Temperatures are rising and bait is coming.
by Capt. Tom Van Horn
As the days grow longer and the ocean begins its gradual warming phase, 68 to 72-degree range, the spring fishing bonanza on the Indian Lagoon Coast of Florida kicks in. Thus far we’ve experienced a warmer than normal winter and as of this correspondence, the water temperature at the Canaveral Nearshore Buoy Station 41113 is 72 degrees. As usual, the weather will serve as the determining factor in establishing the magnitude and progression of the bite and the predator species we love to catch.
Increasing water temperature will facilitate the progression of bait pods (Atlantic menhaden or pogies) from the deeper water into the near-shore waters bringing the predator species with them. As always, sea and weather conditions will determine the number of fishable days we’ll experience in March. This is especially true for those of us who target ocean species in shallow water boats. We have already experienced some good cobia days and an excellent tripletail season which should only get better as migrating fish move into our area from the south.
Other near-shore options in March consist of tripletail hanging on floating structure and weeds and large redfish, jacks, and sharks shadowing bait pods along the beaches and in the inlets around mid-month. When sight fishing for cobia and tripletail, consider fishing in the latter part of the day when the sun is overhead as the water is warmer and visibility is better. Also, keep a sharp eye out for large manta rays shadowed by cobia, and always keep a chartreuse-colored bucktail in the ready position to cast at any brown clowns wandering into casting range. Along the beaches and around the inlets look for snook in close to structure and a mixture of pompano, whiting, sheepshead, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, redfish, and black drum in close to shore.
As our water warms up and the silver mullet returns to the inshore lagoon flats, look for redfish schools to continue to form up in the skinny water. For the slot redfish, 18 to 27 inches, focus on areas of flipping and jumping baitfish (mullet) in water depths of 12 to 18 inches. For the larger redfish, concentrate your efforts along deeper edges of the flats and sandbars in 2 to 3 feet of water. Also, sea trout will continue to hold in the skinny water potholes, and the top-water sea trout bite will improve as the warmer water draws finger mullet back onto the central IRL flats. Additionally, schools of black drum will continue to inhabit the shallow water flats of the Mosquito Lagoon, North IRL with the larger black drum holding in the deeper channels and around bridge structures.
Finally, the American shad run is waning on the upper St John’s River between the areas of Lake Harney and the SR 50 Bridge, as this year’s run has been slow to say the least. March is also the month to start targeting schooling largemouth and sunshine bass in the deeper bends of the river at first light feeding on schools of baitfish (threadfin shad). The indicator I use to locate these schooling bass is to look for large numbers of white pelicans, herons, and egrets working the banks. Once you’ve located the schooling fish, try throwing a 6” DOA Shad Tail on top or a rattle-trap or other small subsurface swimbait into the mix. Last year the bass fishing did not materialize in areas south of Lake Jessup, so I’m hoping for a better season this year. Water levels this spring on the St Johns River are currently dropping out, but a good spring rain event could easily turn that around.
Spring is one of the best times to fish the Indian River Lagoon Coast of Florida. So, if you are planning to visit the area, make sure you book your hotel and fishing guide early. Also, when the bite is on, the ramps fill up quickly, so arrive early, be polite and considerate with other anglers, because we are all on the water for the same reasons, to have fun and catch fish.
As always, if you need information or have any questions, please contact me.
Good luck and good fishing,
Capt. Tom Van Horn