fishing in North Florida takes advantage of one of the richest, and most
diverse areas for fishing in the world. The list of available species includes
tarpon, cobia, sea trout, redfish, flounder, sailfish, snapper
and grouper, bluefish, jack crevalle, an occasional snook, and many others.
There is really no bad time to fish this area, although some species are more
available on a seasonal basis than others whether they are inshore, near shore,
or offshore game fish.
MOSQUITO LAGOON REDS
This shallow waterway comes
alive with the first hint of fall. “With the tail end of the hurricane season we
normally have slightly higher water levels, and those first little bumps of
north wind get the reds bunched up and heading to the tidal creeks,” said
Capt. Scott Tripp. Tripp’s favorite creeks are those on the
northern end of Mosquito Lagoon from Shotgun Pass to the Three Sisters. His
favorite pattern is simple.
“Follow the creeks
in, fishing the deeper bends as you go,” he advised. “Look for the
smaller open bays inside. Some may not be more than 25-yards wide, and those
that have grass in them are normally best. In the cool morning the reds tend to
hang in the deeper bends, but as the sun gets up they fan out and tail in those
shallow bays just off the channels.”
There is little tide
movement in this area, but even a 6- to 8-inch falling tide moves the fish off
of the extremely shallow flats and makes them accessible to boating anglers.
Tripp prefers the falling tide and notes that a key to look for in these bays
are deeper white sand holes in the grass.
“The reds find
these on a falling tide,” he said. “But don’t be surprised to find a
6- to 10-pound trout parked in the middle of one.”
Moving north on the First Coast, the area from State Route 206
south to the Pellicer Creek flats also gets a boost from both cooling
temperatures and masses of mullet.
“There is a major mullet run this month” said Capt.
Tommy Derringer “and the reds are keyed to it. This is the forage they’re
after and they climb as shallow onto the flats as the mullet run to get to
The normal tide in this area is about 3-feet, although a hard
east wind raises it. Derringer’s approach is simple.
“A high tide pushes mullet and reds right up onto any flat
along the ICW,” he said. “The ones I want to fish are those with
Spartina grass lines on them that have a two to three-foot depth at high
Catch those conditions on a high tide and Derringer recommends
topwater plugs, and notes that while dim light is an asset, anglers can stay
with them throughout the high tide this time of year
PINE ISLAND TROUT
The next stop northward is the Intra-Coastal Waterway from the
St. Augustine Inlet, north to Pine Island.
“The mullet run is in full swing and they’re heading south
along the ICW until they dump out of the St. Augustine Inlet,” said Capt.
Larry Miniard. “Trout are keyed on this mass of bait, and they are going
to be where they can feed on them most easily. The striking activity we get
this month is some of the best we see all year.”
Normal tides in this area run 4 1/2 feet, but with northeast
wind they can run to 6 feet. That is a lot of water moving through this area,
and the baitfish follow that water. Miniard plans his day accordingly.
“On the early rising tide I want to be along the main ICW
where a shallow flat abuts a Spartina grass line and has a sharp drop to deeper
water right next to it. Big trout, and we catch fish over 8-pounds every
October, move into just a couple of feet of water if they can corral baitfish
and shrimp against a solid wall like Spartina grass. But, they don’t want to be
more than a tail flip or two away from a deeper water haven “.
The rising tide can be a hunt and peck affair, since many such
depth and cover situations dot the ICW. When the tide falls, the game changes.
“Those trout follow the
tide and the baitfish up into every creek along the ICW and then into the
feeder creeks that lead to the flats,” Miniard said. “When the tide
falls and the flats go dry, they have to come out.”
One of the quickest ways
to tie into serious trout fishing this month is to enter the main creeks on the
last half of the falling tide, and hit the mouth of every small intersecting
creek that leads from the flats. Among those creeks that are invariably
productive are Casa Cola, Sombrero, the Guana River, Pancho, Robinson, Stokes
Creek, and the Seaplane Basin. If the bait is there, and the tide is dropping,
you can count on trout.
Further north this area has a well-deserved reputation for
producing some of the heaviest spotted sea trout in the state, and October is
one of the premier months to target them.
“All of the mullet and shrimp that have spent the summer
months down river are now heading north to pour out of the Mayport Inlet,”
Capt. Tony Bozzella said, “and those big trout are right behind
Eight- to 10-pound trout are not uncommon in this area, but they
can be widely scattered during warmer weather. The fall mullet migration tends
to concentrate them into several productive areas.
Among those that are traditionally productive is the back end of
Mill Cove after the tide has risen several feet. Those big trout push into the
shallow grass and oyster cover, where topwater plugs can provide exciting
Another is the sharply dropping coast along the dock-laden Fort
Caroline shore. On a rising tide the trout push right up to the shoreline bulk
heads to corral mullet. When the tide falls, and it moves fast along this
stretch, they slip into the eddy behind dock pilings where they can nail any passing
mullet. Topwater plugs and jerkbaits can be deadly on the rising tide, while
jerkbaits and plastic-tailed jigs get the nod on the ebb.
The Fort George area is another excellent bet.
ST. AUGUSTINE TARPON
The massive October movement of mullet makes for hot action on
trout and reds in the ICW. But, it also fires up the tarpon around the St.
“You’ve got mullet pouring out the Inlet, and you also have
big schools migrating south along the beaches,” Capt. Dennis Goldstein
said. “There have been tarpon feeding behind the shrimp boats in 35 to 60
feet of water all summer, and if the water temperature stays in the
mid-to-upper 70s — which it usually does this month — they are now exploding on
those beach mullet pods.”
The migrating mullet schools normally run 200 to 400 feet off
the beach and can be found within four or five miles north or south of the
Inlet. They’re not hard to find.
“I normally kick my boat up onto a slow plane and run the
beach,” Goldstein said. “You can see the mullet schools rippling
right along the surface and the ones that have tarpon working them aren’t hard
to spot. You see massive surface strikes and even tarpon cartwheeling in the
air. It’s a very visual thing.”
Getting in on the action is easy. The first step is to cast-net
a dozen mullet and get them into the livewell. Goldstein prefers those in the
eight to ten inch range. His preferred rig is a heavy action 7 1/2-foot
spinning rod spooled with several hundred yards of 65-pound braided line. A
Cajun Thunder rattling cork is tied onto the braid and a 4- or 5-foot, 80-pound
fluorocarbon leader runs off of that with a 6/0 circle hook forming the
business end, with a live mullet hooked through the nose.
Goldstein noted, “when a tarpon blows up in the middle of a mullet pod
they leave a big ‘hole.’ If you can get your bait into that hole, you probably
hook up. But, there is almost more than one tarpon in a mullet pod. You can
even have schools of them, so just get your bait into the middle of the pod and
let that Cajun Thunder cork work for you.”