August – Peak of nearshore opportunity

August – Peak of nearshore opportunity

I once read that August is the sultry cousin of summer. What that means I can only speculate but I can honestly tell you that this is my favorite month. What is it about calm wind, flat seas and clear water conditions that an angler shouldn't like?

It is August's nearshore action that I like the most, actually at its best during summer's hottest month. The weather patterns allow bay boaters to venture beyond the confines of sheltering shorelines. With some advanced planning almost anyone can make this trip possible as long as safety is a priority. Boats need to be seaworthy, in top running condition, loaded with plenty of fuel in the tank and with a working VHF radio. As a precaution I typically never turn off my outboard once I hit the gulf. This keeps the batteries charged and affords some peace of mind knowing that a running engine will not have restarting issues.

The day's weather should be your foremost consideration. Look for wind forecasted less than 10 mph, clear skies and a minimal chance for thundershowers in the forecast. Having a "buddy boat" along for a trip or two starting out is also a good idea.

Why would you want to venture out of the bay? For the fishing, of course. The species available this month in state waters number the highest of the year. On the short list; king and Spanish mackerel, cobia, bonito, bull redfish, tarpon, shark and snapper are out there for the taking. If your day coincides with blue water pushing close to the beach you may also have shots at sailfish, dolphin and barracuda.

Where to fish and what to look for:
Nearshore catches can be best made near structures like submerged wrecks or oil and gas platforms. Bait often concentrates in open water 35-60 deep in and around opposing current lines, water color changes and flotsam. Where you find food, the gamefish should be nearby. Especially concentrate on large schools of bait swimming on the surface. I regularly come across schools of dusky anchovies, ballyhoo, blue runners, menhaden, pilchards, Atlantic bumper and threadfin herring. These baits, excluding the menhaden and dusky anchovies can be caught on jigged #4 or #8 Sabiki rigs. Once caught, immediately hook a bait toward the tail and toss it to the outside of the bait school, and hold on!

Birds can be an excellent locator for bait and gamefish. Look for diving pelicans to be feeding on menhaden or dusky anchovies. Terns and bonito birds will work above Spanish mackerel and bonito while frigate birds will follow schools of any predator species looking for an easy meal. On the offshore platforms, good indicators of gamefish presence are the terns and frigate birds. They are frequently seen resting on railings overlooking the water below; terns are watching for small baitfish being flushed from the structure and the frigates constantly scan the perimeter for signs of feeding gamefish. If you see several frigates hovering a couple hundred feet above the water, do not hesitate running over to them. Most likely they are following large schools of kings, sailfish or dolphin.

It is best to approach the area slowly, from about a quarter mile. I like to slip over a lure or two to drag around while I'm figuring out the situation. More than likely gamefish are on the prowl nearby looking for bait schools being pushed by the current. Gamefish schools normally travel into the current and/or the direction of the wind in search of food. Once you figure out current flow it would be best to go up current of the area and troll or drift back toward them.

What to use and to how use it:
When trolling, I prefer 20-30 pound-class tackle, while dragging chrome spoons and brightly colored diving plugs. The #3 Clark Spoon and a Tony Accetta #18 Pet Spoon catch fish near the surface. For deeper fish I like to use a Rapala CD-5 or CD-7 or similar sized silver Russell Lures. Lure trolling speed varies between 4 and 6 mph, faster in open water and slower around big structure. Kingfish make quick work of monofilament line so a wire leader is needed. These lures are connected via haywire twists to a 30" section of American Fishing Wire #6, 58-pound stainless steel single-strand wire for smaller lures and #8, 86-pound for larger lures.

When working schools of Spanish mackerel and bonito, I expect them to be feeding on dusky anchovies or similar small finfish. Two methods can catch these fish either casting or trolling around the perimeter. Do not troll through the school, work the outside edge to keep from spooking them. Tandem Speck-Rigs in 1/8 and 1/4 ounce sizes in various colors, as well as size-#0 Clark Spoons catch them up. Both species are very leader shy, 30-40 clear mono works well. Spinning tackle "trout size" is ideally suited to catching these fun fighting fish. Smacks are tasty and though bonito aren't very delectable they make excellent cut bait at the rigs.

Bottom fishing at the rigs and wrecks is fairly simple with bait. I use 60-pound mono for leader material rigged with a dropper loop, 7/O or 9/O Mustad Demon Circle 39941 circle hook, and a 4-8 ounce weight depending on current velocity. Drop straight down near the structure, all the way to the bottom. Bait up with squid, live pinfish, croaker or cut bait of whatever is available. Catches of snapper, redfish, shark, bluefish and cobia can be had in 45-70 feet of water. When fishing like this I always have a heavy spinning rod with 50lb braid rigged in case a cobia appears by surprise. A 36" mono 60 pound leader with a Mustad 3174 5/O hook makes up the business end. Cobia are sometimes finicky so a variety of baits should be tried to entice them.

It has been a goal of mine to release a sailfish nearshore; we've been 0 for 5 in the past three seasons. Maybe this August our luck will change, I plan on spending more time chasing frigate birds, kite fishing bait pods and pulling hookless teasers for bait and switch on fly. Who knows it may all come together.

Keep these basics in mind when planning ahead for a nearshore excursion. Safety should be paramount in all decisions including boat operation, weather forecasting and sea conditions. Keep an eye to the sky for foul weather building farther offshore and always between yourself and the beach. If ever in doubt run back inshore, better safe than sorry, I always say.