It is cat and mouse time again. Hiding from the wind and then attacking with all that you have when the opportunity arises. So far this year we have had a normal mix of windy and calm days and hopefully March will be the same. The term Elephant March is a great play on words. It comes from the illusion of the horizon appearing like a line of elephants marching head to tail when the wind is strong from the east which is the prevailing direction in our latitude.
So what do you do with your time when it isn’t quite safe or comfortable to venture offshore? (We will assume that you have been dutiful in keeping your equipment in good working order. All reels are cleaned and lubricated.There is fresh line on your reels. The tackle box is full of weights and fluorocarbon. The steel leader bins are filled to the top and the rusty hooks have been replaced with sharp ones.) You go fishing that is what!
It doesn’t matter if you prefer big game fishing or you just want to fill the dinner plate, the inshore areas in the Keys have what you are looking for. The many channels and bridges of the Keys hold both protection from the wind and a plethora of game.
For the big game hunter in all of us there are tarpon, barracuda and of course sharks. A summer salting tarpon over seven feet long is not an uncommon site in many of the Keys channels or around most of the bridges that connect the Keys. I guarantee that where you find tarpon you will also find sharks. Sharks that snack on seven foot fish will give any angler the fight of a lifetime – and neither last nor least is the blistering run and ballistic jumps of the barracuda that are almost five feet long.
Once the spirits of Zane Grey and Earnest Hemmingway have been placated, you may wish to placate your appetite for some dinner. Fortunately, these same channels also harbor plenty of snapper, cobia, porgy, cero mackerel and a long list of other tasty treats.
Targeting dinner in the channels is similar to targeting them on the reef line. First, you start with a block of chum. Add live or cut bait and just enough weight to hold bottom in the current of the channel that you have chosen and the dinner should eventually find you. The channels in the back country of the Lower Keys most often will hold ballyhoo and once you have ballyhoo in your chum line you are all but guaranteed that the fish will find you.
Of course you will want some of these ballyhoo for the ultimate in fresh cut or live rigged bait. The easiest and most efficient way to get a bunch of them is to toss a cast net. If you have not yet acquired a cast net or learned how to throw one, now is the time to get on board so to speak. If this is not for you, ballyhoo can always be caught one at a time with a small gold hair hook and a tiny piece of cut bait like shrimp fish or squid.
Knowing that I suffer from fishing ADD you know it is a given that I will have a virtual porcupine of rods being fished from my gunwale. Live ballyhoo on the surface, bottom and mid-water is to be expected. I will also have large chunks or plugs of fresh cut ballyhoo on the bottom. Plus, I like to have a live pinfish out for any nonconformist fish out there. Allowing a bridled ballyhoo to swim in the chum line is an invitation to any game fish that might be swimming nearby to come for dinner.
When the wind starts to blow, (and it will)and the elephants start to march, do not sit around moping. Get out there and make Hemingway proud – right in the safety of your own channel.