Anglers aren’t the only ones affected by the hurricanes and tropical storms that spaghetti plot their way from the scorching Atlantic and Caribbean waters to Florida, a vulnerable target with its exposed, one-thumb-down shape.
Fish take action before, during and after these summertime storms, and many anglers begin prepping their summertime gear soon after The World Meteorological Organization Hurricane Committee has decided which household name to slap on a storm.
(A funny thing, really. Apparently, this committee spends a portion of its annual meetings voting on the removal or addition of names. The names go in alphabetical order. “Emily” is cranking toward the East Coast. But never one to forget international flavors, the committee placed “Gert” two storms down from Emily. “Phillippe” is farther down the list. I'm certain "Patch" was not considered an appropriate name for a 'cane.)
But back to fishing. The tropical storm is likely to at least skirt Florida’s east coast by Monday. The storm could tickle the Tampa Bay area with enough rain to trigger a heck of a redfish bite.
Anglers can count on this hurricane season to determine many
fishing factors. The fishing typically is the best a few days prior to, and during, a storm. The bites seem to slack for a few days following. High tides push a lot of fish into the mangroves. Capt. “Jazz” of Boca Ciega said he likes to work cut baits around the mangroves.
“The fish can feel the pressure dropping,” Jazz said. “The closer the storm is, the more fish are probably going to chew. But it’s got to be within safety limits. You’ve got to make it back to the dock. That helps.”
Enough wind, and the ensuing strong tidal flow can change fishing
holes. Capt. Doc Lee, a longtime angler and freshwater fishing guide out of Lake Evers in Bradenton, said he has nearly run aground following storms due to contour changes. “Especially in the cuts and passes,” he said.
Redfish and sheepshead tend to thrive in the dirty, storm-shaken waters. Trout, which tend to get sand and grit wedged in their gill plates, do not. In freshwater, catfish are always game to chew in the muck.
As hurricanes flirt with our shorelines into October, look for river mouths and some of the smaller bays to be a reliable spot for fish to congregate. South of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, the mouth of the Manatee River, Palma Sola Bay and Miguel Bay are good holes. Waters around Tarpon Key are a good bet north of the bridge.
The upper part of Charlotte Harbor, where the Myakka and Peace rivers join, produced a hot tarpon bite for Capt. Rick Grassett of Sarasota in 2004, three days before Hurricane Charley whipped Punta Gorda.
“The water was 91 degrees in the harbor that day,” Grassett said. “Tarpon were biting like crazy on DOA baitbusters that Wednesday afternoon. On Friday Charlie came through with 140 mph winds. The fish definitely got aggressive before then.”
Let’s reel back ever farther: 1969. Hurricane Camille. Capt. Scott Moore recalls 6- to 10-foot waves rolling off Anna Maria Island. “It was the best surf ever,” he said.
Fishing the mouth of the Manatee River by Emerson Point days before Camille dashed through the Gulf and diced the Louisiana-Arkansas border, Moore said he slammed more than 100 snook.
“We went and got bait three times,” Moore said. “The fish bit the whole time as the tide was going out.”