by Captain Tom Van Horn
For starters, let me begin with an apology for not posting many reports in October and November. It’s not because I haven’t wanted to fish. It’s because I couldn’t. You see on October 22nd I had an accident at home while working on my house. Although I only fell eight feet off of a ladder, I sustained critical injuries resulting in an eleven day stay in a trauma center. Result was seven broken ribs and three fractured vertebra. I’m currently on the mend, but it’s is looking like I will continue to be landlocked until just before Christmas. These are challenging times for me, but the good news is I survived to fish on another day.
December’s Fishing Forecast
As the cold weather settles in on the northern two thirds of America, many anglers only dream of a location where stretching line is a year-round endeavor. They long for a warm setting occupied by happy fish tailing in the shallows as the mid afternoon sun warms the flat. Such is the life of anglers in many parts of our country, and thank God we live on the Indian River Lagoon coast of Florida where catching is a year-round sport.
Like November, December is a month filled with outstanding fishing opportunities. The only significant difference is the impact cooler water temperatures have on the fishery and windy conditions, which are influenced by passing cold fronts. Fluctuations in water temperatures affect both fish behavior and angling tactics, so an understanding of where and how-to fish can result is some memorable catches.
American Shad and Speckled Perch (Black Crappie)
In spite of low water levels on the St Johns River system good numbers of speckled perch (black crappie) are showing up in the upper St Johns River, and the big lakes of Monroe, Jessup and Harney. Fish structure or slow troll Road Runner jigs or live minnows near the bottom. Also, look for the American shad to begin showing up near the end of the month on their winter spawning run. The American shad is an incredible species to catch on light tackle and fly, and if you have never experienced this fishery, you should book a day with me and I’ll show you how it is done. American Shad fishing is as close as Floridian’s get to the salmon runs of the north and we are catching them during the winter when the northern rives are frozen over.
Ocean and Inlet Fishing
Near-shore and in the inlets, large redfish were consistent outside Ponce Inlet, Port Canaveral and Sebastian Inlet last month, and they should remain steady through December. At both Ponce and Sebastian, look for redfish chasing bait on the surface during periods of slack tide, or feeding along the bottom during periods of falling tidal flow. At Port Canaveral, work the bottom in deeper water just outside the buoy line along the channel ledges and look for concentrations of Atlantic menhaden (pogies) and muddy water spots in 15 to 30 feet of depth. These breeder size redfish will hit artificial baits, but live pinfish, pigfish, pogies and finger mullet are more productive. Remember, these are large oversized reds, so step up the size of your tackle and handle and release them with extreme care.
Snook fishing will remain steady in the surf and inlets, with Sebastian Inlet proving to be the most productive location. It is best to target inlet snook at night by drifting live pigfish and pinfish through the channel, or fishing bucktail jigs or large swimming plugs from the rocks and catwalks. This type of fishing can be quite challenging due to the number of anglers competing for the same fish and impatient and discourteous anglers, so please pay attention, be courteous, stay safe and enjoy the rewards.
Bluefish and Spanish Mackerel
Large schools of bluefish and Spanish mackerel have been feeding on glass minnows (bay anchovies) along the beaches and outside the Inlets. When targeting these fish watch for bird activity and work small jigs or spoons very fast to avoid cut offs. A small trace of wire can be added ahead of your bait to reduce cut offs, but in some cases the keen vision of the toothy mackerel will reduce the number of strikes. Also, if you see pelicans diving on bait and then holding their bills down in the water in an effort to strain the water from the smaller baitfish before swallowing, you are in the right spot.
The Flounder run is on with good catches being reported from both Port Canaveral and Sebastian. Anglers utilizing either jigs, live finger mullet or mud minnows fished on the bottom are experiencing the best results. My favorite technique is to slow drift the Inlet passes, bouncing DOA jigs combined with a 3″ DOA CAL Shad Tail on the bottom. This tactic allows you to cover more ground, and once you have located a hot spot, you can anchor your boat and concentrate on the area.
Tarpon and Kingfish
Further off of the beach, tarpon and kingfish can be found shadowing bait pods outside the Inlets. Either slow troll live baits on steel stinger rigs, or try dropping live baits into schools of bait in deeper water. This bite should continue as long as water temperatures remain above 74 degrees.
Tripletail and Cobia
December is also the month when tripletail begins to show up on the Port Canaveral buoy line, and as the water cools the bite should improve. When water temperatures drop below 70 degrees, look for cobia on weed-lines, near-shore wrecks, buoys, and other structure. Once the water temperatures drop below 68 degrees, target cobia on the deeper wrecks and hard bottom where the water is a bit warmer.
Inshore Trout, Redfish and Black Drum
On the inshore flats, both redfish and sea trout will remain in the skinny water as long as the water temperatures stay in the seventies. Fish in protected areas and sunny spots on cooler days, and look for fish to be holding in sand spots (potholes) until the sun gets overhead.
In closing, I would like to thank all of you for your support this past year. 2018 was an incredible year of catching, with too many great memories to mention. Guiding anglers in Central Florida is a great job, and I’m looking forward to our next adventure in 2019
As always, if you have any questions or need more information, please contact me.
Good luck and good fishing,
Captain Tom Van Horn
Mosquito Coast Fishing Charters
407-416-1187 on the water