Top Spots for North Florida Saltwater Fishing

Top Spots for North Florida Saltwater Fishing
Capt. Jimbo Keith finds plenty of summertime redfish around the outer islands at Cedar Key. Photo by Bud Reiter.

It's hard to find a "bad" place to fish the briny water in north Florida this month. But, as is always the case, there are some areas that can be more productive than others. Here are four spots that can produce some very memorable days on the water this June.

ST. JOHNS RIVER

This area doesn't get as much publicity as it deserves, but this month it may be one of — if not the — best places in the state to catch a five-pound plus gator trout. And, anglers don't have to search a large area for them. The vast majority of the big trout are caught within five miles of the Mayport Inlet.


Capt. Tony Bozzella has a simple pattern to score.


"I want to stay in the main river itself," Bozzella said. "Big water, and not the back creeks, is where the gator trout are this month. I like to target areas where a narrow shoreline shelf in the 2- to 4-foot depth range drops off quickly to the 7- to 10-foot range. That could be a Spartina grass line, or an area of docks. But, that abrupt depth change is important. I also want relatively clear water. Trout don't like stained or dirty water, and they'll move a long way to find clearer water. If I can combine all that with visible baitfish and moving water, I've got a good shot at a big trout."


Bozzella, whose logbooks show that his customers have landed 96 trout between 5 and 11 pounds within the last 48 months, prefers to find those conditions near the top of the tide. The last portion of the incoming or the first portion of the outgoing tide, if that coincides with early morning or late afternoon, is so much the better. But, success doesn't always depend on dim light.

"I've caught a number of trout over 9 pounds during the middle of a bright, calm day, " Bozzella states. "Finding the right terrain and tide, with baitfish, is more important than time of day."

There are a number of areas within the Jacksonville city limits that can be productive. Some of Bozzella's favorites are the drops around Blount Island, the downtown Arlington section around the industrial parks, and the sharply sloping, dock-rich section of shoreline at Fort Caroline.


When it comes to lures, Bozzella follows the three-rig philosophy of most big trout experts and wants a topwater, a jerkbait, and a lead head plastic trailed jig on hand.

"The Rapala Skitterwalk and the MirrOlure Top Dog Jr are two of my favorite topwater baits, " Bozzella says. "I like natural baitfish colors under bright light, but might shift to a Clown, chartreuse, or white/red head in dimmer light, or if the water is slightly stained. The Bite-A-Bit Fighter and the Rapala X-Rap are deadly jerk baits when worked right over a drop, and on sharper drops it's hard to beat a 1/4-ounce lead head with a four or five inch plastic tail in color combinations of green and red, pearl white and pink, or smoke. Having those three different lure types on hand, and rigged, allows an angler thoroughly cover those sharp drops that hold the big trout.

To contact Capt. Tony Bozzella about a day of guided fishing in the Jacksonville areas call him at (904) 651-0182, or check out his TBS Charters Web site at http://tonybozzella.com/.


ST. AUGUSTINE

Like Jacksonville, the St. Augustine area boasts a lot of gator trout, and the same main water approach, combined with short flats and sharp drops, can produce them. A Topwater plug fished along Spartina-edged drops on a high tide during the early morning is a traditionally productive tactic.

However, often prefers to chase redfish, and this is a top month to do it.

"The redfish have come out of their winter patterns and are now keying on the finger mullet that are plentiful this month," Miniard stated. "They follow those mullet through the main creeks, into the smaller intersecting creeks, and right up onto the flats, on a rising tide. When the tide falls they have to come off of those flats, and the intersecting creeks mouths are the best place to find them."

Miniard noted that the section of Intracoastal Waterway from Guana River to Pine Island holds a maze of such creek and flats combinations.

"The key areas for me," Miniard said, "are the mouths of the creeks coming off the flats and leading back into the main creek. Those are the natural pathways the reds have to follow on the falling tide. Those creek mouths that have a lot of oyster on them are definitely the best."

Miniard's pattern is simple — hit the larger creeks off of the ICW and concentrate on the mouths of the smaller creeks that intersect it. The normal tide in this area is 4 1/2 feet, which drains a lot of water, mullet, and redfish off the flats. The shallower creeks see that movement early in the falling tide, while deeper creek mouths are more productive during that latter stage. At the bottom of the tide, locate those holes in the main creek that have oyster and 6 feet of water on the dead low. That's where the reds are holding until the rising tide lets them chase mullet back onto the flats.

Plastic-tailed jigs, cut bait, and spinnerbaits are effective. But, don't overlook topwater plugs.

"The reds are getting into the program of feeding on finger mullet," Miniard said, "and a MirrOlure Top Dog Jr. can draw some big reds."

While the inshore action is hot, anglers looking for bigger game should head out the St. Augustine Inlet. Once the water temperature outside the Inlet hits 78 degrees, big kingfish are going to be flocking to the beaches, and fish over 30 pounds are caught every year within 1/2 mile of the beaches in 35 to 45 feet of water. That 78 degrees normally occurs by mid-June. However, the last few years have seen thermoclines move in and chill the beaches.

Capt. Dennis Goldstein has a plan to deal with that.

"There are about 15 marked wrecks and man-made structures within 6 to 20 miles offshore of the inlet, "Goldstein said. "If you have only 75 degrees along the beach, you normally have 78 to 79 degrees on the wrecks around 7 miles out. If those wrecks are holding bait, the chances are real good they'll be holding the kings that are ready to move into the beach waters. If not, just hit some of the farther wrecks. Once you find 78 or more degrees water temperature over a wreck that is holding bait, you find some kings."

Slow trolling live bait, which can consist of pogies or mullet netted inshore before the trip, or bait from the wreck captured with Sabiki rigs, is very productive.

To contact Capt. Dennis Goldstein call (904) 810-2455 or check out his Web page on The Florida Charter Fishing Guide at www.flafish.com/charters/.

CEDAR KEY

Jumping over to the Gulf Coast, Cedar Key is a top spot to tangle with Spanish mackerel, trout, redfish, and even cobia this month.

"Seahorse Reef is one of my top spots this month," said veteran guide Jimbo Keith. "It's about 5 miles out from the marina and is the dividing line between the flats and open Gulf waters. It's full of trout and Spanish this month."

The large numbers of Spanish mackerel make a wire leader mandatory, and Keith's favorite rig is 18-inches of brown wire with a 1/4- or 3/8-ounce lead head jig sporting a Salt Water Assassin Sea Shad tail in electric chicken or candy corn color.

"The reef is pretty big and you have to keep moving until you find a school of trout," Keith said. "But, if you see Spanish feeding on top, you've found trout. Spanish are messy feeders and the trout come in right below them to pick up the pieces."

The lead head jigs can get down through the mackerel to the trout, but for some real fun, pick an, old noisy topwater plug that's ready for the graveyard, and throw it at the Spanish. They love topwaters, and watching a 4-pounder explode on one is worth a chewed up plug.

Redfish won't have gathered in large schools yet, but plenty of them are feeding over the oyster bars on the North, Seahorse and Snake keys or around Deadmans Key on a rising tide. Topwater plugs, gold spoons, jigs, spinnerbaits or cut mullet work well.

But, a top lure for working shallow oyster is a floating model Rat-L-Trap in gold. It has the same mesmerizing effect on reds the gold spoon does, but it doesn't hang up on the oyster. You can cover a lot more oyster without losing lures.

Cobia start invading the flats on the outer Keys in July, but this month they gather over wrecks and channel markers in the 20-foot depth range. Keith's favorite tactic on wrecks is to anchor on the up current side, hang a commercial chum block over the transom, and toss out some live pinfish. He favors one on the bottom with a 3/8-ounce sinker and 80-pound leader with a circle hook, and free lines another one with the same rig, but without the sinker.

"That chum brings the cobia right to the pinfish, " Keith said.

STEINHATCHEE

Moving up the Gulf Coast, the Steinhatchee River has a well deserved reputation for producing big trout during the winter months, when they gang up on deep rock-bound holes. But when summer arrives they don't disappear. They simply move out of the river and into Deadman Bay. Unlike Cedar Key, however, anglers don't have to move very far offshore to find them.

In fact, anglers are best off if they stay shallow this month, and Capt. Danny Allen has a simple game plan.

"Big trout don't feed with smaller trout," Allen said. "They run alone or in small groups. Their movement pattern is to follow the baitfish and pause at obvious ambush sites. In this area that means they move up onto shallow flats on the start of the flood tide, take an ambush position, then move shallower with the rising water and the bait and ultimately wind up in one of the small creeks. Catching these fish is a matter of following the tide from ambush spot to ambush spot, and then into a creek."

The key area is the maze of flats within a mile of the numerous small creeks just north of the Steinhatchee River. Allen starts on those flats as soon as the tide begins to flood and he is looking for white sand holes or holes in the mop grass.

"You may have a white sand hole or an opening in the grass that's only 3-feet across," Allen said, "but there can be a 28-inch trout laying across it."

This is pure sight fishing. Move quietly, have good polarized glasses, and a soft plastic jig at hand. On flats with more scattered and less defined cover, don't overlook topwater plugs.

While Allen may start a mile offshore on the beginning of the flood, he and the trout are going to be steadily moving towards the creeks. Once he reaches the creeks, he has specific depth and cover situations in mind.

"Those trout normally don't move farther into the creek than the first 200 to 300 yards from the mouth," Allen explained, "and they want a hard bottom with a sharper drop to deeper water. Outside bends, small channel edges, or oyster bars next to deeper water are prime spots."

Jigs and topwater lures are, again, top choices. And, once the tide turns to fall, Allen can just reverse his route to stay on fish. It's a simple pattern, put it has put a number of trout up to 8 plus pounds into his boat. And, once the creeks are reached that creel can also include plenty of redfish.

To contact Capt. Danny Allen about a day of guided fishing, check out his Southern Salt Guide Services Web site at http://gulfcoastflatsfishing.com/. 

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