Q: What general areas in the backcountry out of Islamorada do you fish during peak seasons? What tides? And what's the optimal water depth/temperature?
Willcox: There are high-tide spots and low-tide spots, so there's no "best" tide. It depends on how you approach it, although high tide is best for shallow-water sightfishing. The best depth is determined by the temperature and the tide.
Stanczyk: We fish all over the backcountry from Flamingo to East Cape to out west in the near Gulf. Shark fishing can be good in just about all the channels and around the edges of many flats, around the mainland Everglades, and also out in the Gulf. Most the channels I fish, we're in 6- to 10-foot depths, ideally in 75- to 85-degree water, and where the water has a little dirtiness to it. We often have shots at tarpon, Goliath grouper, large sawfish, cobia, and even big redfish and snook while dead baiting for sharks — so that makes it very exciting.
Sightfishing, you'd be working the edges of the flats in 1 ½ to 3 feet of water; best tides vary depending on the area, but usually in the Gulf, we prefer the falling tide. You want to make sure the water is moving.
Generally in the winter, we fish the Gulf for larger blacktip sharks. In the later spring and summer, there are lots of lemon sharks cruising the flats. Bull sharks and sandbar sharks are often caught in the creeks and around the mainland Everglades in the spring, summer, and fall. Also in the spring there are occasional hammerhead sharks to be found.
Q: For anglers using conventional or fly tackle, what's the basic gear setup they need (rod, reel, line, terminal tackle) and what bait is most commonly used and most successful?
Willcox: Medium to heavy spinning rod (50-pound test); 80- to 131-pound wire leader — for fish over 150 pounds. For sightfishing, 15-pound-test braid with a wire leader. Fly tackle should be 8- to 12-weight, depending on the species, with a short wire leader.
Stanczyk: Typically when dead baiting, I use a heavier 20- to 30-pound rod with braided line of 50-pound test. I use a long piece of wind-on 60-pound leader with a couple ounces of weight and then a swivel. To that I add four feet of No. 9 wire going to an 8/0 circle hook. I usually use spinning gear because I prefer it, and I like Daiwa BG90 reels for larger sharks. For bait, fresh mullet or ladyfish is probably about the best thing you can use.
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