12 Months Of Sunshine State Angling
September 30, 2010
Join the author as he provides a tour of Florida, exposing three dozen top fishing destinations for the coming year. These picks should fill your angling calendar for 2010!
In the real estate world the three factors that make a property great are location, location and location. A good spot is a good spot no matter how you cut it. Good spots also apply to the angling world, and location is still key. But savvy anglers also add timing.
A lake can be great, if you hit it at the right time, and merely good a month later. There aren't many veteran anglers who have not heard a fish camp or marina owner intone, "You should have been here last week." Many view that as a flimsy excuse, but there is a lot of truth in it. Time your arrival to a good location and you can have great fishing. Here's a look at 36 Florida angling options you can set your calendar by.
Largemouths: Rodman Reservoir
If you're looking to catch a 10-pound bass this month, few places offer a better opportunity than Rodman. The lake and its bass population are in excellent shape. The first wave of spawning bass hits the shallows this month. Research shows that the largest bass in the population normally spawn first, making January a top choice for trophy hunters.
The earliest spawn normally takes place on the Orange Springs flats. Early in the month, look for big pre-spawn females to be staging on vegetation cover along channel edges adjacent to the flats. As the month progresses, they move onto the shallow flats. Watch for bedding bass, and don't neglect to flip any overhead, matted cover during the midday.
Alternatives: Big black and red grouper are gathered along the reef line edge of the Florida Keys over any structure in 100 to 250 feet of water.
Southward migrating sailfish will be riding the Gulf Stream waves along the southeast Florida coast from Palm Beach to Miami. A live bait on the edge of the stream will connect with some.
At 48,000 acres, this wide spot on the St. Johns River has always been one of the Sunshine State's best bass waters when eelgrass growth has been abundant. That can be cyclic, but for the last few years the grass has been lush, and local guides are reporting lots of trophy fish.
This month will see a major spawn that brings those big bass into the grass. Key areas are around the mouth of Silver Glenn Run, Salt Run and Pine Island. Spinnerbaits, topwater plugs and swimming plastic worms are top bets early, while savvy anglers find actively bedding fish later in the day.
For further information and guide service, contact Capt. Don Weaver at (386) 467-2526.
Alternatives: Kingfish of all sizes are running the Florida Keys reef line from Ocean Reef to the Dry Tortugas. Live blue runners are the top choice for big kings.
Lake Talquin is notorious for its outsized speckled perch. This month sees them actively feeding along submerged channel edges in the main pool.
From its junction with Port Charlotte Harbor, north to State Route 70, the Myakka River is prime winter snook habitat. As the weather warms in March, look for those fish to become active and begin moving south to the Charlotte Harbor.
Look for snook to be pausing around bridges, deep wooded shorelines and the mouths of feeder creeks. Jigs and hard plugs take their share, but a live sardine, mullet, small jack or ladyfish usually produces the largest fish.
Alternatives: Largemouths are fanning out along the west shoreline of Crooked Lake to spawn. Sight-fishing bedding fish is productive, but fan-casting weedless soft plastics or drifting shiners can be deadly.
Speckled perch are firing up in Lake Lochloosa and moving to the shallow lily pads to spawn. Dipping the pads with a minnow-rigged cane pole can load the boat.
Lake Talquin has emerged as one of Florida's top bass lakes. The caveat is that this is a structure-oriented lake and for most of the year far more bass are caught below 10-foot depths than shallower. That changes this month.
Bass are moving into shallow creek arm bays to spawn. Start your search on the main-lake points at the mouth and follow the fish along the wooded shorelines leading in. Crankbaits and plastic worms are deadly, but don't overlook big bladed spinnerbaits. For more information, contact Whippoorwill Sportsman's Lodge at (850) 876-2605.
Alternatives: Largemouths on Lake Tohopekaliga are finishing the spawn and ready to eat topwater plugs along maidencane edges.
Big trout are moving into the Anclote Key area to stake out white sand holes around the islands.
Spotted Seatrout:Fort Pierce
The Intracoastal Waterway in Fort Pierce can be a big trout hotspot this month. Look for those areas where the channels swing close to mangrove shoreline flats.
Topwater plugs are deadly during the morning, but don't overlook a 5-inch soft-plastic bait on a lightweight jighead during the midday hours.
Alternatives: The nearshore grassbeds off Horseshoe Beach will come alive with schooling trout this month. For bigger trout, move into the oyster-laden back bays.
The waterways around Fernandina are another trout hotspot this month. Concentrate on intersecting creek mouths and Spartina grass lines near deeper water. A topwater plug fished against deep grass on a rising tide in the morning is deadly.
Bull Redfish:Mosquito Lagoon
This is a peak month to find schools of big bull reds cruising the shallow flats of Mosquito Lagoon near New Smyrna Beach. Savvy anglers run the main channels and travel corridors until they see the push made by the school. Then they ease ahead of the pack and either put out bait or wait with lures ready until the fish reach them.
Stout tackle is a plus, since some of these reds can exceed 40 pounds. While peak action often occurs during the morning hours, reds may ease out of the channel and onto a 3-foot flat anytime during the day.
For further details or guide service, contact New Smyrna Outfitters at (386) 402-8853.
Alternatives: Hordes of platter-sized flounder begin invading the St. Augustine Inlet and connecting tide creeks this month. Limit catches of 1- to 3-pound flounder
are not uncommon.
Big cobia are prowling the Trysler Grounds offshore of Pensacola Pass. They may take baits on downriggers, or come right to the surface and inspect your boat.
Kingfish:First Coast Beaches
Smoker kings are invading the beaches from Jacksonville to St. Augustine, and many are caught in less than 45 feet of water, within one-half mile from the beach. That puts them well within the reach of 17-foot or smaller skiffs.
The keys to success are to slow-troll live pogies or mullet in areas where the water temperature is 78 degrees or warmer. Pay particular attention to "color breaks" or tide rip lines.
For information or guide service in the St. Augustine section, contact Capt. Dennis Goldstein at (904) 810-2455.
Alternatives: Tarpon are gathering in Boca Grande Pass, and fish over 150 pounds are not at all uncommon. Drifting the pass with live baits near the bottom is the best way to score.
Look for big cobia to be cruising the shallow flats on the outer edge of the flats at Cedar Key. Sight-fishing is easier on the lower end of the tide because of clearer water.
This is a peak month to find world-class tarpon cruising the nearshore waters outside of the St. Augustine Inlet. In 2009, St. Augustine guide Capt. Dennis Goldstein landed and released one that standard length and girth measurements showed to be more than 200 pounds.
The most effective procedure is to establish a chum line, set baits out in it and wait. Once tarpon find the chum, you can watch them slurp their way up it until they reach your hook. Then the fun starts!
Alternatives: Big bream are bedding in Lake Jackson near Tallahassee. Look for them in 8 to 10 feet of water on sand bottom holes in the abundant vegetation. Although Jackson has had water level problems in past years, it has been great for the bream, and this lake boasts some of the biggest bream in the area.
Red snapper are gathered on reef modules starting in 120 feet of water offshore of Panama City.
The weather may be hot this month, but if you're looking for a trophy class bonefish, the section of the Keys from Largo to Lower Matecumbe could be your hottest option.
Bones will move onto shallow flats on a rising tide on both the bay and ocean sides, but the former seems to draw bigger fish. Shell and Lignumvitae keys are well known for this, but even a small flat can produce a monster bonefish this month.
Polarized glasses, a push pole, the wind at your back, and a rigged shrimp on a light spinning rod could be your ticket to a 10-pound bone this month.
Alternatives: Snook are firing up around Sebastian Inlet, and will eat lures or live bait. The rock jetties can be productive on moving water, but don't ignore baitfish schools moving along the beach outside the inlet.
Tarpon are following schools of baitfish off the Fort Myers coastline. Find the bait first, and you likely will find tarpon. Watch for fish rolling and zero in on that area.
The first crisp days of fall signal the annual shad migration into the river arms feeding Ol' Sem. Many bass leave their deep-water haunts in the main lake and follow them. It can be a shad feeding frenzy, and the first key is to find the river arms holding shad.
Once shad are found, concentrate your efforts along hydrilla walls separating the main channel from the shallow spawning flats. Topwater plugs and crankbaits can be key lures, but if you find bass and the action stops, shift to a plastic worm. Those river arms that lead to traditional spawning sites are often the most productive.
Alternatives: Cooling temperatures get snook moving in the maze of Everglades backcountry creeks. Sinking hard plugs and dark plastic jigs are very effective.
The shallow flats inside of Seahorse and North keys at Cedar Key see large schools of redfish gather this month. Find a school and they fall all over themselves to eat your spoons or jigs.
Cooler weather and the annual lowering of water to the winter pool level shake Kissimmee bass from their summer doldrums. Some gather at the inflow and outflow to feed on abundant baitfish. Often the larger sows begin to move toward the shallow flats where they will spawn.
Those anglers looking for larger fish want to concentrate their efforts on maidencane points extending toward deep water. Live shiners are the best bet for a trophy, but topwater plugs, soft plastics and countdown crankbaits can also score.
For further details or guide service, contact Reno Alley at Memory Makin' Guide Service at (800) 749-2278.
Alternatives: Bass begin surface schooling over shell bars and submerged points in the St. Johns River from Little Lake George to Palatka. The outgoing tide is the best time to chase them, and anglers are advised to have a selection of spoons, plugs and soft-plastic jigs to "match the hatch" of shad the bass are feeding on.
Striped bass are feeding well on bars and around bridge structure in the Nassau River bars.
For most anglers, any fishing trip involving grouper begins with a lengthy run to offshore structures in depths of at least 80 feet. This month, however, those fishing the nearshore waters out of Crystal River can find solid grouper action a lot closer and in just 6 to 10 feet of water!
From Crystal River to Hernando Beach, there exist a plethora of shallow rockpiles in depths of 6 to 10 feet. Cooler weather brings grouper to them and results in some of the most unusual grouper fishing available.
Forget heavy bottom rigs and live bait. Instead, grab a stout casting or spinning rod, tie on a very sturdy lipped, diving crankbait, and start banging the bottom. It's a lot like fishing for largemouths, until you connect with a 15- to 25-pound gag grouper!
Some anglers even anchor away from and upcurrent of the rockpile and chum grouper to the surface, where they sometimes even eat topwater plugs.
Alternatives: Lake Okeechobee largemouths are finning their way toward the shallows where they begin spawning in next month. Look for bass to be stacking up on the first line of vegetation leading to the traditional bedding sites.
Trout are making their annual migration to the deeper, rock-lined holes in the Steinhatchee River where they ride out the colder winter months. Live bait, jigs or sinking plugs drifted along th
e bottom will take them.