Summer is here and the fishing is hot! Seasons don’t really change much on the Space Coast. It kind of just goes from warm in the fall, winter, and spring. To super-hot in the summer! The air gets increasingly heavy with tropical moisture and afternoon showers become an everyday occurrence. Hurricane season brings the threat of nasty weather and big surf, but also the potential for some outstanding “outflow/culvert” fishing. The beauty of our Space Coast fishery is easy to see this time of year. One of the things that make our lagoons so fishy; is our geographic location! Nestled on the convergence of tropical and sub-tropical climate zones with ocean influence, and over 100 miles of lagoon for fish to travel this watery wonderland; we get many visitors. Our year round resident fish have many summer friends to share the flats, mangroves, beaches, and Inlets with. Some never leave, but only move to different locations in the winter. Only to come from their hiding spots and join their brethren who “migrate” up when the days get long. I’m going to cover some info, tips, and tactics for three of my favorite summer targets.
Mangrove Snapper (other names; gray snapper, black snapper, Mango’s):
The Mangrove Snapper (Mango’s) are a species that basically disappear in the cooler months. Some can still be found, but not anything to really speak about. Summer time warm waters are what make them happy, and we have tons of places for them to “squat” until it cools again. The Mango’s will move up the Indian River Lagoon (IRL), but will also enter the lagoon from the Atlantic Ocean via Sabastian Inlet, Port Canaveral, and Ponce Inlet. Most will range from 1-3lbs. and make excellent dinner guests. In fact Mango’s are one of only three fish I specifically target for meat in the lagoons (Black drum, and sheepshead round-out that list). These aggressive schooling fish are predominantly found on structure, pilings, and as their name suggests Mangrove shorelines. Most mango’s are typically caught with live baits like shrimp, mud minnows, mullet, pilchards, or pogies that are 2-4inches in length. A main line of 10-20lb. braid with a three foot leader of 20-30lb (mono or Fluorocarbon) will cover most situations, but you may get smoked by a real big one. Fish close to the “structure” that has the mango’s on it, and live chumming can be very effective if you have the bait capacity to do so. A “live bait” J-hook in sizes from 1/0-(size) 2 depending on bait size is what I like for this fast hitting fish. Add a split shot or small lead sinker to get it down a bit, but don’t use too much lead and kill the baits action. Jig heads can also achieve this, but can get costly after a few breakoffs. With a 5 per angler/a day limit, and the size needed being 12inches or larger; Mango’s are a spectacular way to fill your cooler on the space coast. For those of you that venture offshore; lighten that grouper gear up a bit and get a shot at the monster double digit Mango’s on our reefs and wrecks.
Snookare an amazing fish that fight hard and will even toss in a few jumps on occasion. Its large mouth, excellent eyesight, and well-tuned lateral line make the Snook a top predator of the lagoons and near coastal beaches. Snook cannot survive well in water lower than 45 deg. and will die of cold shock at those temps. The more years pass after a hard/cold winter. The better snook fishing is! With the mild winters we’ve experienced over the past several years; look for snook to be readily available and larger sized also. Just about every mangrove shoreline will have a few hidden why under the tangle of roots and branches. Ditches, canals, and culverts that drain swamp areas are all great places to look for the lagoon snook that average 3-9lbs. These lagoon snook will fall for topwater plugs, Slayer Inc. plastics, and hard baits. They are also suckers for a nice live mullet, pinfish, or live shrimp. Due to fishing in close proximity to the structure; I will rig with 20lb braid main line, and a 3ft 40lb leader (fluoro or mono). These are powerful fish that will run you right into structure and break you off. Not to mention the sandpaper lips and razor sharp gill plates! These guys have all the ammo for a heartbreaking fish story. Look for lagoon snook to also hold on flats adjacent to the outflows as storms push water from the backcountry after a heavy rain. The late summer snook spawn will have our heavyweight line-siders looking to get frisky. For a successful spawn; snook need some water movement, and not much productive spawning happens north of Sabastian Inlet. Though our snook won’t spawn much at Port Canaveral they still know what time it is! Snook will flood the beaches and inlets in ever increasing numbers. Be ready and step that gear up a bit, because these bruisers range from 10-25lbs. Large lipped plugs, topwaters, bucktail jigs, and live baits keep my clients hooked up.
Tarpon (silver king, poon, Juvi-less than 35lb.):
This summertime interloper is one I’m most fond of. The young years of my life were spent chasing the Juvi Tarpon on Pine Island Rd., and all of North Merritt Island’s (MI) ditches in the summer. Those days of living on Pine Island Rd. have past, and diversions in flow have changed the way tarpon use north MI in general. However; a love for these fish continues, and they are plentiful over the entire Space Coast. Last year was (IMO) one of the best years for Juvi Tarpon I’ve seen in a long time (they like dirty water so that might not be a good thing). I would hope this year holds the same tune, and from what I see it is. Fishing small lures is fun and productive on juvi poon’s, but the most excitement can be had with a fly rod. My brother and I perfected the side arm cast needed to send our 2-3 inch white “minnow” fly’s under the mangrove canopy to waiting tarpon. Many miles were biked in search of the tell tail roll that gives away the tarpon’s presence from birth to death. That roll and gulp of air are what give the tarpon such an advantage in the stale low oxygen backwaters. As part of their life cycle they spend those early years feasting on minnows of all shapes in mangrove lined swamps, canals, and ditches. So it stands to reason these fish readily fall for small offerings. Hard plastic lipped plugs, topwater plugs, Slayer Inc. SST’s, Mirr-O-Dine’s, and fly’s that are less than 4 inches in length will be clobbered by these 5-35lb poon’s. White is always a productive color, and stands out well in the typically dark stained waters. If conditions line up you can also find large groups of these smaller tarpon on open flats. This early bite of “open water” Juvi tarpon will not stay in open water as the sun rises, so be on the water predawn. Do the Giant Tarpon from 80-150lbs come in the lagoon? Yes; every year we have big poons push up the IRL, but they are tough to find and target for the most part. We do get a massive migration of these beastly tarpon in our near-coastal waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The waters off Cocoa Beach, Cape Canaveral, KennedySpace Center, and Port Canaveral fill with pods of bait and the tarpon enjoy a great feast. These fish must be tackled with gear in the 20-40lb range to even stand a chance. Leader from 60-80lb and 6/0-8/0 circle hooks should be used for the battle ahead. Ocean Tarpon roll just like their baby brothers in the ditch, so you’ll know if you’re in productive water. Trolling live baits like mullet, pogies, croakers, and pinfish of the large variety will get you the most solid hook-ups. You can hook and land them on a large assortment of “big” lures, but they tend to shake the hooks with these. Remember to always bow-to-the-king; silver king that is! It’s the best way to keep them hooked when they decide to take off jumping. A little lean forward when he goes flying is the way to do it!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this “written seminar” highlighting our summer fishing. Stay tuned to this Blog for weekly forecasts, updates on the bite, and a written seminar for summer (this one), fall, winter, and spring. Contact Local Lines for all you charter fishing needs, and any questions or comments.