It’s summertime! Surf temperatures will reach a whopping 84 degrees with inland water even hotter. Now’s the time to slip into “summer mode”. Target low light hours when possible. Inshore and along the surf, try to hit the water before sunrise until 10:00 a.m. or near sunset for maximum bite time. Fishing night time is productive, just find moving water. If you must fish mid-day, seek deeper water or shaded areas where the water is cooler. Summer fishing is great, with baitfish plentiful. Remember to utilize “summer mode” and have a great time out there!
Starting inshore, tarpon mania begins, with fish averaging 30-50 lbs. roaming just outside Big and Little Mud Creeks. The entrance to Big Mud is still closed. There’s a yellow boom stretching across the entire entrance, but the tarpon don’t know it’s closed and they head in and out on a regular basis. Water depth just outside Big Mud can reach 30 feet. In the creeks, watch for rolling tarpon and throw a DOA baitbuster or rootbeer terrorize right at them, allowing it to sink about 10 seconds. Top water chuggers and windcheaters will also get their attention (if they’re in a feeding mood). Live mullet on a circle hook always is an option, using 12 lb. mainline with a 30-40 lb. fluoro-carbon leader will handle tarpon to 50 lbs. For the monsters, I suggest “kicking it up a notch”. Other areas for silver kings are Nettles Island, where water depth averages 10 ft. This area always holds baitfish and the tarpon usually follow them in. Around the Jensen Causeway, tarpon will be feeding on bunker. Channels near Sundance Marine, Anchors Aweigh and the Dolphin Grill hold some huge tarpon when the baitfish are present. These fish require patience. Some days I’ll see them rolling all over the place, but refusing anything thrown at them. Put in your time and you’ll be rewarded. The Quarter bridge at the Stuart Causeway to Marker 239 in the crossroads is a super spot to look for tarpon. Nighttime in the summer I prefer to cast windcheaters about 50 yards south of the bridge. Snook are up close near the shadowline, but the tarpon are pounding baits just to the south. The North Fork of the St. Lucie is generally hot early in the morning. As a rule, tarpon won’t refuse live greenies or sardines, so keep a few Sabiki rigs on hand for baitfish near the Whistle Buoy or sandpile just outside the inlet and throw them in the live well just for insurance.
The trout bite in the summer is excellent, with big hogs to 10 lbs. roaming the shallow inland waters early in the am. Top water lures in less than 2 feet until 7 a.m. will get the big ones. Later, switch to soft rubber or live shrimp in 3-4 feet or wade dropoffs near spoil islands. These islands run just east of the ICW Channel from Stuart north. If you have a hard time finding the spoil islands, try cruising near low tide when they’re more visible and mark them on your chart. Some spoils will hold lots of trout under 20″.
Summer is “big” tripletail time. Most fish run 8-12 lbs, but the big boys (over 20 lbs.) are a good possibility. I strongly suggest releasing the big fish over 14 lbs. This will insure breeding fish to re-populate. It seems more and more anglers are targeting this species and you need to be aware the regulations are 15-inch minimum, with 2 per angler.We have been catching some real nice ones the past few weeks with 2 released at 23 and 17 pounds. Most fish are running around 10 with a few smaller mixed in. Early in March we caught our first one of the year. I am still running out of Pelican’s Nest Marina on the St. Lucie River . The latest I’ve heard it will be around August till I return to AA marina on Indian River Drive in Jensen Beach. We headed out early for some snook. I like to pick up some live baits before hand so we tipped sabiki’s with squid and picked up a dozen pinfish and a 13″ tripletail to boot. Nice little fight on a sabiki. The slot I prefer to set for my boat and anglers are 18″ to around 12 lbs. There’s plenty of meat on one of these guys to feed a family. DOA shrimp, terrorize and CAL lures along with “old faithful” live shrimp on a trollrite are the baits of choice. The best bite is after 10 a.m. and some fish can be spotted near the surface. These channel marker will also hold other species like sheephead, snapper, grouper, flounder, jacks and more.
Snook season closes June 1. Yesterday we managed to hook a few slot sized snook around the bridges. The summer spawn begins with the breeders heading to the inlets and along the surf. These are big snook and they are there for a reason. If you target these fish for catch and release, do everything possible to release them quickly and unharmed. Circle hooks with live bait work best eliminating the chance of gut hooking. Catch a few, take some pictures and leave them alone. Each year, more and more anglers are targeting these snook in spawn and they are really sitting ducks. No sense hammering these fish all day long.
Some big black drum always show up near the bridges this time of year. The Roosevelt and Jensen Bridge have provided 40-60 pounders in the past. Redfish along the docks on the west side of the Indian River or under the mangroves on the east side of the River have proven most productive. There are plenty of flounder in the sandy patches and ladyfish in the Sailfish Flats on windy days keep everyone entertained with their wonderful aerobatics, along with croaker, sennet and bonefish. Last month, aboard Catch 22, eleven bonefish were released in this area. Just the past few weeks we have released a dozen more in and just outside the inlet. Nothing really to brag about, but running into numbers of that species in Martin County is basically unheard of.
Into the surf, whiting on small crappie jigs tipped with shrimp or squid in the troughs works well. Pompano, bluefish and Spanish Mackerel will be very scattered with some resident fish still around. Tarpon, snook and big jack crevalle show up in the very early mornings hours and will dominate the catch and release scene. Twelve lb. test with 30-40 lb. leader will bring in “most” of them. If you encounter big tarpon (over 100 lbs.), there’s no stopping them on 12 lb. test (but it is very “sporting”). Try a live bait and hook it in the tail, allowing the baitfish to swim out (but switch to 20-30 lb. tackles). Now you have a shot at “Mr. Big”.
Offshore, dolphin are showing along the weedlines with quite a few resident sailfish still around. Three days ago seas were flat and I had a day off, so what did I do? Fish, of course. I took the pontoon offshore to about 300′ with my friend Hank and hooked up with (and released) a nice 6′ sailfish. Be sure to take your time reviving these sails. The one I hooked had eaten two live greenies (on different rigs). Hank and I were looking at each other wondering if we snagged each other or had a double hook-up. Finally, Hank’s line broke off and I brought the sailfish in on 20 lb. spinning gear after a great 10 minute show, including a dozen or so jumps. This fish took a good five minutes to revive and swam off for another day. When trolling, don’t overlook any floating debris. A small floating bottle or a piece of wood can hold some really big fish.
Kingfish should remain strong inside 60′, with dolphin out farther. It looks like it’s going to be a “bumper” crop of dolphin this year. Lots of bonita, barracuda inside 6 miles are always there to test your tackle.
The bottom fishing remains good with big muttons over 20 lbs. gag grouper, mangrove and true red snapper topping the list. The ever-present “cuda” is always on their tail, so bring the fish in fast. Remember, the grouper with the round tails are “goliaths” and are illegal to keep. Also known as “jewfish” they are showing up in the river and offshore in good numbers, but they are still “protected” and can cost you your boat, fines, license and much more. A few cobia are still showing up on the reefs and wrecks. If you’re looking for wahoo, try kicking up the RPM’s. Trolling purple, red and black skirts down deep at 8-10 knots worked for me.
Summer’s here, stay cool and fish early!!! -Well, just fish!