How ’bout a shovelnose sturgeon?
There’s a lot to love about the wonderful middle of these great United States — particularly Indiana, where the shedding of the cottonwood trees and the neighborhoods dotted with checkered flags tell you May is in full bloom.
Can’t recommend it enough. But if saltwater fishing is your thing, leave the gear at home.
We hear it all the time — how lucky we are as fishing Floridians to live in a place many call the Fishing Capital of the World. Used to think it was just a marketing slogan, but if not the world, we certainly appear to be the best our country can offer.
Latest evidence comes courtesy of one of those handy apps anglers can’t live without. The “Fish Rules” app is a fun visit when traveling. It always knows where you are because, you know, that’s our world these days, and a touch of the thumb will soon tell you all the available fish in your current state (geographically speaking) and any applicable rules.
If you’re in Florida, the Fish Rules roll-call will produce more types of available snapper or grouper than the entire roster of saltwater fish in many other states. Let’s not blame Indiana, in this instance, because it only has a sliver of Lake Michigan shoreline at its northern boundary — and even there, once you get past the striped bass, the pickin’s are slim for salt/fresh crossovers.
ON THE HALF-SHELL Oysters in summertime? No problem, IROC has you covered (in butter?)
MAGIC BAIT The idea for Fishbites began with young Billy Carr in New Smyrna Beach
“What I love about Florida is that just about every waterway holds game fish,” says Joe Yarbrough. “Many are accessible by foot. A retention pond next to my office, along the Halifax, is now the home to a three-foot tarpon. Snook and largemouth bass share common habitats from time to time.”
Yarbrough came to Volusia County from Tennessee in the 1980s and long served as city manager in South Daytona. His marathon tenure (1987-2019) in that job tells you he must’ve been quite capable, but looking back, it seems it was just a means to support his fishing jones, which also included many, many hours under water with a tank on his back and spear-gun in hand.
“I quickly realized that I had two obstacles hindering my pursuit — work and money,” he says. “Weekends were spent on the Indian and Halifax River, using pigfish as bait. By winter, I discovered the St. Johns River and its lakes. It soon became apparent to me that in Florida, the weather was so mild, you could comfortably fish for more species year-round.”
One of our regular contributors here — at least in winter — is Geno Giza, who’s now back in Pennsylvania after a seventh consecutive snowbird stay in New Smyrna Beach, where he and wife Gayle are often found fly-fishing the intracoastal as well as the skinny waters in Canaveral National Seashore.
Back in Central Pennsylvania, Geno fishes ancient freshwater streams for several varieties of trout — brook, rainbow and brown. Once he arrives in Florida, he can fish for damn near all varieties of every variety of fish.
“In Pennsylvania, I fly-fish some of the best freshwater streams in the nation,” he says. “But those four months out of the year, I have the opportunity to saltwater fly-fish in Florida, primarily the Mosquito Lagoon. I wade-fish as well as fly-fish from my Carolina Skiff.
“I firmly believe, a better fishing environment is hard to find anywhere. No, impossible to find anywhere.”
Back to that fishing app. You can scroll down Fish Rules and eventually make your way down to the S fish — sea bass, seatrout, etc. — and once you reach the first shark, plan to scroll for a while. Some three-dozen types of sharks can be found off our shoreline — and per anecdotal evidence, thousands upon thousands of each type.
Even those predators are a Sunshine State lure for some.
“By the age of 18, I had lived in Nebraska, New Mexico and Colorado,” says Dustin Smith. “Growing up, I really didn’t do much fishing — maybe two or three times a year.”
He loaded a U-Haul and came to Florida 23 years ago, but it was another 10 years before he found himself on the Sunglow Pier with a fishing rod, just looking for a way to relax on a day off. He noticed some dudes at the end of the dock with serious fishing gear, and eventually he heard one of their reels screaming.
“Forty-five minutes later, I see a 6-foot shark hit the deck,” he says.
Long story short, he now owns and operates NSB Shark Hunters and can be found most nights on the shoreline, giving visiting thrill-seekers the fishing experience of their lives.
“That day on the pier, I went over to those guys and just said, ‘teach me,’ ” Smith says. “They took me under their wing and did exactly that. They taught me everything from A-to-Z and I instantly had the bug. I had such a passion for this new hobby that it turned into an obsession, which turned into NSB Shark Hunters.”
Right about now you’re probably thinking, “Great, but the weatherman hates us and will never let us fish again.” Word is, he’ll take his boot off your neck in time for you to get out there for a chunk of Memorial Day Weekend.
And assuming you do get out there, casting about from a dock, boat or shoreline, occasionally remind yourself not to take it for granted.
“If you live in Florida, it’s hard to imagine not being on, in or under the water,” Yarbrough says. “If you’re not sure how or where to fish, join fishing communities and clubs, hire a local guide,and research your local fisheries. We truly live in a fisherman’s paradise. There’s no need to subscribe to the outdoor magazines — we can live the stories.”
Before the weather turned nasty, our first true influx of tarpon were being reported in the intracoastal. How to lure them?
“Live pinfish,” says Craig Patterson (Donald’s Bait & Tackle).
Most of us, however, are more likely to catch the poor man's tarpon — the ladyfish, which leaps and gallops and, pound-for-pound, might just match the tarpon for overall petulance. They're all over the intracoastal these days, and love live shrimp.
“Also, flounder have moved back in and are being caught on mudminnows,” Craig adds.
Live shrimp and pigfish are attracting trout in and around Spruce Creek, while croakers are turning the heads of “stud snook,” Craig says.
Reminder time: Snook go totally off-limits next Thursday (June 1) for three months.
And wouldn’t you know it …
“The snook bite has been red-hot at the bridges and docks,” says Capt. Jeff Patterson (Pole Dancer). “Big mullet, around 6-8 inches, has been the bait of choice for me on the bottom.”
Capt. Jeff says the snook, known for their reluctance to go quietly, have been particularly full of fight recently, quickly turning tail and heading to bridge fenders and anything else to halt proceedings.
“We use a 6-8,000 spinning reel on a beefy rod to get them out, and it’s still not easy,” Capt. Jeff says.
He’s also been venturing up to and into the Tomoka River, particularly Strickland Creek, and finding reds along with snook.
“It’s one of my favorite places to use artificials,” he says. “Topwaters, divers, and suspending twitch baits are my baits of choice back there, although some people do well with soft plastics, and live bait, of course.”
The seaweed swarm quit threatening and finally delivered, covering our beaches in sargassum. It smells bad and it basically halts surf-fishing for a bit, but it’s a necessary evil.
Very necessary, given how all that mess is eventually covered by sand, giving us some much needed elevation improvements along the beach.
Before the weather soured, Marco Pompano sent along a nice video of a 14-pound permit he brought to shore and, soon thereafter, to the smoker.
“Made a fish dip with it. Really good,” he says.
The feds, bless their hearts, have announced a July 14-15 “season” for red snapper off our coast. Don’t blink.
More on this issue as mid-July’s madness draws near.
Meanwhile, Capt. Scott Housel (Sudden Strike charter boat) was casting far and wide (and deep) when conditions permitted.
“Bottom-fishing on the artificial reefs for vermilion snapper and lane snapper has been consistent, with the occasional cobia showing up,” he says.
Farther offshore — Party Grounds, East Ridge and Half North (all familiar playgrounds for serious offshore anglers) — he says he found “a few” mahi and kingfish.
“We’ve also been seeing some mahi spread out between 140 feet all the way out to 700 feet, and we caught a couple wahoo last week in the 240-foot area.”
The bottom, Capt. Scott says, was delivering grouper, triggerfish and large vermillion snapper, and figures to do the same in a few days when Neptune calms the seas.
Or is it Poseidon?
Once things clear, the chase will return for bluegill and shellcracker. Next week’s full moon (some call this one the Strawberry Moon) should spark some life in the main river and assorted lakes.
“I’ve got some groups coming in next week, mainly from Georgia,” says Kerry McPherson, whose South Moon Fish Camp in Astor often becomes a Peach State annex. “Normally, the bluegill and shellcracker are bedding in April, May and June, but I’ve seen it go into July.”
The 35th annual Lady Angler tournament, targeting male (bull) and female (cow) mahi — one each, combined weight wins — is next Saturday (June 3). Assuming they reach the 40-boat limit, first prize is $10,000.
More details, including the usual list of rules longer than your arm, are available at the Halifax Sport Fishing Club website: HSFC.com.
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Please include first and last name of angler(s), as well as type of fish (we're occasionally stumped). All are included with our online fishing report, and some occasionally make the print edition.
Do I need a fishing license?
You can find all the license info, including exemptions, on Florida's Fish and Wildlife Commission website: MyFWC.com. But the basics are: No: If you're 65 or older, 15 or younger, you don't need a license. No: If you're fishing with a licensed guide or charter boat, both of which purchase commercial licenses that cover their customers. Yes: Most everyone else, including visitors from other states. Yes: Even if you're a shore-based angler (shoreline, dock, pier, bridge, etc.). However: The shore-based license is free . . . But: You still need to register for that free license.
Where do I get a license and what does it cost?
Many bait shops sell licenses, as do the bigger retailers (Bass, Dick's, Walmart, etc.). Florida's FWC uses a third-party site for buying or renewing fishing licenses: GoOutdoorsFlorida.com. The cost: $17 for an annual license. Don't forget: Whether you're fishing fresh or saltwater, you need the specific license. Freshwater and saltwater licenses are both $17 annually.
I’m here on vacation, do I need a license?
Yes you do, and they're also available at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com or certain bait shops and big retailers. Cost: $17 for three days, $30 for seven days, $47 for a year.Also: Non-residents need to purchase that license even if they're just fishing from shoreline or shore-based structures. (Florida residents need that license, too, but they're free.)
This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Is Florida truly the fishing capital of the world? It seems so