Florida Fishing Report: Florida Fishing Charters

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It's Time to Get it On!

Jamie Pinter (L) hefts a backcountry giant tarpon that fell for a 77M MirrOlure

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While Florida is often not associated with seasons, we do have them. When Old Man Winter comes to town, our fishing always remains great, but out catching varies. During the periods of prolonged cold, our neo-tropical fish may scatter or they may congregate in winter spas. Sometimes they can be difficult to find.  Other times when found they won’t eat, or they might be stacked like cordwood eating the bottom out of the boat. These are typical scenarios in the doldrums of winter and we’ve experienced of share of each one of them this winter season.

It has long been a tradition of mine to find some personal time of tranquility by traveling to the East Coast to livebait fish the natural phenomenon of the massing of sailfish in the Gulf Stream during the coldest days of winter. The deep cobalt and warm waters of the Gulf Stream pass close by the coast from just 4 to 9 miles offshore. I find little more relaxing than flying fishing kites and dangling livebaits while drifting the edges, breaks, eddies, rips and weed lines of the Gulf Stream. The fishing is often best the days after a passing cold front and the subsequent northerly winds. The winds were high and the seas were big for the better part of the peak run in 2005. This variable limited both the number of days I could get out and too where I could go. We had some decent days this winter, but it was not like years past where double digits were typical in the areas that are within a reasonable distance from my home.  It did not matter to me as the sea once again offered me the great escape of serenity, peace and solitude. As Hemmingway’s character “Santiago” did, I too “dreamed about lions” and how good it is to be alive.
The big sail bite was to the south this year, but as long as 
I could "dream about lions", I found peace :-)

World class fly fisher and gentleman Andre Padovani of British Columbia with one of several reds he took on fly last week.

Back home, the trout bite has been red hot. In the deeper grass flats adjacent to the ICW, school-sized trout are cumulus. Underneath the flocks of birds in the same areas, bluefish and ladyfish are wreaking havoc on the baits. 
Jigs and topwater lures get the nod for the trout, ladyfish and bluefish.  

During the warming trends, the monster trout are massed up on the shallow flats, oyster bars, creek mouths and bends, cul-de-sacs and in shallow swashes and potholes around mangrove lined barrier islands. In the same areas, we are also having success with redfish.  Winter reds are notorious for hanging around riprap, oyster bars, and rock piles catching some rays at the top of the flood tide. At low tide, I have 
been finding a few “tailing” on the grass flats adjacent to deep water. Soft plastic jerk worms or eels are producing well in these areas on both the “gator” trout and the redfish. 

Fly anglers are having best success with brown and white Lefty Deceivers and green clouser minnows.

Off the shore of the Anclote Power Plant, jumbo jacks and few pompano are working the flats on the warm days following the cold fronts. Marauding jacks just can’t refuse a noisy topwater plug and the pompano are suckers for shrimp-tipped “banana” jigs.

Deep in the backwaters, juvenile tarpon and a few snook have obliged to our offerings on the tide changes. Juvenile tarpon and snook are very sensitive to the cooler waters as they are sub-tropical and, not to mention, the most temperamental species in Florida waters. With some patience, on most days we’ve gotten them to eat jigs and live jumbo shrimp.


Paul Chan proudly displays a juvenile tarpon that fell prey to his chartreuse green tail and read head jig on a recent chilly morning.

The weather forecast for the week is highs in the upper 70s and lows in the mid 50s. While a late season blast of air is always possible in mid February, I have noticed a significant increase in activity with all of the fish the past week. Mother Nature and Father Time are playing tug of war. Father Time is gaining the upper hand, as our days grow longer with each passing. It is still a little early, but it won’t be much longer now before spring has sprung and the pinnacle flats fishing will occur.

In the coming weeks, the grouper bite will improve closer to shore. Cobia will first show on the deeper structures. Shortly thereafter, they will be found riding the backs of large Southern stingrays and make excellent sight casting prospects. St. Patrick’s Day is the mile marker for the appearance of permit, Spanish mackerel and king mackerel. The arrival of the mackerel will in turn aid in pushing the staple scaled sardines to the flats. For those in the know of the whereabouts of the earliest arrival of the crickets, they (we) will experience a version of Florida fishing pandemonium found at no other time of year.

At this time, water temperatures are hovering around 64 degrees. When we hit the benchmark of 68 to 70, the first of the giant tarpon will sneak into the deeper water of the larger bays and rivers. The vernal equinox (even hours of daylight to darkness) occurs on March 20th, which will be immediately followed by a full moon on March 25th. With a little temperate weather, some consistent giant tarpon will likely be found starting at that time and in those places.

Morning has broken in tarpon country

Giant tarpon will be the quest of those who hail from all parts of the world wishing to test their mettle against the greatest, big game fish on earth. Each year tens of thousands of tarpon congregate along our coast in numbers second to none in the world. The beauty of this fascinating species is its character traits of purity and non-discrimination. Unlike other big game fish, tarpon inhabit areas close to land that are accessible by million dollar yachts, wooden row boats, or merely from a fishing pier. They care not of what class of society you come from. They are not reserved for social drifting during martini hour, Grey Poupon and fine Cuban cigars. They like you just the same if you drink Busch beer, enjoy Vienna hot dogs and chew Copenhagen. They care less if you offer them live, dead, or artificial bait. They will burn the gears of a Penn International reel just as they will a Zebco Rhino. Tarpon are American built.

For me, the intrigue of tarpon is found within the theater of serenity, euphoric desertion and sovereignty that I can share with many who have the same common ambitions as myself. The ferocious rattle of the gill rakers, the majestic tail walk dance of the silver king, and the stamina of the wild beast against man are all just bonuses. We merely play our role as pawns in a game held in the king’s court. A challenge we refer to as our annual calling.

In sports, tarpon fishing is equivalent of the Daytona 500 of NASCAR, the World Series of baseball, or the Tour de France of cycling. Tarpon are the crown jewel of Florida flats fishing; the apex of light tackle fishing experienced anywhere in the world.

Call your personal trainer, start your weight training today, and bring plenty of Ben Gay as the zenith of 2005 Florida fishing is now just weeks away.

Screaming Drags and Tired Arms!

Robert McCue



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Last Update 16FEB05
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