Hurricane Irma did a massive amount of damage to a large portion of Florida but, here in the Panhandle, it actually helped to flush out the majority of the stained water left in our bays. We experienced the opposite of a storm surge – instead of water from the Gulf of Mexico being pushed inshore, it was blown away from us and significantly dropped the water levels in the bays. Later, as the storm moved out of the area, the bays were infused with pristine, crystal clear gulf water filled with a tremendous number of baitfish and predator fish.
Cruise around the bay within about 10 miles of the St. Andrews Pass and you’ll be hard-pressed not to encounter big schools of Spanish mackerel jumping out of the water as they crash small baitfish on the surface. Trolling through them with small, shiny lures is a great way to catch them or you can pull up to the action and cast plugs, jigs or spoons on spinning gear. To me, running from school to school and casting to them is the most fun, but both techniques are sure to land plenty of fish in the cooler.
Right now, the grass flats are covered up with speckled trout in water from 2-6 feet deep, especially around areas of broken bottom. Look for the bigger fish to be on the shallow side, sometimes mixed in with schools of big mullet or redfish cruising along the shoreline. Recently, I have been catching some nice fish near depressions on shallow points early in the morning when throwing a combination of topwater and suspending plugs. Outgoing tides have been best but, as long as the water is moving, you can get in to some pretty good bites.
I just can’t say enough about how great the redfish bite is right now. When I say the bays are covered with fish, I mean there are big schools – some containing upwards of several hundred fish – cruising the shallows. The unfortunate thing about these fish is that they rarely stop in one area for very long, so on any given day they can be a long distance from where they were the day before. Some areas (like the flats with deep points) hold fish better than other locations. Jigs, spoons and plugs thrown ahead of the school have been the best way to get hooked up but you can try to keep the target fish around by live chumming with pilchards.
As always, if you have questions about what’s biting, how to catch them or want to book a trip, give me a call or shoot me an email.