I’ve been fishing the St. Johns River with varying levels of success since 2016, but with this year’s third-place finish to start the season I finally internalized one critical lesson – you need to slow down to catch Florida strain fish this time of year. It’s not a big secret, and I’ve tried to force myself to do it, but saying it and doing it are two different things.
You also have to remember that if something is a proven technique in a certain place, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. This year my key presentation was a black and blue Z-Man Bang StickZ fished Texas-rigged with a 3/16-ounce Woo Tungsten bullet weight and a 3/0 VMC Straight Shank Hook.
I fished the setup on a Daiwa Tatula Elite 7-foot medium-heavy Brent Ehrler signature series rod paired with a Steez CT baitcasting reel spooled with 30-pound test Sufix braid and a 17-pound test fluorocarbon leader. That’s basic Florida fishing, and it will work from now until forever.
That doesn’t mean you can’t occasionally vary a bit. Two years ago I finished 22nd in Palatka, and I caught the heck out of them throwing a drop shot in 15 feet of water. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to make that work so well again.
This year I fished through my best area on Day 1 with a ChatterBait on warp speed and never got a bite. I only caught 8-03 that day and dug myself a big hole. For better or for worse, I didn’t have much else to fish, so I went back there on Day 2, slowed down and caught a bunch of the fish that I knew were there all along. With 18-08 I bounced back into the cut.
You hear all the time about how the new technology – better graphs, trolling motors, etc. – are key to better fishing, and they clearly have their place, but in this case the key was to slow everything down. I turned off my electronics, put my trolling motor on a “3” setting and fished everything that looked good. Usually it took not only multiple pitches to a key piece of cover but also letting the bait soak in order to trigger a bite.
My Ultrex is super-quiet and that makes a big difference in those shallow-water situations. Essentially I was just using it to straighten myself out as I went down the canals. Anything faster than that and the targets would’ve just come and gone too quickly.
It took me four or five hours at that speed to fish the entire system, so I never got to hit the whole thing in a single day. By really keying in on prime targets again and again I was able to pluck multiple fish from the same places.
Where I learned to fish in Minnesota, we don’t have to fish slowly like you do this time of year in Florida. If you get a bait in front of them, they’ll eat it.
Of course, people are fishing in Florida while our water is hard, so for the foreseeable future I expect to be down in the Sunshine State at this time of year. Now that I’ve learned to take my foot off the gas a little bit, I think I should continue to get off to solid starts.