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Pass play.

I'm often asked, when is the best time to fish the Ten Thousand Islands? My response is always the month of May. Usually by May the winds have calmed considerably, waters are warm and clean and baitfish of all sizes and types have arrived in good numbers throughout the region. Close behind will be predators like snook, tarpon, redfish and trout. Anglers can have easy access to all four inshore species at any of the numerous passes in the area. From the urban, narrow passes like Doctors Pass or Gordons Pass to the more remote, unnamed passes south of Marco Island, rest assured the best action in May will be near these passes.

The key for May pass fishing is the presence of bait. Schools of small pilchards, threads or glass minnows should literally line both sides of an active pass. Generally speaking, telltale signs of large numbers of baitfish can be in the form of an equally large number of birds diving or crashing into black clouds of bait. Another good sign is large snook or tarpon crashing through the schools of bait. For the more urban passes like Gordons, baitfish will seek shelter along the rockjetties or dock pilings farther inside the pass. Broader, more open passes like Big Marco Pass or Coon Key Pass will see baitfish seek the safety of shallows to avoid becoming an easy meal.

Farther south, smaller passes offer structure in the form of downed trees, oyster ledges or hard bottom ledges that can become magnets forfish. Baitfish will move frequently, making a pass on fire one day and cold the next. Pay attention to the signs and determining an active pass should be easy. Usually anglers can procure live bait on the sandy sides of passes with the castnet. Farther offshore anglers can catch larger baits like pilchards or threadfins on gold hook rigs, especially along tidelines.

The presence of so many baitfish would make it seem as though matching the hatch with live bait would be the only method for success when fishing passes. It is true that live bait will certainly take the lion's share offish, but the month of May is also a great time to throw artificial lures. For example, snook will readily take suspending twitchbaits or shallow-diving, lipped crankbaits cast across the current and retrieved erratically. During midday siesta type shutdowns, jigs or the locally favored soft plastic paddle-tailed swimbaits become the artificial lures of choice. Bear in mind that larger fish like jumbo snook or tarpon generally prefer larger lures.

One aspect of fishing in and around passes in May is the often overlooked shallow bays just inside the passes. The area behind White Horse Key, Round Key and Indian Key are prime examples of shallow adjacent flats that will hold fish on almost any tide. These areas offer fantastic sight fishing opportunities for snook and redfish and tarpon on higher tides. Again the presence of bait will usually determine which areas will hold the most predators.

Reckoning tide is probably the most difficult task in deciphering the fish code of any pass. Stronger tides near the full or new moon can make narrow passes almost impossible to fish due to the speed of the current. When tides are at their peak flow, fish will still be there, but presenting baits and lures effectively can become quite a challenge. Look for breaks in the current, eddies or structure to provide slightly slower water. During weaker tides, look for fish to be lingering in the fastest current. This will allow for a more natural and accurate presentation of baits and lures.

HUNTING Don't put that camo away just yet. Following spring turkey season, the woods will become less pressured by other hunters and cause game to start to move in normal patterns. Hog hunting in Zone A is a great way to stay afield and keep your hunting instincts sharp. Hogs will typically avoid the heat of the day and move best at first and last light. There is no greater test for archers than to slow stalk a group of wary pigs feeding along open edges adjacent to bedding areas. Look for signs of heavy rooting or fresh tracks to point out daily travel routes. Getting within bow range of hogs will test every bit of your stalking ability. Exercise caution when approaching downed hogs.

BEST BET

10,000 ISLANDS

If ever there was a time to throw a topwater lure in the Ten Thousand Islands it would be in the month of May. Each has their place and preference, but my nod always goes to the walk-the-dog type lures. It takes a bit of practice and rhythm to get the perfect productive side to side retrieve that seems to draw fish from greater depths and distance than other surface lures. This zigzag style retrieve is perfect for fishing outside points and flooded oyster bars where the fish are not necessarily tight to the shoreline. On the other hand, poppers and propbaits, with a pop-and-pause-style retrieve, are better suited for casting dose to shoreline cover where the strike zone is narrower. Colors should be naturally hued and don't be afraid to throw the larger version for bigger fish.
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Title Annotation:10,000 ISLANDS
Author:Merritt, Kevin
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Date:May 1, 2015
Words:872
Previous Article:The edge.
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