With summertime feeding patterns already unfolding in our near-coastal arenas, look no further than chaotic feeding frenzies to put the “sport” in sport fishing.
Before we start, let’s make one thing perfectly clear; if casting jigs, plugs or flies into a full-on feeding frenzy while knowing there’s an all out assault taking place right before your eyes doesn’t get your blood pumping—you seriously need to read on. Any enthusiastic angler, young or old, novice or pro, will swear the complete chaos that comes with an all out bonito blitz is what sport fishing is all about. Fortunately for us bait migrations are on the move, setting the stage for some sensational light tackle action outside nearly every port.
Remember that this scenario is a sure bet in a complex sport where the only guarantee is that there are no guarantees.
This type of adrenaline-filled fishing with helpless baitfish balled up on the surface is truly awe-inspiring simply because it is so visually appealing. I know that you, too, at one time or another have stood there with rod in hand watching as the ocean in front of you literally erupted. If the sight alone isn’t enough to get your fish catching juices boiling, remember that this scenario is a sure bet in a complex sport where the only guarantee is that there are no guarantees. Throw a shiny lure into a mix of surface busting fish and squawking birds, and if there is one thing you can count on, it’s connecting.
Where to find the fun in the sun is an open-ended question depending on exactly where you fish. Along the Sunshine State’s Atlantic Coast, near-shore feeding frenzies may unfold in as shallow as 30 feet, to well over 300 feet. The same applies off the fertile Keys and Florida’s rich Gulf Coast.
Most of this topwater excitement consists of voracious schools of hungry bonito gorging on juvenile sardines, anchovies and herring, however fast swimming mackerel and hard-fighting jack are often in the mix as well. Most count on bones keeping them tight with possible bonuses mixed in.
It’s a big ocean with plenty of square miles to cover, so it always helps to keep a few tricks up your sleeve to help pinpoint a hot surface bite. Get an early morning start when boat traffic is at a minimum. Crews on the move zipping offshore or across the reef tend to keep fish down. An early start also helps combat climbing temperatures. However make no mistake—fierce feeding frenzies rivaling anything you’ve seen on Blue Planet may erupt at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Basically, anytime an aggressive school of predators crosses paths with a concentration of unsuspecting baitfish it’s game on, with dawn, dusk and overcast low light conditions coupled with a slight chop leaving the door wide open for blitzes to develop.
While scanning in every direction, a quality pair of marine binoculars is a must, as are keen senses as you keep tabs on surrounding activity above and below the surface. Given enough time to marinate with the right conditions, even the occasional surface bust may ultimately develop into pure mayhem.
Birds picking off the surface, fish erratically busting bait on top or any other key indicators that game fish may be nearby should not be ignored. Bait concentrations in particular marked on your sounder are clearly an invitation for an all out slaughter. The basic rule, “find the bait and you’ll find the fish” simply couldn’t apply any more than it does in our near coastal arenas. Eventually, every baitfish meets its demise.
While keeping tabs on suspended slashes and marks on your sounder certainly comes with its own unique set of challenges, with forward looking and side imaging sonar the playing field is quickly changing. Modern technology is providing inquisitive fishermen 360-degree situational awareness.
Local knowledge and area fishing reports are also extremely beneficial, helping anglers fishing from any inlet paint a clear picture of seasonal trends and current feeding patterns. If captains are reporting blitzes in local waters one day, there is a solid chance that as long as conditions remain relatively unchanged similar scenarios may continue to unfold.
When you do come face to face with a blitz, determine what direction the feeding fish are moving in. Run well around the perimeter of the commotion and set up where you’ll intercept the ravenous school. NEVER run directly through the center of the feeding activity as this is a sure method of putting the fish down.
Regardless of target species or intended game plan as spring turns into summer, be sure to keep a sharp eye out for whitewater, and remember to always have a pair of medium action outfits rigged and ready. The second you connect; you’ll be thanking us for the reminder.
Rig It Right
Light tackle is the right tackle, with spinning gear in 10, 12 or 15 lb. class ideal for this sort of fishing. Try matching a size 4000 spinner with a medium action 7’6″ graphite spinning rod and you’ll be in for a real treat. Each fish will test your tackle and skills.
Fly rods are certainly an option, too, with explosive feeding frenzies providing the perfect opportunity for fly anglers to hone their casting and fish-fighting skills. When the action is at its peak, this is more catching than it is fishing. A 9-weight large arbor reel loaded with no less than 200 yards of backing is the deal with an intermediate fly line getting the job done.
Lures or flies should match the hatch in size, which should be fairly easy to identify, but may vary wildly in color. While Spanish mackerel or toothy kingfish are always a possibility, most blitzes are bonito driven so a simple 20 or 30 lb. monofilament or fluorocarbon leader will keep you connected.
Here in Florida the game fish we call a bonito (bottom photo) is not a bonito at all, but rather a false albacore or little tunny. A true Atlantic bonito (top photo) is a different member of the tuna family all together, and is coincidentally making a strong showing along our state’s Atlantic Coast. A true Atlantic bonito is identifiable by straight vertical bands along its olive green back versus the dark squiggly markings clearly evident on false albacore. The Atlantic bonito is also a quality eating fish suitable for an array of tasty recipes whereas little tunny are best reserved for bait purposes.