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In the poorest of conditions

Daily thunderstorms, heavy showers, huge tides, full moon, no bait, muddy water, hotter than a California wildfire and water temperatures you would find on the equator made for the worse flats fishing we have had since January.

Perfect! Been waiting for this, nobody is catching much of anything the last few days. After the 4th of July weekend madness the flats were quiet once again but the fishing is terrible. The hot fishing is happening offshore on the gag grouper bite in the waters north of Tampa, not in 4 feet of water. I have been waiting for Neptune to muddy the waters so to speak.

For the last year or so I’ve been hearing more and more about how important scent can be for inshore fishing, more so on bad light, and dirty water days. I wanted to find out, I want to see it work not just read about it, prove it to me! So I asked my wholesale tackle supplier. Who makes the “stinkiest” baits for the flats? ‘Why Stinky Fingers of course’, and I’m thinking why did I even bother to ask?

I get Mike Reeves telephone number from Ray and invite him over to the West coast of Florida for a couple of days of fishing. I tell him the fishing is great, perfect weather window, it was after the 4th of July, and to bring heaps of his baits to try, you know typical fishing story stuff.

Mike had a two day window on the 10th and 11th, we went offshore grouper fishing on the 10th and had a really good trip, (I didn’t want him pissed at me his first day, when he finds out how bad the fishing is on the flats right now). On the 11th, my local flats expert Adam has been telling me for the last three days that we are not going to catch squeeze. He had us on the waters of Crystal River at daybreak.

Now you can read all about these soft plastics on Mike’s website, but to make a long story short, he put a sponge inside a soft plastic that soaks up so much menhaden oil the things leave an oil slick like the Exxon Valdez, how cool is that!

Mike and my deck hand Jessie threw the stinky stuff, I threw a surface hard plastic, I wanted to see if a noisy surface lure or something that smelled like the fish hold of a hundred year old Gulf shrimp boat would catch a fish in these conditions. I finally told Mike about my experiment and he said he would only fish the darkest colored baits to make the scent factor even more important in the coffee we were fishing in.

We caught four fish all day long, the fishing like we thought was really poor, but… Mike caught three of the four fish, Jessie caught the 4th, and I had 1 bite, so the stinky stuff worked way better than something that just made a lot of noise in this hot tub called the Gulf of Mexico.

What made this really cool memorial day is that while Mike only caught three fish, they made up an inshore slam, a 26-28 inch snook, a nice keeper class red, and a beautiful trout. Catching any slam is a neat thing, (I have only caught offshore and Alaskan slams and these always came on huge days, not when the fishing sucks). Jessie added his small red to the tally, and they both lost a few nice reds throughout the day.

So I am sold that the scent factor really does work on inshore fish and you’ll catch more fish if your bait smells like bait in water when the visual clarity is taken away from the predator. I have seen this work offshore after a big blow stirs the pond, be it either in the tropics or the Gulf of Maine, chumming and live baits, and you’ll be flying a lot more tuna flags than the lure guy in the next slip over, (so I guess my next experiment with Mike will have to be comparing his smelly baits to live bait).

For the time being I am pretty happy with ‘the experiment’, and I now know that this is a fact,’ in the shallow water, our Florida flats gamefish use all their senses in their feeding cycles’. It has always made sense, I just had to see it first hand to be able to write about it. As I learn a new waters, new fisheries, in a new area in this wonderful state, expanding the knowledge of what works in even the poorest of conditions make me a better fisherman and for building wonderful memories; because in the end of the day that is why we all go fishing….

Capt. Corky Decker
Capt. Mark S. “Corky” Decker is an IGFA-certified captain, freelance writer and a proven world-class billfish guide. He grew up commercial fishing...