The summer doldrums are definitely over. Although we haven’t had any long periods of cold weather lately, the cool evenings have managed to gradually drop local water temperatures to below the seventy degree mark. Larger baitfish are becoming scarcer, and inshore species are keying in on small hatchlings, gorging themselves in preparation for the winter.

Recent trips to the flats have become increasingly more productive, not only in numbers of fish caught, but also in size of local shallow water favorites. Several key signs of this phenomenon are presently happening.

Snook are staging at the mouth of most rivers. Large numbers of linesiders are present wherever small baitfish dimple the surface. Higher tides, accompanied by moving water, have placed these fish close to mangrove shorelines, residential docks, oyster bars, and other structures that are closest to deeper water. Night Snook fishing around lighted docks close to passes has been very productive. Fish will be close to shore when water is high, but as the water becomes shallow, longer docks that extend indo deeper water will still continue to produce. Baitfish patterns, such as Deceivers, Clousers, and Bendbacks in white and chartreuse and white, in smaller sizes, will work. When fishing tannin stained water, around the mouth of some rivers, some brown and gold used as a toping match the natural baits more effectively.

Trout have been increasing in size every year. Several guides in St. Joseph sound area have told me that three pounders are common and most trips have been rewarded with some five pound fish. Flats adjacent to the many spoil islands have been the place to be. Further south, along the Intercoastal Waterway, grass flats, especially those with irregularities and potholes hold schools of nice Trout. Most of these fish will be close to the bottom. A clear sinking tip fly line with a weighted fly will be more productive when the water is deep. Some of the largest trout will be found very shallow as the afternoon sun warms the water. A floating line with a baitfish imitation will not get the numbers, but will get the lunkers that are loners.

Reds are schooling and I have seen some increasing numbers tailing in the shallows. Several times these Redfish turned out to be nice Sheepshead that act exactly like Reds, except you will find them even more challenging in shallow water. Crab imitations are preferred in very shallow water where accuracy and short strips will be rewarded. If you catch a Sheepshead on a cmall crab or shrimp pattern, give yourself a big pat on the back, you have accomplished a very difficult task.

Fishing yesterday with fellow guides from Tampa Bay Fly Fishing Club, Frank Rhodes, and Bryon Chamberlin we saw several schools of Jack’s in the ten pound range. Throwing Poppers and Clouser minnow’s we had one point when all three of us had on large Jacks. We broke one hook and straightened another during the melee.

You can’t use hot summer conditions as an excuse for not getting out on the water. The best fishing of the year has already begun.
Get out and enjoy it!

Capt. Pat Damico
St. Pete Beach
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