From FWC February “Gone Coastal” column
Unless you are glued to the tube watching your favorite basketball team, March is the time of year when everyone is ready to charge out on the beach piers and jetties to take part in the spring runs of Spanish mackerel, bluefish, king mackerel, cobia and tarpon.
When it comes to fishing, that old real estate saying about “location, location, location” is also very applicable, and that’s exactly why the best shoreline fishing spots can get very crowded when the weather and fishing conditions are right.
Human nature is human nature, and if you shoreline fish in crowded areas long enough, it is very likely that you will one day witness or be involved in an ugly confrontation. While everyone is out there to have a good time, when space is limited and anglers try to pack in too tight on jetties or piers, problems are bound to happen, and these situations can really spoil a great day for everyone around. From what I have seen, problems generally boil down to competition for fish and space, a lack of common courtesy or a lack of understanding of the basic code of fishing ethics.
How to avoid March Madness
Buy a boat and fish where there is plenty of room! Just kidding, I know that’s not an option for most people. For starters, many of the public piers, jetties and fishing causeways have posted rules that are designed to keep everyone safe. Review and follow the posted rules, and carry a copy of the current saltwater fishing regulations. Debates over bag limits, size limits, seasons and species identification are common, especially when many of the anglers are tourists or locals who may not fish on a regular basis. Having a reference document can help answer questions and resolve unwanted debates.
Public fishing spots are “first come, first serve,” so it can be helpful to get an early start and get set up in a good location before the crowd arrives. It also helps to scope out the location ahead of time so you know what species are being caught, what tackle and gear is required, and what baits and rigs are being used successfully.
Once you are in your spot, stick with it, and don’t be tempted to relocate every time you see another angler bring in a fish. While location is important, if someone is catching fish 50 yards away, it probably has a lot more to do with the bait, tackle or presentation than the actual location where you are standing. This is especially true if you are fishing for the pelagic species that are always moving around in search of baitfish.
The second thing you can do is maintain a safe distance from those who are fishing around you (which is easier said than done when people start squeezing in) and keep your bait and line in the area in front of you. Depending on the wind and current, this can be very challenging, but allowing your bait to drift down the pier, jetty or causeway and block access for others who are trying to fish is a guaranteed way to start some March Madness, and I’m not talking about basketball.
One thing that helps is to fish the way the locals (who are usually pretty easy to spot) are fishing. If they are all free-lining live bait (not using weights or floats and allowing the bait to swim freely in the water) in a particular drift pattern, you may want to fish in the same manner to help keep the lines from crossing or getting tangled up. Similarly, if they are all casting spoons, jigs or tube lures, you should probably try the same thing, as this will help to keep the lines separated.
When crossed and tangled lines do occur, it’s best to simply apologize and help untangle the mess rather than starting a debate about who was at fault.
The third thing you can do is pay attention to what’s going on around you and be ready to get out of the way! If someone hooks a cobia, king, tarpon or other large fish that cannot be controlled during the fight, it is engraved in the basic code of fishing ethics that adjacent anglers need to quickly bring in their lines and let that person fighting the fish move laterally down the pier or jetty as needed.
If you can’t get your line in fast enough, at least let the other angler pass over you or under your line to avoid a tangle. If you accidentally get hooked on the line of someone who is fighting a large fish, by all means open your bail or disengage your reel to give line freely. Applying tension on your line in this situation will easily break the tight line that has the fish on, and this is a guaranteed recipe for some immediate March Madness.
A final piece of advice that is critically important when fishing in any crowded area is to look behind you before you make a cast. Barbed hooks are not an ideal tool for body piercing, but I have seen them used for this purpose on many occasions. These accidents are most common in crowded shoreline fishing locations, and they can start a March Madness situation before you can say “call 911.”
Protect yourself as well, as you can’t count on everyone else to be safe out there. Large brim hats, a good pair of wrap-around sunglasses and a loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirt should be considered standard equipment, unless you are looking for a free piercing in a location that you don’t get to choose.
Understanding a few of the basics is all you need to enjoy a great day of shoreline fishing and avoid the March Madness.
Keep your eye on nearshore water temperatures during the next month or two. When the temperature hits 70-plus degrees Fahrenheit, your favorite coastal pelagics should be showing up and they should be hungry and ready for action.
Don’t forget to record all of your catches on the iAngler phone app or at snookfoundation.org. Share your photos, video and fishing tales with us as well by emailing them to Alan.Peirce@MyFWC.com.