Late summer/early fall is by far my favorite time of the year to fish. The weather is starting to become more bearable, the fish are fatter, and bait is absolutely everywhere. During this transition in weather, there are a few key changes worth noting to help you land more fish.
With the incredibly hot summer we have had, the trout bite has been best at night around dock lights when the water is cooler and the fish are more active. Expect this trend to continue until we get temps consistently in the mid to low 80’s. When this happens we will start to see more trout on the flats throughout the day feeding just like they were in the spring months.
Redfish are going to be the easiest target during this time of year. Unlike the less tolerant speckled trout, redfish have stayed and fed in shallow water throughout the heat of the summer. They will continue to do this in September and October, but expect to see more of them and in more areas of the bay. Whether it is around a bridge, on a flat mixed in with schools of mullet or around docks, you will be able to find redfish and sometimes find them so thick that every cast results in a strike.
As far as live bait goes, schools of menhaden (pogies) will still be a great bait, but what I start to really key in on are pilchards. Also known as scaled sardines, greenies, and whitebait, this bait tends to school on or near grass flats. Why I prefer this bait to pogies is because trout and reds are specifically targeting this baitfish on the flats. Just like with menhaden, the 3- to 5-inch pilchards work the best for freelining and the smaller ones work good under a popping cork or Carolina rigged. Typically, I like to freeline pilchards on the flats in the early morning for trout and then fish around docks for redfish once the temps begin to rise. And if you’re looking to catch a gator trout this time of year, throw on a 5- to 8-inch croaker or mullet. It will look a little goofy and might take you longer to get a bite, but if you want to catch a gator trout, you have got to give them what they want. Nearly every big trout (over 5 pounds) that we caught last year had a pinfish or croaker in its gut that was five inches or bigger.
The main reason I prefer fall fishing is because the fish are vigorously feeding in expectation of a cold winter, which means artificial baits work great. Unlike the spring, when most baitfish are tiny, the baitfish in the fall are full grown, making a topwater lure a dynamite choice. I prefer either a Skitter Walk or Top Dog Jr. Other lures that work really well are soft plastic swim baits and twitch baits like the MirrOdine made by MirrOLure.
Capt. Blake Nelson has spent his entire life on the Panhandle fishing
the back bays from Panama City to Pensacola. He is currently an inshore
guide in Destin, Florida, targeting redfish, speckled trout, and
flounder year-round. He also fishes in many redfish tournaments with his
brother, Captain Wes, both locally and nationally.Contact Info: Capt. Blake NelsonLast Cast Charters(p) 850 499-3811(w) captainblake.com
September and October can hold some of the best fishing you will find. With scallop season ending on September 25th, now is the time to get them before it is too late. However, with scallop season ending, it generally means fishing on the grass flats will return to normal and start to pick up.
Trout fishing can be explosive this time of the year. Personally, I prefer throwing topwater lures first thing in the morning until the summer heat rises. The Rapala Skitter Walks, Storm Chug Bugs (blue back/silver side), and the MirrOLure Top Dogs are all excellent choices. The areas that generally produce are in 2 to 6 feet of water with white sandy patches or potholes spread out on the grass flats. Once the sun begins to rise and the heat increases, the topwater action will begin to slow down. So, in order to keep the action alive, switch to live bait and fish the deeper grass points on the edges of the channels. White baits, pinfish, and pigfish are all great baits to use, either free lining them or using a Carolina rig.
If it’s redfish you’re after, this is one of the best times of year to chase them. You can usually find schooling reds between the areas of Pepperfish and Havens Cove. However, these fish can be spooky, so a long cast is essential when targeting these groups of fish. Rock piles, oyster bars and creek mouths are all good choices when searching out reds. Anchor on the outside of the creek mouth on an out-going tide. Fish with either live finger mullet or fresh chunk bait like ladyfish chunks or strips of pinfish. The most productive rod setup I have found for this style of fishing uses a medium/heavy, 7 1/2-foot rod with a 3,000-class spinning reel.
The adventurous offshore anglers can expect to have a well-rounded cooler of fish when returning to dock. Grouper, snapper and mackerel, to name a few, can just about always be caught. Trolling deep-diving plugs over hard bottom such as the Mann’s Stretch series can produce large grouper and the occasional cob this time of the year. If trolling isn't your cup of tea, then bottom fishing in 50 to 80 feet of water over good hard bottom can produce some nice Red grouper - although you will have to weed through the small ones to get a limit. If you have kids on the boat, rig them up with a double or triple-hook rig baited with small pieces of squid. Sit back and watch the kids have a blast catching everything from White snapper, beeliners, sea bass, and great tasting triggerfish to help round out your cooler of fish.
Remember, if you have the opportunity to take kids out on the water, do not pass it up. And if you have any questions concerning fishing or want to know how to book a charter, feel free to ask.
Capt. Kyle Erickson grew up fishing and scouting the near shore and backwaters of The Big Bend. Through his years of experience, Capt. Erickson is able to offers expert guide services throughout The Big Bend and Forgotten Coast. He specializes in trout, redfish, tarpon and tripletail fishing, but is more than capable of putting you on some hardheaded cobia action. Both personable and friendly, Capt. Kyle will deliver a fun-filled day on the water full of drag-screaming action.Contact Info: Capt. Kyle Erickson(p) 850 229–2710(e) firstname.lastname@example.org
Grouper diggers, these are the months we’ve been waiting for. The fall gag grouper season will open for both state and federal waters on September 16th and remain open through November 15th; it should be outstanding. Ledges, rock piles, artificial reefs and wrecks from 10 to 70 feet will be holding excellent numbers of grouper. Many of the offshore locations have not seen any pressure for close to nine months and there should be some hefty gags ready for a one-on-one battle. With the cooling water temperatures the grouper become more aggressive and readily take live, dead and artificial baits.
This time of year is ideal for tolling large, lipped plugs such as Yo-Zuri Mag Minnows or Rapala X-Raps over your favorite grouper structures. Experiment with natural and bright color combinations to see what “flavor” the grouper are looking for. For the bottom fisherman, always start the bite with frozen sardines or threadfin herring and then send down that frisky live pinfish and hold on!
On the inshore scene, the speckled trout will start moving back inshore from their deep summer haunts. Look for shallow “yellow” hard bottom areas in 3 to 4 feet of water with kelp grass growing on it. The grass has been growing all summer and is a haven for both bait fish and trout. DOA Deadly Combos with the glow or holographic root beer shrimp combinations are very effective. The floating grass that has made topwater lure fishing almost impossible all summer is now going away, so bring out the top water plugs again. Rapala Skitter Walks, MirrOLure Top Dogs and Yo-Zuri Hydro Pencils are all great topwater choices.
The over-slot redfish from the Spoil Islands off Crystal River to St. Martin’s Keys off Homosassa are always a favorite for the early fall time of year. Cut baits such as mullet and ladyfish are hard to beat, and if you catch a lizard fish earlier in the day while trout fishing, keep it on ice, cut it in two-inch pieces and pitch it towards the groves - I have not had a redfish refuse a piece yet. This little trick is an old timer’s Homosassa favorite and it gives us anglers a positive use for a lizardfish.
Another best bet with the cooling water temperatures is the Spanish mackerel bite. Look for them harassing baitfish over hard bottom structures and especially in the intake canal off Crystal River. Have a spoon rig ready with a small piece of tie-able wire to prevent cutoffs for when the occasion arises and you’ll have an instant hook up. Option two for mackerel is to anchor up with a chum bag and freeline some live shrimp on a #2 long-shank hook for some drag-screaming fun. Also, the scallop season has been extended two extra weeks this year. Get them while you can and have fun.
As always, if you have any additional questions about the area, feel free to contact me. Good fishing!
Capt. Dan Clymer was born and raised on the Crystal River and has
been fishing Citrus County’s waters his entire life. Dan is a full-time
guide, chartering the Crystal and Homosassa rivers and a proud member of
the Homosassa Guides Association. He has had his captain’s license
since the age of 18 and specializes in shallow water grouper, flats and
back country fishing. Dan has been featured in numerous magazines, on
serveral television shows and is endorsed by Orvis.Contact Info: Capt. Dan Clymer(p) 352 418–2160(w) crystalriver-fishing.com