November 09, 2020
On hard-fished reefs, especially, it's worth the extra effort.
Being a successful bottom fisherman in a boat without a GPS-driven trolling motor is all about anchoring. A blue marlin may hear a lure moving through his territory a hundred yards away, and we've all seen schoolie dolphin come greyhounding into the spread from great distances, but a grouper could care less what's going on just a few yards away from where he's sitting. Miss dropping your bait in front of him, and you'd might just as well be in the next area code.
Captain George Strate spent a long and illustrious career as a captain of four Mayport party boats. He anchored up to 15 times a day, and he had to be right on the money. In Northeast Florida, the fishing business depends on developing a regular clientele, anglers who fish with you every day they get a chance.
“Anchoring is all about determining the effect of the wind and current,” Strate explains. “On the way out I never used autopilot. That way I could tell which way the current was pushing me, and how hard. Back in the day, when we got directly on the spot we wanted to fish, we threw a marker buoy. Then we watched our compass and saw how we drifted away. Once we had the course back to our buoy we would run that course to the marker, and run three times the water depth past the buoy, and drop anchor. As we approached the buoy while drifting back, we would tie off the anchor and let it get tight. Hopefully we'd be just up current of the spot. If we needed to, we would slowly let out line until we were perfectly centered. Keep in mind on a 72-foot party boat, I had to be located so everybody on the boat caught fish. I always tried to determine who the worst fisherman on the boat was. Then I'd try and make sure we were located so they were getting bites and catching fish.”
George said it's been years since he's drifted on a piece of bottom for two reasons. First off, on a party boat it's almost impossible to keep the lines clear. You can imagine all forty customers trying to bottom fish while the boat is drifting. Talk about a giant tangle!
Secondly, George believes snapper, grouper and vermilions can be badly scattered by drifting through them. You can always count on your bait attracting fish that for whatever reason don't bite. That means every time you drift over the spot, some fish follow you. Maybe some of them return to the spot after your drift, only to find a bait more to their liking, but others may well swim off to a different spot.
With the current electronics on almost every boat, there is no longer a need to throw a jug. Now you just stop your boat, and watch your track on your chart plotter. After you've determined the course, drift away from your spot and follow the track line back past the bottom until you're three times the water depth past the spot. Drop (never throw!) the anchor, and understand there's no shame in realizing you missed by 30 feet to one side or the other. Just pull the anchor and make the necessary adjustment. Miss it twice, and you may want to see what's on sale at the golf store. FS
Published Florida Sportsman Magazine October 2019