Fall in Florida is different

We’re well into the fall season, but it’s important to remember that fall in Florida can be very different from fall in the rest of the country.

Here’s the thing: A lot of times, people lump fall fishing in Florida into one category. That holds true most everywhere in the country — fall fishing is fall fishing. It’s very consistent in terms of water temperature changes, fronts and water level. The lakes start to turn over, and fish start feeding on small bait.

But here in Florida, there’s an X factor that trumps everything — fall hurricane season. Some years we have a lot of storms, other years we don’t have as many. So it depends on the amount of water that is dumped on our state in August, September and October to really dictate how good the fall fishing is going to be.

If we have a year where the state sees several storms or hurricanes, we have the moving water effect, where all the (stormwater) pumps are running, all the creeks and channels are running and the fishing is off-the-charts good. It can be some of the best you can have all year long, and it’s due to the running water. This movement causes fish to group up at the mouths of these pumps and creeks that run into the lakes.

No matter what the conditions are, no matter what the temperature does, running water overrides everything.

On the flipside, in a year where we haven’t had a lot of storms — like this year — to increase the water flow, then we fall into the typical fall patterns.

During years with little to no tropical weather impacts, most of the water levels rise through the summer months and reach their peak around Nov. 1. All over the state, the water stabilizes and starts to come down.

Once that water starts to fall, those fish start to trigger a little better. On top of that, if you have one or two cooler days — just those brisk mornings that really help get the baitfish popping — it gets the fish feeding, and it gets really good.

The thing that can really hurt you is the first big cold front. That will slow down the fishes’ progress. As long as the weather is stable, you’ll have fish that are starting to think about spawning.

Everywhere else, you’re chasing little baitfish. In South Florida, we’ll actually have fish spawning in November. Typically, the early spawning waves start in November for South Florida, December-January for Central Florida and February for North Florida.

Because I might find fish in various modes this time of year, from fall feeding to prespawn to spawning, I want to keep a diverse array of baits on my deck.

I like a spinnerbait this time of year, because you can really catch ‘em, but flipping a Texas-rigged creature bait can be really effective when the fish move into mats and reed heads. I’ll also keep a walking topwater and a lipless crankbait handy.

Some days, one bait will shine, but a lot of times, you’ll have to fish through your best areas to determine what the fish want. The good thing is, once the fish make their fall transition, you can have have some of the best days you’ve ever had.