Fishing with Pilchards in North Florida

Late Summer is hot and the fishing is getting even hotter!

Baits been plentiful virtually everywhere. There's plenty of finger Mullet in the Creeks and river mouths around Mayport. The usual Pogy pods are thick on the beach, especially from the Hannah Park Poles, on south as far as the Pier. We've been finding them from the break on out to 25 feet of water.

The real story is the arrival of Pilchards! Pilchards are a species of Herring that migrate up the coast from south Florida during the Summer. They range from 2 inches to around 6 inches in size. The majority of the ones we get up here average 2.5 to 4 inches long. They're nicknamed "White Bait" down south due to their ivory, white color appearance. One thing is certain, EVERYTHING eats them! Red Fish, Trout, Mangrove Snappers, and one of my personal favorites, the Southern Flounder.

Catching Pilchards is really easy! They aren't net shy and wont spook easily. However, depending on the cast net you use, they'll either go right from the water to the livewell, or they'll all get gilled and stuck in your net! There is little in this world more frustrating than a cast net with around 400 live Pilchards stuck in the mesh of your net. With a standard 3/8" or 1/2" mesh Mullet net, Pilchards will make you pull your hair out. What you really need is a 1/4" mesh cast net. 1/4" mesh is small enough in diameter that most Pilchards won't fit in the openings. Glass Minnows and smaller Pilchards will still get stuck however, the majority will not.

Pilchards in North East Florida tend to hang around docks. I find mine around the floating docks at the Mayport boat Ramp. I'll usually get more than I'll ever need in one cast. They form densely packed schools that you can easily see on the surface. If Glass Minnows are around, Pilchards are somewhere close by. They tend to haunt the same areas. Usually, you'll see the bright flashes of Pilchards just underneath Glass Minnows. They are broad bodied, similar to their larger cousin, the Thread Fin Herring.

Another sign to watch for are small flips or splashes on the surface. Pilchards travel to North Florida to spawn in the Summer and those small splashes are females hitting the surface to drop their eggs. You can actually see the males darting into the clouds of eggs fertilizing them. Most of the time, the larger females will be just out of sight, under the smaller male fish. Don't be deceived by the small Pilchards on the surface. 9 times out of 10, the bigger bait is right there, just under them.

Pilchards do ok on a hook in terms of staying lively. They won't stay alive as well as Mullet or Mud Minnows, however, they more than make up for being fragile with shear numbers. Not to mention, Flounder will take a Pilchard over any other bait nearly 100% of the time.

When fishing live Pilchards, avoid j-hooks. They'll work but, you'll find that your bait comes off too easily. I find that kahle style hooks hold them better than virtually any other type. You'll need to hook them through the chin, up through the top of the nose. The very tip of the snout is composed of cartilage and that is where your hook will sit. The tip of the nose is dark and you'll be hooking into that dark tip from the chin, up through the tip of the nose. Once you see one in person, you'll understand what I mean.

Give Pilchard fishing a shot. Head out there after work one day with a cast net and do some R&D. Once you figure out what to look for, you'll be hooked for life. One things for sure, they're the best Flounder bait that swims in the river this time of year.


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