Catch Fish with
For anyone unfamiliar with the site always check the FRESHWATER, SALTWATER and TACK-TICS pages. The Saltwater page now extends back as a record of over several years of (mostly) sea fishing and may be a useful guide as to when to fish. The Freshwater stuff is also up to date now. I keep adding to both. These pages are effectively my diary and the latest will usually be about fishing in the previous day or two. As you see I also add the odd piece from my friends and correspondents if I've not been doing much. The Tactics pages which are chiefly 'how I do it' plus a bit of science are also updated regularly and (I think) worth a read (the earlier ones are mostly tackle and 'how to do it' stuff).
My wife and I have just been to the island of Tobago in the West Indies which I’d visited quite a few times before. When I first went in the late 1990s it was two or three trips before we (my son Richard and my pal Steve Pitts) got the hang of the fishing so for a year or two we didn’t catch much of any note. We’d tried a couple of boat outings with local fishermen and by trolling and livebait fishing we caught tuna, barracuda, tarpon, kingfish and the like. These fish are often of large size and they all pull like hell but if I’m honest it often fits the late Richard Walker’s opinion of all sea fishing that it depends on – “Brute force, bloody ignorance and boatman’s brains” - so it is good fun but not always very satisfying.
Just to set the scene and show that there can be more to visiting the Island than catching fish (I know! I know! it's woffle but it's interesting woffle) I've put a few pictures of other things we saw. There were boardwalks through the mangroves with termite nests, bromeliads and lots of fiddler crabs, the giant, sausage-sized, caterpillars of moths on the frangipani bushes, a bloke lowering coconuts after climbing 30m palm trees, the release of baby hawksbill turtles - all these in the grounds of our hotel on Tobago Plantations; lots of manchineel apples on the beaches (don't sit under these bushes if it rains or you'll regret it), snakes (there are no poisonous ones on the Island), lizards including huge green iguanas, fantastic plants, insects and amazing swimming beaches.
Since those early times I’ve concentrated entirely on the Island’s shore fishing so it’s been possible to ‘refine’ my gear to what works for me. I can honestly say that the sport is often out of this world although my latest trip showed that you can experience the “You should have been here last week!” effect. Anyway, I thought it might be useful to briefly describe how I approach tropical lure angling from the shore for anyone who might be going on holiday to hot places; so here goes:-
I generally take two four-piece rods which fit diagonally in my ancient hard suitcase. My rods happen to be my original VMO’s Surepopper and 4Surespin so you’ll gather that they’ve had quite a few years of use. The two rods are the ones I generally use in Dorset when I’m lure and bait fishing for bass and they are fitted with my Shimano Stradic reels (also hard-worked for years) loaded with 30lb Whiplash braid. To the end of the braid is tied, with a six turn surgeon’s knot, three or four feet of clear, 20lb Amnesia I then attach a 30-40lb swivel using a half blood knot and to this a foot or so of 49 strand, 26lb BS, knottable, Surflon Micro Supreme wire. The lures are either tied direct to the wire with a surgeon’s loop or attached via a strong clip (I’m now using Breakaway Spinlinks and Minilinks). I use my own knot for the wire which is very simple – twice through the swivel or clip, back through the loop formed, pull it tight and then make another hitch and snug it firmly. I always make sure it’s pulled up really tight and leave a decent tag sticking out to allow for the wire springing. All my knots are dead easy to tie.
The range of lures needed can be quite small but it pays to allow for a few losses by duplicating them – there’s nothing worse than being smashed by a big fish (or on a rock) and not having a similar spare lure. For shallow water fishing (most of what I do) I still use jointed Rapalas, Crystal Minnows and Maria plugs, ideally those which are wired right through and Yo Zuri slider or Rapala Skitterpop surface lures. If you have confidence in them I’m sure that most of the huge range of surface and sub-surface hard plastics now available should be fine. A few Toby spoons, and wedges allow for a spot of distance fishing and weedless soft plastics like Slug-Gos, Slandras or Evo-Stix are often effective for species such as snook and tarpon. Basically that’s it. Oh, I almost forgot, I tend to replace standard treble hooks with 3x or 4x versions to avoid them falling apart or being straightened.
The art is to look for feeding birds (pelicans, terns and noddies), shoals of bait fish, blitzing predators or other signs of rolling, splashing or tailing fish. It can be critical to fish first or last light although some species such as bonefish and barracuda will at times feed well throughout the day. As usual it pays to take extra care on slippery or rough rocks, to wear suitable footwear if you are wading on flats and don’t take any chances in heavy seas. Then it’s a matter of casting out, hoping for the best and hanging on tight to the rod.
As I hinted my recent trip was far from productive when it came to fish. Of course it was a holiday for me and my wife so most of my fishing was the odd hour early morning and evening. Frustratingly, the big fish were often out there in force (I could see them) but it was unusually calm and clear and they hardly ever came within casting range. I lost a decent sized somersaulting tarpon and caught a couple of small, toothy snapper, finishing off my trip with a big snook which fought like a demon – it was such a good battle that it even made me forget the blanks.
Right at the start of my visit I met, on Crown Point Beach, Ben one of my Epals. Needless to say he'd also been fishing and like me was struggling a bit. He returned to the UK ten days before us but later sent me the following report of his two boat trips which were clearly much more productive than the shore fishing at the time.
Really good to meet you finally and thank you for all the advice, shame we couldn't meet up for a fish. For our weeks holiday Crown Point started with some promise with bait fish and birds abundant but quickly got steadily quieter until I gave up on it with two or three days left on the holiday. My most successful shore fishing came from the right hand side of Pigeon Point, landing 6 barracuda in a 45 minute session, nothing big but scrappy 'jack' size. I also caught more barracuda, reasonable snapper and a small jack in another short session there.
Sadly the beach at the Magdalena stayed coloured even when it calmed down with only one small fish hooked but not landed. Similarly, I hooked one fish in the ponds but didn't give them too much attention in our stay as they are quite a bit smaller to those in Antigua and didn't really do it for me from a fishing point of view (oh and I'm terrified of snakes, which I know were in the vicinity!!)
I jumped three small tarpon at the point at the far end of the resort (the gap you can see in the distance from the mangrove board walk) but in typical tarpon fashion they failed to stick.
The highlight of my trip were the two charters I booked with Kester Herbert. I have been lucky to fish all over the world and a nicer, humble and crucially knowledgeable guide I have yet to find and at $200 for four hours incredible value too! On our first trip I landed a 45lb tarpon on a 10-40g spinning rod with 20lb braid which was a truly epic battle on light tackle. On our second trip we waded the flats at Nylon Pool and a second mark from the boat close to the shore at No mans-land using live crabs float fished on light tackle. I landed two permit and one really feisty bonefish which really flew on the first run.
I have attached a few photos below
Exotic frangipani caterpillar.
Turtles head for the sea.
Lilian, mangroves and bromeliads.
Manchineel apples - quite poisonous so best left alone.
Crown Point beach often productive of jacks, tarpon and snook.
Magdalena beach also produces jacks. tarpon, and I'm now told snook and permit.
A nice snapper on a Chase plug.
Even small, toothy fish may require a wire trace.
A smaller snapper.
My snook put up a hell of a battle.
Wire knot 1 looped through swivel.
Wire knot 2 pulled tight.
Wire knot three a second hitch.
Wire knot 4 tightened and trimmed.
My three knots - easy to tie, tidy and they've never let me down.
One of Ben's permit.
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