I am asked frequently how or what do I look for to increase the odds of catching. Each day is different, but here are three things any angler can do to improve their catching success.
1. Fish early or fish late.
It is a proven fact, predators feed more readily during low light periods. The sun rises and sets daily at a guaranteed mathematically predictable time. This is the one and only environmental influence that never changes.
As daylight brightens or dims, the permeation of light into the water changes in magnitude. Shadows reach across and through the water altering the ability of forage fish to detect imminent danger. Predators use these shadows to their advantage to cloak their attacks. Fish early or fish late to utilize the same advantage of light refraction.
2. Combine factors and variables.
Predictable factors and inconsistent variables can be evaluated to increase catches. In combination, these forces of nature can contribute favorably, or not, depending on what is available.
The predetermined factors include the times of sunrise and sunset, tidal level, tide movement, and solunar influence. These factors are all proven and readily available, you need to look no further for accurate predictions than the solunar table included monthly in this publication. Knowledge is power, this information allows us the opportunity to formulate a game plan and put it in motion.
The variables to take into consideration are ever-changing and less predictable. They may be water temperature, wind velocity and direction, barometric pressure, and human interaction. Each variable must be taken at face value with added consideration of the effects on given factors.
3. Use the force of the tides.
As I always say, “Find the current, find the bait, find the fish.” Find areas where the current concentrates the forage by pulling or pushing them into an abutment or other type of structure. This can be it a current seam, a reef, a deep channel, shoreline point, sudden bottom contour or drop-off, or against a shoal.
When the tide ebbs, it pulls the bait with a concentrated force or suction in the lower part of the water column. When it floods, the water is pushed with force in the upper part of the water column. Each tide helps concentrate the gamefish feeding in said areas – lower on outgoing and higher on incoming.
This is the largest single influence within the realm of bait movement, and where the bait can be found at any given time. Simply put, currents put the food chain in motion, everything goes with the flow.
Swift currents overwhelm the forage, pushing and pulling them along the routes of least resistance. For a chance at survival they group together, seeking safety in numbers. Anytime bait is concentrated you can bet the predators are nearby.
Structure Scouting in February
February brings us the lowest sustained tide levels of the year; caution should be exercised while navigating shallow waterways. But, low water levels also make it a great time to scout local bays for structure you might not know exists. While out there, you can also create trails on your GPS that will be navigable year around.
What you discover on extreme low-tide days can provide details of great areas to target at other times. Shallow oyster reefs and mid-bay sandbars will be exposed, alerting boaters to be more careful. Primary shapes of drop-offs are easier to observe, as well as clues to any irregularities where fish will tend to congregate when the tides return. Examples are the edges of washouts and guts where the water flow makes its way onto a flat. Fish often use these features to enter and exit areas on normal tidal exchanges.
Sheepshead catches reach their peak this month for anglers who target them along ship channel jetties and deep oyster reefs in the bays. Channel markers, marina bulkheads, and gas platforms are also productive places. The big attraction will be clinging oysters and barnacles. Incidental catches of trout, redfish and black drum are quite common in the same areas.
Live shrimp free-lined close to structure, lightly-weighted on bottom, or suspended with a float can all work very well. Sheepshead hold tight to structure that lies adjacent to areas that regularly experience strong current. When currents go slack they often wander away from the structure, hunting in small packs. Bait presentation is normally most effective from the up-current or upwind side of the structure being targeted.
My preferred hook for this application is the MUSTAD Ultra Point 9174 O’Shaughnessy. Depending on the size of bait, hooks of 1/O to 3/O size are good choices. The chemically sharpened micro-point provides quicker penetration for best hookups. Many times, a short striker gets stung in the outer lip, while larger fish get it drilled into the roof of their mouth.
Of all the ways to hook a live shrimp, I prefer hooking them in the center of the back. Cutting them in half by nipping them in the middle and circling back for the remainder.
When seeking the best specimens to fill a limit, we often find it necessary to hit multiple locations along structure such as jetty rocks and also multiple structures such as channel markers, buoys and reefs. It is common for the largest fish to be the most aggressive feeders. Change location if you start losing a good amount of bait to short-striking juveniles. Doubling back to places that produced good fish earlier can also be very effective. Evidently, when a large and aggressive fish is removed from the structure another moves up quickly to take its place.
Schooling Black Drum Action
Slot-sized black drum school tightly in cooler water and lower tidal levels. Peeled, dead shrimp, crab flavored Fish Bites, or small pieces of blue crab all work great. The schools often stage near structure, using it as a focus point. Drum often travel along primary drop-offs from flats or ledges bordering deeper water.
In February, large black drum start to trickle into the bays for the annual spawn. Best catches tend to be in water depths of 15- to 40-feet and cracked crab, jumbo shrimp, or mantis shrimp are particularly effective in drawing strikes. Moving water is a key in getting the bigger fish to feed. Channel intersections and deep drop-off ledges normally have the strongest water flow.Getting on the water this month can be very rewarding in many ways. Fewer boats make for less stress on the fish and the lower tides give us opportunity to see what is hidden on normal water levels. If for no other reason to hit the water this month, your boat could probably use some exercise.