Trolleys posted on the end of the pier at Sharky's, are an indication of the onslaught to come in weeks, if not days ahead, of the annual Fall migration of Scomberomorous cavalla, the Kingfish (also known as King Mackerel). This biannual migration of the Kings occurs first in the springtime and then again in the fall before water temperatures become too cold for their comfort. Trolley rigs account for most of the Kings caught from on the boards of the pier. Stretching out more than seven hundred feet from the shoreline is the Venice City Pier, also known as “Sharky's on the Pier.” The pier is an excellent place to catch mackerels, sharks, Reds, Trout, Snook, Tarpon and just about anything that swims in the Gulf of Mexico.
The reason so many fish are found near the pier and large sharks, to fourteen feet, along with monster King Mackerels up to fifty plus pounds is that the pier falls just short of a geological feature on the bottom, which causes a metalimnion to occur. A metalimnion represent a rapid decrease in temperature with depth; also called a thermo cline. Sharks performed a regular duel migration, spending the day below the thermo cline and rising towards the surface at night, as this is an adjustment to their internal body temperatures with the top of the water column being warmer than the bottom. This thermo cline acts as an air conditioner does to us; hence many sharks too are caught off the pier to which it is named. This small to medium drop-off or subtle cliff, follows the coastline for miles from offshore in to a point by the pier and extending itself northward to the reaches of Tampa Bay. As little as a two foot difference in depth to six feet or more turns this thermo cline into a flowing current or highway to which fish follow. During the spring and now that it is Fall, the biggest of the mackerels, the kingfish, will start their southern migration back to the tropics following the kings highway, as anglers wait in anticipation of catching a trollied King, over the subsurface terrain!
Besides this thermo cline being a virtual highway to fish of all kinds, it is an invitation for sharks in dining out on the passing menu choices. This thermo cline, occurs because of a number of outcrops along its route, coupled with a few freshwater geothermal springs and the remains of a ancient fossilized coral reef just to the south of the pier, to which I named “The Bone Yard.” Between shifting sands from the currents, erosion, and beach re-nourishment programs, the Bone Yard has entire fossilized mammoth tusks secured to the bottom along with other artifacts, bones and teeth from days long gone by. Just to the north of the pier lies the Venice reef. Created in August of 1980, it has been used as a dumping grounds for concrete rubble, bridge materials, culverts, re-bar and the remains of the old Venice Pier. Plot numbers, 2706.296, 8228.91, it is a real treat in fishing for more sharks, shallow water grouper, cruising barracuda and Ling (Cobia). Not to mention all the bait stealer's including nice snapper to convict fish, the Sheepshead, making the Venice Pier at Sharky's a focal point right in the middle of a fishing phenomena.
There is a 300 foot limit to which you must adhere to this rule. There is no motoring, drifting, fishing, mooring or trolling within 300 feet of the end or sides of the pier. Refusal to obey this City of Venice Ordinance can result in being boarded by the FWC, Sarasota Sheriffs Dept., or the Venice Police patrol boats. Citations can be offered if you do not heed the blue and white warning signs on the outsides of the pier or if the authorities are not around or slow in arrival, an eight ounce anchor weight, cast from twenty feet up on a twelve foot surf rod with say a Penn 4/0 and twenty pound test line might just become part of your vessel. Angered anglers in trying to catch a King Mackerel with a trolley, do not like their space invaded or trespassed. It is just as easy to stay away and FYI that thermo cline is not close enough to the pier to cast to, so stay further out and catch the fish that the pier angler can only wish.
Trollies need anchors to work. Think of a trolley as a planer board. The pier is twenty feet off the water. Generally, a long rod or surf-rod with a small conventional reel like a Jig-Master up to a 4/0 or large spinner spooled with a light line and a anchor weight attached is cast as high and far as possible. Anchors are usually home-made from eight ounce weights with wire applied around them and bent upwards, looking like a small rope gaff, boat anchor or grappling hook. The best I have seen were made by a gentleman known as “Frenchy”, who cut re-bar into five inch long pieces and wrapped stainless steel wire, like found in a coat hanger, around it with the use of electrical tape, in forming five or six, nine inch hooks pointed out. After this anchor is cast, one tries to “Anchor it” to the bottom as securely as possible. The rod is then secured into a pipe that is tied to the side of the pier. A second rod is rigged with a Kingfish rig and attached to the secured line, the anchor line, by way of a quick release, baited and free spooled out to where the anchor line meets the water. The second rod is either leaned to the side of the trolley or placed in a rod holder, put into gear and the drag is adjusted to almost a free spool with the clicker on.
The Live Baits!
Baits are generally by preference and live baits are best. Also, different baits can be used to entice certain fish to bite, rather than others. Sometimes, the bait does not wish to participate with the angling event at hand and you are stuck with what ever you catch, even though you are targeting a particular species. Pinfish are always around the pier pillions. Pinfish are excellent in catching Tarpon off a trolley. Kingfish are the principal in mind but if all you catch for bait are Pins, that is what one uses. Kings will take Pinfish too but there are better baits in the pot, if you can just catch them. Ladyfish catch Tarpons but big Ladies will bring in a curious King as it splashes to skips across the water. A legal mackerel, twelve inches at the fork, is an excellent intimidating a big king. Mackerels are carnivorous, as they will eat each other if possible and smaller than them. Cigar minnows as live finger mullets can be deadly in producing many a bite but the best “Cotton-Candy” bait in catching King Mackerel along the Kings Highway is the Blue runner and the bigger, the better. Once kingfish season, the full migration is in swing, is hot, the best choice bait is a live Blue Fish. Again, the bigger the Blue, the bigger the King. With the trolleys are in place, anglers go about the ritual of catching the trolley baits. Trolley baits are caught with regular spinning rods throwing spoons, jigs, straws or Sabik’s and will consist of legal Bluefish or Spanish, Blue runners, Ladyfish and large Thread Herring to Cigar minnows. Placing the bait hook just under the dorsal fin of the bait fishes and either allowing the stinger to swing free or hooked just under the anal fin, the bait is ready for presentation to its prey. Free spooling out the baits, on twenty to thirty pound test line, with stand up gear, the bait rods reel positioned next to or on the railing with a Down-East rod holder in gear, clicker on, with a light set on the drag, the wait is on.
Dead baits are possible when the bait bite is off but only with certain types of fish. The dead bait must be butterflied but not cut away from the head, only the tail. The perfect bait in enticing a bite is a legal mackerel. As the currents or wind moves the anchor line back to fro, the wings of the butterfly ripple along side the bones or backbone, giving the interpretation of a live injured fish in rest. Now wait for the bait in a bite. Sometimes on dead bait you get great surprises, so you never know what might hit. Like Steve Perry, throwing a spoon while passing the time and out it went and in it came; Cobia and all!
Now that the wind is starting to blow out of the north by northwest, stiffly at times and the water temperature starts its dip down towards the seventies, the biannual run of migrating King Mackerels begins. All along west coast of Florida beaches, westerly winds bring in the bait and right on, their heels are Kings, big kings averaging between twenty to thirty pounds right up on the beaches. Venice municipal pier, Venice, Florida extends right into the migratory highway of these streaking giants of the deep. Trolleys across the “T” represent the beginning to the end of summer with unrestrained bouts in battles of but a few short weeks to capture the biggest king of the year. It is fun to follies as each hook-up represents a choreographed moment, in as anglers each move to intertwine their lines in freeing the fish in its flight to freedom. Last Sunday as the water plummeted into the lower eighties, pods of bait danced the shoreline to dipping birds and also in a flight was that of the castnets, casting their nets or dipped the Sabik’s in frenzy of a fill for the down buckets.
Anchors set to the tune of the trolleys in an erratic line across the rails, as each baited their favorites and released them down the lines. Hurry up and wait mode over took the minutes to hours ahead as we each awaited a wind from the west. A slack wind meant a changing of the baits in a wetting fashion of the changing of the guard as each expired to become a chum delight or an offering for later in the night. As the prevailing wind of the west increased to a stiff blow and the swell increased to a white water chap, “FISH ON!” as all scampered to see who was on deck. A 4/0 screamed in agony as all but a few yards to the spool before a head was turned. In a matter of moments, over four-hundred yards of thirty-pound Diamond stretched to the horizon. As the battle ensued, two more hook-ups took place creating a choreographed moment as each angler moved about shouting his direction on the deck to the battle hymens of the King with a weaving of lines as each fish took its own path. At the same time Spanish were caught as fast as a line hit the water, most in the twenty-four inch range, mixed with monster twenty-pound Jacks and Blues to Ladies bring up the rear. The birds, skimmers, eagle gulls, sea gulls and pelicans shot like missiles honing in on the targets below in frenzy while tipping lines on the dive, a three-ring circus of dazzling feats to fish. To my own amazing disbelief, while casting a light spinning outfit equipped with but a six-foot Sabik a fifteen pound Bonita (tiny tuna) slammed the top feather and made a dash to the horizon. I maneuvered around those who were hooked up to the kings, knowing all the while, this was not to, as I had on no wire with 12 pound Cajun line. Eighteen minutes later, my gaffed Bonita was on the deck at my feet. A great catch and one, which will be chunked this winter, when baits are scarce and the Bull bite is on. When the bite occurs, the King moving at lightning speeds will dump a couple of hundred yards of line off the reel in seconds. The clicker screams and the fight is on as more fish move down the Kings Highway!