Florida Saltwater Fishing in Fall – Pro Tips
This article will cover Florida saltwater fishing in fall. While the changes can be subtle, fall does arrive in the sunshine state. Successful anglers will understand how these changes trigger fish migrations and habits.
Fishing can be fantastic in Florida in the fall season. The days begin to shorten, which means less sunlight. The angle of the sun changes as well. These two factors combine to result in a drop in water temperature, which triggers migrations of both bait fish and game fish.
Fall is an excellent time to go fishing through most of North America, in Florida is no exception. Again, the changes are subtle, but they are there. Each of the fishing situations will be covered in detail in the manners in which fish migrations and habits change this time of year.
Fall flats fishing in Florida
Game fish on the flats certainly respond positively in the fall. Flats that can have water temperature as high as the low 90s will now be much more comfortable, from the upper 60s to mid 70s. Bait fish and other forage such as crustaceans will be more plentiful. Game fish will be feeding heavily in preparation of winter coming.
Snook, perhaps the premier inshore game fish in Florida, will move from their summer haunts and scatter out onto the flats and backwater areas. Snook spend most of the summer in the deeper passes and inlets as well is out on the beaches. As fall arrives, they move inshore to the bays to feed.
Snook are ambush predators. They will set up and feeding stations were current will bring them there prey. These include boat docks, oyster bars, points, bridges, and depth changes on the flats. These are all likely spots to find a feeding fish. Anglers casting artificial lures cover a lot of water while anglers fishing with live bait concentrate their efforts in a smaller spot.
Redfish will be scattered out on the shallow grass flats. The larger schools of late summer have for the most part broken up, though and early fall anglers will still encounter schools of redfish, some of them quite large. A low incoming tide is preferred when chasing redfish on the shallow grass flats. Title creeks will hold more fish as water temperature drops. Oyster bars are always an excellent spots to look for redfish, and fall is no exception.
Fishing the deep flats in Florida in fall
Speckled trout respond well to the cooling water temperatures. In the heat of summer, trout will seek out the deeper hole As the water cools, they will move out of these areas and scatter out on the flats. Trout are often found in deeper than snook and redfish, preferring flats between 4 feet deep and 8 feet deep over submerged grass.
The same flats will hold a wide variety of other game fish species. These include Spanish mackerel, bluefish, pompano, flounder, snapper, cobia, sharks, jacks, ladyfish, and more. Anglers fishing the inshore waters and searching for action and variety will find that drifting the grass flats and casting artificial lures or live baits to be a very productive technique.
Inlets and passes are also excellent spots when Florida saltwater fishing in fall. Structure in these areas such as docks, piers, jetties, riprap, and ledges will hold bottom fish such as sheepshead, drum, mangrove snapper, grouper, and flounder. Live or cut bait fished on the bottom is generally the most productive technique. Slack tides are often the best time to employ this technique, especially on the East Coast were tides are very strong, making anchoring and fishing difficult.
Fishing can be fantastic off of Florida beaches in the fall
Perhaps the best and most exciting fall saltwater fishing in Florida occurs just off of area beaches, on both coasts. Cooling water temperatures bring in hordes of baitfish. On the West Coast of Florida, these include cigar minnows, scaled sardines, blue runners, and threadfin herring. This in turn brings in king in Spanish mackerel, false albacore, cobia, and sharks.
On the East Coast, the mullet run is famous. Schools of finger mullet will migrate down the coast. These look like black balls and the water. Just about every Florida game fish species is right on their heels, including tarpon, Jack revile, king in Spanish mackerel, bluefish, snook, sharks, cobia, and more. The stray sailfish may even venture and quite close to shore when this occurs.
Anglers chasing fish “out on the beach” as it is called, are hoping to find breaking fish. These are game fish species that are feeding voraciously on the surface. Basically, they trap the forage against the surface of the water, where they cannot escape. The bait gets caught between the fish feeding below and the birds feeding above. On a calm day, this is very easy to see from a long way off. Once fish are spotted, anglers can cast lures or baits into them in a strike is practically guaranteed.
On days when the fish are not seen feeding on the surface, anglers can search for the schools of bait, and then fish around the edges. A free lined live bait is tough to beat in this situation. When the bait is not readily seen, this occurs often when it is rough, trolling with plugs and spoons can be an excellent way to locate fish.
Fishing for Spanish mackerel and false albacore
This section of the blog post will provide Spanish mackerel and false albacore fishing tips. They exemplify fall fishing in Florida. Spanish mackerel are a terrific and in my opinion underrated game fish. They are widely distributed along the East Coast of the United States as well as the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. They are very fast fish, feed aggressively, and are excellent table fare when eaten fresh. False albacore are my favorite fish to target on fly. They fight incredibly hard for their size. Both are similar in habits, but with enough differences to be covered separately.
Spanish mackerel and false albacore are both pelagic species. This means that they spend most of their time in the middle of the water column. They do not relate to bottom structure, other than the fact that that same structure attracts bait. Spanish mackerel and false albacore also make a seasonal migration up the coast in the spring, then back down in the fall. They spend their winters in the tropical moderate climates. Both species feed primarily on bait fish. They are taken by anglers using live bait and artificial lures such as spoons, jigs, and plugs.
Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles and reports can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.
Here in Sarasota, Florida where I run fishing charters, our prime times for Spanish mackerel and false albacore are spring and fall. However, if we experience a very moderate winter or a cooler than average summer they can be caught all year long. Spanish mackerel are a fish that pleases every angler, whether they fish from shore, in the bays, or out in the inshore Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. False albacore can be a bit more difficult, but are well worth the effort!
Anglers can purchase Capt Jim’s E-book, “Inshore Saltwater Fishing” for $5 by clicking on the title link. It is 23,000 words long and covers tackle, tactics, and species.
Fishing for Spanish mackerel
Where are Spanish mackerel found?
Areas that have distinct inshore waters offer anglers the advantage of catching mackerel both inshore and in the open Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean. The variety of both techniques and locations that will produce Spanish mackerel are factors in their popularity.
Spanish mackerel can be taken using a variety of baits and techniques. I personally enjoy catching them using artificial lures and fly fishing. Mackerel hit so hard and make such long runs that it is really quite exciting to catch them while casting artificial lures on light tackle.
The most productive artificial lures are spoons, jigs, and plugs. Live shrimp and bait fish catch plenty of fish as well. Anglers can fish from the surf, jetty, or pier. They can also fish bays, passes, in the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean from a boat.
Spanish mackerel fishing with artificial lures
The lead head jig plastic grub combination produces a lot of fish in Florida and beyond. These lures are very versatile, cast well, are cost-effective, most importantly catch a lot of fish! They are really quite simple, consisting of a hook with the weight near the eye. This is called the jig or jig head. These can come dressed with hair of some sort either natural or synthetic. Or, anglers can slide some type of plastic body onto the hook.
Spanish mackerel most often respond to a fast retrieve. Therefore, jigs with a shad tail body work best when targeting them. The shad tail grub has a terrific motion when retrieved through the water either slowly or more quickly. Anglers cast the lure out, allow it to sink, then retrieve it back in at a fairly brisk pace with sharp hops.
Anglers can read more about Spanish mackerel fishing lures here.
Spanish mackerel love spoons and plugs
Silver spoons are another very effective lure when targeting Spanish mackerel. Their main advantage is that they cast a long way. A 1/2 ounce silver spoon is a very good all-around size when targeting Spanish mackerel. The lure can be cast out and retrieved back steadily or by using an erratic motion. It is important to use either a snap swivel at the lure or a swivel between the leader and the running line to prevent line twist.
Plugs are another very effective lure for catching Spanish mackerel. However, they do have a couple disadvantages. They are bit more costly, which can be an issue when the toothy Spanish mackerel start cutting lures off with their teeth. Also, dealing with trouble hooks and a thrashing Spanish mackerel can be dangerous. Careful anglers will find them worth the trouble, especially when trolling.
Spanish mackerel prefer clear water. They mostly feed by sight. Anglers should therefore target Spanish mackerel in clear water using light colored lures. Lighter colors tend to be more effective in light clear water. White, silver, and olive have all been productive patterns for clients on my fishing charters.
Spanish mackerel fishing using live bait
Live bait certainly accounts for many Spanish mackerel landed by anglers. Live shrimp are the most effective and widely used live bait for anglers targeting Spanish mackerel in the United States. Just about every bait shop along the Gulf Coast and eastern seaboard up to the mid Atlantic carry live shrimp.
Shrimp are very easy to use. Anglers simply hook the shrimp under the horn just above the brain and cast it out into the water. Anglers fishing from the surf or jetties as well as piers may need to add a sinker for casting weight. A hook with a long shank will help reduce cutoffs from mackerel. A #1/0 is a good all-around hook size.
Whenever possible, the best approach is just allow the shrimp to be hooked on with little or no weight. This is called free lining and it works very well. Sometimes a small split shot will be required. This is the best approach when fishing with live shrimp from a drifting boat or when anchored over and artificial reefs.
Using live bait fish to catch Spanish mackerel
Live bait fish are extremely effective for anglers targeting Spanish mackerel. However, catching in using them is a bit more involved. Most anglers using live bait fish will catch them themselves. A cast net, the ability to throw it, in a large bait well with a good recirculating pump are required.
Chumming with live bait fish is one of the most productive fishing methods and saltwater. Anglers will need quite a bit of live bait for this. Once the well is loaded up with frisky live baits, the boat is anchored in a likely position. This can be over in open grass flat, along an edge or drop off, near a bridge or other structure, or over a piece of hard bottom or artificial reef.
Once positioned, the technique is very simple. A handful of live baits is tossed out behind the boat. Anglers may choose to squeeze the baits, crippling them. The action of these baits swimming around helpless on the top of the water will draw game fish to the back of the boat in short order. It is then just a matter of tossing out a hooked bait fish into the fray.
Tackle and rigging used when fishing for Spanish mackerel
The tackle and rigging used for both live bait fishing and casting artificial lures is the same. A 6 1/2 to 7 foot medium action rod with a 3000 series spinning reel is a great all around the combination. I actually prefer monofilament line when targeting Spanish mackerel. I feel that the stretch can actually be beneficial. The speedy mackerel are less apt to pull a hook with monofilament line.
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Anglers will need a leader of some sort when targeting Spanish mackerel. While some choose to use a wire leader, I stick with a heavier fluorocarbon leader. I feel that the risk of getting cut off versus the extra number of bites is worth using the fluorocarbon leader.
Anglers can attach the leader to the running line by using a small number 10 black swivel. It is important to not use a shiny swivel as this will attract mackerel, resulting in them severing the line at the swivel. The leader may be attached to the running line using a leader to leader not such as the Double Uni-knot. Finally, the hook her lure is attached to the terminal end of the leader.
Fly fisherman will do well targeting Spanish mackerel by using a7wt outfit with an intermediate sink tip line. A 9 foot tapered leader with a 24 inch piece of 30 pound bite tippet completes the rig. Just about any white bait fish pattern will produce, with the Clouser Minnow and D.T. Special being the most popular choices.
Fishing techniques for Spanish mackerel
As mentioned above, there are multiple techniques which will produce Spanish mackerel. Casting, drifting, trolling, and fly fishing will all put Spanish mackerel in the boat. As with all fishing, current conditions will dictate the best place to fish in the technique to employ.
Drifting open water while either casting artificial lures or flies or free lining a live bait out behind the boat is simple and very effective. On the West Coast of Florida and along the entire Gulf Coast this method works well both on the deeper grass flats and 4 foot to 10 feet of water as well as the open Gulf of Mexico. Anglers will do well to keep their eyes peeled for signs of fish such as birds working and fish feeding on the surface.
Drifting can work very well in the passes and inlets also. Anglers simply set up a drift allowing the boat to cover a productive area. Both lures and live bait work well. Anglers on the East Coast will have to choose times when the title flow is moderate. It is just too difficult to fish this way when the tide is very swift.
Beach, Pier, and Jetty fishing for Spanish mackerel
Anglers without a boat most certainly catch their share of Spanish mackerel. Piers, jetties, and beaches can all be productive areas, especially in the spring and fall. The keys to fishing these areas are clear water and the abundance of bait fish. Anglers and countering these conditions when the water temperature is in the low to mid 70s have an excellent chance of successfully targeting Spanish mackerel.
The same methods that work while fishing from a boat are productive foreshore bound anglers. Lures can be cast out and retrieved while live bait can be allowed to naturally attract mackerel. It is important to try to make the presentation as natural as possible and use as little weight as is required. As with boat fishing, keeping a sharp eye out for signs of activity will lead to a productive outing.
Trolling for Spanish mackerel is very productive
Trolling is an incredibly productive technique for Spanish mackerel. It is also quite simple. Anglers tie on a lure such as a spoon or plug, and let it out behind the boat a good distance. Then, the boat is simply driven around a bit above idle speed. When a Spanish mackerel takes the lore, there is little doubt. This is a very easy and relaxing way to fish and is productive both inshore, in the passes and out in the inshore Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.
Spoons and plugs are the two best lures to employee when trolling. The jig will tend to roll and spin at those higher speeds while the plug and spoon will track naturally with a great wobbling action. Once a productive area is located, anglers can troll back and forth through that area maximizing the action. Spanish mackerel are terrific eating, but do not freeze well. Limits are liberal, but please just keep a couple for dinner. Here are the current Florida Spanish mackerel fishing regulations.
False albacore fishing tips and techniques
This article will share some great false albacore fishing tips. False albacore are found along the entire coast line from Texas to New England. They are a terrific sport fish and not considered good eating by most anglers.
False albacore are a pelagic species. That means they spend most of their time in the middle to upper part of the water column. Unlike most fish species, false albacore habits are basically the same everywhere they are found. To put it simply, they swim around the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico terrorizing helpless forage. While that might sound simple, there are nuances to catching these fish.
False albacore are almost always found in schools. These schools can be located very close to the beach or many miles offshore. In most instances, anglers prefer to target them by sight fishing. Anglers scan the horizon searching for signs of feeding fish. Bird activity is always a great indicator. False albacore are also called “little tunny”. They are very similar in habits to other members of the tuna family.
False albacore fishing tackle
Just as in every other fishing situation, proper tackle is required. Spinning tackle is best when sight fishing for false albacore. These fish feed on small bait fish at times, particularly glass minnows. Therefore, small lures are often required to fool the fish. Light tackle is required to cast these small lures to the fish.
A 7 foot medium action spinning rod with a 3000 series reel is a good all-around outfit. Anglers can spools the real with 20 pound braided line or 10 pound monofilament line. Rated line will allow anglers to cast a bit further. I still prefer monofilament line for this type of fishing. I feel that the stretch and the line is actually a benefit when targeting these fast, hard fighting fish.
A shock leader is required for most saltwater fishing, and this is true for our ladies false albacore fishing as well. Under normal conditions, when the water is clear, 20 pound test fluorocarbon leaders are a good choice. False albacore don’t generally bite through the leader.
However, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, and other toothy predators are often mixed in with the false albacore. This may require bumping up the leader to something a bit stronger. False albacore can be fussy, though. Anglers will have to weigh the pros and cons of getting cut off more often versus getting more bites.
Top false albacore fishing lures
My favorite lure when targeting false albacore is the #8 Rapala X-Rap slash bait in white and olive. These lures very closely imitate the small bait fish that the fish feed on. It has a great tight wiggling action that the fish love. They also will fool other species such as striped bass, bluefish, Spanish mackerel and more. They are very productive when trolled as well.
Jigs and spoons are also very effective lures for our ladies false albacore fishing. These lures work particularly well when the fish surface quickly and then dive back down into the water column. Jigs and spoons both sink rapidly, getting down to where the fish are. A 1/2 ounce silver spoon and one quarter ounce jig head with a 3 inch to 4 inch Shad tail body and silver, Pearl, or gold are both great baits.
False albacore fishing techniques
While having the proper tackle is important, the number one requirement when sight fishing for false albacore is patience. False albacore are very fast and often times move around a lot. There are days when the fish will come up in a huge bunch and stay on top. This is the optimum situation as it gives anglers plenty of time to get on the fish. However, this is the exception more than the rule.
Most days the fish will only surface for short period of time, sometimes only a few seconds. It is easy to get excited and run all over the place chasing fish. However, this rarely works and will often times only succeed in spooking the false albacore. The best approach is to try to determine the speed and direction that they are moving and get in front of them. Weekend fishing pressure can be high. Anglers need to be patient and courteous of others when the bite is on.
False albacore fishing tips; patience is a virtue
Chasing false albacore on the surface is a bit like hunting. There definitely is stalking involved in strategy that must be employed. And, like hunting, one good shot is better than 10 poor ones. There will be days when it just doesn’t happen. That is part of the challenge and also part of the fun. But, on most days, patient anglers will achieve success.
One issue that I run into as a guide when false albacore fishing is that things happen very fast. Anglers need to be quick; cast need to be fired out quickly and accurately. False albacore change directions constantly. Successful anglers will cast out ahead of the fish and begin their retrieve immediately. As with all fishing, vary the retrieve and the lures until a productive pattern emerges. In most instances, the fish like a very fast and erratic presentation.
Fly fishing for false albacore
This is a situation that is tailor-made for fly anglers! False albacore are tremendous sport and a hooked fish will dump the real, putting a fly angler into the backing in short order. The technique is basically the same as when spin fishing, the boat is placed 40 feet or so upwind of feeding fish. A nine weight outfit with a floating or intermediate sink tip line, 9 foot leader, and small white minnow imitation will get the job done.
False albacore can certainly be caught on days when they are not showing on the surface. Ideally, I enjoy casting to breaking fish. However, I enjoy catching fish more and will do what needs to be done to get a hook up. While false albacore don’t necessarily relate to structure, bait fish will. This results in false albacore being caught over artificial reefs, wrecks, and natural ledges.
When targeting false albacore in these situations, I like to have some type of chum. Live bait fish such as pilchards can be used to chum the fish up and this is a deadly technique. In cooler weather when live bait is not available, frozen sardines, glass minnows, and commercially prepared chum will bring the fish up behind the boat. Free lining a chunk of bait with no weight so that it appears to be naturally sinking is usually the best approach.
Trolling for false albacore
Anglers targeting false albacore also catch fish trolling. The same general trolling techniques that produce king mackerel and Spanish mackerel will also catch false albacore. Light conventional tackle is best for this application. Anglers usually choose to troll a combination of planers and diving plugs.
My personal trolling spread would go as follows. An outfit with a number one planer, 20 feet of 30 pound fluorocarbon leader and a small spoon would go out first. I counted back 20 seconds. Next, and outfit with a number two planer, 20 feet of 50 pound fluorocarbon leader and a medium-size trolling spoon would be deployed. I count that line back out 15 seconds.
A pair of diving plugs finishes out the spread, one very far back in one right in the prop wash. These lures are used with a 6 foot long 50 pound fluorocarbon leader. The plug on the long line should be back further than the number one planer. This bread will allow anglers to cover the water column thoroughly while still making turns. It will also catch king mackerel, tuna, stripers, bluefish, mackerel, and other species.
When all else fails, find a shrimp boat! I fished out of Harkers Island, North Carolina one fall. The locals call this “Gumping”, in reference to Forrest Gump, the movie. As shrimpers clean out their nets, they dump the by catch over the side. This results in a chum slick that attracts false albacore, sharks, tuna, and other species. In fact, many anglers targeting blackfin and yellowfin tuna actually get annoyed by the “pesky”false albacore.
Very few anglers that I know keep false albacore to eat. Most are released to please other anglers. The procedure for releasing these fish is a bit different than other species. Time spent out of the water should be reduced to an absolute minimum. When releasing the fish, it should be shoved briskly headfirst into the water. This will get the water moving through it’s gills and hopefully it swims away.
In conclusion, I hope this article on Florida saltwater fishing in fall will get you excited to get out there and catch a bunch of fish!