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It is a strange year for fishing when you can’t seem to talk about fish without talking about gasoline. Gas prices have become like the prices for a pack of live bloodworms: up and down, different in different places, but always outrageously high. If one day the price of a gallon of gas surpasses that of a bag of bloodworms, then nobody is going to be able to leave the house.
Mid-summer is a good time for fishing, though often the heat keeps some people waiting for the cool autumn winds and the more sure-fire fishing in the fall. That doesn’t stop the tourists, though, since they fish when they are here—and they are here in mid-summer. This year the price of gas has cut into some of that, but despite the fuel crunch there are still plenty of people giving it a try.
In fact, if it weren’t for economic issues, I’d say we’re having a better than average fishing season on the recreational side, especially since the average in the past few years is for me to say that things are not going well and I hope they get better soon. It is hard to gauge commercial fishing, since the gas prices are hurting those folks the most, and the word is that even when the commercials can get out, the shrimp population they depend upon is down this year.
The finfish seem to be out there, though. It has already been a strong year for flounder and speckled trout, the two species I consider the most important locally that aren’t called spot. Spot are really a fish of the fall, however, while the other two are crucial to recreational anglers in the summer. Consistent catches of Spanish mackerel, puppy drum and pompano have added to the suggestion that if it weren’t costing so much to fish, we’d be talking about the good fishing.
As I have for several weeks, I’ll continue to suggest folks use live bait right now. Fish are sluggish in the heat, and this is a tough time for finesse. I’d never tell someone who wants to go out and throw lures on a summer afternoon not to do it, but with so much bait in the water just waiting to be cast-netted, the best way to persuade a flounder or trout to expend a little energy is with a frisky little critter of some sort on the wet end of your line.
Live shrimp are not exactly cheap themselves if you are trying to buy them, but if you can get them with your cast net, they are by far the best bait for speckled trout, and in the summer they will often catch specks when nothing else will. Morning time is the right time for trout, and from a pier or around hard structure like a bridge, live shrimp under a cork is the way to go.
Later this year, when the water cools, those who love to toss jigs and plugs to specks will have their days. But for now, those casting out the real thing will be the ones most likely to put a limit in the cooler.
For those targeting flounder, live minnows are less expensive than shrimp, though if you can work around the hottest part of the day there is no reason not to net them yourself. You can obtain mud minnows, which work just fine, but a spirited finger mullet is my favorite flounder bait. Little pinfish are also good alternatives for those after flatties, and there are so many of them around you might not even need a cast net, you can just stick your hand in the water and pull one up. Actually, on second thought, don’t try that. They aren’t called pinfish for nothing.
Those who drift or troll in the inlets and rivers are finding flounder right now. They will catch the most fish, while the larger ones will be hauled in by those who anchor up and cast right at the structure where the big female flounder lie around lazily, resting in their ambush spots. If you anchor up and cast in such spots, you will lose a lot of bait and rigs to the various rocks, pilings, and assorted junk in the water. That must be endured and simply means you are fishing in the right place.
For those fishing on pier or from shore, as many of the tourists do when they come down, reliable and easily bought cut shrimp on bottom rigs is still effective, as long as you fish the edges of the day.
Those bottom-fishing will find better luck in the ocean surf, where the pompano and whiting (sea mullet) are prowling, than in inshore waters, where bait-stealing pinfish are swarming. Now is a decent time for early morning surf fishing, especially for pompano.
Although it will cost you more and perhaps require a trip to the fish market, fresh shrimp will almost always outfish the frozen shrimp sold in many piers and bait stores. Cut tiny pieces of shrimp and use small hooks (like size No. 4) as pompano grab and dash at your bait with their sharp little teeth, and you will miss a lot of fish using bait and hooks that are too big.
The nice fishing these past few months bodes well for the fall, which is the best time to fish in our waters. If it weren’t for those high gas prices, I think anglers would be pretty happy so far this year. If you are going to give it a shot, the fish appear to be available. Just rise early or go late. Fishing under the afternoon sun probably won’t get you the results you want, but if you go at the right time and use live or fresh bait, you don’t have to wait for those big fall runs to put a decent fish supper on the table.
You’re going to have to get gas to get where you are going, but at least you don’t need to pay the price for bloodworms yet. That double-whammy can wait until spot season arrives.
JEFFREY WEEKS is a fishing columnist for the Beacon. Reach him at email@example.com.