Saturday, June 25, 2011

Saltwater Fishing with Mole Crabs

Some people who enjoy saltwater fishing, especially surf fishing and pier fishing, never realize that some great free bait is right there on the beach. I’m talking about mole crabs, also called “sand fleas,” “sand bugs,” and “sand crabs.” You’ve probably seen these critters. They’re kinda oval shaped, and the larger ones are about an inch long. Check out the following fishing tips for free bait.

How to catch sand fleas

Sand fleas burrow in the sand, usually at the tide line. You can dig them up with a shovel, and this is a great job for kids. Another way to catch mole crabs is to use a piece of hardware cloth or wire mesh with ¼-inch openings. As a wave washes in, stick the mesh into the sand at an angle. The sand and water will flow out of the screen, and the sand fleas will be trapped. Don’t worry – sand fleas don’t pinch.

If you can’t catch your own sand bugs, many coastal bait shops sell them frozen. From my experience, the frozen sand fleas are just about as good as the live ones.

How to keep sand fleas for bait

Keep your sand fleas in a bucket with damp sand. Also, try to keep them out of the sun, in a cool spot.

What can you catch with sand fleas?

Several saltwater species eat sand crabs. They’re like candy for pompano and black drum. You can also catch sheepshead, reds, large whiting, and the occasional flounder on sand fleas.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Florida Fishing: Fort Clinch Pier

Fort Clinch State Park is located on Amelia Island, and it’s a great place to do some saltwater fishing! The main pier is concrete, and it’s about a half-mile long. There are restrooms at the land-end of the pier, and I suggest you take advantage of them before you head out to do some angling. You’ll find plenty of parking in the paved lot. You’ll have to pay to get in the park, but the fee is nominal. There are benches and fish-cleaning stations on the pier for your comfort and convenience, but there’s no shade.

Running past the length of the pier are rocks and a cement jetty that separate the Atlantic from the Cumberland Sound. The rocks and pier pilings attract bait, so predatory fish species show up to dine. Where you want to fish depends largely on what you want to catch. From my numerous experiences fishing on this pier, I’ve found that the best place to catch trout is between the pier and the rocks. For sheepshead and puppy drum, angle around the pier pilings or cast as near the rocks as possible. For tarpon, sharks, and big reds, we’ve had the best luck with casting into deep water off the end of the pier or off the side, into the Sound.

Unless you’re targeting just one specific fish species, take an assortment of baits with you: live finger mullet, fiddler crabs, cut bait, sand fleas, mud minnows, dead shrimp, live shrimp, and/or shrimp mammies. Go prepared! Take plenty of extra line, hooks, and rigs, as you’re very likely to lose several. There are some really big fish prowling these waters! To take everything you’ll need, a pull cart works best. If you’re fishing near the end of the pier, or even from the center section, you won’t want to be running back to your vehicle for fishing supplies.

Check List:

Rods and reels
Extra fishing supplies
Pier drop net
Hat, cap, or visor
Cooler and lots of ice
Bottled water or soft drinks
Fish cleaning supplies

Don’t forget your camera!

You’ll have a stunning panoramic view of the water from the pier, and there’s no telling what you might see. Sometimes huge submarines and ships can be seen from the pier, along with dolphins, sea turtles, and the occasional manatee. You can also see Cumberland Island from the pier, and with a good pair of binoculars, you might even be able to view wild horses on the beaches of Cumberland.

Get a night pass

The pier and park close at sundown, but night fishing is allowed. Just ask for a fishing pass, and you’ll get the code for the gate. The pier has lights for night fishing, but they’re turned off from May through October because of the sea turtles.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Sea Bass

Sea bass are among the best-tasting fish in the ocean if you use a good sea bass recipe. I caught my first sea bass while deep sea bottom fishing off the coast of Savannah. That was years ago, and since then, I’ve caught numerous sea bass in Georgia and in Florida waters. The species of sea bass that inhabit the southern Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico is the black sea bass, Centropristis striata.

These fish don’t get very big. The largest ones I’ve landed were offshore and weighed around three pounds. The Florida state record fish weighed just over five pounds, and the Georgia record sea bass weighed in at five pounds, 12 ounces. Black sea bass are mostly bottom dwellers, hanging around rocks, reefs, and wrecks. A member of the grouper family, sea bass have large mouths and relatively large scales. Although they don’t technically school, they’re often found in groups. If you find a good spot, you might catch numerous fish, one right after another.

I’ve also caught sea bass inshore, around oyster beds, pier pilings, jetties, and bridge pilings. Generally speaking, inshore individuals are smaller than their offshore counterparts, but you can still catch some legal-size sea bass in sounds, bays, and tidal creeks. The legal size in Georgia is 12” total length, and the daily bag limit is 15. In the Florida Atlantic, the legal size is also 12”, with a bag limit of 15 fish. In the Gulf of Mexico, the legal size is 10 inches, and there’s no daily limit. Black sea bass can be fished for all year in Georgia and Florida waters, as there’s no closed season.

I’ve caught sea bass on live shrimp, dead shrimp, and cut bait. A lot of folks use squid for bait. I’ve known anglers who caught the fish on curly tail jigs, too. They made short bounces across the bottom with the jigs. My problem with using jigs for sea bass is that you get a lot of hang-ups. Remember – these guys are usually around bottom structure.

It amazes me that more fishermen don’t target these tasty fish! With a good sea bass recipe, they make some exceptionally fine eating.