Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Night of the Whiting

The whiting is not a rare fish in the Gulf and Atlantic, but it's also one you don't often see in huge numbers. After sunset June 23, the whiting were present in huge numbers at Bob Hall Pier in the Gulf of Mexico in Corpus Christi, Texas.

The bait needed to be on the bottom, and the wait was often only a matter of seconds before these powerful fish struck, especially for the people using shrimp for bait. I was using a plastic imitation shrimp with a strong scent called "Gulp," in white. It worked very well, and since this tough plastic didn't come off when the fish nibbled, it was much easier to use.

I lost count of the fish that I caught (in the mid-Atlantic many people call them "kingfish.") Most were about one pound, and a two-pounder was a big fish. I didn't keep any, but they are good to eat, and many people lucky enough to be at Bob Hall this night took home enough whiting for a great meal.

By the way, these fish are known for being in very shallow water. This night they were all in two to three feet of water, very close to the shore. So yes — for people who know how to cast their lines a good distance, or for people who like to wade into the surf and fish (they do bite well in daytime), there's no need for a pier!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Fishing Pier in the Summer

There is nothing like the pier in the summer time, and seeing the beach, the boats, the surf, the birds and the fish.

If you have never tried salt water fishing, the sheer variety of fish you see always makes it fun. Above are photos from a visit on the first day of summer at the Horace Caldwell pier in Port Aransas, Texas. It's a standard fishing pier just like you'll find on any stretch of the U.S. coast, a couple hundred yards long with a T-shaped ending.

The first four fish pictured are prized speckled trout that were biting on live shrimp and on lures shaped like shrimp or minnows. But there were many other kinds caught, and pictured are a blue runner, a sand shark and a four-foot scalloped hammerhead shark.

The pier fishing experience is one of the nicest under the right conditions. On this day you'll notice the pier has the unusual luxury of plenty of open room with extra space for casting. Beginners might want to avoid fishing on crowded piers. Also, this pier, which has been here for decades, recently banned alcohol. That's had a good effect for the family experience. The crowds did arrive when the sun got lower on this weekend, and there were many friendly people having good times.

Fishing on a pier is very different from fishing in a freshwater lake, with very different equipment. That four pound line that's so effective at a lake just won't work on a saltwater pier. Here a three or four pound fish — possibly with sharp teeth — is likely to bite (and a three HUNDRED pound fish is not out of the question!). With a light freshwater outfit you probably wouldn't be able to pull a fish up through the air before the line broke, and in fact, you wouldn't even be likely to see the fish before feeling the snap of the line.

The stores that cater to tourists here offered acceptable saltwater fishing rod-and-reel combos at reasonable prices — $25 to $35. Some have large pushbutton reels with 14-to-20 pound line, and very heavy rods. If push button reels are the only type you can use, these will work fine, and you should be able to land up to a five - or possibly even a 10-pound fish. (You'll need help getting large fish up onto the pier. Friendly people will be glad to help, and you'll need to accept their hospitality. If you're really lucky, someone will have a "drop-net," a circular net that is dropped down to the water to bring the fish up.)

There's a lot you should know before trying saltwater fishing, including: which fish can hurt you (including jellyfish), which bait to use, how to put the bait on the hook, how to attach big hooks, big lead weights and steel "leaders" to your line — all subjects coming up here.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Do Fish Bite at Night?

Some of the best fishing happens at night. Lights on dark water attract small fish, and small fish attract big fish. Often the fish — and the fishing — gets concentrated in the tiny areas where bright lights shine beams into the water.
On June 14 I went to this pier in saltwater along the Kennedy Causeway in Corpus Christi, Texas, where the highway leads from the mainland to the famous Padre Island. The tactic here works exactly the same everywhere, on bays, rivers and lakes from coast to coast: the light shines into the water for an hour or so, the small fish gather, then the bigger fish move in.
Here my nephew and I paid just $2 each to fish on one of several lighted piers along the causeway. We used only small plastic imitation minnows with lead heads, cast through the bright beams in the water. There were bites on every cast, and we caught nine speckled trout (they call these fish "spotted weakfish" in the Northeast) in one hour, along with other non-game fish collectively known in this area as "perch" (none are really in the perch family but it's a word that's often used to refer to the various types of fish that are generally too small to keep). As you see, we sometimes caught two fish at a time when using two lures, and there were scary-looking ribbonfish, with their protruding large barracuda-like teeth.
In Texas you can keep 10 speckled trout per day, but they have to be between 15 and 25 inches long, and none of these were quite that big, so — no keepers, but a good time. (Here, if you catch any trout over 25 inches, you can only keep one per day. If that sounds strict, here are some other limits: any tarpon has to be 7 feet long to be kept, you can only keep one shark per day, and any blue marlin under 11 feet long is too small!)