planning your fishing trip

The following article was published in the December issue of the Villager Newspaper.

Planning your Fishing Trip

Gary Rankel, The PackerYaker    

Finally, the answer to the age-old question: Why do 10% of the anglers catch 90% of the fish?   Because, of course, and bear with me here: 90% of the time, they target the 10% percent of water that 90% of the fish are in, instead of the 90% of water containing 10% of the fish you’ll be targeting 90% of the time if you don’t plan ahead.    As they say: Location, Location, Location.   Our cadre of fishing guides who are on the water most every day tracking the movements and whereabouts of target species, seem to put their clients in the 10% zone 90% of the time.  Those of us not fortunate enough to make their living fishing would be well served remembering the Rule of the P’s:  Proper Planning & Preparation Promotes Positive Performance & Production.  Implementing this rule will greatly increase your odds of returning home and treating your family to fresh fish dinners instead of leftover hamburger.  

Finding that productive 10% of water is best done the day before your outing, not after you’ve launched.  If you don’t know why you’re going to where you’re going, you’ll most likely end up where you don’t want to be: in the 90% zone.   The most valuable tools in finding that 10% of water are the satellite images provided on Google Earth Pro (download required) and the Google (, Bing (, Mapquest ( and U.S. Geological Survey Earthexplorer ( websites.  Google Earth Pro is especially valuable because of its tools for measuring distances and for viewing multiple historical images of target areas.  Google maps provide a Street View (or coastline / water view) tool allowing you to view an area as if you are standing adjacent to it.        These websites allow anglers to locate submerged sea grass beds, oyster bars, points, passes, potholes, troughs and other structure where fish tend to hang out.  Dark and light color shades on these maps can be used to differentiate between shallow and deeper water, and identify drop offs and even currents.  There is a learning curve associated with using these websites, but clicking on them and exploring what they have to offer is time well spent.   

The most important thing you can do the day before your trip is to click on these sites, zoom in on the area you intend to fish, identify points of likely fish holding structure and plot a course or route for targeting as many as possible.  Following this plan is especially critical for us kayak anglers who can’t motor long distances between potential “hotspots”. 

Once on the water, as you head to your target sites, continually survey the surroundings and learn to read the water, being especially watchful for the three B’s (birds, bait and boils) indicating the presence of predators.  Don’t hesitate to deviate from your planned route to investigate. 

Satellite imagery is especially valuable for observing structure in our shallow inshore environs, but it can also be used to identify depth changes and other fishy features on our deeper inland lakes.

After settling on an area and sites to target on your next outing, you’ll want to check out the best fishing tides and times for that location, as well as the wind and weather.  My go to sites are, and    

As they also say: Timing is Everything.      

Good luck to y’all.         
Peaceful Paddles, Tight Lines and Happy Landings
Nature Coast Kayak Fishers  (

Keeping it simple

The following article was published in the November issue of the Villager Newspaper.

  KEEPING IT SIMPLE   Gary Rankel, The PackerYaker     As a boy, my father often told me to KISS (Keep it Simple Son), occasionally substituting the last word in the phrase with “Stupid”.  Mom, after venturing into my bedroom, often remarked: A Place for Everything and Everything in its Place.  When it comes to fishing from plastic vessels, both hold true.   All I need to load onto my kayak before launching besides a paddle and three rigged and ready outfits are a fish grips to hold hooked fish, a needle nose pliers to remove the imbedded hooks, a scissors to cut line, a small plastic box holding a few spare lures, a first aide kit, bottled water, bug and sun protection sprays and a small vhf radio.    That’s it.   

Dressing for success on the water necessitates wearing a wide brim hat to protect my eyes from the sun, and polarized sunglasses underneath the brim to facilitate spotting fish in the shallows.  My fishing license and a few bills fit in a waterproof baggie inside my moisture wicking, bug repelling shirt pocket.  A headlamp comes in handy when launching in the dark,.  My life vest and whistle (the only items legally required to be on board), rod holders, a compass and an anchor are permanently mounted and secured on board, so I never need to worry about loading and unloading them.     

Catch – release fishing works for me, but if you’re part of the catch, cook and consume crowd, you’ll want a net to improve the odds of getting fish on board, a measuring device and a cooler to store them.  Anglers using live bait will need appropriate containers for keeping them fresh and frisky.   I have no need for the other accessories that many anglers take with them including those fancy electronic gadgets and gizmos.  My fish finders are located on either side of my nose.  My depth finder: it’s called a paddle   Having loaded items in their designated containers and placed them inside my yak the night before, I’m able to lift it onto my pickup and take off a few minutes after getting out of bed while still stumbling around half asleep, knowing that everything I’ll need will be with me when I arrive at the launch site.  If you have a more traditional sit-on-top kayak that can’t conveniently accommodate your items during transport, just place them inside your vehicle or next to your kayak the evening before to facilitate loading.  Secure on or in your yak all items that can stay on board permanently.   

Develop a routine for storing, loading and transporting all gear and accessories the same way each time, so knowing the whereabouts of each item becomes second nature.  Keep your fish grips and pliers within easy reach; you don’t want to be searching for them while a trophy redfish or snook is thrashing around alongside.    

BTW, if you haven’t heard, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has proposed regulation changes for spotted seatrout in our area reducing the daily limit from five to four, and the slot size range from 15–20 to 15–19 inches, while allowing one fish over 19 inches to be taken.  While not privy to the data that went into the FWC proposal, I had hoped for a more resource friendly recommendation.  As in the case of scallops locally, red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, Pacific salmon in the Northwest and other fisheries, the long term interests of resources are too often given short shrift in favor of more user friendly regulations that are less disruptive to local economies over the short term.   There is as much edible meat on two 18 – 19 inch trout as on four 15 inchers, so I’d like to see a daily catch limit of two ranging in size from perhaps 17 – 20 inches.  Such a regulation would allow for many more trout to mature and spawn, thereby expediting the restoration of the stock to maximum sustainable harvest levels.         Public comments on this rulemaking can be provided at  

  Peaceful Paddles, Tight Lines and Happy Landings
Nature Coast Kayak Fishers  (

Fall Fishing forecast

The following article was published in the October issue of the Villager Newspaper.

Fall Inshore Fishing Forecast

Gary Rankel, The PackerYaker

The recent drop in water temperature has turned on the bite.  The next three months should be some of the best fishing of the year, so get out there.

Most notably, the snook bite has been on fire.  Since retiring here in 2005, I haven’t had one five-snook day until this year; I’ve now had seven to date.  Many have been juveniles in the 10-15 inch range, but there’s been quite a few big mama’s mixed in.  Reproduction in our area is obviously occurring, and the population is really taking off.

Snook are super cold water sensitive, as evidenced by the massive die-off in the harsh winter of 2010 when I observed scores of them floating belly up in the mangroves.  Perhaps because of climate change, this more tropical species has extended its range northward, and, unlike the recent past, are now commonly caught off Citrus County and all the way up to Cedar Key.  Next to tarpon, it’s the most fun fish to catch in our inshore area.

Snook are ambush predators and seek resting areas adjacent to moving water where they wait to pounce on tasty morsels passing by.  So, if you decide to target these fish, you’ll want to focus on the 3 P’s (passes, points and potholes) where they typically congregate.  You’ll also want to be on the lookout for the 3 B’s (birds, bait and boils) which frequently give away their secret hiding locations.  It doesn’t generally matter whether the tide is incoming or outgoing, just so there’s a current.  I’ve had my best luck sneaking up on them in my kayak just after first light.   

While regulations allow you to keep one slot size (28 –33 inches) snook a day during permissible months, my wish is for all snook caught to be released, as is the case with tarpon.  They simply are too valuable a sport fish to keep.  Seatrout, redfish and other species are better choices for the catch and cook crowd.

Peaceful Paddles, Tight Lines and Happy Landings
Kayak Fishing – Nature Coast (

Yak fishing for seniors

The following article of was published in the September issue of The Villager Newspaper.


Like most aging anglers I’ve encountered since relocating to central Florida’s booming retirement area, I fished my entire life from skiffs and larger boats propelled by fossil fuels.  Now in my 70’s and receiving a pension, I’ve transitioned to a small plastic vessel and paddle power to reach my target species, and have spent the last 14 years trying to perfect my latest addiction.  Lately, I’ve observed increasing numbers of seniors doing the same, apparently opting for something a bit more adventurous than scooting after those little white balls in their electric carts. 

My wife and I seem to have moved to the retirement capital of the world.  According to, 40 of the top rated 100 active adult communities in the country are located in Florida, including 26 in the central part of the state within an hour or two drive of the Nature Coast.  Paddling groups are sprouting up all over; I commonly run into folks from The Villages, Top of the World and other nearby retirement communities launching their kayaks in our scenic lakes, rivers and inshore area.  Rarely a week goes by when I don’t hear from some new retiree to our area who happened to stumble across my Nature Coast Kayak Fishers website ( inquiring about taking up this sport.     

Lots of golden agers travel here to swim with manatees in the winter, participate in the Nature Coast’s underwater version of an Easter egg hunt for scallops in the summer, and book trips year around out of Crystal River and Homosassa targeting our renowned tarpon, shallow water grouper and other fisheries.  Many have begun transporting their yaks with them, and are extending their stays to explore our inshore area and rivers that haven’t been impacted by the red tide and guacamole-like summer slime events that have affected other parts of the state.  Most are recreational paddlers and eco-tourists looking for a nature oriented experience, but growing numbers are bringing fishing gear along.     

Florida Sport Fishing Magazine, the largest fishing magazine in the state, is publishing a series of my articles

focusing on senior citizens taking up the fast growing sport of kayak fishing in Citrus County. 

The first article, choosing a codger-friendly kayak, appears in the just released September / October issue.  Tips and techniques for fishing from plastic vessels will be included in subsequent issues.

Members of the flourishing geriatric set thinking about spending more of their senior moments on the water may want to check them out.

Gary Rankel

Beware of the Bug

August 4, 2019. The following letter to the editor was published in the Citrus County Chronicle on this date.

A funny thing happened on my last kayak fishing trip in Ozello.  While trying to unhook a rambunctious ladyfish, it managed to sink two treble hooks into the palm of my hand.  

Similar past occurrences resulted in trips to the emergency room where attendant nurses managed to remove the piercing pieces of metal from numbed appendages, trying not to smile too broadly in the process.  This time, having bent down the barbs, I managed to extricate the hooks without further assistance.  

As I resumed my paddling / casting routine, I couldn’t help but think about recent articles I’ve read recounting how some folks contracted the flesh eating bacteria, necrotizing fasciitis, after cutting or scraping themselves on the water.  Some died and some survived following long stays in the ICU.

I understand this bug thrives in warm water, and the water I was fishing in felt like that in my wife’s bathtub.  It also flourishes in nutrient rich water, the kind resulting from recent blue-green algae outbreaks not far from us.   I wondered how much of the nutrient rich water has made its way to Ozello, and how much of the decaying organic matter, a result of the massive die-offs from last year’s red tide outbreak, has found its way up here to feed and stimulate growth of the NF population.   

It occurred to me that our warming climate will exacerbate such occurrences in the future.   They say the best way to avoid becoming infected by NF is to wash your hands frequently, but that’s kind of hard to do when you’re paddling around in a yak occasionally unhooking fish.   

I washed thoroughly when I returned home, and, so far, haven’t noticed any swelling, blisters or weird colored skin.   

From now on, I’ll be more careful unhooking fish.  No more wading around oyster bars.  I’ve also added a container of anti-bacterial wipes to my first aide kit.   

Kayak, Fishing, Nature Coast, Club, Florida