Fishing Report: Mahi, blackfins on offshore menu

CONTRIBUTED Mike McCarthy caught this 40-inch redfish with his dad, Mac, in the back creeks in Palm Valley with Captain Leon Dana of PrimeTime Charters. The fish hit a piece of cut crab on a size 500 ultralight reel spooled with 8-pound braid. It was a 20-minute affair bringing the angler and the anglee together for a welcome release — and relief.

St. Johns River and area lakes: A few speckled perch are still being taken in deeper water but it looks like those looking for a real spawn up in the lily pads this season are likely out of luck.


It’s likely this yo-yo weather we’ve had, with water temperatures climbing, then dropping — then doing it over (and over) again.

It’s certain that some of the females snuck in, spread over the past six weeks, but not enough to let on that they were there.

But, the Lord giveth and taketh away, and he’s givething us a heap of shellcrackers that are seriously fanning beds all over the river and creeks. Although we haven’t had reports, that’s likely happening in the area lakes as well.

These beds are a little tougher to find because they’re generally on the sand bars in deeper water. But, fish the bars; the fish will come.

The bluegill bite is crazy right now, and you can tell it’s been a banner year for feeding because of the robust size of most of these fish. It was most likely the shrimp run that got them there.

These fish are just beginning to bed and the major bedding activity is always the full moon — May 10 this year.

Bass bedding is slowing down, especially farther south.

There were reports of a good deal of hybrid striper activity this week. Generally you’ll find them schooling up under schools of other small baitfish and waylaying them into froth.

Birds are your biggest friends in finding these isolated attack zones. Generally there will be sea gulls circling, picking up pieces of the fray.

But the hybrids are also in the spring runs on the west side of Lake George. They like to hold around the cooler spring water running into the lake. You can target them there.

The Intracoastal Waterway: The ditch has been a puzzle most of the week, with good days followed by nearly dead days, in terms of fish activity.

The redfish bite was off and on. But the anglers up around Palm Valley were finding them best on blue crab, while mud minnows were the preferred bait farther south.

But there’s still good supplies of finger mullet in the brackish water, and that’s generally a bait that’s hard to beat.

Sometimes when you’re using them live, and you’re not getting much action, crush one a little to kill it and send half of it out as cut bait.

Sometimes reds just get lazy and don’t feel like chasing baits they have a tough time catching. But a fresh, dead mullet is easy picking, especially for the big, fat fish.

If you can find clean water on a high tide, the speckled trout bite is good. A couple of fish pushing 7 pounds were weighed this week.

That brings up a point I’m certain we could argue. But these big fish are nearly always females and usually carrying roe.

Trout isn’t the brightest bulb on the eating tree anyhow, but the bigger fish really aren’t worth eating. So why kill a big trout with so much potential offspring in the equation?

Take a picture, treat her tenderly like a lady deserves and put her back into the water to spawn another day.

In fishing, you really do reap what you sow.

There are plenty of ladyfish to aggravate you right now, but seems like the jack crevalle and bruiser bluefish have vacated, at least for a spell.

Those ladyfish, by the way, make excellent redfish bait, cut into two-inch steaks and stuck on a sharp hook. Nothing quite stinks like one, and the reds just love them.

Sheepshead and black drum are around as well — the usual suspects hanging in the usual spots.

The Atlantic: The dolphin have officially shown up out near the ledge. Early in the week there were still some scattered weeds to work. But trolling ballyhoo in 180 to 600 feet of water has kept most of the crews busy. It’s been double-digit numbers of fish generally running around 10 to 20 pounds, with the occasional loners pushing 30 pounds. Several sailfish got caught up in the act this week. And a couple of the boats reported hookups of blue marlin, but no releases.

The blackfin tuna remained thick out there as well.

Best story of the week was a 25-pound blackfin caught on the inside wrecks by a charter bottom fishing. That makes up for a ton of undersized beeliners.

The cobia seem to have vacated the beaches and are setting up out in the deeper water from 80 to 100 feet. There weren’t a lot of reports, but those we heard were all in that area.

The fishing on the local stuff has been normal, with the beeliners and sharks. But the amberjack are showing up if you need your spine adjusted.

The surf fishing has been good, mainly because of the return run of pompano. They’re actually about as prevalent as whiting right now.

You will catch some on shrimp, but you’re much better off with sand fleas. Yes, they’re not easy to catch. But fresh clams are nearly as good. And blue crab knuckles work great as well.

If you can only find the frozen clams in the bait stores, try to get them the night before and thaw them in salt brine. Go ahead and cut them up in nice chunks while you have a cutting board and a sharp knife. Ice them in a zip lock, salt them heavily (non-iodized) and you’re ready to compete with a pretty smart fish.

It’s much better than ripping the bait up in the sun on the top of your ice chest.

I’ll tell you a secret that it took me months to believe. Larry Finch is the pompano whisperer, maybe of the known-world.

You’ll never see him pompano fishing unless his sand spikes are at least 20 yards up the beach from the surf. He swears the pompano see you, especially when you’re calf-deep in the water — and go right around you.

I’ve personally lost a lot of dignity and a lesser sum of pocket money betting he was wrong. He is not.


Calendar: The Northeast Florida Marlin Association hosts its 45th annual Bluewater Tournament. Fishing begins today and continues through Sunday. It’s a captain’s choice of two days to fish. There is $35,000 in cash and prizes up for grabs in both billfish and gamefish categories.

Spectators are welcome to the weigh-ins each day. Lines are out of the water at 4:30 p.m., so the bulk of the fish will be showing up around 6:30 p.m. Libations are available. The action is out of Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor, across from the Vilano Beach boat ramp.

Your best bet to see some fish is this afternoon. The weather gets nastier through the weekend.

The weather: It’s a good bet most of the billfish tournament anglers will be fishing today because it’s the pick of the three, with 2- to 4-foot seas. It’s 3 to 5 feet on Saturday and Sunday with southeast winds — and that’s more like 6-plus feet out where they’ll be trolling.


Tournament results

n In the Conch House Mahi Madness tournament last weekend, Captain Billy Hunsaker aboard the Endless Summer won the slam event with a two-fish weight of 65.56 pounds. The big fish of the event was a 40-pounder caught by Captain John Powers on the By Design.

n In the St. Johns Builders Council fishing tournament over the weekend, it was Partridge Well Drilling that won the slam competition consisting of a redfish, trout and flounder — with an aggregate weight of 13.6 pounds. The largest redfish, 6.14 pounds, was weighed by Conner Liebel. The biggest trout was 7.4 pounds by Sterling Specialties. The biggest flounder prize went to Shawn Sloan of Sterling Specialties — a 3.9-pounder. Top junior angler was Jack Brecko, fishing with the Aurora Custom Homes, who had both the big redfish and big trout tied up.

Jim Sutton’s fishing report appears every Friday. Email him at