February 22, 2012
For those who love to wet a line and experience the reward of a solid strike, there are few places in the world that can offer the type of angling you'll find in the Sunshine State. It doesn't make much difference whether your post-trip goal is a tasty fish fry, or a picture of you conquering a glamorous trophy species; you'll find it all here. And, you may not have to drive very far to experience it. Here are 36 locales where you can find topnotch angling this year.
There are a number of bass lakes in Florida that are hot right now. But, if a 10-pounder is your goal this month, Rodman is the hottest.
Bass begin spawning this month on the Orange Springs flats. Early in the month you find them staging on the main river and creek channel edges adjacent to the flats. As the month progresses, look for them to move to the flats.
Weedless soft plastic jerks baits, or subtle topwater plugs are good bets early in the day. When the sun comes up, sight fish bedding bass with weedless soft plastic worms or craws. If the beds are there but the sows aren't, flip any surface matted cover in the area with a weedless craw.
Speckled perch are fired up in Santa Fe Lake. Start your search in 21 to 23 feet of water, and stagger baits at different depths until you find the how deep the specs are feeding.
Tarpon are feeding in Government Cut in the Biscayne Bay at Miami. Large live shrimp are the top baits.
This is normally the peak of the bass spawn on Toho, and as recent major tournaments have revealed, there are plenty of big bass available.
Start your search along the inside edge of the major hydrilla beds in 2 to 4 feet of water. A quick moving weedless bait, like the Zoom Horny Toad, is excellent for covering water in a hurry to find fish. Another option is the inside edge of major maidencane beds, especially those that have arrowhead plants nearby. Bass love to bed next to this plant.
Once a concentration is found, shift to weedless soft plastics and probe any hole in the hydrilla, or arrowhead clusters.
Sheepshead are flocking into Tampa Bay. Look for them around the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, or any other man-made structure on which barnacles are growing.
There still are sailfish roaming the 120-foot depth line off of Miami, but many are following baitfish schools into depths as shallow as 50 feet. Let the birds tell you where the sails are.
Bass are spawning heavily in the massive eelgrass beds ringing Lake George. Key areas to check are Salt Cove, the Jetties, Hogg and Drayton islands, and the east shore from Pine Island to the north.
A tip off that bass are spawning in any of these areas is freshly chopped, bright green eelgrass, floating on the surface. Bass uproot this when they fan a bed, and many of the fish bed toward the inside edge of the grass bed.
When the sun is up, sight fishing bedding bass is effective. Early in the day, or under heavy overcast, a 1/4-ounce tandem blade spinnerbait, Horny Toad, or swimming weedless worm worked through the grass can score limits.
Striped bass approaching 20-pounds concentrate in the area of the Lake Talquin dam. Casting a 4-inch white curly-tail grub on a 1/4-ounce jighead is the preferred tactic.
The inside edge of the hydrilla beds produce a lot of bass on Orange Lake this month for anglers casting spinnerbaits, surface-running toad lures, and countdown crankbaits.
Some of the biggest spotted seatrout in Florida are caught this month in the St. Johns River within five miles of the Mayport Inlet.
Savvy anglers look for the top end of the incoming tide in areas where a shallow shoreline shelf of Spartina grass ends in an abrupt drop to seven or more feet of water. When combined with moving current and the presence of baitfish, it's a gator trout buffet. But, don't ignore docks on a sharp drop, especially along the Fort Caroline shoreline.
Topwater lures are effective early and late, but hard plastic jerkbaits and 5-inch curly-tails on a lead head jig are often the most effective working over drops.
The Pine Island flats near Port Charlotte see big trout venturing onto them with the incoming tide. Work the white sand holes with soft plastics.
Largemouths in Lake Lochloosa are finishing the spawn and stacked up between the cypress shorelines and the first patches of lily pads or maidencane out from the shoreline.
Take a look at the top spots for Florida Fishing for May, June, July and August on page two
Boca Grande Pass
Boca Grande pass, outside of Port Charlotte, is world famous for tarpon during the summer months. May is not too early to get started, because the tarpon are already arriving, but the crowds of anglers have not yet gathered.
For those who prefer to drift live bait, squirrelfish, pinfish, shrimp or crabs are the favorite offerings. These are normally set at varying depths as anglers drift through the pass with the current.
Those anglers favoring paddle tail jigs normally use a depthfinder to locate clusters of fish and a big trolling motor. They hold their boat right on top of cluster, as they dangle the jigs in front of the fish.
Regardless of the technique, load up with stout gear as these are mature tarpon that can reach 200 pounds.
Gator trout are eating topwater plugs, jerkbaits and jigs along hard drops within five miles of the St. Augustine Inlet. Salt Run is a proven producer.
King mackerel are roaming the 200- to 240-foot depths from Panama City to Pensacola. Slow trolling live bait is a deadly technique.
This month, anglers who want to get into some serious offshore trolling action don't need a big boat to do it. King mackerel are following baitfish schools up the beaches and are within easy reach of even 15-foot craft heading out of Sebastian Inlet.
Look for clean water, surface temperatures of 76 degrees and above, and the presence of baitfish — all within a mile of the beach. If a school of Spanish mackerel is spotted, troll around them. Kings love Spanish.
Slow trolling live pogies or mullet is the top tactic. Another option is to troll at a quicker pace with large short-lipped crankbaits like the Mann's series, or swim baits like the Sebile Magic Swimmer line
Mangrove snapper are spawning frantically along the reefs in 15 to 80 feet of water from Deerfield Beach south to Ocean Beach in southeast Florida. Setting up a chum line can bring mangos to the surface, but chunks of cut bait on the bottom is often more effective.
Dolphin are roaming the weed lines and floating debris offshore from Miami. Soft plastic jigs are top choices, but if a school is found, cut fish chum can often keep them around your boat while you fill the cooler
The annual northward migration of tarpon along the east coast brings them to St. Augustine this month, and with warm water and plenty of food from the by-catch of the shrimp boats, they aren't in any hurry to leave.
Veteran guides acquire large bags of by-catch from the shrimp boats and establish a chum line to bring tarpon to their boat. For anglers that can't acquire chum and establish their own line, let the shrimp boats do it for you. Find one dumping by-catch fall in behind.
Tackle in the 50- to 80-pound class is preferred. Savvy anglers pick through the by-catch and find a soft-rayed fish the tarpon prefer. Rig that under a cork, and watch the silver kings come to it. Some can exceed 180 pounds.
Cobia are visiting the flats on the outer isles at Cedar Key this month. Sight fishing with a soft plastic jig can put 50-pound fish in the boat.
The maze of creeks entering East Bay in Apalachicola can be a gold mine for redfish on the falling tide. Jerkbaits and jigs can be deadly at any creek mouth with oyster beds around it.
Tripletail isn't a glamour species, but the fish fight as hard as any and taste better than most. This month is an easy time to catch them around Cedar
Tripletail move shallow on a rising tide and hold on almost any man-made structure sticking out of the water. Channel makers are choice, but don't overlook the boundary marking stakes on the oyster leases just north of Cedar Key.
Rig a floating cork with 2-feet of leader and a 1/4-ounce jig head, bait it with any 2- to 3-inch live baitfish you can cast net, or use shrimp. Either way, drift it by every marker you can find.
Redfish are tailing during the morning hours on a rising tide on the flats at Gasparilla Sound, near Port Charlotte. Wading anglers with soft plastic jigs can find them.
Wahoo are waiting for anglers making the run from the Miami area to the 200- to 400-foot depths. High speed trolling can put these big and delicious speedsters in the boat.
Take a look at top spots for Florida fishing for September, October, November and December on page three
Peacock Bass are one of the scrappiest freshwater fighters in Florida and this is an excellent month to target them in the maze of canals in South Miami.
Unlike some freshwater species, Peacocks are active throughout the day. Target bridge pilings, and especially culverts with water flowing through. But, any man-made structures are worth a cast or two.
Small live shiners are a top choice, but these feisty fish also hit diving plugs, jerkbaits and topwater lures.
Snook are hitting well in and around Sebastian Inlet, and while the probability is it still will be catch-and-release angling, battling a 20-pound snook is worth the trip.
Big bull reds topping 40 pounds start invading the St. Johns River from the Mayport Jetties to the Dames Point Bridge. Cut Blue crab on the bottom is a top bait choice.
Cooling temperatures bring big bonefish onto the oceanside flats on a rising tide. The most used flats are those that have 12 to 18 inches of water over them.
A quality set of polarized glasses is a necessity for anglers to properly sight fish these speedsters, and savvy anglers don't look for the fish. They look for the more easily seen shadow cast on the bottom. Wading anglers can score, but those operating from an elevated poling platform in a flats boat have an advantage in spotting the fish. Earth tone, crab-imitating flies work well for long rodders, but an unweighted shrimp on 8-pound spinning gear is deadly.
The fall Spanish mackerel run is in full swing along the coastal waters out from Port Charlotte Harbor. Trolling spoons and flies is effective, and Spanish also "smoke" topwater plugs once you find a school.
Redfish are schooling up to invade the shallow grass flats in Cedar Key. Look for deeper white sand holes or oyster points.
St. Johns River
This month sees significant surface schooling activity in the St. Johns River from Palatka south to Lake George. The peak of the outgoing tide finds bass gathering to decimate shad schools.
Key areas for schooling bass to gather are at the mouths of inflowing creeks, the down current side of mid-river shell bars, and submerged points on inside bends.
Shad imitating countdown crankbaits and topwater plugs are deadly when the fish are on the surface. When they are down, drifting a Carolina rig with a translucent blue plastic worm along the bottom can keep the action going. Larger bass often are 25 to 50 yards down current of the surface melee, picking off the cripples.
This month marks the inshore migration of gag grouper off of Hernando Beach. Look for them on any structure in 20 to 40 feet of water.
The annual fall run of flounder starts inside of the Sebastian Inlet. Smaller flounder arrive first, with the 6- to 10-pound doormats following later in the month.
Big O bass begin moving shallow to spawn, and many already are spawning. Concentrate your efforts along the north, northwest, and west sides of the lake. These are more sheltered from prevailing winds than the southern areas.
Look for bass in any vegetation in 2 to 4 feet of water. Subtle, slow-moving topwater plugs like the Rapala Minnow can be deadly in open pockets. Rat, frog, and toad lures can pull fish from pads and peppergrass. When beds are seen, they can be sight fished with weedless soft plastics.
Some of the biggest speckled perch in Florida are schooling up and feeding well in the main, and larger secondary channels on Lake Talquin. Drift a spider rig covering multiple depths until you find how deep they are holding that day.
Key's anglers have a great shot at grouper this month. Cooler weather brings many big black grouper to any reefs or structure in the 100- to 300-foot depths.