Florida's Fab Five For Summer Fun

Florida's Fab Five For Summer Fun

When weather heats up, so does the angling all along the Sunshine State coast. If you're looking for action, these locations and species can give all you can handle! (June 2007)

According to Capt. Dennis Goldstein, school-sized king mackerel are abundant this month around wrecks off St. Augustine Inlet.
Photo by Rod Hunter.

Sunshine State anglers don't lack for saltwater fishing opportunities. That's true any month of the year, but as we move into the early summer, things get truly bountiful. Warming waters and increasing baitfish numbers make it hard to go wrong in just about any water that even tastes salty!

But some places are better than others -- especially if you're targeting a particular species of fish. Some spots around the coast are legendary, but you needn't fish well-known waters to enjoy success. In fact, some lesser-known waters may actually provide a better option.

Here's a look at five spots -- including a few you may not have read much about -- where it's hard to go wrong this month. Let's start in northeast Florida and work our way around the coast.

ST. AUGUSTINE KINGS

If king mackerel are your target you won't go wrong if you head out the St. Augustine Inlet. Once you do, you have two productive options.

"June is the month when the shrimp boats are allowed to drag within a mile of the beach," explained Capt. Dennis Goldstein, who has been guiding on these waters for over 25 years. "That activity, and the by-catch, along with big schools of migrating menhaden creates a big buffet and draws a lot of fish. Among them will be big smoker kings."

Twenty pounds is an average beach king, and fish to 50 pounds are taken every year. The majority of these mackerel are in 20 to 50 feet of water, and within a mile of the beach. On a calm day -- of which there are many in June -- that opens the door to boats as small as 14 feet.

The most effective technique for beach smokers is to slow troll a live menhaden. The first step is to find a pod of the baitfish, which are also called pogies, and cast net supply. These need to be held in a circular livewell, since pogies stack up in the corners of a square tank and die.

Once bait is secured the preferred rigging is a 6-foot monofilament leader, to which is attached a 2- or 3-foot, dark-colored wire leader of either 27- or 40-pound test. To the business end of that, a 1/0 short-shanked bronze bait hook is wired on, while a No. 4 or No. 6, 4X strong treble hook is added to a 6-inch piece of wire attached through the eye of the first hook. This is allowed to dangle freely alongside the bait and acts as a stinger hook to nail those kings that cut the bait in half. The initial hook is inserted in the nose of the pogy.

The rig is best fished on a 6 1/2- to 7-foot soft-tipped rod with either a spinning or trolling reel sporting 20-pound line.

Outriggers are nice if you want to run a spread of rods, but a pair of flat lines is all that is needed. One should be set 20 feet back in the prop wash while the other can run 75 to 150 feet behind that.

The trolling speed should be slow enough to allow the live pogies to swim behind the boat rather than be dragged. Some boats won't throttle down that slowly, but a 5-gallon bucket or two dragged over the side as sea anchors normally drop the speed enough.

One key factor to the kings' arrival is water temperature. It needs to be above 77 degree, which may not occur in early June -- or if a thermocline develops on the beach. If that occurs, Goldstein goes to option two.

"The wrecks and live bottom areas within 9 to 25 miles of the beach will have good water temperatures," the captain said, "and they're often covered up with school kings that run below 20 pounds. In 2006 we were even catching dolphin on them, and if you have enough boat you can get in on some fast action."

The same rigging, bait and tactics work on the wrecks, but Goldstein often prefers to use a Sabiki rig to catch the baitfish that inhabit the wrecks, instead of using the beach-hugging pogies.

Either way, it's hard to go wrong in St. Augustine if kings are on your "to do" list this month.

To book a king mackerel charter with Capt. Dennis Goldstein, give him a call at (904) 810-2455.

NEW SMYRNA TROUT

This is one of the top months for seatrout virtually anywhere in the state, and there are a number of locales with well-deserved reputations for both numbers and gator-sized fish! One of the most overlooked areas, however is the Intracoastal Waterway just south of New Smyrna Beach and to the north of Mosquito Lagoon. In fact, on my last trip a 5- and a 7-pound trout, along with numerous smaller fish, found their way to the boat. Those bigger ones were taken at noon on a bright day. That's some serious trout action, and in this area it's not hard to get into.

Start at the Apollo Beach federal boat ramp and head north into Government Cut. This area is a maze of mangrove islands, back bays, and tidal creeks. But savvy anglers don't wander around much this month.

"The primary trout habitat this month is the Government Cut/ICW area," said Capt. Scott Trip, "and their movements within that narrow area are geared to the tide, light levels, and water clarity. It's a very simple area to fish."

The ideal situation is to have a high tide at dawn. This pushes some trout into the back bays, but the larger fish stay in the Cut. They just move right up to the edge of the shoreline mangroves to feed. This is a prime time for a noisy topwater plug, and don't be surprised if it's also assaulted by snook or tarpon. The east side of the Cut stays shaded longer and is often a better bet.

The rising tide tends to scatter fish, but the situation changes when the water falls.

"Once that water starts to drop out of the back bays," Tripp said, "the fish start to stack up down current of the creek mouths and cuts. That's where the food is coming from and they don't have to work very hard for it. If the light levels are low the trout may be up closer to the shoreline in 2 to 4 feet of water, but during the brighter periods a very key area is the first drop from the shoreline flat to the main channel, which is normally in 5 to 8 feet of water."

Areas like this abound in Government Cut, but savvy anglers have learned that it can often pay to do some looking before they start fishing. The waters in this area are more turbid than many other top trout sp

ots, and trout like cleaner water. Finding the clearest water first can be a key to finding a lot of trout.

Even the "clearest" water here is stained, and Tripp is a big believer in darker colors on plastic jigs. He favors the Rip Tide Shrimp on a 1/4-ounce jig head and opts for smoke, smoke with glitter and root beer shades. In more turbid waters the fish need to see the bait.

The same applies to crankbaits and 5- or 6-inch hard plastic jerkbaits that can get down in the 4- to 5-foot range. These are deadly on bigger trout holding on the deeper drops.But, forget subtle baitfish imitations and go gaudy! A chrome-sided plug with a fluorescent blue back and either a fluorescent orange or chartreuse belly stripe is a good choice. These colors have to be added via nail polish, but the more obnoxious the hues, the more likely it is to trigger a strike from a big, drop-holding trout. Both the previously mentioned 5- and 7-pound fish ate these gaudy plugs, while jigs fished in the same area took nothing but smaller trout.

To book Capt. Scott Trip for a day of guided trout fishing, call him at (386) 427-3499.

MIDDLE KEYS BONEFISH

The Florida Keys can be scorching this month, and not only for the weather! This is also one of the hotter months to sight cast for bonefish on shallow flats. While these Gray Ghosts are well distributed throughout the Keys, for a number of reasons you need to concentrate your efforts between Long and Cudjoe keys.

One reason is the diversity of habitat. On the Florida Bay side of upper Long Key are such fabled bonefish hotspots as Buchanan and Arsnicker keys. Moving down the string of islands towards Big Pine, a single strand of smaller keys borders the Hawk Channel and keeps the ocean-side flats scrubbed to clean, firm sand that is ideal for the wading anglers. At the same time, there are enough bayside flats and humps to please boaters. That lengthy strand is the only cover for miles, and bones use both sides.

When one gets to the Big Pine Key area, a wealth of bayside and ocean-side flats and smaller keys prove a magnet for bones. It's a bonefish rich area and one that anglers can experience in several ways.

Regardless of which side of the keys you're on, bonefish move up onto skinny water flats and humps to feed on a rising tide, and drop back to deeper channels on falling water. Timing the tide is a key for sight fishermen and the period from the mid-to-full incoming tide is definitely the time to be on the water.

Rigging for flats-cruising bones is simple: a 6- to 7-foot, light-action spinning set up, spooled with 6- to 8-pound clear monofilament is the tool of choice. The reel should carry a minimum of 220 yards of line, and a bit more is better. The first run of a big bonefish is sizzling!

On the business end, some anglers favor a small spade-head jig in a brown-and-green crab color combination. This is best tipped with a small piece of shrimp, or a shrimp-flavored Fish Bite strip. Others opt for a plain 1/0 short shank hook and thread a shrimp onto it. Both work and either is heavy enough to cast accurately without additional weight.

A good pair of polarized glasses completes the basic outfit. You're blind without them, and if you can't spot the fish or their shadows on the bottom, you can't get the bait to it.

Bayside anglers also need a boat, since this side has a softer bottom and is not always suited for wading. On the ocean side, walk to your hearts content. There are numerous state and country parks that provide access to the flats for waders.

WACCASSASA BAY REDFISH

Located between Cedar Key and Yankeetown, Waccasassa Bay may not be the best-known redfish hole in the state. But, this month it can be one of the more productive and there are several reasons for that.

Foremost is that it doesn't get a lot of angling pressure. Nearby ramp facilities are limited to a single boat launch at the end of Levy County Road 326 out of Gulf Hammock. From there it's a few mile run down the Waccasassa River to the bay itself. Secondly, it's an area in which you have to pay attention while running. Oyster shell bars abound, and this is also one of the few areas in Florida that actually has some good-sized rocks. You can bust a prop if you're not careful.

"When you combine the lack of pressure with all that oyster and hard bottom you wind up with an outstanding redfish hole," offered Capt. Jimmy Keith, a veteran Big Bend guide who has been fishing the area for many years.

"This is an overlooked area that can produce a lot of big reds this month. The bay is a good-sized area with a lot of offshore bars and reefs. But, first time anglers might want to think shallower."

As you come out of the marked river channel, around Marker 9, turn to the northwest and concentrate on the shoreline area and maze of feeder creeks around Tripod Point. This can be a prime spot on a high tide. Another option is to turn south towards Turtle Creek Point, pass that and head to South Mangrove Point, and enter the backwaters of Lows Bay on the peak of the flood tide.

Both areas are replete with hard oyster cover and anglers will want to choose their tackle accordingly. One of the most effective redfish lures over shallow oyster is a one-half ounce floating Rat-L-Trap in gold. It has the same redfish mesmerizing characteristics as a good spoon, but won't run more than about two feet deep -- floats at rest -- and has a much longer life span around oyster. Another good choice is a five-inch hard plastic jerkbait (for the same reason). Plastic tailed jigs (a combo of chartreuse/red or motor oil flake are effective choices) can be effective, especially in deeper channel cuts between the oysters.

To spend a day exploring Waccasassa Bay for redfish with Capt. Jimmy Keith, contact him at (352) 472-7296)

PANHANDLE POMPANO

When it comes to being a glamour fish the pompano doesn't quite measure up to its larger cousin, the permit. But, when it comes to sitting pretty on the table -- with whatever garnish you prefer -- pompano rank right up there with the best!

If the Panhandle waters around Port St. Joe are your beat, this is one of the best times of the year to collect the makings of a gourmet dinner.

June is the month for pompano to run the Panhandle beaches and their preferences for particular depths and cover situations are well known. Look for a hard sand beach and get there on a rising tide. The key areas are normally along the sharpest drop-off to deeper water, but the pompano won't be deep. They like to get right in the trough in 2 to 4 feet of water where they will find their favorite food -- sand fleas or coquina clams.

If you really want to fine-tune your target zone, find those cuts in the outer sandbar that lead into the trough. Pompano come and go via these gaps.

You can fill the cooler from a boat or the beach, but the most effective approach for each is a

bit different.

Boat bound anglers need to stay well off the beach and out of the feeding zone. Pompano can be spooky and if you run your boat over them they find less traveled waters. The top rig here is a 1/4- or 1/2-ounce Pompano Jig that all local baits shops carry. These are fished on a 6- to 8-pound spinning rig. If you can get sand fleas -- which are actually mole crabs -- by all means tip the jig with one. On the retrieve, remember that pompano are bottom feeders -- deep and slow beats shallow and quick.

If you're beach bound the jig will work. But a single sand flea on a No. 6 hook, with a sinker a couple feet up the line is often better. The weight should be just heavy enough to hold the rig on the bottom.

THE BOTTOM LINE

There are plenty of other places to catch some briny fish in the Sunshine State this month, but you won't go wrong with this Fab Five.

Find more about Florida fishing and hunting at: FloridaGameandFish.com

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