Keep an eye on weekend forecast

  • Geoff Heekin and Dale Feldman hold a Mahi they caught fishing with Austin Bayoumi out of Mayport this week. (photo submitted)
    Geoff Heekin and Dale Feldman hold a Mahi they caught fishing with Austin Bayoumi out of Mayport this week. (photo submitted)
  • Jonathan Coppen grabs his personal best Tarpon. He landed a fish that weighed more than him in under 45 minutes. (photo submitted)
    Jonathan Coppen grabs his personal best Tarpon. He landed a fish that weighed more than him in under 45 minutes. (photo submitted)

There's no denying that summer is here this week, with record temperatures and a hot bite to go with them! From the grass flats to the ledge, reports have been good. The coming weekend looks to be bringing rain with it, but the storms have been patchy, so I’m guessing we will have some windows of opportunity. Keep an eye on the radar – it looks like we will have lightning, not just rain.
Inshore, the flounder fishing from the Valley to Vilano has been consistent, especially on the outgoing tides. For bait, mud minnows, finger mullet or gulp grubs all work well. If you haven’t tried it, a spinner bait is a great way to target flounder, especially on the higher tides. Work the grass edges and you will get attention from Redfish and Flounder. I like a smaller single blade and use a Gulp swimming mullet on the jig head.
Our local flood tide season is just getting started. West winds limited the opportunity last week. A keen eye on the barometer, wind direction and tide cycles will have prepared anglers sight fishing the flats for tailing Redfish, Sheepshead and Drum later this month through the fall. For fly fisherman, this is peak season inshore. The flood tides are 100 percent sight fishing and a fly is the best way to present a bait in the grass. This makes for a delicate balance of teamwork and precision between the angler on the bow and the pusherman on the tower. Positioning the boat is critical, but an accurate, well-timed cast is key. Too close and the fish sense your presence, and in a flash are waking towards the nearest creek; too far and they will never see your offering amongst the spartina. If you're interested in learning more about the floods or our local fly fishing community, go by Black Fly Outfitter and talk to the guys at the shop. Unlike most retail stores, you will be met with experts in their field who know the local water and which flies to use when.
Offshore, the ledge is still holding Mahi, Blackfin and billfish. The Mahi bite is likely on the downswing, but there are still enough around to make it work a troll. Early in the week, reports were similar to last weekend, with a nightmare of scattered weeds at 120 to 300 feet and then blue water and bigger mats out deeper. The west wind we’ve had for a few nights may have cleaned it up some. I fished the nearshore wrecks a couple days this week and the scattered sargassum that had been around for weeks was mostly gone. The kingfish bite has been steady; some bigger fish have been caught in the usual areas closer to shore, with no need to go out past 15 miles if you’re hunting kingfish. With a little luck, we may have a good enough weather window this weekend to sneak out and get a few for the smoker.
Finally, let’s talk Tarpon. My favorite fish to target has arrived for the summer. I’m not talking about the juveniles we see rolling in the ponds or in the ICW – big, migratory beach run tarpon are here. Finding them concentrated enough to fish for has been difficult with the lack of bait on the beaches right now, but the inlets are holding fish. If you want a shot at landing a true Silver King, then preparation is everything, and sometimes that still isn’t enough.
First, a reel with a smooth but strong drag system is a must. I prefer spinning reels in the 5,000 to 8,000 range, leaning towards "bigger is better." The last thing you want is to pull on a fish for 2 to 3 hours and kill it from exhaustion. Fought correctly on the right gear, a 150-pound tarpon can be landed in under an hour. For terminal tackle, I use a 8 to 10 foot top shot of 60-pound flouro, FG knot to 60-pound braid mainline, so you can reel the knot through the guides. From the topshot, use either a foot of 100-pound bite leader or 60-pound kingfish wire if you want to land all the sharks you’ll be feeding along the way. The hook choice for tarpon is hotly debated; you need something strong enough to not bend, but sharp and narrow enough to penetrate the mouth, which is much easier said then done. The 8/0 or 9/0 owner circle hooks are my preferred choice for bait, and 4/0 aki for fly tying.
When you do get the strike, ignore that usual circle hook advice about not setting the hook. When that line comes tight and it starts to pull, drag set the hook hard and fast multiple times, then prepare to bow to the king as the fish will usually take to the air. After the initial run and jumps, tighten down the drag and put the heat on. If it’s not running, you're pumping. You rest, so does the fish. It’s a war of attrition, and the longer you fight the fish, the greater the likelihood of a pulled hook or chaffed leader. A tarpon's mouth is essentially bone covered in 60 grit sandpaper. Right now, you can look for the big tarpon around the pogy pods in the river downtown through Ortega. I’ve heard reports of a few rolling in Doctors Lake. They are staging on points hitting mullet in Mill Cove and the ICW, and all the inlets have fish on the rocks.
One last note: the coming weekend is an FWC license-free weekend for freshwater fishing. With the questionable forecast, a little dock fishing trip on the river or your local pond may be a good way to wet a line, and an easy trip to bring a friend or child curious about fishing who doesn’t have a license. As always, stay safe and catch them up this weekend!