April - June 2017
Our Purpose: To identify excellent Florida freshwater fishing opportunities and to provide anglers with relevant information that will enhance the quality of their outdoor experience.
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In this issue:
Size: The state record is 6.96 pounds, although most fish will average between 1-2 pounds. The Big Catch minimum qualifying sizes are 3.00 pounds or 22 inches for adults, and 2.25 lbs or 17 inches for youth (BigCatchFlorida.com).
Identification and similar species: The toothy mouth and elongated shape of this fish are diagnostic, as is the unique, chainlike patterning along the body from which this species draws its name. The redfin pickerel (as the name states) has red fins, is smaller (seldom exceeding a pound), and lacks the chainlike markings. A pickerel’s wider snout easily distinguishes it from a gar’s narrow mouth.
Angling qualities: More sought-after in northern states, chain pickerel are generally caught unintentionally in Florida—usually by bass anglers. This is due to the pickerel’s love of minnows and minnow-imitating lures. Saltwater anglers will note a body design that mimics a barracuda’s, and this fish is indeed built for speed. Strikes are usually very fast and aggressive. Once hooked, the chain pickerel is known for its fast runs and jumping ability. Some bass anglers lament the damage a pickerel’s teeth can do to a lure or bait, but others welcome strikes from this torpedo-shaped aerialist, and consider a scuffed lure a small price to pay for the adventure. Due to this toothy mouth, care should be taken when landing. While pickerel are certainly edible, many small bones make it difficult to separate the meat and most enthusiasts consider the pickerel to be much more a sport fish than a table fish.
Where to catch them: Chain pickerel are uncommon to common throughout Florida's lakes and rivers, and can also be found in south Florida's extensive canals. They are seldom far from vegetation, and prefer quieter pools of streams or rivers.
Illustration by Duane Raver, Jr.
Because of both the small size of a sunfish’s mouth and the diminutive size of the grass shrimp, use a #8 or #10 Aberdeen hook when fishing shrimp for sunfish. Hook the bait through the bend in the tail. Keep your bobber equally small; it takes almost no flotation at all to suspend a grass shrimp. One-inch, cylindrical foam bobbers work well. These also put up little resistance when a wary sunfish takes the bait; it will be more likely to hang onto the shrimp rather than dropping it. Position the bobber about three feet above the hook for starters, but adjust for a deeper presentation if you don’t get any bites pretty quickly. Use a tiny split shot to sink the shrimp to the desired depth.
Of course, grass shrimp can also be fished on the bottom—where the bigger bluegill and redear sunfish often congregate. (A general rule when going after bream is to fish deeper if all you are catching are small ones.) Use only enough weight to cast your bait where you want to place it, and keep it there—that’s usually just a couple of split shot or at most a 1/8 ounce egg sinker set a foot or so ahead of the bait. Set the hook as soon as you feel a bite—fish will swallow grass shrimp without hesitation, so there’s no need to delay when the strike comes.
So there you have it. Grass shrimp may not always work better than live worms or crickets, but they do nearly always work at least as well. And they’re as fun to catch as they are to fish—give them a try!
"He swims like a fish!" It's an expression you might have heard during last year's Summer Olympics. But how, exactly, do fish swim? Water is a much denser substance than air, and therefore much more difficult to move through. Fish have to be hydrodynamically streamlined (think aerodynamically, only underwater) in order to travel efficiently. For some species speed is most important, while for others maneuverability and turning ability are critical. In fact, you can tell a lot about how a fish moves—and how it makes a living—simply by the shape of its body.
First, how do fish swim at all? Basically, they undulate their bodies through the water in a snakelike motion. The undulations pass through the fish’s muscles in waves, and end with a brisk tail snap.
Fish swim by undulating through the water.
Forward motion is provided by both the pushing of the fish’s body against the water, and by the final tail snap. The water is actually pushed backward and—in accordance with Newton’s Third Law that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction—the fish itself is thrust forward as this water is pushed off the fish’s body and tail. The rate at which these undulations pass through a fish’s muscles have a direct relationship to a fish’s speed. In some ways, this thrust is similar to that produced by the propeller on a boat motor.
A long, skinny fish such as a pickerel derives most of its forward motion from the muscle wave. Part of this is due to the fact that such a long fish can generate more waves in its body than a stubbier and thicker fish. Also note that a pickerel’s fins have a relatively small surface area compared with the length of the body, and the small caudal (tail) fin provides a correspondingly smaller amount of forward motion during the tail snap. On the other hand, a stockier species like the largemouth bass gets most of its speed from the tail snap of its large caudal fin, but not as much forward thrust from the muscle wave of its stubbier body. As the illustration shows, a bass can’t generate as many waves in its shorter and stiffer body as a long supple pickerel can. For nearly all fish, though, both are important in providing thrust.
A long, supple pickerel (top) can produce more muscle waves along its body than a short, stocky bass (bottom).
What can we learn about how a fish lives by how it swims? Once again, let’s compare the pickerel and the bass. The pickerel’s long streamlined body is designed for speed. Its small fins tend to be farther back on its body, increasing its hydrodynamic efficiency and allowing it to “knife” through the water more easily. The pickerel can therefore be assumed to be a high speed feeder, able to run down and capture its prey. You can also assume that if this is true, then the pickerel must feed on fast-moving prey organisms such as fish as opposed to slower foods such as crayfish. And this is exactly the case.
The largemouth bass, on the other hand, is stockier in build and probably only able to achieve high speeds briefly and over short distances. Thus, a largemouth is an ambush feeder, surprising and capturing its prey from relatively short range. The comparatively larger size of its fins, as well as their placement closer to the center of the body, also indicate that for a bass maneuverability is more important than velocity. Rather than running down prey over distance, the bass should be able to turn and maneuver sharply enough to capture its food almost immediately once it gets close to it. In addition, rather than concentrating its diet strictly on fast-moving prey, the bass is more likely to be a generalist predator, eating a broader range of prey species than the pickerel (able to capture fish when the opportunity arises, but also consuming such prey as crayfish and frogs). Again, this proves to be the case.
Note the differences in body shape and size and position of the fins between a pickerel and a bass.
How fast can fish swim? As one can imagine, clocking fish underwater is not easy! However, bass have been measured traveling at about 12 miles per hour (mph), and salmon slightly faster at 14. The real speed records, however, all go to saltwater fish. The barracuda—very similar in shape and feeding strategy to the pickerel—can move at about 28 mph. By far the fastest fish are the open ocean species. Bonitos and marlin have been estimated to reach 40 mph, while speeds of up to 60 mph(!) have been attributed to swordfish and tunas.
To contact the Florida Freshwater Angler, email John Cimbaro.