Tips for the SKA Championship in Fort Pierce
There have been several articles and videos of successful fishermen offering tips for catching big fish during the SKA Championship in Fort Pierce, Florida on November 11 and 12. All offer good advice and fishermen heading to this area for the first time should consider anything that can be learned before arriving a plus.
In the past week or so, I have received calls, texts and e-mails asking for information about fishing the Fort Pierce area. Some even suggested that I write and post an article and that’s where this comes from.
Some of the long time SKA fishermen will remember my Carolina Adventure Fishing Team won the Small Boat Championship at Fort Pierce in 2001. That team, consisting of Capt. Bob Black of Oak Island, N.C., Richard Denning of Willow Springs, N.C., and myself, was also the first small boat team to post a heavier aggregate that the winning open boat. We have a history of catching well in Fort Pierce, finishing in the top ten and twenty there in several SKA Championships and also placing well at other tournaments in the area.
Hopefully this will help those fishermen with no experience in Fort Pierce and there might also be a few things worth considering by fishermen who have fished there a time or two.
The first advice I will offer is to not be afraid to follow your personal gathered information – even if it is different than what your friends are hearing and planning. You should approach this (and every) tournament with your own plan, based on information you have gathered. Sometimes things change, or something unusual happens and you may have to change it on the fly, but you need to fish your plan. The odds of success are slim if you try to fish someone else’s plan.
We talked with other fishermen in the tournament, but we also talked with area fishermen that were willing to share information, tackle shops, marinas, and even commercial operations. It is also important not to prejudge folks as anyone may have crucial information. At the 2001 championship, talking with a lady at one of the marinas brought something into focus we hadn’t considered and changed our thoughts to put us on the right track.
Tip two is that it is always good to share information with fishermen you can trust. Trust is the main issue with this and I have seen friendships terminated because a buddy either withheld information or gave information he knew wasn’t correct. Sometimes you can be close with the information you gather, but not quite exactly on the money. Sharing information with other fishermen can help pinpoint the fish.
This is another thing that helped us during the 2001 championship. After gathering information, we put together a plan and went the right direction, but were only close to the fish, not quite on them. A phone call from a friend a few miles away helped us zero in on a large body of fish and we returned the favor by offering a fishing suggestion that helped him catch a large fish the second day and move into second place.
Don’t be afraid to fish near shore at Fort Pierce. It can be much like the Carolinas with big kings running close to shore. This is especially so if there is an abundance of bait running along the beaches. The best example of this is from the 1998 championship. There were big kings spread along the beach and on Friday of that championship, the largest king of the tournament (52 pounds) was caught on an artificial reef in 36 feet of water.
Don’t think you have to run far either. The reef mentioned above is within a few miles of Fort Pierce Inlet. My team was on this reef early and was fighting a 30 pound king while some of the last boats to check out ran by headed elsewhere. Several other years also saw good bites within sight of Fort Pierce, St. Lucie and Sebastian Inlets.
Baits can be different at Fort Pierce too. There will be bait vendors selling goggle eyes, blue runners and other baits. Many fishermen consider goggle eyes to be well worth the effort to catch them or the expense to buy them. Blue runners are usually their second choice.
There are also menhaden, mullet, a few bluefish, a few Spanish mackerel, cigar minnows, sardines, greenies, threadfin herring and more in the waters around Fort Pierce. I believe that sometimes having the odd bait in a crowd helps draw strikes. If you’ve been eating rib eyes all week, you might check out a piece of chicken or fish just to be different. Fish sometimes seem to be the same.
Sometimes different baits work better in different water conditions. In the 2001 championship, a late hurricane had just passed and the water was very dirty. We made the decision to fish with the largest, flashiest baits we could find. That was mullets and we plied the coves from Stuart to Vero Beach until we had several bait pens full of 2 and 3 pounders. Seriously, we had mullets that needed 4 hooks on the rigs. We caught our 40 pounder and several smaller fish on those huge mullet, plus several in the 30s on ribbon fish.
One year we were jigging while fishing and hit a pocket of what the locals call leatherjacks or leatherjackets. These are really shiny little jacks, with some nasty spikes on their back and belly. They will stick you if you hold them wrong and they must have some light venom as it burns. However, it has been my experience that kings like them. They can certainly see the bright silver sides from a ways off.
We have caught a handful of 30 pound class kings and one 45 pounder on leatherjacks. In the 2001 tournament we had a big king we estimated at 45 pounds plus hit one, but the leader broke just before we got it into gaff range. If you use leatherjacks, handle them carefully.
We will always use a live bluefish and a fresh live or dead Spanish mackerel if we can find one. There is just something about bluefish. Kings everywhere seem to swim by other baits to eat them. Spanish mackerel don’t live well, but they make an excellent king mackerel bait when alive and a pretty good bait after they die. We fish live Spanish on basic rigs, with extra hooks according to their length and dead Spanish on ribbonfish rigs.
Speaking of ribbonfish; they are excellent baits for Fort Pierce. They are usually deeper in the water column and best suited for trolling on a downrigger. However, in the early morning they will be higher in the water column. They will stay higher in the water column on cloudy days and days when it rains. We sometimes run a ribbonfish on a flat line when it is raining more than a drizzle.
This last tip works well everywhere, not just in Fort Pierce, and can really make you stand out in a crowd. That tip is to chum like there’s no tomorrow. Fish can follow the scent trail to your baits. Even better, after swimming along and smelling the chum for however long it takes fish to move up the chum line and find your bait, they are usually fired up and hungry when they get there.
Hopefully one or more of these tips will help produce winning fish for you this year at the SKA Championship in Fort Pierce. Most of these tips also work well when fishing elsewhere too, so don’t be afraid to give them a shot during divisional competition in 2017. Safe travels, good luck, and good fishing!