With March right around the corner, my thoughts are beginning to wander towards springtime and everything that comes with it.
One of the things I'm most excited about, is the springtime nearshore bite along the Crystal Coast. The artificial reefs and hard bottom ledges just a few miles off our beaches will be alive with prey and predators in a few short months.
Between the months of March and May, winds blow from the SW, our water temps climb from the 50F's to the 70F's, and schools of bait arrive along the beachfront, inlets, nearshore wrecks and hard bottom ledges. When the bait gets there, the predators aren't too far behind.
Bluefish, False Albacore, Atlantic Bonito, Grey Trout and Spanish Mackerel are the main targets of fly and light tackle anglers along our beaches each spring. Not all of these species arrive or leave at the same time, but you have the chance of seeing any combination of these fish if you are in the right spot at the right time.
Generally small Bluefish and Grey Trout arrive first, sometime during the month of March. We also sometimes get great runs of False Albacore along the beaches and over structure in mid to late March or early April. The spring run of Albies doesn't get the recognition of the fall run, but it can be a great fishery. Some years, we get runs of big 10-20+ lb Bluefish during the month of April...these fish can be sight-casted in shallow water just like you would cast to a chain of Tarpon in Florida.
When the water gets into the 60F range, we start to look for my favorite springtime target, Atlantic Bonito. Bonito are very similar to Albies in their color, shape and fight. The biggest difference is that they make great table fare, and I love to prepare them as Sashimi, Ceviche or just lightly grill them.
Generally around the first week of May the Spanish Mackerel arrive at the same locations. On a good day, you can have shots at Spanish, Bonito and Albies as they churn the water just above a wreck or ledge.
There are a few different techniques we can use to target these nearshore predators.
My personal favorite is with a 6, 7, or 8wt fly rod depending on the species. Early morning, these fish can be found blitzing on the surface and can be caught on a floating or intermediate line with a baitfish pattern fly or a top-water fly. By 10am on most days, the fish have moved deeper into the water column over the structure, but can still be caught on a fly rod with a fast sinking line.
I also love to sight-cast to these fish with a medium action spinning rod and a 3000 series reel. We can throw top-water plugs, small metal jigs, or soft plastics to these fish. Make a long cast and rip it back, and it won't take long to see who's at home. Light tackle spin gear is a super effective and fun way to locate and land these fish.
If the fish have sunk too deep for casting to be effective, we can drop metal jigs to the bottom and jig for them around the structure. This is a great way to catch some Grey Trout, but don't be surprised when a Bonito grabs your jig and makes a 100 yard run with it.
If all else fails, we can troll over the structure using spoons and diving plugs to locate fish.
While I'm enjoying the massive schools of winter Redfish at the moment, I am really looking forward to chasing some blitzing fish in a little over a month from now. If you've never fished the wrecks and reefs of the Crystal Coast in the spring, jump onboard with us this April and I'll show you what it's all about.