homepage logo

It’s time to grab the live bait and become a drifter

By Staff | Jun 5, 2020

With tarpon and spring snook stacked up in and around the passes, it’s time to break out the live bait and become a drifter. If the work and mess of live bait is a turn off and you’re not a caster, there’s always trolling.

It’s as simple as hanging some bait on a hook and making repeated drifts through the pass or just towing some lures, right? Well, yes and no.

Better, it’s about making educated efficient drifts or trolling passes through high percentage areas and keeping your baits in the right spots — the right equipment, rigging, baits or lures and boat control, all guided by a good understanding of what you’re seeing on your electronics.

Today’s advanced sonar units do everything but make coffee and are simply amazing with new features and technologies added almost yearly. Knowing how to accurately interpret what you’re “seeing” is the goal. When buying a new unit, leave the rods at home and spend some time on the water learning how to use it properly.

Before gathering up the gang and tossing lines in the water, the FWC reminds us that in Boca Grande you’re allowed a max of three lines “deployed from a vessel at any one time”

What live baits are best? Just about anything alive and wiggling will at some point interest a customer, but a typical list would include old standbys like pinfish; live crabs, especially pass crabs; fresh netted white baits; shrimp; ladyfish; squirrelfish; and mullet.

Are these baits always fished on or near the bottom? Depends on what you’re fishing for or where in the water column they happen to be at the moment you’re there. When pursuing tarpon in deeper passes, most fishing is done as near bottom as possible with captains telling their clients to let out line till they hit bottom, then crank up only a turn or two of the reel handle.

At other times especially during strong tidal movement days associated with new and full moon periods crabs are flushed from the harbors which puts the tarpon up on top sucking down these free snacks as they drift on the surface helplessly trapped in the strong current.

A typical bottom drifting set-up would include a sliding egg sinker on your main line captured by a swivel. Try SPRO swivels, by far the smallest and strongest swivels you’ll find. The sinker’s weight is determined by several factors including water depth and tidal strength. In Captiva Pass, 1-4 oz. might suffice but in Boca 6 or more might be needed. Now add a 4 to 8-foot leader and a circle hook appropriate to the size and type live bait you’re using.

With this bottom rig, the boat’s speed is adjusted with the goal keeping the lines straight up and down as you drift through the pass. The captain is not only busy handling the boat’s position and drift and watching out for other boats but at the same time keeping an eagle eye on the electronics screen looking for fish and advising the anglers of bottom contour changes helping them to keep their offerings in the strike zone and out of the snags below.

With pass crabs it’s simpler — line to leader to hook and let the current take it. Intercepting moving schools along the beaches? Use a small float over your crab or pinfish to keep it in the strike zone.

Really big pass snook work shallow in the night and a couple big free-lined live baits slow drifted, staggered 30 yards or so behind the boat and close to the shoreline will produce a whopper.

They will also fall to big lures slow trolled along the pass edges, especially at night. Using two rods, slow troll a large shallow running Rapala X-Rap in the 4-foot zone with a deeper diver on the opposite rod to cover the edge drop-off.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-282-9434 or captgeorget3@aol.com.