Together, this father and son duo operates Captain Mike's Charters. Both run Pathfinder 2200 skiffs powered by Yamaha's quiet, dependable F150 outboards. The boats are kept on trailers so they can be towed to wherever the fishing is best. Mike Senior is based out of Palm Coast while Mike Junior runs out of Jacksonville, 60 miles to the north. Between them there are endless miles of bays, marshes, flats, creeks, the Intracoastal Waterway, several inlets and the St. Johns River, all of which offer great fishing.
With this much varied habitat, they can have you on reds pretty much any time of year and put together a nice catch of sea trout and flounder for the table, too.
We had the opportunity to fish with them for two days this past September. On day one, we fished the back country around St. Augustine from Mike Senior's skiff and the next day, we shifted into Junior's neck of the woods, fishing the St. Johns River from the inlet back towards the city of Jacksonville. Not only did we catch fish and learn a lot about the area's redfish population, but we also had a great time just being on the water with these two guides.
"We have redfish in this area pretty much year-round," Mike Senior advised, "but they will be in different areas, and they can vary greatly in size and abundance. The best fishing is when our water is cooler starting in the fall and through the winter into early spring. The cold kills off the algae and the water gets clearer, which makes sight casting on the flats more productive. It also gets the reds schooled up into tight pods. When the water gets into the low 60s to mid 50s, they will actually ball up tight for warmth in the backcountry channels, creeks and flats. That makes finding them a whole lot easier."
During our first day fishing the backcountry, the water was still relatively warm, but we did encounter schools. We also caught quite a few fish scattered along channel edges, on flats and around creek mouths, often in water barely two-feet deep, that were actively feeding alone or in small groups. We used spinning reels and light action seven-foot rods to throw gold spoons and plastic bodied jigs on 1/6-ounce heads, and were rewarded with some nice reds, a few trout
and several very big flounder. There were schools of finger mullet, one of the primary prey species in this area, pretty much everywhere.
When you are blind casting areas looking for fish, casting accuracy is helpful but not critical. When you find large numbers of tightly-schooled reds moving through an area, putting your lure exactly where you want is paramount. When we spotted a school, Mike Senior used his trolling motor to position the boat out in front of the oncoming fish. Then it's up to the angler to cast a lure a few feet ahead of the lead fish. If the lure lands too close, it can spook the entire school of fish and they will scatter. When the cast is accurate, the reds will bite. When your cast is accurate you will get a bite. After a hook up, Mike uses the trolling motor to back away from the rest of the school and coax the fish away. When it all came together, we managed to catch multiple fish from one school without spooking the rest.
Mike Senior stressed that once you make the cast, you want the lure to touch the bottom so it kicks up a puff of mud on the retrieve.
"If you look at a redfish, the mouth is near the bottom of the head because they feed near or on the bottom," he instructed. "They prefer crabs and shrimp. The mud puff looks like a startled critter darting off the bottom and they will eat it. The best lure for these conditions is a scented plastic shrimp imitation on a 1/16-ounce jig head."
Mike Senior also had some advice about what to do if you spook a school of reds. "They aren't going to bite after the school gets spooked, so just leave the area and look for another school, then come back to the same spot 30-to-45 minutes later. More likely than not, they will be right where you left them, schooled tight and ready to eat again."
The second day we drove up to Jacksonville to fish Mike Junior's skiff. The weather had turned dark and drizzly, the air temperature dropped and the wind was blowing, so he changed the game plan accordingly. We headed up into a shallow back channel where we used a castnet to catch a live well full of finger mullet. With a good supply of bait, we headed down to the inlet near the Mayport Naval Base to try for big drum coming in out of the ocean.
In September, the largest members of the redfish clan start coming into North Florida's inlets to stage for spawning, and you can frequently ambush some bigger fish that can run to over four feet in length. You want to be fishing the outgoing tide close to the jetty rocks with live mullet on the bottom with a slip-sinker rig. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing so hard that the inlet was too dangerous to fish, so Junior turned around and headed back up river to an area off the main shipping channel where reds migrated through with the tide.
We set up on a flat in 12 feet of water, dropped the rigs baited with live mullet down to the bottom, and watched the depthfinder. It didn't take long before we got a bite and hooked up a nice red. Only minutes later, Senior hooked up and brought in another nice red. After catching a few, Junior took us on a tour of some of the back channel shallows nearby, where we caught more reds on artificial lures, a few nice sea trout and flounder.
"Even though the big ocean fish are pushing in this time of year, there are still plenty of good fish in the backcountry areas, too" Mike Junior told us. "We have miles and miles of channels and creeks running through acres of marsh grass. The reds tend to hang out along the edges of the channels unless you happen into a school, but the trout feed in deeper, moving water areas where there are holes, where a creek flows into a main channel, spots that are scoured out. Incoming or outgoing, it doesn't seem to matter as long as the water is washing bait along with the current."
Trout will set up ambush points in water from 5-to-12 feet deep, waiting for baitfish to be pushed through, and then charge out and grab a snack. Spoons and jigs with heavier heads to get them down will work just fine on the trout, especially fish shaped plastics.
Late season fishing is just as much fun as in-season fishing. It's still good fish'n.
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Article courtesy of Yamaha motors. For additional information on Yamaha boating, visit yamaha-motor.com.