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Fast Track Fall

After a long hot summer, September is always greeted with enthusiasm by anglers and hunters alike.

Pat Shropshire trolled up his grouper on a big-lipped plug off St. Marks.

Fishermen welcome the great fishing that September brings and hunters can see what’s just around the corner. The fall in Northwest Florida usually means migratory fish are on the move. Cobia, dolphin and Spanish mackerel have been around all summer and are gathering up to head south. Kingfish, wahoo, sailfish and pompano are passing through our area for a second time. In either case, most of these fish are more active and available to anglers.

A key to much of this activity is the movement of baitfish. Menhaden, ale-wives, cigar minnows, Spanish sardines and others also gather in large schools to move south. The gamefish are usually not far from the bait. The buoy line out of Port St. Joe can offer great fishing for kingfish, dolphin, cobia and even wahoo. Spanish mackerel, cobia and pompano can be caught just off the beach and inside St. Joe Bay along with redfish and trout that cruise the shallow grassflats. Small dolphin around the buoys are great sport when taken with small jigs or alewives on light tackle. Kings are most often taken by trolling plugs or cigar minnows, or by drifting with live bait.

At times, wahoo can also be caught in this area, often quite close to shore. These striped speedsters are usually associated with offshore wrecks in 150- to 240-foot depths 20 to 30 miles offshore, but earlier in the summer some good catches were made within 12 miles of shore by Doug Webb, an Albany, Georgia angler. Doug hooked several wahoo in 78 feet of water while trolling cigar minnows for kings. The largest landed weighed 40 pounds. Cobia, which are usually around for a brief time, want live baitfish, eels or jigs fished around the buoys or the inshore wrecks and reefs.

Spanish mackerel can be found wherever small bait gathers. Schools of glass minnows can draw mackerel close to the beaches or into St. Joe Bay. “Matching the hatch” is important when trying to catch mackerel. Small is always better than large when selecting lures. Pompano are also available along St. Joe beaches as well as St. George Island. Anglers who missed the spring pompano run can get a second shot at them now. Small yellow jigs tipped with sand fleas are deadly for catching these great-eating fish. Bob Sikes Cut and the East End are productive spots for pompano, with reds, mackerel and speckled trout as the supporting cast. Redfish and trout can also frequent the back of St. George Island and much of Apalachicola Bay. Try the oyster bars and coves from the bridge to the east end of the island for fast action on reds and large speckled trout. The reds often want topwater plugs and gold spoons in the shallows or jigs and live bait in deeper water. Trout over six pounds are frequently being caught in these same areas with live shrimp, pinfish, plugs, jerkbaits and jigs.

Apalachicola deserves special attention because of the glut of white shrimp that congregate there this month. Both the open bay and the creek mouths are packed with these shrimp. Most of the resident gamefish, including freshwater bass, take advantage of this feast. Diving birds are a good clue to the shrimp-feeding frenzies. Trout, redfish, and mackerel will share the bounty with the birds in open water, and largemouth bass will join the fray in the creek mouths that empty into the head of the bay. All of the aforementioned species prefer live shrimp fished under a popping cork but will fall for plugs, jigs, spoons and jerkbaits.

Grouper and snapper fishing has been excellent everywhere for most of this year. Red snapper have appeared in places they haven’t been caught in recent years. Some say hurricane weather caused them to move in from the west. Others think El Niño is the cause. Most anglers just appreciate the chance to catch a few for the table.

Freshwater anglers can still do well fishing for bass early and late on topwater baits on larger lakes such as Talquin, especially in the creeks and coves. Harvey and Oklawaha creeks and Bass Alley are good bets. Otherwise, ledge fishing will be best if the water temperature is high. Smaller lakes such as Jackson, Carr, and Iamonia will produce bass for anglers soaking shiners or small lures. Lake Jackson has experienced lower water levels this year and Lake Miccosukee has been drawn down. Many of these same lakes and local rivers offer good panfishing this month, especially if the water level is low. Redbreasts are outstanding on the Ochlockonee River and along the Lake Talquin shoreline early and late in the day. Popping bugs, sinking flies, crickets, worms and grass shrimp should produce some type of panfish action on these waters.

FS