Bowfishing Season has Started and Great Sight Fishing Too!
WOW, it is hard to believe that March is already here and half over! I am excited, as January and February offered limited fishing, due to the ever changing weather conditions and some pretty lousy conditions. The days that were nice were terrific, so I don't want to say it was horrible, but there were a lot of windy days and clouds that hampered sight fishing. The wacky repeated warm ups and cool downs also made the fish a little weird. While March is giving us wind, and yet another cool down period right this moment, it does introduce us to the upcoming more stable weather patterns. It is also the beginning of the season of love for many of our water dwellers and animal friends alike. Bass are spawning, tilapia are bedding, turkeys are strutting their stuff, birds are calling out for their mate, and the sun is starting to warm up the waters. For outdoor lovers, this is all great news!
I will start this report with my favorite part of this time of year: BOWFISHING! Bowfishing season is here and it is really starting to heat up. The season starts in March, when the tilapia push up onto the shallow waters of the St John's River and began their bed preparation. These fish, which are not native to Florida but have adapted well and made themselves quite prolific, go up onto the shallows and begin excavating perfectly round, saucer-shaped dig outs in the sand. The beds are unmistakable, looking like bream beds, only about three times larger. Once the beds are made, the fish begin their courtship dances, looking for mates. While courting one another, the fish become almost electrified in the water. Their colors burst forth, change, and slowly flash for one another: blues, greens, whites, yellow, and golds can be seen like some old-fashion arcade sign under the water. Once a mate has been selected and the eggs deposited into the bed, the fish become very protective. While they may venture out for brief feeding periods, they do not leave the beds for long. They remain in the beds, along the bottom, blending in almost perfectly, protecting the eggs and even small fry from anyone looking for an easy meal. If danger threatens the bed, they rise from the bottom, often changing colors again, and doggedly chase danger away. This is where we pursue them with the bow. While the fish are available year round, this time of year is the most productive. We utilize their protective quality to target them on the beds. It requires stealth, patience, and the ability to understand the physics of water upon an arrow to be successful. Even the best of us miss shots, spook fish, or just plain old don't see them until they swim away. As difficult as it is, it is twice as much fun. First, just being on the St John's River is a spectacle of its own. "The River of Grass", as it is affectionately referred to, is a beautiful, wild place. There are hundreds of birds, wild hogs, deer, alligators, turtles, wild flowers and more that grab your attention and melt away the worries of the world. Second, quietly wading the flats, concentrating on locating a fish, just seems to put your mind at ease and help connect you to a world that many have forgotten. Then there is trying to actually hit the target. It takes some thought and practice. The hunter has to determine the distance, the depth of the water, the amount of refraction the water will have upon the arrow, and the precise angle of the fish. Then the shot has to be accurate, with all of the proper calculations, while hoping the fish doesn't move. Success results in some excellent table fare; failure results in watching the target move off and trying to find another (not that difficult to do). Yes, these wild tilapia are EXCELLENT table fare: fried, grilled, broiled, smoked, or however you want to try them. These are not farm-raised fish, full of God only knows what. These wild tilapia, like every other fish in the area, forage on natural food sources: insects, small aquatic crustaceans, worms, plants, and even small minnows. The meat is firm, white and flaky. Many of the Florida guides that have tried them, rank them in the top of their preferred eating list. In addition, this is an effective way to help control an invasive species, without having a single negative impact on the native species. If you love archery, hunting, and fishing, then you will love this!
Of course, there are plenty of other options for freshwater fishing enthusiasts, other than bowfishing. Bass fishing is going well now, and this last cold snap should help keep them on the beds for a little longer. This is a favorite time of mine to toss frogs near lily pads, grass mats, and bullrushes, and watch that awesome topwater strike. During bright, cloudless days, it can become necessary to switch over to a spinner bait or some type of soft plastic, but the bite still remains good and some big fish can be located by these fishing methods. Want something for the dinner table? Well, crappie and bream fishing has been good and will get even better during the next couple of months. Targeted on ultralight spinning gear, these fish are a blast to catch and offer up quite a tasty dinner. While we fish for these species with small jigs, we can also toss over a spinning rod with some shrimp and catch a few catfish to add to the plate. This is a great way to relax for a few hours, teach a kid to fish, or just enjoy everything that natural Florida has to offer.
Then there is the saltwater side of the fishing world. It seems like whenever the St John's River really starts going off, the saltwater realm
doesn't want to be forgotten and tries its best to make selecting the best trip hard. All of my recent trips in the Mosquito Lagoon estuary system have been great. Whether we were chasing them with fly rods or spinning gear, the fish have been happy, cooperative, and there have been plenty of them. The difficulty can come with the wind. March is typically windy and this year has not been an exception. Recent trips have been fished in winds from 10-25 MPH. The good news: I don't care. See, unlike some others, I do not fret about the wind, unless it gets above these types. Why? Well, there are a couple of reasons. One, I know the area and know where I can go to at least find a lee shoreline for visibility. Two, my boat is designed to go where others can't, so I can push into small creeks and bays, where redfish and seatrout like to hang out and eat, without issue. Third, I know how to operate the boat safely, making for a fairly comfortable ride no matter the conditions; sure, we may get a little salt spray, but we won't get drenched and your back won't get beat to death during the run. Lastly, the fish don't care if it is windy, so why should we? To be successful in wind, you must be willing to work hard. This means poling the boat into the wind if needed, or knowing how to slow down a boat drifting with the wind; both of these can be difficult, but that is where experience and dedication come into play. On a recent fly trip, we were faced with 15-25 MPH winds; the forecast was 5-10. It could have made for a disastrous day. Instead, I pushed into areas others couldn't reach or were not willing to work to get to. The result was six hours of non-stop shots at fish. Nope, I never came off the poling platform for those six hours, except to grab some water. My clients had plenty of shots at fish that were tailing, cruising shorelines, or cruising over the grasses. Yes, the wind caused some casting difficulty, but we overcame that and had a great day, releasing several redfish. Our only issue we had that day was not being able to see some huge seatrout that were laid up, due to the chop on the water's surface. The same type of conditions, with just a little less wind, were prevalent again earlier this week. Once again though, determination and experience prevailed, this time with spinning rods and soft plastics. Redfish, seatrout and snook were all eager to eat, despite many other anglers saying they couldn't locate a single fish. It was all about working hard enough to get into the areas others couldn't or wouldn't try to get to. The water conditions are looking promising, with good visibility, new grass, and plenty of bait to attract fish. I only expect conditions to improve as we enter April, with increasingly good weather, lighter winds, and even happier fish.
Yes, it can be difficult to decide what trip you want to take. So heck, why not book a couple of days and try them all? If it helps, I am always available to answer questions and I do so honestly; if fishing is off in one area or the other, I will tell you. Come enjoy spring in Florida and see what Natural Florida is all about! I promise you will not find a fishing charter captain (fishing guide) that will work harder to make sure you have a great, successful day!