Best Bet

 

Weather can make all fishing dicey. But wise anglers know to follow bait schools to locate gamefish pods, and that’s the key now on many fishing fronts in Northeast Florida.

Recreational cast-netting for marine shrimp has been a bust for all but the most expert and persistent mesh flingers. But some intrepid souls are getting some good catches of marine shrimp well upriver in the Welaka-Palatka region. That also has been a key to catching largemouth bass in the 3- to 6-pound range in that area, as well as downriver to the outskirts of Jacksonville.

Use live shrimp around boat docks, points, and creek mouths where the water is moving and anglers can get bass, as well as some hybrid striper, redfish, croakers (north of Bostwick) and catfish.

Diving birds also have been giving away locations of shrimp and baitfish schools moving in the river, and that can lead to schooling fish action for anglers tossing live shrimp, jigs, and shad-imitating plugs.

Saltwater

Inshore fishing continues to be excellent along the coast, particularly close to area inlets. Flounder, seatrout, redfish, croakers, jacks and ladyfish all are pounding baitfish and shrimp schools flushing out of inland waters. Abundant bait is key to locating fish. Watch for birds, rippled surface water and use boat electronics to pinpoint deeper schools.

Shoreline anglers also have been doing well on mixed bag inshore fishing. The little jetties area has been a good bet for land fishermen using finger mullet and live shrimp. That area east toward the river mouth can be good almost anywhere landlocked anglers can set up for casting. The slower ends of moving tides have produced some of the best action.

Much of the best flounder fishing in the lower St. Johns River continues to be around Mayport area boat docks and sunken rock piles, with slower slack tides preferred. While traditional prime autumn flounder action has been available west of there to downtown Jacksonville, so far it’s mostly best to the east of Blount Island.

Similarly, the Nassau Sound and Fernandina Beach areas usually offer widely scattered choice floundering. This year, the best of it has been closer to the open ocean.

Fishing for other species, however, has been good farther away from the inlets. Even spotted seatrout, which usually prefer the clearest of clear water, are being caught in more discolored water. That likely is due to trout seeking bait such as shrimp, which still are working their way down river.

Good numbers of tarpon are pushing along the coast, with the St. Augustine area offering consistent action for silver kings shadowing mullet schools. Nassau Sound also is a good bet for tarpon in good weather.

Croaker fishing continues red hot throughout Northeast Florida. Almost anywhere anglers can soak a shrimp or a scented jig near bottom in 6 to 15 feet of water on hard shell or rock bottom, good-eating croakers to 2 pounds can be caught. The Intracoastal Waterway also is jammed with croakers, with oyster shell points and bridge abutments holding fish.

Bull red drum fishing has been good and is slated to improve through this month and into November. Capt. Don Dingman says large schools of reds to 30 pounds are just offshore the mouth of the St. Johns, with pods of fish trickling in. Dead baits on bottom tempt bulls, with drop-off areas inside the river good in the 25- to 35-foot depth range. Use heavy tackle and bait weights to boat fish fast for the best live redfish release.

In good weather with clear surf, beach fishermen are getting good action from redfish, whiting, some black drum, and sharks. Clear water is the key to success.

Offshore fishing reports are scarce with high wind limiting options. However, reports of good catches of dolphin have been made by anglers targeting far offshore waters, and some fish are big, near 20 pounds.

Freshwater

Bass, crappie and bream fishing continues excellent in many area waters and in portions of the St. Johns River north of Astor.

St. Johns River bass anglers working flooded cover near creek mouths are getting fish to 6 pounds with top-water lures scoring in low-light conditions, and weedless lures (flukes, soft plastics) wise due to the abundance of flotsam from docks and other debris in the St. Johns River. Be very cautious running the river and the larger creeks.

Spring creeks feeding the west shore of Lake George have been offering better-than-average bass action because of the high-quality spring water available. Live shiners score well, but dawn and dusk anglers and those working shoreline cover areas and flooded grass beds are getting plenty of largemouths up to 6 pounds.

When the sun is high, a good way to pinpoint shrimp and bait schools in the St. Johns River is with boat electronics. Shrimp pods look like a bar code line along the bottom and are found in drop-off areas and creek mouths in 15 to 20 feet of water. Fishing such areas with dead shrimp on the bottom can lead to good catches of croakers and catfish. Drifting such areas with sliding-sinker rigs and shrimp is a good way to locate fish, then anchor when schools are pinpointed.

The mullet run is rolling, and big schools of hefty fish are making their way down the St. Johns River. Not many sportfish feed on 2- to 3-pound mullet in the St. Johns. But mullet cast-netters and fishermen who chum and hook-and-line them are getting plenty. The northeast corner of the Florida 16 bridge near Orangedale is a prime spot (bream and catfishing can be good there, too). Calm weather and water is needed for the best mullet harvest, so prowl sheltered areas at low tide, and be stealthy in boat approach.

Excellent bream, crappie and bass fishing continues at Rodman Reservoir south of Interlachen. Lake Lochloosa and Newnans Lake near Gainesville also have been giving up limit catches of crappies (25 per person, per day), plus bream.

The 27th annual banquet for Jacksonville’s Chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) is Nov. 9, 6-10 p.m. at the Garden Club of Jacksonville (1005 Riverside Ave.), contact Pat Orman (904-728-8793) for details.

Hunting

Jacksonville’s Ducks Unlimited annual banquet is Oct. 12, 6-10 p.m. at 625 Stockton St. For info, phone Andy Davidson (904-703-4187).

Jacksonville’s Trinity Rescue Mission’s 6th Annual “Outshoot Hunger” sporting clays event is Nov. 10 at Jacksonville Clay Targets on New Berlin Road, phone Rick Denny (904-355-1205 Ext. 14) for info.

Florida’s Zone C (Northeast) archery deer season is underway and runs through Oct. 15.

Florida Zone C primitive weapons buck-only season is Oct. 21-Nov. 3

Florida’s first phase dove season is ongoing through Oct. 23.

Georgia’s statewide archery deer season continues through Jan. 14.

Georgia statewide modern firearms deer hunting season is slated for Oct. 21-Jan. 14

bob@mcnallyoutdoors.com