Rules? We Don’t Need No Stinking Rules!
By: Gary Droze
As a rule, most fishing rules are well-founded, based on collective experience which demonstrates that following them will lead to higher catches. However, some unruly types are ruled by an instinct which nudges them towards rule-breaking. Mostly, these outliers end up fishless. (Digression: I don’t mean enforceable rules. There is a curfew at the US Air Force Academy, which I regularly violated as a cadet, sneaking out after taps to reconnoiter a campus pond that housed hulking, hungry rainbow trout. The statute of limitations has long since passed. Thanks, taxpayers!).
That said, let’s look at a few time-honored rules that inshore anglers successfully follow, but that can also be violated on occasion to produce more hookups…
Set the hook on sheepshead immediately. Veteran sheepie chasers know that these bait thieves employ a zippy nibble that combines sucking in a bait’s soft parts and spitting out the shell (baits: crabs, shrimp, barnacles). So the rule is to strike NOW, before the spit that also rejects your hook. But after gut-checking many convict fish, I noticed that some completely ingest small fiddler crabs. A thin wire (Aberdeen) hook, buried in a little fiddler, can often trick sheepshead into taking the bait wholesale, which means one simply waits 2-3 seconds after the bite, then pulls in a throat or gut-hooked sheepie. Not a viable catch-and-release strategy, but I suspect that most caught sheepshead end up getting released into a buttered skillet.
Drag the bottom for flounder. Yes, flatties hug the bottom. But they are keen to launch themselves – snakelike – at hapless prey that cruise a foot or more above them. If you find yourself losing terminal gear on stony bottom structure while targeting flounder, don’t be shy about suspending your offering off the rocks. Wouldn’t you move an extra foot for a tasty snack?
Add a fluorocarbon leader to your braid. Sure, why not…especially if the highlight of your fishing day is tying the knot between those two disparate line types that seem to despise each other. What fun! But consider this: if the water is a bit discolored, OR the wind is such that strong ripples interrupt surface clarity, OR you are thrusting frisky live bait at your quarry, a wispy snippet of braid at the business end is not likely to inhibit a chomp.
Only fish moving tides. Somebody once asked me my favorite time to fish, and I of course replied: “When I’m alive.” If you can’t exploit the ideal 30-60 minutes either side of a dead low or high tide, don’t skip your trip! Just look for ambush areas, such as sandbar drop-offs, sharp bends in creeks, and rocks that sprout grass. These spots are the 24-hour convenience stores of fishing. Like people, some fish want to eat at the oddest times. It’s not against the rules to catch them!