It all depends on the lady’s mood. If Mother Nature cooperates, as she usually does this time of year, light-tackle prospects are excellent along the Forgotten Coast in November and December. Most of the action will focus on our bread-and-butter game fish, speckled trout and redfish.Providing it stays on the warmer side, and the Nor’easters aren’t frequent, trout and reds will remain on the shallow flats in depths of less than 4 feet. Nearby access to deeper water is the key to finding productive spots. Think creeks and coastal rivers, but don’t overlook troughs, oyster bars and some of the near-shore springs. All will provide more moderate water temperatures in the event of a sudden cold snap that will concentrate the fish.
In anticipation of leaner months ahead, appetites will be robust. Topwater or subsurface plugs, like the DOA BaitBusters or Hall‘em In B-29s and Wigglers, are my first choice, especially in black/silver that mimic the finger mullet on the menu. Classic patterns like red head/white or chartreuse combinations work well, too. Work these lures over the top of bars, in the mouths of creeks and past ambush points such as clumps of rock grass. The strikes can be explosive and the pace fast and furious with good moving water.
Soft plastics are also prominent in my tackle box for this time of year. DOA shrimp in 1/4- and 1/2-ounce sizes twitched slowly through the water column are seldom refused. I’ll typically start with the lighter version, and then switch to the heavier shrimp once the water temperatures drop and the fish become more lethargic. Glow is always a wise choice, especially now with the white shrimp moving offshore. The carbonated glow/gold is another productive color combo, and if the water is stained or dirty, I’ll tie on a root beer with gold specks. If you fish these lures slowly, they’re quite effective by themselves, but if patience isn’t your virtue (or you want to add noise to the equation), tie one on under a DOA Deadly Combo float or similar clacker-style floats with beads. A short section of 12- to 20-pound fluorocarbon leader completes the rig.
With the reds frequenting the marsh grass shorelines, shell/sand/mud flats and oyster bars in search of crabs and other goodies for the next couple months, I’ll stick with my go-to lure, an Aqua Dream Living weedless spoon. These tinted willow-blade baits create an enticing wobble that reds find irresistible. What’s even better? Big gator trout like them, too. Pink, chartreuse and the traditional gold are the best colors for the Forgotten Coast reds.
With the La Nina effect still lingering, it’s hard to predict how kind or cantankerous Mother Nature will be this season. But, even if we do get some early cold fronts rumbling through, that’s no reason to put the tackle away until spring. The fish will still be here, and they’ve got to eat sometime. So grab a fleece and hit the water. There’s a good chance you’ll have the flats – and the fish – all to yourself.
Besides contributing to a number of magazines and websites over the last 20 years and winning numerous awards, Capt. Dave Lear is a long-time advocate for marine conservation. He was the communications director for Florida Conservation Association during the Net Ban years, served as executive director of The Billfish Foundation and later ran the successful campaign to unify Florida’s fish and wildlife management. In 2006, he was recognized by the International Game Fish Association as the 51st angler to join the Royal Billfish Slam Club. When he’s not off on writing assignments, Capt. Lear guides clients to tarpon, redfish and trout along Florida’s Big Bend coast from St. Marks to St. Joe Bay. He specializes in sight-fishing using light spin or fly gear. Eco-tours and photo excursions are also available in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. Contact Info: Capt. Dave Lear(p) 850 320-2001(w) captaindavelear.com