Fishing Report and Great News
Blog reports have been a little slower than I want, but I also want to create a blog that is informative, entertaining, and has some photos or videos to go with it. Recently, the photos have been the issue. It seems that I have been snake bit while trying to get photos and video. While we've been catching a good number of fish, while trying to handle them safely and properly, a lot of them have managed to throw hooks at boat side, slip out the grip of customers, or there was a greater need to return them quickly for a proper release than taking the time to take a picture. That's just the way it goes at times and I will never apologize for insuring a proper release over a photo.
Before I get into the actual fishing report, there are a couple of great news pieces to report on. First, after an extremely long battle, redfish in the Mosquito Lagoon estuary system are finally catch and release only! We started this battle a long
time ago, after witnessing a severe decline in the fish numbers, along with added fishing pressure from around the world. Those of us that have been in the area for a long time can remember the schools of hundreds of fish that were prowling the flats throughout the Mosquito Lagoon Estuary. These schools roamed the shallows like a gang and were quite happy to give anglers some of the best days ever observed on the water. We thought it would last forever, but we were wrong. Water quality, fishing pressure and a new craze of people wanting to stock pile their freezers, their neighbor's freezers, and the pressure placed upon the only inshore breeding redfish soon caused the numbers to plummet. Despite our best efforts to educate people and push catch and release, the numbers continued a downward spiral. In days past, catching 15-20 redfish in a day was common. Now, it almost unheard of. When Covid struck, it only made things worse, as fishing pressure continued to increase. Finally, with a new board, a new Governor, and more pressure, the State of Florida listened and redfish in the area are catch and release only! With proper enforcement, this will allow our redfish numbers to increase and hopefully in a time, we can return t our glory days in the Mosquito Lagoon Estuary. For those that are interested, this area goes from the South Causeway in New Smyrna Beach (SR44) to Fort Pierce. It is an extensive amount of the East Coast of Florida and one of the most important estuaries in the world.
The second piece of good news may be the best yet! After nearly a decade of grass loss within the Mosquito Lagoon Estuary, we are finally starting to see our sea grasses return! 2011-2012 was devastating to our seagrasses, with massive losses taking place throughout the estuary. Estimates put our grass loss at around 90%; however, in a lot of areas it was 100%. These seagrasses are the place where all of the magic for our estuary takes place; baitfish congregate in them, crabs and shrimp reproduce in them, juvenile predators use them for protection, the seagrasses stabilize the bottom and keep the water clean, and they provide massive amounts of oxygen to the water system. Governor DeSantis made a promise to Floridians to do everything he could to help the waterways throughout the state, including the Mosquito Lagoon Estuary; many of the problems associated with grass loss were man made (runoff, chemical spraying, wastewater management, etc.). Well, he is a man of his word and allocated billions to correct the issue, told the state to stop spraying herbicides (go back to mechanical harvesting despite the added cost), increased fine amounts for cities that dump wastewater into the waterways, and gave grants to eliminate old, faulty wastewater management systems. No matter what you think about any of the other issues, Governor DeSantis was the first governor to actually listen to us and do what he promised (all others said they would, but never committed to solving the issue before it got out of hand). FWC is happy to tell you how much DeSantis has done for people of Florida when it comes to these outdoor issues and ways of life. So now, we are seeing the return of seagrasses! In fact, we are seeing entire flats start to be covered with lush, healthy Widgeon Grass, which was our primary seagrass in the area and is a sign of a healthy ecosystem. The next year will be critical and it is not a time to take our foot off the accelerator and celebrate, but it is a time to remain to cautiously optimistic and keep going forward! The fish will take a little time to acclimate back to the seagrasses in large numbers, but the bait is already returning and it won't be long for the predators to follow.
Just writing about those two pieces of good news has me pumped up and I haven't even gotten to the fishing part yet! To simply put it, yes, fishing has been good too! Redfish, snook, seatrout, black drum, and tarpon have all been caught in the last month and this should continue for the remainder of September and into at least early October. How long after that will depend on the weather and when our first cold front decides to pay us a visit. Most people down here are ready for one, as out temperatures and humidity have been brutal. Temperatures have been keeping fishing to either a half day or going out on night trips. I've been watching the water temperatures closely and by noon they are typically hitting 90 degrees on the flats and the fish are done. That's okay, as the bow of the boat is almost 100 degrees by then and most anglers are done too. So, a half to 3/4 day is perfect right now.
Redfish have been found throughout the area, with low tide being the best time to find them and get them to eat. Shorelines, mangrove roots, oyster bars, and seagrasses have been my go to areas. While the fish are still reacclimating to the return of seagrasses, I am seeing good numbers of pinfish in the grass and redfish love to eat them. My best day on the fly rod came over seagrasses two weeks ago. We took 6 redfish on fly, while missing 4 more that ate; not too shabby for 4 hours on the water. All of the fish crushed a pinfish fly. When I find them along the mangrove roots or oyster bars, shrimp and crab patterns are my go to fly. Typically you'll see shrimp jumping across the water's surface if the fish are chasing them, making selection choice easy.
Our snook population is best it has ever been. September means they are done spawning, for the most part, and they are returning to the backwater haunts. In addition, season is open and snook are wonderful on the table if you can get one in the slot limit. To be successful as fishing snook, you cannot be scared when making casts; this is typically why kids are better than adults at getting things to snook, they have no fear. The snook are hanging under the mangrove limbs or under docks and generally they won't come out of cover to eat. We can get lucky, like we did the other day, and find one laid up in a shadow line, offering an easy shot. We happened to be rewarded with the client's first snook, which was around 36"; being snake bit, as I lipped her at the boat, she shook her head one more time and spit the hook, swimming off with a middle fin pointed at me. Anglers wanting to target these fish need to be prepared to skip baits and flies under cover. It takes practice, but the rewards are well worth it. In the shadows are where the monsters live and hesitation is not tolerated by them. The cast can be the easy part, because when those big girls eat, getting them out can be next to impossible. No finesse here, just pull and try to get them out. The good news is, they aren't known for their endurance, so if you can win the initial battle, you stand a good chance.
There are still plenty of tarpon in the area. Of course, they are tarpon, so whether or not they want to play is always the question. We've had mornings where we have had several eat and we've had mornings where we have been surrounded and can't get a single eat. I hate to say it, but that is tarpon fishing. Why do we do it if it so unreliable? Just the sight of these fish is exciting, watching them roll, gulp air, and show their glistening silver sides to you. Then, on those occasions when you do get one to eat, the excitement is unparalleled. Watching a fish that may way well over 100 pounds launch itself into the air, with scales glistening, water drops flying through air, gills rattling, and seeing that fish contort itself into unbelievable shapes, makes it worth every bit of effort. A recent client, after spending an hour trying to get one to eat, put it best; while I may not have gotten one to eat, just seeing them has ignited a passion that will keep me coming back. Fly fishing and conventional gear have been about equal on the fish, so either method can be used. I did find a new lure for conventional anglers, from Z-Man Fishing Products, that elicits some amazing strikes. I'll let the cat out of the bag after this season.
Not to be outdone, black drum and seatrout are still around. In fact, the black drum have been showing up in some larger schools and their populations have been expanding into areas we used to rarely find them. Black Drum, while in the same family as Redfish, are nothing like their cousins. Personally, I think they are harder to catch on artificial baits and fly, as they tend to be lazy. The Z-Man Scented Shrimp-Z have been fairly successful for my conventional anglers. As far as flies go, it depends on where they are hanging in the water column. Yesterday, I went through half a dozen flies before I finally found a shrimp pattern (Micro Gamechanger Shrimp) that got their attention, stayed at the right water level, and could entice a strike. This can be maddening when you are pulling a fly through 50 fish and can't get one to eat. Seatrout have been a little more cooperative. Drop-offs along shorelines have provided plenty of slot-size trout action, while sight fishing the big girls has been a little tough. The big girls seem to be making us from 100 feet out or more, and just refuse our offerings. With the seagrasses returning, we should start locating them there, which gives us a little cover from their view and should make fishing them better.
A little side note for this report too. I've been fly fishing for 35 years now and I got to add a new species to my list yesterday. While hunting snook and redfish along a shoreline, I saw a shadow next to a mangrove stump. I couldn't tell what it was, but decided to drop the fly by it. The fish inhaled the crab as it came by and after a brief little tugging fight, I
landed my first Goliath Grouper on fly. He wasn't big, but it is a new species for me. Here's the funny part. This fish was caught in the same area I spotted and hooked one last year that was close to 70 pounds. I was ill prepared for the fish as I found it while hunting redfish too. I hooked it on a 7 weight and fought it while it lumbered out from the shoreline to about 3 feet of water; I don't think it even knew it was hooked at the time. When I got near, I tried to lift it and broke it off. So, I got it's little brother. Another fly angler caught one too, in a different area, while hunting snook and tarpon; his was a bit bigger, but it does show they are now pushing into the mangroves, like they do in South Florida. Just goes to prove that you never know what you'll come across out here. Just prior to the little grouper, I was casting to a 4 foot shark (unknown what type) and missed the hook set on him; we've been seeing a few sharks on the flats, which I love.
The other fishing that we have been enjoying is beach fishing off my big boat, Paradise Pirate. I concentrate on near beach fishing, staying within 3 miles of the coast. Here, we hunt Kingfish, False Albacore, Spanish Mackerel, and whatever else we may run across. Kingfish have been on fire, giving us plenty of action and making for some great dinners. Again, 4-6 hour trips are perfect here and I can accommodate up to four anglers; this can make it a little more budget friendly to split up. Trips start at $700 and include everything you'll need as far as fishing goes.
September is usually a slow month for me, as people are getting back into the swing of kids in school, preparing for the upcoming holidays, and end of the year business stuff. So, I have quite a few days open. If you want to get out, let's do it! The fishing action will remain steady during the month and I'd love to get you out their to chase your dream. Give me a call (386) 314-5998 to book a date or email me firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions.