Florida wreck fishing offers challenge

Florida wreck fishing offers challenge

MIAMI (MCT) - Many saltwater anglers have a favorite species they target above all others. But probably many more just want to hook into anything that pulls really hard. For mystery, suspense and the potential to tangle with the marine equivalent of Oscar De La Hoya, it is hard to beat South Florida wreck fishing.

"You're always gonna get a bite and you never know what it's gonna be," said captain Ralph Hawkins, who operates the Hollywood party boat Sea Legs with dad Kenny and also runs the charter/tournament 32-foot sportfisher Outta Control II.

With numerous ships, concrete pipes, rubble piles, oil rig towers, radio antennae and Army tanks deployed in the waters from South Dade to North Broward, there is no shortage of fish havens holding everything from scamp grouper to swordfish.

"There's well over 100 wrecks I can think of in 65 to 380 feet of water between Haulover and Hillsboro (inlets)," Hawkins said.


Most are readily available to anglers, but veteran charter skippers have discovered plenty of others that are not on navigational charts or the Internet just by putting their time in and carefully observing their boats' fathometers.


Whatever kind of submerged structure you want to fish, Hawkins said there are certain tactics you want to follow to enhance your chances of success.


"Fish will always be on the upcurrent side of anything that's stationary," Hawkins said. "You want to be upcurrent of the fish and the wreck and let the current pull you toward it."

In South Florida's near- and offshore waters, the prevailing current flows to the north, so most times the boat should be positioned south of the wreck. Current velocity can change from hour to hour, increasing from a half-knot trickle to a three-knot gush in the time it takes an angler to locate the underwater structure. In a strong current, Hawkins often uses his engines to hold position above the fish or to pull a hooked fish away from the structure before it can tangle or cut the line. He said he almost never anchors on the wreck.

Unless the angler is a purist or masochist, heavy tackle is the way to go. Hawkins uses stout rods with lightweight, anodized aluminum reels that are easy on the angler, but brook no nonsense from big fish. His Avet reels hold braided line of 80- to 150-pound test.


"You don't get as much of a bow in the line and you can see the bite much better because of the sensitivity," he said.

His leaders are 100- to 250-pound test, crimped onto the line. To the leaders, he ties 10/0 to 14/0 circle hooks, depending on the size of the live bait, which are bridled so that the entire hook point is exposed. Weights - half pound per half knot of current - are fastened on a separate ball-bearing snap swivel attached to the swivel that connects the main line with the leader "so that the weight doesn't wrap around your leader when you're letting it down to the bottom," he said.

Hawkins is fond of big, live baits - "bullet" bonitos; speedos, goggle-eyes, threadfin herring.


"If you have live baits, you'll get bites immediately," he said. "It never hurts to put a big bait down on a wreck because large sea creatures live on all of them."

In late spring/early summer, Hawkins said, the primary targets are amberjack, with the occasional grouper or cobia to enliven things. In late summer and fall, he said, numerous snapper appear, including mutton, mangrove, yellowtail, and vermilion. Wintertime is prime time for grouper fishing.

Hawkins, who has more experience than most interpreting the markings on a fathometer, said he doesn't believe you can tell what kind of fish lurks on a wreck by the type of blob or neon squiggle that appears on your screen.

"Anybody can guess,'' he said. "But fathometers mark density. You can't tell by the color whether it's an amberjack or a cobia."

The biggest mistake anglers make, he said, is to put the bait on the bottom, when the fish are showing a considerable distance above the structure or to bring it up to the middle of the water column when the marks are on the bottom. Anglers should know their reel's retrieve ratio, in other words, how much line is reeled in per turn of the handle, and then act accordingly.

On a recent drop on the two-piece hull of the sunken container ship Cruz, 235 feet deep off Golden Beach, angler DeeDee Pegg of Fort Lauderdale and I each caught and released an amberjack in the 20-pound class using live speedos for bait. Pretty typical for late May. But Hawkins said he has made some unusual catches in the vicinity over the years.

"I've caught swordfish in the daytime, probably four or five over the years, dropping on the wrecks," he said.

That's a lot easier than trying to reel them up from 1,800 feet.

To book a trip with Captain Ralph Hawkins, call 954-547-9608.

© 2008, The Miami Herald.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Recommended for You

The Pennsylvania man's trophy fish was more than two pounds heavier than the previous record. Records

No Kidding: Angler Smashes Record for Lake Trout

Scott Bernarde - May 21, 2019

The Pennsylvania man's trophy fish was more than two pounds heavier than the previous record.

It must be time for summer fishing because records are falling everywhere. Records

State Records Reported in Maryland, Michigan

G&F Online Staff - May 23, 2019

It must be time for summer fishing because records are falling everywhere.

We're told to pay attention to the lunar phases. What do bass pros think? Bass

MLF Pros: What's With the Moon?

G&F Online Staff

We're told to pay attention to the lunar phases. What do bass pros think?

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Lure Lock Tackle Cases: No-Spill, No-Scent

Lure Lock Tackle Cases: No-Spill, No-Scent

Glenn Walker talks us through the soy-based technology that makes Lure Lock cases spill-proof and scent-proof. With Game & Fish Editorial Director Adam Heggenstaller at ICAST 2019 in Orlando.

Berkley

Berkley's Frittside Crankbaits

World Fishing Network show host Chad LaChance had a chance to visit with legendary crankbait master David Fritts about his new Frittside crankbaits from Berkley. LaChance, host of the Fishful Thinker on WFN, also got a few cranking tips from Fritts, the former Classic and Forrest Wood Cup champion.

Costa

Costa's Award Winning Waterwoman Sunglasses

Costa's Amanda Sabin tells OSG's Lynn Burkhead about all of the great features that made the new Waterwoman frame a big winner at the 2019 ICAST show as well as out on the water.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

When it comes to fishing baits, you won't find a more unusual variety than the strange brews of smelly ingredients often used to catch catfish. Catfish

How To Make Your Own Catfish Dough Bait

Keith Sutton - August 04, 2015

When it comes to fishing baits, you won't find a more unusual variety than the strange brews...

Unlike many game fish, catfish can be harder to catch during the spawn. Here are some strategies. Catfish

Understanding Catfish Spawning

Keith Sutton - June 06, 2006

Unlike many game fish, catfish can be harder to catch during the spawn. Here are some...

Celebrate with great food for your backyard BBQ or picnic with these outdoor recipes. Wild Game

10 Recipes for Your Outdoor BBQ

Game & Fish Online Staff

Celebrate with great food for your backyard BBQ or picnic with these outdoor recipes.

See More Stories

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.