Springtime Seatrout Tips on the Florida Flats

IMG_7438Fishing is all about opportunities, and nothing is a sure bet in this sport, but certain times of the year at locations can help stack the deck in your favor. Heading down south of Georgia and back to my favorite fishing place, the forgotten coast of Saint Marks, Florida, you will find a fishing oasis as spotted seatrout migrate from the rivers to the saltwater flats to fatten up bait from their cold long winter.

One common favorite setup for seatrout is a 7 foot medium-light rod with 10 lb. braid and popping cork. Under the cork tie a three foot 20 lb. fluorocarbon leader with 1/8 oz. red jighead. Brand wise, I am partial to St.Croix rods, PENN Fierce reels, Power Pro braid line, Seaguar leader line, Billy Bay popping cork and slayer jigheads. You can find these items here for your convenience. Bait on the jig can be a DOA shrimp, Gulp Shrimp 3” in new penny color or a live shrimp.

After loading your skiff in the water in the early morning, head South down the river to channel marker 8 and hang a right. To find seatrout on the flats, look for a water depth of 2-5 feet with a spotty bottom with channels nearby. Also, the seatrout bite is always happening on moving water preferably rising, and a dead tide means trash fish and sharks will be biting. A new moon is your friend too. Predatory fish hunt at night and the lack of light can be hindering them. This turns the day bite on more in my experience.

IMG_7439Locate your ideal location and pull up several under yards against the tide from that location. The drift will take you over the sweet spot. Cast your rig and begin popping the cork to imitate bait fish being attacked or jumping.  If you do half of this right, you should be in the fish.

One last thing to remember is to get your Florida saltwater fishing license and follow the state regulations for spotted seatrout. At this time of April 2018, the limit in Northwest Florida is 5 with a slot of 15”-20”. One seatrout can be over the slot as well. Good Luck and Tight Lines!

Time Traveling to Florida’s Forgotten Coast

Have you ever wished you could go back in time? To a simpler way of life. A place where the frills of the dot com world were considered science fiction. A place where the basic necessities of coffee, beer, bait and fishing, are all that you need. In the hustle and bustle of the workplace and family, I needed an escape, and I bet you do too.

Late October, I continued my fall fishing adventures in the salt flats off the Forgotten Coast in the sleepy town of Saint Marks, Florida. This trip was with my Dad, and we targeted red drum, black drum, flounder, seatrout and Spanish mackerels. Our home base was the rustic Shell Island Fish Camp, a pocket of nostalgia with clean, but simple rooms that were close to the marine garage, bait shop and dock. The bait shop, managed by Bucky, could get you a hot cup of joe, boat equipment, snacks, fishing gear and bait. They also book rental boats and charters at the shop. A piece of advice to the novice, always book a guide to learn the area from honey holes to pesky oyster bars that hide in the tide.  

After we drove down rural 27 south and passed a round Tallahassee, we pulled Dad’s center console skiff into the camp. This pocket of Floridian history has not changed much with the times looking like a page out of a 1960s history book. Bucky was waiting with our key at the rustic baitshop with some friendly banter. After the pleasantries, we gotthe boat in the water and docked in front of the Tarpon infested fish cleaning area. 

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The majestic silver kings impatiently waiting on the next scrap of cleaned fish. Within a few minutes after a short walk from the wooden dock, we arrived in our quaint room and prepared to rest up for the night.

At first dawn, we loaded up in our skiff with the gear and headed south down the river toward the first oyster bar in the hazy fall morning. Our first stop on the way out is an oyster bar by the channel marker. With the tide at the right height and direction, we positioned in front of a hole at the edge of the bar and dropped two anchors. A few casts with a live shrimp rigged for the bottom turned up small bites and empty hooks. Eventually, on the third cast and my third shrimp, I hooked into something with a little fight. As I reeled it in, my heart raced for the first hook up of the day. The dark fish broke the surface with a feisty splash, and it was clearly a keeper black drum. I flipped it in the boat and open the cooler to ice my prize.

Dad on the other hand has casted several times and lost numerous shrimp to opportunist smaller fish. He grumbled to me to hand him a shrimp after one cast and fruitless reel-in. And in my facetious ways, I handed a shrimp the size of large mouse to my dad thinking that it would keep the fish from taking his bait and at the same time not catch anything with monstrous prawn.

He hooked the jumbo shrimp onto 1/16 oz. jighead and casted just over the hole. As he reeled in slowly, I was chattering up a storm with him. I was midsentence when interrupted me in angry outburst.

“I hooked bottom!” Dad said. He started to pull the line free and to our surprise the line began to squeal. He had a fish on.

The fish bent Dad’s rod over as it fought hard to get away from the boat. Dad kept his tip up to keep the line tight and ensure a colossal catch. Dad’s heart sunk as the rod went straight and line begin to show slack.

“Did you lose it?” I asked. Reeling in the line, Dad’s silence was my answer. “I would love to see that monster caught,” I thought to myself.

Just then, the line grew taut again. The fish must have swum directly to the boat because the fight was still on.

Dad, much like Hemingway’s Santiago, struggled with the mighty fish. He took some of the line and the fish took more. The reel screeched in agony as the drag pulled against the stubborn fish. The clever fish tried to maneuver around the motor, but Dad swiftly raised the rod high to keep the line from tangling and breaking in the outboard. Eventually, the fish breached the top of the water. It looked like a big red but faded. It was a monster Black Drum, and he ran as soon as we saw it.  

Dad’s final moments of the fight were harsh, but brief. His shoulder began to throb in pain as the last few yards of line were reeled to the skiff. The fish beside the boat broke the surface.

Our guide yelped, “it won’t fit in the net!”

Dad retorted back, “it better!”

As the guide dipped the net into the water, the fish hung out from it like a grown man in a kid’s hammock. He swung the net over into the boat and the 34-inch black drum was caught.

For video of some of the fight see below.

After the photos and release of the fish, Dad took a well-deserved 10-minute break from fishing. We continued the day with a flounder, Spanish mackerel and several seatrout in the flats of the gulf. Later, back at the dock, the chatter was about the big black drum as the old men drank cold domestic beer and shared fish tales from their own adventures of the day.

 

 

For more information about Shell Island Fish Camp, click here.

Fall Fishing for Louisiana Reds

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A seven-hour drive from Georgia is an oasis of food, culture and nightlife known as New Orleans, and just 45 minutes south of the Hurricanes and Hand Grenades of Bourbon Street is a quiet area of Lafitte. This area offers ideal conditions for saltwater fishing being surrounded by the Barataria Basin, and with great conditions come talented fishing guides and charter companies. One of which, Big Dog Fishing Charters, is a favorite of mine. I been fishing with Big Dog for years and even got a favorite captain, Michael Steib Jr., who always put me on the fish every time.

This mid-October, I loaded up the truck and invited my friend slash fishing novice Jeremy to tag along the Louisiana fishing adventure. We started off the adventure with our girlfriends at New Orleans’s Frenchman street with some awesome spirits, food and jazz music at local jazz joint, Maison. Ordering the Cajun cuisine was a delight as my friends never had the real deal. So, I order jambalaya, crawfish etouffee, poboys and gator bites for the table. To the say the least etouffee was the most concerning to the newbies but their favorite in the end. After dinner, we made our way to a jazz performance at the Spotted Cat Music Club enjoyed a local concoction with the music. Continuing the night, we walked down to Bourbon street for Fish Bowls and Hand Grenades. As midnight was fast approaching, the realization of the next day, first-light fishing excursion popped in my head. The night was called, and we made our way back to the condo.

At 5:30 AM, we made our way to Lafitte and Big Dog charters for a 6:15 meetup. The morning was overly warm and humid but the excitement of the trip overcame the discomfort.  Michael was waiting for us the dock in front of the rental property that Big Dog uses for lodging packages. In his heavy accent, he asks me, “Ready to go?” We nod and jump in his center console boat. The short boat trip out of 10 minutes is relaxing as the sun peaks over the waterway painting the sky with vibrant colors.

Rigging for the reds, we use spinning rods with braided line connected to a popping cork and leader. A jighead with gulp shrimp and piece of frozen shrimp completes the setup. The first cast and a few pops produce nothing. Then Michael belts, “you all need to pop quicker.” With his advice, I increase the action and bam, a small rat Red Drum hits the bait. From then on, I kept up that pace and the fish turned on.

 

22554945_10210978706439720_1197573796791915162_nThe first fish of slot size hit like a sledge hammer and ran with the line. Pulling it in to the boat, the fight was rewarded with the sight of gorgeous golden scales adorned with a black spot. The fight or a red is like a smallmouth bass, hard and fast, but the color of the scales is a sight to behold in person.

With the wind picking up midmorning and half way to our limits, my friend Jeremy had not landed his first keeper red. He started watching my actions and taking pointers from Michael. The next thing we knew, he surpassed my catch in the boat. He smiled after reeling one of the nice slot reds and said, “this is a lot better than fishing for bream in your small lake.”

For more information on Big Dog Charters, check out their website.