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January 21, 2009

Freelance Free-for-All

Fish the Gulf's easternmost fringes in late winter to catch anything and everything

That's not to say you aren't likely to also come across fish feeding far from any structure, in the middle of nowhere. Bait schools move around, and migratory predators often follow. There's no telling what those predators might be (and the not knowing just adds to the excitement when a surface commotion is spotted).
Case in point: Just more than a week before we fished with Richard, he'd been out in the same general area, and they stumbled on a school of hundreds of big, aggressive bull reds (red drum) right on top. They caught and released more than 50 that day, many on fly, until their arms wearied.

Tigers, Goliaths and Jumping Cobia
In fact, a good freelance Gulf day can be a top-notch place to put one's light tackle and light-tackle skills to the test. Even if we didn't find a   massive school of reds or strike silver in the form of tarpon, we had our hands full with cobia, jacks and good-sized blacktips that often jumped repeatedly. While the jacks were "fun size," Richard says spring often means monster crevalle in these waters - roving packs of 15- to 25-pounders that'll wear down even the burliest of anglers.
Surprises run from large to small. A school of ballyhoo showed up in the line of fine chum just behind the transom of our anchored boat for a good part of the afternoon. Nick put out the sort of "brim" rig so effective for ballyhoo, and the halfbeaks  quickly went after the tiny baited hooks drifting back underneath a float. Nick began quickly adding 'hoos to the livewell.
Richard hooked one to a spinning rig and drifted it back a good distance, on top (with no weight), the line clipped to a halyard at the top of a  rigger in hopes a passing king would pick it up. Andy Newman of Miami kept a close eye on the rig, itching for a royal rematch after a big king had unmercifully spooled him earlier in the day. (Light tackle is not without some risks when fishing the Gulf from anchored boats!)