The Fall weather pattern is starting to show here in Jacksonville. We've had several days of consistent Northeast wind blowing through this week. With Fall having officially begun, the Atlantic Croaker bite has turned on with a vengeance!
Every year around Late September to early October, the mature Atlantic Croaker or alternately, the "Virginia Croaker", Begin making their run from the Buckman Bridge area to Mayport. They will stop and forage for food in large aggragates in a number of areas once they arrive. Blount Island, the Ft. Caroline residential docks, The little Jetties, Mayport Inlet Jetties, these are all good areas to dial in on big numbers of large Virginia Croakers.
These fish are unregulated and you can keep virtually as many as you want. The table quality of Croaker is very good and nearly identicle to Red Fish. Croaker are actually in the Drum family and as you can imagine, they put up a great fight on light tackle. You can expect a fight similar to that of a Sheepshead. They'll actually pull drag a lot of the time. Combine the strong fight with the none stop bite when you get on them and you have an absolute blast. Croaker are easy to catch which makes fishing for them a perfect activity for the family, especially kids. They tend to hit hard, most of the time completely inhaling the bait in short order. They have a tough mouth similar to Red Fish which makes them pretty forgiving when it comes to keeping them hooked. You don't have to worry a whole lot about pulling hooks or over fighting them like you do with Sea Trout. Another reason they make a great beginner angler option.
Croaker will eat a a wide variety of baits. They'll take cut baits like finger Mullet, they'll also eat live Mud Minnows, live or dead Shrimp, Clams, and even Squid. They'll even take Birkley Gulp on a jighead if you want to keep it sporty. Especially when the larger Croaker are thick. The easiest to come by and perhaps the best bait all together is dead Shrimp. Cut them into thirds and a 2 or 3 pound bag of Shrimp will keep you busy all day.
Rigging for Croaker is simple. There are a lot of different rigs that will work well when targeting them but perhaps the easiest to tie is a simple Carolina Rig. You'll need to use as much weight as is needed for the current you'll be fishing so weight varies depending on the spot. Idealy, you'll use whatever weight is comfortable for you to get the bait on the bottom. As for hooks, there are a lot of different types that will get the job done but, by far the most effective type is a 1/0 Kayhle Hook.
Like everything else in fishing, theres more than one way to fish the rig. You can dead stick the bait on the bottom, not moving it at all and do just fine. However, if you're like me, and want to have a shot at dragging up a Flounder or two in the process of catching some Croaker, you can take it a step further. Hook a whole Shrimp in the tail, cast it towards structure, and slowly drag the bait along the bottom back towards the boat. First off, Croaker will definitely not shy away from a moving Shrimp. In fact, this will actually incite a reaction bite when Croaker are being tight lipped for whatever reason. Ultimately, the real benefit here is covering ground. By casting out and slow dragging the bait, you're fishing more area, increasing the likelyhood that the bait will gain the attention of a taker. Not to mention crossing paths with a couple of Flounder in the process. Don't think a Flounder wont eat a whole dead Shrimp. There is no difference between a live and a dead Shrimp so long as it moves. By hooking a dead Shrimp in the tail and pulling it along the bottom, Flounder will veiw the bait as if it's alive and will jump all over it. Think about it, what's easier, hunting Mullet all morning to target Flounder, or spending 10 bucks on Shrimp, still catching Flounder but also gaining a variety of tasty bycatch in the process. It all boils down to perspective.
Tight Lines and catch em up!
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