The holiday lull on Gasparilla Island was the inspiration for the first Captain's Forum held Dec. 13 at Temptation Restaurant.
Capts. Sandy Melvin, Tommy Locke and Eddie Potter dispensed world-class fishing advice for 90 minutes at the event. Their insights will help anglers year-round on the beach, in the backcountry or in the deepwater of the Gulf of Mexico.
Melvin turned pro as a fishing guide in Boca Grande around 1987 and in 1992 he founded Gasparilla Outfitters along with his wife, Robin, and partner, Judy Davis, as a companion shop to Robin's Special Effects store.
Capt. Sandy Melvin
His 24-foot custom Morgan named "Boca Blue" has carried him to wins in many tarpon tournaments. He also fishes the back country with live bait, artificials and flies for snook, redfish, and speckled trout from his 21-foot Lake & Bay flats boat and his 17-foot Maverick Mirage skiff.
Here are excerpts of Melvin on fishing issues affecting Gasparilla Island, including the health of the tarpon fishery, why jig fishing should not be allowed in Boca Grande Pass and how to fit your seasonal bait to your seasonal fish targets.
QUESTION: How do Boca Grande fishing guides make a living year-round?
Capt. Sandy Melvin at a glance
Occupation: Entrepreneur, owner of Gasparilla Outfitters, pro angler.
Birth date: July 12, 1958
Family: Married wife, Robin, 19 years ago. "She had a little dress shop here on the island along with her mother and we kinda morphed it into Gasparilla Outfitters/Special Effects. That's why you see two names on the shop."
Hometown: Elizabethtown, N.C.
Residence: Just off island on Coral Creek.
Education: Two years of college. "I didn't have the patience."
Favorite place to fish outside Boca Grande: The Amazon. "I've been twice for the peacock bass. It's just an unbelievable trip."
First tarpon: "My first tarpon was with Buster Herzog, the legend. I went beach-fishing with him in about 1983. To this day, all of our friends don't forgive him."
Favorite fish food: That's a tough one. It's really hard for me to beat grilled ahi tuna, rare, with a little lump crab and Hollandaise, fresh asparagus, wild rice. Oooh. That's a nice meal for me. That's probably my favorite but I like all fish."
Discovered Boca Grande: I came to the Boca Grande Club in 1982 as the food and beverage manager. I spent five years doing that before I realized I could make a living working full-time as a fishing guide.
ANSWER: You want to use the type of bait the fish are feeding on that time of year. A general rule to think of is in the winter months: brown and down. That's the old saying. You want something that imitates crab and shrimp as a general rule. What that means is you want to go more to neutral colors like green and brown. You get more to spring and summer that's when the big fish get here. That's when you start using your live bait.
Q: How important is water temperature to catching fish?
A: That's one thing people don't think about enough. Water temperature will pretty much tell you where you are at in the stage of seasonal patterns. For instance right now the water temperature is in the upper 60s and that's about the lower range of where you'll see tarpon.
Q: When is optimum tarpon season?
A: I pretty much tell people to watch the water temperature. If it gets to 72, you're going to see some fish around. If it gets to 75 they're here. When it's 75 degrees in the morning they'll be 10,000 of them in Boca Grande Pass. The mass migration of tarpon will be here.
Q: What's the right time to fish?
A: When they're biting. But generally I fish the low light levels: sunrise, sunset for the most part. Sometime I'll go at 3 a.m. and fish till daylight. That's always a good trip. Sometimes it's 9 o'clock to midnight. Then, around the moons, it's late afternoon on the hard, outgoing tides, 4 o'clock to 7 o'clock.
Q: How is the winter fishing?
A: This year we're definitely getting a late start to winter. There doesn't seem to be a winter in sight.
Q: Between water temp, colors, baits, sun, tides and fish species, is any clue more important than another in catching fish?
A: When you're fishing, you're thinking. Fishing is the greatest exercise in deductive reasoning you can have. You've got to think of what's going on out there all the time. There are just so many variables you have to consider every day. But if you can't find fish you can't catch them.
Q: So what's the most important attribute to focus on in catching fish?
A: Keep an open mind. Don't have any preconceived notions of what you've got to deal with when you go in there and figure out where the fish are and how they are relating to the environment. You can have the best bait, the greatest casting technique, the finest fly line, a $1,500 rod-and-reel setup, and clothing - but if you don't find a fish you're not going to catch them. Fining a fish is what we get paid to do. It's that simple.
Q: What separates the haves from the have-nots in fishing?
A: Everybody can fish. Not everybody can catch. The biggest reason they are not catching is they are not moving around with the fish. If you're not catching them and you've got good bait and presentation, they're most likely not there and you need to move to find them. If I had to name the one thing I see most fishermen do that is a mistake is not taking into consideration how stealthy you need to be at all times when you're fishing.
Q: What makes a great fishing captain?
A: One who keeps his clients happy and who works hard from the time they step on the boat to the time they leave to catch them as many fish as possible. You can't control how many fish you catch. You can control your effort. I think that's what makes a good charter captain.
Q: If you were the Fish & Wildlife commissioner what would you change?
A: The tarpon fishing in the Pass with the jigs: I'm not a proponent of the jig fishing. In my mind, when an angler has to drop down an open-exposed hook on a lead in the thickest bunch of fish possible in order to catch one - there's no other state in the country that would allow the technique. I think the FWC has dropped the ball on that particular issue. You can't catch them on that jig anywhere else in the state. They are failing to rule that that particular rigging is a snagging device. To most fishermen it's pretty obvious that it is.