September 30, 2010
It's hard to imagine any country, let alone a single state, having a better variety of great fishing than Florida. These 36 destinations should confirm the truth of that for you this year! (February 2007)
One of the great things about Florida is that there's no such thing as a true "fishing season." Angling here goes on year 'round at all hours! There is always something biting somewhere. But given the extreme range of latitude covered by the Sunshine State, often water temperatures -- and the level of fish activity -- can be better in one locale than another.
Also, annual coastal migrations of our numerous saltwater species can result in localized bonanzas for those who time it right. Here's a look at 36 angling adventures that should help you "time it right" this year.
If largemouths in Lake "Toho" aren't actively spawning early in the month, rest assured that they will be bedding by the end of the month. This puts a large percentage of the lake's bass in shallow water where anglers can locate them more easily.
Savvy anglers concentrate their efforts around shallow cover in 2 to 4 feet of water, and stay on the move until they see signs of spawning activity. Sight-fishing spawning bass with soft-plastics is one option, but search for baits like soft-plastic jerk worms or 1/4-ounce white spinnerbaits, and cover a lot of water to find fish faster.
Experienced anglers also keep a flipping rod handy and probe any pockets of surface matted cover in areas where they have found fish. The big spawning females often spend a lot of time underneath it.
Alternatives: Anglers on the coast Broward and Miami-Dade counties coast find sailfish eating live baits over the local reefs.
Bass are spawning heavily along the 6-mile length of Salt Run, a spring-fed tributary entering the northwest corner of Lake George.
A massive state stocking effort and the return of normal water levels have made Lochloosa a true hotspot for specks. This month, they start the transition from the open mid-lake waters to the shallow lily pad beds where they spawn.
Weather conditions dictate just where in the process they are, and savvy anglers regard a pair of binoculars as a major asset for finding these fish. Field glasses show you what the other boats are accomplishing, and whether the fish are still outside or have moved into the pads.
In cooler water, a live Missouri minnow on a gold hook is hard to beat. But if we have a warm winter, small jigs in bright colors can often be more effective.
Alternatives: Largemouths begin their spawn in Rodman Reservoir this month. Look for them around the springs, or on flats adjacent to a channel drop.
Grouper are ganging up on the shallower near-shore bottom areas off the coast of Naples, and can be reached by smaller boats.
The annual spring run of stripers is in full swing this month in the Oklawaha River below Rodman Dam. Anglers fishing the tailrace below the dam fare well with cut bait or 1/2-ounce bucktail jigs or similar-sized soft-plastic grub and jig combos. Green-and-white or blue-and-white are the most effective color combos.
In the river below the State Route 19 bridge, anglers also score by trolling chrome minnow lures with green or blue backs. That is especially true early and late in the day, or all day under overcast skies.
Although most of the stripers are smaller than 15 pounds, there will be good numbers of them.
Alternatives: Bass move shallow on Lake Walk-In-Water this month. Savvy anglers target them from the outer edge of the bulrushes to the shoreline. Weedless soft-plastics are the key baits, but topwater plugs and spinnerbaits work well in dim light.
Plastic worms and spinnerbaits take plenty of largemouths from shoreline cypress trees in Lake Lochloosa.
New Smyrna Beach
The Intracoastal Waterway flowing through New Smyrna Beach may be one of the most overlooked trout hotspots in Florida, and this is one of the best months to experience it.
On a high tide, early or late in the day, look for trout to be roaming the mangrove edges bordering the Waterway. Topwater plugs, hard-plastic jerkbaits and dark-colored plastic tailed jigs are deadly.
On the low tide, especially at midday, look for trout on the 7- to 9-foot drop from the shoreline flats to the main channel. Key areas are those downcurrent from an intersecting creek mouth. Savvy anglers pick the areas with the clearest water. Smoke-with-glitter pattern trailers on jigs are effective, but gaudy jerkbaits in combos of fluorescent orange, or chartreuse with chrome, often take the larger fish.
Alternatives: Largemouths are now spawning on Lake Seminole in Jackson County, and anglers probing the shallow areas of main lake points find plenty of fish in the 4- to 7-pound range.
Big trout start roaming the mangrove edges in the Fort Pierce area this month. Topwater plugs are a good way to connect with some.
With the summer pogy run in full swing, look for big "ocean runner" spotted seatrout to be slipping into the ICW around the St. Augustine Inlet. Fish of 7 to 9 pounds are not uncommon this month, and 10-pound trout are taken every year.
The key areas are within three or four miles inside the inlet, with Salt Run and the Guana River being proven producers. On a high tide, concentrate on Spartina grass edges near a deeper drop, or along any rock seawall adjacent to a sharp channel drop. Topwater plugs are deadly early and late in the day, but hard-plastic jerkbaits are a better bet when the sun is high.
Alternatives: Largemouths are stacking up on main lake points on Lake Talquin, where Carolina worm rigs and diving crankbaits can score.
Don't overlook spinnerbaits right on the shoreline during dim light periods.
Anglers looking for numbers of trout should find plenty on the grass f
lats just outside Horseshoe Beach in Dixie County. Rattling corks trailing a jig or live shrimp can fill the live-well in a hurry.
Cobia arrive on the shallow Gulf side flats of the Cedar Keys this month. Some anglers prefer to fish them on a high tide, when water levels allow access right to the shoreline. Savvy anglers often favor the lower tide, however. The water is normally clearer, visibility better, and the cobia are concentrated on the outer edge of the flats. That means less water to cover to find them.
Regardless of the tide, find the flats with rays, and you find cobia willing to eat your chartreuse plastic jig.
Alternatives: Redfish are lighting up the grass lines around Port St. Joe, and anglers catching a high tide early or late in the day can find them.
Throughout this month, king mackerel are running the piers and near-shore wrecks from Panama City to Pensacola.
Summer tarpon like bays on the Gulf Coast. And once in them, they really like the mouths of intersecting rivers. The areas where the Peace and Myakka rivers enter Charlotte Harbor are perennial favorites for the silver kings this month.
Cruise the area until you actually see pods of tarpon striking baitfish or rolling. Once they're found, be sure that you're geared up accordingly. These fish run from 50 pounds to more than 100.
For striking fish, a brawny topwater plug is hard to beat. Not only will they crush it, but it's a strike you remember the rest of your life. For rolling fish, toss a sinking lure in front of them. The 65M MirrOlure is a top choice, as are 5- and 6-inch curlytail grubs on a 1/4- or 3/8-ounce jighead.
Lower light levels produce the best action, but fish can often be found throughout the day.
Alternatives: School-sized kingfish are plentiful on the near-shore wrecks off St. Augustine, but larger fish are roaming within a mile of the beach.
Yellowfin tuna feed heavily in the Gulf Stream off of Port Canaveral in July, for those who own the boats with the legs to make the run.
Although you can't keep a snook until the first of September, this is a great month to tangle with beach-hugging linesiders on Sanibel Island. And, you don't need a boat to do it.
Sanibel snook often hug the beach so tightly that a surf-angler who wades out waist-deep may find some of the fish behind him! These fish often cruise as singles, pairs, or occasionally as a small pod.
The key is to spot them. Using a good pair of polarized glasses, it's often easier to spot the shadows on the bottom than the actual fish.
Once you see them, plastic-tailed jigs in pearl white, white-and-pink, or smoke-with-glitter are top choices. Under dim light, don't overlook an erratic topwater plug.
Although these fish can run more than 20 pounds, the lack of obstructions makes spinning tackle in the 10- to 12-pound range a good choice.
Alternatives: Wahoo are feeding well offshore of Palm Beach on the east coast this month.
In the St. Augustine area, look for schools of tarpon within a mile of the beach feeding off of shrimp boats' bycatch.
Large schools of redfish, many over the 27-inch maximum limit, are cruising the inner grassflats at Cedar Key. Schools 50 yards long, 20 yards wide, and packed like sardines sometimes appear.
Find such a school, get a plastic jig into it, and a hookup is virtually guaranteed. Once that fish is subdued, find the school again, and the fun can last all day.
The key to finding these schools is to prowl the grassflats between Deadmans Key and the outer keys, starting midway through the flood tide. Polarized glasses are a big help. But even without them, schools often reveal themselves by the "push" of water they make.
Alternatives: Sunshine bass are surface-schooling on shad in the deeper waters of Lake Seminole near the Jim Woodruff Dam.
Look for big snook to move into Sebastian Inlet, where live bait can fool fish bigger than 20 pounds.
Although bones move onto the Keys' flats during the heat of the summer, fall's first cooling breezes spark more activity. This is total sight-fishing -- find the fish first, then cast.
The oceanside flats produce larger schools of smaller fish, but those anglers looking to top the 10-pound mark should concentrate on the smaller keys on the bayside. Some of those isles lie not more than a long rifle shot from the dock.
Although flyfishermen can score well, the sure-fire bait to present to a flats-cruising bone is a fresh shrimp. Remove the head and thread the body of the shrimp onto a 1/0 hook attached to 6- to 10-pound line on a 7-foot spinning outfit.
Alternatives: Bull reds begin moving into the St. Johns River at Jacksonville. The Mayport Jetties are one of their first and most consistent stops.
Snook are prowling mangrove edges in the backcountry out of Everglades City.
St. Johns River
Bass are actively schooling on shad this month, and while they average 1 to 3 pounds in size, their numbers can be impressive. Once schoolers are found, catching 25 to 40 fish without moving the boat is not uncommon.
The key area is from the north end of Lake George to Palatka. The best habitat is easy to identify: Look for the downcurrent side of submerged points extending into the river, or the downcurrent end of mid-river bars.
Most activity takes place on the last three hours of the outgoing tide, although there are some areas where bass school on the incoming tide.
Surface-schoolers are easy to find. Watch for the gulls feeding, or the fish breaking the surface. Once you spot them, anchor near the action and present spoons, grubs, or small crankbaits to the bass.
Alternatives: Grouper are moving into the closer near-shore wrecks along the First
Coast, and you can find big-time bottom-fishing as close as six miles from the beach.
King mackerel are migrating along the lower west coast and are easily accessible from Tampa Bay.
The Big O has garnered some negative publicity of late. Much of it was deserved, but the bottom line is that it still has a serious population of mature fish. In fact, bass up to 11 pounds were taken in the summer of 2006.
In December, expect those fish to be gathered in shallow vegetation in 2 to 4 feet of water, and eager to eat. Given that water levels were drawn down severely in 2006, just which shallow areas will be accessible is not yet known. But expect a banner month for big bass on the Big O.
Alternatives: Speckled perch are feeding well in the DeLand area of the St. Johns River. This area has produced monster specks in recent years. Striped bass are roaming in lower Lake Talquin near the dam, and eating white jigs whenever you find them.
Find more about Florida fishing and hunting at: FloridaGameandFish.com