Florida and fishing! When people think of it, they think
of the Keys, the Everglades, pretty much anywhere in South Florida. But there
is more, much, much more. I was lucky enough to live near Jacksonville, in Florida's
North-east corner, for 4 years.
What does Jacksonville have to offer the
angler? It must have something because it is home to the world's largest kingfish
tournament and, more recently, the world's largest kayak fishing tournament. It
also has something else - water, and lots of it, primarily based around the St.
Johns River (Florida's longest), the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (which runs
from Maine to the Keys), and the Atlantic Ocean. Parts of the Intracoastal were
originally rivers, rivers have tributaries and so does the St. Johns. All this
combined results in a huge expanse of fishable water. Perhaps one of the most
notable and popular areas for fishing is in the Timucuan Preserve, to the north
of the St. Johns between Jacksonville and the ocean. It's a veritable maze of
creeks and channels, a huge marsh in which you can easily lose yourself all day
and not see another person.
In the backcountry - redfish heaven!
Like a lot
of Florida, this area has beautiful sandy beaches. The world-famous Daytona Beach
is only about 70 miles south of Jacksonville. In the creeks and tributaries things
change though, the watchword being MUD. Lots of it, sticky, smelly and very soft.
The tidal range in the area is around 5 feet which doesn't sound a lot but is
quite high for Florida. Added together this makes shore fishing difficult away
from the beaches with a relatively small number of locations where it can be done,
especially if you fly fish. Some means of getting afloat is a must and for the
1000+ members of www.jaxkayakfishing.com
this means kayaks.
kayak is the best way to get into the really shallow water
kayaks? They are relatively cheap, eco-friendly (no fuel), easily transportable,
and can be launched almost anywhere. OK there are downsides - long range paddling
is hard, they don't have a lot of room, and most, but not all, are impossible
to stand in. being able to stand and fish is a pre-requisite for most sight-fishing,
as practised in clear water locations like the Keys. For most of the year NE Florida's
waters are fairly dirty, only clearing in the autumn (fall) and winter. Mostly
sight-fishing is practised to signs of fish such as bait being attacked, fish
cruising etc, so being able to stand isn't so critical. The majority of folks
on JKF will tell you that the best fishing kayaks are SOTs, or sit-on-tops. These
are open, mostly stable (!) platforms which give you freedom of movement and are
open to the air, a good thing in Florida's sauna-like summer heat.
we have water, we can get afloat, what can we catch? The bread and butter species
in the area are Redfish, AKA Red Drum, Spotted Sea Trout, and Southern Flounder.
These aren't namby-pamby little flounder either - the world record Southern Flounder
was caught in the area and weighed over 20lbs! Other species that can be caught
are Jack Crevalle, Ladyfish, Black Drum, Sheepshead, Pompano, Bluefish, Spanish
Mackerel, and even the mighty Tarpon. For those in the know there are even locations
in the area where Striped Bass (the famed "stripers") can be caught.
spotted sea trout at the side of the yak
healthy looking flounder
What about tackle? A 9 foot
8 weight outfit, with floating line, is just about ideal for the backcountry creeks.
The best fishing is either side of low tide, mostly because the bait and therefore
the fish you're after get more concentrated, plus the shallower water gives you
more chance to see signs of them. A 10-15lb fluorocarbon leader completes the
the pressure as a redfish runs!
The end result
However, if you are targeting some
of the toothier species, e.g. ladyfish, bluefish, spanish mackerel, a stronger
tippet is a must, as is regular inspection of it after each fish! And, of course,
appropriately heavier gear is necessary when fishing for tarpon. As to flies,
clousers are the most popular. My personal favourite was a black clouser with
red and gold flash. Other colours of flash (rootbeer is good) can be used and
other clouser variations work as well. Most popular are chartreuse/white, tan/white,
and olive/white. The olive/white combination is especially effective in late Spring
and flounder absolutely love them. Other flies that work well are deceivers, crab
imitations, and shrimp patterns. Flies tied on size 4 hooks are probably the most
commonly used. Topwater flies, e.g. gurglers, can work well, especially first
thing in the morning.
One feature I haven't mentioned is oysters. There
are huge expanses of oyster beds spread across the mud flats of NE Florida. The
shells are extremely sharp, heaven help the unwary angler who has a close encounter
with them. I know, I've done it and still have the scars to prove it! But the
oyster beds harbour bait and the fish know that so around the oysters is a great
place to fish. As the oysters get covered by the incoming tide the fish will move
over them and a topwater fly can often score well at these times.
is one really specialised form of fly-fishing that is almost unique to NE Florida.
When the high spring tides occur, say anything above 5.3 feet, the spartina grass
that covers a lot of the tidal marshes gets flooded. As this is an infrequent
occurrence redfish just to love to explore these new feeding grounds. The water
is rarely more than 18 inches deep and offers unparalleled sight-fishing opportunities.
Not only that but the flooded grass is best fished by wading. It's easy to tether
your kayak to your belt and just walk along towing it while you search for fish,
or you can leave it anchored, as long as you make sure you can get back to it!
Fishing time is short, maybe a couple of hours at most, before the fish have to
leave the grass to avoid getting stranded. Top flies for this fishing are spoon
flies and crab imitations. Sheepshead can also be found in these areas.
the flooded grass
The fishery is year round, in fact
I feel that some of the best fishing can be had in the autumn and winter. When
the cold weather sets in the fish will school up in deeper water and some tremendous
sport can be had fishing with a sinking or sinktip line.
NE Florida has
a lot more to offer. I've mentioned the wonderful beaches, there are plenty of
places to see wildlife, and great places to eat out. St. Augustine, America's
oldest city, is just 20 miles south of Jacksonville and is also a great place
to fish. Further south is Daytona, as I said, and Kennedy Space Center is just
over 2 hours from Jacksonville. It's a must see! Even Orlando, Disneyland and
all that are within 2-3 hours travelling. Going North you can explore the Georgia
coastline - the beautiful and historical city of Savannah is only about 3 hours
A few useful links:
Black Fly Outfitters (Capt. Vaughn Cochran) www.vaughncochranart.com
Salty Feather (Capt. John Bottko) www.saltyfeather.com.
Capt. Warren Hinrichs www.warrenhinrichs.com
Jim Holland www.saltrunoutfitters.org
(guided kayak fishing!)
Jacksonville's Kayak Fishing Website:
& The Beaches Visitor Center: