Saltwater Fishing Secrets for Small Boat Fishing Fun

  • Light Rod, Reel and Line 
  • Lightweight Homemade Jigs with Swim Tails
  • Bass Tracker Aluminum Boat Modified for Saltwater Fishing
This 16-foot Bass Tracker (Panfish Model) is the perfect backwater and inland seas fishing platform for speckled trout, redfish, snook, sheepshead and other species. Forrest Fisher Photo

By Forrest Fisher

There’s one!  Fish On!  We all love those unmistakable words of time-tested happiness when we fish. There is appreciation, excitement and the reality of fun too – all at the same time, not knowing for sure just exactly what fish is on the end of the line.   In saltwater, it could be any of 50 species.

Last month when I met savvy veteran angler, Jim Hudson, it was easy to spot his natural look of confidence when he talks about fishing saltwater.  Hudson was returning from a short day trip and dropped off a neighbor friend with a sack full of legal specks (four fish total, 15-20 inches with one over 20 inches, per man).

He had his personally customized 16-foot Bass Tracker (Panfish Model) with a 40HP Mercury 4-Stroke all wet from the events of the day, smelly with saltwater slime, the kind that comes off on the bottom of your boat when you’re too busy trying helping your partner with the net and you need to put the fish on the floor.  We call that “good” slime smell.  It washes off with a hose and Dove dishwashing soap.

The interior of the boat is completely revamped with live wells, storage compartments, non-skid flooring paint, the exterior is protected with anti-fouling paint in black color.  All the modification products came from Bass Pro Shops.  The boat offers an ominous presence to anyone that understands fishing.  One look says, “This guy knows what he’s doing.”  He talks to folks all along the way, on shorelines, on docks, on the beach – he makes a happy day for many folks.

Jim Hudson is all about catching fish and having fun on the water, sharing his home-made jig fishing secrets with many anglers along the way.  Forrest Fisher Photo

His MinnKota bow motor is set up for control by foot pedal from a high-rise bow seat where he stations himself with super-polarized fishing glasses in search of sea grass beds, oyster beds, sunken docks, underwater trees and structure, all the while slowly powering the boat along and casting to the next likely looking spot.

The big question most angler’s all have is, “What’s he using?”  Hudson uses a variety of lures, most of them are home made.  He enjoys learning from his personal experience and takes pride in sharing new discovery with others, especially folks that might be fishing for the first time.  He is a mentor type of man and a humble teacher that understand tidal currents, baitfish, shrimp schools and moon phase in the nearshore fishing areas of harbors near the Gulf of Mexico.  There is a lot in that last sentence.

Having fished the Charlotte Harbor waters from Placida to Gasparilla Island to Captiva Island and around Pine Island Sound, he has narrowed down structure-oriented locations that hold bait at various times of day when tidal currents are on the move.  He moves around through his day on the water, searching those currents, he enjoys every single moment out there.

I asked him if there was a bad time or good time to be out fishing with all the tide action that takes place in and out through two cycles a day, he smiled widely and answered, “When you have time is the best time!”  Hudson is a happy person.  He is also so very focused when he is fishing.  It’s like watching a bobcat search out his final approach for a rabbit dinner in a south Florida wildlife management area.  The bobcat wins every time.  Jim Hudson rarely fails to catch 20 fish or more each trip out.  He is a seeker of fish and wins at the catching game with lightweight tackle and boating gear.

He controls his boat with a unique left-hand motor position lever that rises 2-1/2 feet from the floor and a throttle control from a right-hand lever, one hand on each, as he sits in a deluxe, lounge seat style chair.  The chair supports his back and torso for those 20-mile runs that Jim makes when the wind is right for his 16-foot fishing machine.   He gets there quick at 45-50 mph.  He always wears his kill switch lanyard and affixes that to his belt in the event of an unpredicted consequence.  At that speed on open water there might be a dolphin or shark, giant grouper, gator, Manatee, you never know.  He is watchful and a true conservationist at all times, but he is also careful and is safety-minded.

His tackle is simple.  A high-quality, open-face, spinning reel with 8-pound test monofilament.  He likes the stretch that simple mono line offers as protection from breaking off big fish.  He rigs up with a 7-foot light action rod from St.Croix and carries five or six of these in strap-down position just like in the big $80K bass boats.  He uses all of the rods and they are all rigged separate before he hits the water.  His vital knowledge of fish-catching experience shows during his pre-fishing rigging session.

His favorite lures are his homemade jig heads in 1/16, 1/8 and 3/16 ounce sizes, in a variety of colors, but usually red, white or a specially mixed yellow/chartreuse color.  Each of these finished products has a bumpy, grit-like, finish that is mixed into the paint before he coats the hand-poured jig heads.  I asked about this.  Jim says, “The finish is important because it causes the water to deflect differently when you retrieve the line, causing the jig tails to flutter and weave, dart left or right, as the forage imitations dip and skip along and slightly above the bottom.”

The jigs are dressed with a 3-inch or 4-inch action-tail shad in a variety of colors, but the hottest one in February seems to have some olive color on the top, white on both sides with black dots, and sometimes a hint of magic-marker orange on the bottom.   The secret here is threading the tail on so that it is perfectly centered, allowing the jig head and your retrieve action to control the swimming and direction motions. Some of his baits are more often used for freshwater crappie and bass fishing. Forrest Fisher Photo

The size jig head (weight) is simply a function of water depth and current while fishing a constantly swimming bait, twitching it once or twice every 2-3-4-5 seconds.  A simple method that represents a host of forage swimming the winter waters of the inner harbor areas near Port Charlotte, Florida.  These include shrimp, pintail minnows and similar bait.

You know you’re fishing where the fish are when the Dolphins join you at your favorite spot (see photo). It’s also when you know it’s time to move to another spot! Forrest Fisher Photo

The St. Croix rod allows him to cast the lightweight bait quite far, zinging it from the reflex-action of the powerful tip.  The rod also helps to feel when the fish hits the bait and allow him to set the hook and tire the fish to bring it in.  The rod works with the reel drag to protect the stretchable line, though Hudson uses about three feet of 12-16 pound fluorocarbon leader to allow extra protection at the strike zone.

Hudson casts out, let the jig sink slightly and immediately starts the retrieve, slow, fast, quickly lifting the rod every so often in a pattern I have yet to determine.  He revises the sequence and frequency of the retrieve until he finds the action of the day that is on fire.  It is a pleasure to watch this master of the inland sea work his magic.  His results are all good memories.

His advice for the rest of us?  “Fish often, fish hard, develop a passion for fishing that will lead you to have a good understanding of where the fish move, why they move and when the best time to fish is.  The lures I use are simple, they work for me because I talk to them too! ” He was grinning that Georgia smile from ear to ear.

Hudson’s last word for all winter anglers heading to Florida: “Go fish where you have access by shore or boat, but there are a ton of winter fish, big and small, in the canals that lead to the harbor in some way.  Watch for current eddies, work them on incoming or outgoing tide movement, test them with warm fronts and cold fronts, test them under cloudy conditions and sunny conditions, and keep logbook that also records moon phase.”

Hudson adds, “You may not believe what you learn and you’ll also have some tasty fish for dinner or picture-taking fun if you catch and release.”