Good day to all of my clients and those just checking out the fishing report. This one has been a long time coming. I thought Hurricane Ian was going to be our one storm that interrupted things this year, but Mother Nature decided we needed another storm to help finish the season. We are now a week out from Hurricane Nicole, which battered the east coast of Florida even worse than Hurricane Ian. As I sit here writing this, I have a tarp over our chimney, to keep rain from coming in where Hurricane Ian took portions of our chimney away, I just got our new range installed and working, we still haven’t been able to start work on a new pumphouse, and we have a front porch that is need of some overhauling. The history and path of these two storms was almost identical to two storms we had a while ago; both 43 days apart from each other and the paths were so close you could barely tell them apart. Hurricane Ian not only had destructive winds, it was slow moving and dumped between 20 and 30 inches of rain in the area, in a 24 hour period. Hurricane Nicole brought 100MPH winds, but less rain. She was huge storm and battered the coast line for days with seas 12-18 feet and reshaped the entire coast from Palm Beach to St Augustine. The power of both of these storms was awe inspiring and a reminder of just how strong nature is and that there is little we can do to change that. I will admit that we, the people of Florida, are battered, tired, and many of us are in the process of trying to rebuild, much like our estuaries and fisheries are.
What did the hurricanes do to our fishery? Well, that remains to be fully seen and determined. The rains from Ian caused a massive influx of freshwater, not only from the rain itself, but from some negative things like runoff and sewer plant releases; yes, unfortunately we still have cities that believe they can release “treated” sewage into the river. We are still pushing to change this law, but lawmakers seem hesitant to stop it under “emergency” circumstances. The issue we face with thee releases and the runoff is the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous it contains. Both of these create perfect conditions for algae blooms, which is something we have been able to avoid for a couple of years. Only time will tell if the system flushed itself and will keep the algae at bay. Hurricane Nicole may have helped with this, as it forced a ton of fresh ocean water into the system, once again creating water levels that I have never seen in 41 years of living here. As the water levels drop, I am hopeful it will take the extra nutrients with it. If we are fortunate, we will have a dry winter, which will really allow the system to flush itself and water levels to return to normal. As for now, they are still higher than normal, but they are dropping. We also just had our first real cold front come through, dropping our overnight temperatures into the low 50s. Water temperatures before this front were in the middle 70s, so this should lower them a bit more and help with clearing the water up.
The biggest question we still have is how much of our returning seagrasses survived? This question probably won’t be answered for another few weeks. The high, dirty water has made it impossible to gather enough information to make this determination. Prior to both storms, we had some exciting new growth throughout the entire estuary; I documented it in some blogs in the middle of summer. This new growth was not established enough to withstand the hurricane winds and current in all of the areas, we just don’t know how much was destroyed. I have asked for permission to conduct an aerial drone survey as soon as the water levels are conducive; I’m just waiting for permission and the right conditions. I am hoping we had a decent amount survive, so the growth can continue during winter and really take off next spring. OK, enough of the unknowns. What you really want to know about is the fishing.
We should start to enter our wintertime fishing patterns over the next few weeks. This will mean lower, clearer water conditions; especially when the water temperatures fall into the 60s. The conditions make it excellent for real sight fishing of redfish, black drum, seatrout, and more. If there is one drawback to the conditions, it can make it a little more challenging, as the fish are able to see us just like we can see them. Because of this, it requires anglers to be able to make longer, more accurate casts than we need during the summer, when the water is off-color and the fish have a harder time seeing us. Conventional anglers will find that we use longer, lighter leaders and switch over to smaller jigs; we call this down-sizing and it can make all of the difference between being successful or just spooking fish all day. Z-Man Fishing Products has an entire line-up for these conditions, called Finesse Jigs. These small, lightweight offerings still have the same properties that Z-Man is known for (buoyancy, like-like movement, scent) but they do it in a size that you can cast near a fish without spooking them. I carry a wide selection of the soft plastics and every size of the jig heads they offer, so I can match any condition I face.
My fly anglers utilize the same theory as the conventional anglers. Here, we use smaller weight rods, long leaders, and smaller flies. During the winter, I rarely use a fly rod larger than a 7-weight and there are a lot of times we are using 5-weight and 6-weight rods. Leaders will be lengthened from an average of 9 feet to 12 feet and the tippet will be reduced from 16-pound to an average of 12-pound. This, combined with smaller, lighter flies, allows for a delicate presentation that reduces the chances of spooking fish. Casting distance is also increased, from an average of 30-40 feet to an average of 50-60 feet. Yes, there are still close-up shots, but there are a lot of times when getting closer to fish shuts them down. For added success, anglers that can side-arm cast, keeping the rod lower to the water and not waving around in the air, and can make minimal false casts, will have the best chances. Remember, for these fish, they spend their entire life knowing that death comes from above and they are constantly scanning for movement and shadows; so keep that rod lower and make it difficult for them to see it.
During the winter pattern, I spend the vast majority of my time hunting redfish with clients. The conditions are perfect for sight fishing them and it is hard to find a more exciting way to fish them. During the major portion of the day, we will hunt fish along shorelines, where they are cruising for shrimp and crabs. However, if the grass survived and is growing well, the fish will also hang out there, where it stays warmer and gathers heat from the sun quicker. Either way, there are few things
more exciting than seeing those electric blue tails waving in the air, or dimpling the surface, as the fish cruise around waiting to slam unsuspecting shrimp and crabs. Redfish in the area are now protected, under a new law that makes them catch and release only. This is going to help our population recover and make our fishing better and better every single year. In recent weeks, we’ve caught a few “rat reds”, meaning we had a successful spawn and those fish are now ready to grow up in a protected environment.
In recent years, the Black Drum numbers have exploded and their normal range of movement has increased. These fish are like the diesel trucks of the flats. They usually aren’t aggressive in their feeding and require you to almost “feed” them the offering; meaning to put it close and drag it right in front of their mouth. Once hooked, Black Drum are not as fast as their redfish cousins, but they are far more powerful in comparative size. These fish can test your ability to fight down and dirty, requiring you to keep pressure and angles in your favor to wear them out. The best part about Black Drum in the area can be their size. Few fish in the area reach the sizes of these fish, which we sometimes find in the 50-60 pound range. It’s funny when a client doesn’t want to believe the huge shadow is a fish, until it moves to eat their offering.
Snook can still be found in the winter, especially if the prediction of a warmer than normal winter holds true. The best time to find these fish is after a front passes through and we have those bluebird skies with lots of sun. Snook will use days like this to come out of deeper holes and sun themselves along the shores. They can be a little lethargic if the water temperatures are cold, but once they warm up, they’ll get active and aggressively feed. Slow sinking baits are prefect for these scenarios, as they can be worked slowly near the fish, almost teasing them into striking. During the winter, these fish are catch and release, but the battle they provide is second to none!
While saltwater fishing is by far the majority of what customers want to do, we have a great freshwater fishery during the winter too. Crappie, bream, bass, and possibly even shad (just depends if we have a good run and spawn this year) are all available. My favorite by far are crappie, which are not only fun to catch, they are tasty as well. I’ll post more about the shad run, if we have one, come January.
While we may be putting things back together, after the storms, we are Florida Strong, and we are open for business! How can you help? Don’t cancel your trip! Come on down, enjoy your time here, and spend some time supporting local businesses! In the last few years, small businesses have been hammered, with Covid and now hurricanes. We don’t want hand-outs; we just want business from our loyal clients. We want to share our passion, our knowledge, and our expertise with everyone. This includes fishing guides, restaurants, hotels, gift shops, and all of those small “mom and pop” places you drive by.
So, call or email to book your trip! Don’t forget, I also offer gift certificates for those special occasion days!