Early Season Bites Along the Forgotten Coast

Photo by Capt. Jordan Todd, Saltwater Obsessions

Transitioning from winter to spring.

As we transition from winter to spring, the fishing really starts to heat up along the Franklin County coastline. Many pelagic fish are still not quite readily available but Spanish mackerel usually show up in a big way just as soon as water temps start to warm a bit. Once located, Spanish can provide non-stop action trolling a Clarkspoon Mackerel Tree rig or other small spoons. Casting at schools with spoons like the Hopkins Shorty or Kastmaster can be especially fun and productive. Spend some time cruising around looking for diving birds, they’re usually feeding on the same baitfish as the Spanish.

Here’s a tip for your Clarkspoon Tree rig: Try sliding a 1-ounce or heavier egg sinker on the main line above the leader. Trolling it this way gets the rig deeper for more bites. Also, vary your trolling speeds from slow to fast to see what’s working best for that day; slow is usually best, but not always.

Early season means sheepshead to many folks here, and these fine-eating fish are plentiful. They’re not always easy to catch, but light line, small hooks and live shrimp or crabs will get lots of bites. Getting them hooked and landed is at times the challenge. They like to be close to rocks and bridge pilings, and some can be large, hard fighters.

Locations like bridges, causeways, inlets offer deeper water that holds redfish and black drum… and they can be massive in size. Once located, they can be stacked up and very aggressive, which makes for some big fun!

A strong outgoing tide is best, but an incoming or slack tide doesn’t mean fish are any less hungry. Live bait like pinfish or menhaden work great, and live or fresh shrimp will really get the job done too. Black drum are especially fond of fresh shrimp. Use a simple Carolina-style rig with a 1-ounce or heavier weight and a 16- to 24-inch leader of 20- to 50-pound-test mono or fluorocarbon matched with an appropriate sized hook.

Offshore, mangrove snapper are a good bet for reef fishing, while the abundant red snapper are out of season for harvest. Chumming chunks of Spanish sardine or cigar minnows, followed by a chunk on a free-line will get some big bites. Use a 30- to 50-pound fluorocarbon leader with a small but strong circle hook. They can be tricky to coax into biting, so fluorocarbon line is important. Try to bury the hook in the bait so it is not visible to the fish.g

Experienced guides are at the ready to put you on some great early season action, but this fisherman-friendly area is perfect for accommodating boaters, so drag your rig down for the early season bite and have a ball!

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