[Crystal River, FL–] Mist rises from the murky green surface of Kings Bay as our group of snorkelers quietly enters the water. The air temperature this January morning is a chilly 40 degrees, but the …
Yak-ing the Flats near St. Augustine
Bart Swab, University of Florida-certified master naturalist and kayak fishing guide, craves the up-close and personal contact with his quarry. Alternating between paddling and poling his Jackson Kayak with an ultra-light carbon fiber paddle, Swab can silently creep right up on redfish, trout, tarpon, and snook in waters way too shallow for most motorboats.
“That closeness to the environment, that one-on-one feeling paddling back to them,” Swab explained.
The operator of ActionKayakAdventures.com can think of no better region to ply his trade than the mud flats and spartina marshes of the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Reserve– a 73,000-acre outdoors person’s paradise stretching more than 30 miles to the north and south of St. Augustine on the northeast Florida coast. The rich protected estuary boasts than 300 species of fish– not to mention birds–and in its upland regions, abundant plant and animal life.
The reserve’s miles of beaches, marshes, mangroves, tidal creeks, oyster beds and lagoons shelter the kayaker from winds and waves while he or she explores these sparsely-visited fishing grounds.
Full moons from July through October flood the spartina marshes on high tides, emboldening redfish to search for black crabs and snails clinging to the emergent grass while rendering them oblivious to all but the noisiest fisherman. It’s a superb opportunity for the newbie fly fisher, offering plenty of shots with high chances of success. The local favorite pattern is the Black Kwan– a black crab with purple legs, frizzy orange tail, and bead-chain eyes tied by Ryan Curley.
From November on, reds can be found on the mud flats such as Pellicer Creek– especially on bluebird days following cold fronts when waters are clear. For the non-fly fisher, casting live shrimp or an artificial D.O.A. Shrimp or Z-man Shrimpz is effective.
Wintertime anglers can also chase black drum, sea trout and sheepshead even if weather conditions are crummy. For sheepshead, Swab suggests casting a fiddler crab near docks, pilings and rocky outcroppings. Black drum, he said, tend to hang in deeper holes on the flats where a chunked blue crab works best. Trout are probably the easiest and most abundant to target with live shrimp, topwater plugs, jigs and Cajun Thunder popping corks.
For a place to stay during your fishing trip, visit www.guyharveyoutpost.com for updates on the soon to be Guy Harvey Outpost Resort in St. Augustine Beach, slated to open in January 2017. It’s centrally located between the two sections of the Guana Tolomato Reserve, convenient to the Old City for shopping and dining, and has oceanfront rooms available.