Saltwater fishing in North Florida takes advantage of one of the richest, and most diverse areas for fishing in the world. The list of available species includes tarpon, cobia, sea trout, redfish, flounder, sailfish, snapper and grouper, bluefish, jack crevalle, an occasional snook, and many others.
There is really no bad time to fish this area, although some species are more available on a seasonal basis than others whether they are inshore, near shore, or offshore game fish.
This month, savvy anglers turn their attention to the inshore waters, where redfish and trout become a prime target. That's directly related to the annual fall mullet run, which is in full swing this month. Here's a look at how to get in on it, and where some of the best action is.
MOSQUITO LAGOON REDS
This shallow waterway comes alive with the first hint of fall.
"With the tail end of the hurricane season we normally have slightly higher water levels, and those first little bumps of north wind get the reds bunched up and heading to the tidal creeks," said Capt. Scott Tripp.
Tripp's favorite creeks are those on the northern end of Mosquito Lagoon from Shotgun Pass to the Three Sisters. His favorite pattern is simple.
"Follow the creeks in, fishing the deeper bends as you go," he advised. "Look for the smaller open bays inside. Some may not be more than 25-yards wide, and those that have grass in them are normally best. In the cool morning the reds tend to hang in the deeper bends, but as the sun gets up they fan out and tail in those shallow bays just off the channels."
There is little tide movement in this area, but even a 6- to 8-inch falling tide moves the fish off of the extremely shallow flats and makes them accessible to boating anglers. Tripp prefers the falling tide and notes that a key to look for in these bays are deeper white sand holes in the grass.
"The reds find these on a falling tide," he said. "But don't be surprised to find a 6- to 10-pound trout parked in the middle of one."
Among Tripp's favorite lures are compact topwater baits like the MirrOLure MR-14 and the Zara Spook Puppy. Mullet-imitating patterns are top choices. Plastic-tailed jigs are another effective bet.
"A 3-inch Berkley Gulp! Shrimp on a 1/16- or 1/8-ounce jig is deadly," Tripp said. "The clearer the water color, the lighter and more mullet-like color you want to use."
Another spot worth checking on a falling tide are the mosquito ditches the surround the lagoon. If there is even a slight current flow out of them and into the lagoon, the mouths of those culverts can be hotspots as baitfish pour through the funnel.
To book a day of fishing with Capt. Scott Tripp call (386) 427-3499, or check out firstname.lastname@example.org.
Moving north on the First Coast, the area from State Route 206 south to the Pellicer Creek flats also gets a boost from both cooling temperatures and masses of mullet.
"There is a major mullet run this month" said Capt. Tommy Derringer "and the reds are keyed to it. This is the forage they're after and they climb as shallow onto the flats as the mullet run to get to it."
The normal tide in this area is about 3-feet, although a hard east wind raises it. Derringer's approach is simple.
"A high tide pushes mullet and reds right up onto any flat along the ICW," he said. "The ones I want to fish are those with Spartina grass lines on them that have a two to three-foot depth at high tide."
Catch those conditions on a high tide and Derringer recommends topwater plugs, and notes that while dim light is an asset, anglers can stay with them throughout the high tide this time of year. Perennial favorites include the Rapala Skitterwalk, Storm Chug Bug and the Zara Spook Baby and Puppy models. Others also work, although Derringer notes it is wise to match the size of the bait to the size of the mullet present.
If redfish just boil at surface baits, shifting to shallow-running jerkbaits, like the Bomber Long A can be effective. Whichever is chosen, mullet or chrome patterns are preferred.
Another of Derringer's favorites is the locally made Slayer Jig in Golden Bream color.
"We can get some stained water this time of year," Derringer said, "and the Slayer tails feature a wide paddletail on a four-inch plastic jig. If you rig it on a 1/16- or 1/8-ounce jig head with the paddle tail horizontal you can fish it very shallow, and the extra vibration from that big tail seems to help."
While the flood tide can offer excellent action, you can still score on the ebb.
"If you've got fish on a shallow flat and the tide falls," Derringer stated, "drop back to the mouths of the shallow creeks that feed the flats. That's the way the fish come off the flats, and they are excellent ambush points for them to wait for the baitfish following the tides".
Most of the fish on the flats are reds, except on the Pellicer Creek area where you can get some big, loner gator trout moving shallow. At the falling tide creek mouths, you also get trout and some good-sized flounder moving up from the deeper ICW waters for an easy meal.
Capt. Tommy Derringer is available for charters at (904) 377-3734 or visit his Web site at www.InshoreAdventures.net.
PINE ISLAND TROUT
The next stop northward is the Intra-Coastal Waterway from the St. Augustine Inlet, north to Pine Island.
"The mullet run is in full swing and they're heading south along the ICW until they dump out of the St. Augustine Inlet," said Capt. Larry Miniard. "Trout are keyed on this mass of bait, and they are going to be where they can feed on them most easily. The striking activity we get this month is some of the best we see all year."
Normal tides in this area run 4 1/2 feet, but with northeast wind they can run to 6 feet. That is a lot of water moving through this area, and the baitfish follow that water. Miniard plans his day accordingly.
"On the early rising tide I want to be along the main ICW where a shallow flat abuts a Spartina grass line and has a sharp drop to deeper water right next to it. Big trout, and we catch fish over 8-pounds every October, move into just a couple of feet of water if they can corral baitfish and shrimp against a solid wall like Spartina grass. But, they don't want to be more than a tail flip or two away from a deeper water haven ".
Miniard favors a topwater plug here, especially early in the day, and likes the MirrOLure double prop bait in baitfish colors.
The rising tide can be a hunt and peck affair, since many such depth and cover situations dot the ICW. When the tide falls, the game changes.
"Those trout follow the tide and the baitfish up into every creek along the ICW and then into the feeder creeks that lead to the flats," Miniard said. "When the tide falls and the flats go dry, they have to come out."
One of the quickest ways to tie into serious trout fishing this month is to enter the main creeks on the last half of the falling tide, and hit the mouth of every small intersecting creek that leads from the flats. Among those creeks that are invariably productive are Casa Cola, Sombrero, the Guana River, Pancho, Robinson, Stokes Creek, and the Seaplane Basin. If the bait is there, and the tide is dropping, you can count on trout.
Capt. Larry Miniard can be contacted at (904) 708-0060, or check out his Web site at www.larryminiard.com.
Further north this area has a well-deserved reputation for producing some of the heaviest spotted sea trout in the state, and October is one of the premier months to target them.
"All of the mullet and shrimp that have spent the summer months down river are now heading north to pour out of the Mayport Inlet," Capt. Tony Bozzella said, "and those big trout are right behind them."
Eight- to 10-pound trout are not uncommon in this area, but they can be widely scattered during warmer weather. The fall mullet migration tends to concentrate them into several productive areas.
Among those that are traditionally productive is the back end of Mill Cove after the tide has risen several feet. Those big trout push into the shallow grass and oyster cover, where topwater plugs can provide exciting action.
Another is the sharply dropping coast along the dock-laden Fort Caroline shore. On a rising tide the trout push right up to the shoreline bulk heads to corral mullet. When the tide falls, and it moves fast along this stretch, they slip into the eddy behind dock pilings where they can nail any passing mullet. Topwater plugs and jerkbaits can be deadly on the rising tide, while jerkbaits and plastic-tailed jigs get the nod on the ebb.
The Fort George area is another excellent bet.
"When you find a shallow flat with a grass line that drops off quickly to seven or more feet of water, you've found a spot that holds big trout if the bait is there," Bozzella said. "Topwater plugs like the Rapala Skitterwalk, or the Bite-A-Bait models are great on a rising tide, especially early and late in the day. When the tide falls, jerkbaits and plastic jigs with a four or five inch trailer can walk right down the drop and find those trout — even at midday."
Visit Capt. Tony Bozzella's Web site at www.tonybozzella.com, or call him at (904) 651-0182.
ST. AUGUSTINE TARPON
The massive October movement of mullet makes for hot action on trout and reds in the ICW. But, it also fires up the tarpon around the St. Augustine Inlet.
"You've got mullet pouring out the Inlet, and you also have big schools migrating south along the beaches," Capt. Dennis Goldstein said. "There have been tarpon feeding behind the shrimp boats in 35 to 60 feet of water all summer, and if the water temperature stays in the mid-to-upper 70s — which it usually does this month — they are now exploding on those beach mullet pods."
The migrating mullet schools normally run 200 to 400 feet off the beach and can be found within four or five miles north or south of the Inlet. They're not hard to find.
"I normally kick my boat up onto a slow plane and run the beach," Goldstein said. "You can see the mullet schools rippling right along the surface and the ones that have tarpon working them aren't hard to spot. You see massive surface strikes and even tarpon cartwheeling in the air. It's a very visual thing."
Getting in on the action is easy. The first step is to cast-net a dozen mullet and get them into the livewell. Goldstein prefers those in the eight to ten inch range. His preferred rig is a heavy action 7 1/2-foot spinning rod spooled with several hundred yards of 65-pound braided line. A Cajun Thunder rattling cork is tied onto the braid and a 4- or 5-foot, 80-pound fluorocarbon leader runs off of that with a 6/0 circle hook forming the business end, with a live mullet hooked through the nose.
"Sometimes," Goldstein noted, "when a tarpon blows up in the middle of a mullet pod they leave a big 'hole.' If you can get your bait into that hole, you probably hook up. But, there is almost more than one tarpon in a mullet pod. You can even have schools of them, so just get your bait into the middle of the pod and let that Cajun Thunder cork work for you."
Visit Capt. Dennis Goldstein on his Web site at www.hotfunsportfishingcharters.com or call (904) 810-2455.
Fenwick HMG Rods
No matter your favorite fish, chances are Fenwick's HMG rod lineup has you covered. We admit, Fenwick introduced its first HMG — or High Modulus Graphite — model way back in 1973. But today, the company is releasing a totally redesigned HMG series that begs inclusion in any rundown of notable new products. The reborn HMG cradles proven high-modulus blank material beneath a strength-enhancing carbon wrapping to create the new Carbon Bound blank. Other upgrades include a comfortable Fuji 5K reel seat, titanium guides, slimmed-down (and 10 percent lighter) handle, and easy-to-hold, soft TAC grip with EVA foam accents. Available in six baitcasting and 17 spinning models, in ultra-light to medium-heavy powers and lengths from 6 to 7½ feet. fenwickfishing.com
Frabill Crankbait Net
Woven of snarl-resistant hexagonal mesh, knotless, and cloaked in poke-resistant vinyl, the Crankbait Net puts an end to netting nightmares wrought by writhing gamefish and multi-treble lures. Another plus — its flat-bottom design is also gentle on fish. Offered in three sizes and a variety of hoop and handle options, including the Conservation Series 9517, 9521, and 9522, Tru-Trax 3813 and 3814, and Sportsman Net's 3443 and 3444. frabill.com
Humminbird Bow 360
Humminbird answers the call for a frontal version of its 360 Imaging system with the new Bow 360. Compatible with current, Ethernet-capable Humminbird Side Imaging-equipped models, it mounts on your bow-mount trolling motor via a Quick Release Mounting Bracket. Features include 150 feet of sonar coverage 360 degrees around the boat; the ability to mark waypoints anywhere on the screen; zoom; video and screen-capture recording; audio alert when a waypoint nears casting range; four sonar speed settings, and more. humminbird.com
AutoChart lets you create your own detailed hydrographic maps of your favorite fishing holes using Humminbird sonar returns and GPS data. Simply record sonar logs on the AutoChart Zero Lines SD card (included), which is loaded with the shorelines of more than 2 million lakes. Next, convert your data into a map with AutoChart PC software. Export the map onto the SD card, and display it on any LakeMaster-compatible Humminbird unit. AutoChart is compatible with LakeMaster's Depth Highlight, Water level Offset, and Shallow Water Highlight features — as well as Minn Kota's i-Pilot Link Follow the Contour. An AutoChart Pro version ups the ante, providing bottom hardness and the ability to overlay Side Imaging returns for a three-dimensional view of the bottom. lakemap.com
Lowrance Elite-5 HDI
The Elite-5 Hybrid Dual Imaging series blends Broadband Sounder and Downscan Imaging technologies to reveal fish while painting an amazing portrait of the underwater world. Available as a stand-alone fishfinder, chartplotter, or combo unit, the Elite-5 HDI offers top-shelf features such as Advanced Signal Processing, TrackBack, and Downscan Overlay. Chartplotter models include a built-in GPS antenna and detailed U.S. map with more than 3,000 lakes and rivers, plus coastal contours to 1,000 feet. It accommodates Lake and Nautic Insight HD and PRO cartography, along with Navionics Gold, HotMaps Premium, Fishing Hotspots PRO, and Jeppesen C-Map Max-N charts. The units are also compatible with the new online Insight Genesis map-making service, which lets you create custom, high-resolution maps of contours, bottom hardness, and vegetation from recorded sonar logs. All Elite-5 models feature a 5-inch, high-resolution color display. lowrance.com
Minn Kota Talon
Completely redesigned, the Talon takes shallow-water anchoring technology to new depths — specifically, all the way down to 12 feet. And, thanks to the Talon's three-stage deployment system, its housing height does not increase with the added depth range. Available in 12- and 10-foot models, the new Talon also offers three distinct anchoring modes — Soft Bottom, Auto-Drive, and Rough Water. Designed for mud, sand, and other soft substrate, Soft Bottom mode prevents the spike from being driven too deeply by toning down anchoring force, and by tapping bottom only once. Auto-Drive delivers a trio of sequential hits, using increasing force to ensure the Talon gains a foothold. In choppy conditions, Rough Water mode performs three Auto-Drive sequences to maintain its grip on bottom. minnkotamotors.com
MotorGuide brings its A-game with this high-tech yet tough-as-nails new electric-steer bowmount. Features include a rugged composite shaft that carries a lifetime warranty; sophisticated and silent steering transmission; a heel-toe format wireless control pedal that's easy to use without sneaking glances at your foot; low-profile mount; and cool-running, energy-saving digital technology, capable of capturing and storing power that is otherwise lost as heat. Available in 12-, 24-, and 36-volt models with 55, 80, and 105 pounds of thrust, respectively, in shaft lengths from 48 to 60 inches. The new Xi5 is also available with Pinpoint GPS technology, which can hold the boat on a fixed GPS position, follow a route or heading, and control speed while under way. Plus, MotorGuide partnered with electronics icon Lowrance to offer PinpointConnect, a user-friendly interface between the Xi5 and Lowrance HDS Gen2 and Gen2 Touch sonar/chartplotters. motorguide.com
Plano Guide Series
Plano won a Best of Show award for its revamped Guide Series lineup, and rightly so. One of the coolest attributes is a convenient molded top that cradles a ProLatch StowAway, creating a handy and easily changeable workstation on the water. Other amenities include a molded, impact-resistant waterproof base; padded outer pockets for stowing your sunglasses, smartphone, or other sundries; ample easy-access compartments; all-purpose PVC mesh pocket; pliers caddy, and more. Available in four sizes, from the 20 X 13 X 11 ½-inch 3700 Hydro-Flo flagship, which features an impact- and skid-resistant base, and holds six 3700 series ProLatch StowAway boxes, to the 12 X 6½ X 7-inch 3500 model, which still swallows five 3500 StowAways. All feature waterproof bases to further protect your precious tackle from the elements. planomolding.com
With the ability to boost knot strength up to 100 percent, this slick new string is a shining example of the never-ending advancement of braided lines. The secret? High-strength 'œtermination zones' located every 20 feet along the line. Tie your lure, leader, or swivel to one of these 32-inch sections — which are easily identifiable by their black coloration — and reduce the loss of strength that typically occurs when braids are knotted. Benefits include the ability to cinch down your drag for rock-solid hooksets, without fear of break-offs. Available in 20- and 50-pound breakstrengths, in shades of high-vis yellow and low-key aqua green. powerpro.com
Longtime flasher innovator Vexilar introduces a WiFi-based system that transforms smart phones and tablets into HD-quality, touch-screen sonar displays. Available in portable and permanent-mounting options, Sonarphone creates its own WiFi hotspot to share data from the transducer. Features include noise rejection, water temperature, automatic ranging and sensitivity, plus alarms for fish, shallow water, and low battery. The SP100 portable pod scans with a single 30-degree beam, while the SP200 and SP300 boat-mounted versions feature a 20- and 40-degree dual beam, plus a few extra screen controls. To get a feel for the features and menus, download the free app from the Apple or Android store, then try it in demo mode. vexilar.com
Looking for the best holiday gifts for the angler in your life? Don't miss our 2013 Holiday Fishing Gift Guide!