Northeast Florida offers one of the most diverse marine environments in North America. From remote and intricate backcountry creeks to the wild and expansive Atlantic Ocean, the Jacksonville area provides year-round fishing opportunities for an extensive variety of gamefish and great eating table fare.
In the shallow waters of the area’s tidal creeks, Redfish roam the shorelines, mud flats and oyster bars that meander through the saltmarshes spanning from the Atlantic Ocean almost all the way to downtown Jacksonville.
These tidal marshes extend to the North from the Florida/Georgia state line southward to Daytona Beach and beyond. In these same waters speckled Seatrout, Flounder and Sheepshead can be caught virtually year round. As one travels out of the tidal creeks and into the deeper waters of the Intracoastal Waterway and the St. Johns River, the opportunities for giant Bull Redfish present themselves in the deeper reaches of the river where only a few hundred yards toward the shorelines Flounder and Sheepshead congregate.
Following the St. Johns River to the Atlantic Ocean, sea life becomes even more diverse. As one approaches the St. Johns River entrance at the Mayport Jetties, the surface of the water churns with baitfish and marauding schools of Jacks, Spanish Mackerel and Bluefish. Outside the Jetties, King Mackerel, Cobia and Tarpon are seasonally abundant. In the spring, the Cobia run kicks off with these hard-fighting bruisers following Manta Rays and Menhaden bait pods allowing exciting sight-casting presentations. Not far behind the Cobia are the King Mackerel that crash the bait pods from June until September and the Tarpon that show up in the late summer and may stay until mid-fall.
All of these species offer great sight-casting opportunities. However, Northeast Florida’s unique sight-fishery begins in August when full tides flood the saltmarshes allowing Redfish to access the Spartina grass flats from the creek edges and finger creeks. These fiddler crab hungry Redfish enter the Spartina grass flats, sometimes in only six inches of water, to forage for the easily accessible and edible fiddler crab. When searching out and pursuing their prey, the Redfish roots head-down in the Spartina with its brilliant red and blue tail waiving in the air shouting – “Here I am, come cast to me!” This is one of the few opportunities for sight fishermen in Northeast Florida to cast to tailing gamefish. Sheepshead also come up into the flooded grass and present even greater sight-casting challenges. This fishery is extremely tide and weather dependent. But, when it happens, the fishing can be fast, furious and sometimes frustrating.
In sum, the Northeast Florida fishery offers all types of anglers many different opportunities – from the delicate presentation of a fly to a tailing Redfish to the screaming run of a King Mackerel. It’s all about being there at the right time and in the right place.