When fishing the reefs and ledges here in Southwest Florida, and about anywhere there are structures that hold bottom fish, it’s nice to have several options for presenting live and cutbaits, especially when artificial's aren't producing. The more fishing pressure an area gets, the more enticing the offerings need to be.
There are lots of migratory fish that move seasonally from area to area depending on water temperature, spawning behavior, and forage availability. This can be particularly important on the shallow Gulf waters and nearshore reefs. Shallow waters like those of the Gulf on the Southwest Florida coast are more critically affected by normal seasonal weather changes, winter fronts, and atypical anomalies like global El Niño’s and tropical storms.
Generally a simple number of bottom or digger rigs, as we call them, come in three or four configurations. The simplest of these are the bait-tipped leadhead jigs. Simple in construction, yet they do come in a myriad of sizes, weights, colors, and perhaps the most critical variant is hook size and style.
Recently circle hook-style jigheads have become very popular, and in some regions for some species a legal requirement. The circle hook or “tuna circle” hook has come into favor for its safe hookups and easy release factor. The circle hook, by design, generally hooks the fish in the jaw region and helps avoid gouging the injured fish that are to be released. Furthermore, the circle hook design permits a dropback style of fishing with sure hookups; a vigorous hook set is not necessary, or even detrimental. This is especially important where deep drop presentations inherently have tide and current driven issues.
Let’s say that the circle hook may be the best choice for the other drop fishing rigs as well, although there are always valid personal opinions. Whatever holds your bait!
A popular weight-to-bait arrangement here in Florida is the sliding egg sinker rig. Not bad, but it requires very careful metering of the rate of descent, lest your free-falling baited hook tangle on the mainline. This arrangement offers a presentation when longer casting is desirable and one needs to pitch the bait to schooling or sounding fish a way off your mark.
On the simple bell sinker rig, the weight is attached at the “tag” end of the search leader and is perhaps the most universal bottom rig. It’s very effective for straight down drop fishing, but one needs to be careful monitoring the line as it peels off the reel. Care should be taken in slowing the sinker and bait descent. With this setup a three-way swivel comes in very handy in reducing the baited search leader from twisting around the mainline. This style of presentation also keeps the bait slightly off the bottom and can be modified to lengthen the distances between the bait and sinker. The three-way also allows livebaits to swim freely around the mainline and make for a more enticing offering.
These are just a few thoughts, from my Cobia, Grouper, and Snapper fishing buddies who are very often “in the now”.