Summer should hold some surprises.
Without some major weather happening--such as as a freak hurricane or ice age--expect July fishing to be much more like what you've grown to expect at least a month later. What should be happening may be gone. And what should be coming may already be here.
The St. Johns River around here may be the most vital part of the long, north-flowing river--both in terms of recreational use and commercial value. It has been a couple of years since we've had a big tropical depression squat over the area dumping heavy rains. We've almost forgotten what a hurricane is. This has allowed saltwater to filter farther and farther south. Barnacles are growing 60 miles south of the mouth. In April, crabbers were catching bluefish in their traps in Palatka. It's almost expected now to catch stingrays when you're bream fishing in Dunn's Creek.
Last year the shrimping season was maniacal because of high salinity and other factors we can only guess at. But on my first cast off a dock near Federal Point, we shook out an estimated 200 shrimp and it did not slow down that (very short) night before we got our five-gallon limits. Croakers and yellowmouth trout are months ahead of where they should be both in numbers and size. Florida Sportsman's own Rick Ryals believes our spring run of wahoo and tuna we expect in April and May is already summering in Hatteras.
What we can hope is that the king mackerel run off the beaches should be in high-gear. But last year was the most dismal kingfish season we've had in years. Tarpon will be on the beaches as well. Most anglers will be targeting them by chumming between the big pogy pods 1/4-mile off the beaches. Another good bet will be to follow the shrimp boats working off the beaches. When they dump their bycatch the water, their wake can hold tarpon and teem with blacktip and other sharks.
Offshore trolling should be slow. Offshore bottom fishing should be hot. For the first time in what seems like forever, bottom anglers will be able to keep a limit of reef species--minus, of course, the ubiquitous red snapper still teetering, NOAA insists, on the brink of extinction.
In the brackish water, high temperatures dissuade both fish and fisherman from getting very serious about their respective roles in the art of angling. It is a great month for speckled seatrout. Few will be studs, but most will be on the nice side of legal. Clean, hard-running water and medium, but frisky, live shrimp pretty much are what you need to make that catch.
In fresh water, bream will be spawned out and scattered. Speckled perch will be sulking on structure as deep and cool as they can find. Bass will hold off drops in the river. Stripers will be at the Croaker Hole down by Lake George and holding off the three spring runs that feed that big lake taking advantage of the cool water outflow. Surf fishing slows down. The best bet is for smaller whiting that will hug close to the beach on high tides. Whiting will be caught in the deeper channels and holes in the ICW in around 25 to 30 feet of water.
Unless you're partial to a pot of possum or wormy rabbit stew, put the guns away and bring the dog out. The Northeast Florida Hunting Retriever Club runs training days every month out of the year. Anyone can join. Members share tips and training methods. Young dogs get a good start and old dogs get their memory jogged for the season. It's a good bunch of guys and the training is always laid back. A couple of trials and tests are run in the cooler weather on their lease in St. Johns County. Membership is $50 a year for individuals or families. Log on to www.nefhrc.net.
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Shrimping up here is a religion on the St. Johns River. Every indicator points to another banner year. While the season officially begins in June, July is the time we begin catching "eating" as opposed to "bait" shrimp. "Perloo" shrimp are somewhere in between but the line gets blurred depending on perception or famine.
Those in boats will target them in daylight and dark, starting around Green Cove Springs. You'll need chum, an 8-to 10-foot net with webbing sewed around the edges and an extra 25 feet of hand line attached. You will also need blister salve and a replacement spinal column after pulling up big nets from deep water for a few hours. Limit is 5 gallons heads-on per boat or 5 gallons per person from a dock or shore. Most all the local bait shops have the tools and tips to get you started.