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Tourney days.

December is the start of tournament sailfish season in Southeast Florida. This should bean interesting winter for sailfish anglers for two reasons. One, the chain of weather prospects associated with the El Nino event in the Pacific Ocean promise strong cold fronts for the eastern U.S. Cold weather to the north usually sends bait schools and sailfish down the act coast, where fleets out of Stuart, Palm Beach and on down the line are ready to intercept them. Two, there's ample reason to believe the migratory fish are going to meet not only expert anglers, but hosts of resident sailfish. This past summer saw great sailfish bites up and down the coast. My prediction: By the time the three-leg Treasure Coast Sailfish Championship wraps up (Jan. 6-10 in Fort Pierce), we'll have a number of 20fish days reported by boats in our region.

Winning a tournament takes a lot of practice and teamwork, as well as mastery of the specialized equipment. From Stuart north, most boats slow-troll rigged dead ballyhoo on 7/0 circle hooks. South of there, it's all about drift fishing with live goggle-eyes or pilchards. The trailers invariably start their spreads with leaded dredge teasers fished on teaser rings off the outriggers. The teasers consist of wire arms with snap swivels, to which are affixed short leaders and teaser baits--sometimes deboned, rigged mullet; sometimes plastic baits or flashy plastic strips. The drift fishermen deploy their baits from fishing kites, fabric squares which carry aloft a series of release clips. Two kites are commonly used. Their position--left or right, and thus the overall spread of the baits--is determined by the gentle weight of splitshot sinkers pinched to one side or the other. Local tackle shops and bluewater fishing specialty catalogues are well-stocked with the hardware needed for these presentations.

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If you're not out for tournament glory, you could do what legions of local anglers do--and that is to simply procure a few dozen live baits through whatever means available, and then drift or slow-troll those baits through likely water. Nowadays, retail livebait boats are stationed at every inlet in Southeast Florida, selling local specialties such as goggle-eyes, pilchards and threadfin herring. The goggle-eyes fetch a premium, sometimes going for over a hundred bucks a dozen. But really any kind of small fish will do. Sailfish aren't picky. Among abundant local prey species, sailfish will eat pinfish, blue runners, and mullet (some of which may still be around from the epic fall run). They will also take artificial lures, typically in the form of small (5- to 8-inch) trolling chuggers.

On the reefs and wrecks, this is the last month of open season for shallow water grouper. Send a live pinfish or grunt down on a sliding sinker rig near a local wreck and hang on tight. There've been increasing numbers and sizes of gag groupers in recent years, thanks to tightened seasons and limits.

Winter-run kingfish should be showing up in Palm Beach waters, and dolphin are never really out of the picture for the region. Spanish mackerel will be thick in the Peck Lake/ Kingfish Flole north of Hobe Sound. For some heavyweight rod bending, fish a live mullet or blue runner on a heavy wire leader for blacktip and spinner sharks outside the inlets. If a shark doesn't take the bait, a big jack crevalle might. A big jack in this region is no joke: There are schools of 30-pounders muscling their way around the inlets and down the beaches.

HUNTING General Gun Season (fall turkey and whitetail deer) continues through December on private lands in Southeast Florida, comprising both Zones A and C. However, most of the public Wildlife Management Areas in the region have wrapped up their rifle hunts and entered small game season. Consult with the WMA brochure for specifics, but generally speaking, these are shotgun hunts for wild hog, quail, rabbit, snipe, dove and ducks. Remember that you'll need a migratory bird permit for the latter three. Corbett and Kissimmee are two WMAs for which hunting continues through December under General Gun regulations. Waterfowl hunting should be exceptional this year on Lake Okeechobee, the St. Johns marsh and the Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs). Access to the STAs is restricted to permit-holders whose names were drawn over the summer.

* BEST BET SOUTHEAST

Snook season doses December 15. If you want to go for a last shot at a linesider, think rivers, think structure, think nighttime and think deep. Big, fast-sinking lures with single hooks--such as the Redtail Hawk jigs or First Light Flare Hawk models--will earn strikes if you cast upcurrent and reel them slowly back with the current. The SpoolTek Fatty series, D.O.A. Baitbuster Trolling and other leaded swimbaits are very productive when fished in this manner, too.

There'll be good numbers of small snook popping baits around docklights, but the keeper fish (28 to 32 inches) are normally deeper, hanging around bridge pilings. Spillways may also continue to produce snook, if the weatherman's prediction for El Nino-associated rains holdsup.
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Title Annotation:SOUTHEAST
Author:Weakley, Jeff
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:Dec 1, 2015
Words:843
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