The St. Johns River and area lakes: Let’s talk shrimp.
We’ve come to that time when the Crustacean Nation goes nuts in the St. Johns River. There are plenty of shrimp, concentrated from Palatka down to Georgetown. Problem is, these are a mixture of small throwaways and medium, ready-for-the-table-type shrimp.
There is, or should be, a lot of culling going on. The problem is, culling kills shrimp. Your bring them off the bottom, toss them into the bottom of a boat or a dock, and then either toss them off the boat after you pick out the larger ones, or kick them off a dock.
Very few live.
A river buddy, Ben Williams, helped remind me this week of an important slice of the shrimping pie — mesh size.
Most cheap shrimp nets are three-eights mesh. This small opening traps virtually everything the net lands on. It’s much better to toss a five-eights or even a three-quarter inch mesh, which allows the smaller shrimp to exit the net.
It’s also proper shrimp etiquette to give the net a good shake when it hits the bottom. This helps “kick out” the little guys. Those hundreds of small shrimp killed by culling would have become hundreds of big shrimp around the next full moon. It’s a waste of a great resource. It is also a waste of your time, picking out and tossing back the little guys.
The daytime shrimpers continue to work holes or ledges in 18-plus feet of water. The night shrimpers and dock shrimpers can go considerably shallower.
The shrimp are concentrated sufficiently that Tom the Bait Guy is having trouble selling to the bait shops, which are having trouble selling to anglers. They’re catching their own.
The catfish is the Rodney Dangerfield of the river — it don’t get no respect for its fight or its highly respectable place on a dinner plate. The river is, as we say, “slap ate up” with them — so much so that crabbers are complaining that the whiskered ones are invading their traps. It takes a lot of catfish for that to occur.
That strange bite of spawning speckled perch in Newnans Lake is still going strong. These are winter spawners showing roe in the summer. It’s completely bass-ackwards. But there it is.
There are some specks being caught in Lake Lochloosa and Orange Lake, but Orange is seriously affected by huge mats of hydrilla, to the point where you can get caught by one, as they move with winds. There’s some good fishing under them, but it’s probably not worth the hassle to try it.
Bluegill and shellcracker fishing is good.
The mullet are thick right now. Cane-poling mullet is a ton of fun. But we’ll save that for another day.
Bass fishing is very good, but if you’re not serving up a live shrimp on a bobber, don’t bother. They’re zoned in, and show very little interest in lures. Croaker and yellowmouth trout fishing remains OK in the channels near the Shands Bridge.
The Intracoastal Waterway: The flounder bite has really picked up this week. There were several good reports. The aforementioned Ben Williams and a buddy hit the docks around Porpoise Point for 10 flounder and six legal mangrove snapper early in the week. He also hooked into and landed an 11-pound jack crevalle in front of the Castillo.
Legal reds have been the rule rather than the exception this week. Little mangrove snapper are getting bigger and are very much worth targeting now. A few trout are being caught, predominately at night around dock lights. And the jacks, ladyfish and slightly early bluefish fill in the blanks.
Here’s another note on treating nature like a lady. Had a phone call from a disgruntled local who hates to see the slaughter of finger mullet by cast netters, especially on Porpoise Point. They’re filling coolers with them and selling to bait shops for 50 cents a pounds.
These, too, grow up and give us in return great tarpon fishing and healthy shore birds. Just keep it in mind.
Catch of the week came from Capt. Dennis Goldstein whose charter caught a 13-inch bonefish in the flats between the Castillo and the inlet.
The Atlantic: Speaking of tarpon, they’re everywhere right now. If you don’t mind a mind-numbing hour of battle, heat exhaustion and the very real possibility of winding up in back traction, they’re there for the taking.
In the old days before tarpon were protected by catch and release laws, anglers used to bring them in to the docks to weigh them. There is absolutely no part of a tarpon fit for fork, so the alligator farm used to pick them up and shove them over the wall to the waiting gators. It was a sight to see when a dozen gators went for the same carcass.
We’re a wiser, gentler world today, but in this case less entertaining.
There’s still no reason to head to deep water to troll for striking fish. Bottom fishing can be good out in 21 fathoms.
Closer in, the head boats are getting near-limits of legal redeyes. A few of the 8 to 10 pound mangroves have shown up on the local reefs and wrecks.
The kingfish bite has tapered off. The mix of bonito, sharks and barracuda keep it interesting.
The surf has cleared up and some good fishing is the result. Up on South Ponte Vedra Beach there has been a good run of slot-reds in the surf. Whiting are still hit and miss. Pompano are back. It’s early yet, but apparently nobody told them.
The pompano are still on the southern beaches.
If you can dig sand fleas, that’s your best bet. Don’t waste your time with frozen fleas. The next best bet is fresh blue crab knuckles, followed by fresh clams. Fresh shrimp are last, if only because everything eats them, including everything you don’t want to be catching — puppy sharks, sailcats and stingrays.
The weather: We’re back to southerly winds Saturday at 5 to 10 knots with seas at 2 to 3 feet. Sunday wind swings in from the northwest at 5 to 10 knots and the same 2 to 3 foot seas.
Jim Sutton writes a weekly fishing report. Email photos and reports to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 904-819-3487.