Gulf Coast Fisherman Magazine Vol 39 No 2 - Spring 2015 - Page 34

It seems that FISH and FLOWERS have always been constants in my life. This came about naturally thanks to my father... Fishing “Blooms” in April... A bout the time ice went out on Henry David Thoreau’s beloved Walden Pond near Concord, New Hampshire, he was visited by his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, the acclaimed philosopher, essayist, and poet. Emerson’s mission was to persuade his young protégé to end his self-imposed two year exile and return to more meaningful literary pursuits. “I believe you are absolutely right, Mr. Emerson”, Thoreau was purported to have said, smiling. “Every man should believe in something; I believe I’ll go fishing.” It’s been argued that “there is a little Thoreau in each of us,” and while he took his love of nature and free-thinking to a higher level, we’re pretty much alike when another March rolls around and that longed for Vernal Equinox arrives. Those unexplained feelings of soaring euphoria hit most of us hard now, myself included. It seems that FISH and FLOWERS have always been constants in my life. This came about naturally thanks to my father who was an accomplished horticulturist and in spare time a blood and guts fishing fanatic. During my childhood, and into my adult years, I learned to appreciate both fish and flowers more each season, especially the first warm days of spring. Springtime blossoms, of course, are not true indicators of our first good angling opportunities following a bleak winter of frosty nights, howling north winds and abnormally low tides. Getting stuck on sandbars or gooey mud flats isn’t fun in summer, but in late winter and early spring it’s a pain in the lower extremities, if you know what I mean. We all want to get out there after long layoffs of inactivity, but common sense tells us to wait for good weather. The correlation of fish and flowers only works in temperate zones that include all Gulf states. In subtropical and tropical latitudes, other angling yardsticks apply that 34 GULF COAST FISHERMAN rely heavily on prevailing winds, barometric pressure and most importantly the various moon phases that govern tides. In April, about the time yellow jasmine starts lighting up southern swamps and woodlands, saltwater anglers become increasingly anxious because they know speckled trout, redfish, Spanish mackerel, bluefish and cobia are on the move and will soon be prime targets again. Typically, Panhandle Florida fishermen get first shots at migrating cobia. This is “sight fishing” and best accomplished from high Gulf-side piers and sharp-eyed veterans in boats of every size and description. By mid-April into May, Mississippi and Louisiana anglers start seeing those “big brown fish” around barrier islands and offshore petroleum structure. Chumming works well now and traditional baits such as live eels, pinfish, jumbo shrimp, squid, and hardhead catfish will entice strikes. Early season cobia, AKA ling and lemonfish, tend to run on the heavy side, often 50 pounds or more, so stout tackle is a must. According to the late Horace Carter, a prolific Florida writer and personal friend, “When the neon-bright Bougainvillea and fragrant Frangipani (plumeria) start showing hints of color, big snook grow active and the inlets and rivers from Sarasota to Naples are prime places to try for them.” Sad to say, my own experience with Florida snook hasn’t been good, and to date the few snook I’ve boated have all spoken Spanish, meaning Mexico and beyond. Now, to put things into proper perspective, forget for awhile all I’ve said about springtime blossoms unlocking the door to great early season fishing because they are only window dressing. The real key to initial action is the thermometer as it relates to water temperature. Longtime Biloxi charterboat captain, Kenny Barhanovich, puts it very succinctly. “Not 68, 69, but 70... Seventy degrees is the magic number that gets our fishing started each spring. It’s like throwing a light switch. When the water temperature hits that mark it means we’re back in business!” To prove his point, I was invited aboard his big beamed boat named MISS HOSPITALITY, on a recent April, and, coincidentally, the very day the local weather bureau confirmed that 70 degree reading. The air temperature was rather cool on the run to the fishing grounds, and my lightweight jacket felt good. When we slowed to put lines out, about halfway down the surf side of Horn Island, Kenny yelled from the fly bridge that fish were breaking ahead of us and to get ready. We were now so close to the beach that I thought we might run aground, but this captain knew exactly what he was doing. Suddenly, all our lines snapped tight with brilliantly-hued Spanish mackerel in the 13 pound class - and continued to do so for the next hour, or so. After catching a few macks, I joined Kenny on the bridge and was astonished at what I saw. Schools of mackerel were everywhere and you could see them flashing in the crystal clear sunlit water as they gorged on glass minnows and attacked our spoons and jigs in suicidal fashion. “Good Lord”, I blurted. “There must be thousands!” “Think millions”, Kenny said, grinning. “And this is only the beginning of a brand new season!” While mackerel dominated our catch, we also picked up a brace of 20 pound redfish and more oversized jackfish than we wanted to deal with. The pair of reds were boxed, and all but one of the hard fighting jacks released. “Have a good time?”, Captain Kenny asked at dockside, as I collected my gear and a plastic bag stuffed with firm fillets. “Wonderful!”, I replied. “You and the weat \