Reel Time: Preparing for fall fishing

Captain Bryon Chamberlin landed this cobia in Tampa Bay after a fall cool down. - Rusty Chinnis | Sun

Fall is here even though it may not feel like it. We still have the windows and doors closed and the AC on, but the light and the cool mornings are teasing us with the promise of change.  The golden lining is the coming cooler weather, the passing of the red tide and hopefully some of the season’s best fishing. When you read this, a front will have just passed through and as water temperatures drop, schools of bait should migrate inshore with pelagic species like kingfish, Spanish mackerel, false albacore, cobia and tripletail hot on their trail.

Now is a great time to prepare for the promise of fall, getting tackle in order and keeping an eye to the sky for diving birds and on the water for breaking fish. Fortunately, all of these species can be found right off our Gulf beaches and some even enter the bays. All of these species will take live bait, lures or flies and can be caught on spinning, baitcasting or fly tackle. With the possible exception of king mackerel and cobia, most are able to be landed with light tackle, which adds to the excitement.

Depending on the species you’re targeting you’ll want to rig accordingly. Since it’s possible to encounter such a plethora of fish in a single outing, multiple outfits are a good idea. One of the main considerations will be rigging your bite tippet and leader. Options include wire, monofilament, long-shanked hooks or a combination of these. It’s possible to catch a kingfish without wire, but your odds aren’t good.

The same applies with certain exceptions to Spanish mackerel. Mackerel can sometimes shy away from wire. That’s the time to switch to a long shank hook or a heavy (60 pound) monofilament leader. Even then it’s possible to get cut off but you’ll get more action that way.

When using wire an eight- to 12-inch trace can be tied to monofilament using an Albright Special knot (best) or a swivel. If you use a swivel use a black as opposed to silver one to prevent fish from mistaking it for forage.  American Fishing Wire makes a product called Surflon Micro Supreme that is extremely flexible and kink resistant. This wire can be knotted to your lure, hook or fly like monofilament; it also provides greater flexibility and less stretch than monofilament. Umpqua makes a product that’s ideal for fly anglers. Their Re-Twistable Haywire Twist wire is reusable and will allow you to change flies in a snap. This is the quickest and most painless system to rig wire for toothy fish.

Wire is less likely to deter a bite under low light conditions like early morning, overcast days and late in the day.

One of the most effective ways to find schooling fish in the fall is to look for surface action and diving birds in the inshore gulf waters. Predators can also be present without revealing themselves around structure, reefs and wrecks. When you find feeding fish you can approach them by trolling, drifting or with the use of a trolling motor. Whatever method you employ never let your boat pass through or get too close to the action.  With more and more boats and anglers pursuing feeding fish they are likely to sound and move away. The best bet is to stay outside the action but within casting distance. If trolling, make wide turns so only your lures pass through the action.

Live bait anglers target schooling fish in a number of ways. By anchoring up current from a likely area they may deploy a chum bag and then toss wounded live baits to draw fish into casting range. This can be an extremely effective method. Those that prefer artificial lures find spoons particularly effective as well as jigs like the DOA CAL or the Berkley Gulp. One of the most exciting and effective types of lures are top water models like the MirroLure Top Dog, the Heddon Zara Spook or Rapala Saltwater Skitter Pop. Not only is the strike visual and often explosive, but their action can attract target species.

Fly fishing is also an effective and exciting way to target fall species from cobia to triple tail, Spanish mackerel and even kingfish. The same rigging applies and top water flies like the Crease fly or Garthside Gurgler can produce some memorable strikes. Clouser Deep Minnows are also a great choice for Spanish mackerel and false albacore. This would be a good time of the year to have a 10 or 11 weight rod rigged with a big black fly should a cobia make an appearance.

Whatever your fishing style, take advantage of the great action you’ll find in area waters this fall. If you’re new to the game, consider hiring a guide. This is a great way to learn the ropes and a great value when shared with a friend. Good fishing!

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