Late summer brings its share of challenges for shallow water fishers on the Nature Coast. Hot water, small or nonexistent baitfish, poor visibility and regular thunderstorms can confound anglers' best efforts. There are, however, some ways to get around the dog days of summer.
Beat the heat
The first rule of thumb is to fish either early or late in the day to capitalize on lower temperatures and the fishes' major feeding times. At high noon, the water temperatures on the flats can soar to 90 degrees, making fishing downright difficult. Lately, even the best action has come to a virtual stand still by 11 a.m. Going out at daylight is a good idea. This will give you time to find bait and be on your spot before it's too late.
Morning is definitely the best time of the day, but evenings can be good, too. The water is still fairly warm, but the lower light conditions often kick off another feeding period. From 4 p.m. until dark, snook fishing along the beaches can be excellent.
However, planning a trip this late in the day comes with one great variable: afternoon thunderstorms typically come from the east and hit the coastal areas at that time. More often than not, the weather will move in and chase you off the water just as the bite turns on. It can be difficult to leave when you have just hooked a big snook, but be sure to respect the dangers of these squalls as they move your way.
From a distance they seldom look as bad as the really are, but just because you may not see lighting at first does not mean you are safe. Just before the leading edge of a typical thunderstorm cell gets to you, the cold down-drafting winds can increase to 25 mph or more very suddenly. As the wall of rain hits, visibility can go to nearly zero, and you are stuck traveling at idle speed amid the wind and lightning. Heading for cover long before a cell approaches will keep you out of trouble.
Several years ago a pair of fishers had their boat and graphite rods struck by lightning while snook fishing on the north end of Honeymoon Island on a late summer evening. Lighting hit the rods in the console rod holder of a 16-foot flats skiff, setting them all on fire. The anglers, one of whom has hearing loss, survived but had to toss their burning rods into the water, and the wiring in their vessel melted.
At daybreak, action has been very good for speckled trout and bluefish. Also, cobia have been a surprisingly regular catch lately.
Two days ago we landed three in a morning of trout fishing. The next day, we hooked a double header of cobia while evening snook fishing. One emptied the reel (300 yards) before we could get back into the boat and give chase. Kyle Kenyon speared a 70-pound cobia while freediving in just 12 feet of water last week.
Redfishing can be good during higher tides. The big reds gather in the shade beneath overhanging mangrove limbs when there is enough water to do so.
The most popular fishing lately has been wading for snook along the barrier islands. While it can be hit or miss, the fish there tend to be big, some weighing 20 pounds or more. Drifting large live baits is the most popular and successful technique for catching them — it is fairly common to hook something much bigger than expected, such as a giant cobia, tarpon, shark or bull red.
If you like to catch sharks, this is one of the best times of the year for that. Both big and small sharks are very abundant during the hot summer months. Small blacktip sharks are commonly caught when drifting for trout and mackerel. These 5- to 30-pound speedsters put up a great fight on light tackle and make pretty good table fare.
Anglers will definitely have to make adjustments to their program to keep the rods bent for the next month of two, but with some advance planning and a little luck from the weather, respectable catches still can be made.