February 01, 2006
Breaklines are where you find ‘em, but they always hold fish.
Want a smoker kingfish? Head for a bait
East Coast anglers have long been aware that the edge between green water and blue is prime gamefish country; the break marks the meandering boundary between the slightly murky inshore water and the deep clear briny of the Florida Current—known popularly as the Gulf Stream—and it's a favorite haunt of everything from sailfish and tuna to blue marlin.
But there's another sort of breakline, less appealing to the eye, perhaps, but not to the fish. It's the break where the black water from a big inlet pours into the green nearshore water on outgoing tide. There are dozens of these locations around the state, and nearly all of them are a great bet for finding fish at certain seasons of the year.
This edge, created by different density and temperature in the two bodies of water, creates whirlpools and weedlines, and it's always loaded with crabs and baitfish.
The edge itself is prime territory to slow-troll a big live bait for a smoker-size king mackerel. Some famed breaks, like that at Mayport, where the St. Johns River empties into the Atlantic, produce tournament winning kings with amazing consistency during spring and fall runs. The same is true for most of the larger passes in the St. Pete/Clearwater area, and at the mouth of Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor.
And these same areas that produce kings in cool weather are often good places to start looking for tarpon from mid-April through mid-July. Cobia cruise in and out in spring, bull redfish arrive in late summer and fall, and you might even spot a rare sailfish batting bait along the west coast breaks in summer, and on the southeast coast breaks in winter.
Finding the breaks is easy; just motor out the pass on a strong outgoing tide and check both edges as you leave the beach; very often you'll see a dramatic change in color as well as a weedline on the edge. There may be a change in wave motion on the edge, as well, and there are usually plenty of birds flying the break, looking for chow, just as the fish are doing below the surface.
The strongest outgoing tides produce the most obvious breaks and the best bite, so naturally this is a strategy that is likely to work best on the weeks of the new and full moons.
The usual nearshore trolling tactics are the ticket for fishing the breaks. Rig a blue runner, 8-inch ladyfish, horse threadfin or the like on a stinger rig and 20-pound gear and slow-troll it just off the edge on the clear or green side. This keeps you out of the debris that gathers directly on the edge, and also puts your bait in the more visible part of the intersection.
It's not a bad idea to run a couple of baits up top, a couple more at about 20 feet with No. 2 planers or downriggers. Though kings hit on top at sunrise, they sometimes are driven down by boat pressure later in the morning.
Most who specialize in this sort of trolling drop a couple of chumbags over the transom to create a slick as they repeatedly pass through the same area. The bag typically contains chopped menhaden or threads, some menhaden oil and cereal-type dogfood. Some use a menhaden drip to create the scent trail. Most pros occasionally toss out a crippled live threadfin or scaled sardine to sweeten the trolling route, as well.
Color changes frequently define the edges of fishy tidelines.
The trolling speed that works best is about as slow as your boat will idle. Dragging a drogue chute will help decrease speed even more. And some anglers are adding stern-mount or motor-mount electric trolling motors to give them a super-slow and very quiet presentation in areas where there's a high probability of a strike—which includes the length of any breakline.
Fish the breakline all the way from the beach out to the point you can no longer distinguish it. This can range from as little as a half mile to several miles, depending on the strength of the outflow and the amount of waves and current it's running into.
Most anglers troll one side for several passes in order to lay down their chum trail. If they get no action, they then cross the black water and fish the other side for several passes. Another alternative is simply to anchor up just off the edge and freeline live baits as close to it as possible while you chum steadily. This tactic works well when the fish seem to be shying away from boats under power.
Fishing this sort of break obviously comes to an end when the outgoing tide quits flowing, but for those few hours when the flow is strongest, it can provide some of the best action you'll find all day.