Northeast Florida Redfish Hotspots

Captain Kirk Redfish
Captain Kirk Redfish. Photo by Ron Brooks

As his eight-pound test line began moving away from him in the current, he set the hook. Several other boats gathered around the end of the jetties could hear the sound of his singing drag. Redfish! The fight was on; and, it would include several long runs, each followed by a lengthy slugfest back to the boat.

Captain Kirk Waltz had put his party on redfish once again on this beautiful June morning. Capt. Kirk fishes Northeast Florida inshore and near shore waters from his 23 foot bay boat and is arguably one of the best in Jacksonville at finding and catching big reds on light tackle.

Today his party was on the jetties at the mouth of the St. Johns River. Tomorrow might find him back on a flat in an estuary creek or in the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). There are that many places to catch reds, and yes, there are that many reds to be caught!

The merits of the net ban can be argued a lot of ways, but one thing is certain. The redfish population in Northeast Florida is back in spades, and with proper management, it will be here for all the years to come.

Finding and catching redfish in Northeast Florida is affected by three factors. First, there has to be forage, and that means the baitfish have to be where you are. No bait – no fish. It’s that simple.

Second, the weather has to be right. Weather in this case means rain. June is a month that can produce periods of heavy rain, and that in turn produces freshwater runoff. When the ICW turns a tannic acid brown color from previous rains, the bait and the fish both take a vacation to better water.

Third, and probably most important is the tide. Certain places can hold a lot of redfish, but only on a specific tidal situation. An outgoing tide on a creek flat pushes the redfish and concentrates them in the creek. Incoming tides around a number of jetties and rock croppings will move the redfish to small eddies in and around the rocks. Knowing the tide and fishing the right area with a given tide can mean the difference in success and failure.

Captain Kirk follows the tide, and quite often will not leave the dock until early afternoon in order to catch the proper tide. As he puts it, “Timing is everything!”

Although Captain Kirk was fishing the end of the jetties on this morning, he also fishes a number of other locations, again, depending on those three important variables, tide, rain, and bait. When the tide situation changes, he heads for the ICW. He fishes the outgoing tide down to low and about the first hour of the incoming tide.

Reds come off the flats and out of the shallow creeks with the outgoing tide. They move with the water and follow the baitfish. Schools and single reds can be spotted working the shallow edges of the ICW as the tide approaches low. It makes for ideal sight casting and fly rod fishing.

Captain Kirk can be found as far north as the St. Marys River jetties in certain situations. These jetties provide clients from Amelia Island an ideal place to hook up with an oversized red.

Farther south, Captain Kevin Faver guides and fishes the inshore and near shore St. Augustine area for redfish. He concentrates on the ICW from the Matanzas Inlet north to the Pine Island area. The myriad creeks and outflows hold bait and reds all during the month of June. The St. Augustine Inlet has some good rocks on the south side of the inlet and Captain Faver catches some nice reds along those rocks.

The same three variables play a major part in Captain Favers fishing decisions. Too much rain and lack of bait will have him fishing closer to the inlet mouths. Clean water and plentiful baitfish situations will find him in the ICW at the mouth of a creek on an outgoing tide.

Northeast Florida redfish can be found in one or all of four basic areas. They will be on the tidal flats, in the creeks and creek mouths, along the ICW banks, or on the jetty rocks. This fact puts four more variables into the equation.

Given these variables, just where can you find some good redfish action during June? That answer depends on the answer to the variable equation! First of all, following several days of rainfall, plan to fish the inlet mouths or jetties. The bait and the reds will have moved out of the creeks and ICW to find better water and the jetties and inlets are where they head.

Jetty fishing has become almost an art over the past several years. Knowing the bottom structure around the jetties is crucial to your success. Reds will school and hold in underwater eddies just out of the current. Getting a bait down to them becomes the challenge.

Often boats will anchor within several feet of each other off the end of the jetties, all of them trying to position themselves along the underwater edge of the rocks. Those that are successful hook up on almost every drop of the bait. Boats that are as little as fifty feet away from that underwater edge have a problem even getting one bite. The reds are that concentrated.

Along the jetties and rocks, look for the slower current and smaller eddies. These areas will hold redfish. A trolling motor helps keep your boat over the area while you drop a bait into the slower moving water.

If there has been little or no rain, the bait, and subsequently the reds, can be found in the ICW and in the creeks and sloughs that enter the ICW. Look for the baitfish and fish the outgoing tide.

If you plan to fish the ICW and the creeks, you need to plan your trip to coincide with the outgoing tide. Most serious redfish anglers on the First Coast fish the ICW for only a half-day. They make sure they are in place when the tide is about half down and outgoing.

As the water recedes from the banks of the ICW, look for big reds pushing water in front of them. Smaller reds will school and several of them will make a large commotion as they move along the bank. Its easy to tell whether or not the water bulge is a red. When the water erupts along the bank and finger mullet scatter in all directions, its a safe bet that a big red is out there.

Naming a creek or river where reds can be found becomes almost a game this time of year. Almost every creek that runs off the ICW from Fernandina to Matanzas will hold reds in June. The trick is locating them. Once you find them, its a good bet they will be in that same area for several days, or at least until the water changes significantly with any rain. Guides are successful in the ICW because they fish every day and move with the fish they have found.

One area that traditionally holds a constant supply of fish is the ICW from the St. Johns River south to the bridge over J. Turner Butler Boulevard. The outgoing tide down to low and the first hour or so of the incoming tide is best. Ideally, the days when these tides occur in the morning are better.

In the St. Augustine area, the waters around Pine Island are usually hot on the same outgoing tide scenario.

Baits for First Coast redfish include live shrimp, mud minnows, finger mullet, small blue crabs, fiddler crabs, and even cut bait at times. Most guides in the area like to use a plain jig head with one of these baits. The weight of the jig is dependent on the water depth and strength of the current. They use the smallest weight necessary to get the bait down. On the jetties, its a bottom fishing game. In the ICW, slow rolling a jig with the current or a very slow retrieve across the mud bottom close to the bank both work well.

Artificial baits include grub tail jigs, small bucktail jigs, Johnson spoons, and even some topwater bass plugs. Most artificial angling is done in the creeks and on the flats in shallower water.

Fly rodders have great success on reds in the creeks and on the flats. Small crabs, shrimp, Clousers, and Deceivers all work well on feeding reds. Youll need to be in the creeks or on the flats on a high tide.

Redfish angling on Floridas First Coast is as good as it gets, and getting better every year. If you plan to use a guide, try giving Captain Kirk Waltz a call at 904-241-7560, or if you are in the St. Augustine area, contact Captain Kevin Faver at 904-829-0027. Either of them can put you on some really big redfish in June.