like they have a built-in “redfish radar.” They are so adept at seeing these elusive fish that it is a mind blowing experience just to go along with them. Are redfish their favorite species? Well, as Bryan said, “we’ve won several boats and lots of money catching reds, but they’re not my favorite. Mine is bonefish,” he added. “Now there’s a fish that is a lot trickier than reds—and much more of a challenge – and as you know, that’s what gets my motor running.” The secret to fishing success By Capt. Mel Berman, 970-WFLA   ** If there’s one comment that has consistently confronted me throughout my many years of being a sort of local fishing guru, it has to be — “I love fishing, but can’t figure out how to do some catching!”  I know it sounds condescending, but I’m sorry to say that the majority of folks who fish our waters don’t have a clue. These wannabe fishing wizards start each trip the same way every time — making the ritualistic pit stop at their local bait and tackle store to load up on several dozen shrimp. Then, it’s off to the old honey hole. Sitting there soaking up the sun and scenery is pleasant, but a few good pulls would sure make the day. Uh-oh! A fish woke them up. Rats! It’s a nasty catfish. Oh well, back to drowning shrimp.   I think that pretty much describes a typical trip for many in our midst. In my opinion, these bait bucket brigadiers go fishing mentally blindfolded.   It doesn’t have to be that way. One simply has to open those big blues, ears and minds. If you do, you’ll be astounded at the vast improvement in your fishing prowess.  For example, how long since you paid attention to all phases of the atmospheric conditions? We’re talking wind, tides, barometric pressure, moon phase, solunar period, etc. Every single one of these environmental factors has a significant impact on your fishing success. And the only way to learn is for you to personally observe the effects of all these elements on your favorite species.  Take a notebook with you and, when you do have success, write down all the conditions that produced a winning day. And, of equal importance, take notes on those awful, skunked days. Eventually you’ll get a feel for the kind of atmospherics that are most amenable to fishing success.  An outing we had a few weeks back illustrates my point. There was a good incoming tide, the wind was blowing a bit and producing a slight chop on the water’s surface, it was a somewhat cloudy day. Drifting the flats near Ft. DeSoto ramp, we had the pleasure of catching a big trout with virtually every cast.   At midday, when the skies cleared, the wind laid down and the tide stopped, our catching came to a screeching halt.  Ironically, we passed several boats who had just launched and were heading out. Undoubtedly these folks believed such a visually pretty time of day would also be a rewarding fishing period. They would soon discover that their outing began at precisely the wrong time.  From our observations during numerous past trips, we knew instinctively that these conditions – picture postcard perfect though they may be — were sure to be barren and unproductive where fishing is concerned.   For expending a bit of observational effort, these anglers could have avoided what had to be a less than satisfying trip.   Now I know it sounds like a real nuisance, but try it for your next few trips. Take a notebook and write down the actual atmospheric conditions. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to fish. But, over a short period of time, you will find yourself automatically mentally calculating when and where to go fishing and know exactly which scenario will produce results. Best of all, you’ll enjoy the pleasure of coming home with something to show for all your time and effort. Spring fishing: Some inshore tips  ** By Capt. Mel Berman, 970-WFLA In spring the entire world of fishing is a bountiful cornucopia of profuse potential. Sounds kind of flowery but, when you think about it, these are the golden days of our fishing year.  And nowhere is this more evident than in backcountry fishing. Once dormant winter flats are now alive with activity. A first generation of spring baits percolate across the grasses. THE FANTASTIC FLATS OF SPRING Vast schools of mullet push massive wakes as they pour out of creeks and passes. Not far behind are foraging herds of big-shouldered reds and trout eager to replace the lost calories of winter. Near the mangroves and other shallow water structures, the prized snook slashes at the slightest moving target And in April, the second level species such as jack crevalle, ladyfish and even big gafftopsail catfish provide plenty of good pulls, enthusiastically slam dunking virtually any bait in your tackle box.  It is now time to pull in your seat at the table and partake of nature’s most bountiful feast.  Topwater lures, virtually unproductive in the cold waters of January and February, now, in April, regain their magical powers. Buoyant floaters like the MirrOlure Top-Dog, Zara Spook, Norman’s Rat’lure, Rebel’s Jumpin’ Minnow, plus many other surface plugs. All these on-water walkers will draw several menacing wakes and splashes.  There is absolutely nothing I can think of that’s more satisfying than to entice a fish into reaching out and touching a well worked plug. Even if you don’t always connect, the exhilaration of a massive splash is often enough to satisfy the inner soul of most anglers.   These topwaters work best when “walking the dog,” twitching it from side to side as you work it in. You’ll produce the best action with a light and longer-than-usual rod of 7-feet or more. This facilitates those vital long distance rocket casts and, when shaken briskly, walks the topwater enticingly across the water’s surface. These topwalkers need to be worked with a determined steady cadence, occasionally halting the action to give the fish a unobstructed shot at the lure. As a matter of fact, it is usually on the stop that you’ll get the most aggressive strikes.  The next category of topwaters, when worked, pull slightly below the surface. At rest they pop back up on top. That momentary pause on top could very well be the precise moment when a fish nails it. There are several choices in this category including the MirrOlure 7-M, Mann’s Stretch 1-minus, Woodwalker, Bomber “Long-A” 15 AX and Bagley’s finger mullet. For the most part, these are all twitch type baits. Flip them out and reel, adding a twitch every so often is all it takes to get a fish’s attention. Some of the lipped jobs can simply be reeled, supplying their own action as they move through the water. Many anglers, myself included, can’t resist twitching it, lipped or not. Either way, you’ll have to experiment with various retrieve and twitch rates determined by existing fishing conditions. Once you ascertain the most effective reel/twitch ratio, you can begin sight casting to areas where you spot fish moving about. If you readily don’t see any target species, simply “blind cast” your lure until you produce a strike. Often fish are feeding or laying in the deep grasses down below and can readily be distracted by a well worked plug on the surface. An don’t be too quick to put away the jigs and spoons. My friend Captain Rick Grassett calls the small ¼-oz. gold spoon his “fishfinder.” It’s a   great blind-casting tool. Usually, you can achieve good distance with a spoon, slowly reeling it back over a broad target area. To avoid grabbing the bottom in the shallow grass flats, close the bail before the spoon hits the water and immediately start reeling. Most species, especially redfish, can’t stand it when they see that flashing piece of gold metal wobbling by. As for jigs, pick your poison. Most any brand works. I favor our local manufacturers, not only because it’s good for our economy, but also because they were designed with our target fishery in mind. I have whaled on all flats species with virtually every home grown brand. The new DOA CAL jigs, Love’s Lures Tandem and Floatin’ Jig; all the wonderfully soft, pliable, colorful and sparkly Bubba Jigs; and other tail styles; the D.O.A. Terror-Eyz; plus a host of great local favorites are all efficient fish catchers. Since you’ll be working in the shallow grasses, select the lightest jighead that’s castable. When working jigs in the skinny waters, you’ll do best to reel and twitch as opposed to the more conventional drop and twitch jigging technique. As a matter of fact, most experienced anglers jig fish in shallow waters employing a hybrid jigging/plugging action.  There’s plenty of action built-in to the curly and shad tails so that you can simply cast it out and reel slowly back in.  Most of the freshwater “rubber worm” styles are also extremely effective for springtime flats fishing. I had outstanding results with the scented Mister Twister “Slimy Slug,” but just about all will catch fish. As for rigging, it’s your call.  You can rig conventionally with a worm hook and possibly a weight or, as many saltwater aficionados prefer, affix the rubber worm to an ordinary lightweight jig head. The easiest and most effective way to work the worm is simply to cast out, let it drop slightly below the surface, then reel slowly. Being an inveterate twitcher, I can’t resist putting in a flick every so often. Also at your spring flats fishing disposal are other style baits that are a combination of any of the above major categories. These include the Bait Cradle, which is spoon-like platform for a sparkly curly tail jig; the 12-Fathom Flats Floater, basically a topwater jig; the D.O.A Baitbuster, a mullet look alike, the popular D.O.A Shrimp, and the new D.O.A. Terror-Eyz. All the D.O.A products are impregnated  with shrimp scent and have proven to be awesome fish catchers.   April… a month most Suncoast anglers covet. Active, hungry fishes are everywhere. Pick from “Column A” and head offshore for the vast array of enthusiastic Gulf species, or select from “Column B” working the treasures of the flats for your springtime fishing fix. It’s your call… a time of year you hope never ends. Let’s play hooky! Your only concentration is to find out where the fish are, and what they’re eating this glorious day. Skinny water tricks and tips By Capt. Mel Berman, 970-WFLA  ** Since the advent of the Florida net ban, hordes of anglers have adopted the back bay flats as their primary fishing venue.  Thus, what once was a quiet pastoral setting has now become busy with boats of all configurations. And those crafts that can go where other boats “fear to tread” – the shallowest of waters — have a distinct advantage over greater draft vessels. We call it “skinny water fishing” which, in addition to those shallow draft vessels, requires special techniques and baits. And, if you do happen to own a vessel that draws too much water, just anchor it up near a mangrove or oyster bar. Then put on your wading shoes and get out of the boat and start fishing. One very important aspect of skinny water fishing is “stealth.” When there’s only a thin layer of water separating you from the fish, they become very aware of the slightest sound. A pair of pliers dropped on the deck – a hatch slammed shut – in this environment is a no-no. Here in “Shallowland” silence is truly golden. Along the same lines, never zoom up to a fishing spot with your engines roaring. It’s best to shut down several yards away from your destination. Then pole or paddle into the strike zone. You might also try using a trolling motor to move you in — but remember, try to avoid varying the speed of that electric motor. Once you’re set up, look around. Finding fish is not brain surgery. With aid of a good pair of polarized glasses you should be able to easily see them moving through the shallows. And if fishing for reds, keep an eye open for tails. Redfish like to forage for crustaceans and baitfish down in the grasses, thus leaving their tails piercing the water’s surface. One of the best techniques for catching tailing redfish is using very light weedless lures, like a plastic jerkworm tail “Texas-rigged” with a worm hook. On a recent outing with Capt. C.A. Richardson of FlatsClass.com, I was introduced to Capt. Mike’s “Flats Candy” – a sort of longish curly tail body, rigged with a weighted blood red worm hook. It worked like a champ for me, casting well and gliding through the skinniest of water without snagging the bottom. That day I hooked two really nice reds using this unique bait. Other anglers like to “prospect” the skinny waters throwing topwaters like popular MirrOlure TopDogs, Zara Spooks, Bagley’s Jumping Finger mullet, etc. Richardson recommends that if you see a fish chasing your lure, keep on reeling and twitching. In nature, a bait fish will always try to get away. That’s you’re your lure should emulate. Above all, try not to “plop” your bait right down on top of the fish. The Watts brothers (Greg and Bryan) have a great technique they call “drag and drop.” You cast your bait just beyond the fish – then drag it right to the fish and gently drop the lure right in front of its face. It works every time. Other lure choices include weedless spoons, in-line spinner baits and bucktail jigs that are designed to run through the water with the hook facing upward, such as Hank Brown’s “Hook-Up” jigs. With some learned skills, fishing skinny can really produce some remarkable results. Once you get with the program, I think you will discover that the shallow flats can be and extremely productive and quite enjoyable fishing venue. Skinny water tricks and tips By Capt. Mel Berman, 970-WFLA  ** Since the advent of the Florida net ban, hordes of anglers have adopted the back bay flats as their primary fishing venue.  Thus, what once was a quiet pastoral setting has now become busy with boats of all configurations. And those crafts that can go where other boats “fear to tread” – the shallowest of waters — have a distinct advantage over greater draft vessels. We call it “skinny water fishing” which, in addition to those shallow draft vessels, requires special techniques and baits. And, if you do happen to own a vessel that draws too much water, just anchor it up near a mangrove or oyster bar. Then put on your wading shoes and get out of the boat and start fishing. One very important aspect of skinny water fishing is “stealth.” When there’s only a thin layer of water separating you from the fish, they become very aware of the slightest sound. A pair of pliers dropped on the deck – a hatch slammed shut – in this environment is a no-no. Here in “Shallowland” silence is truly golden. Along the same lines, never zoom up to a fishing spot with your engines roaring. It’s best to shut down several yards away from your destination. Then pole or paddle into the strike zone. You might also try using a trolling motor to move you in — but remember, try to avoid varying the speed of that electric motor. Once you’re set up, look around. Finding fish is not brain surgery. With aid of a good pair of polarized glasses you should be able to easily see them moving through the shallows. And if fishing for reds, keep an eye open for tails. Redfish like to forage for crustaceans and baitfish down in the grasses, thus leaving their tails piercing the water’s surface. One of the best techniques for catching tailing redfish is using very light weedless lures, like a plastic jerkworm tail “Texas-rigged” with a worm hook. On a recent outing with Capt. C.A. Richardson of FlatsClass.com, I was introduced to Capt. Mike’s “Flats Candy” – a sort of longish curly tail body, rigged with a weighted blood red worm hook. It worked like a champ for me, casting well and gliding through the skinniest of water without snagging the bottom. That day I hooked two really nice reds using this unique bait. Other anglers like to “prospect” the skinny waters throwing topwaters like popular MirrOlure TopDogs, Zara Spooks, Bagley’s Jumping Finger mullet, etc. Richardson recommends that if you see a fish chasing your lure, keep on reeling and twitching. In nature, a bait fish will always try to get away. That’s you’re your lure should emulate. Above all, try not to “plop” your bait right down on top of the fish. The Watts brothers (Greg and Bryan) have a great technique they call “drag and drop.” You cast your bait just beyond the fish – then drag it right to the fish and gently drop the lure right in front of its face. It works every time. Other lure choices include weedless spoons, in-line spinner baits and bucktail jigs that are designed to run through the water with the hook facing upward, such as Hank Brown’s “Hook-Up” jigs. With some learned skills, fishing skinny can really produce some remarkable results. Once you get with the program, I think you will discover that the shallow flats can be and extremely productive and quite enjoyable fishing venue. Fish ‘smell-o-vision’ By Capt. Mel Berman, 970-WFLA  ** Several years ago we were heading offshore to one of my super-special, super secret grouper loaded hole. Conditions couldn’t have been better. The moon was in its second quarter, air temperature; a balmy 76 degrees, seawater; 74 degrees. To cap it all off I had two of my favorite fishing cronies aboard, Pete Peterson and the outrageous Billy Ray Conner, both outstanding grouper diggers and fun guys with whom to spend the day. As we navigated past the park at the mouth of the Anclote River, I turned on my depth recorder. Attempting to change the range, I could not turn the knob. It had absolutely corroded into place. Billy Ray, being helpful as always, rummaged through his oversized tackle box and came up with a can of his favorite corrosion busting spray. Then Billy Ray liberally showered the offending knob with that smelly, oily stuff. “Boy that sure stinks,” observed Pete. “Yeah, but try turning that knob now” said Billy Ray proudly as he gave us a demonstration of the ease with which it now can be turned. Then, carefully wiping all the excess lubricant off the recorder, he sat down for our trip to my recently discovered honey hole. Running the last loran microseconds down to zero, the recorder started marking a load of heavy grouper on the bottom. We couldn’t get set up quickly enough. “Boy, there’s some fish in that hole,” Pete observed. After dropping our marker jug and anchoring up over the fish laden rock pile, all aboard eagerly grabbed a frozen sardine and eased it down to the gags below. Pete and I received immediate strikes, reeling in instant 15-pound keepers — none for Billy Ray. Again, lowering our baited hooks to the bottom, it was still the “Pete and Mel Show,” with Billy Ray chalking up a big goose egg. This sequence was repeated several times until a completely exasperated Billy Ray, normally an awesome grouper digger, decided to try and figure out why the fish were shunning his bait offerings. Then the imaginary light bulb lit up inside Billy Ray’s brain. “That darn corrosion spray,” he yelled. “The fish can’t stand that smell.” Reaching into his tacklebox, Billy Ray got out some hand cleaner, thoroughly washing and rinsing his inadvertently scented paws several times. Then Pete reached into his box and gave Billy Ray another bottle of fisherman’s scent remover to rub into his hands.. That two-pronged remedy did the trick. On the very next drop, Billy Ray pulled up the biggest fish of the day. About 5 years ago, before I went snooking with my late pal Merrill ‘Canoeman’ Chandler and 620-WDAE Program Director Brad James, I had an annoying stiffness in my back. So I hauled out the Flex-All, and started liberally rubbing that smelly gunk all over my back. I thought I had washed my hands sufficiently after the rubdown but, as later experiences revealed, I didn’t really get the odor completely off my hands. Setting up at our first snook spot, Brad nailed an almost keeper snook on a Love Lures Floatin Jig. Then, moments later, Merrill snagged a hawg right by the mangroves, using a DOA Capt. Mel Measles colored Shrimp. Unfortunately, the big fish cut him off in the bushes and it was gone. Meanwhile, I tried switching to what Brad and then Merrill were using. I couldn’t even get a tap. I was left with a feeling of frustration and totally inadequate to the fishy task at hand. Where most of the time I can hold my own with these guys, this day I couldn’t catch a cold! Then I asked Merrill to get a DOA Shrimp from his supply and tie one onto my leader. That did it, and it wasn’t long before I caught my first snook of the day. Later, keeping right up with my fishng partners, I hooked several really nice big 20-inch-plus sea trout.   The point I’m trying to make is that you should be aware of all fishing conditions – even the odors on your hands and baits. Smells – wanted or unwanted – can really have a great effect on your fishing success.         Being an unabashed “artificianado” By Captain Mel Berman, 970-WFLA    ** Ever wonder who the first brave soul was to eat a raw oyster, drink cow’s milk or chow down on snails back in the early days of man? Had to be someone very hungry and with lots of what we call “chutzpa.” That same conjecture goes through our minds as we ponder who the ancient was that first decided to try fooling fish with lure.       Back in the Dark Ages, the rivers, lakes and seas had to be overflowing with all sorts of baitfish – some that have undoubtedly become extinct. Yet, there was that Neanderthal with the audacity to attempt catching fish with a small piece of twig or something he crafted into an imitation bait.We’ll never know who the father of the original artificial lure was back at the dawn of man, but several modern day anglers and lure manufacturers owe him (or possibly her) a great depth of gratitude. The tackle industry today generates billions of dollars annually in sales. And countless fishers worldwide enthusiastically deploy their products.   But why artificials? That’s a question to this day that goes unsatisfactorily answered for a large segment of the fishing public. This is especially true with those who choose to pursue their favorite fish species with baits that Mother Nature was kind enough to provide.    Yet, those in the other camp would never ever consider buying a bait bucket crammed with live shrimp, harvesting a pail full of worms or fiddler crabs or chumming up a school of baitfish and repeatedly throwing a castnet.  Instead, they elect to use plastic, wooden and metal replicas of the live stuff and see if they’re good enough to fool fish with them.   In this argument, we shall remain neutral. Certainly there are advantages and disadvantages to each discipline. However, today we will look into the use of the several types of available artificials and the reasons why folks enjoy using them.   For one thing, those artificianados will tell you that they enjoy a much more interesting fishing trip. Deploying lures one has the ability to cover a vast area, as opposed to casting a shrimp in but one spot, then hoping and praying that a fish will come by and eat it.    As a dedicated lure thrower once said, “I like the idea of always doing something, instead of sitting there drowning a live bait.”  However, at the core of the lure angler’s devotion is the sense of accomplishment that they are “putting one over on the fish” – making those finny critters perceive, through various techniques, that something good to eat or even annoying is passing by.    Then there is the joy and challenge of – experimenting with a variety of lures, working each at varying retrieves, twitches and slurps — seeing what kind of response that new plug or jig will evoke. On the other hand, we know deep down that the most consistent lure fishers are those who doggedly stay with one specific lure. It could be a plug, jig or spoon they know catches fish, and will work it until it produces strikes. Invariably these determined individuals wind up with at least as many hook-ups as any itchy lure-changer.   Hard Core “Artificianado” By Captain Mel Berman, 970-WFLA    ** Most folks who fish with live baits crave that feeling of confidence. They know that somewhere, somehow a hungry fish will make a beeline for that natural offering and lay a big tug on their line. Yet there is an ever growing legion of what I term “Artificianados” – anglers who avoid using Mother Nature’s best in favor of all those cunningly crafted pieces of wood, plastic and metal that we call lures. As most know by now, I am a card carrying Artificianado. I genuinely believe that fishing with these bait deceivers makes for a much more challenging and interesting fishing trip. This is especially true for us “hands-on types” — folks who must constantly be doing something with their mitts in order to be happy and satisfied, even during a relaxing fishing trip. Most guides however, play it safe. They surmise, and probably with some validation, that live bait almost guarantees their customers a fish pull. Take Henry and Myrna from Dubuque, Iowa on a brief visit to our Sunshine State. They heard about the fantasy of fishing Florida waters and would like to try their hand at hooking some of those highly advertised lunkers. Most for-hire skippers assume that using only artificials for tourists like Henry and Myrna would be sure recipe for a barren fishing day. So they haul out the old cast nets and spend a good chunk of the trip chumming and netting lots of baits. That’s typically the way it’s been down through the years. But now, there is a growing group of guides who have defied the norm and elected to offer lures-only fishing trips. And guess what, these skippers have been doing surprisingly well. Among the leaders in this trend are guides like Captains Rick Grassett and Geoff Page both of Sarasota. They tell me that their customers love the idea of being instructed by a real expert on how to use and catch fish with these highly productive artificials. Their trips are predicated on the concept that their clients not only enjoy a great fishing day, but become educated on how work these imitation baits. Let’s take a look at what happens when a typical live baiter fishes. First of all, they cast out– then hope and pray that some fish somewhere somehow will come swimming by their live shrimp and grab it. One the other hand, Artificianados can literally “broadcast” their baits over a wide area and more readily locate some foraging fish. They can vary how the artificial is worked — twitching, reeling, jigging – determining the right presentation that will get a fish to chew. And using lures, with a bit of experimentation, you’ll always be able to “match the hatch” by determining that perfect size, color, and texture of the appropriate bait. Now, if you’re ready to make the switch from live to artificials – just one word of advice — leave the live stuff at the dock.   Think about it, if you take a bucket of shrimp out with you on that experimental artificial trip, after a few fruitless casts with a lure, there would likely arise that compelling impulse to reach for that live shrimp. And, take it from me — you will never learn how to catch fish with artificials if you bring any of that live stuff. Above all, start with a simple, proven fish catcher like a jig or spoon. Find out from your lure fishing friends which baits produce for them. Better yet, see if you can hitch a ride with them on a fishing trip. That way you’ll be able to learn first hand what it takes to catch fish using artificials. So why not give it the old college try. I assure you, all it takes is hooking up with a couple of nice lunkers — and you’re converted. Then you can join our ranks as a dedicated “Artificianado.”         Latest school of thought: “Fish lack the brains to feel pain” Compiled by Capt. Mel Berman, 970-WFLA    ** Concerned anglers and PETA should rest easy because, writing in the London Telegraph, Rajeev Syal reports that fish cannot feel pain. This was the conclusion of the largest study into piscine neurology which compared the nervous systems and responses of fish and mammals. The study has found that fishes’ brains are not sufficiently developed to allow them to sense pain or fear.       The analysis is the work of James D Rose, a professor of zoology and physiology at the University of Wyoming, who has been working on questions of neurology for almost 30 years. Rose has examined data on the responses of animals to pain and stimulus from scores of studies collected over the past 15 years.   His report, published in the American journal Reviews of Fisheries Science, has concluded that awareness of pain depends on functions of specific regions of the cerebral cortex which fish do not possess.   Professor Rose, 60, said that previous studies which had indicated that fish can feel pain had confused nociception – that is responding to a threatening stimulus – with feeling pain.   “Pain is predicated on awareness,” he said. “The key issue is the distinction between nociception and pain. A person who is anaesthetized in an operating theatre will still respond physically to an external stimulus, but he or she will not feel pain. Anyone who has seen a chicken with its head cut off will know that, while its body can respond to stimuli, it cannot be feeling pain.”   Professor Rose said he was enormously concerned with the welfare of fish, but that campaigners should concentrate on ensuring that they were able to enjoy clean and well-managed rivers and seas.   Despite the findings of Professor Rose’s study, a spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which has invested heavily in an anti-angling campaign, said: “We believe that fishing is barbaric. Of course animals can feel pain. They have sensitivity, if only to avoid predators.” By Capt. Mel Berman, 970-WFLA   After eons of fishing, I have come to the conclusion that my all-time favorite lure type is the common jig. They are inexpensive, come in an appealing (to fishers and fish) assortment of colors, sizes and shapes, and the darned things really catch the heck out of fish.       Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing more thrilling than watching a big fish “wake” after a topwater plug. And I can’t count the many times that a spoon proved to be my best fish finder. Yet, when the chips are down, I tie on one of my favorite jigs and invariably begin catching fish.   Jigs are not only gentile on the wallet, they are infinitely easier on the fish. Most have single hook configuration, which makes releasing any species a quick and simple procedure. In addition, when the one takes the extra step of crimping the barb, it’s only a matter of allowing a slight bit of line slack to release the fish.   Its also fun trying to figure out just which color or shape will produce on any given day. There are several variations, but the three main configurations are shad/minnow, worm or grub.   Most prefer the shad tails, primarily because they look like a small baitfish. Yet, in recent years, the worm tails have morphed over from the freshwater scene to become a staple in the arsenal of many saltwater anglers.   The one shape that is quite productive, yet not as popular is the grub tail. Perhaps it’s a matter of aesthetics. The grub tail to the fisher’s eye is far less attractive than the worm and shad shapes. Yet, in my experience grub tails can have a great appeal to many of our favorite species One major variation is the so-called curly tails. This is usually a wavy piece of plastic molded to the grub or shad tail. As an angler slurps the curly tail through the water, the wiggle of that tail is difficult for fish to resist. The only down side is that smaller species such a pinfish, puffers, etc. take great pleasure in nipping the curls off these jig tails.   Now lets talks about colors. Most of the time a color that really appeals to the fishing enthusiast is the polar opposite of what really attracts fish. Oftentimes, drab dull grays, rootbeer, dark greens and purples seem to be what most species desire. Yet, having said that, there are occasions when the bright yellows, whites and orange colors can be effective – particularly on clear bright days.   Then there is the “red-head-white-body” bunch. Some jiggers swear that no matter the conditions, their “red-head-white-body” combo is what gets the job done for them. And one can’t argue as many of my friends stick to that color combination with really excellent results   Finally, there are those jig tails with glitter in them. I must confess to being an aficionado of these sparkling beauties. Though I have seen many fish caught with dull drab colors, I instinctively gravitate to anything that looks like a shiny, reflective baitfish. As a matter of fact, there are several species of fish that are suckers for these sparkle tails. Some jig manufacturers actually pump into these tails as much glitter as they can hold. And those tails are excellent substitutes for other ultra-shiny baits, like spoons. If you cast these sparkle-tails out and simply reel them in, much as you would a spoon, they will often yield similar results.   That’s if for our jig tail shape and color section. In a later issue, we’ll describe the varied and many ways to actually work these inexpensive yet highly productive baits.   The learning experience By Captain Mel Berman, 970-WFLA    ** Many professed fishing enthusiasts spend all of our available time wetting a line, trying to hook that big lunker — or in most cases, attempting to hook just about anything that will bite. But do we practice the angling art by rote? Or do we head out with the intent of picking up some small nugget of information that will improve our skills?       A short while back I remarked to my wife that “I don’t know how many fishing trips I have left in life, but I’ll not miss many of them.”   Look into the soul of any serious angler, and you will see that they harbor that same inner commitment. There is indeed something within all of us fishing-addicted — that urge not only to “see what’s biting today,” but also a genuine sense of discovery. Some would call it a learning experience that advances our skills incrementally with each and every trip.   There is always that aura of optimistic possibility in the dialogue between most dedicated anglers. “Today the fishing conditions should be just perfect for catching.” “Just look how strong that outgoing tide is! I’ll bet we tear ‘em up if we get there at sunrise.”   All of this of course is educated conjecture learned over a lifetime of fishing.   And the most successful among us are those who keep open minds and eyes during every outing.   Almost without thinking about it, we focus on every nuance in the weather, tides, water’s surface and temperature, fish movement and all the determining factors that we believe add up to a successful fishing trip.   Wise fishers also keep their minds wide open and receptive. It is conceivable that the person with whom you are fishing has some small technique or concept that can advance your fish catching abilities. I would go so far as to say that, in my hundreds of trips over the years, I invariably garner some small nugget of fishing information or technique that ultimately makes me a better angler.   And I am not embarrassed to try and copy the techniques performed by some of my more gifted fishing partners. The most notable and supremely talented pal for me was the late Merrill “Canoeman” Chandler.   Merrill virtually grew up with a rod in his hand, purloining his dad’s fishing outfits to work the rich waters in his native Vermont/New Hampshire with his childhood friend Harry Pike.   The main trait that I picked up from the Canoeman was patience and perseverance. Early on, Merrill and I fished out of his old “Blue Canoe.” And just about the time I felt that it was time to move to another spot, Merrill would say, “how about we give this area a few more minutes.” Invariably, the extended stay paid off with an enthusiastic fish bite.   I also learned from the Canoeman and others that one should stick with your confidence bait. If that plug, jig or spoon has been an effective fish catcher for you in the past, you should stick with it until is does so again.   In the years that I was on the NewsChannel-8 Morning Edition, I featured a “Fish Picture of the Week” showcasing photos of great catches by our viewers. One fellow named Jerry Williams kept us supplied with a great amount of spectacular pictures of fish that he was landing right in the heart of downtown Tampa.   It wasn’t long before I called Jerry to ask if he’d mind taking me along on one of his many productive trips. This was for me, the beginning of a very important learning experience and long term friendship.   We met at the Davis Islands ramp early one weekday morning and cruised out on Jerry’s modest 15-foot aluminum boat. I soon discovered that this shy country guy not only knew how and where to find fish, he was highly skilled in the “catching department.” Ultimately, Jerry acquired his captain’s license and became one of the area’s most successful guides.   Over the years, there have been many more talented anglers with whom I’ve had the pleasure to fish. All have helped advance my game and today, while I’m no “Bill Dance,” I can certainly hold my own. But of greater importance, I will still be the fishing scholar, constantly learning from each and every trip that I have left.                         The Fishing “BS Factor” * ** By Capt. Mel Berman 970-WFLA   When us fishing junkies try to figure out why we spend copious amounts of our sweat-earned dollars and hours of isolation away from our loved ones, we often cite many altruistic justifications. Yet, there is one important element to this angling obsession that rarely gets mentioned… “The Fishing B.S. Factor.”       The challenge… the hunt… the scenery… the fresh air… the sunshine… the peace and quiet… the wildlife… the exciting moments tussling with a bulky lunker…. and, certainly, those fresh fish diners… they’re all claimed as motivational factors in our fishing addiction. But there is that jovial interplay between fishing buddies that is the certain draw.Unless you’re a total recluse, most of us enjoy the camaraderie of fellow anglers. And it’s not just a case where we want another being along to keep us company. It is the endless lingo that is slung back and forth… the jokes, the jibes, the suggestions, the verbal challenges, the mutual admiration, the sharing of a Cuban sandwich or a pack of peanut butter crackers, etc. Now I know there are many who thoroughly enjoy the sense of complete solitude and peacefulness… getting out in a boat and fishing all alone. Not me. I enjoy this pastime to a much greater degree when the is another person and the “Fishing B.S. Factor” present.   Having said all that, I must confess that all is not ideal in this warm and fuzzy arrangement. Often, my fellow angler can say or do things that irritate the fool out of me! Perhaps you have your own set of complaints, but permit me list a few of those activities or comments on the part of a fishing companion that really get under my skin.   1. THE FISH COUNTER           Here is a person who isn’t satisfied that he’s catching way more fish than me. No, he has to rub it in. “Let’s see Mel, I’ve already caught 4 reds and two snook… How many have you boated?” Or, “That makes a total of 24 fish today… of which I’ve caught 18. Get with it Mel! You got a lot of catching up to do!”             2. THE TEACHER         Over the years we all have developed our own way of casting a bait, attaching a lure, working a plug, etc., and been fairly successful at it. Yet there’s always some joker who feels compelled to constantly give us a seminar on how to cast, which lure to use, how to tie it on, which knots we should or should not employ, how to properly hook a bait, crimp the barbs, ask why are you using “Lure A” when you should be working “Lure B.” This list of verbal abuse and irritation is endless.         3. THE MOOCHER         Here is a guy who never ever brings a sandwich, a pack of cigarettes, a couple of beers… nothing. He just shows up with his fishing pole and panhandles off everybody. A guilty conscience coerces you in sharing that one skinny sandwich the three beverages and an apple with this mooch. If he loses his hook or lure, guess who has to be his “on the water tackle supply?”         4. THE FISHING DIRECTOR         Your fishing day has been all pre-planned, and you know exactly where you should be at any given time of day. Yet, there are those fishing buddies who seem compelled to direct the entire day’s activities. ” Why don’t we try the flats at the south end of the slew? I know we’ll catch more fish there than we are at this lousy spot.” Or, just as the tide starts moving and you want to move over to a location that you know will be productive on the outgoing, he’ll complain,” how come we’re leaving? I just had a nibble.There’s nothing wrong with this spot!” Then, if you had a slow day, he’d spend the balance of time complaining that “If you only would have followed my advice, we’d have caught some fish.”   I’m sure you have your own examples of these kinds of bozos. Yet, I still contend that, given the choice, I’d never fish without a buddy… plus a generous helping of that marvelous “Fishing B.S. Factor.” By Capt. Mel Berman, 970-WFLA  ** Most of us crave those trips when fish bite like crazy. You know what I mean — days where no matter what you toss their way, snook, reds, grouper, kings, trout, etc. act like they haven’t had a meal in weeks. I’m talking about the kind of outings that make all that time, trouble and expense of a fishing passion worthwhile. Unfortunately such exhilarating excursions are all too rare. The norm seems to be days that are long on casting and short on catching. The funniest thing is that we work so hard to avoid these unpleasant circumstances. We devour any morsel of information that might give us a leg up on the fish — studying tide charts, solunar periods, weather data, barometer readings, etc. Yet, somehow, too many of our efforts are rewarded with slow, boring, unproductive days. However, I genuinely believe there is a silver lining in that cloud of slow fishing days. First of all, you’ve got to come to terms with the fact that the majority of your trips will not be gangbusters. Live with it – and learn from it. As my friend the Canoeman says, “go when you can get out.” And if you do, you could very well be honing fishing skills that might make you more productive under any set of circumstances. There’s no doubt that those slow, boring, miserable trips can be quite instructive. Each and every fish that you catch had to be enticed with a very special bait and fishing technique. They wouldn’t have bitten had you not worked assiduously to figure out what they really want to eat, and how to present it. And when it comes top lures, I can tell you from personal experience that those difficult fishing days really separate the winners from the losers. When those finny critters hunker down and take a siesta from eating, it really proves the metal of any bait that can get fish to eat under those highly negative circumstances. If you persevere and stay with it, you will eventually find out which lure will catch fish for you no matter what the conditions. As a matter of fact, I have chosen my all time favorite “confidence baits” after testing them in the crucible of those lousy fishing days. Some of the ones that I have determined will catch fish under the worst possible conditions actually top my short list of popular favorites – very likely the same artificials you’ve heard me talk about on my 970-WFLA “Capt. Mel Radio Show.” Topping my list is – you guessed it – the DOA Shrimp. I know, many say they can’t “catch a cold with that darned DOA,” but once you really learn how to work that bait, it could very well be your first choice too. As far as I’m concerned, that imitations shrimp will catch fish when virtually no other bait can. Next is the venerable small gold spoon. I happen to like the Love Lures Lovin’ Spoonful, but most spoons will wobble and flash their way to fishing success no matter what their configuration and no matter how bad a case of “lockjaw” the fish have. Then there’s the generic jig. It has to be one of the oldest lure designs, ably catching fish for generations even under the most adverse conditions. There are many variations of the jig from which to choose, including all styles and colors of plastic tails, bucktail jigs, jerkworm, tandem, the DOA Terrorize and CAL Lures – the smelly Exudes, etc. They all work and will deliver for you even under the most adverse conditions. There are also plugs that can be classified in that “sure-thing category.” I’m talking about old standbys like the Zara Spook, 52-M and 7-M MirrOlure, Rapala, Long-A Bomber, Rat-L-Trap, etc. These plugs didn’t get to be popular because they look pretty. They became hot sellers because they will catch fish under most conditions. So next time you find yourself typically in the middle of a slow fishing day, take advantage of the experience. Try different baits, work them slow, work them fast, twitch, walk it, etc. – See what gets the job done. You’ll be pleasantly surprised when you discover what really catches fish during those less than ideal conditions. You could very well become a much better angler for it. I know I have.      
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