As part-time snow birds, my wife and I spend February and March in Flagler Beach, Fla., where I enjoy preparing my ice fishing reports.
Being a “use-to-be” ice angler, I do miss it, but not that much. I’m fortunate to have a number of bait and tackle shops as well as avid ice anglers who supply me with the up-to-the-minute ice angling activities at home, but I’d like to share the where and how I fish here every morning at sunup and the last hour or so before dark. I don’t fish with those 10-foot spinning rods with heavy weights cast in the Atlantic Ocean’s surf, but rather from the 34 docks just 20 feet from the back door of our rented condo in the Atlantic Intercoastal Seaway.
My gear is the same rod and reel I use at home for bass, a seven-foot medium-heavy action spinning rod spooled with 50-pound test Power Pro moss green braid line, which has the diameter of 12-pound-test monofilament. I switched to this because the barnacle buildup on the dock posts were cutting my regular monofilament line, and the braided line has superior sensitivity to feel bites.
I don’t use any lures. I tried a number of hard and soft baits, but I found nothing beats the real thing, and in this case, it’s live shrimp. I buy 50 twice a week and hook them through their collar behind the head using a number 2/0 circle hook. The reason for the bigger hook is because I release 98 percent of the fish I catch. I’ve learned the good food fish here are the red drum, spotted sea trout, black drum and flounder. My favorite is flounder. The cost of a full-year, non-resident license is $47; a seven-day, $30; and a three-day, $17.
So how’s the fishing? In my six years fishing here, I can honestly say it is truly great, and this year, the numbers are well ahead of last, when for the two months I caught a total of 142 fish. As of Feb. 22 this year, I’ve caught 109. I only missed two days of fishing this year. That’s because I went hunting.
I brought something new to help me with my fishing, the Aqua-Vu Micro II camera system. I plan to use this for fishing lakes and rivers at home, but I thought I’d try it at the docks first. The unit has a 3.5-inch LCD monitor screen, quarter-inch color image sensor and automatically switches to black and white in low light.
It comes with a 50-foot, 22-pound-test camera cable (150 degrees field of view) and a rechargeable battery. The cable stores right on the back of the unit.
The camera, which is about half the size of a thumb, looks straight up, down or sideways when underwater. Retail for this unit is $250. I added a carrying case for $10 that holds the unit on my belt. Go to their website at www.acqavu.com and watch their demo videos.
When we arrived in Florida, it was too late to do any fishing, but I was up very early and headed for the bait shop the next morning to buy my 50 shrimp, and was on the docks as the sun was just coming up. Several years ago, when we first rented in Flagler Beach, I’d never seriously fished for ocean fish. Several of our neighbors took me under their wings and convinced me that the best bait was live shrimp, and they were right. They created a monster because I fish every day.
That morning, the first thing that hit the water was the Aqua-Vu’s little camera. It was high tide, and I let it down slowly next to one of the dock support poles. I noticed the barnacle buildups on the poles. They’ll cut a line very quickly. A big old blue crab also showed up on the screen. I slowly walked the docks, stopping every few steps to see what was down there and it wasn’t long before I started to see groups of small fish.
I believe my use of the Aqua-Vu here has resulted in my increase in fish caught, and that it will continue to help me locate them. I also know that I have convinced a number of the other dock anglers here in Flagler of the Aqua-Vu’s worth, and two of these anglers have already ordered one. I am also anxious to try them when I get home. Now when I see those inverted “V” shapes on my boat’s depthfinder I can lower the Mini’s camera and see what they are.
One of the difficulties of dock fishing here is that tidal fluctuations can be anywhere from four to six feet, which means that the use of a net is limited, especially when alone. The majority of fish I catch have to be lifted from the water onto the dock with my rod. I usually have a net at hand, but its use requires lying down on the dock while trying to bring the fish to the net with just one hand on the rod, and this has resulted in several lost fish. However, I got lucky when trying to use the net to land a 24-inch red drum.
The ironic part of this particular catch was the bait. After having the small pin fish nibble my big shrimp off the hook without getting caught, I decided to get even and hooked up a 11⁄2-inch shrimp, which is not easy to get on a 2/0 inch hook, but I figured when they nibbled, I could catch one and then use it on another rod for bait. That little shrimp was only a few inches under the water when the line took off. I let it take a few feet of line, then shut the bale and set the hook. Boy, was I surprised when the rod doubled over and the fight was on.
When it made its first past I saw it was a big fish and really didn’t want to try to flip up on the dock. I lay down on my stomach, pointed the rod at the fish, held the rod my right hand and grabbed the net with my left hand. Getting it under this thrashing fish was not easy and for a minute or two, I didn’t think it was going to work. Somehow, I worked it into the net, but when I started to lift it, the fish twisted in the net, pulling it out of my hand. The net was then in the water, out of my reach, with the fish trying to get free.
I don’t know what made me do what I did, but it worked. I jammed the rod tip through the openings in the net and got the rod’s third eye tangled in the netting, raised the rod up until I could grab the net handle and lifted my 24-inch red drum up and onto the dock.
One of the best things about fishing the Intercoastal is the variety of fish species there. I’ve caught flounder, sheepshead, black drum, Atlantic croaker, red drum, spotted seatrout and catfish. The big catches were an 18-, 20- and 21-inch seatrout, 21- and 24-inch red drums, a five-pound black drum and a six-pound catfish. The trout and red drums were not released, they were eaten.
I’ll be taking two days off: one to see if I can call in a Florida Osceola tom, and the other to sample some of Florida’s big spawning bass down here.