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Hot times in Sunshine State

9/15/2009

Editor's note: David A. Brown has a B.A. in journalism from the University of South Florida and you can see his work in Florida Sportsman, FLWOutdoors.com, Cabela's Outfitter Journal, TIDE, In-Fisherman, Louisiana Sportsman, The St. Petersburg Times and Saltwater Angler. He also ghost-wrote and published "Fish Smart — Catch More!" for Tampa's cable TV host Capt. Bill Miller (www.billmiller.com) and a couple more publishing projects will be docking soon. He operates a professional writing/marketing agency, Tight Line Communications.

Floridians face solar challenges during the sunny season, which lasts from January 1 to December 31.

Hey, the "Sunshine State" label is great for tourism marketing but living in paradise has its toll and local anglers know the wisdom of working around the hot stuff.

In truth, certain times are worse than others. Months seven and eight are no joke, but from memories of high school football practice, I can promise you that September's fiery temper is nothing to be trifled with.

We did the spring training in May and two-a-days during August before school started. But once classes were back in session, life was really tough when that final bell rang each September day.

Notwithstanding the past several days of moderate temperatures — accounted for by dense cloud cover and wet conditions — September 2009 has retained plenty of heat.

Ask a Florida dove hunter how often he soaks his cammo T-shirt with sweat during the season's first phase (October) and you'll see that fall's official cooling is a much-anticipated transition in the land of palm trees and alligators. (I know Mr. Frennette has plenty of swamp lizards over yonder in the Bayou State, but we invented 'gators, and don'tcha ferget it!)

Angling tactics

This is a good time of year for offshore fishing, as seas are usually fairly calm between the summer storms.

The heat has little effect on bottom fishing, but that's the polar opposite of the shallow water scene.

Towering temperatures and low levels of oxygen are the culprits in what can seem like a whole lot of nothing. For many anglers, the combination of uncomfortable temperatures and lethargic fish can be a real day-killer, but the key is identifying the productive periods.

Tides are always essential to inshore fishing success, but incoming cycles are especially beneficial during summer as they flush the shallows with freshly oxygenated water and replace the stale, balmy brine with a rinsing straight from the sea.

Such refreshers are most intense around passes and inlets where funneled water spurts forth with momentum. Add to this the usual stream of forage washed in by a tide and you can expect a spark in predatory activity.

That being said, the most consistent summertime action occurs from sunset to sunrise, when lower water temperatures combined with the cover of darkness creates ideal feeding scenarios. Tidal movement — in or out — helps stimulate the nocturnal dining, but nothing makes it happen like a good set of lights.

Bridges, piers or residential docks; any land-based structure that illuminates the water below will create focused feeding windows in the light rings that reflect on the surface and penetrate the water column.

Shrimp, crabs and baitfish are drawn to the lights, and when they enter the kill zone predators can easily target these tempting silhouettes.

In the New Port Richey area, Capt. Greg DeVault runs night and early morning trips that target dock lights in the residential canals of Gulf Harbors, along with sections of the Cotee River. Snook are the common target, but trout, redfish, jacks and ladyfish often join the fun.

To the south, Sarasota's Capt. Rick Grasset recently reported catching tarpon of 10 to 30 pounds on minnow flies in bridge and dock lights. Across the state, St. Augustine anglers can burn through a bag of plastic jig tails while tussling with loads of trout under docks throughout the Matanzas River.

When targeting night lights, savvy anglers take note of the local forage size and then match baits accordingly. Live baits can certainly find takers, but it's hard to keep them where you want them. You'll do best with light jigs, artificial shrimp and flies that imitate glass minnows and shrimp.

Be cool by day

If you have to fish during the day, start as early as possible and do not miss the opportunity to work topwaters in shallow water.

The skinny water along oyster and sand bars, island edges and even shallow seawall areas cools overnight and big gator trout will use the first hour of light to ravage any finger mullet they can corner against the sidelines.

A MirrOlure Top Dog, Rapala Skitterwalk, Berkley Frenzy or a saltwater Zara Spook does a fine mullet imitation and the frothy white water explosions are well worth an early start. Keep your leaders short and light so you don't adversely affect the lure's enticing walk.

Capt. T.J. Stewart of Bradenton warns that baitfish are especially susceptible to hot water stress, so avoid sitting too long in a shallow, warm area. The water that's outside the boat is what ends up in your live well, so make sure you don't suffocate your bait.

After heavy rains from summer thunderstorms, drains flow swiftly and there aren't many scenarios closer to a sure bet than flinging baits toward a rushing spillway. Snook, jacks, redfish and anything else with an appetite will flock to the current — same as freshwater bass perking up when a TVA dam bumps up the discharge.

When facing the harsh summer conditions, remain diligent to protect yourself from dehydration, sun burns and heat exhaustion. Bathing in quality sun block of at least SPF 30 and drinking lots of water or sports beverages should be the standard procedure. Long-sleeve shirts and long, lightweight nylon fishing pants, fishing gloves and face masks further protect your skin, while wide brim hats and polarized sunglasses shield your eyes.

Lastly, consider that extended fights in warm water can push a fish to exhaustion. Use tackle sufficient for quick capture and spend a few moments reviving your catch before release. For larger fish like tarpon, cobia and big snook, put the boat in gear and idle forward while supporting the fish at boatside.

This washes oxygen across its gills without making the fish swim to do so. From shore, just wade out to where you can lead the fish through the water while holding it by the lower jaw (or by the tail for toothy fish).