Seeing Is Believing
In my mid-Atlantic home waters, sight-casting has been in vogue for only a few years, and already almost every boat is outfitted with a tower, or at least a stepladder lashed to the deck.
Open-water sight-casting is a little different from shallow-water pursuits. Stealth isn’t as critical, but finding fish still requires the right combination of current and structure.
While I’ve been chasing around cobia and big red drum for a few years, my knowledge leaped considerably after I fished with off North Carolina with Capt. Aaron Kelly out of Oregon Inlet last Memorial Day.
It’s rare that a fishing trip planned weeks in advance coincides with the height of any fish migration. While cobia hang off the Outer Banks through the summer, there are always a few days early in the season when the fish arrive en masse. Last season, those included Memorial Day. The bite had already been going strong the few days before my arrival at the dock “at the crack of 8,” as Kelly said.
By the time we zipped out Oregon Inlet and into the ocean, the sun was high above the horizon. We didn’t go far before Kelly spotted the first cobia. He brought the boat off plane, made a turn and then made a cast. Fish on.
That was all he needed to set his plan for the day. While a growing flotilla of boats ganged up a few miles to the south, Kelly continued to circle the same 3-square-mile area.
“Two advantages to this spot,” Kelly said. First, the area, around the tip of Wimble Shoals, was a cobia magnet. Second, hanging around some distance from the other anglers working the area allowed him to intercept the cobia that were doing the same thing. “A big crowd will push the cobia out to the edges,” he explained.
And it’s not just structure on the ocean bottom that attracts cobia, reds and stripers to the surface. Rips, tide lines, weeds and other flotsam will also hold fish.
Like Bishop in the Keys, Kelly likes a little chop on the water. “It makes it easier to see the fish as they surf down the waves,” he says.
Kelly also takes the sun and wind into consideration when deciding his strategy for the day. “Each day is different,” he says, “but you can find a pattern and work it.” For instance, if he notices that the fish are heading down-sea, he’ll set his search pattern to cut across the waves at a 25- to 40-degree angle.
Fortunately, we didn’t have to look far. Seeing the first fish sold Kelly on the spot. “Where there’s one, there will be more,” he announced.
He was right.
There was no need to sneak up on these fish. Half the time, the curious cobia turned and swam toward us.
Kelly simply turned the boat without slowing down and closed the distance until the fish was within casting range. Then he launched a 3-ounce bright-red bucktail so it landed 10 feet past the fish and retrieved the lure on the surface so it crossed the cobia’s line of sight.
If the fish didn’t respond, he jigged the bucktail several times. If that didn’t pique the cobia’s interest, Kelly let the lure sink, hoping the fish would follow.
More times than not, that worked. We caught a dozen cobia that day from 40 to almost 90 pounds.
Intercepting the marauding predator. Fooling the fish into feeding. Then fighting it to the death. That’s sight-casting. That’s hunting the hunter.
Rods: 7-foot medium-light-action spinning rods for bonefish and permit; 7-foot medium-action spinning rods for tarpon.
Reels: Quality reels with strong, reliable drags, 3000-series with 12-pound mono for bonefish and permit, 5000-series spinning reel with PowerPro for tarpon.
Leaders: 3 feet of 10-pound fluorocarbon for bonefish; 6 feet of 60-pound fluorocarbon for tarpon.
Lures and bait: Live shrimp for bonefish and tarpon, crabs for permit, skimmer jigs for bonefish, swimming plugs for tarpon.
Rods: Medium-heavy 7-foot spinning rod.
Reels: 5000-series spooled with 50-pound PowerPro.
Leaders: 3 feet of 80-pound fluorocarbon.
Lures: 3-ounce bucktails, with broad heads and dressed heavily for cobia; 7-inch curly-tail grub.
The rules of sight-fishing are transferable to wherever you practice the art. The way you intercept fish and the way you present a lure or bait are very similar from one spot to the next, so when you have mastered them in one place, you can expect similar success in any number of different situations, in varied locations and with different species.
What: Bonefish, tarpon, permit, redfish, stripers and snook on the flats; stripers, bluefish, cobia, kingfish, rockfish, billfish, tuna and dolphin offshore.
When: Varies with location.
Where: Wherever game fish move into the shallows to feed or swim shallow enough to be seen.
Who: Successful sight-fishing is largely a matter of setting up the right situation. If you’d like to do your initial training with some of the best practitioners around, here are a couple of specialists who can help you lay a solid foundation of skills.
Capt. Dale Bishop
Open Ocean: Virginia/North Carolina
Capt. Aaron Kelly
January 27, 2012
Master the essential strategies of sight-casting, and discover a new world of fishing