Website Created by Keith Kalbfleisch
By Captain Keith Kalbfleisch
You’ve heard of offshore fishing where you troll for sportfish out on the deep blue, and you’ve heard of inshore fishing, chasing wary fish on the flats, but have you heard of nearshore fishing? For the small-boat fisherman in Florida, it is the chance to tangle with a true piscatorial monster.
By “nearshore” we are talking about those waters that are on the open ocean, but near the shoreline, from right along the beach to a few miles out—all the time within view of the shoreline. Many of the gamefish that we love to pursue in Florida are migratory, and cruise near the beach on their travels north or south at different times of the year. This includes battlers like tarpon, king mackerel, big jack crevalles, sharks, barracuda, and others that may surprise you at times—I’ve even caught sailfish and wahoo this close to the beach!
While there are a number of ways to catch these fish, from sight-casting to chumming, one of the most effective ways to catch a variety of these fish is to slow troll. Slow-trolling is a specific technique designed to present live bait in a natural manner while covering some territory. It is easy to do, can be done in a small boat, and no special gear is required. While this technique will work anywhere in Florida, for a variety of species, I will use my home waters of East-Central Florida, the Space Coast, as the focus of the method.
Slow-trolling is done primarily with live bait. So some bait discussion is in order. In fact, often the biggest challenge of nearshore fishing is just getting the bait!
There are three basic types of baits that I have found works well on our coast. Pogies, Greenies, and Mullet. These are not the only baits that will work, in fact, at times nearly any bait will work, but these bait types are normally available and effective. Let’s look at them in more depth.
We call them “Pogies”, while on the northeast coast they are called “Bunker”, but whatever the local name used, these are great baits. The real name for “Pogies” is Atlantic Menhaden, and they are along our beaches for 4-5 months in the spring and summer. They are nicely-sized live baits, and when they are in, can be an easy bait to procure. Unfortunately, they are algae eaters, and as such must be caught in a cast net. You will find our local pogies along the beaches in 10-20 feet of water. Look for the small splashes they make as they feed; then coast up to them, throw your net over the school and fill your livewell!
The second type of bait that I like to use is “Greenies”. This is actually a designation for a variety of baits that are common to our area, including Threadfin Herring, Spanish Sardines, Scaled Sardines, and even Cigar Minnows. Most of these baits are characterized by white bellies, silver sides, and green backs—thus the name “Greenies”. The main difference between these baits and pogies are their feeding habits. These fish are plankton eaters, so they chase even smaller fish, shrimp and other creatures for food—they are actually predators. This means that we can use a different technique to catch them called Sabiki rigs. These are a chain of small “lures” that resemble miniature fish and are cast to the baits and jigged through them. While there are a variety of good brands of sabiki rigs, make sure you get ones with actual fish skin wings (not plastic) in a small size (4 or 6). When you get one to hit slowly bring it back in and others may hit the other hooks.
The third type of bait is mullet. Another algae eater, mullet can also be caught only by a net, and are primarily in our backwater lagoons. However, they are very plentiful in the lagoon systems and can often be easily netted up on the way to the port. They are also often available from bait stores.
OK, what about our fishing gear? I primarily use conventional revolving-spool reels, but spinning gear works great also. Try to use a rod with some “give” to the tip so that it won’t yank your bait as you troll it. I normally use 30 lb braid, but if you want to be sporty you can use 20 lb line. I would not recommend going lower than 20 lb since some of these fish can be very large (my largest is a tarpon estimated at over 150 lbs!), and you need to put lots of pressure on the fish so you can catch them quickly, giving them the chance to survive.
For the terminal gear here is my rig: the 30 lb braid main line is doubled with a Bimini Twist, which is then tied to 6-8 feet of 50# fluorocarbon with a Double Uni-knot. The final piece is then normally one of two rigs—a double-hook rig that is snelled on wire leader, or a 4-foot piece of 80 lb fluorocarbon with a 11/0 circle hook if I am targeting tarpon only. The wire would be connected to the 50# fluorocarbon with an Albright Special, while the heavier fluorocarbon leader would be connected with another Double Uni-knot.
Now that we have our baits and rigs, it is time to fish! The primary areas we are going to fish are along the beaches in 20 to 50 feet of water. Typically I will run along the beaches in this depth looking for signs of fish—bait schools, fish rolling or jumping, baits skipping on the surface (even one), or birds working the surface. Other things to look for are temperature changes and color changes in the water. Another good place to do our slow-trolling is around structure on the bottom, such as natural reefs, hard bottom, or artificial reefs.
Once we are at our fishing area we start our slow trolling. Take a baitfish and place the front hook just in front of the eye, and the second through the back:
I typically will put three baits out—the first one way back about 150-200 feet, another around 70 feet, and finally one right behind the boat only 30 feet back. This will allow us to cover more territory without getting tangled. The trick is to then S-L-O-W T-R-O-L-L! I try to move no more that 2 knots. This allows an effective presentation and keeps your baits alive.
Now troll in lazy “S” curves, moving into various depths until the rod goes screaming! Give it a try, and catch a monster!