Today, the chief trend in salt-water fishing is toward the use of lighter tackle. Although the time-honored heavy outfits still have a place, great numbers of salt-water anglers are finding that they have more fun - and catch as many fish - with outfits no heavier and little different from those used in fresh water.
Actually, most fresh-water gear can be used for light-tackle salt-water fishing. On light tackle, many small- to medium-size inshore game fish, such as striped bass, bluefish, sea bass, shad, yellowtail, mackerel, and croakers, provide thrills rivaling those of the big-game species. While you can use still lighter conventional tackle, the term "light tackle" generally means the use of bait-casting, fly, push-button, or spinning tackle.
Part of the fun of light-tackle fishing is the element of surprise; in salt water nearly anything can happen. You may be fishing for weakfish, expecting fish of around a pound or two, and a 25-pound channel bass may decide to take your bait. Snook of around 5 to 10 pounds are great sport on light tackle, and it takes all the skill you possess to handle them; but when a tarpon of 60 to 70 pounds decides it likes the same lure - brother, you've got thrills, and plenty of them.
The first type of light tackle used in salt water was the bait-casting outfit; it is still very popular today, and with good reason. Of all light tackle, bait-casting gear is best able to cope with large game fish; the short rod (about 5 feet, 2 inches in length) and relatively heavy lines are suitable weapons for big fish.
This form of salt-water fishing may be done from rowboats, from the shores of inlets, bays, and lagoons, and from bridges and piers. Wherever fish congregate along the inshore waterways - and there are thousands of these spots dotting the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific and Atlantic coasts - plugs, spinners, spoons, or bait hurled out by the fresh-water (or special salt-water) casting rod will bring a sizable catch.
The procedure for awakening a drowsy fish in salt water is the same as that used for bass in fresh water. You pick a likely target, cast, and start your retrieve slowly, just in case a wide-awake fish happens to be there. Play the lure very slowly, let it sit quietly for half a minute, then give it a slight twitch by lifting the rod tip.
After about six hitless casts, start increasing the speed of the retrieve. Sometimes you will get a strike on the fifteenth cast and sometimes it takes forty. But if the fish is there, you'll almost certainly get action eventually.
Plugs of various designs, spoons, spinners, metal squids, and feathered jigs are all good underwater lures. But I don't want to leave the impression that top-water artificials should be ignored. Surface plugs such as darters, injured minnows, and plunkers are sometimes more valuable in salt water than the underwater types.
Most salt-water species seem to prefer a straight, darting action rather than the wiggles and wobbles to which many fresh-water fish respond. Be that as it may, remember that salt-water fish are very unpredictable and are apt to take almost any cast-and-retrieved artificial lure - that is, when they're in the mood.
Casting techniques, whether employed in fresh or salt water, are the same. But since the way of playing a lure varies somewhat according to the species of the fish, only experience will teach you which retrieve to use for which salt-water fish at which time - and even then you can often count on coming a cropper.
If you are after bottom live-bait feeders such as sea bass, tautog, tomcod, porgies, halibut, cabezon, sheepshead, corbina, bocaccio, pompano, and kingfish, you will need the right terminal tackle, the proper live or cut bait, and the right weight to get down where the fish live. One general rule to follow is that the bottom-feeding fish that live mainly on shellfish will not take artificial lures very readily.
With time and experience you will have great success in this type of fishing. Good luck!
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