ArticleFishingOffshoreOffshore-How-To's

The Hunt Begins

Lunar phase is one of the most significant factors affecting game fish behavioral patterns. Along with the moon’s influential light, precise lunar phase also plays a key role in tidal velocity. Plus, it is safe to assume the moon has a few unknown strongholds on the ocean’s inhabitants we’ll simply never understand. It is no wonder ancient cultures worshipped the moon.

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Photo: doughertyphotos.com

There’s not much better than frisky live baits, but catching baitfish can be challenging. Rarely do such diminutive fish cause anglers such grief, but understanding how forage species relate to environmental changes can help anglers make accurate predictions as to where forage fish should be at any given time.

…it's important to load up as fast as you can, because as quickly as the bite turned on it will also shut off.

Across the southeast, ballyhoo, blue runner and pilchard can be tough to find in their own right, however no baitfish is harder to consistently procure than goggle eye. These robust scad are ideal for their knack to remain alive for extended periods of time and for their ability to entice trophy pelagic predators. However, catching even a few dozen on your own can be a daunting task. Sport fishermen have been chasing these tiny finfish for decades and keeping detailed records of the action, or lack thereof, and the precise conditions they encountered at the time. While there’s nothing better than dangling live goggle eye from a kite, another thing we can all agree on is the secret society of successful baitfishermen. Perhaps more protected than the highly guarded secrets within the Oval Office, top baitfish pros never divulge exactly how, when or where they score big.

Many local anglers who have successfully captured goggle eye in the past know where to look, but just like a light switch the bite turns off, or a technique simply doesn’t do the trick any longer and they are left empty handed. Putting the pieces together can be puzzling and something you might only have a slight chance of understanding after years of trying. Some will never get it, but that’s just the way it goes and a benefit to South Florida’s booming baitfish industry. Even though you can’t catch them, someone else can and is willing to sell them at top dollar. For those of you who aren’t willing to shell out the big bucks after washing off the batifish skunk, there are a few tips that may help fill your livewell the next time you give goggle eye fishing a try.

In general, baitfish become increasingly skittish during daylight hours, and goggle eye are for the most part strictly caught under the cover of darkness. Almost all baitfish schools break up and disappear during the day, only to regroup as nightfall approaches. Part of the reason is increased boat traffic, but bright sunlight also puts forage species on high alert.

From Palm Beach through the Florida Keys, goggle eye are targeted from 20 feet out to 500 feet. This is a very large swath of water and one reason live gogs often fetch $80 per dozen. Truthfully, it is amazing anglers can locate these diminutive baitfish at all. Still, most fishermen who successfully target goggle eye agree that a full moon is the absolute worst time to baitfish. You might as well stay home and save the fuel.

During ideal lunar phases with minimal moonlight, goggle eye can be captured throughout the entire night and you might even experience a steady early morning bite. When this is the case it’s important to load up as fast as you can, because as quickly as the bite turned on it will also shut off. You might read them, but you’re not going to catch them.

No matter the precise moon phase, the earlier you depart on your bait fishing endeavor the deeper you want to start. Goggle eye are open water predators typically found roaming offshore waters, so it is a good idea to search the depths in the dark and work your way closer to shore as the witching hour approaches. You need to come to terms with the fact that you’ll be losing plenty of sleep if you plan on chasing goggle eye schools, but that’s part of the game.

Professional baitfishermen utilize 8- to 10-foot conventional outfits often rigged with two goggle eye sabikis— one attached above the other for upwards of 20 hooks. A heavy bank sinker is affixed to the bottom of the rig to help penetrate the depths and prevent hooked baits from tangling the long rig. As scratches of bait appear on the sonar, the rigs are deployed to the appropriate depth where they are lightly jigged or slow trolled. Exploratory drifts can also be productive by setting the rigs at various intervals in the water column.

While all of this sounds good on paper, there are times when ideal conditions yield nothing and dismal conditions yield stellar results. That’s the intriguing part of baitfishing…every night could yield a big surprise. Dedicated captains have thoroughly studied associated fishing action with the prevalent moon phase, but even as we continue to learn how the moon influences baitfishing we still have a lot to uncover. We can tell you for sure that when you finally score big, you’ll be more than willing to sacrifice counting sheep for the hopes of counting gogs.

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