How do Floridians know the seasons have changed? No the palm trees do not turn crimson and orange. I could give you the old line about “The license tags change colors.” Another sign of change …
Red Hot Reds in Shallow St. Augustine
[St. Augustine, FL–] We were not fishing the prime tide in the spartina marsh lining the east side of the Intracoastal Waterway north of St. Augustine, but apparently that didn’t matter to the hungry redfish.
Past the flood stage, water was slowly draining out of the grass flats. But there were still plenty of small black crabs clinging to the emergent greenery, prompting the reds to tail and slurp enthusiastically.
“See him? His whole back’s out of the water,” captain James Dumas pointed to a dark hump on the surface. “He’s almost in range.”
Standing on the bow of Dumas’ skiff, I saw the hump submerge and pop up again with a small splash.
“He just ate a mullet!” Dumas exclaimed.
I made a short cast with the 8-wt fly rod, aiming a few feet in front of where I believed the red’s nose was pointed. But the breeze overcame the fly line and the leggy, purple-and-black crab pattern landed behind the fish.
I quickly stripped the line back in and made another cast to the obediently stationary fish, but that, too, was errant.
The third cast proved the charm, with the fly planted correctly in front of the target.
“Start bumping it,” Dumas directed. “Now he’ll eat it.”
Dumas was right: I moved the fly a bit and the red chomped on it decisively.
After a brief tussle in the grass, I brought the fish up to the gunwales to be photographed and released.
“They’ll keep giving you shots till you hit the fish or you stomp on the boat,” he said.
Now it was Vaughn Cochran’s turn on the bow and he quickly caught and released a slightly larger red on fly.
What fun! Cochran and I were fishing the late October full moon which pulls king tides into the shallows, greatly expanding the habitat of redfish bulking up on crabs for winter. Had our schedules permitted arriving an hour earlier– before the tide started draining out–we likely would have hooked even more fish. And nobody knows their habits like Dumas, operator of Drumman Charters.
“When it gets cold, they get shallower,” Dumas said. “They get in big schools on the flats. They get in the creeks too. The best creeks are the ones that empty into basins.”
The guide said he typically switches to small shrimp patterns and Clousers in wintertime when waters become clearer. Non-fly fishers can use live shrimp or cast artificials like D.O.A.’s or Z-man Shrimpz.
And redfish aren’t the only targets in the cool season. Fly anglers get shots at flounder by bumping Clousers in pot holes while live baiters toss mullet or minnows. For sea trout, the ubiquitous Cajun Thunder– a rattling float to which you can attach a live bait or a soft-plastic shrimp lure– is probably the best choice. For fly anglers, poppers are tops.
One of the most popular local spots for shore and wade fishing is the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve located just off A-1-A about halfway between St. Augustine and Jacksonville Beach. When the dam between the Guana River and Lake Ponte Vedra is open, anglers enjoy good catches of flounder, redfish and other species on foot using finger mullet, crabs and other live baits.
The St. Augustine area has plenty more to offer besides shallow-water fishing. Check out this blog later for more on bottom fishing; dining, and unique attractions on Florida’s First Coast.
Sue Cocking chronicles the Guy Harvey Outpost travel and adventure experience in regular blog posts on GuyHarveyOutpostNews.com/. For 21 years, Cocking covered the full spectrum of outdoors adventure opportunities in South Florida and beyond for the Miami Herald, including fishing, diving, hunting, paddling camping, sailing and powerboat racing. She is a certified scuba diver and holder of an IGFA women’s world fly fishing record for a 29-pound permit.