Post Hurricane Michael Report
I hope this report finds you well and safe after the hurricane. In the week following myself and several others captain’s phones were ringing off the hook asking about ramp closures and fishing reports. As of 10/25/18 this is where we stand from what I have seen:
Shields Marina – Ramps open, ship store up and running.
“The Fort” in St. Marks – Closed due to damage to docks and pier.
Shell Point – Last I heard ramp was serviceable, but area was limited to residents only
Rock Landing- Ramp is open, *no walk way leading to floating dock*. Fuel and restaurant are down but spoke with owner, they are hoping to reopen by this weekend.
Mashes Sands- Ramp and dock seem to be intact. Be extra careful around this region, numerous docks and porches were lost inside the bay. You do not want to find them with your lower unit…
Remember to be super cautious when running our waters. By now most of the floating debris hopefully will have been beached or sunk, but I’ve still seen several dock pilings and large limbs near mouth of river as of 10/23. Take your time, be aware. In the St Marks river most of the floating channel markers where moved and not reliable. The Coast Guard has since replaced them but just gives you something to think about when navigating other areas.
Now to the actual fishing! With this cold front the water temperatures are dropping, and the fishing seems to be getting hot. The water temp on 10/20 on the west flat of St Marks was between 79-81 degrees. As of 10/23 it was 70-72…. That’s a big drop in three days! Taking a step back, week after a major hurricane followed by a cold front dropping surface and water temps, you think the fish might be as discombobulated as we are.
Now they are not as settled and easy to pattern yet, but the trout are on the flats. From St Marks to Ochlockonee bay I’ve found decent numbers of healthy trout. They seem to be scattered across the flat with a few holding closer to oyster bars near rivers. Look for the cleaner water where you can see bottom in about 2-4 foot of water. Throw top water or a popping cork to get their attention. The water is still dirty, so the noise seems to help with the bite. The trout I’m holding below was caught in 2.5 feet of water on a white Spook Jr.
Redfish seem to be where they should be in certain areas but tough to find in others. I’m thinking water clarity and the temp drop is affecting them more than the trout. The ones I have found have been in under 2 foot of water and had no hesitation eating that Chicken off the chain paddle tail from Slayer Lure Inc. Rig your baits weedless using a worm hook (Rocky’s has the weighted and unweighted hooks on same end cap as the Slayer baits) this was you can navigate the surface grass and not get hung on bottom. Repeat client Mr Jody here with one of several reds he caught on Monday 10/23.
While our region was missed by most of the major impact from the hurricane, many of our neighbors were not as fortunate. If you have the means be sure to lend a hand however you can. Helping someone rake their yard can go along way to bring a smile to their face. If you need a day on the water to unwind, I work with a great group of professional guides who are ready to show you a great time. Give me a call/text/email and I’ll get you set up!
Captain John Swanson
January Trout in St. Marks
January Trout in St. Marks
I have been slacking on my reports and posting. I’d like to blame it on the holidays, family, and all the normal reasons. Actually, that is what I’m going to go with. But, I have been fishing a lot last few weeks and here is what I’ve seen plus a few tips you can try on your next trip. As I’m sure you’re aware we had some cooler weather followed by extreme freezing weather here in North Florida. We had snow fall for the first time in 30 years just to give you an idea of how unusually cold it was. Yet, the fishing has been on fire!
On December 27th I took my offspring out for a little post-Christmas relaxing on the skiff. We started in at the fort in St Marks and worked out way out towards the lighthouse. The water temp stayed around 64 degrees most of the river. We didn’t leave the boat ramp till almost 11am on this windblown cloudy day, and were back at the shop by 3pm. Despite the chilly weather, we still managed to land just over 50 trout in those few hours. So, when I say they are thick, I mean every cast for almost a dozen in a row at times thick. Here is the mini Captain showing off her new friend.
I’ve fished several trips before and since then in the St Marks area. The trout bite continues to be great, if you can find them. I watch people sit within ear shot of my Maverick, not catching a thing while we reel in dozens. With the cooler water temps, a lot of trout have pushed up into the rivers and creeks near the lighthouse. When in the river, fish around till you get a few bites, then anchor up OUTSIDE the channel. Not only is it safer for you, its a Florida law not to “interfere with the navigation of other vessels.” Once in position, cast soft plastics on jig heads up current and bounce them along the bottom. My primary baits have been a Slayer Inc Sinister Twitch Bait (S.T.B) in white, a Z-man trout trick in brown and chartreuse. The bigger trout seem to like the Slayers action and a slightly faster retrieve. Pair both with a ½ or 3/8-ounce jig head in any color. With the trout trick, let it get to bottom and bounce it a few times before allowing it to fall back to the bottom. Working the Slayer is similar except I don’t let it go to the bottom except on the initial fall. Jig it in a steady cadence till you feel the “thump”, then come tight! Here is the lovely Amanda with a gator she caught on January 10th using this technique.
The water temperature is the biggest factor I feel when determining where to look for the trout. With this upcoming weeks freezing cold nights, I’d be willing to bet they will be pushing up the rivers. When you find the fish and start getting bites, take a note of the water temperature and tide stage. It takes some testing to figure out the right temperature they are holding in, but when you find it you’ll be glad you paid attention. Anything in the mid 60’s seems to be a good place to start looking.
This is a great time of year to take children and loved ones out for an action-packed day on the water, so if you need a trip contact me!
Captain John Swanson
Sight Fishing Basics
Sight Fishing Basics
Also known as “hunting on the water”, sight fishing can be one of the most frustrating yet rewarding ways to catch a fish. So many different variables go into making you successful that I could probably write a 10,000-word essay, but I’ll touch on a few basic ideas I feel should be helpful.
First, when sight fishing you need to be able to see your targets which means proper eye wear. If you’re not using polarized lenses, you might as well be blind casting most days. Shop around, find a pair that covers the corners of your eyes as well as down to cheek. Any light cutting behind glasses affects your vision so get the most coverage you can. Costa Del Mar, Salt Life Optics, Smith, Oakley, RCI…. The list could go on forever which each brand having their own strengths and weaknesses. It comes down to fit and price for most anglers.
Sight fished this big girl in 9 inches of water using the same concepts from this post
Often anglers move too fast and find themselves blowing our reds left and right. They get frustrated, start blind casting and the hunt is over. When sight fishing is the name of the game, I sometimes take my trolling motor off my Maverick to force me to push pole and slow down. Relax, slow down, take your time and look for your targets. A wake, a flash of gold, a tip of tail sticking out, or even a mud cloud could the big red flag showing you where they are.
Stealth is so important it’s not funny. A slamming hatch, dropped tackle box, rocking the boat… all can send your fish zipping to another zip code. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been easing up to a fish and screwed it up by making noise. My favorite of all time is dropping my phone from poling platform onto deck while trying to take a picture and when it bangs deck *poof*… fish is G-O-N-E. And then I get to fish my phone out of water….
Lastly, go lighter on your leaders. Normally I run 20# fluorocarbon for 95% of my inshore fishing. 2.5% of time I use 40-60# for tarpon. The other 2.5% is when I’m sight fishing redfish in skinny water. They seem to be able to see the line better and sometimes they’ll shy away from the heavier stuff. This is especially true in winter when the water is gin clear. I’ll typically drop down to 12-15#, but when its super clear I will go to 10#. Remember with lighter leaders you must play the fish a little bit, not horsing a green fish to the boat.
Hope this was useful information and if you have any questions feel free to contact me! Winter is coming and I’m booking charters where we will target redfish sight fishing, come let me show you how good it can be here in North Florida!
When fishing new areas or familiar areas after a major change (AKA Hurricane, not like we’ve seen one in a while…) there are a few things I’ve found helpful in finding redfish and trout.
Eyes up! That’s right, I am guilty of staring at the water above where I’m jigging or running a spoon like it’ll magically make that stud redfish eat. Instead, look around for bait, cruising fish, structure, or anything that might indicate action. Sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how much you notice.
Use search baits. When trying to locate fish and cover water, the spoon is my all-time go to. They can be thrown over grass, oyster bars or around rock piles on the east flats in St Marks National Wildlife Refuge. With the second largest sea grass beds in the world, our bay would take 100’s of years (not estimated, exact science) to cover every bar, drop off and limestone head using a slow popping cork and jig. My spoon of choice is Aquadream in their pinfish pattern, gold, copper or white.
Use technology. Google earth has been one of the greatest tools for scouting or learning your favorite areas more in depth. A certain captain from Louisiana taught me how to use this and other mapping programs when we were in Baghdad together, and we both still use it which success in our fishing careers. You can look for creeks, deep holes, and the best route to and from your targeted area. Looking at the water from boat level its hard to see most the depth changes, but you can see below the deeper cuts and holes in the creeks. TIP: Look at the bottom right corner… GPS coordinates to where the center of the screen is on the map (not shown in the picture.)
Keep moving. Remember, this isn’t about fishing areas you are confident in and know fish will be there at a given tide. Situation will dictate how long you stay in one area, but if I don’t see action or anything to make me want to stay, I don’t hang out and cast my day away. Run and gun till you find some action and pay close attention to where you are. In creek mouth? Deep or shallow? Grass or mud? Fast or slow retrieve?
My saying is if you can do something once, it doesn’t count. If can pull it off twice, you’re getting lucky. But hooking up a third time? That’s when you’ve figured out a pattern! Now in all honesty there are days where all it takes is that one redfish in a completely new area to make the trip worth it. But… three is usually more fun! If you need more information or have any questions contact me directly!
As anglers, one of the biggest mistakes we can make while on the water is mishandling a fish we intend to release. Let’s be honest, a blackened redfish sandwich is hard to beat, but what about those fish not destine for the skillet? Here are a few tips to ensure the fish lives to grow and be caught another day.
When removing fish from the water, always use a net to cradle the fish from the water. Snatching the fish in the boat using the line, not only increases the chances of your line breaking and losing your catch, you also run the risk of injuring the fish. I recommend a good folding net that can be stored out of the way when not in use such as Bass Pro’s Gold Series Folding Net.
With all fish, especially trout, wet your hands before holding the catch. Fish have a protective film on them to help ward off disease and parasites. By holding them with dry hands, you remove this protection and even if they swim away when released, their survival rate is diminished greatly. When holding the fish (with wet hands) avoid putting your fingers in gills or “lipping” the fish. Both not only greatly increase the harm you do to the fish, but increase odds of injuring yourself. Grip the fish around the skinny section in front of tail and allow the body of the fish to rest in your other hand. This in better for the fish and makes for a better photo to remember your catch!
Notice the water dripping of Dale’s hand while holding his biggest redfish of his life so far
After a quick picture with your trophy, it’s time to send them back. Instead of throwing a fish overboard and hoping it swims away, place the fish in the water and letting them catch their breath and swim away under own power. If holding by tail, like with bigger red fish, avoid a back and forth motion and instead wiggle hand side to side. The fish will let you know when it’s ready, usually with a big splash in the face thanking you for the release.
Amanda Gilbert AG Outdoors showing a proper release on a stud bull red
To enjoy our fisheries for generations to come we need to make efforts to preserve our waters and the game fish that inhabit them. If everyone does their small part, it will add up to something big and we’ll be able to maintain a healthy stock of our favorite fish.
As always, if you have any questions or need a day on the water reach out to me! Thank you!
Captain John Swanson
If you’ve been fishing here in North Florida this weekend, odds are you found some dirty, windblown water. There are pockets of cleaner water but for the most part we’re experiencing some bad visibility. When water conditions and clarity are less than ideal, these are a few of my tried and true techniques to increase your odds of finding your targeted fish.
Make some noise! Just like you or me, if we were blind folded in a Metallica concert, it’s going to be hard to find the beer tent. Unless the beer tent had an air horn they blew every few seconds, acting as a beacon. This is the mindset I want you to use when you to select your baits when hunting for fish under poor conditions. Personally, my go to is top water plugs. I know the classic time for top water are early morning or evening, but I’ve had success with this concept at all hours of the day. My favorite noise maker is the Storm Chug Bug, with the Rapala Skitter Walk and Heddon Super Spook Jr coming in a tie for second. Choose colors that contrast, white, chrome, chartreuse etc. Use a loop knot to connect your leader to the plug. This will give the bait more freedom to move giving it a more lifelike action.
The other technique I’ll cover today is deployed when fish are spooky or when in skinny water that’s stained. Borrowing from fresh water anglers, spinner baits add flash and vibration to your paddle tail soft baits. They are great search baits to use when working an area where the visibility is too bad to sight fish. When water is stained, the extra “noise” will help your targets hone in on your bait. Slayer Inc, Aquadream Spoons, and the classic Redfish Magic are all good choices. Each one offers something a little different, so check them out and see which fits your needs. Trout, redfish and flounder have all fallen victim to this approach, so get out there and catch some action!
As always, if you have any questions, comments or anything you’d like me to cover in a post contact me!
Captain John Swanson
North Florida Inshore
Go Weedless With Soft Baits!
Ever watched a BASS tournament and wondered why the pros always have 100+ rods on the front deck of boat with 1,000 tackle trays slam full of different baits? (I might have estimated) Each rod combo is designed for specific task and is a exact tool in their arsenal. There are many different tools we use for inshore fishing here in the big bend, but one of the most important is the hook. Based on this concept I'm going to go over a weedless set up and a few techniques I've used over the years while fishing inshore with soft baits.
The hook I prefer is borrowed from our freshwater anglers. I use a good old fashion “worm hook.” There are several manufacturers but Mustad Hooks has been my go-to for a while. Their hooks are strong enough for big redfish and they have both weighted and unweighted. The advantage to worm hooks is that you're able to tuck the tip of the hook back in the bait, creating a nearly weedless presentation. After pushing the hook through the body, simply pinch the body in front of the tip of hook, push it forwards towards the eye and place the tip of hook slightly into body. When you let go of body, the elasticity will pull it back pushing the hook tip in, causing the bait to become weedless. (Will have a video showing set up in following blog post)
This opens up areas of flooded grass, super shallow fish and when there is suspended grass in the water. Perhaps where I’ve found this most useful is when sight fishing redfish. For many of my anglers, I try to have them cast well in front of and past the line of travel the fish is taking (Sight fishing techniques post coming soon). Having a weedless bait allows the angler to let the bait settle and sit on bottom, while they watch the fish to determine when to begin working the bait in order to have a proper presentation. Typically, with a jig head, if you allowed it to sit on bottom when you began working the bait you'd be presenting a salad.
One last advantage to the worm hook that I touched on in a previous fishing report, is the ability to throw big plastic baits as top water. Early morning, late evenings and on over cast days are typically the best times to throw top water plugs for heart pounding, explosive action. If there is a large amount of floating grass though, it can greatly hinder the action of your plug. At this point, break out a weightless worm hook and your favorite soft bait. Rig it weedless and keep the retrieval rate just fast enough that with keeping your rod tip pointed up, the bait is either just breaking surface or leaving a defined wake. My favorite plastics for this are paddle tails like the Slayer Inc. Lure Company's Sinister Swim Tail XL which has a large paddle tail that causes a good amount of noise when worked on the surface, and big jerk baits like the Berkley Gulp Saltwater Jerk Shad 6" and 7" in white or pink. Use the walk-the-dog retrieval on the jerk baits, being sure to keep the bait near the surface. Experiment with different retrievals, even letting the bait drop down a few inches from time to time, until you get consistent strikes. Once you figure out what they targeting that day, you're in the money!
Hope you found this information useful and as always if you have any questions feel free to contact me.