The “Fish Coach” shares HOW-to-CATCH Saltwater Sheepshead – a Winter Fishing Delicacy

  • Fish close to structure: bridges, piers, docks
  • Sight feeders: use live or frozen bait – shrimp, clam strips, fiddler crabs
  • Gear: Open-face reel, sturdy rod, braided line, fluorocarbon leader
Everyone would like to know how to fish better, it’s just that not every vacation place offers a Fish Coach service.

By Forrest Fisher

When winter anglers from all across the United States travel to southwest Florida, they find sun, sand, warmth, and one fish species that is in abundance: saltwater sheepshead. These “pretty fish” keep close to bridge abutments, boat docks, fishing piers and similar in-water structure along saltwater harbors and canals of the Gulf Coast, and other places.

The sheepshead arrive close to shore in good numbers as the waters chill with the season (mid-60 water temps), they feist on shrimp, clams, blue crabs and other crustacean forage forms. This fish species is usually hungry, though they can be finicky. Sheepshead are a delicacy for table fare and that makes them a favored target for winter retirees, visitors, and local anglers alike.

One local celebrity angler, Josh Olive, also known as the “Fish Coach,” often makes time in his busy schedule to teach others how to catch fish, where to go, what to do and how to do it, all the while courteously sharing necessary details for folks to understand pertinent conservation issues, size limits and local ecology concerns. This gentleman has a lifetime of stories and expertise to share and is the editor of a widely popular weekly fishing magazine of The Charlotte Sun-News called the “WaterLine.” This issue is published weekly on Thursdays and can be ordered from anywhere in the country, it is complete with fishing tips and chef recipes from the sea.

Josh Olive, the “Fish Coach,” provides finny details about the tasty Sheepshead at a recent fishing club seminar in Port Charlotte, FL.

During a recent visit to the retirement community of Kingsgate in Port Charlotte, FL, I had the pleasure to listen to a seminar and learn from Josh during a monthly meeting of the Kingsgate Fishing Club. Following a colorful introduction by Charter Captain Tom Marks, the humble and direct manner of Josh Olive held the attention of every visitor in attendance. If you are a winter visitor to the Port Charlotte (Florida) area you can meet and talk with Josh yourself on any Saturday night at Fish’n Frank’s Tackle Shop, where he joins the work crew. Here is a summary of what Josh shared with us.  Go get ’em!

Topic: Fishing for Saltwater Sheepshead – Where, When, What, How…with the Fish Coach – Josh Olive

Short description: The Sheepshead is a visual food hunter. They are bottom feeders to be found close to near-shore structure such as docks, piers, and bridge abutments, as well as land-related reefs up to about 40’ deep. Sheepshead have human-like teeth with incisors and molars and actually look like human teeth. That means they can cut your line without too much difficulty.

Not many folks can share it all like this, but seminar goers learned details of lure to line hookup, lure to bait tactics, when to fish, where to go and how to be successful.

Methods: Spinning rods, 7ft, medium w/30 series or 40 series ope-face Penn reels, or equivalent. Use bait, live or frozen, can use jigheads (1/4-3/8 oz depending on current flow strength), Poor Man’s Jig (Size 4 hook w/large bb-shot) or Porgy Rig (double dropper loop for one hook and one sinker, 1-3 oz).

Line: 10-20 lb braid (Power Pro) mainline and 25-30 lb fluorocarbon leader, though when water is very clear and fish are spooky with a high mid-day sun, downsize fluoro to 15 lb or so. Use TG knot or double Uni-knot from the leader to the mainline attachment. Braid color: no preference in reality, but to help angler sight, use a bright color green or yellow. Leader length: about 6 feet or so.

Above, the standard jig head to live shrimp rig commonly used for sheepshead fishing.

Baits: Shrimp (frozen pieces or live), clam bits, red wigglers (worms), fiddler crabs (a good option when fishing in a heavily fished area), and Berkeley Bish Bites (pink/white color, E-Z clam flavor or E-Z shrimp flavor, both work -cut to ½” pieces, put 3 on a bare hook or jig head).

The correct way to hook up a live fiddler crab, a tricky process, but they work to fool and catch saltwater sheepshead where there is heavy angler traffic. 

Specific Places to fish: In southwest Florida, the Venice Jetty may be the best place for shore fishing. Casperson State Park rock jetties are only just ok, at times, Peace River docks are good, not so good when going upriver to Navigator Bar area. To fish rock jetty areas, use a poor man’s jig head with a float set 2-4 feet above the bait. Offshore-nearshore reefs such as Cape Hayes and Trembley are also excellent.

Times of Day: Middle of the day seems best for Sheepshead fishing

Advice: Get away from lines and rigs with beads, swivels, hardware, is spooky to fish these days, too many anglers in short, spook the fish.

Edibility: Very good, delicacy. Crustacean and blue crab eaters are usually tasty fish to eat. Can fillet, though fillet method will leave lots of delicious meat on the carcass. Better to use whole fish and simply gut the fish, remove the gills, boil, remove the meat on a platter as in a restaurant platter style. Or use the meat and boiled water residue from this method to make chowder, fish soup or fish bouillon.

Two common methods to hook frozen shrimp tails with a plain hook, commonly used with the Poor Man’s Porgy Rig (double loop knot rig).

Rules/Reg’s: See syllabus, but in Port Charlotte County general area, the minimum size is 12 inches and 8/person/day, or if in a boat, 50 fish boat limit max for any number of persons.

Wind Turbines: Threat to National Treasure of the Great Lakes

By Capt. Tom Marks

I much prefer to write about fishing. Unfortunately, lately, all my time is being consumed by “fighting” to keep industrial wind developers from building wind projects in Lake Erie. In all my life, I could never have imagined being in such a dire place. “My lake,” Lake Erie, is about to be turned into an industrial power complex. Lake Erie is a National Treasure which is supposed to be held in Public Trust by the government for the benefit of everyone, not for the benefit of an industrial power project.

Wind turbines are pitifully inefficient when it comes to their productivity. As an example, New York State has 1,987 megawatts of installed wind generating capacity. All of New York State’s wind turbines were producing only 136 megawatts to the grid as I wrote this article. That is a productivity level of 6.8% of their full potential, this is typical. It’s NYS’s goal to replace all fossil fuel generation with wind and solar. If we were to rely on just wind at this hour, we would need a total of 51,455 wind turbines with a capacity of 3MW each to replace all our fossil fuel sources for the state.

New York State is 54,556 square miles in area. We do not need more wind turbines, we need a better plan.

Please support a moratorium on wind turbine construction in the Great Lakes.

Want to know more? Here is the rationale:

Ten years ago the New York Power Authority (NYPA) headed by Ritchie Kessel, put out bids to Wind Power development companies to build industrial-scale wind turbines in Lakes Erie and Ontario. The proposal at the time was called “Great Lakes Offshore Wind” (GLOW). The GLOW proposal was for about 130 wind turbines with the primary site to be in Lake, but it could be built in Lake Ontario.

I formed a group, Great Lakes Wind Truth (GLWT), to oppose the project.

Casualties – DEAD BIRDS hit by wind turbine blades. The blades are deceptively fast, the tips traveling on average 150 mph.

Great Lakes Wind Truth membership was composed of like-minded individuals across New York State, Pennsylvania and Ontario, Canada. Our mission was to raise public awareness and get political support to help others understand the inefficiency and then stop the proposal. We were able to get every county on the shores of Lake Erie and Ontario except one to pass resolutions to oppose construction of wind turbines off their shores. I can’t tell you how many meetings and public events I attended, but it was a lot. I even went door to door from the Pennsylvania – New York border to Buffalo and put a flyer I made in every door of every lakefront home or cottage raising awareness of the proposal and its negatives

The bottom line, GLWT was able, with the help of a lot of supporters, to stop the proposal before it could get off the ground. The reason that the New York Power Authority (NYPA) gave for canceling any proposed project is that it would not be cost-effective. Almost concurrent to our fight opposing GLOW, there was another project being proposed in Lake Erie off Cleveland, Ohio. Lake Erie Energy Development Company (LEEDCO) called their proposed project Ice Breaker. Ice Breaker is a six to nine industrial-scale wind turbine project to “test the feasibility” of constructing wind turbines offshore in Lake Erie, however, the broader goal by LEEDCO is to build another 1,400 to 1,500 wind turbines in Lake Erie.

The Walney Extension – world’s largest wind project off the coast of England.

GLWT mustered opposition and was successful in delaying the Ice Breaker Project. The Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB), in its denial for permits, listed all LEEDCO’s deficiencies for the project. LEEDCO has addressed some and reapplied. GLWT has again put up opposition to the project citing numerous issues with building such projects in the Great Lakes. We are now at a critical point waiting for the OPSB to make its decision to issue permits for the project to proceed. It has taken 10 years to reach this point in wind project development. Wind developers count on the opposition to wear down or lose interest opposing these proposals.

Most recently, Diamond WTG Engineering & Services, Inc., a wind energy development company owned by Mitsubishi, has proposed a wind project in eastern Lake Erie. The proposal is for 50 industrial-scale wind turbines with 4 megawatt generators. The project would be located in Lake Erie between Buffalo and Dunkirk, New York, about 5 miles from shore. There have been other proposals for wind turbine projects in Lake Michigan and Lake Ontario.

Wind companies are relentless.

Developers and supporters of alternative energy sources make a lot of claims about the benefits of their projects, such as:

“We need green energy to reduce CO2 emissions.”

“We must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.”

The Steel Winds Project on the Shore of Eastern Lake Erie

The developers will also claim that putting wind turbines in the lakes will add fish-attracting structures that will improve fishing. Developers and politicians who support such projects claim that wind turbine projects create jobs. Developers will tell us that they are “tapping” a free energy source to make inexpensive electricity. There is a lot that developers don’t say about these projects in the lake that are real important. So, let me tell you why I think wind power project development is “bad” for the Great Lakes.

Reducing CO2 emissions is a myth.

How the power grid “works” can be a bit complicated, but here is a simplified explanation. There is base load power usually supplied by nuclear plants, hydro or coal. Base load power is the power that is “always” there so you can flip a light switch and your lights come on. When businesses and factories start-up in the morning there is a surge in demand. Natural gas plants kick in to meet this peak in power demand. These plants ramp up through the day as the demand increases. This is a simplistic explanation, but it is how the grid “works”.

Now you will be able to understand the myth that there is a net CO2 reduction when wind generation is incorporated into the power grid.

Wind energy is intermittent, variable in intensity, out of sync with demand and unpredictable.

Wind energy is weather dependent.

Wind energy has no capacity value as other forms of energy have.

We can rely of Nuclear Power, Hydro, and Natural Gas to produce power on demand, thus these sources have capacity value. Wind cannot promise delivery of power it requires backup 24/7/365 and the back-up source for wind in most cases is natural gas or another fossil fuel. These backup plants can’t be shut off when the wind is blowing because you cannot predict when the wind will not be able to produce electricity. Thus wind turbine generating power plants do not replace any existing fossil fuel electric generating plants.

Do wind turbines create a fish-attracting structure? I do not know! The wind developers are being very dishonest if they claim that they know. There are no wind power plants the sizes being proposed in Lake Erie in any other freshwater body in the world.

There is no data to support their claims.

We do know that wind turbines on land create vibrations that are harmful to humans and animals.

There is plenty of research to support that infrasound generated by turbines cause deformities in animals living near these structures. There is certainly lots of data confirming human health, as well as the quality of life, impacts from wind turbines. The power transmission cables connecting a wind project to the grid will lay on the lake bottom. Power cables have magnetic fields around them when power is traveling through them. Fish can be impacted by magnetic fields which may disrupt important migration patterns and forage activity, but we don’t have the data for large projects in freshwater lakes to be certain.

The Great Lakes were once a repository for our industrial pollution. The solution to pollution was thought to be dilution. Sadly we found out there was only so much pollution the Great Lakes could handle before damages occurred. After the 1972 Clean Water Act, we became “enlightened” and stopped polluting the Great Lakes. Since then, billions of dollars have been spent by the federal government and the surrounding states to restore the Great Lakes. We are still spending huge amounts of money for Great Lakes restoration.

The construction of large wind turbine projects will disrupt the buried industrial pollution legacy. It is best to leave those deep contaminated sediments undisturbed, if not, once again we risk the health of the fishery and make fish unsafe to eat.

Wind turbines certainly will negatively impact the source of drinking water that 35 million people depend upon.

Wind turbine projects create jobs, but they are temporary jobs.

The good jobs are very specialized and those workers will likely be workers from overseas. A wind power project once built, is very automated and controlled from a distant location. It takes only a few technicians at a computer. The turbines do require maintenance, again these are specialty jobs and crews travel around the country as contracted maintenance crews.

Actual jobs created will be minimal.

Our economy is booming right now, we are almost at full employment, so we really don’t “need” these jobs. That is why when foreign workers come in to build turbines you never hear any uproar. There is some boost to local businesses, but it is, again, only temporary.

Free energy. It reminds me of the promises made by another energy source back in the 1950s that never materialized. The states that support “green energy development” mandate that the power grid operators buy electricity produced by Wind Power Projects. The wind power company negotiates power purchase agreements with grid operators. It is hardly fair to the electric customer because the grid operator is forced to buy the electricity produced regardless of the cost. The power purchase agreements often extend for the life expectancy of the wind power project, about 20 years, to make the project profitable. The power purchase agreement that LEEDCO negotiated recently in Ohio, for the Ice Breaker project, will charge customers 30 cents per kW/hr. The current customer rate from conventional sources is 5.5 cents per kW/hr.

That free source of power is not free at all, it is mighty expensive.

Wind power plants are not financially sustainable without power purchase agreements, property tax breaks, and project subsidies from the government.

Here is what the wind developer doesn’t tell you.

The reason they want to build offshore in the lakes.

They pay no property taxes to a town, county or school district.

For the developer, it is a real cost saving that is not passed on to the consumer.

The wind developer doesn’t tell you what happens when the wind turbine outlives its usefulness. Who is responsible for decommissioning? Companies are putting up “bonds” to pay for the decommissioning, but who can predict the cost 20 or 25 years into the future? Often the company that builds the project sells it to another company and when it becomes obsolete the last owner goes out of business leaving useless wind turbines rusting and falling apart. When I asked NYPA what were the plans for GLOW at the end of its “life” they were just going to knock the turbines over and leave them on the lake bottom.

The typical wind turbine contains 400 to 500 gallons of oil. It is not uncommon that within a wind turbine project that several will leak oil. The last thing we want is oil leaking into our source of drinking water. Wind turbines kill tens of thousands of birds and bats every year. The Great Lakes and especially Lake Erie is in a major migration route. Any wind turbine project will be deadly for migrating flocks of birds. The Sierra Club which supports wind development explains that any large building or trucks on the highway kill birds. Unfortunately, this environmental group is willing to make a trade-off on the health and diversity of an ecosystem which is not necessary.

Infrasound from wind turbines has been associated with health impacts to humans and livestock living near projects. It is undetermined if these low-frequency sounds will have the same or worse impact on the Great Lakes ecosystems. The presence of wind turbines in the Great Lakes will be hazardous for helicopters hampering search and rescue operations for boaters in trouble on the lakes. Wind turbines potentially could interfere with radar and air surveillance monitoring for illegal crossings of the border on Lake Erie and Ontario. The turbine towers will incorporate designs to break ice that is pushed around them, it is hard to predict the impact it will have on reefs when the ice potentially could be scouring the lake bottom all winter as opposed to just the during the spring melt.

Oil leaks from a wind turbine gearcase. The gear case can contain on average 400 to 500 gallons of gear oil.

There is no data; it will be an experiment on the Great Lakes.

There will certainly be a visual impact.

I believe most people will find sunsets viewed through a maze of wind turbines less than pleasing. There is a value for the wide-open expanse of the lake view. Shorefront property is valuable, a wind project in its view will certainly reduce this value and potential property tax revenue.

President Bush declared these lakes a National Treasure. How can anyone allow a National Treasure to be desecrated by an industrial project. We would never allow a wind developer to build wind turbines on the National Mall or in Yellowstone National Park. Why would we allow the Great Lakes to become an industrial park? The Great Lakes are held in the Public Trust for all Americans to benefit not foreign industrial wind developers.

In Ontario, Canada, there has been a moratorium on the construction of wind turbines in the Great Lakes for over 10 years.

It is time we do the same in the United States.

Our Great Lakes are too valuable of an asset and natural wonder to risk to an experiment by industrial wind developers. Once these projects are built in the lakes there is no going back and we will have opened the doors to all developers.

Important to know: “….May 18, 2004, President George W. Bush by Executive Order: Establishment of Great Lakes Interagency Task Force and Promotion of a Regional Collaboration of National Significance for the Great Lakes 

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and to help establish a regional collaboration of national significance for the Great Lakes, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. Policy. The Great Lakes are a national treasure constituting the largest freshwater system in the world. The United States and Canada have made great progress addressing past and current environmental impacts to the Great Lakes ecology. The Federal Government is committed to making progress on the many significant challenges that remain….”

The Great Lakes are being threatened with industrial development in their waters which will cause irreparable ecological harm. So I wrote the following to raise public awareness of these threats and my concerns.

Comments? Capt. Thomas Marks, Port Charlotte, Fl. 33980; e-mail: Capt.tommarks@gmail.com

References/Resources:

 

Custom Fishing Rod Builder: Tom Marks

  • Rod length, sensitivity, power, flex…all these factors matter
  • Setting the hook, it’s the best feeling with a rod you helped design
  • Rattlesnake skin and other custom handles personalize rods to the individual

By Bob Holzhei

Custom rod handle options that include rattlesnake skin personalize the custom rod.

“The sensitivity in any fishing rod can be determined by placing the tip of the rod against your throat while another person holds the other end of the rod.  At that point, the person who has the tip of the rod against their throat begins to talk and at the other end, the vibration can be felt,” says expert angler and custom fishing rod-maker, Tom Marks, who vacations and fishes in Florida during the winter months.

Marks has been building custom rods for the past six years. “It usually takes me about 48 hours or three days to build a rod,” says Marks.

“I ask the perspective customer which type of rod they want me to build for them, whether it’s a spin casting rod, an all-purpose rod, and also ask if they are throwing crankbaits, need a worm rod, like to drop shot, if they are skipping docks, tossing jerk baits, Carolina rigs, need a bottom-bouncer for walleye, jig-flipping and pitching, or if they use a frog topwater bait or other top water bait. They’re all slightly different,” stated Marks.

Sanding the guide feet insures a smooth thread wrap and long life for the rod.

“The purpose for which the rod will be used helps me decide on the power and speed of the rod. The power, which is how stiff the rod needs to be and the speed, which refers to how much flex is in the tip, both affect the style efficiency.  Flex is the amount of bend in the upper 1/3 of the rod. The faster the rod, the more sensitive it will feel. For crankbaits, or moving baits which are trolled, a slower rod is sufficient because the strike or bite is much harder. The slower rod helps absorb some of the initial shock of the bite and also keeps the fish from throwing the hook,” added Marks.

Marks custom decorates his precision fishing rods according to customer wishes.  Nylon and metallic threads can be used on the guide wraps, and many other variations.  Marks also uses real rattlesnake skin on the handle and other decorative skins and wraps in the split grip and fore grip.

“I place a decorative thread band 12 inches from the front edge of the handle.  Decorative work might include thread work cross-weaved with multiple colored threads or chevron patterns.  Occasionally I marbleize the colors,” added Marks.

Marks began purchasing his rod building materials after he saw a Mudhole display at an outdoor show, located in Oviedo, Florida.  Mudhole is a Rod Building and Tackle Crafting Company that can provide helpful process instructions and all the supplies for rod building. Visit www.mudhole.com or call 866-790-RODS.

Charter Captain Tom Marks is right at home with all the gear for making his custom fishing rods in the garage.

Marks explained the steps in building a rod. “After the materials are ordered and arrive, I first take the order out of the package,” Marks replied while laughing.     “First the spline in the rod is found, this is the backbone of the rod.  I take the rod and put tension on it, while rolling the rod. The area of the spine will snap or hop.  The spline is the heaviest part of the rod. The theory is the spline is found in one spot, it provides a keyway for guide location and better angler control later,” stated Marks.

Second, Marks determines what kind of rod he will make.  The handle or grip is put on the rod.  He reams out the handle to fit the blank.  Then Pro-epoxy paste is put on to secure the handle.

Third, the guides are put on after measuring and marking the rod blank for the spacing between the guides.  Mudhole provides suggestions on where to place the guides.  Marks runs a line up and down the tip to insure the guides are lined up.  He also uses a laser beam to insure the guides are correctly aligned.  After the guide are mounted, protective clear epoxy is added.

Fourth, two additional coats of clear epoxy are put on and then 400 grit sandpaper removes any imperfections. Marks then field tests the rod to assure quality.

“If I catch a big fish while testing, I know that particular rod is a real good one,” kidded Marks with a grin.

“Building fishing rods is a great hobby and I never stop learning.  I began fishing with my dad when I was 4 years old, and when I was 10, I really got into fishing and loved it.  I learned from my father how to fish for walleye, since we lived within walking distance of Lake Erie near Derby, New York,” stated Marks.

I tagged along with Marks as he fished with the rod and learned as I watched his fishing strategy from a distance.

“The presentation is the key. The bite is what keeps me interested.  When I set the hook – it’s a great feeling. There’s a rush of adrenaline!  I could fish all day for the bite,” concluded Marks.

For more information: e-mail address – capt.tommarks@gmail.com; 716-997-6919.

Here we are testing my new rod, I’m sitting, Tom is demonstrating the secrets to catching bass where we are fishing in Florida. Sure was fun!

Giant Bass, Find ‘Em Right Now!

February Bass Bonanza begins with “No Snow” Down South

bassfishing1

Spring fishing is something that everyone all around the country simply cannot wait for.  While many enjoy the hard-water action and great success during the winter months up north, not everyone can handle the cold.  Aches and pains seem to migrate to between the ears when the mercury drops and folks all start to think about spring.

Why? Well, almost everyone looks forward to the fish-catching action we find for many freshwater species as those colorful spring flowers start to pop and the birds begin to warble and chant through the morning collection of their annual mating jukebox.

For some lucky folks, springtime and good fishing starts really early in the year, for example, in Florida, where professional fishing guide, Tom Marks, visits his mom to test many freshwater lakes and ponds that he calls, “Friendly waters down south.”  Some of these are on golf courses.

Tom Marks, a Hamburg, New York, resident and professional fishing guide hooked another monster largemouth bass, 10-8, while fishing in Florida. This is the third time Marks caught a bass over 10 pounds in his life, quite a feat!
Tom Marks, a Hamburg, New York, resident and professional fishing guide hooked another monster largemouth bass, 10-8, while fishing in Florida. This is the third time Marks caught a bass over 10 pounds in his life, quite a feat!

Last year, Marks was rewarded with a monster largemouth bass that tipped the official Florida scales at 13 pounds-12 ounces, a healthy bass.

With his home near Buffalo, New York, you might understand why Marks looks forward to a southern trip in winter.  Living on the Great Lakes, Marks is a professional guide, he catches big fish throughout the year.  With this last big fish, he may have achieved a mark that few pro’s anywhere in the country ever achieve, that is, catching three bass in the last three years all over that magic 10-pound mark.  Some folks can fish their entire life with hopes of catching a 10-pound bass someday, but never do.  It is a giant wish on the bass fishermen’s bucket list, for sure.

You have to understand that Marks is a retired engineer that took his scientific mind from the desk to the water and he thinks his way through every fishing situation.  This tends to make the end result a good possibility that good luck fishing will be realized.

Humble as Marks is, he says, “Catching big fish does take a bit of luck, you know, you have to pay attention all the time.”  Those folks that know Marks say he never really talks too much about what he is thinking, he just catches fish and then shares his rod with his friends.  He catches fish every day too, even when other charter captains on the fishable waters that he is either guiding on or competing in, are wondering where the fish went for a vacation day.  That probably tells the rest of us ordinary anglers that he is not just lucky, but that he has a system, a logical approach to find fish and attract fish, then entice them to strike.

Spinnerbaits in various sizes, brands and colors are a big part of the big-fish arsenal that Marks uses to fool the monster bass he shares his secrets about. Visit Tackle Warehouse online for a complete assortment. Be sure to check out the Strike King brand, among the favorites of Marks.
Spinnerbaits in various sizes, brands and colors are a big part of the big-fish arsenal that Marks uses to fool the monster bass he shares his secrets about. Visit Tackle Warehouse online for a complete assortment. Be sure to check out the Strike King brand, among the favorites of Marks.

Asked about his big feat, Marks says, “It’s funny fishing the smaller lakes in Florida, I scoot around in some places, always with permission from local ownership, sometimes on a golf cart loaded up with rods and tackle.  I was telling my wife I feel like I am on a bass boat because I run as fast as the cart will go from “spot” to “spot”, then I race back to the house, not for weigh-in, but for dinner.  It’s so much fun!”  So how does he know which golf course ponds to fish?  He says he depends more on the weather, as it seems many of the ponds have fish, many of them big fish, and yes, he does have a plan that he insists he calls lady luck.

He adds, “Many Florida ponds and lakes have almost no structure in the form of plants or weed lines.  Some are more than 20 feet deep, bowl sharp, with almost no bottom structure.   Sometimes there are flood control culvert pipes here and there, surface dams and drain tube, sometimes that is the structure!  There are some points with drop-offs that fish hang on.  I think I have figured out how to catch the bigger fish.”

In reviewing his notes, Marks shares, “In steady weather, folks casting a line can catch a ton of smaller bass in the one to three pounds range.  Now, when the cold front comes to pass and the weather is windy with cold air and a clear, bluebird sky, the bite is off for the average bass.  Most folks go home, they know that rule, but I have found that the giants are still feeding!  It’s exciting!  It’s the one time I can get my lures to the big fish before the aggressive smaller bass wack the baits.”

"Cold fronts are among the best times to catch big bass," says expert, Tom Marks. The proof is in the photograph!
“Cold fronts are among the best times to catch big bass,” says expert, Tom Marks. The proof is in the photograph!

Marks continues, “During the post-front hours, I catch very few fish, but they tend to be much bigger than average.”  Marks says, “In the two weeks after I caught that big bass, I missed a few other real giants, but maybe we can save those for next year.”   Marks caught the monster trophy (which he released after one picture), on an artificial lure.  He really nailed it hard, stripping 14-pound fluorocarbon right away.  It never jumped or broke the surface, so I had no idea what I hooked was that big.  The fish made several good runs before I got it close to the bank where I could see what it was, this is where I start talking to the fish. “Don’t come off!  Please don’t come off!  At least not until I could get a solid grip on its lip.”

It was an amazing day for Marks, “As I brought this fish in I could see my spinner bait was broken, but I had two hooks on the lure and they were both in its mouth (I use a trailer hook).  I kept just enough pressure on the lure to guide it to my hand, what a relief it was to lift it out of the water.  I ran it over to my golf cart to weigh it on my Berkley “Boka” grip scale. There was no one around to take the picture I was headed back to the bank to let it go when a golfer came up and wanted to see the bass.  I showed him and he took the picture with my iPhone. I got it back in the water real quick.  I came back several times to that golf course “water trap,” no floating bass, so I know it made it.  Actually I have never seen any bass floating, I get them all back in pretty quick.”

So whether or not you may feel Marks is extremely lucky or simply extremely good at fishing, either way, you might want to check his calendar availability for early spring bass in Florida where the air is warm too.  There are not that many open dates (I checked), but what I was extremely surprised at was the low rates that Marks charges his clients for hire.  I asked him about his all-day charter low fees ($225) and Marks said, “Well, you know, I have enjoyed my job and our great fishing all over this great country for all of my life.  In a sense, I’m just trying to give back a little and help other folks learn a little bit about my systems for catching fish, no matter what the conditions.  I charge enough to cover my boat gas, some fishing supplies and to pay my taxes, that’s all I need.  I might raise them a little this year to be fair.”

Marks guides for many species and he also offers photo-trips, sightseeing and “ECO” conservation trips.  Visit his website at http://gr8lakesfishing.com or call him direct at 716-997-6919.  There is nothing like on-the-water-education from someone that knows their way around.