For each species of fish, a set of favorite baits, environments and quirks can be compiled, giving the angler an edge in fishing.
For example, knowing that sheepshead like to eat shellfish and crustaceans from rocks and pilings, we improve our odds if we fish near a jetty, using shrimp or small crabs.
Nothing is guaranteed, however, and triggers like tides, water temperature, weather and the phase of the moon all may nudge that fish away from its default behavior.
One of the most massive triggers of all is the spawn.
Each fish species has its own spawning characteristics. Shad are saltwater fish, yet this time of year, they travel far up the St. Johns River to spawn.
Sheepshead will be moving in the opposite direction to spawn offshore in early spring.
Snook are almost solitary during the year, but in mid-summer, snook will congregate in large groups near inlets and beaches.
We can take too much advantage of a species' rigid spawning behavior and actually damage its survival. Snook are protected in Brevard County during the summer spawning months and must be released.
Nassau grouper spawn during late winter new moons in near-shore schools numbering in the tens of thousands of fish.
Commercial fishermen in the 1970s almost wiped out the stock in some regions, and Nassau grouper are now completely protected.
Knowing the spawning behavior of near-shore gamefish may help us understand why fish are grouping together, disappearing completely or otherwise behaving erratically.
Knowing the spawning behavior of their food, however, may help us catch more gamefish.
Mullet spawn offshore in late winter. Many are picked off by snook, cobia, flounder and big bull redfish as they travel through inlets and along the surf.
Starting a month or so later, the juveniles start to return. The first wave may be tiny fish - maybe an inch - but redfish, snook, and especially spotted sea trout eat them like popcorn. Using small mullet-like lures or strips of cut fish will match what the predators are expecting.
Blue crabs are found throughout the Indian River Lagoon system, even into freshwater rivers and springs.
Blue crabs prefer to spawn near inlets or beaches, as their hatchlings need a saline environment to grow. From late spring to early fall, blue crabs spawn and travel to inlets.
Bull redfish, cobia, snook, grouper and tarpon prey on these spawning crabs.
Blue crab baits, chunked or whole, will attract these fish.
Each succeeding cold front is warmer than the last, which is keeping the water temperatures on their upward climb. Near-shore cobia catches are improving if the water is clean. Fish for these by sight, using small fish or the larger bucktail jigs. Deeper water warms more slowly, and grouper can still be found in 60 to 80 feet of water.
The winds of last week muddied the water, but pompano have been found on all Brevard beaches. Use live or dead sandfleas or live shrimp. Whiting have been cooperative, and these will eat anything from squid to small chunks of fish. The Cocoa Beach Pier has seen small bonnethead catches when the water is murky.
Indian River anglers are reporting that the pufferfish have arrived. These annoying baitstealers will probably be a factor for the next month or two. The meat of their eastern cousins contain one of the most toxic poisons known. Local puffers were once thought to be safe, but cases of puffer toxin poisoning have risen in Brevard during the last few years. Handling them is safe (except for the sharp beak-like teeth!) but throw them back.
Speck catches are still good in freshwater. Small jigheads with soft plastic skirts work well. Speck have been caught right from shore along the St. Johns River at both parks off State Road 520. They don't mind biting during daylight, so fishing for them is great during lunch hour or after work on the drive home.
Peter Krause has fished all over the Florida ever since his childhood, when he pulled bream out of the Everglades canals. He has fished Brevard waters for more than 10 years. Peter can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pictures of great catches can also be sent to him at that address.