While some charter captains turn to commercial fishing during December and January to make a living, Capt. Jason Stock keeps the rods and reels ready all year.
For the 28-year-old captain, fishing is not only a profession, it is his year-round hobby.
"I fish when I have a charter, and I fish when I don't," Stock said. "There are fish to be caught year round."
Catching fish in changing seasons is something Stock is accustomed to. He adjusts tactics when temperatures drop, and after hearing about a great mixed-bag bite on the near-shore artificial reefs he has experienced, I joined him to see what all the action was about.
The weather was decent. We were fishing before last week's approaching cold front, so light, southerly winds did nothing to slow our run to the three-mile reef in Stock's 23-foot Hanson. When we swung on top of the spot 30 feet below, we broke out the light spinning rods with a small 1-ounce sliding egg sinker held about 2 feet above a 1/0 hook by a swivel. It's a standard rig for bottom-fishing light tackle.
The bait of choice was live pilchards, and the action was immediate. The mangrove snapper and grouper were aggressive, with a few of the mangroves bigger than 15-inches that happily made their way to the cooler.
But that wasn't what intrigued me below. I had seen Stock's pictures from previous trips. Stock was dialed in on the flounder, catching up to 25 in a day, and I was determined to see what it was all about.
"They hang out around the edges of bigger structure like reefs and wrecks for spawning season," Stock said. "This time of year as the water gets colder, they will get aggressive, school up, and you can have banner days."
With that in mind, we culled through the snapper and grouper. Stock's flounder technique was keeping the weight on the bottom with a little slack in the line, allowing the bottom-dwelling flounder a chance to find the bait and eat it. With any hit, start reeling.
After describing this technique, Stock was hooked up. "That's got to be one," he said.
His prediction was correct as a tasty flounder hit the deck, about 14 inches, and was added to the growing catch headed for the dinner table. And like he promised, where there was one, more were soon to follow.
With the flounder, snapper, mackerel and then the occasional gag grouper break-off, the action was constant. As a guide, this is the type of fishing Stock loves.
"Anyone can enjoy this. Kids, new anglers and expert anglers. You are constantly catching good eating fish," Stock said. "The only downside is that I'm constantly taking off fish and rerigging. That's hard work!"
We nearly caught our limit of mangrove snapper and quite a few tasty flounder to go with it after only a few hours of fishing. This fishery is one that Stock says should be consistent until the springtime.
If you're interested in fishing with Stock and seeing his wintertime techniques first hand, give him a call at 727-459-5899.