A Year Of Sunshine State Angling

A Year Of Sunshine State Angling

Regardless of the season, Florida offers anglers some hot prospects for fast action. Here's a look at 36 great destinations for the coming year. (February 2006)

The term "too much of a good thing" is often overused. For anglers in Florida, however, it is a welcome fact of life. Regardless of the month, the temperature or the weather, somewhere there are always several species biting, and they can frequently provide the kind of world-class action that's made Florida the country's premier fishing destination.

It isn't easy trying to figure when to be where to catch the best bite, but here are 36 suggestions that shouldn't disappoint this year.

JANUARY

Striped Bass:

Lake Talquin

If not the best striped bass fishery in Florida, Lake Talquin is certainly one of the top three. And January is a great month to sample it.

Concentrate your efforts in the lower half of the lake, near the dam. During midday hours, seek stripers along the first significant drop from the shoreline in 6 to 9 feet of water. Early and late in the day, or all day, if it's heavily overcast, the linesiders move up onto shallow finger bars and points, in as little as 3 feet of water.

A number of lures take them, but a 5-inch white curly-tailed plastic grub on a 1/4- to 3/16-ounce jighead is one of the deadliest. Ten- to 15-fish days are not at all uncommon, and the fish average 6 to 12 pounds -- with 20-pound fish being taken every year.

Alternatives: Snook will be holed up for the winter in the Myakka River above Port Charlotte Harbor. Anglers working the deeper outside bends, especially around fallen timber, catch them on jigs, jerkbaits, and topwater plugs.

Bass are hitting the beds on Lake Arbuckle, and you can find spawning fish along the shoreline in 1 to 2 feet of water.

FEBRUARY

Largemouth Bass:

Lake George

Despite its north-central location, this is a prime month for spawning bass on Florida's second-largest lake.

Savvy anglers start their search along the west shore near the mouths of Salt Run, Silver Glenn and Juniper Springs runs, since these spring-fed tributaries help warm the water. If the winter is mild, expect bass to be spawning well along the east shore near Pine Island, the south shore, and around Hogg and Drayton islands.

Look for bass to be making their beds on the inside edge of the grassline where eelgrass and dollar bonnets meet. If the beds are vacant, small spinnerbaits, soft plastic jerkbaits or Trick Worms fished in the outer areas of the eelgrass should locate some bass.

One key indicator that bass are in the immediate area is uprooted eelgrass floating in mats on the surface. The bass uproot the grass while fanning beds.

Alternatives: This is the prime month for bedding bass on Lake Kissimmee, and local anglers check out those areas where bottom scraping took place during the most recent drawdown.

Crescent Lake has big speckled perch working their way toward the shallows to spawn, and anglers drifting minnow-tipped jigs in 7 to 10 feet of water should find these crappie.

MARCH

Largemouth Bass:

Lochloosa Lake

Ten years ago, anglers declared Lochloosa "legally dead." Today, it takes better than a 3 1/2-pound per-fish average to win a local tournament! This month, those fish are heading shallow to spawn.

Look for the bass to be within 60 feet of the actual shoreline in mixed vegetation during the morning and evening hours. Spinnerbaits and soft-plastic jerkbaits are top choices, but Lochloosa bass also show a decided preference for plastic worms in the 8- to 10-inch range.

During midday, flip any surface matted cover you can find in areas where bass have been located earlier. Midday flipping often produces the largest bass.

Alternatives: Bass on Lake Rousseau are seeking shallow grass and wood-laden flats along main channel edges. Lipless crankbaits and hard plastic jerkbaits are top choices for finding fish, while soft plastic worms and lizards handle those on the beds.

Speckled perch are fired up in the Lake Woodruff section of the St. Johns River near DeLand, and fish in the 2 1/2-pound range are not uncommon.

APRIL

Seatrout:

Jacksonville

Warming waters put big trout on the prowl this month, and there's no better time for northeast Florida anglers to bag a 'gator trout than around the region's largest city.

Look for big trout to be roaming the edges of Spartina grass or man-made bulkheads, seeking baitfish on a rising tide. Early morning is an excellent time for noisy topwater plugs, although jerkbaits are a better bet if trout consistently smash, but don't take, the surface baits.

On a falling tide, look for trout to gather around the mouths of the area's numerous feeder creeks, especially those bordering a deeper channel. Hard baits can still be deadly, but 4- and 5-inch plastic grubs or sinking plugs can often be more effective for trout holding on a channel drop.

Alternatives: Cobia are following the rising tide onto the shallow flats in the Homosassa area and can be sight-fished with jigs.

Stick Marsh bass have finished their spawn and are ready to eat. Look for big fish, using topwater plugs or large plastic worms around shoreline timber during the morning and evening hours.

MAY

Seatrout:

Fort Pierce

The current world-record seatrout of 17.7 pounds fell victim to a noisy topwater plug worked along a mangrove shoreline in Fort Pierce in May, during the morning hours Anglers looking for a shot at some of the largest trout in Florida would do well to emulate that game plan.

Experienced anglers will concentrate their effort along those mangrove edges located relatively close to some of the deeper water in the area; and the closer to a main or secondary channel, the better. Early and late in the day are peak times, but overcast weather can produce all day.

Aggressive topwater plugs are a top choice for trophy trout, but savvy anglers keep a second rod close at hand, rigged with a jerkbait or an unweighted fluke or large grub. Should a big trout miss the surface bait, it often takes the subsurface lure if it arrives into the boil quickly.

Alternatives: Big king mackerel are roaming the nearsho

re reefs off the coast of Panama City.

Bass on Talquin have largely finished their spawn and start to gather on the main-lake points outside the creek arms and coves.

JUNE

King Mackerel:

St. Augustine

June of 2005 saw a phenomenal fishery for schoolie-sized kings on the near-shore wrecks and reefs off the First Coast. Limits of 10- to 20-pound fish were the rule rather than the exception for anglers venturing 9 to 15 miles offshore.

Slow-trolling live bait is the top tactic. Some anglers cast-net a live-well full of menhaden on the beach on the way out, but local experts prefer Sabiki rigs to gather live bait on the wrecks themselves, feeling that those minnows offer a more natural presentation.

Don't be surprised if a sailfish shows up, as has become much more common in recent years.

Alternatives: This month, tarpon are working the outside edge of the flats on the ocean side of the Middle Keys, and flyfishermen have an excellent chance of tangling with one.

Look for cobia to be prowling the outer flats off Cedar Key. A rising tide moves them in, but sometimes offers dirtier water and tough sight-fishing conditions. Local anglers prefer the falling tide because of its clearer water.

JULY

Bonefish:

Florida Keys

The weather may be hot, but from Key Largo to Cudjoe Key, the bonefish action can be superb, as rising waters bring the speedsters onto shallow flats to feed.

The best action comes on a rising tide during the morning or evening hours. Savvy anglers have found that the ocean side often produces more bones, while the bay side generally produces larger fish.

Regardless of which side you choose, a smaller skimmer-type hair jig tipped with a piece of fresh shrimp is a top tool for spin-fishermen. Fly-anglers can chose from among a number of crab-imitating patterns. Quality polarized sunglasses are a must, as you must locate the fish visually before the cast.

Alternatives: Grouper are invading the shallow ledges off Venice, allowing even small boaters to get into big- time bottom-fishing action.

Look for numbers of wahoo, along with some big ones, to be roaming the coast just a relatively short run out of Ponce Inlet near Daytona.

AUGUST

Tarpon:

St. Lucie River

Every July, schools of big tarpon take up residence in the St. Lucie River, and they aren't hard to find. Local experts run the river quickly and look for a school of rolling, feeding fish. The peak action generally occurs during the early morning hours.

Once fish are found, you can entice them to artificial lures like 7-inch hard plastic jerkbaits or plastic grubs, but live mullet in the 5- to 12-inch range are normally more effective. These tarpon may run anywhere from 15 to 180 pounds, so an appropriate selection of tackle is important.

Alternatives: Snook are roaming the beaches and passes of Marco Island. Top action is early and late in the day, although the truly big snook often feed best at night.

Anglers working the bycatch dump of shrimp boats off the St. Augustine beaches find plenty of tarpon in the 80- to 180-pound range this month.

SEPTEMBER

Sunshine Bass:

Lake Seminole

This can be an exciting month for surface-schooling action on Old Sem, as sunshine bass drive shad schools to the surface and rip into them.

Experienced anglers concentrate their efforts at the lower end of the lake near the dam, paying particular attention to mid-lake sandbars. Over these shallow bars, sunshines can easily trap shad schools moving from deeper water.

A set of binoculars helps, as does watching for bird activity. Long-casting spinning gear is an asset, as is a selection of shad-imitating lures like spoons, small crankbaits, and plastic jigs. Peak action is often during the morning and evening, and can be furious while it lasts. Most fish run 6 pounds or less, but fish up to 20 pounds have been taken.

Alternatives: Big snook are feeding voraciously in and around Sebastian Inlet this month. Some anglers swear by night-fishing along the break walls, but plenty of snook are taken from the inlet during the daylight hours.

Look for big king mackerel to begin moving onto Seahorse Reef off of Cedar Key. Top spots are anywhere Spanish mackerel are also present.

OCTOBER

Redfish:

Pensacola Pass

Don't plan on redfish for dinner if you're heading to Pensacola Pass this month. Catching one under 27 inches long is not always easy. However, catching one in the 25- to 40-pound range is!

Live bait is the most effective choice for these bull reds. Savvy anglers cast-net a livewell full of menhaden on their way out. Key areas of the pass are along the east side. Local experts position their baits on or near the bar making the last break out to the main channel's deeper waters

Although the big reds eat anytime, many anglers who specialize in them say they bite best at night.

Alternatives: Look for schools of big redfish to be prowling the shallow flats inside the Cedar Key area. A rising tide moves them into three to four feet of water.

Sailfish are now working their way into the 80- to 120-foot depths off the Port Everglades Inlet at Fort Lauderdale.

NOVEMBER

Snook:

Everglades City

Cooling weather, a lot fewer bugs, and plenty of hungry snook make this a prime month to prowl the backcountry waters of the Everglades National Park.

Look for top snook habitat in the Broad and Lostman river systems. For those venturing in on their own, a quality map, radio, GPS, and a compass are highly recommended, although numerous guide services are available from Everglades City.

Come prepared with stout casting gear, 20-pound line, and a good selection of topwater plugs, jerkbaits, sinking plugs and jigs. Snook over 20 pounds are taken in the backcountry every fall.

Alternatives: Cooling waters will shake Rodman Reservoir's bass from their summer doldrums, and put them on the first edge along the channel and in the Barge Canal.

Blackfin tuna appear on the menu for anglers in the Florida Keys, and you don't have far to travel offshore to get in on the action.

DECEMBER

Seatrout:

Suwannee River

All it takes is one sharp cold front to move trout into the Suwannee River, and you can expect one this month.

Once trout a

re in the river, look for them in the deeper holes with a hardpan bottom, especially if rock ledges are present. Tide stages aren't overly important, as long as the water is moving. But your lure presentation is -- jigs or sinking plugs often need to be right on the bottom and moving gently with the current in order to entice the larger trout.

Alternatives: Bass begin leaving their open-water haunts on Lake Istokpoga as they migrate to the shallows to spawn. Anglers working the outer weedline edges should find them, particularly on warm afternoons.

Thanks to a major stocking program by the state, Lochloosa Lake has quietly become one of the hottest crappie fisheries in Florida. Anglers drifting open lake waters in 7 to 8 feet should catch plenty of those specks this month.

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