A Reason to Stay In
Story by Bill Kenyon & Brian Hornung
Photos by Addison Fitzgerald & OCL Staff
Inshore Fishing northeast Florida style: Many of us know that the northeast region of Florida offers up some of the best fishing opportunities in the entire state. For the uninitiated, however, the quality and quantity of fishing here might come as a surprise. Inshore or offshore, freshwater or saltwater — Florida’s Historic Coast is a sportsman’s dream. For those not very familiar with the sport, it’s easy to default to thinking about serious fishing as a labor-intensive, time-and-money-consuming process involving prepping and fueling a boat, rigging up a large variety of rods for whatever fish you’re after, motoring to the perfect spot (and if that’s not the one, pulling anchor and searching for the next)…and that’s just half of the battle. Inshore fishing doesn’t usually require as much effort (although you certainly can utilize a boat for an outing close in). Just grab a tackle box, a few rods (watercraft if desired) and go!
What seems to fly under the radar of many people unfamiliar with the sport is that inshore fishing involves considerably less fuss. Just to be clear, inshore fishing generally refers to saltwater fishing in nearshore and tidal backwaters (ex: intracoastal tributaries). Low costs, coupled with the ease of accessing the waterways via smaller powerboat, kayak, canoe, SUP or shoreline, make this an ideal option for those just starting out. For more experienced anglers, the lure of being able to cast a line out without having to deal with all the aforementioned trouble and cost is one that’s hard to resist. Add to that the benefit of being surrounded by the area’s spectacular coastal scenery: flora and fauna and a wide array of marine life such as manatees, sea turtles, dolphins and water birds, all of which serve to add to the enjoyment. Plus, for the queasy bunch out there, seasickness becomes a non-issue, as inshore fishing does not involve going out to sea.
A word of advice: before you make that first cast, make sure you’re educated on catch sizes, limits and seasons. Read up on all of the various regulations before heading out, because if you don’t, and you’re caught, the fines can be rather steep. And, get a fishing license. Even standing on the shore, you’ll need one to show the authorities should they ask. For the most up-to-date and accurate information, visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife website.
If you’re thinking that staying close to land limits your options when it comes to the fish you can go after, think again. Although obviously, bigger open ocean pelagic predators aren’t going to be found inshore, others that are just as much fun to catch and delicious to eat, are. According to local Captain Chris Herrera, inshore waters provide ample opportunity for redfish, flounder, trout, black drum, sheepshead, snook and tarpon (at various times of the year)
Don’t know where to start? Your best bet is to book a trip on a charter fishing boat that specializes in inshore fishing, with one of the many professional guides who know what to target and how to go about doing it effectively and legally. Good charter captains also help you learn the best type of gear for the fish you’re after, how to rig bait or lures properly and the best times of day and tides to fish. Prices can range from $400 for a half day to $750 for a full day on the water. Many people get a small group together and split the cost (just make sure that you find out what the capacity is before you invite your entire crew along).
For a method that allows you to get deeper into the “skinny” creeks and backwaters of our inland waterways, there’s the increasingly popular use of kayaks or stand up paddle boards (SUP) for inshore fishing. In fact, some angers pride themselves on their ability to go where boats cannot; a kayak gives access to areas with significantly less traffic and ones that are not as heavily fished. Area businesses like Devil’s Elbow Fish Camp, Oyster Creek Outfitters and St. Augustine Paddle Sports offer rentals and guided tours, along with expert advice on the type of gear best suited for you (from rods and reels to kayak or SUP), tips on technique and the best local spots.
As for the actual fishing, your choices range from natural bait (floating or bottom fishing live or dead shrimp, mullet, mud minnows and/or crabs), artificial lures (meant to mimic predatory prey) or fly fishing (using hand-tied lures which are designed to mimic crustaceans and baitfish that bigger fish eat). Finding the right spot is crucial for success and knowing the good from the bad comes with time and experience. Don’t despair — even an amateur can learn where they’re biting with some basic knowledge.
First of all, find the fish…the little ones that is. Schools of bait (often called “bait pods”) — mullet, pogies and shrimp — attract bigger fish who feed on them. That’s where you want to put your near. Location is important, too: saltwater inlets, creek mouths, natural “structures” such as submerged sand bars, oyster bars and grass beds are prime spots when there is moving current (outgoing tides are often best). Hooks can be easily snagged on oyster bars and grass beds so you’ll want to suspend your bait over these spots and keep it from sinking to the bottom.
Predatory gamefish waiting on baitfish to pass, however, will hold in the deeper water in and around these structures. That’s where you can hook ‘em. The best strategy is to cast your bait or lure upstream and work it or allow it to drift downstream, mimicking what live bait-fish would do (try and avoid making a splash when your cast hits the water, as fish are easily spooked).
Above: OCL graphic artist Brian Hornung lands a tarpon kayak fishing near shore
Common sense on the water makes for a more enjoyable time as well. Remember hats, sunscreen, enough water for everyone to stay hydrated, lifejackets for all onboard and a well-stocked first aid kit. Most importantly, leave a float plan with somebody onshore including a time you expect to return and the general area you plan to fish, just in case something should go awry.
Once you get the hang of it and find the style that suits you best, you’ll find that inshore fishing can be one of the most enjoyable outdoor activities around. The challenge of man against nature is one that draws many anglers to the water, while the escape provided by simply whiling away an afternoon casting out along our beautiful estuaries and waterways, is what draws others. Whatever your motivation, inshore fishing is sure to be something that you’ll be “hooked” on for many years to come.
Some Local Inshore Captains (click the link to visit their website):
Captain Tommy Derringer
Captain Rob Bennett
Coastal Fish Charters
Captain Jim Britton
Salty Tales Fishing Charters
Captain Steve Cacchio
Summer School Fishing Charters
Captain Dennis Goldstein
Hot Fun Fishing Charters
Captain Chris Herrera
Palm Coast Fishing
Angry Seas Fishing Charters
Captain Bill Schuller
Heads & Tails Fishing Charters
Captain Stepan Szczepanik
Captain Zach Timmons
First City Fishing Charters
Captain Noah D. White
Tidewater Fishing Charters