The St. Johns is a mess! water clarity zero, salinity zero, currents are brutal, and debris is everywhere! However, there is a silver lining, Sea Trout fishing. The Trout bite has really picked up following the wake of Hurricane Irma.
With all the fresh water in the river from Irma, the downtown and surrounding area Trout aggragates have pushed down river seeking higher salinity. We're finding them between Mayport Inlet and Dames Point Bridge.
Look for current breaks and sharp depth changes between 2 and 8 feet of water. Rock piles, docks, shell bars, Oyster bars, These are all good indicators of potential Trout habitat. Right now you'll want to focus on river shoulders more so than creeks. Creek mouths coming out of the St. Johns are also holding good fish. Another clue to watch for are schools of bait. Find the Mullet schools and you'll likely run into schooling Sea Trout.
Most fish have been keeper sized ranging from 16 to 20 inches in length. You'll find Yellow Mouth Trout mixed in with the Speckled Trout right now. We always get big waves of good sized Yellow Mouth Trout September through November every year. These guys are migrating to the beach and will remain there until Spring. During the migration, they'll run the river banks in massive schools stopping periodically to feed. Yellow Mouth will take a wider variety of bait than their Speckled Sea Trout cousins. They'll even eat cut bait which oddly enough is the best choice most of the time.
Speckled Trout are a different story. These guys prefer live baits such as finger Mullet, Pilchards, and live Shrimp. You can fish them on float rigs, Carolina Rigs, or even on a jig head.
Don't overlook artificial baits! Speckled Trout are among the easiest fish inshore fishing has to offer to feed a lure to. When the Trout are biting, lure fishing can be incredibly productive. Often times even out fishing live bait. Lures also add an element of sport, making Trout fishing more hands on. Tricking a fish to bite a lure by imparting a particular action can be very fulfilling. For those of us that lack the patience to soak live bait, or alternately, hunting down live bait and catching them, this is often the only option. Something definitely has to be said about being able to hit the water with your rods pre-rigged with your favorite lure and being able to go straight to fishing. Not having to hunt bait or better yet, not having to pay for it saves time, effort and money. Not to mention being able to skip the busy bait shops. Lure fishing definitely has it's benefits.
There are a number of productive lure types that will work well targeting Trout. Birkley Gulp on a jig head can prove deadly. The scent and action of the Swim Tail Mullet is hard to beat when the Trout are holding near the bottom.
Another productive lure and a personal favorite of Captain Steve of Madness Charters is the Rapala X Rap. Hard baits can be a challenge to fish in fast currents. Especially when you need the lure in a particular layer of the water column. This is where the X Rap becomes an invaluable asset. The diving lip allows the bait to dive which is important, however, the diving lip adds an element of drag. This is actually huge when fishing fast currents. You want the added resistance when fishing across current because A) that resistance slows the drift of the lure in current giving better control of your presentation and B) this allows the lure to stay in your target strike zone effectively, even in brutal currents. Those two factors alone make the X Rap worth it's weight in gold but then you add it's castability in heavy wind to the equation and you have a very effective lure for our conditions.
You'll want to match the color of your lure with the color or clarity of the water. When the water is heavily stained or silty like it is right now, go with a darker color. With the brownish, almost orange coloration of the river right now, brown, black, and orange are the ticket. When the water is cleaner, in particular on an incoming tide when the water takes on an emerald color, green or blue shades come into play. Lastly, when the water takes on a clear, gin like appearance, go with brighter colors. White and yellows become effective here.
Whatever your bait preference, catching is catching and right now, the Trout bite is hot. Tight lines and stay safe out there.
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