The St. Johns River and area lakes: Most of the chatter and the effort in freshwater is about speckled perch.
The bite is really on but that’s mainly due to the popularity of spider-rigging. We’ve always known that the specks bed in winter and that’s been 90 percent of the fishing. Catching that spawn is always difficult. They rarely spawn en masse, but move into the pads and bonnets in phases.
If you catch one of these periods, you’re golden. We’ve also always known that specks don’t “leave” the lakes the remainder of the year. They just spread out and, until spider-rigging, there was no method to find and catch them that really paid off.
Spider rigging involves up to 18 cane poles set in rod holders in the bow and stern of a boat. The poles are set at different depths with, generally, different colored jigs. A very controlled slow troll keeps the rigs fanned out. You pick up a speck or two along the way. But by the end of the day, the local guys doing this are limiting out — and that’s 25 fish per person per day.
The method has been used on the crappie tournament trail for years, but it’s just now trickling down to the everyday anglers.
Tending to multiple poles and monitoring their depths, not to mention baiting hooks and slinging in fish takes concentration and touch. But it’s a bucketload of fun.
That said, the fish being caught this week are not showing much roe, so don’t expect a spawn anytime in the next week or two if you’re a jigger, rather than a troller.
December is generally the time to pick up your biggest bluegill, called copperheads around here. They’re not getting much press because of the speckled perch mania, but they’re there.
This is also the time to catch really nice catfish and the cooler water temperatures makes the flesh that much firmer.
If you’d like to try a little freshwater fishing, I can help you with a guide. It would make a nice Christmas present for the friend or family member who has everything but luck.
The Intracoastal Waterway: There are plenty of fish in the ICW, but you’ll spend some time finding legal ones.
The sheepshead bite remains good, but it’s always a bite that remains kind of off the radar in terms of reports. Few, if any, guides fish them. It’s mostly local guys who are much happier if no one else knows what’s going on. I get it.
Another reason is that one of the best bites is always inside the St. Augustine Inlet, and it’s no place for pilgrims to fish because of strong tides and lots of boat traffic — big boat traffic.
But the bite is going on and will only improve through February when the biggest fish of the year are caught.
The redfish bite is OK. The general rule this week has been if you want to find lots of reds, but undersized ones, fish up in the creeks. If you want slot reds, work live baits up and down the shorelines.
Trout are around, with the better bite on the high, incoming tides because of the cleaner water. Float rigs with live shrimp are de riguer, but an eighth-ounce jig and plastic tail are a ton of fun on light tackle. The old MirrOlure 52M series sinking lures are also hard to beat. And the plain truth about them, is the more you “work” them, the fewer fish you’ll catch. It’s just a boring, slow retrieve — even slower as water temperatures drop. The 52M11 (red head, white body) has probably caught more trout than any other lure in Florida, and for 50 years. The chartreuse back and purple demon colors are generally hot as well.
MirrOlure is now making a 4M series of the same lure, but in a diminutive, quarter-ounce size.
And the MirrOdine series just catches everything.
The Atlantic: There’s not much to tell. The weather has been so snotty, few have snuck out the inlet. It was rarely worse than last weekend, the make-up mini-season for red snapper. I don’t know of any boats that went out for them, but a few may have taken the beating out to some of the local reefs and wrecks.
The surf fishing has been slow, but the water is both cooling down and clearing up. The bulk of the pompano has moved south of us and are being caught down around New Smyrna Beach. But this looks like a very good weekend to go out and snag some stragglers, along with some whiting.
There are no reports of offshore trolling, again because of weather. But this is among the better times of the year to waylay wahoo, a few dolphin and tons of blackfin tuna out in the deep water. It can also be a top me to drop down for grouper, triggerfish, black sea bass, vermillion snapper and porgies.
It’s a good bet that a bunch of boats will be heading there this weekend because …
The weather: It looks like we’ll have a purely fishable weekend. Winds will be northeasterly at 5 to 10 knots, but seas are forecast at 1 to 2 feet.
“Northeast” and “2 feet” aren’t generally used in the same sentences unless it’s “you’ll never see 2-foot seas with northeast winds.” But that’s NOAA’s story and, so far, it’s sticking with it.
Sunday’s much of the same, but winds will swing in from the southeast.
Jim Sutton writes a weekly fishing column. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.