With Winter bearing down on us extra hard this year, I thought I’d share the warmth of the sun and take you readers on a little vacation to some place warmer. Don’t worry, I’ll go back to writing about snow shoeing or frostbite soon enough!}
To be honest, it’s all I can do to fight off singing “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” because, well, that’s exactly what I’m doing. Oh, I haven’t lost my mind, I have a line in the water, it’s just that Otis didn’t write anything about fishing at Cocoa Beach, Florida.
On my right is Jetty Park Beach, a secret jewel of the Space Coast with its white sand and gentle waves. While I watch sea turtles paddle by the rocks below me, a behemoth of a cruise ship receives the Bon Voyage wishes of well-wishers on the shore to my left. Across the port is a turn-around where I can watch submarines being pushed by tugs just back from training exercises for sailor recruits. You don’t see that every day. If you look past the subs there’s something else you don’t see often, one of the new Atlas V rockets sits on the launch pad of Cape Canaveral, awaiting its blast-off in three days when it will light up the night like a second sun., hurtling its GPS satellite payload into orbit.
Yep, there’s a lot of distractions here, so much to take a fellows mind away from the troubles of the real world, the tasks to be done this week, and the fact that my pole is bent over at seventy five degrees with my line pulled tighter than a piano wire! One of the great things about fishing, the thing that keeps me excited about the sport year after year, is that there are always new waters to fish and new tricks to learn. I’ve been deep sea fishing right off the coast here, but today I’m pier fishing the game changes slightly with each new location.
I have a heavy eight foot rod with a spinning reel way bigger than I’d use almost anywhere else. But, casting seventy-five yards of line and anticipating a fish that might be between eight and thirteen pounds, you need to be ready for a heavyweight fight. A lot of guys get away with heavy monofilament, about 12 pound test, but fishing for toothy fish around sharp rocks and jagged structure I prefer 20 pound braided line with a wire leader. Once your fish takes the bait he might drag your line through the rocks or fray it on a sharp steel pier support. The catch out here varies from little mullet to exotic hogfish, triggerfish, bonefish, snappers, bluefish or even sharks.
Most anglers on the pier today are using live bait, either cut squid (which smells lovely), shrimp the likes that any restaurant would be proud to serve, or tiny little crab-like things called sand-fleas (that are hard for me to keep on the hook, so I keep getting “cleaned”). A lot of guys are using artificial bait, and I can see the advantages; it keeps, it’s easy to handle, and although it’s fairly expensive for the salt water brands, it’s almost as effective, and it doesn’t pinch you.
Now, back to my bent rod; when you set the hook, make sure it’s set. Saltwater fish have hard mouths, this is not a trout pond. Hopefully you’ll shell out for some laser sharpened #4 hooks because nothing is more expensive than regret and these fellows will really test your hooks. One last bit of advice, CHEAT. After you tie whatever newfangled knot you learned online to secure your line to leader, put a drop of super glue on the knot and it will bind to itself.
Most likely you’ll pull up on a big saltwater sheepshead. They don’t fight a lot, but you’ll feel every bit of their weight coming in. These fish are not related to the sheepshead of Lake Erie (the Freshwater Drum) and make nice table fare. Nobody’s going to shake your hand for catching one, but nobody’s going to move away from you on the pier for having kept one either. I’m not familiar with all the saltwater fish here, and my first question when I bring one in is, “Does this thing have teeth?” When it’s a small Thresher Shark, you know it has teeth and helping this baby safely back into the surf may be my least rational Darwinian move, ever.
In the end, it’s just an average day of catching, but with the sun shining, a gentle salty breeze and temperatures around seventy degrees in mid-February, it’s a great day of fishing.