Saltwater Christmas

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Caged on Christmas

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — 'Twas the night before Christmas and the only thoughts dancing though my head were clever seals, Gerber jars and wet hands as I sat rocking quietly on a boat in the San Diego Harbor.

Planning a trip for spiny lobster about a month earlier had gotten me stoked to reach the ocean. My uncle, Steve Russow, lives on a sailboat and spends his free time in the winter hooping for lobster out of a small skiff he borrows from a friend.

My Uncle Steve was one of my childhood heroes and our family trips to the West Coast were always highlighted by a few nights sleeping in the bunks on his boat, eating fresh fish with parmesan potatoes and taking in the foreign smells of saltwater and pelicans. Story

Come sail away

ISLAMORADA, Fla. — Winter showers bring ... sailfish.

A "shower" of baitfish guides anglers to fish, and the first seen by the crew on the Blue Heaven set the boat into fast forward.

"Sail on."

The distinctive sound of a sailfish dragging line off the spinning reel sends Capt. Skye Stanley and first mate Daniel Attales into motion.

As Stanley, up in his fly bridge, gives the call and before Attales can even pull the rod out of the holder, another reel sounds off. Then another.

A slow day of trolling has turned to choas. With only four aboard, including two greenhorns who sorely need help, there's really not enough hands to effectively battle three of the hard-fighting, high-flying fish. Story

Fort De Soto diversity

Floridians rarely see snow for Christmas, but the beautiful white sands of Fort De Soto's North Beach more than merit the top rankings this area consistently receives. Bolstering this ambient attraction is a multiplicity of angling opportunity for those who like fishing on foot, in a boat or from piers.

A rustic old fort with cannons long retired attracts plenty of visitors, but the Southern Pinellas County destination known as "Fort De Soto" offers one of Florida's most photogenic, family-friendly fishing destinations.

Alaska Adventure

SEWARD, Alaska — It seems cliché, but standing on the bow of the 46-foot Crackerjack Voyager, watching the southern Alaskan coastline roll by, I can think of only one word that adequately describes the scenery: breathtaking.

As Capt. Andy Mezirow of Seward guides his boat from Resurrection Bay into the Gulf of Alaska, I gaze in wonder at the beauty surrounding us. Story

Tampa Bay: Walking in a wading wonderland

It's not the easiest, most convenient or comfortable way to fish. It can be demanding, exhausting and pretty chilly. Despite the challenges, winter wading in Florida's Tampa Bay-Charlotte Harbor region can provide some of the most intense action you'll find all year.

David A. Brown
When fish get trapped in backwater pools, the action can be nearly nonstop.Wading works year-round, of course, but one simple principle plays up the winter applicability — access. The chilly months see the year's lowest tides and when cold fronts bring hard north winds, water races off the flats and stays gone for the better part of a day. This leaves fish in isolated areas and makes them prime targets for an ultra-stealthy approach.

It's exhilarating, dramatic — the thrill of the hunt. Once you step out of a boat, your range and mobility decrease. That makes planning and site selection very important. No sense hopping in and out of the boat every 10 minutes, so carefully select your area and commit to a serious search effort.

When the bite's on, you'll be tempted to push farther and farther until you realize you're a mile from the boat. Avoid this by tying a bowline around your waist and towing the boat when working broad areas.

Once you get the vessel moving, the boat tracks easily behind you with minor tugs. Wading anglers may also extend their range and facilitate perilous crossings with a kayak. Sit-on-top models with rod holders are ideal. Story

Cape Cod: Hottest bluefin fall fishery

In the Northeast, the hottest fishery in fall is the bluefin tuna bite off Cape Cod; specifically Chatham, Cape Cod Bay and Jeffrey's Bank.

It's a bucket list trip not only because the success rate is high and it can be done within eyesight of land, but there is a legitimate shot at landing a bluefin over 6-feet long. Right now, angry bluefin tuna in the 200-300 pound class are consistently falling to jigs, live bait and even the fly, as a variety of techniques will catch this species. Story

No other pier: Fishing mecca Pacifica Pier

PACIFICA, Calif. — San Francisco is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and one of the reasons is the recreational fishing opportunities that are available nearby, including sturgeon, California halibut and stripers in the Bay; and rockfish and salmon in the ocean.

The pier in Pacifica, Calif., offers fishing past the surf line.Normally, salmon fishing in the ocean outside the Bay is very popular, with boats out of the East Bay, Marin County and Fisherman's Wharf. But the run of Chinooks the last two years has been so small that the ocean salmon season outside the Golden Gate has been closed, spreading sadness among resident and non-resident anglers. Story

Spend the new year in old Florida

HOMOSASSA, Fla. — Its Muskogee Indian name refers to an abundance of wild pepper, but contemporary Homosassa boasts pristine waters teaming with angling abundance and a laidback lifestyle seasoned with Old Florida ambiance.

Decidedly down home and comfortably casual, Homosassa is small-town USA with a collection of historical and recreational gems that make this Citrus County community an attractive destination for those seeking life at a pleasant pace.

Rich with natural resources abounding in its namesake river and nearby Gulf of Mexico, Homosassa finds much of its past rooted in the fishing industry. Today, shrimpers, crabbers and commercial fishing boats share the waterways with sport-fishing vessels, as the sea remains the essential pillar of this community.

Fed by several rivers and creeks — principally the mighty Homosassa River — the region from Chassahowitzka Point, northward to the St. Martin's Keys, offers a potpourri of piscatorial potential. Story

Missile attack: Kingfish running wild on Florida's Gulf Coast

Imagine a Tomahawk missile with teeth. And we're not talking about the painted stuff — picture a real set of really sharp dental daggers on a sleek silver frame capable of reaching blinding speeds and inflicting mucho damage.

Got the mental image? Great, that's a king mackerel.

Call 'em kingfish, kings, or even "smokers" when they grow to 30 pounds or better. Just know that these dudes are amped-up, streamlined killers that'll come in hot and put the chomp on just about anything they decide to eat.

Big kings certainly won't make the game easy. You can't just hit the water and hope for the best — bring your A game or don't bother. Story

Sturgeon fever: An obsession for Loch Lomond's 'Baitman'

For sportsmen who live along the West Coast between Ensenada, Mexico, and Cook Inlet in Alaska, a soul-possessing epidemic has spread. The symptoms are pronounced.

Unspoiled wilderness embraces much of the Homosassa River system.In church, the afflicted can be seen with tide books tucked into hymnals. When the wife asks, "What time is it?" they reply according to next minus tide. As rains begin to fall, those possessed dip shrimp into cups of Starbuck's latte while chanting, "bite," bite."

No it's not, H1N1, these poor souls are suffering from "sturgeon fever." "There is no cure for this malady," counsels Keith Fraser, 72, of San Rafael — except to go sturgeon fishing. Story

Goliath!: Tangling with goliath grouper on top of bucket list

Back when Keith "Catfish" Sutton was a teenager fishing Arkansas farm ponds and rivers, he started keeping a list of fish he dreamed of catching someday. Call it a "Bucket List."

He crossed of a lot of fish in the past 40 years, and one big target on the list eluded him: the goliath grouper.

Imagine a steer-sized largemouth bass with mottled brown colors and you'll know what this brute looks like. He often saw photos of these big groupers in fishing books and magazines, and most were similar — a goliath grouper hanging above a dock with a triumphant angler standing beside it. The angler always was puny by comparison, a fact that fueled his desire to catch these incredible giants.

He finally did it. Story

Homer, Alaska: Halibut Capital of the World

HOMER, Alaska — Given the choice, Bob Larkins would love to fish more often. With four kids at home, however, most of his time and money are spoken for.

Every once in a while he interrupts boy scouts, sports and school work and takes his kids fishing, but spending an afternoon untangling lines and baiting hooks is a different kind of fun than fishing trips with buddies.

Like most dads, this 47-year-old North Carolina father secretly aches for the old days when out-of-state fishing trips were a normal part of his annual schedule.

To fit a grand fishing trip into his schedule these days requires a little luck and the blessings of both his wife and boss.

It was a matter of good fortune that allowed him to end a hunt early and visit Homer, Alaska, the Halibut Capital of the World. Story