All competitive anglers have certain days circled on their calendars as can't miss tournament days. For sheepshead fishermen, Mar. 3 is the day. The El Cheapo is the world's biggest sheepshead tourney, and there is no less scheming and planning (and lying) going on here than there is before the Bassmaster Classic. Weather plays a huge role in the El Cheapo. If it's calm enough (always a challenge in March) look for a lot of fish to come from offshore wrecks within 12 miles of the beach. If it's rough, only the spots in the rivers and inlets will hold the size fish necessary to cash a check at weigh-in time.
As for sheepshead tournament strategy, more and more fishermen are learning the dangers of pre-fishing. Several tournament pros that consistently place in the money in the 400-boat field have certain docks or certain rock piles that they visit only once a year. That 10-pound sheepshead may be fun to catch the week before the tournament, but he's only good for the dinner table. The trick is to find out where the big ones are without catching them all before tournament time. Remember to watch the weather pattern. If it's been rough in the weeks before the tourney, the offshore wrecks won't be fished, while all the inshore spots will get pounded. Get a rare calm day in March like we had for last year's El Cheapo and look for a wreck that maybe doesn't see boats on a regular basis.
Bluewater trolling this time of year is all about wahoo and blackfin tuna. They will be located somewhere between 23 and 29 fathoms depending on water temperature. If the water stays below 72 degrees as you head east, keep going. Find structure with 73-degree plus water, and wahoo will be in the area. Blackfins will almost always be over the structure near the 28-fathom break. Small ballyhoo and cedar plugs will bomb the blackfins. Aboard The Seven we have also been very successful with small lipped divers, such as Mann's Stretch 25 and Yo Zurl's Hydro Magnum.
Calm weather is also key to inshore sight fishing for reds. If we get a warm stretch and light winds look for an afternoon rising tide. The warm mud will attract the reds into shallow water, where the water should be plenty clear enough to spot them from a poling platform. Remember, cold weather shallow reds are very spooky. A bait that attracts them just by landing on a calm surface in June will send them scrambling off the flat in March. Consider a fly or a light bucktail when casting at skinny water reds.
HUNTING If you have an employee that always seems to call in sick in late March he may be a turkey hunter. Veteran turkey hunters without access to private land tend to focus on Camp Blanding and Jennings Forest WMA. There were also 30 something birds released in the Guana River management area, and it will be worth watching if a flock develops. Youth hunt season is Mar. 10-11 and turkey season for our area runs Mar. 17-Apr. 22.
By Rick Ryals
Ringtail porgies will have their annual reunion on the tips of the jetties in March, and they can be just as much fun on the rod, as they are on the table. A true speckled perch rig, completewithl5-foot Bream Buster pole, a small cork and splitshot fished right over the tips of the jetties at high tide can set you up for a big family fish fry pretty quick.
Mar. 1 Jacksonville Offshore Sportfishing Club meeting
Mar. 3 El Cheapo Sheepshead Tourney
Mar. 3 Jax Power Squadron Safe Boating Course
Mar. 9 Alachua County Youth Turkey Hunt
Mar. 17 Jacksonville Offshore Sportfishing Club Non Live Bait tournament
Mar. 24FWC Kid's Fishing Clinic, Daytona Beach
Caption: Kids can get in on the El Cheapo action, too.
Caption: Josh Alexander got the wahoo high speed trolling off the St. Augustine Ledge. March still sees good wahoo action off this coast.