Utilize bubbly, agitated conditions to predict where fish will be.
The next time you watch a fishing boat chug into a flag-fluttering wind, don’t utter “tsk, tsk, tsk” in pity and conclude the skipper’s a dingbat. It’s quite possible instead that he knows how blustery conditions can change the dynamics of water flow to aid in pinpointing the movement and location of gamefish.
Unfortunately, most anglers say “uncle” when the water’s churned up and never get their lines wet. That almost happened to me when I lived in Key Largo. A friend named Robert called at dawn on the day of our planned fishing trip and said, “It’s already blowing 10 to 15 and the water’s all stirred up around Flamingo. Let’s hold off until a nicer day.”
Being between boats at the time, I could only grit my teeth, take a deep breath and murmur, “Okay.” However, I wanted to go fishing, doggone it. Recalling my dad’s accounts of scoring big when fishing choppy, wind-blown water, I rang him up in Miami.
I soon picked up Dad in Miami, and we trailered his skiff to Flamingo. That night I called Robert to rub it in a bit because—even though we’d tasted plenty of salt spray—Dad and I enjoyed a stellar bent-rod day. The lesson learned: As long as conditions remain safe, don’t dodge winds, waves and washtub waters, because they often present premier bent-rod opportunities.
Blown water—the product of strong winds that typically whip up whitecaps—churns the upper portion of the water column. The wind does not have to be howling and in fact it could be lying down or calm while the water’s still agitated. So suck it up, heed the following tips and with the right techniques you can pile up plenty of releases when fishing blown water. So here are 5 tactics for fishing in wind.
1. Shaken, Not Stirred
“I catch more fish on a rough day rather than calm,” said angling authority Al Pflueger, Jr., of Miami. “It’s not a negative, it’s a plus, but a lot of people don’t look at it that way.”
Pflueger has found that blown water corrals a good many small baitfish that often can’t fight the direction they’re being flushed in the current. Predators set up shop where baitfish are trapped or pushed, such as across shorelines, the surface, or around points.
“Agitated water, whether in shallows or ocean, has two beneficial scenarios,” said Pflueger. “For one, the added oxygen at the surface attracts baitfish and increases their activity, which in turn brings in and excites bigger fish. Second, the turbulence from blown water—both the bubbling and sound—disorients baitfish and makes them easier to pick off.”
2. Like a Deer Drive
A nifty technique in fishing jetties or small islands involves emulating hunters on a drive. Make your boat’s presence known on the calmer, protected portion to divert fish toward the exposed side. Circle quietly to where the blown water’s flowing and cast over rocks, holes, structure and such. Driving works even better in tandem with another boat, each taking turns as the driver or stander. (Keep in mind that such tactics are impolite and often counterproductive, if other boats are already fishing the area.)
For those opposed to using boats in such a manner, wise places to start the search for productive blown waters are your usual hotspots. Often predators accustomed to feeding at a specific location on spring tides instinctively check out the same places during stronger blown water episodes. Shallow rocks or bottom holes are even more apt to hold snook and the like, giving them a respite from the churning current until charging into the foaming melee as edibles tumble past them.
While sight fishing is hampered by blown and rough water, the bite is better when you do locate fish because they can’t hear or see you as easily either. Concentrate your vision and you will still be able to detect the flashes of baitfish struggling in the agitated water or perhaps see snippets of predator fish darting about. When you have any suspicion at all, make a cast. Repeatedly deliver your offering to give anything present a better chance to eventually see, hear or smell it.
3. Of Color, Sound and a Chumming Personality
I recently hopped aboard the skiff of Capt. Craig Lahr of Skinny Water Charters in Clearwater, Florida, along with his protégé Justin Curd. I witnessed a virtual clinic in successfully fishing blown water that half day.
On the windward side of rock jetties, Lahr favors live baits such as whitebaits, hooking them in the tail so they swim deeper. In more open grassflat areas we scored consistently with cut threadfin herring. The herring’s tail and anal fins were sheared and the belly sliced open, allowing pinfish to tear into the flesh and disperse more oil and scent into the water—the baits don’t last as long as usual, but it increases the odds of nearby redfish quickly zeroing in on them.
“Chum a lot to keep scent in the water near your boat,” said Lahr. “Take more chum along than usual because the greater push of blown water will dispense it faster.”
Lahr knows what he’s doing: We released a cobia, lots of trout and about a dozen redfish and snook, including one linesider in the 15-pound class.
Blown water necessitates making your offering really stand out. I’ve done well on jigs tipped with yellow curly tails or eels. But bright colors aren’t always the ticket. Captain Rob Ottlein of Flagler Beach says that black bucktails have produced better this year than anything else in coffee-and-cream waters.
Many experts consider noise more important in roiled water than color or scent. I love rattling or chugging lures anyway—especially topwater—and working them a little louder than usual really puts the word out.
And speaking of noise, here’s a sure-fire tip for snook worshippers from Pflueger: “When catching pinfish for bait you’ll also occasionally reel in small croakers known as pigfish. They croak like no tomorrow when fished on the bottom, and snook anywhere even close to the area will race to eat it no matter how heavy your leader or hook.”
Offshore, when the surface is wind-blown and churned, hook ballyhoo in the tail and they’ll twist and flick about, causing a commotion. If you instead hook the ‘hoo in the front as most anglers do, they swim headfirst in the current and don’t even appear injured.
4. Casting Call
You might figure that distance and accuracy in blown water is less important than in clear conditions. However, it actually requires more control than normal over your rod and reel due to the frequent balancing challenges as your boat negotiates the wind chop. It’s also easier to snag yourself or a boat mate at times like this, and if right-handed, it’s wise when possible to cast with the wind to your left side to lower the odds of an unwanted piercing.
Like a golfer hitting tee shots into the teeth of strong gusts, an angler can achieve more distance upwind by casting lower. Use a side-arm motion, starting with the rod tip near the water’s surface and releasing at about a 25-degree angle. Unlike in calm and clear conditions, your lure or bait landing noisily can be advantageous in blown water. Predators are more apt to investigate the sound.
And you don’t have to stow the fly rod when it’s blustery. Try roll-casting downwind to avoid a loopy back-cast. Repeatedly re-slicken the fly line, and make plenty of practice casts on the water to gauge your range.
5. Boat Handling
Blown water and whipping winds can make boat maneuvering a maddening task. On these occasions, Ottlein depends more than usual on a trolling motor to hold in the current or to secure the proper casting distance.
When employing a manual pushpole to anchor, make sure it’s driven in at a 45-degree angle. If you push it into the sediment straight down, the strong pressure from blown water pushing the boat’s weight might snap the pole; stake out with too narrow an angle, however, and the pole will keep pulling out.
It’s usually better to drift blown water than anchor, especially offshore when waves could swamp the boat or cause too much rocking to safely fish. A sea anchor will slow your drift in water deep enough to utilize it, plus it might better allow your chum to reach fish before your boat runs past them. A pushpole can be utilized in shallower areas to keep your drift straight rather than spinning.
Since you won’t be able to see bottom in most places, rely heavily on your depth sounder to locate bar edges, holes, rock piles and other features.
Handling blown water can be challenging, but those up to the task will definitely turn what others take for turmoil into triumphant outings. FS
Front and Center
Experts often plan trips around blown-water periods and already know by experience or educated guesses where productive sites may be. The tail end of fall cold fronts often present decreased winds while the seas, bays and inland areas remain roiled up—just what you’re looking for. But don’t let your appetite for adventure result in indigestion—no fish is worth tempting danger. Take extra precautions and if conditions become worrisome, zip back to the dock or seek safe harborage.
As with all styles of fishing, success in blown water is often a matter of perseverance and patience, and don’t be averse to experimenting with a variety of baits, lures and techniques. — DK
Capt. Tommy Gifford, a legendary south Florida skipper from the 1920s through the ’60s, long ago discovered the value of air bubbles. Gifford noted that when his boat’s prop came out of the water in choppier seas, the air bubbles and noise created from the cavitation was followed by more strikes than usual. He installed an air compressor on deck with hoses rigged through the scuppers and behind each side of the stern. A timing device triggered the compressor to discharge every 10 minutes or so. The creation and sound of the air bubbling mimicked the effect of blown water, attracting nearby baitfish to his boat and providing Gifford a huge boost to his charter business and tournament wins. – Al Pflueger
Wipe No More
Tired of drying off your sunglasses after a run amid sneezes and sprays? My dad’s gear always included a roll of clear cellophane wrap. Before each boat run he’d cut a new strip to cling to the lenses so it would stay in place and he could still see. When shutting down Dad would just peel off the cellophane—no wiping needed. — DK
First published in Florida Sportsman Magazine, Oct. 2011.