I could see the lighthouse several miles to the east at the mouth of the St. Marks River as we idled away from the marina at Shell Point. A single spire on a point of land, it was easily distinguishable in the middle of the orange glow of impending sunrise. I had a fleeting wish to be much closer to take advantage of a photo opportunity as the sun cracked the horizon for the first time, directly behind the light.
Idling out with Captain Jody Campbell, a seasoned flats guide here on the Nature Coast, we were fishing the flats of Florida’s Appalachia Bay around the St. Marks and Ochlockonee Rivers. Jody lives on the water here, and has fished and guided in the area for over twenty-five years. His primary targets are trout and redfish, and in the summer, tarpon and some close in kingfish.
One sign of a good guide is his booking capacity. Jody stays booked literally every day for three months in advance. He has several customers who book him for one to two weeks at a time. So I felt good about the day’s possibilities as we popped up on plane in his Kenner bay boat
We only ran a short distance, maybe a half-mile through the twisting channel, before Jody idled back and turned onto the flat. We were behind a sand and oyster bar that ran parallel to the shore, and the water was only about three feet deep. I looked to the bottom in search of grass, but found only dark water and mottled sand. The recent rains had stained the bay waters from the tannic runoff in the feeder rivers.
“The grass is beginning to appear again”, said Jody as he stopped the boat. “We have some nice turtle grass on these flats in the summer, and it should begin growing fast this month. There isn’t as much now as there was twenty years ago, but it appears to be healthy.”
We began our drift with the slight wind pushing us east into the sun. As we moved across the water, Jody providing stability with the trolling motor, we began throwing 3/8 ounce pink jig heads with a pink and white swim tail grub. We cast with the wind and worked the grub back to the boat. A quick snap jerk of the rod was followed by several slow retrieves of the jig. The idea was to keep the jig off the bottom and moving slowly toward the boat with short, fast, jerky movements.
It didn’t take long, maybe five minutes, until Jody hooked up a nice trout. While he reeled in a small “spec”, he described the pattern that trout follow on the flats around Apalachee Bay.
n the summer, trout will be in the grass, moving with the tide to find baitfish schools. When you find them, you can literally move with them as you drift the flat. As the water drops, the trout will station themselves on the front edge of an oyster or sand bar and wait for food to come to them. Most people think the fish would be on the back edge of the bar, but Jody finds them on the front side.
In the winter, the trout make their way back into the several rivers that feed Apalachee Bay, where they find a nice deep hole to in which station themselves. Catching them in the winter involves presenting a nice big live shrimp to them deep on the outside river bends.
Seatrout are known for their habits. If you catch some seatrout in a particular location, chances are really good that you can find them again in the same location on the same tide. Many seatrout anglers depend on these habits to be assured of a good catch.
The fishing locations may vary according to the area of the country you fish, but the pattern will still be the same. You could be fishing a huge flat off the Texas coast, a tidal oyster creek in Georgia, or the flats on Florida’s panhandle. The pattern remains the same. If you catch seatrout there on a particular tide, incoming or outgoing, the chances are good they will be there again. Apalachee bay is no exception to that rule; in fact the trout there are comparatively untouched.
Tidal movement is one key, moon phase is another, and the time of day is the third. If you catch seatrout on an outgoing tide in the early morning three days before the full moon, you can pretty well be assured that you will catch fish again next month in the same location under the same conditions. If the moon is not the same, the fish may not be there, and if it’s afternoon instead of morning, they might not be there.
Most fish are either opportunistic feeders or hunter feeders. Opportunistic feeders simply sit and wait for food to appear. They are very territorial and include most bottom species. Seatrout are hunter feeders. That means they actively pursue their food. It’s the whole reason they can be found in the same areas time after time. They are simply following the baitfish. Know where the baitfish are moving, and you will find the seatrout.
So I present my theory on finding a “Secret Hideaway” for seatrout. It is very simply – locate the baitfish and know their movement patterns. It’s as easy as that. But keeping that place a secret will be hard. As soon as you begin catching fish, other boats will be surrounding you. The knowledgeable angler will have made enough notes in his log to know that the fish he is catching today won’t be back there for another 3 days, or even a month. The “hangers on” will come back to that same spot without the knowledge that you have and scratch their heads when they can’t find any fish.
The secret, then, becomes your knowledge and your fishing log that can lead you to fish on any tide, on any moon phase, and in any weather condition.
So this summer, take your logbook and spend some time on Apalachee Bay. Look up Captain Jody Campbell and tell him I said hello. Chances are he will have his logbook out making notations on where he just caught fish!
By the way, as we were idling back to the marina, Jody commented that the water in Apalachee Bay was getting crowded with fishermen and their boats on the weekends. Just for the record, we were there on Sunday and I counted a total of five other boats! Everywhere I fish should be as crowded!
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