The St. Johns River and area lakes: Activity has been sluggish this week, mainly because fishermen are sluggish under brutal temperatures. Water temperatures in some of the lakes topped 90 degrees this week. It’s only slightly cooler in the St. Johns itself. Watch the mercury rise heading into the weekend, with three days of 100-degree temperatures ahead.
The biggest news this week is that the best tarpon fishing in the county may be from Doctors Lake to Green Cove Springs — not the Atlantic. The tarpon are being followed south into the river by jack crevalle and ladyfish. This saltwater activity in a freshwater river is odd, but becoming less rare over the past couple of years. When barnacles grow in Welaka and flounder crowd the Croaker Hole that far down, things are changing.
What it makes me wonder is if all this extra salinity we’ve come to almost count on recently is being taken into consideration by the groups pushing to draw water from the St. Johns to feed the development appetite of Central Florida. It’s of no concern to me that those pilfering the water may have to process it and the users pay the extra cost. What’s concerning is, if they’re drawing millions of gallons a day from the sweeter water to the south, will the intrusion of seawater be escalated?
The silver lining of this salty infusion is that it likely bodes well for a better river shrimping season upcoming than we’ve had in four years. Keep your fingers crossed and your cast nets mended. Speaking of that, here’s a tip for those of you who’ll be pulling those nets out of five-gallon buckets or taking them down from pegs on the garage wall after a year hiatus. The monofilament nets will get “wrinkled” so to speak in the buckets, and even those hung straight will become stiff. Soak them in a bucket with warm water and a half cup or so of fabric softener. Leave them for a night, then rinse and hang them to dry. They’ll be more pliant and easier to open.
Catfish are still spawning and some monsters are being taken out of Lake George. The big lake also has the best bluegill and shellcracker fishing in the area.
Bass fishing is slow. Bream fishing is uncomfortable.
The Intracoastal Waterway: It’s been tough out there, at least for the guides. They’re picking up a few fish, but nothing to brag about. The flounder numbers remain pretty good, but the fish are tougher to find. If you run across finger mullet, that would be a good place to start. Otherwise, stay close to the inlets. The trout bite is slow, but the fish being taken are really nice “gators.” These are generally loners and almost always caught before the sun gets much above the marsh grass. Topwater plugs are the way to go. Because these fish are what would be the spawning stock, combined with the fact that filets off big trout are especially mushy in 91-degree water and worth absolutely nothing if frozen, responsible anglers might consider releasing them unharmed. This is hard to do with a soft-bellied fish sporting a mouthful of treble hooks. Several companies are manufacturing special light-wire siwash-style single J-hooks to swap out on the split rings. Pinching down the barbs would be an extra-nice thing to do.
The mangrove snapper bite is getting better each week. The fish are small in the ICW but infinitely edible. Think of them as saltwater bluegills. Cook them up the same way.
The Atlantic: The kingfish that disappeared last week began to show up again Tuesday on the more local bottom spots. Pogies were easy to find. Bigger schools were off South Ponte Vedra Beach. As far as I could tell, it’s still been real slow for the beach kings. The fish inside 15 miles have been more plentiful — but small. The bigger fish have been caught in 120 feet or deeper. It will probably be a little slow for the Kingfish Challenge, but the fewer fish caught, the fewer fish captains have to contend with fighting for a place on the leader board. It’s all relative.
A couple of sailfish were jumped on the Nine-Mile bottom and beyond, but that seems to have slacked too. Bonito, sharks, barracuda and big jacks have not.
Bottom fishing has remained good, with mangrove snapper, a few grouper, lots of red snapper and the usual suspects — beeliners, triggerfish and pink porgies. The fish in this week’s photo was caught in 115 feet of water by the crew while bottom fishing.
No one we’ve heard of has been out trolling the 21-bottom, but that’s likely to change this weekend with the Kingfish Challenge. The better fish have all been caught in deeper water.
The Ancient City Game Fish Association’s Kingfish Challenge is this weekend. It’s at two-fish aggregate. Boats can continue to register through the captain’s meeting Friday night. It begins at 7 p.m. For gawkers, weigh-ins will be from 3-5 p.m. Saturday and 2-4 p.m. Sunday. Entry is $320. There is also a redfish competition inshore. Entry is $55. The Junior Angler competition is Friday. Remember, the venue has been switched from the municipal marina downtown to the Marlin Dock at Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor — across A1A North from the Vilano boat ramp.
The weather: The weekend forecast calls for the same southerly winds at 10-15 knots with seas at 2-3 feet. Slow-trolling for kingfish will be a hot endeavor temperature-wise. The bright side is that 95 percent of the boats now have four-stroke outboards. Remember the old days, trolling with no breeze in 90-plus degrees with that tasty blue haze of the two-stroke smoke hanging over the cockpit?