September 30, 2010
From Pensacola to Jacksonville and south to Miami, the Sunshine State is loaded with great fishing destinations. Here's a look at 36 of the best for this year.
By Rod Hunter
There isn't another state in the country (or even another country, for that matter) that offers the year-round mix of angling that Floridians enjoy, but tapping into the various species at their peak times and locations does call for a bit of planning. The Sunshine State doesn't really have "fishing seasons," but there is no doubt that some species respond best at certain times of the year, and this is doubly true of the numerous saltwater species that migrate up and down the coast. Check out the Florida Game & Fish picks for this year and you won't have to hear "You should have been here last week."
JANUARY After a false alarm last winter, the eagerly anticipated drawdown of the Kissimmee Chain is scheduled for this year. By the time January rolls around, the water levels should be within a few feet of the low pool, and bass will be in a strong pre-spawn mode. Low water concentrates those fish and gives anglers their best chance of finding them
Water will still be dropping during the spawn, which pushes bass to the deeper edges of hydrilla beds in 3 to 5 feet of water. Some spawn there and others feed there, but the hydrilla edges hosts much of the bass activity January offers.
Weedless soft-plastic baits, such as Texas-rigged plastic worms, tube lures and soft-plastic jerkbaits, account for the majority of bass, but anglers shouldn't overlook spinnerbaits and small topwater lures during dim-light periods.
Alternatives Suwannee River fishermen find big trout stacked up in the deeper holes, especially on the outside bends, and along rock ledges. Plastic-bodied jigs and suspending hard-plastic jerkbaits are favorites with local anglers.
Tarpon are feeding in Key West Harbor. Find the mullet schools and you find the silver kings. Live mullet and large plastic-bodied swimming jigs can be deadly.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
FEBRUARY The spawn should be in full swing by midmonth, and after last year's drawdown, which dried out many areas of shoreline muck, anglers may need to seek bedding fish shallower than in years past.
Look for concentrations of both spawning and pre-spawn bass along the southern shoreline from the dam to Blue Springs; along with the Orange Springs area; and on the eastern side of the Deep Creek flats.
Weedless tube jigs are ideal for enticing bedding fish, while plastic worms, lipless crankbaits, small spinnerbaits and jerkbaits can be deadly early and late in the day as fish move to and from the spawning sites.
Alternatives Lake Woodruff should be producing a bumper crop of speckled perch this month. Pint-sized tube jigs and Beetle Spin-type lures worked around deeper lily pad beds will find the specks.
Look for big trout to be leaving the Cocoa Beach canals to soak up some sun on the shallow grass flats near the mouths of the canals. Warm, overcast afternoons are excellent times to find the fish around white holes and mangrove shorelines, where jigs, jerkbaits and live bait can produce.
MARCH Lake George gets a lot of publicity. But during March, better bassin' often happens on the St. Johns River to the north of the big lake, in the area from Fruitland to Buffalo Bluff.
St. Johns River
On an outgoing tide, look for feeding bass on the outside edges of eelgrass beds along the main-river channel, especially early and late in the day. Plastic worms, spinnerbaits, weedless spoons and jerkbaits are very effective. On a rising tide, check the inside edges of the grass patches for bass beds and pay particular attention to any downed wood along the shoreline in low-current areas.
Should that fail to produce, don't overlook any canals. Bass use them heavily for spawning in this section of the river.
Alternatives Striped bass invade the Oklawaha River below Rodman Dam this month, and trolling chrome minnow lures with a blue or black back is a highly effective technique for catching them.
This month will see the heaviest bonefish of the year in Biscayne Bay. Check the flats on a rising tide.
APRIL Warming waters send schools of oversized redfish to the shallow grass flats to feed, and they remain there much of the day in April. Local experts idle along the edges of the channels watching for the characteristic "push" made by a school of moving reds and then move ahead to intercept them.
Spoons, plastic grubs on jigs, and jerkbaits can prove effective, but if angling pressure is heavy and the reds don't respond to artificials, drop a live finger mullet or half a blue crab in front of them, and hang on. Fish in the 20- to 40-pound range are common.
Alternatives Shellcrackers start to bed on Lake George in April. Look for the first spawning fish around the west-shore spring mouths.
Big trout are stirring in the Jacksonville area. Check the mouths of tidal creeks on the falling tide.
MAY Some of the biggest trout in northeast Florida are found in the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) within two miles of the St. Augustine Inlet this month as they follow the annual pogy migration.
St. Augustine Inlet
On a rising tide, look for the trout around rock jetties and spartina grass lines close to deeper water. In the ebb, check deeper dock pilings and any spot where an oyster edge abuts a deep-water drop. Live mullet are deadly if you can find them, but plastic jigs, big topwater plugs and hard-plastic jerkbaits also produce trout over 7 pounds.
Alternatives Port Charlotte anglers find big trout along mangrove shorelines near deeper channel dropoffs. Tossing topwater plugs during the morning hours is an exiting and productive tactic.
Lake Seminole bass are stacked up on the outside edges of hydrilla beds and can provide exciting topwater action during the morning
JUNE Bass on this lake are fully finished with the post-spawn and have dropped back to deeper water where they concentrate near offshore hydrilla beds. Get out early, find the weedbeds hosting bass activity (you can see the fish feed), and stay in that area throughout the day.
Lipless crankbaits and topwater plugs are deadly early, while plastic worms and live shiners pull additional fish from the vegetation during the midday hours. Savvy anglers also keep a stout flipping rod handy and probe any small patches of surface-crowned hydrilla along the deepwater edge. Big bass are often lazing underneath this surface vegetation.
Alternatives Tarpon are cruising the edges of the ocean-side flats in the Middle Keys. They can be taken on flies or soft-plastic jigs, with those having some orange in the color scheme the most effective.
Flounder are flooding the St. Augustine Inlet this month. Docks are prime hangouts, but don't overlook the edges of exposed oyster beds on the dead low tide.
JULY Cobia are staking out channel markers throughout the Big Bend this month, and while the heat causes some species of fish to adopt an early and late feeding attitude, not so with the cobia. They relish the heat, and some of the best action can occur in the middle of the day as long as there is a moving tide.
Check each channel marker carefully, because there can often be more than one of the chocolate bruisers in residence this time of year.
Live-bait anglers won't go wrong if they drift a lively pinfish to the marker with the tide, but lure tossers can also score. A 1-ounce bucktail jig dressed with a 6- to 9-inch chartreuse plastic worm or curlytail is like candy to a cobia.
Alternatives Smoker kings begin roaming the beaches in the St. Augustine to Matanzas Inlet area this month, and slow-trolling live pogies in 30 to 50 feet of water is a good way to find them.
Peacock bass start lighting it up in the maze of canals in the Miami/ Dade areas this month, and many locations are accessible to bank fishermen.
AUGUST Some of the biggest wahoo of the year make their appearance in August along the 27-fathom line running between Fort Pierce and Daytona Beach. Savvy anglers confine their efforts to what are locally referred to as the "cones" - a series of coral pinnacles rising from the bottom in about 160 feet of water.
High-speed trolling is the preferred method of many anglers, but a growing number of specialists are producing excellent results with live bait on down riggers.
Regardless of the tactic chosen, gear up on the stout side, because wahoo over 80 pounds show up during the hottest summer months.
Alternatives Tarpon invade the ICW in the St. Augustine area, giving small boaters in northeast Florida the opportunity to tangle with the silver kings.
The action can be fast and furious on Lake Talquin this month as the white bass begin to surface school. Long spinning rods for equally long casts with silver spoons and soft-plastic jigs are the ticket.
SEPTEMBER This is the peak month for finding big schools of reds gathering over the shallow grass flats around Cedar Key. Some of these fish can be huge. Reds up to 35-plus pounds were seen and caught in 2002.
Look for reds to follow baitfish up onto the shallow shorelines of the islands, especially those with oyster beds, on the flood tide. On low tide, drop back into the deeper pockets and potholes.
A gold spoon is the classic redfish lure here, but if you find big reds busting mullet schools, toss in a live mullet and hang on!
Alternatives Monster snook are showing up in Sebastian Inlet this month, and they take live bait or lures. The best fish tend to feed at night.
Bruiser reds (most too large to keep) are eating cut mullet or crab fished on the bottom at the Mayport Jetties in Jacksonville.
OCTOBER Fall is feeding time for striped bass, and one of the surest places to find them this month is in the tailwaters below the Jim Woodruff Dam. Stripers over 30 pounds, as well as sunshine bass up to 15 pounds, are not uncommon in the fall.
Jim Woodruff Dam
One of the simplest ways to tangle with these linesides is from the catwalk below the dam. Dip up a live shad and put on enough weight to get it to the bottom. Those favoring artificial lures find a 1/2-ounce white bucktail jig tipped with a pearl-colored plastic worm or grub to be very effective. Large topwater plugs can also produce in periods of dim light.
Stout gear in the 15- to 20-pound line class is suggested, and it's a good idea to make certain the reel spools about 200 yards of line. It comes in handy when a big striper decides to head downstream.
Alternatives Tasty blackfin tuna gather around the Islamorada Hump in the Florida Keys this month and are easy to chum to the boat with whitebaits. They also take jigs and flies tossed into a chum line.
Kingfish are prowling the 25- to 40-foot depths outside Charlotte Harbor. Find the line where the water changes color and slow-troll live bait.
NOVEMBER Cooling temperatures do two very positive things for the backcountry this month. They mitigate the biting bugs, and they start moving snook into the rivers for the winter.
Look for good activity in the Lostmans and Broad rivers, as well as in connecting passes to the Gulf of Mexico. Top snook hangouts include the backside of points with a good current flowing over them, deeper mangrove shorelines, and creek mouths. Moving water is a plus.
Although topwater lures are the most exciting, this month sub-surface baits, like hard-plastic jerkbaits and plastic-bodied jigs, are often more productive.
Alternatives Big sheepshead move into St. Andrew Bay Pass to spawn this month, and most are over 5 pounds. Shrimp and fiddler crabs fished over oyster shells are deadly.
Jacksonville anglers find aggressive grouper moving shallow this month. Some invade wrecks and hard bottom areas as close as six to seven miles from the be
DECEMBER Matanzas-area anglers find big trout starting to stack up in Pellicer Creek this month, but it takes a yen for adventure to get to them. Access from the ICW requires a careful transit of the shallow, oyster-laden flats at the mouth, while the public ramp upstream on the creek at Faver-Dykes State Park can be tricky on certain tides.
The effort is deemed worth it by many trophy hunters, however, because trout over 8 pounds are there every winter. In fact, it is the major refuge for most of the big seatrout in the Matanzas area.
Peak activity happens on dark, drizzly days, using slow-sinking minnow plugs and plastic-bodied jigs. Most of the trout are found downstream of the U.S. 1 Bridge, and while smaller trout often inhabit the deeper holes, look for the big fish to feed on relatively shallow flats during an outgoing tide.
Alternatives Speckled perch are hungry on Lake Okeechobee this month. Look for them in shallow vegetation in 3 to 7 feet of water. Minnows and jigs work well, but anglers are advised to stay on the move until they locate a concentration of fish.
Stripers are feeding aggressively at the mouths of the west-shore spring runs on Lake George. Peak activity is early and late in the day, but the bite can last on overcast days. Small silver spoons, plastic jigs and slender minnow lures are the lures to use.
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