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April 19, 2013

Northeast Florida Seatrout Fishing

Outstanding opportunities for spotted seatrout on Florida's northeast coast.

[Don't forget to click through the images in the gallery above.]

Florida’s northeast coast lies squarely in the center of what one would consider prime spotted seatrout habitat. The area also receives less fishing pressure than many more-publicized trout hot spots, so it might just offer some of the best opportunities available. With miles of Intracoastal Waterway combined with the St. Johns River mouth, Jacksonville is a sure bet.

What happened one balmy night last year with friend Chris ­Holleman shows how outstanding the ­spotted seatrout fishing has become in northeast Florida.

We met at a downtown Jacksonville boat ramp, where we launched his 18-foot skiff in the St. Johns River as dusk settled and dock lights began to twinkle. He likes a strong-running tide for trout, so the heavy current carries bait and shrimp under dock lights and turns predators on.

First stop was an industrial dock, not far from where the Jacksonville Jaguars play. From the bow, Holleman eased his skiff near dock pilings heading into the current. The water was about eight feet deep, and we fired ¼-ounce grub jigs under the dock, allowing them to swing on a taut line.

Holleman immediately caught and released an under-size 14-inch trout, then a second, and was fighting a third when I hooked up, and for the next three hours, we had nonstop, every-cast action. And as the evening got darker, the tide stronger, and more dock lights came on, the fishing got better.

At one dock, the hard-falling tide pushed so strong through the pilings that it formed a dozen funnels of rushing water under the lights. In every slot and behind every piling in slack water, trout boiled on shrimp and baitfish jumping to escape.

What I was witnessed was hard to believe — in the heart of the city, no less. 

Holleman moved us around to four or five lighted docks over four hours, plus stopping to cast to a few submerged points, bulkheads and bridge pilings. There were trout at every stop.

“You got to catch and release lots of 12- to 15-inch seatrout to get a limit of 16- to 20-inchers,” he said smiling as we ­loaded up for home. “But I’m not complaining, because ­100-fish nights are possible, all on lures.”

That night with Holleman wasn’t a fluke either.  

Trout fishing is as good as its been in several decades throughout the region.

Why Now?

What has caused this surge in trout fishing? That’s a matter of speculation, but for starters, the abundance of bait in the region can at times be remarkable, as wave after wave of mullet, menhaden, glass ­minnows, and shrimp wash along with ­currents and tides. That’s often key to ­bumper crops of sport fish, and it’s one important clue to pinpointing productive spots for northeast Florida trout.

Find the bait, and you’ve likely found the trout, plus other species too, including redfish and flounder. In the past few years, I’ve lost count of the number of trout/redfish/flounder “slams” I’ve had. One day last summer stands out, as a buddy and I boated a double limit of trout and redfish (two each), five flounder to 4 pounds, a pair of 3-pound common ­weakfish (called “yellowmouths” locally), and a 6-pound striped bass, plus countless throw-back croakers, all with jigs and small diving plugs in four hours of falling tide.

There’s great fishing available year-round, but trout hold to seasonal patterns revolving around water temperature and where bait migrate.