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