When it comes to fishing, the sun certainly does shine a lot in Florida. After all, our huge peninsula state juts out and around for over 1,350 miles of piscatorial paradise — some 750 miles of coastline along the Gulf of Mexico and then another 580 miles on the Atlantic side. And that’s not including the magical Florida Keys, from Largo to Key West.
So where do you start when you have to pick just five places to fish for the likes of redfish, snook, southern flounder and more? It’s not easy to pinpoint just five choices. But you’ve got to start somewhere — and one thing’s for sure — it’s not hard to pick great places to cast your line no matter where you go in the Sunshine State. Here’s a look at some late-summer Florida fishing hotspots.
FORGOTTEN COAST REDFISH
A much underrated area and one aptly named Florida’s Forgotten Coast, this region of the state’s Panhandle in Franklin County, stretches from Mexico Beach, all the way east to Alligator Point.
Apparently, when much of the rest of the state saw huge influxes of new folks over the last 50 years from around the country, this pristine region has been somewhat overlooked. The result is rustic towns and places such as Carrabelle, Apalachicola and St. George Island, to mention a few.
You’ll feel like you’ve gone back in time to when Florida was less settled, less crowded, more natural. In fact, these days the Forgotten Coast’s moniker is slowly being replaced with Natural Escape.
The three places just mentioned places offer great waters to seek out fall redfish. According to Capt. Chris Robinson of Robinson Brothers’ Guide Service in Apalachicola, we’re talking about 4- to 8-pound redfish in shallow water. To me, this is the most enjoyable fishing, when you’re casting into the mouth of creeks and along oyster bars and other underwater structure.
Capt. Robinson said the reds are found around the barrier islands at Apalachicola and on the grass beds and tidal marshes of St. Vincent Island. They’ll also be up in the tributaries that flow into the bay off the Apalachicola River.
When he said shallow water, he’s talking from only inches up to 2 feet! The redfish will be feasting on bay shrimp, waxing fat as September and October arrive.
“We use 7-foot spinning rods, medium to light action with 10-pound mono or 15-pound braid. We also do a lot of fly-fishing for them with 9-foot, 8-weight rods with floating lines,” he said.
Flies are shrimp or crab imitations, while 1/4-ounce weedless gold spoons or 1/8- to 1/4-ounce jigs with a Gulp! shrimp work well, too.
Since redfish are normally aggressive feeders, it’s just a matter of casting jigs laced with real or plastic shrimp up current. For my money, nothing beats a live shrimp hooked either through its tail or its hard head. I prefer tail-hooked shrimp since they seem to last longer and move around more enticingly.
Just work your offering slowly along the area’s oyster bars and mangrove marsh grass edges. Give any red a few seconds when you feel the tug and then set the hook if you’re fishing with j-style hooks. With circle hooks just let your line become tight and start reeling.
Personally, when fishing shallow water, I like using a quality spinning reel spooled with 6- to 8-pound test line. I match the reel to a 7-foot, medium/fast-action rod. This type of setup allows you to cast farther. In shallow water, the farther you can cast from the boat, the better as far as more hook ups.
This type of setup is ideal for casting live shrimp or small jigs the distances you need, without losing your bait before the hit!
For more information or to book a day of angling with Capt. Chris Robinson, e-mail him at email@example.com, or call (850) 653-8896).
SANIBEL ISLAND SNOOK
Though a prolonged cold snap in December of 2009 had devastating consequences for the Gulf Coast’s snook population, killing many fish of all sizes, it looks like Mother Nature is coming back strong. Part of the reason for the comeback, according to snook guide Capt. Mike Smith, is some of these fish were offshore at the time of the frigid air and water temperatures. Others were in deeper inshore waters less affected by cold weather fronts.
This is good news for fishermen, even though snook caught in the Gulf of Mexico still can’t be harvested. It’s a catch-and-release fishery right now.
Capt. Smith’s favorite hunting grounds in Sanibel include the cuts and islands of Matlacha and Pine Island. It’s a large area and thus, it’s easy to get lost here. This is where Smith uses his best Yogism: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll get lost.”
The dense mangrove islands, points and maze of cuts make this prime territory for snook.
“On the incoming tide the snook will move into the coves that offer protection, and feed along oyster bars and the mangrove roots. On the outgoing tide they’ve got to move to where there’s depth, like the down current side of a cut,” Smith said.
Snook are big-time ambush predators, according to Capt. Smith, so look for them where there is flowing water, along with nearby cover like mangrove roots. That’s where they also hide quickly from predators like porpoises.
Snook love shady spots, corners and points during the day.
“But one of the most essential things is moving water. Snook love moving water like during the tidal changes,” the captain said.
“Bait is king when it comes to snook fishing. And they are very particular on how they attack their prey. They attack from below, open their mouths and inhale. That’s where the popping sound comes from,” Capt. Smith added.
That type strike also is where most folks make the biggest mistake of snook fishing, by pulling the bait out of the fish’s mouth before it has had the chance to fully inhale it.
“When you hear the pop or see the splash, that’s the snook sucking in your bait. You need to keep your rod tip up and follow the pull all the way down while reeling in. This gives the fish the bait and allows it time to eat it and head the other way. Most people feel the initial take and setup on the fish too fast.”
Capt. Mike Smith can put you on snook in the Sanibel and Captiva Island area. You can contact him at (239) 573-3474 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BONEFISH AT ISLAMORADA TO BIG PINE KEY
I well remember many times chasing the grey ghosts of the Middle Keys, from Islamorada to Marathon and beyond, in Florida Bay. Often, these trips turned out to be fruitless endeavors, as just finding where the bonefish are can be a monumental task in such a vast area. Even with up-to-date information from just the day before can still lead to lots of searching.
That’s why I always prefer to find a local guide who knows where to look for these skittish game fish of the open flats. Your chances of getting into great fishing increase tenfold with a good guide.
One such guide who’s got the right philosophy is Capt. Jeff Belsik, a veteran of seeking Keys’ bonefish since 1993. Here’s his way of thinking – have a positive outlook that’ll put you on fish more often than not.
“Being a guide in the Florida Keys is my profession. I guide to live and live to guide. My first thought every morning when I wake up at Big Pine Key is, what flats are the tarpon, bonefish and permit going to be on today? Spending so much time on the water, in touch with the tides, the wind, the feel in my bones of how the day will unfold, is an all day meditation for me. Although I have all the tools, I trust my instinct, honed by experience, will put us on more fish than all of the electronics in the world.”
Lots of anglers fly fish for bonefish, and lots of others use high-quality spinning gear. I prefer a spinning outfit and live or fresh dead bait. I proved to myself how important live bait is one day after leaving a bag of shrimp in a bucket overnight. The day before these shrimp were live or just dead— and just about every bonefish I cast to seemed eager to enjoy a tasty meal. This was not so the next day. Foolishly thinking that the a little “stink bait” shrimp would work as well, I decided to finish off the bag of smelly bait during the new day’s fishing trip.
Fortunately, I was able to find several nice schools of tail-feeding bones, and made some casts some 7 to 10 feet in front of approaching schools. I was amazed and dismayed to see the bonefish actually swim around my perfectly placed shrimp —as if it stunk (which it did)! I did catch a few bones that day, but I learned a valuable lesson about having fresh bait for bonefish!
Make sure your gear is up to the task of handling these line-searing speedsters. Choose a spinning reel that can hold at least 200 yards of 6- to 10-pound test. Spinning reels need a great drag system, too. Match your reel to a medium-light action 7-foot rod for good casting and leverage during the fight.
Capt. Jeff Belsik can be reached by calling (305) 942-7538 or via e-mail at Jeff@GhostHunterFishing.com.
NEW SMYRNA BEACH SEATROUT
Volusia County contains a small seaside community of some 25,000-plus people called New Smyrna Beach. The town is right on the coastline, tucked nearby to Ponce de Leon Inlet and the northernmost end of Mosquito Lagoon. Fortunately, for fishermen, the northern reaches of that lagoon are influenced by tidal flow, unlike the more southerly reaches. These waters course through a maze of tidal creeks with oyster bars, sandbars and other structure.
Where there is structure, there are baitfish. Wherever there are baitfish, you find a variety of saltwater game fish species, including seatrout. Add a good tidal flow and you have the makings of a saltwater fishing smorgasbord.
What’s great about this area is the lack of development and many channels, cuts, and backwater areas, especially in Mosquito Lagoon. According to Capt. Chris Myers, much of the water surrounding New Smyrna Beach is stained and sight fishing is not the main tactic used. Fishing for trout usually involves casting jigs or soft plastic shrimp up current. He works the offerings along a current line over oyster beds and mangroves. He also tries fishing the area’s bridges and residential docks, which can produce a wide variety of fish species.
New Smyrna Beach is only 20 minutes from the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and the southern reaches of Mosquito Lagoon. Capt. Myers knows these waters intimately and will put you onto seatrout on most occasions.
You can contact Captain Chris Myers at (321) 229-2848, or email@example.com.
SEBASTIAN INLET SOUTHERN FLOUNDER
Sometimes the biggest problem with the fabulous weather of September is that it’s too nice! This can be particularly disconcerting when flounder fishing, where a good drift is vital to great fishing. However, even on calm days, boating anglers still can use Sebastian Inlet currents to bring them over productive feeding areas. This is true also along the channels and flats to the inside of the inlet on the Indian River.
The current flow narrowed by Sebastian Inlet helps to concentrate baitfish, which in turn brings in ambushing flounder. I like to use a three-way rig with as small a sinker as possible to hold bottom. A 1/2-ounce jig tipped with pork rind, strip of squid, a shrimp or a killifish is an ideal offerings. Live menhaden and mullet are also prime baits to catch bigger southern flounder. Remember, when flounder fishing, you’ve got to be dragging the bottom to catch them.
Local guide Capt. Tom Van Horn said that come September the flounder are pretty spread out inside the lagoon, along channel edges and on the flats. But he said the fishing continues to get better as the fall season moves into October and especially November. That’s when the flounder are more concentrated in preparation of their annual spawning migration to offshore waters.
However, good fishing is possible now, particularly by drift fishing on an incoming tide along Sebastian Inlet. He prefers the incoming tide due to cleaner water, plus you don’t need as much weight to hold bottom. Southern flounder, being bottom-feeding ambush predators, can more clearly see your bait under these conditions. And the incoming tide is slightly slower, allowing for a steady, longer drift that covers lots of ground.
So what does the captain use for bait? He strongly recommends D.O.A Paddle Tails on a 1/4-ounce jig head. It’s his No. 1 choice for catching lots of Sebastian Inlet flounder. He sometimes adds a shrimp or killifish to lure any stubborn flatfish.
His tackle consists of 7-foot St. Croix medium-light rods matched up with Team Daiwa Advantage 2500 or 3000 series spinning reels. Cortland 20-pound-test hi-vis braid fills his spool with an 18- to 20-inch Sufix, clear 20-pound-test fluorocarbon leader to round out the end game setup. He’ll tie a Bimini twist or spider hitch to the end of his braided line, and then tie the leader to the loop with a double Uni-knot.
He fishes with the bail open and his finger on the line.
“When you feel a tap, let the line go for a bit. Then flip the bail and tighten the line. Start reeling in and you’ll catch most flounder. There’s no need to set the hook,” said Captain Van Horn.
Be sure to have a big landing net, as most flounder are lost during the landing process. Always direct the head of the flounder into the net, so that it can’t jump out at the last moment.
Surprisingly, according to Capt. Van Horn, some of the biggest Sebastian Inlet flounder are caught by those anglers who anchor over sandy areas. They use live finger mullet during the slack tide. The slack tide is when flounder actually start to move around and reposition themselves for the next tidal flow.
“Fish when you can,” Capt. Van Horn said. “You can’t always go when conditions are perfect.”
Captain Tom Van Horn can be reached at (407) 416-1187 or you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ROUNDING IT UP
So there you have it, a round up of some of the best fall fishing hotspots in a state known for great fishing year-round. Try one or more of these picks and you’re sure to whet your fishing appetite when you wet your line.
And, remember what Captain Tom Van Horn said about fishing.
“Fish when you can!”
No more needs to be said!