04. Fishing Trip Planning
Planning a shark fishing trip is a critical skill that marks a good crew leader. We plan our trips with several componets of analysis. The first component is the general shark fishing calendar for your region. Each year, there is a predictable cycle of activity that happens with the progression of the calendar. The cycle starts January, with twelve months of events. Where ever you are in the world, when the water temp rises to the mid-60’s the actions starts, and the bite goes “full-on” by the time the water temps rise to about 72 degrees. As spring progresses there will be various baitfish species that show in the surf, along with the predators that feed on them. As spring turns to summer the kingfish and tarpon will show up. The pattern continues all the way to the close of the year, month by month, with different baitfish species and predators making their appearance.
Below is a water temperature table from the National Oceanographic Data Center ( http://www.nodc.noaa.gov/dsdt/cwtg/index.html ) presenting water temperatures for the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. See the website for your specific region.
For example, in the South Texas fishing calendar, we have an annual finger mullet migration in the fall. With the first few cold fronts, the small first year finger mullet migrate from the bays, through the passes, to the beachfront, where they turn right and migrate south down the beachfront. This is a significant fishing event, and many mornings you can see a wall of finger mullet swimming 10 yards off the beach heading south. This wall of mullet brings all sorts of predators in close, trying to make a living off the mullet. Spanish mackeral, redfish, tarpon, jackfish, and skipjack maul the schools of finger mullet every morning. The sharks move in after all the species chasing the finger mullet…the sharks are trying to eat the mackerel, jacks, and tarpon. This is an example of an annual fishing event that lasts several weeks during the fall.
Some of the Texas shark fishing events are large hammerheads in March and early April, tiger sharks off Bob Hall Pier in May, large female bulls in June, shrimping season kickoff on July 15th, tiger sharks again in August, tiger sharks coming back in November and Decembers. Sandbar sharks showing in November and leaving March. Medium sized bull sharks in October. There is an annual cycle to learn.
We have a redfish run in the fall. We have a jackfish run in the fall and spring when the water temps is 68 degrees. Learning the calendar is a big component of learning to plan trips and lead a crew on the beach. Anywhere you live in the world, there will be a calendar to learn. Georgia has a different calendar than South Florida. South Florida has a different calendar that Alabama or Louisiana. Learn the calendar for your region and plan your fishing schedule around it.
There are several ways that a person can learn the annual calendar in addition to making fishing trips. Talk to the people at baitshops and other fishermen. If you can find a pier in the vicinity of where you want to fish, get down there and find some of the people that have fished the area for years and ask them about the calendar. Not everyone is going to give you a straight or complete story. But listen to what they say and don’t say. If they stroke their chin while talking, they are usually telling the truth. If they are touching their nose while talking, they may be holding something back.
Fishing message boards are another way to gain information about a given geography. Many sites have a regional geographic focus. Investigate the posts for interesting reports and see what was caught, and which months produced those catches. Certainly you will not get all the activity, but you will get some. Many of the best fishermen do not post on the net and you will not get their reports. But you will get some information to start working with by searching the message boards.
Sometimes you will be curious about a location and you just have to go on your instincts. Some of the best spots that exist have not been discovered by the locals.
After you have done your homework on the calendar, coordinate trips with your crew. Set a date for you trips and start getting ready. The second level of analysis in planning a trip is looking at the five day marine weather forecast where you will make your final decision to call the trip a go, or call off a trip. If the conditions are no good, reschedule or modify your plan.
The five day weather forecast is the assessment of the fishing conditions on the beach for the days your trip is planned. The five day forecast is notoriously unreliable, and will be revised again and again. Take everything the weather man says with a grain of salt. Make your decision only on the night before your pile in the truck to go. If you are leaving on Friday night, make the final decision to go on Thursday. Any other decision made before Thursday is made too early, and the forecast will not really be accurate until one day before. I say this again, never ever call a trip earlier than the day before you leave, unless you live five hundred miles away from the beach. Many time the five day forecast looks really bad until the day before when conditions clear for a good weekend of fishing. Do not blow your credibility with your people by appearing indecisive because you are trying to figure the weather out days in advance. Make your final decisions the day before, and call the people and tell them yes or no. If the conditions are not good, call the trip off, save your money, and plan for your next window of opportunity.
What are good conditions? A marine forecast calling for surf with seas of three to five feet waves or less. A marine forecast with two to four feet is really nice, and one to three foot seas is ideal. Windspeeds of five to ten are great. Windspeeds exceeding fifteen miles per hour are difficult to kayak bait out deep. Another factor to consider is seaweed. In recent years, the level of seaweed present on the beaches of the Gulf Coast has increased. If the weed is heavy on one section of the coast, consider driving to another section of the coast where the fishing conditions are move favorable.
In each region of the world, there are different seasonal conditions to learn. The way a person learns the seasons is by completing one year of shark fishing. Sometimes you will take your lumps on some trips and show up when the conditions are less than idea, but that is a price you will have to pay to learn the calendar. But after a while, you will acquire this skill too.
Internet Planning Tools
Other supplementary tools to plan trips include tide charts, surf cameras on internet websites, and Google Earth. Each one of these tools provide additional horsepower to your planning. Many of the items below have information for Texas on this page, but these resources exist for North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, and all the other states. Australia and South Africa have many great resources as well, you will just have to look for them.
The good people at the national weather services have web portals that will produce excellent tide forecast, either in graphic or table form. You can run monthly forecast for all summer to identify all weekends with new moon days. You could run a monthly forecast to see the days with the greatest water movement between high and low tide. You could identify all weekends with high tides at night. These are some of the many analysis you can do using these tide station web portals.
Here the links to the tidal stations world wide:
U.S. Upper East Coast (Maine through Virginia)
U.S. Lower East Coast (North Carolina through Florida Keys)
U.S. Gulf Coast sites (East to West)
U.S. West Coast sites (North to South)
Northern sites (except Japan) outside contiguous U.S. (East to West)
Southern sites outside contiguous U.S. (East to West)
Japan and nearby sites (North to South)
Here are some that I use frequently:
The various surfcam sites on the internet provide a real time view of the water and fishing conditions. Buy viewing the surfcam sites, you can see if seaweed is in the water, obtain water temp and clarity trends, and see the wave size. This is essential information for planning your trip.
|Horace Caldwell Pier||http://www.corpusbeach.com/portacam2.htm|
|Bob Hall Pier||http://www.bobhallpier.net/webcam.shtml|
|South Padre Island||http://www.spadre.com/surfcam.htm|
|South Padre Island Jetty||http://www.spadre.com/images/southpadresurfcam.jpg|
If there was any tool ever created to for shark fisherman, it is Google Earth. Google earth is a streaming map imaging program that lets you zoom in from space and see any 100 yard by 100 yards section of the earth. With Google Earth, you can recon beaches, jetties, and passes on your computer at home. I have even recon’d the Mexican Gulf Coast on Google Earth to plan fishing trips. This is a must have tool. Here is the link to acquire this free service http://earth.google.com/