Updated: Nov 18
With this last month of consistent warm air and water temperatures spring has really brought a hot inshore bite on the southwest coast of Florida. The Spring like the Fall season is a big transition period for most inshore species. As the weather and water temperatures warm up inside bays and along the intercostal Snook, Reds, Tarpon, Trout and Cobia begin to move from their winter holes back onto grass flats, mangrove shorelines, beaches, passes and bridges. These species become very active in these types of locations because of the large quantities of bait that have also moved out of their winter spots. Live bait such as pilchards, threadfins, and crabs become very abundant as summer slowly approaches. This time of the year is a great time to be on the water. Anglers can really start to notice the weather patterns improving, tides changing and most importantly those windy days start to become minimal.
Most inshore anglers like myself always love when Spring time rolls around. The fishing as well as the warm weather is always great this time of year. In my opinion the inshore fishing becomes easier when targeting Snook, Reds, Trout, Tarpon and Cobia. These species really start to show up in abundance along grass flats, mangrove shorelines and even start to make their way to beaches and passes early on. These are the main staging spots and areas for a lot of these fish as summer approaches. During the Spring, live bait is always a first choice for a lot of anglers but being able to use artificials effectively works just as good this time of year. As I always say though it is good to have three options between live bait, cut bait and artificials. With the weather warming up and the fish becoming more surfaced and active top waters can be dusted off and can really be productive as well. No matter how you target any of these species the importance of planning and preparation is what will determine your success.
One of my favorite species to target during the early Spring are Cobia. Most anglers target Cobia offshore while fishing reefs and wrecks but during the Spring these fish push onto grass flats. Targeting this fish in skinny water is by far the most adrenaline filled fishing an angler could experience. Cobia, like most inshore species eat your pilchards, pinfish, shrimp and a variety of artificial’s. However, like redfish these Cobia that push into shallower water tend to follow around sea turtles and stingrays in search of bait kicked up from the grass and sand. Cobia fishing is very visual and all an angler really needs to do is drift the flats and search for stingrays. Stingrays are a bottom species and as they slowly move across the flats they kick up the prey that Cobia search for. This fishing is trully all about sight casting so its very important to have a good pair of optics that can be effective when the sun is out and when there is cloud coverage. Throughout my years Cobia fishing I have also found it equally important to cast at most stingrays you spot. I say this because a lot of the time Cobia will be trailing a bit behind the ray that it is following around. It is always exciting when you spot a solo or multiple Cobia swimming behind a ray but as angler make sure you're ready with your cast and also with different bait options. Cobia can be very picky even if you're throwing a perfect lead cast in front of their face every time so having the option of live bait and artificial is most important. When using artificial’s for Cobia I use bigger baits that have a lot of movement and a big enough presentation to catch the fishes eye right away. These types of baits include eels from Hogy or Z man and I also use plugs from yozuri and mirrolure.
Spring time is also a great time to target Redfish. Redfish can be caught all year around but as the
water warms up in the spring and summer months Redfish start to come together in larger schools. These fish move from their darker water and back country systems into shallower areas along the intercostal. The amount of bait during the spring and summer months is trully unlimited for these fish. They target pilchards, crabs, pinfish, mullet, artificial’s and of course cut bait. These schools of fish can be found along grass flats, mangrove shorelines and on the warmer days they'll be up under the bushes and bridge’s. These warmer temperatures and patterns allow these fish to be more active towards the surface also. Getting on the water sun up or sun down during low light conditions can make for an awesome topwater bite. When targeting Redfish it is important to move with the tides. For example the less water there is on the flats the further you need to be from the shore and the more water there is the tighter you will need to be to the shoreline. You can fish visually by targeting tailing fish as well as these large Redfish schools and also targeting potholes and water variations along the flats. If trying to fish visually is to tough for whatever reason then fan casting and using live bait chum techniques or an artificial search bait will work effectively. Personally I prefer to sight cast during a lower tide and then as the water gets high I will target underneath the mangroves. I always say however you feel the fish feels the same way and thats important to remember during these hotter days. Understanding that allows the angler to catch fish during the early morning or evening when it’s cool out but also during the warm mid days where Redfish will be caught hiding underneath mangroves for shade.
Mid to late spring is practically summer with the temperatures heating up even more so and the inshore patterns becoming even more obvious. For anglers who are really dialed in to their spots and areas know this time of the year is when you can really start to target big Snook and Tarpon. Tarpon, aka the silver king begin the long migration up the west coast of Florida. These fish start to fill up beaches, passes, bridges and most bays all along the intercostal. Like the mullet run on the east coast of Florida, the west coast has a massive crab flush which draws these fish during April all the way until July. Tarpon gather in massive schools and feedings frenzy’s in preparation for heading offshore to breed. An angler can target Tarpon with live bait, cut bait, artificial and probably the most thrilling way, which is on a fly rod. These fish can be sight casted in shallow water and they can also be targeted in massive schools found in deeper water. Tarpon are very current oriented and need water flow that flushes a lot of bait towards them. They feed mainly on crabs but can be caught on pilchards, threadfins, pinfish and of course a variety of artificial’s. For the amount of fish that raid the west coast of Florida this species can be very difficult to catch sometimes so as always it’s important to have all of these options available. Some of my favorite artificial baits for Tarpon this time of the year include flair hawks, spoolteks and large soft plastics from Zman or Hogy lure companies. These can all be effective and can not only search for fish but can also cover the entire water column if fished correctly.
Snook like Tarpon also use this time of the year to fatten up for their summer breeding patterns. These large females as well as the smaller males move from the backcountry areas out onto beaches, bridges and passes. Another species that is very current oriented and with their flat underside and big eyes are an ambush specialist. This time of the year they mainly feed on grunts, pilchards and pinfish but Threadfins and artificial baits can produce some awesome action. When using artificial baits this time of the year its important to have a variety of lures that can create a lot of vibration and can cover all of the water column. Some of my favorite lures for these fish are spoolteks, flair hawks, hard plugs, Zman swimbaits and top water baits. All of these options are bigger bait profiles and can be used in every part of the water column. Top waters especially can produce awesome action since Snook are very aggressive when feeding towards the surface. With Summer being the main time to target these big breeder fish utilizing the later part of Spring to locate and find earlier fish can produce some great days on the water. Snook are naturally a nocturnal feeding fish so targeting them in low light conditions is always an important factor. However, during this time of the year Snook will be extremely active and will mostly feed throughout an entire day. To ensure success on the water it’s important to have the options of live bait when the fish are being picky and then of course artificial to match all the different bait profiles. It’s also very important to handle these big females carefully during the Spring so they're able to be healthy and breed normally come summer time.
Overall, this sums up what an angler can expect when targeting the inshore fishery this time of the year. These types of species and the variety of live bait can be found all over Florida’s west coast. Also by utilizing some of the artificial baits mentioned above an anglers success on the water only increases. The Spring and Summer really bring about awesome weather patterns and fishing conditions for inshore anglers. By taking in some of the general information from above anglers can expect nonstop action from now through the end of summer.