Saltwater: Inshore: Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “Bottom fishing is great in the sound because everything is on the move. Bull whiting should start showing up near sandbars in the sound. The best bait for this great-sized panfish is going to be small pieces of peeled shrimp laced on small hooks fished directly on the bottom. The best hook size is a No. 4 to No. 6 khale hook (also known as a wide gap hook) or a No. 4 to No. 6 classic j hook. As far as best bottom rig, I suggest the Carolina-style rig. This rig keeps your bait near the bottom, allowing for a better hook-up opportunity. You could find yourself catching spotted seatrout, summer trout, flounder, trophy redfish, flounder and shark. The reason being is all fish are on the move, and they are hungry. Please remember that it is best to use a light-tackle rod/reel setup with 10- to 15-lb. test main line when targeting whiting. I like using monofilament, but braided will also work. For those fishermen who prefer inshore trout and reds, March is a great time to look for potential fishing spots. The water is clear, and it is the best time to see exactly what’s down under. When you find any sort of action, I suggest stopping and giving it a try. As far as best live baits when fishing floats, live shrimp is best. However, they might be hard to come by and also very expensive. Mud minnows will work well, too. The best news is you can catch your own. All you need is a minnow trap and a shallow tidal slough to set it. As far as bait for the trap, I suggest using raw chicken parts, tube of saltines, bacon or cracked crabs, oysters or clams. The mud minnow can be fished lip hooked under a traditional or popping float rig. This bait also works great when just fished directly on the bottom with a Carolina-style rig or hooked up just plain naked. And in some cases, two minnows on a hook are better than one. This hardy bait is not anywhere as delicate as a shrimp and can be used a number of times after it has been bit and hit.” Big sheepshead have been showing up on the dock posts and bridge pilings. For more information on that, turn to page 30.
Nearshore Reefs: Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “Normally the black sea bass are holding on these pallet balls, tires, concrete piles and culvert pipes. I suggest using cut squid or a fillet of fish. Jigs tipped with or without any sort of bait (artificial or not) jigged or placed directly on the bottom will also work. I have found that artificial reefs like J, L, CCA or any others located in 55 plus feet of water will hold the most concentration of large black fish. The secret is to stop, drop and move until you find the fish. Please know when drifting bottom spots at this depth, too many drifts will scatter the fish. I suggest making a couple of drifts, moving off, and looking for more active bottom. After waiting 30 minutes or so, circle back and fish this same spot. If the fish have moved, I suggest looking up or down current around the next structure.”
Offshore: Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “This live-bottom area is located about 29 miles off our coast. The best bottom rig is going to be a two-hook rig made with 3/0 to 4/0 j or circle hooks. I like making my rigs out of 80-lb. test monofilament line. In the charter boat world, 16-oz. bank sinkers are the best. However, you can get away with 8- to 10-oz., especially when there isn’t as many fishing at one time. As far as the fish catching possibilities, I will name a few: triggerfish, hog nose snapper, knobbed head porgy, amberjack, masked almaco jacks, banded rudder fish, vermilion and solider fish. This is a great time of the year to bottom fish around the naval towers, as well as the live-bottom areas located at the Savannah Snapper Banks.”
Gulf Stream: Capt. Judy Helmey reports, “It’s about a 60-mile run and is considered a more serious boat ride for sure. Please know that the secret to success when it comes to this type of fishing is that you must always factor in the weather. The most popular areas to fish are going to be South and Triple Ledges, which are located in about 160 to 200 feet of water. It’s a great time to catch wahoo and blackfin tuna. We pull standard Ilanders Lures black/black and red/black rigged with medium/large ballyhoo, naked cedar plugs soaked in menhaden oil and Trackers Ilanders rigged with dink/peewee ballyhoo. If you use planers, I like using No. 3 and No. 4 inch planers with at least 30 feet of monofilament leader between planer and lure used. The oldest of oldest type of spoon that we use is a 3 1/2-inch Drone spoon. The Drone spoons have two rings, which is what causes it to make erratic moves when trolled at about 4 to 6 knots. This movement definitely gets a fish’s attention. If you have spoons in your tackle box that only have one ring, I highly suggest adding a second ring.”