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Big Bend Florida Sportsman Guide

Fishing Tips

Species Specific Tips -Best Bait

 By Capt Ken Roy


Tip # 1 Crab Bait for Tarpon, Cobia, big Redfish, Drum, big Permit 

When you find Tarpon and they won't bite, rest them a while then pitch them a 3”-4”Crab with the legs broken off one side. Put your hook through the legless side. 

Cast ahead and past the fish then reel it pretty close. Stop reeling and give the Crab plenty of slack. The crab is gonna’ have problems swimming. This will get Mr. Tarpon's attention, real quick. 

Tarpon are usually sensitive to your presence so you have to use as much stealth as possible. Approach Tarpon from down sun, whenever possible. (They are harder to see from this angle but much easier to catch.)

Avoid bright yuppie clothes. 

Stay off the trolling motor if possible.  

Don't make a lot of motion. Be quiet. 

Expect to get bit often. 

Use 50# Fluorocarbon leader, 12/0 circle hooks. With 50# leader, the fish will chafe through and get away after a few jumps. By then, you have already had the best part of Tarpon fishing and can avoid the work involved in fighting the fish to the boat. This is a lot easier on the fish too. 

Pitch the crab at Cobia also.  Cobia seldom turn down a struggling crab.


Tip # 2 Gar-On-Teed Cobia Bait and darn near every other game fish.

I’ve heard many people say that a live Eel is the #1 can’t miss Cobia Bait but I much prefer a lively Squid.  Unfortunately, live Squid are not common bait in Florida although they are down right abundant here. 

I catch Squid occasionally while bottom fishing but certainly not enough for filling my bait well.  Night time is the right time for catching Squid.  Squid jigs are commonly used off piers on the northern Gulf Coast during Squid runs.  They work for Squid everywhere but several 1/0 hooks on dropper loops and baited with small pieces of cut bait work just fine too.  Unfortunately, Mackerel and worst of all, Ladyfish often beat the Squid to the bait.  If you have ‘em, use Squid Jigs when Ladyfish and Mackerel are present. 

Squid often flock to a light and hang right in the edges of the shadows.   They can change colors and are sometimes darn near totally clear so seeing them in the light is not always easy.   

When you swing a Squid aboard, grab him quick with a wet towel, completely covering him or expect to be squirted with ink.  The towel must be wet to prevent injury to the Squid. Squid have a sharp “beak” and they can inflict a nasty and painful bite.  Large squid can remove a chunk of meat.   Get the Squid into your live well as quickly as possible.  I can often catch a couple of dozen Squid in an hour or so before dawn. 

If you plan to catch Squid for tournaments that require a start from a pre-determined location, investigate the water quality at the starting point.  Squid are delicate and cannot tolerate poor water quality.  Store your Squid in a live cage offshore and then pick them up on your way to the fishing grounds. 

Double hook the Squid at the apex of the mantel. (Right up at the pointy end.)   I prefer circle hooks and a 12/0 works fine for me.  As in all fishing applications, use no more weight than absolutely necessary to fit depth and current conditions. 

Cobia that have been recently hooked and lost will usually charge a lively Squid on sight.  I can’t say that for any other bait.  Hooking Cobia on a live Squid is a total no brainer.  Leave the rod in the rod holder with the reel in gear.  Big Cobia hook themselves every time.  A small Cobia sometimes has a problem with a big Squid.   

If you are sight fishing, drop the Squid several feet in front of the fish.  The Cobia will eat the Squid on sight.  Put the reel in gear or close the bail and allow the fish to hook himself as the line comes tight. 

Most game fish will eat a Squid on sight.  No other bait instills confidence in me like a Squid. 

A little more about Squid. 

Do you remember Alfred Lord Tenneyson’s poem the Kraken?  The Kraken was the Giant Squid.  Here is a 39 cent Canadian Stamp featuring the Kraken.



Tip # 3.   Little Crabs, the Super Sheepshead, Permit, Pompano, Drum, Redfish, Hogfish bait

I’ll venture to say that 90% of the Sheepshead caught in Florida are caught on Shrimp.  Of course, that likely holds true for many other species of inshore fish that are caught on natural bait.  Summer, spring and fall, it is far easier to catch Sheepshead on Rock Crabs or Fiddler Crabs because they are not pecked on by Pinfish and tiny Mangrove Snapper. 

Catching Rock Crabs is simple but I seldom see people hunting them.  Turn over rocks and driftwood in the intertidal zone and you’ll find them.  I won’t call you a wimp if I see you wearing gloves to catch them either.  They can pinch, especially the larger ones.   

Fiddlers are very agile and can move surprisingly fast.  The easiest way I have found to catch them is to run them into the grass and pick them up one by one.  At low tide, catching a couple of dozen Fiddlers shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. 

For some reason, I’ve had little success with Mangrove Crabs, the little critters you often see crawling on the dock. 

Where I often go through a hundred Shrimp a day when targeting Sheepshead in warm water, a couple of dozen Crabs will be sufficient to catch all the Sheepshead I need to catch. 

I prefer a #4-#7 Mustad Style # 3467 Sheepshead hook.  Note the size designation here.  For some reason, Mustad deviates from standard hook size designation with this model hook.  These hooks have a straight point, short shank, and slightly offset bend.  From my experience, these are the most efficient hooks on the market for Sheepshead fishing. 

I break off one claw and insert the hook point into the crab at this point.  I leave the hook completely covered.  The hook is less likely to snag and, believe me, a Sheepshead will crush the crab and get the point.


Tip # 4, Drift Crabs, (Calico Crabs) Primo Permit, Pompano, Jack crevalle, Drum, Redfish, Tarpon, Cobia, Grouper, Hogfish bait

These little crabs resemble Blue Crabs but seldom exceed 4” in length.  Their claws are narrower and smaller than the claws of a Blue Crab but they can still inflict a painful pinch.  These crabs ride the outgoing tide in spring and early summer as they head offshore for their spawning ritual.   

A long handled dip net is all you need to catch plenty of these fine baits.  Dip them as they swim by. 

These crabs are among the top bait choices at Boca Grande Pass, especially when they are abundant. 

The bar at the south end of Anclote Key off Tarpon Springs is a great place to anchor and pitch these crabs at passing Permit, Tarpon and Cobia.   I’ve caught a half dozen Permit on a single tide anchored there.  These fish seldom exceed 20# but they are a handful on light gear.  I catch 10 on crabs for every one I catch on flies or jigs.  I see more Permit close to the end of the key in 2-4’ of water than out deeper.  Perhaps this is because Permit are notoriously hard to see over sand bottom.   Although I have never fished out of a tower boat, I can certainly appreciate the viewing advantage the tower affords.  Permit are wary.  You must cast several feet from the fish or he will spook. 

Drum and Redfish often feed in the same area as the Permit.  I’ve never seen schools of them in the shallow water the Permit feed in but they are there in sufficient quantity to get an occasional cast at them.  Redfish usually bite aggressively.  Drum, on the other hand darn near require hand feeding in this situation.  Possibly a broken crab impaled on a jig and cast just up tide of the Drum might be the ticket.  (If you try it, send me a report.)   

On the extreme south end of the bar, as it drops off into the pass, Tarpon and Cobia often gather to pick off these little crabs as they drift by.  These fish are feeding, make no mistake about it.  A half way decent cast with a crab will get a bite.  Cobia may be any size but the Tarpon there are usually 50-60 pounders.   

I’m sure these crabs attract fish around other passes but I am most familiar with Anclote.  The bar off the south end of Anclote Key sort of funnels the crabs to the fish, providing an excellent place for them to lay in wait.