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Spring fishing tips & tactics

Reel in gator trout, redfish and sheepshead this month with these local secrets

Story + Photos by Collins Doughtie

It’s hard to believe March is really here. Even more hard to believe, this month marks one entire year of living in this Covid-19 nightmare. Looking back through photos taken at the beginning of this pandemic, I was in Fort Lauderdale aboard my good friend, Dan Cornell’s, new 60-foot Viking sport fishing boat “Game On” with plans to head over to the Bahamas in search of peace, quiet, sunshine and, Lord willing, some mahi, wahoo, tuna, and if all went right, a big beautiful blue marlin.

Can I hear a wahoo? 

With plans to make the run across to Treasure Cay the following day, we got word that the Bahamas was shut down to any boats coming from the U.S. for fear of spreading the Covid virus. With our grand plan out the window and heads hung low, we headed back to Hilton Head via the Gulf Stream. The only bright spot came in the form of nice wahoo we landed in sloppy Gulf Stream conditions off Hilton Head as we waited for the tide to rise enough to get into Wexford Harbour’s entrance.

Keeping it reel 

Though I always look forward to March, it isn’t always warm and sunny, but it does mark the end of our 30-40 day winter when it is cold, gray and windy. It varies from year to year, but as water temperatures begin to rise and our waters begin to take on their normal greenish tint, the food chain begins to wake from its winter slumber. This year’s awakening is foremost on my mind since I feel like I have been in a self-imposed quarantine for way too long. With all my tackle clean and reels oiled, I plan to be out on the water every chance I can get. Call it a rebirth of my spirit, a spirit that has been hit hard this past year.

Here are a few plugs, spoons, sinkers, hooks and test line for inshore spring fishing. Use them to reel in more gator trout, redfish and sheepshead this month.

The best medicine 

Since most of you are inshore fishermen, three species come to mind as March arrives: gator trout, redfish and sheepshead. Gator trout are the really big roe trout that only show up a couple of times in a year. To catch them consistently, you need to be at your spot at first light. Using top water plugs like a Heddon white and chartreuse Super Spook or Super Spook Jr., big gator trout explode on them as if they had never eaten before. As for redfish, gold spoons, cut mullet or GULP new penny-color artificial shrimp all work well. Then there is my favorite in March, sheepshead. Using live fiddler crabs or clams, a short 20-pound test leader with a swivel on one end and a #4 Eagle Claw J hook on the other with a 1-, 1 ½- or 2-ounce sliding egg sinker (depending on the current), these guys should be on fire. Hopefully, we are nearing the end of this life-altering pandemic, so whether you have gotten your vaccine or not, the ocean is the best medicine around. LL


LOCAL Life Test KitchenFried Redfish

Ingredients

1 pound redfish fillets, patted dry

1 egg  

1/3 cup milk

1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs 

2 teaspoons roasted onion flakes

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning 

2 pinches crushed red pepper flakes 

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons butter

Directions [1] Beat the egg with milk in a shallow bowl. In a different bowl, mix bread crumbs, onion flakes, garlic, Old Bay, red pepper flakes, black pepper and sea salt. [2] Dip each redfish fillet into the egg mixture, then drop into the crumb mixture, pressing gently on both sides. Refrigerate the coated fillets for 20 minutes to help set the crumbs. [3]  Heat the olive oil and butter in a skillet over medium heat. Pan-fry about 3 minutes per side, until golden brown on each side. Drain fillets on paper towels. 

Side suggestion:
Vegetable brown rice with lemon slices

Wine suggestion:
Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc

Beer suggestion:
Riverwalk Empire Pilsner, River Dog