Winter fishing in Martin County is truly a unique experience…and not just because you can usually do it in your board shorts and bare feet
When the winds whip around to the north and the ocean and river temperatures drop just a little bit, the winter visitors begin to arrive. Inshore, that means pompano, ladyfish, bluefish and spinner sharks. For those in the bigger boats that can handle the winter wave heights, sailfish become the main target.
Wintertime is special for anglers because it is the one season which brings new species to target, unlike the rest of year when the residential species heat up or slow down, depending on the conditions. It’s the time of year when, despite the winds howling down the shoreline, the beaches heat up. No boats required!
Pompano are probably the No. 1 targeted species this time of year, as anglers line up their 12- and 13-foot surf rods in sand spikes, casting as far as 150 yards from the beach out to the trough which holds the fish.
Pompano fishermen are a dedicated group, carefully combing the tideline for sand fleas to use for bait and arguing over which color of neon bead or piece of foam to place next to their hook (this is where the neon green guys vs. the neon pink guys really heats up) to attract the fish. They keep their reels extra lubed so they can make the 100-plus yard casts and they march from rod to rod – most use four or five at once — checking the tension on the line until one stands straight up, indicating something is on the other end.
What they reel in may be a pompano, or it could be a whiting, croaker, bluefish or even a Spanish mackerel.
River anglers like to target pompano in the winter as well, but they do it a little differently than their beachbound cohorts.
Pompano travels in schools. On the beach, those schools are fairly easily targeted in the trough that runs just offshore. In the river, they stick to the flats and are a little harder to pinpoint. Many boaters will run the flats and wait to “skip” a pompano, or see one jump next to the boat as it passes. They will then stop and fish back to that point.
Another tactic is to simply drift and cast bright colored jigs, bouncing them off the bottom as you retrieve them. When you catch a pompano, stick as close to that spot as possible until it seems like the fish have moved on.
Besides pompano, you will catch bluefish, ladyfish and the occasional catfish by bouncing the jig off the bottom.
When it comes to winter species that are rare the rest of the year, bluefish easily top the list.
Anglers in the northeast and along the Atlantic seaboard target blues all summer, but those fish head south as the water gets too chilly. The bluefish run in Martin County starts in the fall and will last through most of spring and is very popular, especially for those fishing from the beach or in the river.
Bluefish fight ferociously and, if prepared properly, can be very tasty. The good news is they are fairly easy to catch – jigs, lures, live shrimp will all work – and are a great starter species to get kids interested in fishing.
If fishing offshore, using big reels and breaking out all the fun accessories is more your speed, Martin County isn’t called the Sailfish Capital for nothing.
The winds begin blowing dead east in October and November. That blows the Gulf Stream as close to our shores as it will be all year, usually between 8 and 12 miles out. When it clocks a little more to the northeast and kicks up to 15 or 20 knots, that’s when the sailfish really fire up.
The ideal conditions for sailfishing are a 15 knot northeast wind, giving the 5- to 6-foot waves a nice chop and spray. This situation fires up the sails, which can sometimes been seen surfing down the fronts of waves and tailwalking from a distance. It’s also why the majority of sailfish anglers this time of year are doing it out of big boats that can handle those kinds of seas.
The preferred method is to wind the outriggers out on either side of the boat, running three lines on each side at different distances behind the boat. If you have a kite and are using live bait (goggle eyes or pilchards), you can run a line through the kite and keep that bait just on top of the water. A couple of flat lines (lines with no outriggers or kites) can be placed out the back, giving you a spread of between 6 and 8 lines at any given time.
Drifting with the current, with the lines spread out behind will usually yield a bite or two. Be prepared, sailfish sometimes move in large schools called wolfpacks and one bite will sometimes lead to 2 or 3 or even 4 at one time once they find your baits.