Its Road Trip Time

The ideal way to bridge the gap and transition between ice fishing and getting back out on open water

by Craig Ritchie

I look forward to Christmas. I look forward to Easter. I look forward to Halloween. But the one thing I really look forward to is my annual road trip south.

The annual road trip with a couple of buddies has become a beloved tradition, because it's an ideal way to bridge the gap and transition between ice fishing and getting back out on open water. We load up the truck, we drive to an AirBnB in Florida, and spend a few days eating seafood, catching a couple of spring break ball games, and generally thawing out in the March sun.

Oh - and catching fish. Lots and lots of fish. Can't forget that part.

What I love about the annual road trip south is that it's cheap, it's simple, it's really a lot of fun, and it brings the chance to catch different kinds of fish we can't enjoy back home. Talk about a perfect way to tune up those casting muscles and work off the rust in a place where we're going to have plenty of action with nice sized fish.

Keep it simple by leaving the boat at home and fish from piers, jetties and causeways. It's less fuss, and if you're there at peak tides you'll usually find plenty of action.
Keep It Simple, Stupid
To ensure the trip is nothing but fun, we follow the KISS principle, and rest assured that has nothing to do with lovely co-eds on beaches. KISS stands for Keep it Simple, Stupid, and that's the key to making sure everyone has a great time.

We keep it simple by leaving the boats at home and either fishing from shore, or just hiring a guide for the day if we want to get out on open water. Trailering a boat from the Midwest to Florida is serious business and being 1,000 miles from home when you realize that something doesn't work properly after being stored all winter sucks the fun out a trip pretty fast. So keep it simple and leave the boat at home.

The reality is, you can usually have a great time and catch all the fish you want right off the many piers, jetties, causeways and bridges that line Florida's Golf and Atlantic coasts. While you're not likely to catch any marlin or sailfish this way, you'll find plenty of action with inshore species like snook, redfish, pompano, jacks, sea trout, cobia, ladyfish and immature groupers just about anywhere you find current.

Keep the actual fishing simple too, by either casting with jigs, swim baits or spoons, or simply fishing on bottom with live bait like shrimp, which you can buy by the dozen just about anywhere.

Most of the fish you'll catch when fishing from shore will range from one to perhaps five pounds in weight. But you'll occasionally be surprised by much larger fish - snook to 20 pounds or so, baby tarpon, or the occasional shark that's as long as your rod. I go with a spinning rod that's eight feet long and rated for lines in the 8- to 20-pound class - exactly the sort of thing you might use to cast for salmon off a Great Lakes pier, or bottom fish for catfish with dead baits.

I upsize the reel to a 5000-series, since the larger spool not only provides a bit more casting distance, but accommodates more line, which can be a real lifesaver if you hook something bigger than you bargained for.

Timing Is Everything
When it comes to fishing from shore in saltwater, it doesn't matter what you use so much as when you use it, and the tides are the key.

Most of the jetties and piers you will fish from mark entrance channels where the Intra Coastal waterway - the inside passage that runs all the way around Florida - connects to the open sea. When the tide is moving in or out, it creates strong currents through these passages, and they in turn ring the dinner bell for fish. It doesn't matter if the tide is flowing in or out, it just needs to be moving, and the period about an hour immediately before and after high tide, or an hour right before and after low tide, are when you find the strongest currents.

Keeping it simple extends to tackle as well - a salmon-sized spinning outfit and a small box of jigs and swim baits is really all you need. Or better yet, just fish on bottom with live shrimp like everybody else.
There are all sorts of tide apps you can download that can tell you when high and low tide will occur at your chosen location.

So-called 'slack tides' are the periods in between, when not much is happening. That's when we go play golf or take in a spring training ball game. That's fun too, and you're not missing anything out on the water then.

The problem with the annual road trip south is, before you know it, it's time to go home. But for a few days, it sure feels nice to lose the winter coat and cast into open water again.

Instead of sitting at home waiting for the open water season to begin up here, give it a jump start with a road trip. Split the cost with some buddies and it's cheap, it's fun, and it's the idea way to transition back into open water fishing.

After a few days tangling with snook, jacks, pompano and spotted sea trout you'll have worked the rust off your casting arm and be back in shape for the open water season.
Author Craig Ritchie
Craig Ritchie
About the author:
Over a near 40-year career as a full-time outdoor writer, Craig Ritchie has fished all over the globe for a variety of freshwater and saltwater species. The author of The Complete Guide To Getting Started In Fishing, he has written thousands of articles for magazines, websites and newspapers worldwide, appeared as a guest on several television fishing programs and won numerous awards for his writing and photography. He lives in the Great Lakes region where great fishing is as close as his own back yard.

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