by Capt. Tom Van Horn
Some highlights for fishing on Florida's east central coast during the spring are the weather is still cool and enjoyable, the waters warming up and the fish begin to shift into their pre-spawning feeding mood. Some examples of this behavior are the cobia moving north up the Atlantic coast, and the spotted sea trout transitioning into their traditional spawning areas on the inshore flats. Like many saltwater species, the cobia and sea trout spawn in aggregations or groups, not on beds. In the case of the cobia their traditional spawning areas are off the central east coast of the US, and in the northern Gulf of Mexico. As the fish migrate north, they burn energy and feed heavily along the way, hence the cobia run we experience each spring.
On the flats, the smaller male sea trout move up into the shallows first, and then call the females in to spawn by drumming loudly just after dusk when the conditions are right, usually on the first new moon or full moon in April, and then again on the new and full moons throughout the summer.
As we move in near-shore, tripletail should become more dependable, and look for late season cobia as well. The cobia run thus far has been slow; with bait pods (Atlantic menhaden or pogies) arriving late this year. As the bait pod move in, look for Spanish mackerel, bluefish, redfish, giant jack crevalle, sharks, and smoker kings. Concentrate your efforts in areas of bait pods. When you see areas of bait balled up and pushed to the surface, there is a high probability that feeding gamefish are pressuring the bait from below.
In the inlets, look for good numbers of flounder, sheepshead and black drum around structure such as jetties and docks, and Spanish mackerel, blues, and large jacks in open water. Also look for the nighttime snook and tarpon action to heat up in the Sebastian Inlet.
On the lagoon flats, fish the early morning and late evening with your favorite top water plugs for extreme topwater sea trout action, and soft plastics and jigs in deeper water, 2 to 3 feet after the midday sun settles in. Remember, April is one of the months when larger sea trout are egg laden for the spawn, so it's very important to handle and release the larger females with great care. If you are looking for snook and tarpon action inside, the Sebastian River will be the place to go.
Finally, freshwater largemouth and striped bass action has been and will heat up on the St Johns River. Look for schooling bass at first light feeding on threadfin shad from the Osteen Bridge to Lake Harney. My favorite locations are in the river bends near the power lines at Lemmon Bluff and at confluences of Lake Harney and the River. A good way to locate these schooling fish is to look for wading birds congregating along the shore. When in the feeding mode, these fish will take small plastic jerk baits like the 4-inch DOA Shad Tail, most small swim plugs, and small live shiners. Also, as the river rises and the velocity increases, the larger spawning channel catfish (freshwater cobia) move out of the big lakes into the river to spawn.
As always, if you need information or have any questions, please contact me.
Good luck and good fishing,
Captain Tom Van Horn