Its getting to be that time of year when the Flounder and Tarpon start showing up in the St. Johns River. The smaller Tarpon have been caught this week in Mayport Inlet. Captain Chris Kell of Fish Whisperer Charters, put his clients on 3 Tarpon this week. Two smaller fish around 40 inches long and one bigger one around 50 pounds. They've also shown up in Nassau Sound around the George Crady Bridge. The Flounder are slowly showing up in Mayport. This week we caught 8 or so from 12 to 15 inches long. They're still on the smaller side but, keepers are being caught. The bigger ones will be rolling through in the coming weeks.
The easiest, and most consistent bait for Tarpon is live bait. Several live bait options work great including: large live Mullet, Croaker, Menhaden, Thread Fin Herring, Needle Fish, Pin Fish, and smaller Lady Fish. Yes, a small Lady Fish is absolutely killer live bait for Tarpon. They also stay alive on a hook remarkably well.
My personal preference is most definitely live Menhaden. Menhaden, or Pogy as they're locally called, is heavily targeted by Tarpon on the beach. The fact that you can load up hundreds in one cast of the net is another reason they're at the top of the list. Another added benefit is that Pogy stay lively on a hook, except, without being so agile that the Tarpon have difficulty catching them. This is a bigger deal than you might think. When the barometer is high and see temps are in the mid to high 80's, Tarpon can and often do get lethargic. When Tarpon get to this point, you can't beat the effectiveness of a live Pogy.
There are a number of ways to fish live bait. All of which have a situation or application that apply. For example, when fishing a Pogy pod with a flat lined bait, it's good to hook your bait under the tail or belly. Hooking a bait from it's belly or lower tail, will cause it to swim upward towards the surface. Doing the opposite, and hooking the top of the tail or the baits collar, will send the bait diving. Both methods work great, but again, there's a situation for both methods. If you want to fish two flat lined baits, you can hook one underneath and one up high to force your two baits away from each other. This is Important for 2 reasons: 1) You'll be covering the top of the pod as well as the middle and 2), because your baits are on different parts of the column, they won't tangle together. When currents are strong, you'll need to hook your baits in the nose. You couldn't hook them in the tail, otherwise the fish would be dragged backwards into the current and drown. This presentation looks unnatural and will result in not catching fish.
Flounder have started showing up in the river and creeks around Mayport. We've been finding them on soft, mud bottom around creek mouths and docks. You can catch them with live Shrimp, Mud Minnows, Mullet, and Pilchards. I prefer to fish them on jigs however, when currents are too strong to stay on the bottom, I'll switch to a Carolina rig. Use as light of a weight as you can get away with and a short leader. I use a short leader because this will limit snags to some degree. 8 to 12 inches is plenty. As far as hooks go, J Hooks are ok but, I prefer a 1/0 to 2/0 Kahle Hook when casting live bait. They keep live bait hooked the best when a lot of casting will be taking place. J hooks tend to come out of live bait too easily.
Once you've located a spot, fan cast your bait around the area, being sure to maintain close proximity to the bottom. Slowly drag your bait back towards the boat. When a Flounder grabs the bait, stop moving and give the fish at least 1 full minute to eat the bait. Flounder are notorious for grabbing bait, settling back to the bottom, repositioning the bait in their mouths, and eventually swallowing it. Because this can take a minute, we give them ample time before setting the hook. I even open the bail on my real and allow the fish to swim off with the bait without letting the line get tight. The idea is to let it eat without giving away the presence of a rod on the other end. This is also why we use as light of a weight as we can get away with. Its all about making the presentation feel natural to the Flounder.
Make no mistake, lure fishing is a lot of fun but, at the end of the day, live bait is king.
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