Fall is a great time for bass, redfish, whiting and more as Florida fishing heats up.
In a lot of areas of the nation, September is a transition month from summer into fall. However, that applies less in Florida, as the weather across the Sunshine State this time of year is simply a continuation of the heat of late summer.
This means that anglers have to look for situations where the fishing can be good, even in the heat. Still, there are some trends beginning that herald the coming fall.
FIRST COAST WHITING
September offers a great time for beach fishing in the area from Ormond Beach up to the Georgia border at Fernandina. With schools back in session, the tourists have mostly gone home, yet the weather remains perfect for surfcasting.
One species that offers plenty of action for light tackle fishing is whiting. These fish are usually found right in the surf, to out just beyond the breakers, putting them in easy reach of anglers on the sand. They often are found in pods, so catching one can lead to additional hook ups.
During the late summer and right on into fall, whiting are quite abundant along the northeast Florida shores. Although whiting can show up virtually anywhere along the beach, there are a couple of situations that seem to draw them in greater numbers.
One of those is the presence of troughs running parallel to the shore. As the tide falls, these depressions form tidal pools. Then when the tide begins rising they offer deeper water close to shore. Whiting often get into these troughs to run up and down the beach. During periods of clear water, anglers may even be able to see the fish in these troughs.
The other situation occurs on the falling tide. When the tide is ebbing, water from the tidal pools drains to the lowest point and forms a run out where the water escapes back into the surf. These run-outs can create quite a bit of current. The moving water just out from the mouths of the pools are good places to look for the whiting, as they search for forage being swept out.
Another way to locate good fishing is to walk the beach, watching breaking waves in the surf. Just prior to breaking, whiting sometimes can be seen riding in the swell.
Whiting don't get very big, with most being around 1 to 1 1/2 pounds. In fact, the world record is just 2 pounds, 5 ounces. However, whiting make up for this in numbers and as excellent table fare.
Many anglers choose to target whiting using heavy surf rods, staked out in holders. While heavy gear makes casting out beyond the breakers easier, it also over matches the fish. Medium weight gear, with 10- to 12-pound test line is more attune to the size of the prey. Using lighter rods also allows anglers to be more mobile, even wading right out into surf.
For terminal tackle, nothing fancy is needed. A 1/2- to 3/4-ounce barrel weight on a fish-finder rig allows baits to bounce along the bottom in the surf zone. Finishing out with a circle hook of 1/0 or smaller is about right for these fish.
As for bait, small pieces of cut shrimp or squid can work. However, the best bait can usually be found for free in the sand. Small mole crabs — better known as sand fleas — make excellent whiting bait. They can be seen scurrying over the sand and burrowing in as waves subside.
LAKE TALQUIN FOR STRIPERS
Over in the Panhandle region, it is moving into the time of year to tangle with striped bass on Lake Talquin. The 8,800-acre, man-made impoundment on the Ochlockonee River near Tallahassee is cited by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists as one of the best places in the Sunshine State for catching stripers.
This reservoir is stocked at a rate of 10 to 20 striped bass per acre annually. Those fish do very well in the lake, regularly growing to the 10- to 20-pound size range. In fact, fish of 30 pounds show up in the reservoir.
In September, anglers should look for stripers in the upper end of the reservoir where tributaries enter the lake. As long as the water temperatures are tepid in the main lake these fish look for cooler inflows. Feeder streams with springs are particular good, as the cooler spring water attracts the striper to such areas.
More areas to check out are the deeper holes in the river channel near the lake's dam. At points in the old channel, the water drops to 40-foot depths, providing thermal refuges for stripers. Once water temperatures begin dropping into the fall, stripers spread out and can be found throughout the lake.
Anglers should also keep an eye out for gulls diving on threadfin shad, which are the main forage for stripers. The diving birds suggest that stripers are below, pushing bait to the surface. In these situations, any lure that resembles a threadfin should attract some attention from the fish.
Another option for stripers is to troll deep-diving crankbaits along the old flooded creek and river channels. Pay special attention to the places where deep water is found. And don't forget to consider tossing a cast net to catch some live threadfin shad to use as bait.
PINE ISLAND REDFISH
When it comes to fishing on Pine Island Sound in southwest Florida, the glamour fish are snook and tarpon. As a result, redfish found in this body of water are often overlooked.
Bound to the east by Pine Island, to the south by Sanibel Island and on the west by both Sanibel and Captiva islands, the sound opens at its north end into Boca Grande. For anglers interested in tangling with redfish, the northern portion of the sound offers the best opportunities.
In this part of the sound, the shores of mangrove islands are fringed with very shallow flats, which allows anglers to spot reds pushing wakes or even tailing. But, getting to those fish often is difficult to impossible. Even if a boat can get in these places, the slapping of water on its side could spook fish. To prevent this, Capt. Rogan White gets out of his boat and pushes it silently within casting range, tossing a popping cork rig tipped with a live shrimp.
Capt. Josh Harvel put clients in kayaks to get into places with less than a foot of water, using both shrimp and shrimp imitators, such as a Vudu Shrimp.
Near the north end of Pine Island, Big Jim Creek runs into the interior of that isle, opening into a maze of shallow lakes and lagoons. This habitat offers a fertile foraging ground for redfish. For access to the north end of Pine Island Sound, a good jump-off point is the Pineland Marina (www.pinelandmarina.com). This full-service facility has a boat ramp, as well as angling and boating supplies.
For those needing accommodations, the historic Tarpon Lodge (www.tarponlodge.com) is next door, offering modern Florida hospitality in an Old Florida setting, complete with a restaurant on the grounds.
EVERGLADES CANALS FOR LARGEMOUTH
From Palm Beach County south through Broward to Miami/Dade County, the western fringes of these three counties are laced with canals. These man-made waterways are on the edge of the Everglades, but also intrude into that River of Grass.
Most canals in southern Broward and Miami/Dade counties are cut in a box shape with depths of 10 feet, making them ideal byways for anglers in boats. The canals to the north are more bowl-shaped on the bottom, shallower and have sand bottoms.
These waters all teem with largemouth bass. Though double-digit-sized lunkers are rare, the number of bass that can be hooked in a day can be amazing. For the most part these fish run less than 5 pounds, with some of the best areas stretching to Alligator Alley, the Tamiami Trail and U.S. Highway 27.
One exciting facet of fishing these canals is that topwater angling can be very productive. Granted, anglers need to start at dawn, but the way largemouths blast topwater offerings makes getting up early worth the effort.
Capt. Alan Zaremba (www.floridapeacocks.com) of Hollywood guides these canals for both peacock and largemouth bass. But in the early light of day of a September day, it's the largemouths that offer the most fun and action.
Zaremba typically favors two tactics, both on the surface. When guiding a pair of anglers, he has one throwing a chugging topwater plug along the edge of the grass or lily pads at the shore of the canal, while the other tosses an unweighted plastic worm into the pads, working it out to open water.
To accomplish this, he has the angler keep the rod pointed vertically up in the air, which keeps the worm on or near the surface. However, some anglers have trouble setting the hook because they pull too quickly. As such, he recommends waiting to feel the fish, similar to when fishing plastics on bottom.
For maps of the canals, visit www.myfwc.com/fishing. Then follow the links through Freshwater Fishing, Sites & Forecasts, South Forecast and finally Miami/Dade, Broward & Palm Beach Canals.
Regardless of whether the preference is saltwater or freshwater action, something is biting somewhere in Florida, with many more options available to anglers. All it takes is a little research to find a place to wet a hook.