Fall Inshore Transitions
Approaching seasonal changes stimulate shallow water activity
Capt. William Toney hopped out of his 23-foot custom built Tremblay just as he'd done dozens of times prior to this late-August morning. This time however, the Homosassa, Fla., guide felt his lower extremities meet with quite a surprise, thanks to Gulf brine that had yielded several degrees.
For anglers temporarily entering the coastal shallows for a day of wade fishing, the late-summer/early fall cool down can come as an eye-popping surprise. For fish, it's business as usual in this transitional month we call September.
Days have been growing shorter after the Fall Equinox on the 22nd, making daylight more of a precious resource for a host of inshore species. It's still a couple weeks away from the start of fall cold fronts, but fish have internal clocks that keep them on schedule with their seasonal survival strategies and nature's timepiece has already sent the reminder.
Toney said he's seeing an increase in trout action, particularly around west-facing limestone outcroppings. Rock grass, also called "kelp," marks the better trout spots, but also take a look inside coastal marshes like those from Bayport to Chassahowitzka. Jigs and soft-plastic jerkbaits are productive trout-getters, but Toney boats a lot of keepers on clacking cork rig like the DOA Deadly Combo.
Throughout the Central Gulf Coast, topwaters will become progressively more prominent in daily trout pursuits. Blazing heat will start to subside, thereby extending the periods in which big trout will hunt shallow edges for finger mullet. In Pine Island Sound, Capt. John Ochs is particularly fond of broad island edges with good tidal flow. Mullet schools will traverse these lanes of productivity and trout, along with redfish and the occasional snook will follow closely.
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Keep a variety of topwaters handy to feel out the fish's preference. Some mornings, they'll blast full-sized models like a Super Spook, Rapala Skitterwalk or MirrOlure Top Dog. Other times, dropping down to a Spook Junior, Top Pup or a MirrOmullet is the way to go. We'll still have lots of sunshine this month and if the trout don't want to commit to the topwater, try a subsurface presentation like a Paul Brown Original or a Berkley Gulp! Alive Jerk Shad on a wide gap hook (weighted shank hooks improve casting distance).
In Sarasota and Charlotte Harbor, Capt. Rick Grassett said the snook have departed their summer homes on the beaches and passes. The linesiders, he said, will spend September feeding around bars, bridges and the flats outside creeks and rivers. September should see increased snook activity, as the fish start feeling the need to pack on weight in advance of the approaching cooler season. Live whitebait will remain the top snook offering this month, but start working those jigs, jerkbaits and shrimp imitators into the mix.
Speaking of baitfish, Grassett said he expects September days to offer occasional feeding frenzies that start with ladyfish attacking glass minnows. Once the sleek silver slime balls locate a pod of glass minnows, the resulting fracas rings the dinner bell for multiple other predators.
A lot of what I see this time of year is glass minnow schools with ladyfish feeding on them and that can turn into a lot of other things like mackerel, sharks, trout, and even tarpon," Grassett said. "The key is a calm morning and if those bait schools will stay up long enough, they'll attract just about everything."
Another gathering characteristic of September is redfish schooling. Look for schools of reds to congregate around bars and rock piles during lower tide stages and move onto grass flats with the rising water. Search for those redfish schools with gold spoons or topwaters. Grassett's also fond of the shallow running DOA Baitbuster.
"Use something that makes a little subsurface disturbance," he said. "If you can get one or two fish to rise up a take a look, you can find the whole school."
September will also offer good tarpon action. It's a lot different from the beach, bridge and pass action we enjoyed during spring and summer, but there's plenty of poons to be found. Grassett likes throwing jigs and DOA Terroreyze for the juveniles of 10-30 pounds in canals with deep turning basins. Plug casting over deep flats and into the coastal rivers is also a good bet.
Overall, September is kind of a best of both worlds month. We won't have the blustery weather associated with true fall cold fronts yet, but as the month wears on, mornings will start feeling a touch crisper and afternoons downright pleasant. We're heading into a great time of year to be fishing Florida's Gulf coast so take every chance you can to hit the water and bend a rod.