Florida Fishing Report: Florida Fishing Charters

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Sublime Chaos

We have lift off. A giant tarpon breaks bad aboard The Bounty Hunter. Photo Courtesy of Greg Beach

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It is typical in most Septembers for the first of mild cold fronts to pass over the state. While it will take several fronts to significantly cool the water, the summer doldrums are destined to end. The Autumnal Equinox is now less than three weeks away. As the hours of light to darkness decrease, the biological alarm clock of fish will sound and fall fishing will commence. Spawning and post-spawned fish will retreat from the high saline waters of the gulf beaches and passes to the small bays and bayous just outside of creeks, rivers, springs and canals. The potpourri of bait will migrate down the coast from the Florida Panhandle bringing with them a bounty of frenzied gamefish.

Redfish are first to take center stage as fall fishing waxes through the next eight to ten weeks. The reds will mass together in tight schools as they migrate in from the gulf as part of their spawning prevalence. These are fish of the open flats and rarely found inside small creeks or rivers. They are most often found on the edges of the flats outside creek and river mouths, shoreline cul-de-sacs, and behind mangrove lined barrier islands. Moving redfish are difficult at best to catch. Once the fish are located, careful observation of the schools will reveal areas where they stop and hang out. Savvy sportsmen will not disturb the moving school but will instead stake out and ambush the unsuspecting school as it settles around points, oyster bars, potholes, mangroves and cul-de-sacs.

Deanna Phillips is all smiles after landing her first giant tarpon. Deanna was fishing with long time
friends... Karen, Billy and Willie Longnecker. CEO deckhand Brian Timmons (R).

Snook are slowly but surely meandering their way back from offshore wrecks, beaches and passes where they have all but concluded their reproduction cycle for the year. Fish are scattered from the outside gulf water to their winter oasis. In the past 5 to 10 years, the fish on the outside and in clear water have been getting unprecedented fishing pressure. While I am not certain I would classify anything with a brain the size of a peanut “smart”, it is these fish’s instinct to become weary and extremely temperamental in feeding. The past few years I have gone back to the ways of yesteryear by plugging the shoreline with artificial lures deep up the rivers. While there may not be as many fish, they offer a great compromise to those sportsmen who wish to test their mettle against a saltwater bass in the riprap of the backcountry. The water is still a little warm for fall snook fishing to have reached its pinnacle, but snookers worth their salt will get them nonetheless.

Trout are still out on the deeper flats at this time. Joining them have been Spanish mackerel, sharks of all species and sizes, bluefish, ladyfish and the first scouts of the cobia nation.

The summer bait hatch has occurred. The waters nearshore and just off the beaches are teeming with black masses of freshly hatched sardines, threadfins and anchovies. Sharks, jacks, bluefish, ladyfish, Spanish mackerel, snook and tarpon are wreaking havoc when the conditions are right. However, sublime chaos is about to commence.

The bait concentrations will move south with the passing of each cool front. As the bait begins to move vast distances, it attracts the attention of virtually every gamefish in its path. The bait fry meets the migrating bait which both have the predators with them. Enter the dragon.

Jamie Pinter (L) hefts a backwater giant tarpon with Capt. Robert McCue. 
The fish was taken on a sinking MirrOlure plug in 6 feet of water..

While the natural phenomenon of the bait hatch and migration is something I experience every year, I will never forget an experience I had off the Suwannee River a few years back. Just outside the long bars and shoals, Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” was rivaled. The water was boiling with bait. Kingfish skyrocketed and tarpon free jumped for hours on end. Bait was showered into the boat and so too were many frenzied fish. I now knew the definition of “combat fishing”. Mackerel, jacks, bluefish, sharks, bonito, you name it, and they were all there. Not in small areas, but in a solid line a quarter mile wide and who knows how many miles long. The scene lasted for 3 days when the weather had changed. That was a good thing as we were near out of tackle and near everything we had was either broken or worn out when we considered hand lines.

The wind has been up somewhat since the well offshore passing of Katrina making giant tarpon fishing not an option for sight fishing most of the week. There are still plenty of fish to be had, providing you are sitting in your theater of probability in the dark, have light winds, and the patience of an African safari big game hunter. As always, tarpon are tarpon. Traditionally, we see a good push of tarpon moving with the bait pods over the next 6 to 8 weeks. I know my chances of having another Suwannee experience are slim, but the prospect keeps my mind full as Hemmingway’s character,  “Santiago”.

“And the old man dreamed about the lions.”

Screaming Drags and Tired Arms!

Robert McCue



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Last Update 6SEP05
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