Florida Fishing Report: A Taste of Fall on the Horizon
In the heart of the Florida coast, where the gulf breeze gently whispers through the mangroves and the shimmering waters stretch to the horizon, the change of seasons brings with it a shift in the rhythms of the fishing world.
Florida, with its reputation for endless summer, has been graced with a taste of fall. Mornings now greet us with temperatures in the high 60s, while the days hover around a comfortable 80 degrees. For those unacquainted with the Sunshine State's temperament, this may not scream "autumn," but to us Floridians, it's a welcomed break from the relentless summer heat. You see, we've been sweltering in the 90-degree furnace, where the heat index dances above the 100-degree mark for months on end. This fleeting touch of fall, however, is a mere tease, for the forecast beckons a return to the sizzling 90s next week. This does mark the passing of the peak of hurricane season, allowing us to concentrate a little more on long-term dreams, instead of focusing on the Atlantic Basin with trepidation. So, for those anglers who've been patiently awaiting the right moment to plan their fishing expedition, the time has come.
This time of year also ushers in the Flood Tide season—a period anglers both revere and anticipate. In destinations like St. Augustine and Jacksonville, this is the season they hold dear. Here, the flood tides are like the conductor's baton, orchestrating a ballet of water and fish. Redfish, black drum, and other predators follow the rising tide, moving into the marshy grass prairies. Experienced guides escort their clients into these flooded plains, where the hunt amidst the Spartina
Grass unfolds predictably, almost like the ticking of a well-worn pocket watch. However, in regions like mine, where the shorelines are shrouded in mangroves, the Flood Tide season presents different challenges. While the water may rise into the mangroves and flood plains here, fish follow suit. Unfortunately, the mangroves make these shorelines nearly impenetrable, and many of the flood plains become inaccessible. But worry not, for fishing isn't thwarted; it simply shifts its focus to the ebb and flow of tide stages rather than the tick of the clock. My strategy revolves around the outgoing tide, a quest to seek the lowest water levels available. This often entails navigating throughout the day, tracing the low-water mark across the entire Mosquito Lagoon Estuary system. Thankfully, modern technology allows us to chart these plans with precision, even weeks in advance. My only request of anglers is to embrace flexibility in their schedule; at times, we may not cast a line until the midday sun blesses us with the most favorable conditions.
Autumn also heralds the annual mullet run, and this year, it has started with a flourish. Mullet, in vast schools, migrate from north to south, their silvery throngs gracing both the coastal and river routes. As the saying goes, where there's bait, there are predators, and this year's outings have borne witness to vast schools of finger mullet and pilchards traversing the river. These schools stretch to hundreds of feet in length, with a width spanning 50 feet, and a depth beyond the limits of one's vision. The only caveat, if one may call it that, is that such an abundance of bait presents an opulent feast for the predators. Redfish, snook, tarpon, and seatrout are afforded the luxury of a perpetual banquet. However, predators, much like connoisseurs of fine cuisine, tend to favor the path of least resistance. This penchant for easy meals underscores the effectiveness of topwater plugs, manipulated with a twitch-twitch-pause cadence, or the allure of sub-surface twitch baits like the Rapala Twitch Mullet, employed in a similar fashion. When these tactics fall short, the subtle allure of soft plastics submerged beneath the bait schools, imitating a solitary straggler, often proves irresistible. Predators often lurk just below the school's surface, biding their time for such opportunities. For our fly-fishing aficionados, this season calls for versatility: poppers on one line, a floating line with a streamer, and a sink-tip line complemented by another streamer. These choices empower you to explore every stratum of the water column, mirroring the options available to conventional gear enthusiasts.
Diving deeper into the realm of specific species, let us begin with Snook—a personal favorite among anglers. Spawning season has reached its conclusion, and Snook are now retreating from their spawning haunts, finding solace near docks, mangroves, oyster beds, and seagrass. Patience becomes our ally as we await the low tide, which unveils fish positioned near structures—fish that would otherwise remain shrouded in sanctuary, impervious to our offerings. While scouting for Snook during high tide may yield sightings, coaxing them to strike proves elusive until the tide relinquishes its hold. This could be attributed to the challenge of approaching fish concealed within or beneath structures without alerting them to our presence. As the water level recedes, Snook are compelled to edge closer to the fringes of these structures or, on rare occasions, venture into open water. Traditionally, baitfish imitations have been the favored choice for Snook. However, of late, the Z-Man Fishing Products Kicker CrabZ, a soft plastic that flawlessly mimics a swimming crab, has garnered favor and success among anglers. For devotees of fly-fishing, the same trend holds true, with an unweighted Borski Chernobyl PM Crab serving as a tempting option.
Next, we set our sights on Tarpon, the regal giants of the waters. They have graced us with their presence in substantial numbers throughout the summer, and they shall linger until the first formidable cold front emerges. The timing of their departure remains uncertain, with November or even the impending weeks serving as plausible exit points, dependent upon
the whims of Mother Nature. Despite their abundance, the Tarpon's appetite has presented a tantalizing challenge. In conditions conducive to their presence, one might expect to encounter multiple Tarpon in a single day, yet the reality often amounts to the successful enticement of just one or two. Among the angling community, bafflement reigns supreme regarding this enigmatic behavior. The prevailing theory suggests that the plenitude of bait allows Tarpon to dine at their leisure, free from the pressures of securing sustenance when conditions are less than perfect. Nonetheless, the allure of pursuing Tarpon remains irresistible, as even a solitary leap from one of these magnificent creatures delivers a spectacle that etches itself into one's memory. The Tarpon's culinary preferences appear to shift without rhyme or reason, oscillating between topwater imitations of wounded baitfish one day and sinking crab patterns the next. Adaptability becomes paramount, encouraging anglers to experiment with various presentations when in pursuit of these majestic leviathans.
A full year has elapsed since the Redfish population spanning from New Smyrna to Jupiter Inlet was designated as catch-and-release only. My clients bear witness to my decade-long advocacy for this conservation measure, as we seldom retained a fish unless it displayed unmistakable signs of distress. The Redfish's transition to catch-and-release status came on the heels of a disconcerting decline in their population, as identified by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Numerous factors contributed to this decline, some of which have been discussed in prior missives. It is with gratification that I report the catch-and-release mandate has yielded positive results, with no shortage of Redfish encountered during our outings. Additionally, the catch-and-release status has led to a reduction in fishing pressure on Redfish populations. Evidently, a significant segment of the angling community prefers to dedicate their efforts to species they can claim for supper, bypassing the opportunity to target catch-and-release species. This shift is warmly welcomed by the majority of my clients and myself, as I've always maintained that, for those solely concerned with accumulating a cooler full of fish, a visit to the local fish market is the more efficient choice. While the Redfish population may not have fully rebounded to the levels witnessed in the 1980s and 1990s, it undeniably represents the most promising period in the past 10 to 15 years. For these Redfish, my preferred fly pattern consists of a crab imitation, while conventional anglers have experienced success with the Z-Man Fishing Products MinnowZ. However, do take note to rig these lures weedless, as our waters are teeming with flourishing seagrass.
The pursuit of Seatrout has yielded a mixed bag of results over the past month, leaving many anglers perplexed. It is not a
matter of failing to locate these elusive fish; rather, it hinges on their willingness to strike. Sight-fishing for Seatrout has emerged as a particularly challenging endeavor, primarily due to their affinity for the returning seagrasses, which provide excellent camouflage within their favored hiding spots. The most reliable strategy for targeting Seatrout in the present conditions involves employing topwater plugs and flies while systematically searching the flats. While far from foolproof, this approach has yielded superior results compared to sight-fishing tactics. Moreover, there exists a universal truth that angers ought to heed: "Slow and steady wins the race." Seatrout possess exceptional eyesight and a highly sensitive lateral line, which detects even the subtlest pressure waves emanating from a moving vessel. Consequently, anglers must exercise prudence and minimize boat movement, as excessive turbulence can alert Seatrout to their presence, causing them to spurn the offered bait. By altering the retrieval method for topwater lures until discovering the day's preferred cadence, anglers may enhance their prospects of enticing a strike.
Yet, amidst the realm of angling, one persistent challenge remains—the elusive Black Drum. Their numbers have burgeoned in recent years, reveling in the muddy conditions resulting from the decline in seagrass. Abundant Black Drum, many of which tip the scales between 20 to 40 pounds, now grace our waters. Nevertheless, their reluctance to take the bait presents a maddening puzzle. Though fly fishing often prevails when we encounter them, bait and artificial lures are met with mixed success. Some anglers bask in triumph, while others encounter frustration, perhaps due to a deficiency in their "push pole" technique. For reasons unbeknownst to me and my clientele, these enigmatic fish have proven to be the most elusive. Admittedly, our preference for fly fishing in their presence contributes to the challenge. Nevertheless, I've witnessed Black Drum rebuff live shrimp and even half-crabs with impunity while using bait, as well as artificial lures. Among the latter, the Z-Man Fishing Products EZ ShrimpZ has emerged as the most reliable option, particularly when employed in its original configuration. Fly anglers have reported their success with larger, slow-sinking crab patterns, adding to the intrigue surrounding Black Drum angling.
In summation, the world of Florida fishing offers a captivating tapestry of opportunities for anglers, each season revealing its own nuances and challenges. As we traverse these aquatic landscapes, let us do so with mindfulness, acknowledging the crucial importance of conservation efforts, particularly in the context of seagrass preservation. Responsible boating practices, characterized by the use of push poles and trolling motors in seagrass-rich regions, stand as essential measures to safeguard our cherished coastal ecosystems. With these principles held aloft as our guiding stars, anglers can embark on their fishing expeditions with a profound sense of responsibility and reverence for the natural world, ensuring the longevity of these cherished pursuits for generations to come.
Until our lines cross again, may your fishing endeavors be blessed with tides in your favor and the whispers of the sea as your companions.
Book your adventure now at 386-314-5998 or email Captainjohn@tailhunteroutdooradventures.com