A city with more than 1,110 miles of interior shoreline is a prime location for freshwater, saltwater, deep sea, and fly fishing.
By Bob McNally
Jacksonville is a water wonderland, and almost every pond, lake, creek, river, beach area and tidewater offers superb fishing few other regions in America can hope to equal.
No brag, just fact.
The St. Johns River is the nucleus of area angling, and it offers world class fishing for a staggering variety of species. Largemouth bass angling is excellent in the freshwater reaches of the St. Johns south of downtown Jacksonville. Virtually all the larger freshwater creeks feeding the river are jammed with bass, as well as panfish such as bluegills, sunfish, crappies, and catfish. Striped bass and hybrid stripers are available in spring holes feeding the St. Johns, and around area bridges and points with docks.
In the lower tidewater reaches of the St. Johns River, giant, hard-fighting “bull” red drum (redfish) are available nearly year-round, with superb fishing available July through November, and offer some of the most dogged and leg-buckling fishing any visiting angler could want. By state law it’s all catch-and-release fishing for heavyweight reds. But if a 30 to 40 pound glimmering crimson-sided redfish is your goal, this is the place to catch one — and it can be landed within sight of downtown Jacksonville.
Targeting Red Drum (redfish)
Finding and catching redfish in Northeast Florida is affected by three factors. First, there has to be forage, and that means the baitfish have to be where you are. No bait – no fish. It’s that simple.
Second, the weather has to be right. Weather in this case means rain. When the ICW turns a tannic acid brown color from previous rains, the bait and the fish both take a vacation to better water.
Third, and probably most important is the tide. Certain places can hold a lot of redfish, but only on a specific tidal situation. An outgoing tide on a creek flat pushes the redfish and concentrates them in the creek. Incoming tides around a number of jetties and rock outcroppings will move the redfish to small eddies in and around the rocks. Knowing the tide and fishing the right area with a given tide can mean the difference in success and failure.
Reds come off the flats and out of the shallow creeks with the outgoing tide. They move with the water and follow the baitfish. Schools and single reds can be spotted working the shallow edges of the ICW as the tide approaches low. It makes for ideal sight casting and fly rod fishing.
Northeast Florida redfish can be found in one or all of four basic areas. They will be on the tidal flats, in the creeks and creek mouths, along the ICW banks, or on the jetty rocks. This fact puts four more variables into the equation.
Given these variables, just where can you find some good redfish action? First of all, following several days of rainfall, plan to fish the inlet mouths or jetties. The bait and the reds will have moved out of the creeks and ICW to find better water and the jetties and inlets are where they head.
Jetty fishing has become almost an art over the past several years. Knowing the bottom structure around the jetties is crucial to your success. Reds will school and hold in underwater eddies just out of the current. Getting a bait down to them becomes the challenge.
Often boats will anchor within several feet of each other off the end of the jetties, all of them trying to position themselves along the underwater edge of the rocks. Those that are successful hook up on almost every drop of the bait. Boats that are as little as fifty feet away from that underwater edge have a problem even getting one bite. The reds are that concentrated.
Along the jetties and rocks, look for the slower current and smaller eddies. These areas will hold redfish. A trolling motor helps keep your boat over the area while you drop a bait into the slower moving water.
If there has been little or no rain, the bait, and subsequently the reds, can be found in the ICW and in the creeks and sloughs that enter the ICW. Look for the baitfish and fish the outgoing tide.
If you plan to fish the ICW and the creeks, you need to plan your trip to coincide with the outgoing tide. Most serious redfish anglers on the First Coast fish the ICW for only a half-day. They make sure they are in place when the tide is about half down and outgoing.
As the water recedes from the banks of the ICW, look for big reds pushing water in front of them. Smaller reds will school and several of them will make a large commotion as they move along the bank. It’s easy to tell whether or not the water bulge is a red. When the water erupts along the bank and finger mullet scatter in all directions, it’s a safe bet that a big red is out there.
Favorite Jacksonville Fishing Spots:
One area that traditionally holds a constant supply of fish is the ICW from the St. Johns River south to the bridge over J. Turner Butler Boulevard. The outgoing tide down to low and the first hour or so of the incoming tide is best. Ideally, the days when these tides occur in the morning are better.
Reel in a big one at this favorite saltwater fishing hole located at the mouth of the St. Johns River and the Atlantic Ocean. This is a hot spot for catching redfish, speckled trout, sheepshead and flounder. Just a few miles offshore you can chase sportfish catches such as mahi, bonito, tuna, sea bass, wahoo, cobia and barracuda!
The Nassau Sound Fishing Bridge:
Catch whiting, jack, drum, and tarpon at one of the best fishing spots in Northeast Florida. This mile-long fishing bridge spans Nassau Sound. Enter through Amelia Island State Park to enjoy this location.
Will I need a fishing license?
You don’t need a license if you’re a Florida resident 65 years of age or older, or under 16 years of age, or if you’re a Florida resident fishing from land or a structure fixed to the land. By law, anyone who takes, attempts to take, or possesses marine fish for non-commercial purposes must have a license. For more information about Jacksonville fishing regulations, contact the Florida Marine Patrol field office at (904) 270-2500.