Well, it's mid March and the weather is all over the spectrum! The wind is howling, it's 80 degrees one day then 40 degrees the next! Welcome to North Florida... It's not all bad though. When seas aren't 6 to 8 feet, you can tackle the giant Black Drum in Mayport Inlet, the largest adult Sheepshead, and the Bull Reds are already pushing into the river.
This is definitely a case of "pick your battles". It's been tough finding a day where you can venture into Mayport Inlet but, when you can, the spawning Black Drum are definitely here. These aren't your average "run of the mill", cookie cutters either. We're talking 50 to 100 pound monsters. You won't want to target them for food, but they make for a good fight followed by a short photo session and release.
These big bruisers can be targeted with a number of baits including, Blue Crab, large Clams, and fresh dead Shrimp. Bring a couple of heavy rods rigged with either a Fish finder Rig or a Dropper Rig and you're in business. Leave the lighter equipment at home... These fish are susceptible to dying after lengthy battles and will literally fight to the death on lighter tackle. Get them in quickly to ensure they have sufficient energy to survive being released.
You can find these guys in the Inlet, in and around the tips of the jetties. You'll find them between 45 and 80 feet of water. All tides produce as long as there is moving water.
Another hot commodity right now are the Sheepshead. This year the bulk of the Sheepshead schools are widely spread out making large numbers difficult to attain. It's been theorized that this has something to do with the unseasonably warm winter. Whatever the case, limiting out has been tough. The good news is that the ones being caught right now are huge. There have been a number of reports of double digit fish being caught this month. Many in the 8-9 pound range are being caught daily. The average has been between 4 and 7 pounds.
The bite has been strong between Mayport Inlet and Little Jetties Park. Nassau Sound is also producing good numbers of larger fish. If you can find a calm enough day to venture offshore, there have been a number of reports coming in that the Sheepshead on the offshore wrecks and reefs are thick right now. Also larger than usual.
The Bull Reds are already in the river massing up on the channel edges. Little Jetties Park, Dames Point Bridge, White Shell, and around Blount Island are all holding big Reds. They can be found between 30 and 45 feet of water, near structure or drop-offs. Any deep water channel areas with rocky or textured bottoms such as rip-rap or live bottom will hold these giants.
You'll be using similar bait and equipment as listed above for Black Drum. The only difference is you'll also want to deploy cut baits as well as Blue Crab or Large Clams. Cut Mullet, Lady Fish or Jacks are productive options. The key is patience. You need to give these baits adequate time to create a scent trail. Also, Bulls more times than not, will start feeding right as the tide begins to slow. If the water is ripping and you haven't had a single bite, don't get discouraged. Wait for signs that the current is slowing down and get ready for it! Most of the time, that's when the bite will suddenly fire up. You can go from zero to hero in a matter of minutes and that's often how it goes. Most of the time, your patience will pay off in the end.
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