January and February are always two of my favorite months of the year to fsih along the Alabama coast. February brings signs that spring is just around the corner. With that, it means redfish flooding the tidal ponds and bass jumping on beds. Redfish, specs, flounder and black drum can all be caught on the same day and in the same fishing hole. That’s just a few reasons why anglers love fishing this time of the year. They don’t just catch fish; they catch multiple species of sport fish.
Fishing: Cold water temperatures have kept the specs and reds in the interior bay and inside our rivers. Catches have been really good along the Gulf Coast, and it seems that the early spring is going to be one for the record books. I consider these months to be some of the most productive for redfish on the flats. This style of fishing works so well during these times because redfish and trout are following the mullet, hard. The best place to find mullet are on flats where photo plankton and algae begin for the year. As they feed, the redfish and trout will scan the flats in search of a nice mullet meal. As the reds mill around on the flats, they normally will “tail” showing their location. Also, reds will hang in gangs numbering 4 to 8 fish, trolling the shorelines and looking for anything good to eat.
As an angler, flats fishing can be some of the most exciting fishing you can do. First, you have the opportunity to see the fish before they even know you’re there. Second, the fish up on the flats are hunting; that means that if you get your bait within a few feet of the fish, they are going to bite! I find that during these months reds are so aggressive and moving that you can pattern them each day. What I mean by this is every day during January and February the fish tend to move a lot due to water temperature fluctuations and salinity levels. However, as temps tend to settle into a springtime pattern, these fish become predictable. If the fish are up on the flats and ganged up, then almost every flat will have these gangs of fish.
Baits: Because the fish tend to be more aggressive, you want to use bait that will draw an aggressive strike. I tend to use baits that displace water this time of the year, instead of baits that are visual. Baits that displace water attract fish from further distances due to the vibrations and movement of water they produce. Water clarity will typically be off-colored, and visual baits just don’t do the job when it comes to strike ratios. You need a bait that will push water, rattle, and/or vibrate in shallow water. I use the Rapala Skitter Walk to cover the top, and the Rapala Twitchin’ Rap to cover the middle of the water column. Both baits are hard sided and can cast a mile covering plenty of water. Also, they are both perfect mullet imitations.
I encourage everyone to get out there and enjoy our great fishery.
Contact Info: Capt. Dietrick TrehernFishing Fanatics Charters(p) 251 232-0909(w) email@example.com
Another year is just beginning and I want to start by wishing my fellow anglers many great days on the water.
With the winter season in full swing, one of the most dependable species, sheepshead, is taking up residence on a variety of structures. These fish will be a chief target for the next couple of months and are a good fighting fish with the benefit of being fantastic table fair to get us through the winter. Rock piles, wrecks, channel markers and ledges are ideal structures to concentrate your efforts. Also, for the offshore anglers, give some of your deeper grouper locations a try. You may be surprised by the abundance of sheepshead on those offshore structures. A live shrimp is a great bait choice and a simple knocker rig with a #2 hook will keep the rods bent.
Water temperature plays a big role when the inshore species feed this time of year. The spring-fed rivers are a safe haven for a variety of species. Trout, redfish, black drum, snook, tarpon and mangrove snapper can be found in easy reaches from the spring’s headwaters. Have an assortment of jigs, slow-suspending plugs and live shrimp to cover any situation.
While there’s plenty of action in the rivers, the backcountry creeks, oyster bars and shallow rock flats will be holding good concentrations of fish, as well. For the shallow-water enthusiast, keep in mind the dark, hard bottom holds the heat and trout in particular key in on these conditions. Trout can be seen schooling on many occasions and a glow colored DOA jerk bait, Yo-zuri 3D Minnow or MirrOlure Mirrodine can be deadly. Use a subtle twitch-twitch-pause retrieve, and you should have quite a rewarding time fishing the schools.
Reaching the redfish in the backcountry creeks can be tough this time of year due to the extreme low tide conditions. If you have a tunnel hull or shallow-running skiff, take advantage of the tides to plan your trip. Leave a little later in the day and allow the sun to warm the water a degree or two. This can make all the difference between a successful or unsuccessful trip. Also, if possible, try to target the leeward side of islands. Many times redfish can be seen sunning themselves over the rocks in the calm water, and a properly presented live shrimp will usually result in a hook up.
I always like to remind people that if the winter weather is just too lousy to fish, do a little maintenance. Service your engine and boat trailer, and re-spool those reels with fresh line. Check rod guides, organize your tackle and replace the rusty hooks on your favorite plugs. By doing so, you’ll have an early jump on everything when spring arrives.
As always, if you have any additional question about the area, feel free to contact me. Good fishing!
Captain Dan Clymer
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
Fishing along the Panhandle in January and February can be very good, but also very cold. Along with being cold, the water levels are on average a couple feet lower than in the summer with the low tides typically in the mornings. This combination of cold weather and lower-than-normal water level can be intimidating to most bay anglers who are hoping to fish the same shallow areas that they had fished in warmer months. Though it would seem that all the specks and reds would move off the flats in search of deeper water, there are still plenty of fish to be caught in the extreme shallows. But this requires a few key changes in the approach and technique.
For starters, the boat needs to be a shallow drafting boat unless you are willing to do a little wade fishing. On days when the water level is very low, I usually leave my bay boat at the house and take out the 14-foot jon boat. Another key is to know the area you are fishing very well. The water is almost always crystal clear, another factor in making the fish very spooky. Knowing the area where you think fish will be hanging out is very important. If you wait until you are close enough to see them, chances are you will spook them before a chance to cast presents itself.
As far as lures go, a weedless Gulp is hard to beat. A slow presentation is effective, with periods of dead-sticking mixed in. Again, knowing the area well enough to stay confident that the fish are there is important. Otherwise, you will lose patience, move forward and see all the fish that you could have caught as they scatter in all directions.
There is an easier approach to fishing for trout and reds in slightly deeper water. Muddy inlets, creek mouths, and the river system provide plenty of action in the colder months. Instead of fishing in inches of water, these areas usually hold anywhere from 3 to 10 feet of water and can sometimes be stacked with fish. The only downside is that the majority of the fish are smaller than those fish on the flats. But the action they provide can make up for the lack of size, and occasionally there will be areas such as these that hold nothing but keepers. My lure of choice for these areas is a 1/8-ounce jighead with any Gulp bait. Again, a slower than normal retrieve is very effective.
Another option for the beginning of the year is to stock the freezer with flounder. As they spawn offshore, these very tasty fish can be caught with relative ease. Around nearshore wrecks, bridge rubble, and even natural bottom, flounder will spawn and feed until they make their spring migration back into the bay. One of the easiest ways to catch them is with a Carolina rig hooked up with a small cigar minnow, bull minnow, or finger mullet. For an artificial approach, use a ½- to 1-ounce jighead with any Gulp bait and vertical jig off the bottom, letting it hit the bottom each time.
So whether you’re looking for a shallow water challenge or an easy time stocking the freezer, the colder months along the Panhandle have exactly what you are looking for. So either way make an effort to get out on the water. Chances are you will have any spot you want all to yourself!
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
Here we go, another great fishing year is just beginning and even though it may be cold outside, there’s plenty of great fishing action to get it going. The weather can play a huge role in what species we can target this time of year and some days it’s just too windy and cold to leave the safety of the rivers. When these conditions arise, we’re very fortunate to have the spring-fed rivers keeping our inshore species warm for the winter season.
Starting at the headwaters of the Crystal and Homosassa rivers, anglers can encounter a multitude of species including mangrove snapper, jack crevalle, trout, redfish, ladyfish, tarpon, snook and even largemouth bass. The fish are in the rivers for one reason: warmth. So small jigs like the DOA CAL shad tail and MirrOLure Lil’ Johns in the darker colors are ideal choices. Slowly working the baits in the deeper pockets, jigging the rocky points along the river bends, or simply anchoring up tide from the deeper holes and sending down some live shrimp are three excellent methods for hook-ups. If there are mangrove snapper and redfish around, the shrimp technique is going to be your best bet. Both of these species seldom refuse a live shrimp and a simple knocker rig with a 1/0 hook and 1/8-ounce egg sinker is all that’s necessary for success. Also, bring plenty of tackle; the rocky bottom terrain can claim several hooks throughout the day.
On days when it’s favorable to run offshore, the sheepshead will be waiting on just about every piece of structure that can grow a barnacle. It seems the colder the water, the better for sheepshead. Rock piles, ledges, channel markers, wrecks and artificial reefs are havens for them. They congregate around these structures for their spawning season during the colder months. To catch a couple sheepies, anchor up tide from the structure and be as close to the structure as possible while using a 1/8-ounce Hank Brown jig head rigged with a live shrimp. Remember, these fish are spawning and it’s best to just take a few home for a meal and release the others to breed for our future stock.
For our final winter species, the large, breeder-size black drums have taken over the flats from Mangrove Point to St. Martin’s Keys. These large fish don’t make big, long runs, but on light tackle, they put up one long tug of war. Sight-fish them just like tailing redfish and present a piece of a quartered blue crab for a one-on-one battle.
Also, if the weather has you down, take the time and do a little maintenance. Check rod guides for cracks, service your reels and re-spool with fresh line for the upcoming spring. Inspect your boat trailer hardware, check bearings and have your motor serviced, so when March comes around, you’re ready to hit the water.
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
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.
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
It’s heating up here on the Nature Coast and now is the time to dust off your heavier tackle. These couple months bring some of the larger species our area has to offer. Tarpon, cobia and kingfish have arrived and these big three will give you a fight you will not soon forget.
For the inshore and offshore anglers, it’s tough to beat a cobia for a great tug-of-war. Channel markers, wrecks, artificial reefs and your high-profile grouper structures are ideal locations to target cobia. Inshore channel markers are always worth a look and many times cobia can be seen just below the surface circling the structure. With the absence of fishing pressure on the offshore locations, due to the recent grouper regulations, there should be plenty of hefty cobia for those willing to make a run. Chumming brings them right to the boat, and a live pinfish on a bottom rig and one up top will have the water column covered.
The kingfish will be in good numbers as well in the 30- to 60-foot range. Light drags, wire leader and plenty of line capacity is necessary to tackle a smoker king. Trolling a variety of plugs or spoons works well for those wanting to use artificials. Anchoring up over live bottom and using an assortment of live and dead baits such as threadfin herring, cigar minnows or a frisky blue runner is kingfish candy. Keep an eye on the horizon for the skying kings blasting through baitfish schools to help you locate them.
Homosassa is world renowned for its tarpon fishing and now is the time of year history is made. Many fly fishing world records have been set here and anglers from all over the world come to test their skill against the mighty silver king. The flats to the south of Homosassa are primarily for fly anglers and this is a specialized fishery. As the fish start migrating north, usually by mid June, the oyster bar cuts in Crystal Bay will be an ideal spot to freeline a live pinfish and put a tarpon in the air.
Trout and redfish will be a good bet on the inshore scene. The trout will start becoming less structure orientated and spread out over spotty bottom. The spotty bottom of the sand and grass mix ranging from 5 to 10 feet will be the productive area. The 1/8-ounce DOA CAL Shad Tail jigs in the glow color are hard to beat and I find the chartreuse color jig head makes a great combination. On days when there’s little breeze, try a jig and cork rig combination. The sound of the clacking cork in the deeper water usually draws the larger trout to your bait. For locating red fish, start on the outside rocky points, preferably on an incoming tide. As the tide floods in, the fish move right onto the rocks and a freelined live shrimp, pinfish or a fresh piece of cut mullet will get a hook-up. If there are mullet jumping on a particular point, anchor and give it a try. Jumping mullet are an excellent indication that there are redfish around.
As always, feel free to contact me with any other questions about the area. Good Fishing!
If the fishing this spring is any indicator of how good the fishing is going to be in the summer, get ready for a lot of action. The bays are packed with baitfish right now, primarily menhaden. We are finding redfish all over the bay. The trout population appears to be very healthy. I’m even getting positive reports back from mullet and crab fisherman about how good they’ve been doing so far. After a year of oil scares, this is a much-needed assurance that our local bay systems are going to be just fine.Summer fishing, especially before it gets unbearably hot, is some of the most action-packed fishing of the year. One of my favorite things about it is the Spanish bite. Spanish mackerel can be one of the easiest fish to locate, as well as catch, and they are not bad at all on the dinner table. Around the pass is a great place to start locating these fish. Look for diving birds or for feeding frenzies on top of the water. If you are in the back bays, troll along the drop-offs just off the flats and look for Spanish popping the top as they feed on little baitfish. Some of the best lures for casting are the Kastmaster spoon and a McDonald’s straw rig behind a bubble float. Make sure to either use wire leader or heavy monofilament to keep your lure safe from their razor sharp teeth.Redfish always feed on crabs and shrimp, but their attention can easily get swayed toward baitfish during this time of year. As the menhaden get larger and find their way into deeper pockets around grass flats, redfish will begin to feed on this oily baitfish. When this starts happening, the top water bite in the bay gets deadly. Live bait is the sure way of catching fish, but if you’re looking for an exciting bite, throw on a Rapala Skitter Walk or MirrOlure Top Dog and hit the grass flats. The explosions made by these reds as they swipe for the lure will wake you up more than 10 cups of coffee in the morning.Speckled trout are already actively feeding on the flats. Nearly every trout over 19 inches has a large baitfish in its gut. For trout, one of the easiest ways to catch them is by freelining menhaden or little finger mullet over grass flats. I like to use a 3/0 to 5/0 Mutu Light circle hook by Owner and hook the baitfish in the tail so it swims out and on top of the water. Much like with a top water lure, if you see a trout start hitting your bait, try to refrain from setting the hook. Wait until you feel the pressure of the fish on the rod, then hold your rod tip up and reel down on the fish. Whether it’s redfish, speckled trout, Spanish, or any number of other species that will be feeding when the temperatures start rising, the fishing this summer is going to be great. Grab some cold drinks and good friends and hit the water!
It’s a brand new year and to start if off right, let’s catch some fish! These months are typically associated with the bitter cold of the winter season, but these conditions do not mean you must stay off the water. The Crystal River/Homosassa area is very unique in that we have several warm-water refuges that can save the day during the winter months. The numerous springs that form our rivers flow at a steady 72 degrees and are a safe haven for many inshore species. Trout, redfish, mangrove snapper, snook, tarpon, ladyfish, black drum and jack crevelle can all be found in the rivers during this time. To target these fish with repeated success, keep in mind a slow presentation is best. The fish are in the rivers for warmth, and a dark colored jig like a D.O.A. CAL shad tail in the golden bream color or dark green, with a 1/8-oz jig head is hard to beat. Another good producer is a slow sinking plug like a MirrOLure. I‘ve had many good days with the classic red head/white body combination plug and a twitch-twitch-pause retrieve enticing river trout. The mangrove snapper are in good numbers as well, and they prefer the rocky terrain around the springs. A live shrimp on a knocker rig and a small No. 1 hook is your best bet.If you’re a fly fisherman or thinking of giving fly fishing a try, the ladyfish are in the head water bays and coves by the thousands. This is a perfect opportunity to experience fly fishing and have guaranteed success. A five-weight rod, floating line and a handfull of Clouser minnows in the white and chartreuse colors will keep the rod bent. Remember to pinch the barb of the fly to make releasing a ladyfish more enjoyable (we all know what they are capable of). Trout season in our region will be closed for the month of February, so for an alternative species (to bring a fillet or two home), give sheepshead a try. The extensive near shore rock piles, wrecks and reefs that we target grouper on will be holding good numbers of spawning sheepshead. Position yourself up current from the structure you’re fishing and drop down a live shrimp rigged on a 1/8-ounce jig head. Remember, sheepshead are notorious bait stealers, so when you feel the slightest tap on your line, set the hook. This can be fast and furious action and easily fill a cooler in no time. It’s best just to keep a few for a meal and release the others to breed our future stock.On a final note, if the weather is just too bad to make it on the water, take a few days to do some tackle maintenance. Check rod guides for cracks, change out line on reels or just organize your tackle box. If your boat or trailer needs a little TLC, now is the perfect time to do so. Spring will be here before you know it and having a jump on all your gear will make your fishing trips that much more enjoyable.As always, if you have any additional questions about the area, feel free to contact me. Good Fishing.
Florida is not immune to getting cold, especially along the Panhandle. There were even a few days last year that I broke ice while putting my boat in the water. Though, I doubt this year will beat the record lows we saw last winter, it will definitely get cold and the fish will react accordingly.As far as speckled trout go, they have already started getting into their winter pattern. The smaller trout are packed into the back bays and tributaries. Nearly every creek mouth that dumps into a 4- to 8-foot muddy bottom inlet is holding a ton of trout. But for every keeper, you will catch 20 more that are too small to throw in the cooler. The bait of choice for these smaller trout is live shrimp or any small plastic bait. My personal favorite is the pearl white swimming minnow by Gulp baits. I use a 1/16-oz jighead and work it with a slow retrieve, popping it along the seafloor with fast twitches. For the bigger trout, head to the rivers. You can catch some absolute monster gator trout during the winter months. For these gators, look for sharp dropoffs that hold baitfish. You can use artificial baits, but the tried and true method is a 4- to 7-inch mullet. Freeline the bait so that it gets right over the dropoff and hold on.Slot redfish will be bunched up around bridges and jetties, but don‘t ignore the shallow bite. During the warmer days of winter, the reds will get up on the grass flats and mud flats in search of bait (especially the flats close to bridges). My favorite bait for these slot reds is the ever-popular gold spoon. For the bulls, cruise up and down the beaches and you will find large schools cruising for food. Some days you have to spot the actual school, other days you will have the help of diving birds showing you their exact location.One of the best things about winter is the flounder bite. Flounder are starting their migration to spawn offshore and they will be feeding vigorously before and after. You can catch them on their way out around the jetties, or wait until they make it to their offshore destination and catch them in deeper water. My favorite way to catch these flatties is with a 1/2- to 1-oz jighead and a bait. I vertically jig for them around bridge rubble, natural bottom and wrecks that are in about 50 to 75 feet of water. Another great way to catch them is with a simple Carolina rig and a bull minnow or little cigar minnow.Another wintertime favorite are sheepshead. For these guys, fish the bridges and jetties with light tackle. I prefer to go pretty light with these fish, especially when they get finicky. Six- to 8-pound fluorocarbon line is perfect for tricking these bait stealers, and it makes it a little more sporty. I like to use a Carolina rig and a size 1 live-bait hook with a fiddler crab, peeled shrimp or fresh oyster. A proven technique is to fish right up alongside a pylon, scrape the barnacles off with either a shovel or any straight edged gardening tool, and fish vertically in the resulting chum. And no matter how cold it gets, remember one thing: Fish gotta eat!
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 flouder 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
Challenging, yet rewarding are the best words to describe angling prospects along the Forgotten Coast the next couple of months. Much of the success depends on the weather. For the typical winter scenario (unlike 2010’s killer cold), redfish can be found on the shallow flats between fronts. They’re looking for buried crabs or anything else to satisfy their hunger pangs, plus the extreme shallows are a sanctuary from roaming dolphin, which are also hunting for a meal. Because of these factors and the extreme, often negative low tides, January and February are the best times to find tailing fish. A well-placed Aqua Dream spoon or DOA CAL jerk bait will trigger strikes, but the casts need to be close enough to attract attention. Flycasters can also score on the reds using shrimp and crab patterns and a long leader. You can find reds by poling in depths of three feet or less with broken sand/shell/grass bottom. Trolling motors will work sometimes, but be sure to keep the speed constant to avoid spooking the wary fish. Watch for V-wakes or reddish/coppery shades in the water to locate schools. With competition fierce, it won’t take long for a hookup. I use 7 1/2-foot spinning rods and 2500- to 3000-class reels loaded with 8-pound test braid to maximize casting distance and increase the sport. Those outfits will easily handle over-slot bulls if you take your time and add a short section of 20-pound fluorocarbon leader. The flats, especially those adjacent to deeper water, can also hold big gator trout during January and February. These fish are among the most cunning in the briny, though, so long casts and subtle presentations are necessary. For the most consistent trout action, however, focus on the tidal rivers and creeks instead. From Steinhatchee to Apalachicola, including the Econfina, Aucilla, St. Marks/Wakulla, Ochlockonee and Carrabelle, trout seek these warmer waters to survive. The dry fall kept salinity levels high, so the trout should find the estuaries to their liking.Consistent success in the rivers and creeks requires a different approach than the flats. The cold water makes the trout lethargic and they won’t waste much energy and body heat chasing down a meal. So, slow down your presentations. One of the best ways to do that is by hopping a 1/2-ounce DOA shrimp slowly across the bottom. Suspending plugs like Hall Em In Rippers, Rapala SubWalks or MirrOlure 52M series are good choices for numb specks. On those warm, bluebird days, trout will sun themselves on shallow mud banks or oyster bars. Top water walk-the-dog plugs work especially well whenever the trout are catching some rays.Besides reds and spotted seatrout, sheepshead, black sea bass and sand (“white”) trout offer steady wintertime alternatives in the Big Bend. All three will readily slurp down a live shrimp and sheepies love fiddler crabs as well. But save your money and bounce plastic jigs, like the CAL minnows on ¼- to 3/8-ounce jig heads, instead. The sea bass and sand trout are voracious eaters and rarely picky. Look for them around the many rock piles and artificial reefs in the near shore waters. A short section of 15- to 20-pound leader will provide protection against abrasion. If you’re new to the flats or want to hone your existing skills to an advanced level, I’ll be hosting a Flats Pro Seminar on February 12 at Shields Marina in St. Marks. A daylong schedule of topics including tackle, tactics, navigation and tips is on the agenda. Tuition includes a goody bag, door prizes and a BBQ lunch. For more information or to sign up, visit my website or email me at email@example.com
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
It’s the most wonderful time of the year – the holidays. Family, friends and the fish are in close. This is prime shallow-water grouper time, and the lengthy offshore boat rides are not necessary to put keepers in the cooler. The upcoming cold fronts will have the fish on the move, and the numerous inshore rock piles, ledges and artificial reefs ranging from 10 to 30 feet will be holding many keeper-size gags throughout these months. With the cooling water temperatures, the grouper become more aggressive and readily take artificial lures. The two most popular methods in our area to target these shallow-water grouper are either trolling plugs over your favorite hard bottom area or casting a shallow-running plug over a likely structure.
To locate prime grouper areas, look on any of the available charts and concentrate on locations such as “foul areas” or bottom contours that state “hard.” These areas are good starting points. Also, stone crab season will be open, and as a general rule, grouper and stone crabs prefer the same bottom terrain. The stone crab trap buoys are an easy indication that there is good bottom around and it’s always worth taking time to explore these areas to find your next “honey hole.” As many of you know, a grouper fight is either won or lost in a matter of seconds, so heavier tackle is needed to turn a big gag away from its home. I prefer a heavy spinning outfit rigged with at least 30-pound braid and a short piece of 50-pound fluorocarbon leader for both casting and trolling. Use a plug that runs at the correct depth for where you’re fishing. I always attach the lure with a loop knot allowing the lure to run true in the water. For the shallower locations, my favorites plugs are the Yo-Zuri Mag Minnows and Rapala F18’s in the red/white and natural colors. For trolling the deeper water, the Rapala X-rap 20s in a variety of colors are hard to beat.The speckled trout will be in easy reach this month as well. The Salt River area out of Crystal River, St. Martins of Ozello and Mason Creek of Homosassa will be the hot zones. Look for the “yellow” hard bottom areas with kelp grass and the trout will be there. D.O.A. shrimp deadly combos and jerk baits in the glow color or golden bream are always favorites this time of year. If we have had a few cold fronts that have chilled the water down, the fish may be a little lethargic. A jig bounced slowly along the bottom such as a C.A.L. shad tail on a 1/8-ounce jig head in the previous colors mentioned will work exceptionally well. The redfish will be on the move to the backcountry creeks. To locate fish, use a push pole or trolling motor and target the rocky shorelines with a gold spoon. The water clears considerably this time of year; so sight-fishing redfish can be effective. If a redfish is spotted, present a weedless rigged jerk bait just forward of the fish and a twitch-twitch-pause action should produce a strike.I hope everyone has a great fish-catching holiday season, if you have any other questions about the area, feel free to contact me.
During this transition in seasons, the one thing I key in on more than anything else is what the bait is doing. Right now, along the Panhandle, bait is all over the place. We’re finding pilchards, small threadfins, anchovies, glass minnows, finger mullet, and of course, pinfish all over the flats right now. As long as you can find bait on the flats, expect to catch redfish, trout, and flounder in their normal fall locations. After the first or second cold snap moves through, the bait will begin to push off of the flats and into smaller estuaries, as well as deeper water. And, to no surprise, the fish follow after them. While the bait is still on the flats and the fish are still in their fall patterns, I like to fish the flats with either a topwater lure or a suspending twitch bait. And, like I mentioned before, take notice of what the bait is doing. If you can find an area with a high concentration of bait, expect to catch speckled trout, bluefish and ladyfish. If you find thick schools of mullet close by an area that is loaded with bait, expect to find redfish mixed in. It is all about keying in on the baitfish.Once a few cold fronts bring in the winter cold, you will still find some fish on the flats and in shallow water, but expect to find more and more fish in deeper holes. Redfish will stack up around deeper bridges and jetties. Many will go offshore. I’ve caught numerous slot reds a few miles offshore, and it’s not because the reds can’t handle the cold, but because that is where the bait has moved. For these reds in deeper water, a live croaker is hard to beat, but they will hit pinfish and finger mullet as well.One of the best things about this time of year is the flounder bite. The flounder are already feeding vigorously in expectation of traveling offshore where they will spawn for a few weeks. You can find these delicious flatties around the passes, inside harbors, and even a few miles offshore. One of the ways I like to catch them is to rig up a 1/2- to 1-ounce jig head with any kind of grub and simply bounce it off the seafloor around any wreck or natural bottom. Most of the time I am fishing in 50 to 75 feet of water. And anytime the bite gets slow, I’ll tip my jig with a little strip of cut mullet to add some scent to it. Another great way to catch these guys is by setting up a Carolina rig with a 1/2- to 1-ounce egg sinker and a small circle hook. I usually use 15-pound fluorocarbon, but if the bite is slow, I’ll go down as low as 12-pound. Little bull minnows are the bait of choice, but little finger mullet or cigar minnows work just as good.Again, the key to everything is taking note of what the bait is doing and how the fish are reacting to them. If you consistently fish close to baitfish, then you will consistently catch more fish.
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.
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
With the incredibly hot
summer we've 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 80s. 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 more susceptible
speckled trout, redfish have stayed and fed in shallow water all 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 shouldn't have any trouble finding redfish.
Sometimes they are so thick, every cast results in a strike.
As far as live bait goes,
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 these baitfish on the
flats. Just like with menhaden, the three- to five-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
And if you're looking to
catch a gator trout this time of year, throw on a five- to eight-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 lbs) 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 swimbaits and
twitchbaits like the MirrOdine, made by MirrOlure.
Capt. Blake Nelson
Last Cast Charters
Do you hear that ringing? That's the dinner bell clanging along
the Forgotten Coast for the next two months. As temperatures start dropping and
days get shorter, the inshore action ramps up in a big way.
lead the parade with tarpon, mackerel, jacks and cobia all keying in on
soon-to-be departing menhaden, sardines and pilchards. A sharp eye and full
fuel tank are the keys to success. Watch for oil slicks (fish oil, not the BP
kind), splashing bait pods and diving birds. Run close to the activity before
shutting down to drift or use the trolling motor to jockey into position. Shiny
casting spoons like diamond jigs or the Kastmaster variety worked fairly fast
will score. Chug Bugs, Hall 'em In Bustin' Bob plugs or Top Dogs also mimic the
targeted bait. A short trace of wire leader prevents cutoffs, but heavy mono
triggers more strikes. For anglers who prefer the buggy whip, epoxy glass
minnows, Clouser minnows or Deceivers are the top fly choices.
to shore, redfish and trout will be feeding heavily in anticipation of leaner
months ahead. For the reds, look for jumping mullet and you'll find the drum.
Singles and pairs are most common, but big schools of up to 100 redfish are not
unusual this time of year. Pole, troll or drift into casting range and toss
Aqua Dream Living spoons in pink, chartreuse or gold ahead of cruising fish. A
short section of fluorocarbon leader (I go with 20-pound test) will help avoid
breakoffs. Once the fish are located, stake off and fan cast to cover the
maximum amount of water before re-positioning. If the fish are spooky, a soft
plastic jerk bait in new penny or glow, rigged weedless, will often tip the
odds in your favor.
are most aggressive in the autumn months and now that most of the floating
grass is gone, topwater plugs are always the first thing I'll tie on. It's hard
to go wrong with black/silver patterns that imitate finger mullet, although
chartreuse or bone are excellent fallback colors. I love the action of the
handcrafted Hall 'em In B-29s cigar plugs for trout. Skitter Walks, Top Dogs,
Zara Spooks and Chug Bugs are proven favorites for many other Big Bend trout
purists. A gold or root beer DOA shrimp, suspended under a clacker cork, is
another good combination to throw. Potholes scattered across the flats and
creek channels are the prime places to prospect for big gators. Rock grass, the
wavy kelp-like vegetation that grows on top of the many scattered rock
formations from Ochlockonee Bay east, is another great ambush spot for big
stable weather, fall is an ideal time to run out to Ochlockonee Shoal or Dog
Island Reef. Surrounded by depths up to 30 feet, these sand/grass shoals are
covered by 3 to 4 feet of water at low tide. Drift across and you never know
what you might catch, from nice trout to bull reds to monster cobia to smoker
king mackerel. They're all possibilities, along with bluefish, ladyfish, jacks
and maybe a pompano or two.
school back in session, hunters in the woods and football stadiums full, autumn
along the Forgotten Coast is a perfect time to be on the water. Don't miss out
on this red-hot action, 'cause Old Man Winter is just around the corner.
Capt. Dave Lear
Hopefully, in a couple more weeks, we can say goodbye to the
summer heat and hello to the first signs of fall. The days will be getting
shorter and if you still haven't hooked up with a tarpon, the time is perfect
to do so. Trolling the big rivers in our area (Homosassa, Crystal, and
Withlacoochee) in the early evening just after sundown can put that silver king
in the air. The temperature is much more pleasant, light boat traffic (if any),
and it's an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours on the water. Try to
schedule your trip on an outgoing tide and use some of the shallow-running
plugs like Bomber Long A's, Rapala F18's, and Yo-Zuri Mag Minnows in the mullet
and red head/white color combinations.
The big breeder-sized redfish are here and the
much-anticipated redfish run on the spoil islands off Crystal River is in full
swing. The majority of these fish are over slot and many exceed the 30-inch
mark. It's best to beef up your tackle to at least the 20-pound-test class, so
the fish can be brought in quickly and safely released. Live pinfish, cut
mullet or ladyfish are the go-to baits in this area. Also, it can get crowded
out on these points with other anglers, so please remember to be courteous when
anchoring up. There are also plenty of these breeder-sized fish on the outside
keys between Crystal River and Homosassa giving an alternate location for this
exciting experience. Locate the points with hard limestone bottom, position
yourself up tide, and use the live and cut baits previously mentioned. However,
if it's possible to leave the dock a little early, then try the early morning
top water bite, too. I prefer the Yo-Zuri hydro pencil or Rapala Skitter Walk.
The color of the plug isn't important, just a steady "walk the dog" action
should get your heart pumping with a redfish explosion.
As we progress into October, the grouper will be migrating
to shallow water. The 30- to 40-foot range will start holding more keeper-sized
gags and they will become more aggressive with the cooling water temperatures.
Spend the time needed to catch some quality live baits-pinfish, sand perch,
porgys and grunts are grouper candy. It is usually said with grouper: "The
bigger the bait, the bigger the fish." Over the last couple of weeks the
biggest gags have definitely preferred big live baits. Trolling plugs over the
rocky structure will be more productive toward the end of the month and even
better over the next coming months.
If you've never caught a snook in Citrus County, now is a prime
time to do it. The snook will start congregating in the rivers and during this
transition time they will feed heavily. Target the shorelines of the rivers
with a shallow-running plug or jerk bait. I prefer the Yo-Zuri Mag Darter or a
DOA jerk bait in the baby bass color and I concentrate on areas with breaks in
the current. Also, focus on rocky points, docks, and oyster bars for different
As always, if you have any additional questions about the
area, feel free to contact me.
Capt. Dan Clymer
Inshore fishing along the panhandle has been phenomenal this
spring. In the bays, we saw more baitfish than usual, primarily small menhaden,
but a lot of glass minnows as well. This brought in acres of Spanish mackerel
feeding along the drop-offs as well as large schools of bull reds feeding on
the schools of baitfish in deeper water. We've also seen good numbers of
keeper-sized speckled trout and redfish on the flats and around docks, with
plenty of flounder mixed in.
With the rising temperatures expect to see a change in where
and when fish will feed, as well as what they will be feeding on. The baitfish
that have moved in will be the primary bait of choice for the summer months.
Some call these baitfish menhaden, others pogies, and still others LY, but if
it's the oily baitfish that swirls on top of the water in schools and quickly
dies in a less than adequate livewell, you've got the right bait. You can find
them just about anywhere this time of year, but if you are struggling to locate
them, check any muddy bottom inlet in the back bays and chances are you'll run
across a few schools. The best size for inshore fishing is going to be in the 3
to 5 inch range, but don't be afraid to use the little ones under a popping
cork or Carolina rigged. And on the same token, don't be scared to try some of
the 6 to 8 inch big guys for gator trout and upper-slot reds. My favorite way
to use these baits is by freelining with no more than 2 to 3 feet of leader
line and a circle hook. The hook size is going to depend on the size of the
bait. For the smaller 3-inch
baits, I'll use a 2/0 Owner MUTU light circle hook. For the 4-inch baits, 3/0
and for the bigger baits a 4/0 or 5/0. Hook them in the tail and let them swim
around freely, and make sure the hook is exposed enough to get a good hook set.
The speckled trout are much more affected by the
temperatures than the redfish. The early morning and late evening bite for
speckled trout is normally the best bite during the summer. The trend for where
to find them seems to be in shallow water when it is cooler, in deeper (4-8 ft)
grass beds when it is hotter, and when you can't seem to find them anywhere at
any time of the day, fish at night under dock lights. If you are hoping to catch
them on artificials, it is hard to beat an early morning topwater lure like the
Top Dog or Skitterwalk. Another favorite of mine is a simple swimbait worked
over the grass beds with a straight retrieve.
Redfish are a little easier than the specks. The hot weather
will have an effect on them but if you locate redfish in a general area, expect
to find them there all throughout the day. The trend for reds is similar to
that of trout in that they will stay shallow when it is cooler and deeper when
it is hotter. But for reds this means bunching up around deepwater docks and
bridges. If I find redfish along a stretch of flats in the morning, I'll go
back in the afternoon to deep docks in the same area, and more times than not,
I'll find those same redfish. On the flats, a gold spoon is my first choice
followed by a topwater lure. Around docks, Gulp! baits will do the trick. Work
them very slow, even letting it sit still for a minute or two letting the
pinfish nibble at them.
And as always, look for signs of life when locating these
fish. The two biggest things I look for are baitfish and big mullet. When you
find these two factors on a flat, chances are redfish and speckled trout are
The dogs may be panting on the front porch, but the fishing is as
hot as a firecracker along the Big Bend coast the next two months. The trick to
successful outings is knowing when and where to go.
water temperatures hovering in the mid- to upper-80s, the best time to be on
the water if you're hunting trout in July and August is before dawn and dusk.
Big "gator" trout take advantage of low light conditions to ambush their prey.
They're also more active when the water is cooler. Noisy surface plugs like the
Hall 'em In Rat Dogs, Rapala Skitterwalks or Zara Spooks will trigger explosive
strikes, especially when cast into potholes or around bait-holding features on
the flats. Rock grass, oyster bars and the numerous limestone piles scattered
across eastern Apalachee Bay are prime gator hangouts. Once the sun has
climbed, switch to subsurface offerings like DOA BaitBusters or Catch 2000
plugs in depths of 4 to 6 feet. Work the lures slowly with occasional twitches.
Top plug colors include black/silver, white/redhead and chartreuse/white. A DOA
standard shrimp suspended under a popping or clacker cork is also effective
once the water gets hot. For live bait enthusiasts, frisky pinfish, pilchards
or finger mullet get the nod.
are much more tolerant of warmer water and will continue to bite throughout the
day. Look for reds prowling the shoreline, open bays and creek mouths. If you
find one fish, others will be in the vicinity or in similar conditions. If I'm
targeting reds, the first lure I'll usually tie on is a pink Aqua Dream
3/8-ounce spoon. In the summer months, though, the chartreuse and silver
versions often catch more fish. Soft plastic jerk baits like the DOA C.A.L.
5.5-inch baits in glow or new penny are another good choice. Rig them weedless,
especially if the floating grass is thick.
you're looking for bigger tugs on your line, July and August are made to order.
Blacktip and spinner sharks will readily pounce on well-placed subsurface
plugs. They jump and pull exceptionally hard, so make sure to match the tackle.
A 30-pound spinning outfit loaded with 300 yards of braided line will make the
fights sporty. Cobia are prone to pop up at any time as well. That's why I
always keep a rod aboard loaded with a big bucktail jig. Jack crevalle will be
zipping about in packs, harassing pods of pilchards and glass minnows. If you
get a lure or jig in the middle, hang on, because it'll seldom go unmolested.
the ultimate sport, however, it's hard to top the tarpon that frequent our
stretch of coast for the next couple months. Look for fish rolling on the
surface early in the mornings. Maneuver the boat quietly into position and lead
the fish with your cast. I use 8-foot medium-heavy Shimano spinning outfits
with at least 350 yards of 30-pound braided line and 80-pound fluorocarbon
leaders for tarpon. Big plugs like Guide's Choice M-80 poppers or Bunka Boys
connected with a monofilament loop knot complete the set-up.
Once you're hooked up, keep the fight as short as possible to
ensure a good release. Remember, a $50 tag bought in advance is required to
boat a tarpon. Take a snap shot instead (leave the fish in the water) and let
that silver trophy swim away so someone else can experience the thrill.
what are you waiting for? Slather on the sunscreen, drink plenty of water and
keep an eye out for the afternoon thunder-boomers. Celebrate summer by catching
It's time to dust off that snorkeling gear, put on a bathing
suit and cool off from the summer heat. The opening of scallop season starts
here in the Crystal River/Homosassa area July 1st and ends September
10th. Scalloping is a big attraction to the Nature Coast, and a
great way to spend the day on the water with friends and family. Our vast area
of crystal-clear grass flats between the two rivers is a haven for these tasty
bivalves. Some of the more productive areas in recent years have been the Gomez
Rocks area off Crystal River and the flats just West of St. Martins Keys off
Homosassa. Simple snorkeling gear, a dive flag and a saltwater fishing license
(for those 16 and older) is all that's needed to harvest them. Before the
season opens, it's always best to check the current regulations and bag limits
to ensure a fun day on the water.
the water heating up, so is the redfishing. The large redfish schools are just
weeks away, and there are plenty of fish on the outer keys. The last couple
hours of the incoming tide are hard to beat, and remember, a stealthy approach
helps ensure success. Push pole or ease up with your trolling motor to a likely
spot, anchor down and position yourself up tide. Locate points with a hard
limestone bottom. Freeline a live pinfish, or for a sure hook up, try a fresh
piece of cut mullet or ladyfish. For those who prefer artificials, a 1/4-ounce
gold spoon or a DOA C.A.L. jerkbait in the glow or new penny color rigged
weedless is ideal for casting along the rocky structure.
cast after cast action, and a variety of species, the deep grass patches west
of the "Foul Area" in 8 to 12 feet of water are always a summertime hot spot.
To locate these deeper grass beds, let the sun get up a little and run with the
sun at your back. Look for the dark and light spots on the bottom. This
"spotty" bottom (which is approximately 5 to 8 miles offshore) is the most
productive area to target trout during these hot summer months. A DOA glow
shrimp or glow C.A.L. shad rigged on a 1/8-ounce chartreuse jig head are
deadly. However, if the bite slows, scented bait like a camo or new penny Gulp!
shrimp will help get an extra bite or two. Flounder, black sea bass, Spanish
mackerel, cobia, and the list goes on... are all possibilities on any given day.
grouper bite will still be going strong in the 50 to 70 foot range. Initiate
the bite with some cut sardines or threadfin herring. Once the action gets
going, drop down a live pinfish or a grass porgy and hold on. If you're not
using some of the grunts you're catching while targeting grouper for bait, you
may be missing the biggest grouper under the boat. A fresh-cut grunt head will
usually produce a keeper-and a hefty one at that. Mangrove snapper will be on
the same structure as the grouper and they help add some groceries to the
cooler. Place a chum bag overboard, freeline some pieces of cut bait or smaller
live baits (pinfish or greenbacks) to get that mondo mango.
a final note, let's hope the best for the oil situation in the gulf. Also, if
you have any questions about the area, feel free to contact me.
Summer's here and the time is right for chasing scales along the Big Bend and Forgotten Coast. The only dilemma facing anglers is deciding which species to target, since the next few months showcase the realm of possibilities.
Take sea trout, for starters. With our expansive grass flats and relatively undeveloped coastline, the Big Bend has some of the best trout action this side of Laguna Madre. Schoolie fish up to three pounds are found by drifting over the flats casting shrimp imitations like DOAs in natural patterns or glow, along with soft plastic jerk baits. For the real McCoy, live shrimp and shiner tails (split pinfish quarters) entice as well, especially when suspended under clacker or popping corks. But the true trophies or "gator" trout are a whole different breed altogether. Lone ambush predators, they lurk in the shallows and prefer big meals. That's why I have my anglers throw big baits when targeting them. Topping the list are DOA BaitBusters in black/silver or classic white with a red head. For hard plugs, my go-to lures are the beautiful yet deadly Hall 'Em In wooden creations. Both makes duplicate the finger mullet and pilchards on the gator menu. And if we are after the sows specifically, we'll be on the water before dawn or just before dusk when low-light ambush conditions are ideal.
Summer redfish inhabit the same zones as gators with shallow shorelines, rock piles and creek mouths being prime places to prospect. If you find schools of foraging, flipping mullet, the redfish won't be far behind. Use probing lures like an Aqua Dream Living spoon or jerk baits to locate the fish. Once you do, stake off or use the trolling motor to work the area thoroughly. Other fish will often be in the vicinity. Although it's not impossible, the big summer tides with increased water movement make it harder to spot tailing reds. Instead, watch for nervous water and wakes, shiny sides or white throats to pinpoint the quarry.
May and June are also great months for run-and-gun action across the Forgotten Coast. Hard-charging speedsters like Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle, bluefish and ladyfish will cruise the nearshore depths harassing schools of pilchards, glass minnows and sardines. Watch for surface commotion/splashes, diving birds or oil slicks in depths ranging from six to 20 feet. Idle close before cutting the engine to avoid putting the schools down. Solid spoons such as Kastmasters or Sidewinders work well, along with 1/4-ounce diamond jigs. To prevent cutoffs, use a trace of wire leader and a swivel to connect to the running line. Heavy monofilament up to 40-pound test will generate more strikes, however. On those greasy slick days of summer, nothing is cooler than running from school to school for non-stop action.If that's not enough, then break out the heavier gear 'cause the big girls are back in town. That's right, May and June herald the return of king mackerel, cobia and tarpon, and while tactics vary for each, all three offer heart-pounding excitement for their followers. Grouper trollers pick off their share of kings by dragging Stretch 25s or Rapala CD-18s behind the boat. That world record Spanish you nailed off a pilchard pod might be royalty in disguise. But if you're bound and determined to land a smoker, anchor over one of the many artificial reefs or natural bottom ledges, break out the chum bag and float a live blue runner or pinfish below a balloon. You never know, a cobia might get there first. Or you might have your hands full with a stubborn blacktip or spinner shark. They jump, run and fight hard, regardless. Just be careful with the release!After suffering through one of the coldest winters in decades, those long hot days of summer are going to feel very comfortable indeed. Especially when you're working up a sweat battling that trophy fish.
Capt. Dave Learwww.captaindavelear.com
This is truly the finest time of year for any Floridian who has spent time outdoors. The sun is starting to shine warmly on our faces as we watch the bays and passes come alive with activity. The turkeys are gobbling down in the swamps and the gulls are calling as they are nimbly diving on schools of baitfish, in a stark contrast to their neighbor the pelican who lumbers through the air and crashes onto his breakfast. To a seasoned angler, scenes such as this are filled with the ambrosia of prospect, and while the novice can sense the excitement in the air, he perhaps may not be fully aware at how much opportunity lay at his feet.The passes are a good place to start around this time of year. Fishing the jetties and areas adjacent can be very productive on all the newly awakening species. Surf fishing with cut shrimp or sand fleas is the sure fire way to pick up some pompano. The time-tested technique of a two-hook rig with a pyramid weight is a simple way to nail this fine table fare. Don’t be surprised to pick up an occasional redfish or Spanish mackerel in the process.Throwing a Gotcha from the jetties with a little bit of steel tippet will bring Spanish and bluefish in by the droves. Just watch for diving birds and let your lures fly. I like to use light tackle, but be wary not to go too light, as even the smallest of Spanish and blues make for a good fight with long hard runs.Reds and trout will be congregating amongst the grass flats this time of year in great numbers. Live shrimp, baitfish, and various artificial lures will make for a fun outing. The specks will be coming right off their spawn and should be especially ravenous. Be wary when wading to not attach your catch to yourself too securely, as all too often bull sharks and the like will attempt to make your catch, their catch. I would advise separating yourself as quickly as possible from your catch if this situation were to arise. You can catch more fish any day, but new appendages are typically in short supply.Offshore, grouper and snapper are closed, but amberjacks are not and will more than likely be willing to appease anyone’s bottom fishing fix, while inshore along the beaches, the kings and cobia will be cruising the bars. Troll live baits for kings slowly, and keep a rod with a jig or a fin bait handy. Keeping an ever-ready eye out for cobia will pay off with enough effort. Even if you don’t see a fish, but perhaps some flotsam, make a cast. All too often have I seen very large fish hide under very small objects. Sunfish and rays also harbor cobia, so be vigilant and you’ll more than likely have a good story to tell and perhaps some bragging rights to go with it!Keep in mind that as the temperatures increase, so does the traffic on the water. For every one of you out there trying to be safe there is another bonehead being selfish and probably dangerous. Keep an eye out for this clown, and don’t let his good time spill over into your good time, and you both have a bad time. Good luck and tight lines!Capt. Si Nelson
It’s an epidemic as spring fever hits the Big Bend/Forgotten Coast the next couple of months. Now that Old Man Winter has finally loosened his icy grip, anglers are taking to the water in droves, even if that means skipping school or calling in sick to work. Fishing is just that good.For starters, trout and redfish, our bread-and-butter gamesters, are settling back into their usual haunts. School-sized trout will be taking up station on the region’s expansive grass flats. Returning pinfish, finger mullet and shrimp are the enticement as the trout try to bulk up after the lean winter. These same baits suspended under a popping or clacking cork will draw plenty of strikes. DOA standard shrimp, jig tails with grubs or topwater plugs are equally effective. Concentrate efforts on sandy potholes, depressions or drop-offs. A temperature gauge is helpful to locate warmer water early, but once it reaches 70 degrees, it’s game on. As is always the case, the bigger trout will be loners, often holding in water depths of less than three feet. Structure such as oyster bars, rocks or the kelp-like grass that grows around rocky bottom serve as ambush points for “gator” trout. These trophies prefer sizable meals, so large baits such as the Rapala Skitterwalk, MirrOlure Top Dogs or the Hall ‘Em In wooden plugs will attract attention. Keep in mind, however, that big trout are breeding females so it’s best to let them go after a quick photo. If you want some for dinner, stick with the smaller males that are under 20 inches in size.The large schools of redfish that are common during the winter months will be breaking apart by now. That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of reds around. Singles, pairs and small groups will be fanning out all along the coast. If I’m focusing on reds I’ll be casting around creek mouths, grass points and oyster bars with an Aqua Dream spoon. Pink is always a good spring color, with chartreuse, silver and gold backup options. When spoon-feeding reds, work the lure slowly so it wobbles just off the bottom.March also marks the return of pelagics to Northwest Florida, with pompano, bluefish and Spanish mackerel leading the way. Look for tasty pompano around sandy areas like the West Flats and gulfside of the barrier islands. Shiny bullet jigs dressed with pink, yellow, white or chartreuse nylon skirts get mistaken for sand fleas. But pompano will also eat fresh peeled shrimp, bucktail jigs or shrimp imitations. A medium-light-action spinning outfit provides ample sport for these scrappy fighters.Roving packs of bluefish will bend plenty of rods this time of year, too. If you get into them (the area’s many nearshore shoals are great places to look), use the opportunity to clean out your tackle box, since blues are never too persnickety as long as the lure is moving. Topwater plugs like ChugBugs in chrome variations work well, along with metals such as Kastmasters, Clarkes or Gotchas. If you’re stingy with your tackle, crimp on a six-inch trace of wire leader. Otherwise, 40-pound monofilament leaders will generate more strikes.The same rules apply to Spanish mackerel. You’ll lose a few with mono leaders, but you’ll catch a lot more. One of my favorite mackerel rigs is a 3/8-ounce diamond jig. It looks just like the glass minnows Spanish love to gobble and it casts a country mile. Another old Cracker trick is a McDonald’s soda straw cut at an angle and slid over a 3/0 straight-shank hook. When the mackerel and blues are thick, it can be non-stop action, which is a perfect scenario for junior anglers who tend to get bored easily.If this still isn’t enough, cobia will be back again by April. We don’t get the epic runs like our neighbors do in the Panhandle, but we do enjoy a bountiful stock nonetheless. Look for brown bombers around channel markers and pilings. Bucktail jigs up to 1 1/2-ounces are my favorite offerings for ling. Live pinfish or finger mullet are also good choices. And if you can find them, a live eel is seldom refused. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and enjoy one of the best times to be on the water. You definitely won’t regret it.
Well, for March and April, I only have to write half of a forecast-because, since February 1st every fish I target is closed by the National Marine Fisheries Service until April 1st. So, March's plan is to talk to all of you about getting active in protecting our right to simply go fishing and bring home a moderate catch to enjoy with our families. April's forecast will cover more of my fishing strategy, since I haven't been on the water for months.The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act was enacted in 1976 and amended in 1996. Its purpose in 1976 was to aide the domestic fishing industry by phasing out foreign fishing, which is a good thing. The 1996 amendments focused on rebuilding over-fished fisheries, reducing bycatch and protecting fish habitat. This is also a good thing. In my opinion, things start down the wrong path when former President George W. Bush, through his Ocean Action Plan, made reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Act a top priority by calling for a hard deadline to end over fishing, increase use of market-based management tools, and the creation of a national saltwater angler registry. In 2006 another round of amendments included more emphasis on data collection through dock side intercepts, and analysis of vessel trip report data collected from charter vessels, along with many other additions too numerous to discuss here. Where I find a tremendous flaw in the whole management process, which has lead to a horrific effect on Florida's fishing industry, is that all data seems to be based on what has been caught, instead of what stocks are actually in the water. Meaning, as the feds note increased catches, their interpretation is that the fishery is being over fished. As a charter Captain, this same data tells me the population is healthy and abundant. I think to end the further devastation of Florida's fishing industry, the data collection process needs to be completely overhauled, so there is an equal balance between catch data and actual estimates on stock numbers based on extensive research at sea, focusing on what is swimming, not what is on ice.In April--since red snapper are so over fished--you will need to polish up on the careful handling and release of red snapper to reduce the number of dead floating snapper, as you will be catching more and bigger red snapper than ever before. The biggest challenge you face is trying to get your bait past the thousands of snapper to present it to the grouper beneath. I will try anchoring and dropping on smaller ledges and rock piles starting in depths of 35 to 40 feet. I have found if the snapper are a nuisance and getting your bait through them isn't working, just relax and catch the snapper and do your best not to kill any of the rare fish when you release them, and after thirty minutes or an hour, the snapper bite should slow and grouper should start getting a shot at your bait. Another great way to get past the snapper is to troll Stretch 30s. Come prepared with many colors. I like rigs using 80-pound braid in the reel, and 4 feet of 100-pound mono leader. Try speeds ranging from 4 knots up to 7 knots. Remember, keep your eye on the bottom machine-I have located numerous super spots while trolling. If I am unsuccessful in the 30- to 40-foot depths, I will move on to 50 and 60 feet where trolling is still effective if you're using braids. You will need to let out more line than what you would in 40 feet. Again, my strategy will be to work smaller ledges and rock piles, avoiding large structures, as I always find more snapper on the larger structures. On February 24, 2010 from noon till 3 PM, recreational and commercial fisherman will unite at the Nation's capitol to demonstrate against the unintended impacts of the Magnuson-Stevens Conservation and Management Act. These two groups of fishermen have always been polar opposites, but for the first time have come together to stop the devastation of an industry and conserve the right of our citizens to fish. I encourage all that can, to attend and fight to save saltwater fishing in Florida.Please write your congressman and demand better data collection. Fight for your right to enjoy fishing our waters.
Capt. Bill GiddensU.S.C.G. MasterDog Island Charters, Inc.Lanark Village, FL(850) 933-1149